LGBT Issues in Fantasy:
This month the members of the Great Traveling Guest Blog Fantasy Roundtable pondered LGBT issues and themes in fantasy literature. Our ponderings are below and include a wide range of ideas and reactions, from the very personal to the philosophical.
LGBT Sexuality in Fantasy
by Sylvia Kelso
When it comes to word-associations, heterosexual aka straight sexuality gets all the advantages. Synonyms Roget gives for “straight” include:
direct, even, right, true, unbent, undistorted, unturned.
Antonyms however, include:
curved, indirect, twisted, disorganized disordered, disorderly.
And at the best,
different, unconventional, untraditional.
At the worst, deceitful, devious, lying, shady, and underhanded.
Attempts to redress this naming problem haven’t really worked yet. “Queer” is good but still carries tricky associations. “Gay” is omissive, even if better than the hiss-word equivalents. “Lesbian” is a 19thC recycle of Ancient Greece, where the only surviving woman to woman love poems come from Sapho of Lesbos. “Non-straight” plays into the opponents’ court, while “alternate sexuality” leaves the naming field unequal. “GLBT” is inclusive but clumsy, and “same-sex” works OK with “marriages” but “same-sex sexuality?”
Any cursory backward glance affirms the 20th Century arguments that the whole straight/other sexual polarity is relatively young. A love affair between a Pharaoh and one of his generals turns up around 2400-2200 BC in Egypt. In Ancient Greece, a major cultural source of our “civilization,” bisexuality was the male norm, while in Ancient Rome male to male love hardly raised an eyebrow. There were constraints: the thought of a relationship trading active and passive roles never seems to have occurred. Ancient Greek men were supposed to love boys, or extend such an affair to a long-term relationship, but keep the active-passive roles. Ancient Roman citizens had to be the active members, and get involved only with slaves, male prostitutes, or non-citizens. Women, as usual, are poorly documented. Sappho was only one of Nine Female Poets in the major Greek anthology, and who knows what the others wrote? “Lesbians” are actually titled so by Lucian in 2nd CE Rome, but their depictions read like male-constructed butch caricatures.
All the same, Alexander the Great’s long-term relationship with his friend Hephaistion is famous. Less famously, two Roman emperors (Nero and Heligabalus, but emperors all the same) legally married men, in Heligabalus’ case, “amid great rejoicing.” And, shades of the future, Martial and Juvenal note with disapproval that male couples are having traditional marriage ceremonies.
One would think the genres of elsewhere, would have a head start in combating our current sexual polarity, but SF was notoriously slow to admit any sex, and modern fantasy did no better. The exception comes, again, from fanfic, where Theodore Sturgeon’s mild ‘60s depiction of gayness in “Venus Plus X” is rapidly overshadowed by slashfic in the wake of Star Trek. The form hasn’t looked back since. But as Joanna Russ and numbers of irritated gay readers have pointed out, slashfic relationships are heavily marked by contemporary female constructions of sexuality. Waiting is important. UST is (still) important. A lot of anguish and maybe a male pregnancy are common. And not surprisingly, male-male sexuality has been a lot more attractive than female-female versions.
How MIGHT the 21st C fantasy writer deal with same-sex love, life, relationships? Obviously, if you can invent a world where things are NOT like here, you can also invent new names for the whole caboodle. Nevertheless, same-sex falls under the same minefield rubric as race. Depict same sex if you’re “straight” yourself, and get caned for poaching or inaccuracy? Omit same-sex altogether, and get caned too? Include same-sex relationships as general, unremarked? Or highlighted, or as chief narrative parts? Worlds where the entire constructions of sexuality are alienatingly different? Worlds where same-sex becomes a part of alien sex?
My first attempt to include “alternate sexualities” was a would-be multi-racial and otherwise inclusive SF novel for a Creative Writing MA, but there, same-sex people appeared marginally, or, because the secondary world was an ancient Macedonian colony, were already bisexual by culture, and the trend of the story was toward straight central relationships. In the sequel, I wrote a same-sex female relationship for a carried-over major character that made me (and her) much happier. But I only centralized such relationships in the Amberlight books.
In Amberlight itself the emotional focus is a straight love affair, but it happens in a matriarchy – a literal matriarchy, where sexual inequity falls on men. Women rule the city, for a simple practical reason, which inverts Victorian mores: lower class men go out to work. Middleclass shame is needing to have men work. Aristocratic, or House men, live secluded as marriage counters and male odalisques.
