LGBT Science Fiction :: What It Is Depends on Where You Are

by Daniel M. Kimmel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday October 9, 2014

Science fiction and fantasy writers have the freedom to create whatever worlds they wish. The only limits -- such as scientific plausibility -- are the ones the authors set for themselves. That makes these genres natural for exploring social themes in ways that might make mainstream authors think twice.

When it comes to stories about LGBT characters, authors have taken a variety of approaches. Some who once made a point of using such characters may feel they no longer have to prove anything while others, seeing gaps, rush to fill the need. EDGE spoke to three such authors at different stages of their careers to get a glimpse of how such matters are being addressed today.

David Gerrold is a veteran Hugo and Nebula winning author with several landmark works to his credit. One of which he is particularly proud is "The Martian Child," based on his experience as an openly gay man adopting a troubled son. (The character was changed to a straight widower in the 2007 film starring John Cusack.) However, the book that he describes as "an act of courage" was his 1973 novel "The Man Who Folded Himself." Its protagonist inherits a time machine. He starts travelling through alternate timelines where he gets to meet different versions of himself. It was only partially written when Gerrold's agent told him that the book had sold.

"I sat down at the typewriter and I realized that the next scene was the sex scene," Gerrold recalled during a conversation with EDGE. This wasn't just any sex scene: In the book, the character has sex with a female version of himself, and now was going to do the same with his male counterpart. Gerrold thought about copping out, but then decided, "Copping out is what you don't do. Once I recognized, 'Oh crap, I can't do that,' I knew what I had to do."

It remains one the most unusual gay encounters in all SF. Gerrold, then in his late 20s, thought, "What if Mom reads this?" He added, "Once you get past that personal barrier, you can write anything."

In recent years his novels and short fiction (he appears frequently in "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction") have included a wide range of LGBT characters. He's also accepted a sense of responsibility as an older, out and successful gay man, with some younger readers who discover his books finding the support they may be lacking at home.

Gerrold doesn't let it go to his head. He recalled having dinner with singer/songwriter Janis Ian (herself an occasional SF writer) and telling her he gotten some letters from people who didn't commit suicide because of his work.

Ian, an out lesbian since 1993, replied, "Oh, I get those every week."

Said Gerrold, "We have no idea the impact we'll have."

Linda Kay Silva specializes in stories of the supernatural and paranormal. Her latest is "Zombie Bomb," part of her "Man Eaters" series. She's made a conscious choice about her protagonists. "They are all lesbians," she stated. "If they're not lesbians, they're very strong women. I started writing thirty years ago when we were all damsels in distress."

Yet, recently the orientation of her characters hasn't been as important. "It's way less of a priority for me than for [some of] the publishers," Silva said. Now she's trying to reach a broader audience while maintaining the same attitude towards her female characters. She's branched out into YA (young adult novels for teens), including one entitled "Nothing Fair About It" at the website, which offers the story for free and encourages young readers to write back.

"It's been a real cool experience for me," she noted. "There are days when there are 90 emails."

Silva isn't abandoning writing about lesbian characters, but doesn't think she should be limited any more than a straight writer is, "I've done the niche thing.... I want to broaden my audience base."

Natsuya Uesugi works in high tech. "I've always been surrounded by geeks and scientists," he said. The author of the "grydscaen" series, Uesugi makes a point of including transgender characters. "I am transgender," he told EDGE. "A lot of SF is heterosexual and male dominated."

While he can find such characters in niche erotica and romance fiction, he hasn't seen them in SF. His series, set in a future dystopia, includes them in government and military roles. "I wanted to show that gay and transgender characters can achieve levels of power."

In his series the government is oppressing those with psychic powers, and he uses that as a metaphor for current struggles for civil rights. Three of the characters are transgender, two going from female to male, and one going male to female. Their realizations and actions come at different ages. "I wanted to show a young transgender who transitioned young and one who a little bit older when it was more difficult."

Said Uesugi, "When I was going to college [at age 16] I didn't see anything like what I'm writing. I saw huge gaping hole in SF..." In dealing with a group and subject matter that has come increasingly into public view in recent years, he's continuing the trailblazing previously done by writers like Gerrold and Silva. "I've heard from my readers. There's not a lot of what I write out there."

Film critic and author Daniel M. Kimmel has written several books including his most recent, "Shh! It's a Secret: A novel about aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender's Guide."