Are we in a Golden Age of Queer & Trans SF/F?

Hello and welcome to another ctan monthly updatet! It’s Pride Month, so today let’s talk about queer science fiction and fantasy.

First some housekeeping: Mailchimp has been driving me nuts, with the newsletter sometimes displaying so tiny on mobile devices it was illegible. I’m trying on a new template today, with new fonts. Please let me know if this one looks better to you (or worse!) than before so I can keep improving it.

Second, my apology this is a bit later than I intended, but I had knee surgery on Wednesday and as you can imagine it’s put a bit of a cramp into my schedule. I’ve discovered I would rather have my knee hurt and my brain work than be “pain free” but feel seasick from narcotics. Apparently opioids are not my friends! Bleah.

And now to my slightly linkbait-y topic: are we in a “Golden Age” of queer and trans SF/F? Yes, yes we are, end of essay.

Just kidding, of course I’m going to explain WHY my answer is yes.

For the SFWA Nebulas Conference this month, I had proposed this question as a panel topic and was highly gratified it got chosen—even better, they let me moderate the panel, and SFWA populated it with a terrific slate that included Jordan Kurella, Charlie Jane Anders, Zabé Ellor, and L.P. Kindred. (I had also proposed “are we in a golden age of Asian SF/F?” which I also believe has a yes answer, but that one didn’t make the slate, so I’m trying to arrange it as a Zoom panel for later this summer for Capricon’s online programming. Stay tuned.)

Jordan unfortunately had to miss the Nebs, so the other four of us soldiered on without him. One terrific thing about the slate of panelists is we had basically three generations represented. (If only we’d had a Boomer, we could have had four generations!) We each had different entry points to SF/F. So when I asked “Who was the first character in SF/F you read who you knew was queer?” we had four drastically different answers.

Illustrating how far we’ve come: I, the Gen X “elder” on the panel, was the only one whose answer was a villain. Back when, it was a common trope to make a villain “extra evil” by slapping a coating of sexual deviance on them. Baron Harkonnen in DUNE was the first “gay” character I encountered. If only I’d stumbled upon Samuel R. Delany before Frank Herbert, eh? I didn’t get to Delany until I was in college.

The first positive depiction of a gay character I could think of I read around 1990, in Ellen Kushner’s lovely book Swordspoint (Amazon, Bookshop), but the gay relationship between Alec and St. Vier is so delicately written there’s a kind of plausible deniability about it. But at least they’re both main characters—heroes, even! That book remains one of my faves to this day.

Swordspoint was published in 1987, and right after I read it, another important book was published, Uranian Worlds, a bibliography compiled by Eric Garber and Lyn Paleo. Billed as “A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror,” the book had first been published in 1980, and by 1990 needed a new edition because so many examples had to be added. Uranian Worlds was a complete bibliography of EVERY short story, book, or novella that included EVERY bit of representation of LGBTQ characters in sf/f/h for nearly fifty years… and it was only 280 pages long.

Think about that. The editors of Uranian Worlds had scoured literature for every possible inclusion, small presses as well as large ones, queer lit mags as well as Asimov’s, for decades. And what they came up with just barely filled one not-that-big book.

Nowadays, we have that much queer sf/f/h being published every year. If that ain’t a Golden Age, what is?

The panel also talked about who the first SF/F writers were who we knew were queer or trans: for me it was Samuel R. Delany and Rachel Pollack (Rest in Peace, Rachel!) Now, I know more than I can count just from among my Twitter mutuals—and that’s not even counting the hundred-or-so queer writers I edited at Circlet Press!

But speaking of writers being out. We discussed whether an author “owes” it to the audience to come out. Short answer: no. If you missed the discourse a few years back about “the helicopter story,” I won’t recap it here, but suffice to say it was just one high-profile example of an author being attacked online for apparently either being insufficiently “out” or not “visibly” conforming to audience notions of queerness, resulting in the author being treated like some kind of interloper or exploitative outsider…. which they might not have been.

