Should LGBTQ+ Characters in Literature Always Make a Cultural Statement?

I am a heterosexual, cisgender, white male. A character in my novel “Incarnate: Existence” is a Japanese transgender woman. For some people this is probably already ‘problematic’ – I, of course, do not and cannot know the experiences of a non-white and transgender person. That could certainly be an article all in itself, whether someone like me should be “allowed” to write this kind of character, and I’ve tangentially written about this idea before. But that’s not what this article is about. I’m interested if, in general, a character in a creative work (book, movie, TV show, etc.) who is LGBTQ+ should always and necessarily be written to make a political or cultural statement, or can the character exist as they are without attempting to make a statement?

In my novel, the character Akira (an alias for reasons made clear in the story) is a male to female transgender woman living in Japan. When she is first introduced in chapter 16, she is twenty years old and still early in her transition. Having been born with a father who was a high-ranking member of a Yakuza family, before her transition she was being groomed to become a part of the Yakuza. She is a computer whiz, driven to do the right thing after the horrible things she helped the Yakuza do.

The fact that Akira is transgender doesn’t factor much into the story. The fact that she is transgender is not a huge plot point or major character trait. It’s her street smarts, skills at hacking, and strong principles that primarily define the character. There are some people (one in particular) who discriminate against her and refuse to use her preferred pronoun, but even this isn’t a plot point (it’s because the other character is also ex-Yakuza and has a ‘macho’ complex). My point being, the character Akira, for the most part, just is transgender, sort of like how the character Omar Little from The Wire was gay, but that never really played an important part in the development of his character or story arc.

In most media that I have seen, though, it seems like with LGBT characters, the fact that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. has to be a main character trait or factor significantly into their story arc. But is that a necessity when writing an LGBT character?

I understand the need for consciousness raising, and that this would definitely be an important part in the life of someone going through transition. However, I feel like readers may grow weary of political activism in their literature and that the people who do enjoy it are the proverbial choir that one is preaching to. I also think there is value in showing that being transgender doesn’t define a person, that they can be well-rounded and face obstacles outside of their gender identity and the struggles associated with being gender non-conforming.

I’m interested in other people’s take on this issue. What are your thoughts? Should LBGTQ+ characters necessarily be written so as to make political statements? Or should more of these characters be written with their orientation and/or identity as a character trait that doesn’t factor into their character development or story arc?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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