In same-sex matters Amberlight reversed Ancient Greece. Women were bisexual, female-female “partnerships” were general. But again, the pace and focus of the central story sidelined such relationships. I do seriously regret being unable to explore the men’s world, particularly that of the “Tower” men.
Amberlight fell, in a pretty straightforward SF trope , matriarchy flattened by a patriarchal invader’s catalyst, though here fuelled by a straight feminist’s opposition to gender inequity. The sequel, Riversend, sent the main characters up country to start again, with the specific goal of leveling the field: in this case, letting all men share both work and privileges. Again, woman-woman relationships ended as givens. But Tellurith, the House-head and female lead, had decided to flout custom by taking the patriarchal invader as a second husband – House men were multiply married to cement alliance, House women took one husband. Since the ménage a trois became a real love triangle, I had not only a Tower man’s viewpoint, but two male povs on same-sex desire. Tellurith’s second husband, learning his way in a woman’s world, was a familiar story. Sarth, with his longings for his cosmetics and face veil and what he regarded as “decent” male behavior, was a very different matter.
At the time I’d been reading Lesbian theorists, one of whom argued that heterosexual love desired the Other, but same-sex love desired the Self. I found it an intriguing concept, and when I had to depict a same-sex pov from the outside, so to speak, it worked powerfully in Riversend, particularly as the patriarchally raised Alkhes struggled to enunciate his desire for Sarth.
The emotional closure of Riversend was the cementing of the tripartite marriage to include both male-male and heterosexual relations. But only the third book, Source, involved Tellurith in a fullscale, firsthand women’s relationship. And with Tellurith, the Black Gang, aka creative component, took the theory literally. Her new female love (she was partnered back before Amberlight), found at the end of a long and epic journey, was physically Tellurith’s doppelganger.
The relationship grew, interestingly, more from common interests and shared sympathies and less than the men’s ties did from physical desire. Later the plot forced me to divide them, so Tellurith got to do the great “love forsaken” scenes, as she chose duty above love – that ancient, usually masculine dilemma. But the Black Gang did not acquiesce in this too traditional plotline. The book closes with Tellurith home, her new society safe after a fierce war, and at last the mother of a daughter. Yet in this traditional scene entered a suggestion that her female lover might not be wholly lost. If, as usual, female same-sex relationships went short on time and attention, the Black Gang set up this tie to become a major presence in the future. I hope it’s an omen for our world as well.
Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia. She writes fantasy and SF set in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some short stories in Australian and US anthologies.
Musings on GLBT themes in Fantasy
by Theresa Crater
I judged the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards for a couple of years, which gives annual awards for the best GLBT content in science fiction and fantasy. The number of books with GLBT characters has grown both in number and complexity. GLBT characters are just an ordinary part of life in many books, being main characters, side-kicks and even villains.
Last year the award went to Kathe Koja’s Under the Poppy. The title of the book is the name of a brothel, owned by Decca. She is in love with Rupert, who helps her run the place, but then her brother Istvan shows up. He’s a puppeteer—of puppets and humans—and a bit of a thief. Rupert and he have been lovers in the past and succumb to their life-long love affair again, with a few liaisons here and there. There was some question about whether this book could truly be called a fantasy, but the judges decided the puppets seem to have a life of their own. Besides, it was a delightful riot of gorgeous language and interesting characters carving out a life for themselves in the margins of prewar Europe.
One of my favorite series was Laurie J. Marks’ elemental series, starting with Fire Logic, then Earth Logic. You get the idea. What I liked best about this series is that it normalized all kinds of sexualities. Karis G’deon rules Shaftal in this series, or she’s supposed to. She doesn’t really want to. Her lover is a woman; her friends have various sexual preferences, which begin to become just a small part of the overall picture of who these people are. Much like Bilbo tells stories or Hermione is very smart. We can see what a world that is sane about the variety of human sexual expression might feel like.
Will we return to a pre-1869 world? It was in that year that homosexuality and heterosexuality were invented. Not the practices, but as identities. Before that, people did have sex, of course, but their identity did not rest in what kind of sex they had. Much like Marks’s work. And even Koja’s.
Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, Beneath the Hallowed Hill & Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently “White Moon” in Riding the Moon and “Bringing the Waters” in The Aether Age: Helios. She’s also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Colorado with her Egyptologist partner and their two cats. Visit her website at http://theresacrater.com
by Carole McDonnell
In the course of reading, one always encounters folks one would generally not encounter, or folks one would not normally want to meet. Witness the enraged moviegoer racists who had to deal with the fact that Rue in the Hunger Games was Black. So what does a Biblical Christian do when she encounters a fantasy book that contains a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender character?
Many of my stories involve interracial romances and I’ve had experiences where someone reads one of my stories and is unwilling to be pulled into the romance simply because they are disgusted, bothered, or nauseated by seeing two people together who –in their worldview– should not be together. So, I try to understand. On the flip side, because I know how incredibly complex sexuality can be, I get wary of easy answers or easy stories about homosexuality. Too many of my lesbian friends were raped as children, too many of my male gay friends were seduced by older men, and too many of my gay male friends were adopted or were delivered by induced estrogen-laden deliveries for me to say that people were biologically made gay.
I suppose I can read a book about a homosexual character if I don’t feel I’m being subject to propaganda. In my experience, I’ve known people who were born gay or who have had their sexuality affected by sexual molestation, separation/adoption issues, the hormonal chemicals introduced into the womb at induced deliveries, or became gay after some trauma or hospital stay. So I take gay folks in stories and in real life as I find them.
I have never had a gay character show up and want to have me tell his story but I have had tons of conflicted heterosexuals, and I do have some gay characters in some of my stories who aren’t really gay but more characters who are conflicted heterosexuals. I think what bothers me is the vast amount of false history and false biology I would have to accept. In the same way people who study the Druids and the Celts or Native American religions get peeved when they are faced with false “pop factoids” about certain things, I start rolling my eyes when I feel an author is attempting to propagandize.
The definition of “gay” as an exclusive love of people of one’s own sex is relatively new. Back in the day, most homosexuality allowed for loving people of both sexes. It was often supplemental to a heterosexual relationship. Alexander the Great loved his companion but he also loved his wife Roxanne. Oscar Wilde loved Lord Alfred Douglas but he also loved his wife. While there were some rare exceptions, in ancient times, in most cultures (Japan, Greece, Afghanistan, etc), homosexuality was generally frowned upon while pedophilia/pederasty was accepted. One of the most famous Greek tragedies, the curse on the Oedipus clan, –the curse of falling in love with the wrong people (incest, bulls, frigidity, etc) –fell upon the family because Laius would not give up his young lover when the pederasty contract was finished and the boy was fully grown. The gods deemed it so heinous that Laius’ descendants were cursed forever. Most people who speak of homosexuality being accepted by the past don’t talk honestly about the pederasty factor. So for me it depends on how honest I think the author is. . .
I recently read Kari Sperring’s Living With Ghosts, a great book that definitely could trouble the Christian reader. Not only did I have to deal with gigolos, homosexual attraction, and extra-marital sex, I had to deal with someone who dealt Tarot cards.
So what did I do?
Well, I actually read it. My very traditional heart had a few hurdles. For one, although I’m okay with prostitution in stories, I get a bit niggly about adultery. I kept hoping there would be no adulterous encounter I would have to be “on board” for. Generally, I don’t watch movies or read books with adultery in it. (This isn’t a religious issue with me. My father was a serial adulterer so I have a painful spot there.) So if I read a book with adultery, my biggest fear is that I will be asked to be “okay” with it.
True, I was in the POV of a high class courtesan who happened to be bisexual, but Gracielas was such a noble wounded character and the story was so intriguing and the world-building so solid and interesting that I totally got into the story. That said, once again, I didn’t allow myself to feel the homosexual attractions that happened in various characters. First because one of the homosexual pairs was married and I have a problem with being asked to be on the side of adulterers. Plus I’ve seen so many movies and heard so many accounts where some guy discovers he’s gay after being married for twenty years and suddenly divorces his poor wife. So yeah, I kept telling myself “I like these two characters but if I’m asked to go along with adultery I’m not gonna be patient.”
So yeah, with me, the issue with me is wariness of being pulled into understanding anything I don’t morally agree with. Living With Ghosts had a lot my priggish Biblical mind couldn’t deal with but the skill of the author and the beautiful craft of the writing helped me overcome my reluctance. I suppose the best way to make me read a book I don’t want to is to make the book utterly brilliant.
Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower.
Gay Characters in Fantasy: A Personal Journey,
by Deborah Ross
In my experience, the community of science fiction and fantasy readers and writers has been one of the most tolerant of, and welcoming to, those who don’t fit into the mainstream. This includes queer (non-strictly-heterosexual) and gender-queer (non-strictly-male-or-female-assigned-gender) folks as well. My own introduction included stimulating discussions of sexuality, gender identification, and sexual orientation. I remember reading Theodore Sturgeon’s Venus Plus X (1960, one of the earliest science fiction stories to challenge gender-role stereotypes), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The World Wreckers (1971). Four years later, Marion published The Heritage of Hastur, in which she created a sympathetic and heroic gay protagonist. The World Wreckers impressed me because one of the characters falls in love with a member of a hermaphroditic race and must confront his own feelings about homosexuality and his identity as a man. I had never read anything like it, and it opened my eyes to the question of who we are, apart from our plumbing and hormones. This led the way to the understanding that sexual orientation is not just about which body part fits where, but about the people who are the focus of our hearts: romance as well as hormones.
In general, the works I read during the 60s and 70s were serious and courageous treatments of gender, gender roles, and sexual orientation, well ahead of popular media. But popular media caught up, although perhaps not in the formats its creators intended. I suppose fanfic (fan-written fiction based on established characters, not limited to television and films but primarily so) has always been around, but slash fiction is usually thought to have originated with the original series Star Trek. What’s slash fiction? Beginning in the late 70s, mostly female fans created stories featuring romantic and sexual relationships between various male media characters.
Somewhat to my bemusement, my teenage daughters loved it. I say bemusement because of my dissonance between the in-depth examination-of-issues, coincident with the women’s consciousness-raising movement of the 1970s, with the irreverent, often whimsical character of slashfic. What was this all about? And why were my daughters — who at the time were dating both boys and girls to see which they preferred — so interested in male characters hopping into bed with one another?
Fast forward a bit, with the death of Marion and my continuing her “Darkover” series (the setting for both of her above-referenced novels) plus my own writing career, with numerous portrayals of gay and bisexual characters. In 2004, I attended Gaylaxicon in San Diego, still scratching my head over slashfic and smiling nicely at all the campy humor. During a question and answer period, I put the issue to the audience. No one had a definitive answer, but there was a fascinating discussion about the differences between what appealed to women in slash characters and what appealed to gay men. (I suspect there’s a corollary in what lesbians find attractive in female slash characters versus what turns straight men on.) I came away mulling over the idea that within the slashfic context, readers of both sexes found a nonthreatening place in which to explore their own feelings about relationships, in particular sexuality. This lead to the disturbing question of whether this process objectified gay people, in essence projecting a distorted image of them for a purpose they have nothing to do with — e.g., helping adolescent girls understand male sexuality.
And this led to an even more disturbing question, not meant as a criticism specifically of fanfic but of fiction and media portrayals as a whole: do we see what we want to see, or do we see what’s really there? Can a gay youth, who is struggling to figure out who he is and how he is different and if he’s okay, understand himself through the lens of an essentially heterosexual portrayal of sexuality? Can any of us find ourselves when we’re being defined by someone else’s needs (or stereotypes, positive or negative)?
Do we as writers have a responsibility to create gay characters that make sense in the experience of gay people? Do we have a responsibility to include them at all? Should the sexual orientation of a character even be an issue — aren’t people just people?
I wish it were that simple, that we might live in a world in which gender, race, faith, or sexual orientation do not make some people invisible. Or worse, targets of hatred. I see value in both portraying worlds and cultures of diversity, and in stories about the struggles gays face now, in our imperfect world in their own terms.
Author Kyell Gold writes, “I’d been more and more openly gay for about a decade when I moved in with my then-boyfriend (now husband), but I still kept it private from my co-workers and other casual friends until I got a better sense of how it would be received. What was fueling my writing then was the urge to show gay characters falling in love, the way I was falling in love. [ital mine] … I have gotten many, many e-mails from teenaged boys (mostly) telling me how the book changed their lives, made them realize that it was okay for them to be gay. I have heard from people who said they didn’t realize that gay relationships were about anything other than sex until they read my book. Everyone has these intimate experiences and secrets that they keep close to them. One of the most terrifying things we face as a human is being alone. … And when you read about someone, even a fictional character, going through the same things you did, that can be a revealing, momentous experience.”
