With the umbrella of queer identities, representation seems truly daunting. There is so much media out there that doesn’t live up to the standards of today but was revolutionary at the time and seems like a monolith when mentioned. I’d like to offer a new way to be representative, avoiding stereotypes and negative representation while keeping honest to the types of stories people can tell. When you think specifically on queerness, it gives a chance to validate the queer or questioning identities of those who find themselves at your table. Queerness lives in so many places, and always has, even if it couldn’t have been as open as we find ourselves able to be now . So if a story wants to be representative and honest in that representation, queerness should be found in mundane aspects as well as in the main story. Does that mean that everything needs to be queer all the time? No, not strictly, though it’s definitely fun to do so. However, a world is alive, and just like a person, they are built with a synergistic combination of identities that give the world a unique feel. Therefore, if a world is ‘missing’ the diverse parts, the worldbuilding falls flat.
When I think about creating a world for a story, I think of it as two separate steps: the foundation, and building upon it. The foundation starts with simply stating that queerness exists. This can be mentioned in so many different ways that aren’t intrusive or wedged into an existing story. The easiest method is in adding flavor to your descriptions:
“The pair of queens seem to have been in a close embrace before your party was dragged before them. Clear displeasure dances across the face of the severe looking woman who focuses on you, while the other seems a little dazed and disheveled, but not frustrated.”
This example doesn’t make queerness the center of the given information, but adds it into a scenario one might have found whether the characters were represented in a heterosexual relationship or not. It establishes characters who have a physical interest in each other who happen to share a gender identity while not having to rely on negative tropes.
“People snuck kisses and soft whispers in the quiet of this place, less tavern and more smoky meeting place. Even the man who watched the door seemed so busy with a pair of flirtatious gentlemen seemingly intent on drawing all of his attention away, leaving your own entrance unscrutinized.”
This example helps aid the story without too much interaction. Explicitly stating that queerness exists, but here it is background flavor to what the player characters need to know. Adding a little extra description to your game fills them with life and makes your worlds and stories feel more real, even in fantasy and sci-fi settings. Because the people who inhabit them feel real. Realism of this form, giving background characters more dimension, can help queer or questioning people at your table feel seen and engaged. However, being in the background can only do so much.
So, let’s take that a step further; queer existence in the world can help people feel seen, but the addition of story hooks and extra player engagement helps avoid othering queerness. In these situations, talk to your table and ask what they want to see. Safety tools are great in this regard, particularly Lines, Veils and Invitations. Use them to build a world and continue their use to change and shift as necessary. Queerness can be as mundane or as magical as you like, just like any aspect of the world you control in story telling. For example:
“The festival celebrates the many expressions of individuality people found in the region. Women, men, and those who found themselves varying in or out of those categories, dress in such finery. The leader of the mirth draws the attention of the whole crowd with the very way they dance and laugh. When you pause to hold your gaze on them, it feels like a warm fire ignites in your chest, something pulls at your whole being as you watch them. Like they hold a message just for you and your friends, something like distress hides behind their giddiness, and only you seem to be aware. What shall you do?”
This example does a couple things, establishes a setting where background queer people exist, and then builds upon it to introduce a character in story that can connect to the players. They are in distress, hiding behind joy that feels sinister and alienating when it is performed rather than felt. Talk about a queer experience! It gives a chance for the players to enter into a queer storyline, experience it, and interact at a personal level while can giving space for others to grow.
There are many more examples and ideas on this topic that I can wax poetic about, but I think to get started this is a good primer. Adding description in your games highlights queerness as an identity without becoming stereotypical or feeling shoehorned into the story. It helps your world feel populated and larger than what you see. But beyond that, giving queer characters connection to your stories, as well as motivations and desires, breathing life and helping those at the tables view these characters as belonging in the world. For some, like your humble author, the act of telling these stories can be like its own little ritual, a way to feel like they belong as well. It requires practice to do well and consistently, so get out there and practice! Queerness is everywhere!