At this panel was the first time I felt there was consensus in the room that harm has been been done to queer and trans writers (by members of our own communities!) with the incessant questioning of “authenticity” and the demands on the public baring of identity. We’ve sharpened our knives to attack the systems that oppress us, but we can all too easily turn them on each other if/when we judge someone is “part of the problem.” As LP succinctly put it: we have to allow writers some grace. Zabé made an excellent point: you can’t treat sexual identity marginalizations exactly the same way you treat other marginalizations. Sexuality and gender are fluid, complex, and changing. There’s a huge difference between a white author pretending to be an author of color “for clout,” and an author who is in the closet or in transition writing about queer characters as a way to figure out their own sexuality or explore their identity. Charlie Jane mentioned that she and I know multiple writers who started out looking like “straight women getting off on writing about gay men” who are living as gay men now.

Give people grace. Not everyone has the same safety, opportunity, or self-awareness to be “out.”

In the late 80s and early 1990s, right after Swordspoint we had a small spate of queer flowering in SF/F, with Melissa Scott and Tanya Huff and Mercedes Lackey (Vanyel is the ultimate “bury your gays” trope, though…!) and others. Book publishing in the 1990s also went through a pro-diversity spasm, self-castigating about being too white, and SF/F being too male-dominated, as well. There was much talk about trying to diversify the writers being seen in anthologies, in best-of lists, and on award nomination slates. But the writers couldn’t just appear out of thin air. Not then.

But they can now. We literally conjure them out of the aether—the Internet. What’s different now that has led to such increased numbers of queer and trans writers, but also the vastly increased representation of authors of color? It’s the Internet. The same Internet that is problematic as described above, nonetheless allows marginalized writers a visibility we wouldn’t have otherwise. It means that, for example, Hugo awards nominators can discover writers somewhere other than on a bookstore retail shelf. Editors can find and “meet” writers somewhere other than within New York publishing’s white-dominated cocktail circuit. This time when 21st century diversity initiatives have been launched, thanks to the power of the Internet, the writers and editors who emerged have been able to network and build a privilege structure of our own. Some of that happens with the help of SFWA, with things like the AAPI or BIPOC meetups at the Nebulas, and sometimes it happens with us building our own email lists, Discords, online magazines, anthologies, you name it.

Instead of backsliding when the industry loses interest in the latest diversity “fad”, we’ve been able to keep expanding the opportunities for each other, to keep pulling each other up the ladder. It’s still not as strong or wide-reaching as some “old boy networks” out there, but SFWA itself is a far more diverse and welcoming place than it was in the 20th century, and the Nebulas conference really demonstrated that.

There was much more said on the panel, of course, including what the four of us would consider a Platinum Age to be. (Btw, if you register as a Nebulas online attendee, btw, you can see the archived videos of all the panels from this year’s conference, including ours, and also participate in SFWA online programming all year round.)

One final thought: it’s worth remembering that not only is this proliferation of queer and trans voices in the sf/f genres a massive improvement over 35, 25, or even 15 years ago, it’s also happening at the same time as a ton of book banning and book burning all across the USA.

In fact, I believe book banning is so hot right now BECAUSE there are so many books coming out that don’t conform to the heterosexual conservative norms. SF/F has always been a place to dream of being different, and the genre is finally realizing its subversive potential. In the 1980s and ’90s we used to march through the streets chanting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” It feels to me like within the SF/F world, people finally have.

DGC Vol 4 is live!

Another month, another new edition! Volume 4 (of 13) is now live in Kindle Unlimited. In book 4, Moondog 3 hits the road for a major cross country tour and Daron must contend with a homophobic opening act, a budding friendship/attraction with a rock journalist, and the inexorable magnetism of Ziggy pulling him into his orbit every night on stage.

READ IT NOW IN KU: https://amzn.to/3VuJvxN

AND DGC VOL 1 is now WIDE!

