The sci-fi world is periodically roiled by complaints that various groups are “destroying science fiction” by writing about their own identities and concerns at the expense of a strict focus on orbital mechanics. Last year Lightspeed magazine, published by Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy producer John Joseph Adams, responded with a crowdfunded special issue called Women Destroy Science Fiction!, which celebrates the contributions of women in the field. This month Lightspeed is launching a second Kickstarter to fund Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, which will feature stories and essays by queer authors and fans.
“If you’re a straight person wondering what all the fuss is about, I think those essays are really going to do a lot to open your eyes to what queer people have had to deal with throughout their lives,” Adams says in Episode 133 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
The issue is currently open to submissions, with popular author Seanan McGuire serving as guest editor. McGuire identifies as a panromantic demisexual, meaning she’s attracted to all genders but only feels sexual attraction in the case of a strong emotional bond. Demisexual is a recently coined term for an identity that McGuire says is often marginalized even within the queer community. She agreed to edit Queers Destroy Science Fiction! partly to ensure that the magazine would include the widest possible range of queer identities.
“You have just a huge number of folks who identify as asexual or demisexual thanking us for acknowledging that they exist,” she says.
The issue will also feature reprints chosen by Steve Berman, a leading figure in the field of gay speculative fiction, who’s edited dozens of anthologies and published nearly a hundred articles and stories. He’s hoping the project meets every stretch goal so that he gets lots of new material to read.
“I’m just excited about the whole process because I can’t lose,” he says. “I’m the target audience here, and I just can’t wait to see what people submit.”
Listen to our complete interview with John Joseph Adams, Seanan McGuire, and Steve Berman in Episode 133 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast (above), and check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Steve Berman on gay fiction:
“One of the problems with gay men writing was that they were writing under pseudonyms, often, because they were hiding their identities from their families. If they passed away during the plague years of HIV, it’s hard to get the rights to reprint their work—the rights could have been reverted to family that didn’t want to be associated with it, or we just don’t know what their real names are. So there are a number of older gay and lesbian science fiction works that are no longer in print. I know that the first gay short story I ever read was when I was 18, and it was Clive Barker‘s ‘In the Hills, The Cities,’ and I had no idea that Clive Barker was gay—I don’t even think that he had come out at that point—and it just struck me, here are two characters that are gay, and their sexuality is completely incidental to the story. And I remember I was in college, freshman year, and I was so excited about this story, because it was just so powerful, that I handed it off to one of my dormmates, and his immediate reaction was, ‘Wait, wait. These are gay people,’ and he couldn’t read the story because of that. But it showed me that there were gay people in horror.”
Seanan McGuire on Dumbledore:
“I do not consider Dumbledore to be successful representation. If you have to tell me after the fact that you should get credit for having gay content because this character, whose romantic life was never, ever, ever, never, ever, ever once mentioned, really liked the same gender—no, you failed. I love J.K. Rowling, I love Harry Potter, she does not get credit for that, any more than she gets credit for having Jewish inclusion because she recently mentioned that there was one Jewish wizard at Hogwarts. You know what? No. Show me the Jewish wizard at Hogwarts having serious philosophical issues with, ‘Can I cast spells on the Sabbath?’ Show me the kitchen dealing with the ramifications of preparing kosher food when you can’t bring a rabbi in but everybody else is getting meat. It does not work. Dumbledore is not successful representation. … You do not get credit for Dumbledore. That is not even doing the bare minimum.”
Steve Berman on gay characters:
“The most obvious way to identify someone as queer is to show them making out, etc. … Part of the reason why we’re doing the special issue is so that we don’t have to code. You don’t have to worry about gay characters passing as straight. I remember that one of my favorite fantasy series growing up was The Rose of the Prophet series by Weis and Hickman. It was an Arabian Nights-style [story], and there was a gay character in the trilogy, but I was always unsatisfied because he had to remain chaste and celibate and alone—unrequited love—and for years I just sort of accepted that. And then I realized that Hickman is a Mormon, and so this was a case of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’ And so he was OK with presenting a gay character, but the character could not have a homosexual relationship.”
John Joseph Adams on hostility to queer characters:
“On the most basic level it’s sad, and it’s very upsetting, and there have been times—there was at least one review for The End is Nigh which was complaining about the sexuality of the characters, and the language that the person used was such that I was like, ‘I know you’re not supposed to reply to reviews, but I kind of feel like I could reach this guy.’ Like if we just engaged him we could reach him, because he seemed like he wasn’t a full-on bigot, you know? This was just some sort of gut reaction he was having where he was not enjoying the stories because of that, but there was something about the way he put it where I was like, ‘I think if we actually made the right case to him we could convince him, we could show him the error of his ways, why that’s wrong-headed thinking.’ And ultimately—I didn’t do it—but some colleagues of mine thought it was worthwhile, and so tried to engage him, but I don’t think the guy ever replied. But the thing is, there’s so little chance that you’re ever going to convince anybody with that sort of thing. If what you’re doing is presenting them with fiction, and in these stories you’re getting into the hearts and minds of these characters that are queer, and the reader still isn’t convinced that that’s worthwhile, you’re never going to convince them by just arguing with them.”