One of the most humbling and inspiring projects I have worked on was completing the novel Marion began in the final year of her life, featuring the central character from The Heritage of Hastur. After Hastur Lord came out, I received the following email, used with permission: “As a gay man who has had to live in the closet from much of my early adult life, I wasn’t sure how the [characters] would find their ways to peace, harmony, beauty, and honor. … I always loved the way Marion gave primacy of love and honesty, no matter the culture or the perceived taboo. Those of us … who have lived under the harsh lash of religious zeal, ideological repression, and the resulting personal constraint, cherish your ability to portray living honestly, openly, self confidently, at peace with ourselves. We know the cost, the loss, and the gain. And you have not shied away from the struggles to achieve that peace. It is hard won. But you have shown that the determination of caring people … can make committed lives blend together beautifully, forging a family, while at the same time allowing each to express their own individual truest selves. Thank you for carrying on Marion’s vision and for touching me deeply.”
Hastur Lord was nominated for the 2011 Gaylactic Spectrum Award.
Deborah Ross began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with JAYDIUM and NORTHLIGHT, and short stories in ASIMOV’S, F & SF, REALMS OF FANTASY and STAR WARS: TALES FROM JABBA’S PALACE. Now under her birth name, Ross, she is continuing the” Darkover” series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD. She is a member of Book View Cafe. She has lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, and is active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.
Coming Out in Fantasy
by Warren Rochelle
I came out relatively late in life, in my 40’s, after much therapy and personal struggle. My therapeutic process included a lot of reflective and introspective writing, mostly in journals, and a fair amount of reading by gay authors about their coming out experiences. And I found myself looking back at my own fiction, beginning with my first novel, The Wild Boy (Golden Gryphon Press, 2001), which was originally written as my MFA thesis while in graduate school at UNC Greensboro.
Coincidentally (or maybe not) my coming out process began shortly after my MFA program, while I was a doctoral student at UNCG. When I began a post-doc teaching fellowship at UNCG I went back and revisited my thesis with the intention of revising the novel and sending it out. I did something that will sound crazy, I am sure: after printing out the entire novel, I erased all my files and then re-entered the novel, revising, rethinking, and reimagining it as I went.
It was during this process that I was finally able to read my own subtext; I was finally able to hear the story I had been telling myself for years. I was coming out in therapy to myself at the same time and I found in the novel that I had been telling myself that very story. The Wild Boy is the story of an alien invasion of Earth that results in humans becoming the pets of the ursinoid invaders. These great quasi-bears had come here seeking to recreate an intense psycho emotional bond they had previously had with a companion species of primates who have become extinct. The ursinoids are convinced that we are the star cousins of their lost companions, and take over the Earth, destroy our civilization, cull billions of us through manufactured plagues, and then began a selective breeding program. They want the lost bond: “heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.”
But they want the bond for same-sex pairs, human and alien. They seek soul-mates of the same gender. These bears do take opposite-sex mates, but not for love—for reproduction. The true emotional bond is with the same-sex partner.
Red flag, red flag! Ding, ding! Flags not seen, dings not heard.
One of the novel’s plot lines follows one such same-sex pair, Ilox, the human, and Phlarx, the alien. As I reread, revised, and re-entered the novel, the homoeroticism of their relationship was glaringly evident. They share a bed—as many people do with their cat or dog, but I could see the emotional intensity made it more than that. Ilox might be called bisexual by some—he does marry and have children. But his primary emotional relationship, his primary bond, the great love of his life, is originally with Phlarx, and remains so, so much so that it calls him back in the end. Ilox survives the death of his wife. Phlarx’s death kills him.
My own homosexuality, denied and repressed and not wanted, made me an alien in my world. I made my same-sex pair doubly alien to each other and gave them a relationship that was as much about pain as it was about love.
Discovering my own gay subtext was a little less difficult in my second novel, Harvest of Changelings (Golden Gryphon Press, 2007), but it did take more than one draft to hear the story that my subconscious was insistent that I hear and acknowledge. The novel grew out of a traditional heterosexual love story of a human man and a fairy woman that had as its premise the notion that all fairy tales are true. The story ends with Ben, a widower, left alone with Malachi, his half-fairy son to raise. I wanted to know what happened to them.
