Down With Queer Lit!

[Note: This is a slightly rewritten version of an entry I wrote in my LJ on 10 March 2005. Anna made me, so yell at her if you don’t want to read repeated material.]

I’ve become rather burnt out on Queer Literature in recent years. Not that I don’t still love to read about boys loving boys and girls loving girls and either loving both, but I’m starting to feel a bit … ghetto-ised, I suppose. It’s not that I want Queer Literature to go away, it’s that I want more gay characters in “mainstream” lit. And on TV. And in movies. And fuck, in songs, in advertising, in the street, in every part of everyday life. But I’ll limit myself to books, and the general media to some extent, because if I get started on the rest I’ll just never shut up.

I’m a voracious reader, but I pretty much read only fantasy and some science fiction (with a peppering of True Crime and non-fiction when I’m feeling like reading brainless trash and brain food, respectively). You’d think in these genres if not in any other genre, or in “mainstream” lit, you’d see more gay characters being generally accepted. Hell, I’d settle for seeing gay characters, period, whether they’re accepted by the other characters or not.

In fantasy, you have the opportunity to set up a society where same-sex relationships are accepted the way opposite-sex relationships are. Yet very, very few writers do this. Why? If nothing else, it’s a perfect way to set your novel apart from the gazillion other fantasy tomes on the shelves. Because there are people out there, people like me, who will give anything a chance if it has two boys or two girls touching in sexy ways.

For once, I want to read a book in which there are queer characters other than the by-now-cliché effeminate gay mage or the lesbian mercenary (especially if she “turned gay” because of rape-HATE!). I want to see the macho mercenary fall in love with a bloke. I want to see the hero walk into a bar and get hit on by the waiter instead of the waitress, and not freak out. I don’t care if he’s straight and just politely turns him down, even, though it’d be even better if he flirted back, of course. I want to see the beautiful witch fall in love with the heroine rather than the hero. I want to see the kitchen boy go on a quest to prove himself worthy of his True Love, and have that True Love be the prince rather than the princess. I want to see a society where same-sex relationships are the norm, and procreation is the only reason for m/f sex, if it happens at all. (Turkey basters, anyone?)

Science Fiction is marginally better about this, but not by much. In most science fiction worlds, sexism (and, usually, racism) are things of the past, yet queer people are still not even acknowledged most of the time, and when they are, well … See above for the usual clichés. I’m tired of it. Show me the hero saving the guy instead of the girl, and falling in love with him. Show me the women settlers raising a child together. Hell, show me the people falling in love with aliens whose race has more than two genders, or no gender at all — though that’s getting into genderqueer territory somewhat.

And once genre fiction gets with the program, let’s start fixing “mainstream” lit. Let’s start seeing queer characters in contemporary books, and let’s start letting them have actual relationships. Let’s start letting the protagonist have a gay or lesbian friend, and allow that friend to be more than just “the best friend”. Let’s start writing about queer characters, and have a plot beyond the main character’s sexuality. One in ten people are queer, and that’s not even counting the bisexuals, and a whole lot of us are out and proud, so let’s start seeing that in books that are supposed to take place in the here and now. Let’s start seeing an accurate picture of what (especially urban) life is actually like in this day and age.

I’d especially love to see more queer characters in YA novels that aren’t coming-out stories. Not that I dislike those, and I’m sure they’re a great help for a lot of queer teens, but not every queer person had to struggle first with themselves and then with their family and peers to come out as queer (I didn’t), and putting queer characters in “straight”/”non-queer” YA novels may help make people, especially teenagers, realise that we are everywhere.

I’m sick and tired of being “accepted”. I don’t want to be “accepted”, as if I’m some sort of embarrassing relative you’ll put up with for the sake of blood ties but who you’d rather not be seen with in public. I want to be acknowledged as part of society. Because I am, and I’ve had it with being invisible to the media, with seeing queer people trotted out to show that look, aren’t we progressive? I want to see “my kind” in books, on screen, in ads and in the street, and have no one bat an eye the way no one bats an eye at straight couples.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but apparently, it is.

5 Responses to “Down With Queer Lit!”

  1. jennie Says:

    I have similar feelings about “Women’s Books,” and other special-interest marketing categories. However, I’m noticing increasing numbers of “normal” gay relationships in SF. It’s by no means prevalent, but it’s certainly present.

    Have you tried Carnival by Elizabeth Bear? Also pretty much anything else she’s written?

    The fact that I can think of specific authors who queer the relationships in their books does indeed say something, but here are a few more:

    Charles deLint’s Newford books have some gay characters.

    Mercedes Lackey’s Elves in LA books (if you can stomach them.)

    Tanya Huff’s Victory Nelson books.

    Ummm … it seems to me that I’ve read more genderqueer than that, of late, but nothing’s springing to mind. Hmmm … Oh! Yeah! Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman.

    All of these can be found in the Fantasy/SF section. Well the elves in LA are kinda old, so they may not still be in print, and I can’t remember the titles (gosh, I’m useless), but Lackey’s a pretty easy-to-find author. None of them make a Thing of the gay characters.

    More if and when they spring to mind.

  2. Jo Says:

    Odd you should (re)mention it…

    I just finished reading what turned out to be a very disappointing historical mystery, “Absolution by Murder” by Peter Tremayne. It was recommended to me by a well-meaning woman who loved that the main character was a rather ‘feminist’ woman in 7th C. Ireland.

    Which was fine, except that she was… well… lackluster. Ellis Peters has better one-shot characters.

    But I digress, yet again.

    There were *two* characters in all of this who were *possibly* homosexual,one of each ‘gender’, and both were blatantly stereotyped. What became of them, you ask?

    The one, a male, was one of three persons murdered.

    The other, a female, was revealed to have killed all three.

    Needless to say, Mr. Tremayne does not get a second chance.

    If I find any good ones, I’ll certainly let you know about it. *sigh*

  3. Anna Says:

    Did you read about the brouhaha that went down recently over the gay romance novels?

    Apparently they’re offensive to the Romantic Times people.

    *sigh*

    Are we supposed to be happy that they’re in print, or mad that they’re still not “real” romances?

  4. Lakira Says:

    Have you read the stuff by Robert A. Heinlein? I’m always undecided about how he treats gender roles in it, but given the time frame in which the books were written, it’s not as bad as it could be, I guess. Anyway, more relevant to your post, is that while the sex that happens tends to be heterosexual, queer sex is so normal/commonplace that no one really comments on it, except maybe to sometimes say “Huh. Not normally my cup of tea, but okay.”

    A prime of example of that is in Time Enough for Love, where two characters decide to have an erotic night together without having any clue what the other person’s sex is. One of them, if I recall, guesses that the other is the same sex and doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. (They were wearing full-body containment suits during the “shall we have sex?” discussion, so couldn’t actually see anything about the other person.)

  5. miss sophie Says:

    In some of his works Robert A Heinlein did create a really queer inclusive world, especially the early stuff. I read him when I was 11 and it was the only stuff I had at the time where I felt like my idea of sexuality might fit, through even then I flet some of his works a little right wing (queer inclusive but right wing doesn’t have to be an oxymoron), but then I once got a talking to at a girl scout camp for reading morally degenerate literature because of Heinlein, so he couldn’t be that right wing ;)

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