Saturday, August 18, 2018

Using a Gay Character for a Good Conversation

via Pixabay
Sydney Stark is the warmest, friendliest publisher comrade in The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. He's always there with an easy joke, a polished congratulations, a comforting word.

Sydney is also gay. In spite of that, I still appreciate his character.

Rewind a century to 19th century London. In season 2 of Victoria, her court member Alfred Paget carries on a romantic relationship with Edward Drummond. One kiss and a tragic ending later, Albert turns to an heiress to find a marriage partner.

For a while, Alfred is gay. I have a problem with that.

So what gives, Schuyler? What makes the difference?

There are some camps, of which I probably would have used to be one, that would say the portrayal of both men was something that Christians shouldn't participate in reading about. Boycott, protest, and warn people away. But I think it's a little more nuanced than that. It all comes down to why you're watching it and how you engage with the art.

I haven't seen season 2 of Victoria yet. I probably will, but I just haven't gotten around to it. But as a Christian, I disagree with Alfred Paget's character portrayal because he exists to celebrate an unbiblical lifestyle. He is not there to create truthful or beautiful art. He's given a hot-button issue (which isn't historically accurate) to connect with a modern audience.

However, I don't have the same problem with Sydney Stark's character.

read on, lizzy 

No kind of gay relationship is portrayed on screen. In fact, you'd almost not even know he's gay except for one comment. Juliet confides to a friend that Sydney would probably have a better chance of loving her if she were named George or Tom. After a moment of confusion, her friend's face clears and she nods in realization.

Sydney maintains good art to a certain extent because he portrays a fully-dimensional person instead of a gay agenda. Alfred violates good art because his character exists to prove that sin is acceptable. The Bible contains fully dimensional sinners and is not threatened by them. But God never deceives his followers into thinking that sin is desirable.

Guernsey doesn't go further than making Syndey three-dimensional. But when I engage that piece of art with biblical truth, I can take that story to a further conclusion that leads to a fuller picture of Truth.

I'm speaking to my fellow conservatives here when I say that Sydney's characterization can open up a fruitful conversation to remind us that gay-identifying people are more than gay. Sydney reminds us that people who are gay are also...people. Warm, friendly, fully dimensional people. They have lives and professions, they can be wonderful friends and make good contributions to the world. Even unsaved, they are still Imago Dei.

This is how people like Sydney can help those of us who disagree with a gay lifestyle. You see, as conservatives, when we pigeon-hole someone according to an issue or a category, then we can easily dismiss them as an enemy. We lump them all into together and shut them out. They do not touch our hearts. But when we remember that the Sydney Starks of the world are real individuals with sins and struggles and a soul just like us, then we are much more likely to face the question: how are we going to respond?

It's much harder to dismiss a person than to dismiss a category. When you finally see someone as a person, then you are more likely to feel grief for their sin and love for their soul. When we feel grief and love for them, we are much more likely to engage them with the good news of the Gospel.

Good art can open our eyes to that.

Just to be clear, I don't believe that gay relationships are biblical. Nor do I believe that a portrayal of sin in stories is a neutral thing. I don't believe that Christians enjoying entertainment should take the casual inclusion of gay characters or relationships lightly. We need to think about these things. Mindless consumption of entertainment is not a good thing.

But I do believe that Sydney's story can open up doors to discuss these concepts. I think his character would be especially fruitful to discuss with a period drama loving teen or twenty-something--either one who struggles with Christians condemning the gay lifestyle, or one who cannot understand the power and compassion of Christ to forgive certain sins. Just as Paul engaged the people of Athens with their idols and their poets, and then presented truth, we can also do that with stories.

In a good conversation, Syndey's character can illustrate that even when a sinner is still loveable, he is still a sinner. Sydney can illustrate that even when he is still a sinner, he is not beyond the reach and transformation of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). And Syndey can illustrate that even believers who struggle with sexual temptation in this area are not the sum of their sexual sin, but they are the sum of their status as an image-bearer (Lies Women Believe, pg. 143-146.)