To answer this question, I wrote Harvest of Changelings, which turned out to be about a lot more than Ben and Malachi. Fairies, it turns out, are either Airs, Waters, Fires or Earths, and form familial units of four, tetrads. They often pair off within the tetrad, thus having primary bonds to (usually) one other person, the secondary bond to the tetrad. Malachi needs to find three others, as they need to find him. The other three are the descendants of all those changelings left here centuries ago. Two of his other three, his Fire and his Water, are boys, Russell and Jeff. The other, his Earth, is a girl, Hazel.
Malachi and Hazel, and … Russell and Jeff. But I had to write the entire first draft and re-enter it to have that Ah ha! Moment: Russell and Jeff are gay. They will grow up to be lovers.
Head smack. But the truth had always been there. Russell and Jeff would have to grow up, just as I was growing up into self-acceptance, but they were gay. They were born that way. I couldn’t edit their sexuality out of them anymore than I could myself. Not and tell the truth.
I started the sequel, The Called, having finally come to terms with my sexuality. Fairy tales are true, of course—and some fairies are fairies. Now, some of my characters are gay and some are straight, but I can hear them telling me this. I have learned how to listen to them.
I have learned how to listen to myself. I grew up. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Metaphor and symbol and allusion, insistent, powerful, but I could only partially hear them. But, through fantasy—and science fiction—I came to be able to hear my own story that I had been telling myself all along. As Virginia Woolf said, “As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall.”
Now I can hear that ripe pear falling.
Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, “The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections. He is currently at work on anovel about a gay werewolf and a collection of short stories.
GLBT in Fantasy
by Andrea Hosth
Fantasy novels – Mercedes Lackey, in fact – contained my earliest introduction to GLBT characters. Wider reading brought me to other worlds – such as the work of Melissa Scott, Laurie J Marks, and Lois McMaster Bujold – where I found positive portrayals, and often complete social reengineering to examine and open up different possibilities for sexuality.
At the same time, the vast majority of the fantasy novels I read gave no indication that GLBT people existed. It was an absence which did not appear to be pointed – it was not an attempt to examine the impact of removing all the variations and nuances of human sexuality. At the most (or least) it appeared to be an omission of indifference.
It’s easy to not write about things that aren’t a part of your mental landscape, and I’ve seen pushback against calls for more inclusive representation which run the gamut from “It’s just not what I’m interested in” to “I can’t be expected to include every possible minority and interest group!” Is it “any big deal” to leave green out of your spectrum, when the story you’re telling revolves around red?
The answer, of course, is more complicated than “must”, or derailing talk of quotas. If we look at our world, it’s clear that there is considerably more to the spectrum than heterosexuals (just as there’s a few more skin colours than white), and to create a world in which only heterosexuality is shown to exist, makes for a blander, less true to life creation. Is it worse when it’s an unthinking absence rather than a deliberate choice?
And what of the choices made, once non-heterosexual characters are introduced? Another reason I’ve heard for non-inclusion is fear. Fear of bad portrayals, of backlash, of tokenism, of doing it wrong.
Although I had occasional characters who left the zero point on the Kinsey scale, the work of mine which made me seriously look at my own portrayal of GLBT characters was Champion of the Rose – set in a socially bi-normative world.
In my usual discovery-writer way, I did not set out to write a bi-normative world. I had created a situation where a lost (male) heir returns, threatening to displace the feared/loved (male) heir to the regent. What, I wondered, would be the kingdom’s reaction to this situation?
And the general feel I had from the nebulous, still-forming kingdom was: They should get married!
I’m in two minds about how well I did with my bi-normative world. I enjoyed exploring the social conventions and legal constructs which would form to support a bisexual norm, and I think overall the portrayal is positive, but the novel ends with a man and woman in a relationship, not my two heirs, which would perhaps leave some readers feeling cheated. [Not to mention that, like many of my fantasy novels, it’s set in a primarily white kingdom, with no major characters of colour appearing until book two.]
But all the same, I’m proud of that world. Because an unthinking absence is, I believe, worse than a clumsy portrayal.
Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia. She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue. See: www.andreakhost.com