As an LGBTQ author with a queer-lead psychological thriller novel debuting soon—TANGLED DARKNESS (July 2025)—I’m grateful to have a role in the progression of authentic, nuanced LGBTQ characterization in popular thriller fiction.

I’ve recently looked back on the history of LGBTQ representation in thrillers since the 1960s. Mind you, this isn’t an exhaustive review nor am I an expert on the topic—but I do want to share a few patterns I’ve noticed.

First, I’ve found the path towards intersectional diversity and inclusivity has been fraught with negative stereotypes—including tropes about bisexuality and gayness being signs of mental instability—and queerbaiting.

Flat Characterization & Tokenism

Even in more recent decades, many LGBTQ characters in thriller fiction have lacked strong, multi-dimensional development. Two examples illustrate this point:

1. Sonny Barger from The Poet by Michael Connelly (1996): As a gay FBI profiler, Sonny’s portrayal was groundbreaking but faced criticism for limited development beyond his sexual orientation.

2. Tom Robinson from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003): Although not a main character, Robinson is a prominent gay figure as the bishop of the secret society, the Priory of Sion. His portrayal avoids many stereotypes, but his sexuality is not explored in depth and is only revealed in passing.

Representation or Queerbaiting?

As well, there have been LGBTQ characters where simply an allusion of their sexual orientation is depicted, reminding me of the popular phrase “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or the more recent “don’t say gay:”

1. Rizzoli & Isles series by Tess Gerritsen (2001 – 2017): Maura Isles’ sexuality is hinted at as a lesbian character. Isles and Rizzoli’s relationship faced “queerbaiting” accusations.

2. Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs: Although not explicitly stated in the novel, the film adaptation strongly suggests that Starling is a lesbian. Her portrayal avoids many stereotypes, but her sexuality is only hinted at and never revealed explicitly. As such, it’s hard to count this story as “representation.”

Troubled Mental States

Another problematic trend has been the prevalence of the “troubled gay or bisexual” stereotype in some thriller fiction, which describes media wherein queer characters are traumatized, depressed, or otherwise mentally unwell while hetero characters are successful and well-adjusted. I’ll list a few commonly critiqued examples below—though bear in mind that many of these characters are still well-rounded, despite sometimes falling into this trope.

1. Lisbeth Slander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson (2005-2007): As a bisexual hacker and investigator, Lisbeth is a groundbreaking character; however, she has been criticized for perpetuating the “troubled gay/bisexual” trope.

2. Carrie Mathison from Homeland by Andrew Kaplan: The bisexual CIA officer protagonist struggles with mental illness. While her sexuality is not the focus, it has been critiqued for associating bisexuality with mental instability.

3. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: Bateman is a wealthy, narcissistic serial killer who engages sexually with both men and women. While his bisexuality is not central, it has been criticized for linking it to promiscuity and violence.

4. Will Graham from Red Dragon by Thomas Harris: As a gay FBI profiler who struggles with mental illness, Graham is a well-developed character whose sexuality is not the focus. However, some argue his portrayal promotes the trope of gay men as emotionally fragile.

Nuanced Representation

On the other hand, there are several notable examples of LGBTQ characters in thrillers who have made substantial contributions to authentic diversity and representation in the genre:

1. Henry Rios from The Henry Rios Mystery Series by Michael Nava (1986-2001): Rios, a gay criminal defense lawyer and amateur detective, is notable for his complex portrayal and the in-depth exploration of his gay identity in both his professional and personal life.

2. Kate Delafield from the Kate Delafield Series by Katherine V. Forrest (1984-2013): As a lesbian detective in the LAPD, Delafield broke ground as a lesbian protagonist in crime fiction.

3. Dave Brandstetter from A Dave Brandstetter Mystery Series by Joseph Hansen (1970-1991): Brandstetter, a gay insurance investigator, was one of the first openly gay protagonists in the mystery genre.

In my upcoming novel, TANGLED DARKNESS by MM Desch (2025), Leslie Schoen is a married lesbian with a decade of sobriety and recovery from alcoholism. Approaching parenthood for the first-time surfaces issues from her early life, factoring into the complex challenges she faces while seeking to prove her innocence after a coworker’s murder.

Final Thoughts

The characterization of LGBTQ people in crime fiction has as many twists and turns as a compelling psychological thriller. Some key themes and observations I’ve noticed while looking into this topic:

– Many characters, like Lisbeth Salander, are portrayed as complex, multi-dimensional protagonists whose sexualities are just one part of who they are. This is a positive development in avoiding stereotypes and tokenism.

– However, criticisms are noted about certain tropes and stereotypes that still appear for many characters, such as the “troubled gays and bisexuals,” bisexuality as a sign of mental instability or deviance, or gay men as emotionally fragile.

– For several characters, like Clarice Starling, their LGBTQ identities are only hinted at or briefly mentioned rather than being explored in depth (“don’t ask, don’t tell”). This could be seen as missed opportunities for meaningful representation.

– Most of the characters discussed are white; there’s clearly room for more intersectional diversity.

Overall, the characters discussed demonstrate both progress made and areas for continued improvement in creating authentic, nuanced portrayals of LGBTQ individuals in popular thriller fiction. Avoiding stereotypes, providing in-depth development, and featuring diversity within LGBTQ representation are important for the genre going forward.

I hope you’ll find TANGLED DARKNESS has contributed to that progress and avoided damaging tropes. For me as an author, it’s incredibly meaningful to see myself and my community reflected with authenticity, depth, and humanity in the pages of the genre I love. I believe strongly that through greater inclusivity and multi-dimensional characterization, LGBTQ characters can enrich thriller fiction, engage new audiences, and help pave the way for a new generation of voices and stories. The plot twists may keep us guessing, but one thing is certain — LGBTQ representation in thrillers has come a long way, with an exciting future on the horizon.


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