Robert Beck, 10 January 2016

It can sometimes feel that there are only two types of queer narrative on stage; the

“doom and gloom” stories focusing on the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community which

rarely end well for those that dare to stand up to the normative societal structures, and

the “fripperous” stories where queer characters are reduced to the comic relief and

stereotypes. Is there a way that we can create more celebratory queer narratives and

increase the profile of LGBTQ + characters in the theatre that we create?

This was a lively and, sometimes firery, debate which brought together people from a

whole range of gender and sexual identities as well as age groups and experiences.

We started off by defining what a “queer narrative” was and settled on the idea that

“queer” is anything or anyone that doesn't fit into heterosexual, normative structures.

This can be gay, lesbian, trans, pansexual, intersex, asexual etc.

We discussed what was already out there. That there have been numerous works

published with positive queer narragives and that shows have and do exist that try to

be celebratory. Gay Sweat Shop in the 1980s, for example, were making work that

could be very dark and gritty, but work that was also uplifting and positive for

audiences. However, we were also quick to point out that queer narratives that extol

positivity are often quickly forgotten and disappear, whereas the negative ones seem

to stick. It seems our first action point was to work together as a community to not

forget the stories that have gone before and to uphold the narratives that promote

positivity and consolidate their place in the canon of queer work.

Next, we looked at what we can do when creating new work to ensure that more

celebratory stories are told. We must work hard when writing queer characters that

sexuality is a “character note” and not a “plot point”. We should be looking to tell

stories about humans and not particular sexual identities. If a charter happens to be

gay then this should be part of their narrative but shouldn't be the sum total of it.

Similarly, we discussed transgender people and their representation in queer

narratives. We talked about the TV series ‘Orange is the New Black’ and how the

transgender character's narrative in that show is more about her relationships with her

family and friends, rather than her transgenderism. It is about her experience as a

human and not as a transgender woman that makes that narrative so refreshing to


Yet many of us were worried that theatre is somehow falling behind TV and film when

it comes to positive queer narratives. On stage, it can still feel that LGBTQ+ stories are

“owned” by white, middle class, gay men who have been known to write heavily

mysoginistic, internally homophobic pieces that are more reductive to the cause of

LGBTQ+ rights than they are helpful. We argued that the time has come to

homogenise as a community and to mend the fractures that have come between us.

Just because I, as a gay man, have no understanding of what it is truly like to be a

lesbian, does not mean I cannot empathise and create work that is informed and

accurately drawn.

Similarly, it is about giving everyone the space to create their stories and accepting

that they will not be perfect. The heterosexual community has had thousands of years

to perfect telling stories about themselves while the queer community has had

comparatively little time. While we create new work that tells our stories in the way we

want to, we must give each other the space to be wrong and to accept this wrong and

do something different. Only through doing this will we develop a way of telling stories

about ourselves that are accurate representations of our community.

As our conversation wound down, we argued that now was the time to see different

types of relationships on stage. To show relationship make ups that were not just

“heteronormative” but polyamorous. To present elements of the kink and fetish scene

in a way that celebrated it rather than just condemning it. Although we recognised the

difficulties that this could raise when taking it to parts of the country or the world where

culture and religion were not as accepting of queer narratives as we are in London,

Birmingham and the other major cities. While we are plowing ahead with the desire to

see new and fresh queer narratives depicted on stage, we must pay heed to those

who are still catching up, who may need more convention LGBTQ+ narratives at the

moment while they still learn to accept and tolerate those who are different.

There was so much discussed and it was all so rich that I fear I have missed out much

that was interesting and important. However, our conclusions were that while things

have improved massively in the last decade, even the last half decade, that there is

still so much to do. We must continue writing queer characters and exploring queer

narratives. We must be careful though to ensure that we are writing these narratives

accurately and fairly and that the focus is always on the human, rather than sexuality

or gender. Isn't that what drama is after all? Stories about human beings?


Gender, Queer, Theatre, gender, narratives, LGBTQ+, queer, THEATRE, theatre