Playing It Gay Guidelines
I would LOVE to see the media accurately and authentically portraying lesbian and gay life and relationships, especially on TV and in film.
These guidelines have been written with this in mind.
I was an actor and now I WORK with actors, directors and production teams to ensure they create authentic gay characters and relationships in the media.
How to Play A Gay Character:
for straight actors playing a gay character
Key Areas Of Consideration
1. MIND-BODY TYPE
To create the most authentic character, you must start with the core of who they are.
You have a specific mind-body type, and so does your character.
Knowing your mind-body type is essential to understanding yourself, and your character. They reveal so much information about you!
There are 3 mind-body types.
You are born with a unique ratio of these 3 mind-body types (or Doshas), as defined by Ayurveda. They come together differently in each one of us and it is this unique combination that makes you who you are.
The unique ratio is your ‘natural state’ or what you are born with. This defines your appearance (hair, eye colour etc), the way you move, your posture, temperament, personality and characteristics, mannerisms, gestures, thought patterns, physical and mental ailments etc.
Overview of the Mind-Body Types
Each mind-body type has a unique blend of physical, emotional and mental characteristics (known as Qualities) that can be used to describe us.
a. Has physical and mental qualities reflecting the elements of space and air. Imagine someone creative, fast and quick thinking. The qualities of Vata are dry, light, cold, irregular, rough, quick, changeable and mobile. Vata governs movement in the body, the activities of the nervous system and the process of elimination.
b. What To Look Out For
Physically: Vata tends to have low body weight and struggle to put on weight. Their physical frame is thin and slender. Their face tends to be long and angular. They are either very tall or short. They have sensitive digestion. They have dry skin and poor circulation, often suffering with cold hands and feet. They are always of the go, with an energetic and creative mind. They are lively and enthusiastic. They have energy in bursts. Lots of energy one minute. Not so much the next. As a result of this, they are likely to experience sudden bouts of fatigue.
Emotionally: Vata move like the wind, love change and are very impulsive. They are quick to anger but also to forgive. When in balance they are creative, bursting with ideas and inspiration - usually becoming writers, dancers, inventors or artists. Unbalanced, they are prone to worry, anxiousness and often suffer from insomnia.
a. Has physical and mental qualities reflecting the elements of fire and water, such as a fiery nature that manifests in body and mind. The qualities of Pitta are oily, hot, light, moving, liquid, sharp and acidic. Pitta is the force that regulates the body’s transformative functions: digestion, metabolism and energy production.
b. What To Look Out For
Physically: Pitta tend to be medium in height and weight, with an athletic body shape. Their skin is delicate and can often be red and irritated. They burn easily in the sun. Some Pitta types have red hair or turn grey early or suffer from thinning or balding. They have excellent digestion and a warm body temperature. They sleep soundly for short periods of time and have a strong sex drive.
Emotionally: Pitta have a powerful intellect and a strong ability to concentrate. They are full of vitality, charming and charismatic, with a love of attention. They are great fun to be around because they are so dynamic and colourful. They are precise, sharp-witted, direct and often outspoken. They are good decision makers, teachers and speakers – especially when in balance. When they are out of balance they can have a sharp tongue and be quick to temper.
a. Has physical and mental qualities reflecting the elements of water and earth. Imagine a solid bodily frame and calm temperament; laid back and chilled. The qualities of Kapha are wet, cold, heavy, soft, stable, solid, slow and sticky. Kapha governs the structure of the body; holding the cells together and forming muscle, fat, bone and sinew.
b. What To Look Out For
Physically: Kapha tend to be a strong build with wide shoulders and hips. They have smooth, oily skin. They have thick hair and large, soft eyes. They have excellent stamina, with a steady stream of energy and are known to sleep soundly. They have a stable appetite and regular digestion.
Emotionally: Kapha are naturally calm, thoughtful, compassionate and loving. They enjoy life and are comfortable with routine. They are strong, loyal, patient, steady and supportive. When out of balance they tend to hold on to things for too long, are resistant to change and can be stubborn.
Note: typically, one mind-body type is more dominant in a person. Some people also have a second dominant mind-body type (Vata-Pitta for instance), and less commonly a blend of all three.
How To Work With Mind-Body Types
To create an authentic gay character, you need to:
- Identify YOUR mind-body type.
- Identify your CHARACTERS mind-body type.
- Identify your CO-STARS mind-body type.
- Explore how your mind-body types interact together.
With this information, you can begin to consider the early stages of characterisation: physically, mentally and emotionally.
How Do You Know Your Characters Mind-Body Type
There are clues everywhere!
- In the script/text/journals/books about the person. If you are playing a real life historical character - even easier! Pay attention to the physical, mental and emotional descriptions of your character.
