Worry not: I do not wish to take everyone’s attention away from the Shared World project for even a minute (see the post below this one if you haven’t been there yet), but I need to talk about this today, and then I'll get back to the more fun thing!
Some comments that I saw on someone else’s blog recently, which were sort of indirectly related to M-Brane’s upcoming queer anthology, made me wonder if I was going to inadvertently wander into a minefield of FAIL. I reflected on other imbroglios of recent months centered around issues like racial diversity or gender in sf, and wondered if I risk touching off a mini-controversy centered around LGBTQ issues if I somehow make a mistake with the stories that I select for the book—or if by the very act of assembling such a thing, I am failing at handling the subject matter judiciously.
What things could go wrong for me as its editor? They are, as I see it, these: 1) Content or theme of the stories could be interpreted as insensitive or laden with clichés and stereotypes about sexual orientation and/or gender; or 2) Some people may question the entire premise of the project, wondering why it needs to be that something like sexual orientation or transgender status or some new sfnal kind of queerness needs to be highlighted at all. Let me ponder these one at a time:
1) I don’t think that this is the kind of mistake that I would make even if I weren’t thinking hard about trying to avoid it. I have a lot of sensitivity to the subject matter and I am able to detect tired stereotypes about it pretty easily. That being said, I don’t consider sensitivity to necessarily mean that any and all LGBTQ characters are going to be models of heroism and virtue anymore than I would expect that of str8 characters. Also, I do come to this from a male perspective and could possibly—just maybe—have some shortcomings as far as understanding, say, a lesbian or a transgender character…but again, I don’t think what limitations I have in this area are any different or more serious than any limitations I may have in understanding str8 female (or str8 male) characters. I’ve read enough books, have formally studied enough literature and history, and have lived enough real life to get these things. Basically, I don’t think I really have any serious limitations in this area, and I think I will avoid giving offense when the finished book is released. Or rather, if its content offends, it will not be because I have failed in this particular area. It will be because I am deliberately publishing some possibly discomforting fiction and mean to push some buttons.
2) It’s from two directions that doubt about the whole premise of the book comes. The first can be dispensed with easily: the objection that “gay stuff is gross/annoying/non-Christian etc.” I assume that anyone with that attitude won’t be reading it anyway, and that’s fine. I’d prefer they ignore it and not bother me about it. The other direction of objection is more nuanced. Some readers who may otherwise be sympathetic to the concept wonder why it needs to be highlighted in ways like this book. Generally, such folks would rather it just be a normal, incidental thing in fiction that there’s a gay person here and there like there is in real life, no big deal, nothing to worry about. Or even if the main character is a queer, then maybe it would be best that the trait not be made a big deal of or dwelt upon too heavily. Because wouldn’t it be best if we could all accept or even look past each other’s differences and not zero in on them like that? Well…maybe, but that’s just not how it seems to work in the real world or in the literature of the genre as it currently exists. These theoretical incidentally gay characters are precious few in the written genre (and virtually non-existent in the film/TV version of the genre, if we want to even get into that). Whole eras of sf, like the 1950s and the 1980s in particular, have virtually none at all save for in the work of a very few rebellious writers. And where queer characters do crop up, is the trait really ever incidental or normal? It’s always just incidental and everyday-business, of course, when it’s a str8 character. Think about it. Do you ever read a story (or see something on a screen) where a male and a female have some kind of marriage or romance or sex and think, “Huh. Look at that. I guess they’re heterosexuals. Well, whaddya know!” But I guarantee you it would stand it out if it were a samesex interaction in a venue where you're not expecting to see one. It’s unavoidable.
Consider also the complete contents of M-Brane’s five (soon to be six) issues thus far. The zine is about as hetero-normative as anything else being published in the genre. I have not published a single story yet with what I would call significant samesex content. The only one I can think of where non-hetero activity really comes up at all is Derek Goodman’s issue #4 story “Northern Girls With the Way They Kiss” where the predominately female group of characters evidently engage in some samesex intimacy, but even in that story, this seems to be more a result of their relatively male-free post-apocalyptic life circumstances than that they are all just casually a bunch of everyday lesbians. Another story that gets pretty queer in its sexuality, even while not having samesex content, is Brandon Bell’s “Abraham Discovers an Object Impenetrable to All Harm” in issue #5, what with all the freaky-deaky android goings-on. There’s also Mike Griffith’s Skinjumper stories which feature a dude and his girlfriend who is actually a male persona inhabiting a female body (in, I guess, a sort of transgenderism enabled by high tech). But those few stories are about it. So, I think I’d like to see some more representation of non-mainstream identities in something that I publish, and I think it’s a cool and fun thing to make it a focus of a whole anthology. Not everyone will agree that it needs to be done, but I hope I at least do a good job of presenting it.
[The image, by the way, is of an ad that (I think) I have circulating in another venue shortly; it's to encourage some last minute submissions. I adapted the art from one of those weird 1950s-era pulp porn novels that were popular in the gay underground back in those days. I think it had a lurid title like Homo Holiday or The Fairy Within or some such nonsense.]
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