Book one is now on sale at various other outlets besides Amazon, although check out the “A+ content” I’ve added to the Amazon page, snazzy, no? Find vol one on Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble paperback, Barnes & Noble Nook, and request the ebook to libraries through Overdrive.

OR ADD IT TO YOUR GOODREADS TBR: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9447189-daron-s-guitar-chronicles

WIP Report

I’m excited to report that one of the short stories I wrote while trying to get my brain back in gear after I had COVID in September has sold to Julia Rios for Worlds of Possibility! The title is “This Goodly Frame, The Earth,” which is a Shakespeare quote because I failed to think of anything else and Shakespeare is a good plan B. It’s about intergenerational diaspora trauma among the women of a filipina-american family, eldest daughter syndrome, and what happens when a ship full of humans that can bend space and time returns to an Earth in climate crisis far sooner than expected. It’s kind of hopepunk, I guess?

Meanwhile, Windmark, a.k.a. “the unexpected dragon book,” has passed 50,000 words, but I feel like I’ve barely gotten out of act one? But I’m notorious for misjudging how far into a book I actually am. Until I’m actually done I really can’t tell you where the act breaks or beats are. I just know when it is done, then it will be obvious.

A wisecracking nonbinary power bottom just showed up to boss around the hero (from the bottom, of course) and is in danger of taking over the story. I think I’m having the problem that both my main characters are suppressing their emotions so much because of the past trauma that made them hate each other, that they are coming across kind of flat and all the secondary characters seem much more colorful and interesting! Clearly something has to crack soon… I’m also having the problem that I’ve set up a really misogynistic culture, which means our heroine and all the female characters are very much living under a constant threat of sexual violence.

I know we’re in the post-Game of Thrones era, which was rapey as all get out, but I really did not set out to write what is essentially female body horror with this book. I sidestepped the issue in The Prince’s Boy by having no female characters… except in the end there is the body horror once the villain comes into physical contact with our heroes. I have to figure out where this one is going to land and how exactly my heroine is going to come into her power.

It’s funny, I had half convinced myself to just write another all-male cast book… and then this female-bodied character put her foot down and demanded to be written. So I just have to figure out how to do her justice.

AND NOW PHOTOS FROM THE NEBULAS CONFERENCE

Met Nghi Vo in real life for the first time! Many Circlet Press alums were at the Nebs (and Moniquill won one!)

Caught up with David D. Levine (another Circlet alum), here with Vela Roth and Amy Young-Leith (and me)

 With Kate Pennington. Who knows a lot about whales!

 And SB Divya. And I have way more photos than this but this is enough picspam, don’tcha think?

Tour Dates & Upcoming Appearances

2024:

2025:

  • January 17-20: Arisia, Cambridge, MA (new hotel: Hyatt Cambridge)
  • March 12-15: ICFA, Orlando, FL
  • August 13-17: Worldcon in Seattle, WA

Upcoming Cons

Readercon last year was a really great time, with a very good outdoor hangout area that turned into a nonstop literary green room party. I just got my schedule and it looks like tremendous fun. July 11-13 in Quincy, Massachusetts (just a few miles south of Boston proper).

My reading will be on Thursday night. Should I read from the unexpected dragon book? Or the hopepunk story? Or something smuttier? Hmmm……

 Parting Thoughts

Okay, no book recs this time, but I will leave you with a link to one recipe, because it is strawberry season here in New England, and that means it is strawberry PIE season, as well. It’s also the season when fresh basil starts showing up in the farmer’s market. Some years ago I took the idea for a dessert we often see: a sort of dessert salad of strawberries served cut up with chopped basil, with a dressing made of balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, but I made it a pie instead. Find the whole recipe at my blog: https://blog.ceciliatan.com/archives/2412

By next month maybe I’ll have read some of the books in my pile and will have some recommendations… I have to finish the proofs and edits on Daron’s books 11, 12, and 13 first, though!

Until then!

-ctan

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