- Portraits/photos/images of the person
- Other people's comments about your character
Your past directly influences who you are today. What you think, how you behave when alone and with others and how you present yourself to the outside world.
a. What were the key messages your character heard as a:
- Young adult
- Wider family members
- The Media: what was portrayed in the media at the time
- Societal norms: what was accepted in the era
- Gender Expectations
- Relationships: platonic and intimate
- Public Displays of Affection
- Who they are and expectations of them
- The Family Unit: marriage, kids, parental behaviours and expectations
b. What were the significant moments of your characters life, that have defined who they are, the masks they now wear and the way they live their life? Think of their life on a timeline where you detail the key moments in their life.
c. What was your character’s experience of:
- Intimate relationships
- Parental relationships
- Public displays of affection as a gay couple and the responses to that
- When coming out – how did they come out (at home and at work) or have they chosen not to?
How have all these influences (Section 2) impacted on the characters mental, emotional and physical health?
Physically: the way they move, posture, limiting their gestures and mannerisms, use and level of eye contact, body language, facial expressions, identity (how they present themselves – appearance and style), impact of physical ailments.
Mentally and emotionally:
How the two areas below impact on:
- Personality and characteristics
- Mental ailments such as excessive thinking, worrying, anxiety, aggression, hostility, mental dullness, poor perception
a. The thoughts that are dominant in their mind
For example: I'm not good enough, I feel like a fraud/impostor, I am not worthy of love, being tactile is needy etc.
b. The masks they wear to hide elements of themselves (in certain situations and with specific people)
For example, did they have a negative response when coming out within their family? If so, that will impact on how they interact with them now. They will have a barrier up when with them, they will censor what they say, their mannerisms etc.
a. What is your characters world view, mindset and outlook on life, based on all of their life experiences?
b. What do they believe to be true about who they are? What do they say to themselves about who they are and what they are doing?
c. What do they think about their sexuality? Are they comfortable with it? Is there any subconscious resistance?
d. What do they think about other gay people? Do they have any subconscious homophobia? (This is common and comes from social conditioning and messages you heard as a child/young adult...)
e. What impact has the messages they heard as a child had on them?
Social conditioning impacts hugely on how gay people express their sexuality.
Read this article: Behind The Scenes of Social Conditioning In The LGBT+ Community.
f. What do they believe to be true about specific family members, friends, colleagues? Define for each person they interact with. Think about how each person responded to your characters sexuality and choice of partners over the years. How has that impacted on specific relationships with family members, friends and colleagues?
g. What do they believe to be true about intimacy, romance, relationships, money, career, friendships, society, family life?
How have all the influences identified in Section 2 impacted on how your character presents themselves in their:
- Relationships when in public and with their partner
- Intimacy when in the home with their partner
- When alone
- Family life: close and wider
- Career and at work
- Social life
- Financial life
6. CONNECTION WITH OTHERS
a. How has the past shaped their current relationships and connection with other people – platonic and intimate?
Take each relationship separately and consider how past experiences with that person has impacted on your characters level of connection, authenticity and intimacy with them. Do they wear a mask with certain people? Are they vulnerable and open with certain people? Are they more reserved with certain people?
This will dictate your physicalisation of the relationship with the person. Consider touch, distance from the person, eye contact, posture, body language, dominant thought patterns, voice (pitch, tone, pace, pauses, volume, vocal score and choice of language used) etc.
b. How are they treated by their family, friends, local community, their colleagues and peers – specifically related to their sexuality and relationships?
Was it socially accepted to be gay at the time? What stigmas and messages were in the media at the time about being gay?
How do people talk about your characters relationship to other people? Is it your 'friend', 'partner', 'lover' etc? This gives clues on the persons level of understanding and acceptance of your character and sexuality.
a. Identify the mind-body type of each character involved in the relationship, as mentioned in Section 1, and explore how your mind-body types interact together.
Your mind-body type affects how you feel, think, interact and experience love and intimacy in a relationship. Consider all the past relationships YOU have had and how differently you interacted with different mind-body types!
For example, a Pitta (fire, intense) and a Vata (wind, airy) interact very differently together than a Vata and a Kapha (earthy, stable, slow).
A Pitta with a Vata
Pitta always overpowers Vata so Vata needs time away from Pitta.
Vata can annoy and aggravate Pitta - wind ignites fire.
b. What are your characters beliefs about relationships: monogamous, polyamorous, open relationship, long-distance relationship, casual, asexual etc.
c. What are your characters instinctive and core behaviours in a relationship? Is your character:
- Anxious: are they preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back?
- Avoidant: does intimacy mean a loss of independence? Are they constantly trying to minimise closeness?
- Secure: do they feel comfortable with intimacy and are they usually warm and loving?
d. What was your characters experience of Coming Out? Was it a positive or negative experience? What impact has this had on your character?
