“You realize you’ll have readers thinking X character is gay, right?” “They’ll have to really stretch to keep thinking that after a while. Besides, I decided I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to sacrifice intimate non-amorous relationships for the sake of slash-happy shippers.” “YOU SHOULD PUT THAT ON YOUR BLOG.”
That was the summary of a conversation I had with Lauren, when we were discussing my novel The Dying of the Light, and its upcoming sequel. There are several main themes prevalent throughout the series, but one of the largest is brotherhood, pure and simple.
Or rather, it should be pure and simple. Unfortunately, Western culture is often too shallow, too hyper-sexualized, and – frankly – too under-educated to grasp the idea of an intimate, non-amorous relationship between two people. It’s the same culture where two guys don’t feel comfortable hugging each other (unless it’s a manly half-hug – you know the one), and two girls can’t hold hands without people assuming they’re lesbians.
(To clarify: I’m not saying gay people are mythical creatures that don’t actually exist. I’m simply stating that – well, neither are intimate, non-amorous relationships.)
I don’t like using the word ‘platonic’ to describe intimate friendships, and I haven’t since I looked up the actual definition of the word. According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are two meanings of the word.
- of or associated with the Greek philosopher Plato or his ideas.
- confined to words, theories, or ideals, and not leading to practical action
People usually use it in the second sense – but as anyone can see, that’s the wrong use of the word. A ‘platonic’ friendship, in the true sense of the word, wouldn’t be a friendship at all. It would lack action. It would be stagnant.
We call intimate friendships ‘platonic,’ and sadly – the word fits all-too frequently. We’ve become so sensitive that we’ve even created the phrase ‘no homo’ to explain away any intimacy between two people of the same sex. It’s jarring for me, even as an American, because so much of my time is spent in east-Asian culture, where intimate friendships are the norm. Girlfriends hold hands ‘platonically.’ Guys are physically comfortable with each other in a ‘platonic’ sense. People aren’t afraid of touching another person for fear they might be misunderstood.
Lauren told me she was speaking with a soldier who had been stationed in South Korea for a brief period, and he was astonished (and weirded out, for a while) at how physically comfortable the soldiers were with each other. Arms slung around shoulders, hugging, kisses on the cheek – these are normal. And they should be normal.
Without this part of non-romantic relationships, we’ve lost a huge and vital element in any deep relationship. People point to David and Jonathan and say, “They kissed! They were gay!” in spite of the fact their supposed sexual orientation is never mentioned…except marriage. To wives. Who, according to history, loved their husbands very deeply and had no cause to think they weren’t well-loved in return. It’s a strange and uncomfortable phenomenon, and a relatively new one; this idea of stiff, hands-off, two-dimensional friendships.
When Western culture sees two people who are physically and emotionally intimate with one another, it’s hard for them to believe they aren’t romantically involved. In this day and age, it’s practically unheard of.
And I’m sick of it.
I used to be extremely concerned that my characters would be misconstrued as gay. When I first began to write intimate relationships, I didn’t know how to make them happen without coming across in a way I didn’t intend. About a year ago, I threw in the towel. I was tired of jumping through hoops, of sacrificing potentially incredible character relationships and development just so readers wouldn’t think they were gay.
I decided I’d had enough. I simply wasn’t going to worry about it. I wasn’t going to care what readers somewhere, at some point, may think. They could think whatever they liked, and they could be wrong. Slightly less than a year ago, I began The Dying of the Light – which is now rapidly hurtling toward the end (of book one) – and to date, it’s my favorite novel I’ve ever written. It’s the deepest. It’s the most complex. It has a plethora of intimate same-sex relationships that will only deepen over the course of the second novel – and the only straight-up canonically gay character is the villain. (I know, I know. I’ll probably get told that’s discrimination or false representation at some point, but you know what? That’s how I wrote it. Deal with it or don’t.)
I just don’t care anymore. In fact, I’m learning to care less and less about what people might think when it comes to my writing. If someone finds a Paper novel too fluffy, that’s fine. They are pretty fluffy. If someone thinks a book is too dark? That’s also fine; they can go read a Paper book. There’s a line between listening to feedback and jumping through hoops to accommodate readers. (It’s also important to note that, as a Christian author, a huge part of the reason I write is to put forth ideals and themes that are important to me. I don’t fling a big idea into a novel because ‘it sounds like fun’ (and if I ever do, I have Lauren to tell me to hold up) – I do it because I think it’s important, and it helps further something I strongly feel needs to be furthered in the literary world.)
Readers can slash-ship my characters all they want, if it comes down to it, because it doesn’t change anything. I’m no longer afraid of the idea, because, well – the reader isn’t always right. And sacrificing depth for the sake of a potential readership so saturated in shallow, hyper-sexualized Western culture that they can’t tell a romantic relationship from a non-romantic one is frankly not my problem.
There. I feel better now. As harsh as this particular post may have sounded, it stems from a deep exhaustion. An exhaustion brought on by the lack of intimate friendships in current culture, from real-life relationships to those I read (or don’t read) about in novels. I’m tired of seeing an extremely important dimension removed from relationships that suffer for it. I’d like to see more intimate relationships. I’d like to see more people – and characters – tell each other ‘I love you.’ I’d like to see people be comfortable holding hands. I’d like to see this happen more often – because I have it, and I want other people to have it, too.
And if I can’t make it happen more often in the real world, I can make it happen in some fictional ones.