By itself, Guernsey will teach you none of these things. It's just a fun period drama with a quick, almost-miss gay comment. But art, and especially story, and especially Guernsey, can be a non-threatening, non-explicit vehicle for engaging the issue. It's not an end place. But with the right person, and the right conversation, it can be a springboard to further diving into Scripture.

Because I do not personally have opportunities to interact with people who identify as gay (though I would love to someday) Sydney's fictional personality helped me engage with that truth in a Gospel light. And I am grateful for it. The best kind of art is a springboard that, when wrestled and engaged with, and conversed about, leads you back to Scripture and Truth--which is Jesus.

I more than welcome comments or texts that will sharpen my perspective on this issue!


  1. A friend just showed me this movie last night!
    I agree that Sydney was a good character. The filmmakers didn't seem to pass any comment on the goodness or badness of his homosexuality. It appeared to be there mainly as a safeguard to keep the audience from shipping him with Juliet. :P

    1. Oh, how fun! I loved it so much I started watching it a second time. I just haven't been able to finish yet. That was a convenient safeguard, bc otherwise he would have been easy to ship. :P

  2. I really appreciated this post, Schuyler. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This post is amazing! I binge-read the book and then watched the movie twice. ;) The book's approach to Sydney is basically the same. And he was one my favorite characters! I kept telling my mom that I wanted an editor/publisher like him! Although the actor helped. xP

    The fact that he was gay didn't make me like him any less precisely because it wasn't presented as an agenda. That was just one part of his character. I totally agree that it was a more healthy portrayal because he was so much more than "just gay."

    I did watch Victoria Season 2 (and yes, that whole homosexual thread is annoying), but it turned out better than I expected, to be honest. It was promoting the agenda in a historical piece, but I liked how the girl dealt with it and he made the right call in the end. (Unlike in, say, Imitation Game where he destroys his own life by pursuing it still.)

    Thanks again for this post! Do you mind if I share a link to it in my next newsletter?

    1. Oo, I loved your thoughts on both Victoria and Guernsey! I'm so glad Sydney was the same in the book, and I agree, he seems like a really good friend. :)

      And I would love it if you shared a link in your newsletter! Thank you so much for doing that! :D

  4. What a good (and refreshing!) post! I absolutely agree with you on every turn.
    And, I know some people living that lifestyle could perhaps have reason to complain that Sydney wasn't "representing" them enough...but I also don't realize how HARMFUL 'representation' like Alfred is.
    When a storyteller (author, director, whatever) makes a character gay, makes their story flashy, and creates a pushes Christians further away from the realization that gay people are first people.
    Gay people who are portrayed as an agenda are rarely loved by those who disagree with their lifestyle. I love Sydney's character (and...yes, probably would've shipped him with Juliet...XD) because he is more than just his sexuality. They didn't reduce him to a gay puppet. They showed us what else he is - meticulous, caring, kind. When storytellers throw in a gay character (like Alfred) for the fireworks-factor...they lose that. They become a shallow puppet of sin and there is nothing to be loved in them.

    I'm glad those who brought us Guernsey's story kept Sydney from that fate. I'm glad they allowed him to be a /person/, because fallen or not, a person is a person. Not an agenda. I think it's important for us Christians to remember that we can fiercely, vibrantly, completely love and care for a person, while also not accepting the lives they lead.

  5. Great post I totally agree that we must see gay people as just that, people. If you're interested in learning more on the subject I would recommend the books by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered. I've only read the latter, which was very informative, but the first one is more her story, and I've heard it's really good.

  6. I just had to pop in and say that you did an amazing job with this post. I definitely agree, though I'd never thought of it this way. I have seen Victoria, and I think the thing that annoyed me most about Alfred/Drummond was that there is no historical evidence that they were in a relationship, or even that they were both gay. If it had been a true historical fact, the writers could have had a very nuanced, interesting look at the way homosexuality was dealt with in Victoria's time. It might still have glorified their lifestyle, but at least it would have been true. The way it was though, they literally only existed to push a gay agender, not to be true or real representations of an issue that affected people back then just as much as it does now.
    I haven't seen Guernsey yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing how things are dealt with in that :)
    Thanks for this post! It was thought provoking and interesting :).


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