LGBT Themes and Science Fiction: Fast Friends

This post originally appeared over at GayYA.org.

from the Hubble space telescopeI write speculative fiction, usually somewhere between soft science fiction and magical realism, and often, though not exclusively, with LGBT themes and characters. I suppose I could write more mainstream stories, but I like to twist things up and mess with the universe, and besides, I’m a genre geek. I swear this is less from a God complex perspective, and more about playfulness and political intent. Metaphors for transition, coming out, family acceptance, and the like can replace a description of the real thing, and in so doing, open up some space away from angst so more time can be spent appreciating some of the other aspects of these moments.Personally, I’m over angst, having racked up enough of those moments through two whole puberties! But as a writer for young adult and crossover audiences, I’m invested in finding ways to depict all of that cortisol-inducing stress, especially as it relates to LGBT themes. So I opt to find a different geography, a reinvention of time, nifty gadgets and alien species to push, instead of resolve, tension. Ideas for getting at LGBT themes through spec fic include:

  • Changing bodies—Characters who leap into a different body as a corporeal haunting, time travel to a different epoch, cyborg modification, or alien journeying to Earth all provide opportunities to write against expectations for gender and sexual orientation, especially if they make a shift from their original gender or begin to occupy lives that are in a different kind of relationship than they were in previously. In my work-in-progress novel, the protagonist accidentally jumps back in time to the 1920s and finds himself in a young woman’s body, which is just one of many foreign experiences to which he must adjust, especially as he tries to deal with the sexism of the era.
  • Being a good host—Introducing a visitor from a faraway place, say, the Andromeda galaxy, to Earth customs and habits provides a good premise for questioning the validity of those customs, and of course this is the foundation of many, many science fiction books, but using it to validate LGBT people is still uncommon. It also allows room for a begrudging protagonist or main character to grow and become more accepting by the end of the story. And the twist on this dichotomoy—a tolerant human and an intolerant alien—can also work to examine LGBT lives.
  • Relying on audience knowledge—Dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories do this well, in showing what’s happened to civilization. The City of Ember and The Hunger Games series are good examples of relying on the audience’s knowledge of our world to mark the separation with the world built in the story. Here any critique of homophobia or transphobia is more subtle because it relies on what the reader knows about LGBT and the content of their opinions. Conversely, the distance between real world society and the one of the narrative can be played for laughs, and is one way to write LGBT characters against type.
  • Reinventing nature—I admit that this concept has been done, and done to cliche, but it is a part of science fiction and it remains one way of validating LGBT identities. The world in which individuals lose, gain, or change gender, or have what we would consider alternative kinds of relationships—these recalibrate the idea of normality.

These approaches, all reliant on speculative fiction genres, ease some of the pressure on dialogue and character to handle LGBT issues and themes, and can make bringing them up easier for a YA audience. They can also decrease the likelihood of preachiness by moving the exploration of LGBT topics to plot, world-building, narration, and even setting. Of course YA benefits by offering LGBT themes across genres and mainstream literary narratives. But for me at least, there’s a special rapport between spec fic and LGBT stories.

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Categories: Pop Culture, Writing

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