Take it away, Chris!
I want to thank Lynn for lending me some space to talk about my recent project, the anthology of queer science fiction Things We Are Not, and my thoughts on queer fiction more generally.
Some readers may know that I publish the monthly zine M-Brane SF. The magazine is not, however, specifically queer-focused, and I started feeling like I wanted to see more LGBTQ content in things that I publish. So I decided to see if I could manage to find good content for a stand-alone book and get it published using M-Brane’s small platform and meager resources.
I knew from that start that I wanted the collection represent a lot of points of views and orientations. Specifically, I didn’t want it to be too gay male-oriented or too focused on sexual matters or erotica. For some reason (maybe because I am a male with a fair amount of interest in those things) I just assumed that there would be a lot of that in the submissions. As it turned out, however, I didn’t need to be worried about diversity and I didn’t need to think about having any sort of quota to achieve gender balance or sexual identification variety. It just happened to work out that the stories that I liked best also had a lot of range of subject matter and character types. Several items are gay male stories, but at least as many are about lesbian characters. Some of the other stories feature relationships that are probably only possible in science fiction. Some of them deal with issues, such as reproduction and marriage, quite subversively.
Of course the whole project raised for me a question that I hear debated periodically by people who either like or don’t like LGBTQ fiction: Is it necessarily about sex and sexuality? People who don’t like the idea of queer fiction tend to say that it’s all about sex and about putting sex into a story for no reason and even “forcing” sex onto readers who don’t want any. Which makes advocates for queer fiction want to defend against that charge by pointing out that there’s a lot of very good reasons for queer fiction other than just talking about sex, and that sex and sexual orientation can just be an incidental thing and not, in fact, the whole point of the story. I think the premise of the discussion is false, however, because its terms have been defined by people don’t like queer fiction or queer people and would rather see both of them marginalized or entirely invisible. It’s rooted in an assumption that examining sex and sexual orientation is automatically an undesirable thing and should for some reason be avoided in fiction. Which, I say, is ridiculous.
My book contains a few stories where the sexual orientation of the protagonists could be considered “incidental” in the sense that the queer characters could perhaps be replaced with straight characters and not radically change these stories’ plots. Sort of in the same way that I could probably take just about any mainstream story with a straight protagonist and make him gay without changing his storyline too much. But such a change would make a difference in the character’s experience in life because there is a fundamental difference in our societies between being straight and being queer and how we navigate through our lives, whether we like it or not. So, in those stories where the queerness is incidental, it may not be quite as incidental as it seems on the surface even though those stories don’t have any actual sexual content in them. But then, on the other hand, I have also included a number of stories where sexuality is front-and-center and even a few with some explicitly erotic content. This may give those on the side of “it’s all about sex” some more evidence, but I’m not worried about it. It’s not an argument that I wish to participate in. Sexuality is an enormous part of the lives of real people and therefore belongs in the lives of fictional people of all orientations and identities. I am very positive about it and will continue to publish items that deal with it.
I have a page at www.mbranesf3.blogspot.com dedicated to Things We Are Not, with links to purchase the book in print and electronic formats as well as profiles of the authors and their stories.