Read this article to find out more: The Truth About Coming Out.
e. Public Displays of Affection. Past experiences that both characters have had will influence whether PDA's occur, and in what circumstances.
Are there any experiences of homophobia in the family, social groups or in the local community? Any hostility, shame or judgements from others? Any shame or judgements coming from within your character?
This will directly impact on how the two characters interact when out in public.
f. Have a lack of Public Display's of Affection impacted on intimacy back in the home? This happens frequently in longer term and/or committed relationships.
g. What was witnessed by your character as a child in parental or sibling relationships? What was the general observation of relationships? Happy, balanced, fun? Difficult, unhappy, arguing?
h. What messages did your character hear as a child from society about gay relationships? As mentioned in section 4, social conditioning impacts hugely on how gay people express their sexuality.
i. What personal experiences has your character had in previous relationships? Were they authentic relationships? Did they have a genuine connection with their partners or were they struggling to release their masks?
Read this article to find out more about How To Be In An Authentic Relationship.
j. Bring this information together. What have they experienced/observed in relationships? What messages have they heard about relationships (from family, friends, school, media, religion etc)?
k. How does this impact on how your character expresses intimacy, connection and authenticity in their current relationship - at home and in public?
LONG TERM RELATIONSHIPS
When your character enters into a long term or committed relationship, there are implications for your characterisation.
l. Your character and partner will interact differently after the 'honeymoon' period is over and the 'excitement' begins to fade, based on their mind-body type.
m. The natural progression to the next level of the relationship affects how the characters will interact (based on their mind-body type): whether that is moving in together, marriage, civil-partnership etc.
n. Other factors to consider here: level of intimacy, playfulness, exploration, excitement, flirting, curiosity, connection, romance, power balance in the relationship, dominance, how they deal with conflict situations.
a. Research the status on healthcare, death and inheritance in the country and time your work is set in. Consider: living together as a same-sex couple, civil partnerships and same-sex marriages.
Wills, Power Of Attorney, Prenuptial Agreements, inheritance rights, estate planning, wealth management planning, Probate, funeral planning and rights.
b. What are the gay rights in the era around this?
c. What was socially accepted at the time?
d. Consider the impact of your characters and their partner’s blood relations and the relationship with them.
a. Don’t let being gay define the whole character. The character is first and foremost, a human being. Their sexuality is just one expression of who they are.
b. Live a week in the life. Seek out information about being gay in a heterosexual world and the implications of this. Observe gay people in social situations, on dates, in the home, at work, on public transport. Immerse yourself in their lives as much as you can so you can understand the complexities of being gay. You are portraying the characters life. So live it.
c. Eye contact is key. Authenticity, connection and intimacy is played through the eyes. If you want to create and play an authentic gay character, mastering eye contact is essential. It isn’t about facial expressions, the way you walk, your posture, gestures or clothing choices. It isn’t about recreating any of the stereotypical characters you will be familiar with (the femme, the butch etc) It is about how you look at people and the length of time holding a gaze. Get this right and you won’t need lines to portray how you feel!
d. What differentiates lesbian characters from straight characters is not how they act, but how they INTERACT with other female characters. The same is true of male gay characters. It is all about the interaction.
e. Stay away from stereotypical gay characterisation: such as an overly masculine representation of a lesbian or an overly feminine representation of a gay man.
f. Don’t be afraid to express your characters vulnerability.
© 2019 Gina Battye
All Rights Reserved.
No part of these guidelines may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Gina Battye is an LGBT+ & Authenticity Advisor for TV, Film, Radio, Theatre
Available For LGBT and Authenticity Advice * Consultancy * For TV, Film, Theatre + Radio
Gina Battye is an LGBT+ Coordinator and Authenticity Director for film, television, theatre and radio.
15 years ago Gina Battye created the Authentic Self Process, which led her to become a world-renowned Authentic Self & Inclusion Consultant, Trainer & LGBT+ Coach for Fortune 500 companies & leading global organisations.
In the last four years Gina has been called upon to advise and consult on best practice for actors playing LGBT+ characters; to ensure authentic delivery of LGBT+ characters and LGBT+ relationships in film, TV, theatre and radio.
As a result of this work, Gina has created the Playing It Gay Guidelines, for straight actors playing gay characters.
Watching Gina at work is mesmerising. Working with actors, directors, celebrities, public figures and audiences around the world, Gina has the rare ability to electrify everyone on set and in the room whilst delivering original and useful insights that lead to individuals blossoming and stepping into their Authentic Self.
Gina specialises in LGBT+ relationships, being your Authentic Self and creating an authentic character, LGBT+ mindset and self-help.
Gina's work has been featured widely in the media, including BBC, The Telegraph, BBC Three, The Times, The Sun, Psychologies, Cosmopolitan, Pink News, Vice, Gay Star News, Diva and Curve.