Episode 8: Transcript
Episode 8: Science fiction was always queer
File Length: 44:27
Charlie Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about the meaning of science fiction. I'm Charlie Jane Anders. I'm a science fiction writer who obsesses a lot about science.
Annalee: [00:00:10] And I'm Annalee Newitz. I'm a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:15] Today we're going to talk about queerness in science fiction and fantasy in honor of pride month and we're going to get into just what makes science fiction so darn queer.
Annalee: [00:00:25] And also, what happened when queers took over science fiction, which, as you know, just recently happened.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:30] Yep.
Annalee: [00:00:31] So, you may have noticed. We’ll talk a little bit about that, too.
[00:00:35] Theme song plays.
Annalee: [00:00:42] I was thinking about how science fiction, fantasy and horror, if you just smoosh them all together as kind of the speculative fiction category, they’ve been dealing with queerness for almost all of recorded human history. And we’re not going to go into all of that, we don’t have time to go all the way back to talking about like, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and how that’s kind of perverted and it’s about people changing shape-
Charlie Jane: [00:01:07] Very transgressive, and kind of transgender in some cases.
Annalee: [00:01:09] Yeah. Completely. And a lot of fairy tales deal with gender play. A lot of fantasy involves people thinking they’re in love with a girl but they’re really in love with a boy, and depending on what gender they are that can end up being pretty queer. So, that’s kind of, I think, built into the structure of these speculative genres, is that there’s a way in which they offer us a kind of free play to imagine couplings, forms of love, forms of sex that fly in the face of convention.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:44] Yeah, and I think at the root of science fiction and fantasy is a kind of opening up of possibility, and a kind of dismantling of the expectations and norms that shape the world normally. It’s just like anything can happen, and reality itself is kind of up for grabs. And so it kind of opens the door.
Annalee: [00:02:04] Which is like super great for queer sex.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:06] It really is. Yeah. I mean, it’s … that’s what I got into it for. I was like, I wanna disrupt reality, you know?
Annalee: [00:02:12] I know, me too! It’s just like, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:12] I’m just like …
Annalee: [00:02:15] We’re gonna talk in this episode about queer sexuality and we’re not really going to talk about gender issues and transgender issues because we’re going to talk about that in a later episode, okay?
Charlie Jane: [00:02:27] We have a whole trans episode ready for you guys, coming up soon.
Annalee: [00:02:29] Yeah. It’s gonna happen. It’s us, okay. So, don’t worry.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:33] Don’t worry. It’s gonna happen. The trans episode is on its way.
Annalee: [00:02:35] Yeah. All right, so, I feel like just to kind of finish up talking about history, because I love to start by thinking about the history of this stuff. I really feel like queer sex enters speculative fiction in a way that we would recognize in the modern world in the late 19th century. Like a lot of people, I’m pretty obsessed with vampire stories because obviously, they’re amazing. There’s a 19th century novel called Carmilla, which later became a million other stories. It became movies, it became the basis for Hammer Studios films, of course, because Carmilla is a super hot lesbian vampire.
[00:03:11] But, the original novel, the 19th century novel, is also very queer. It’s about a young woman who’s haunted by images of women who come and puncture her flesh as lesbians are wont to do. At least in the 19th century. That’s the only thing we had in the 19th century. Just flesh puncturing. We were basically invertebrates at that time.
Charlie Jane: [00:03:33] Right.
Annalee: [00:03:35] So, we did that. So I think that that’s where we start. Then, once you get into the 20th century, you have really interesting thought experiments like the novel Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is about a world that is … It’s not a world, it’s a country. A hidden country that some men stumble across. Kind of like in the [inaudible 00:03:54], where it’s all women and they have—they’re such amazing scientists that they’ve invented parthenogenesis. So, one does not have to have naughty lesbian sex in order to have babies on this island, but come on. Like, they’re all hanging out. They’re doing archery. They’re going to class together. You know they’re having sex.
Charlie Jane: [00:04:12] Yeah, and I think that often utopias have an element of queerness or particularly lesbianism. A lot of utopias—there’s a ton of women-only utopias from the beginning that are always at least somewhat lesbian identified. And part of what makes a utopia utopian is that we’ve gotten rid of violence and sexual competition and jealousy and all of the things that prevented people from being happy and fulfilling themselves. So, in that way, there’s something inherently a little bit queer about a lot of utopias.
Annalee: [00:04:42] That’s interesting. I mean, I feel like there’s also kind of all-male utopias, too.
Charlie Jane: [00:04:48] Mm-hmm.
Annalee: [00:04:49] That’s certainly in the western classical world, like if you look at the Greek and Roman ideal. Well, especially the Greek ideal. It was ... those utopias were kind of all-boy utopias. I feel like, in a way, I’m sure Charlotte Perkins Gilman was thinking about that stuff when she was making Herland. She was probably steeped in that literature having been educated in the late 19th and early 20th century.
[00:05:13] She was like, “Oh, here’s the lady version and it’s way better.”
Charlie Jane: [00:05:19] It’s just … you know, more to her liking.
Annalee: [00:05:22] Yeah. And so, the other thing that’s interesting about early 20th century science fiction, is that there’s a lot of stories early on. Like, say, the novel, Slan, which many people thought was also meant fan. But also, slans who were just super smart mutants. They’re kind of like proto X-Men. They’re a little bit gay. Also, so many 1930s science fiction movies are just full of these crazy gender-bending costumes.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:53] Lots and lots of silver lamé, lots and lots of like giant collars and huge shoulders and just … kind of like campy but also just very dramatic and arch. Often women are sort of dressed in these almost dominatrixy outfits.
Annalee: [00:06:08] Yeah, and I think that that was a space, again, as we were saying before, these are stories where people get to play with roles and play with ideas that are maybe forbidden in a realistic story. So, suddenly, yeah, you get these queens who are like ordering people around with their giant collars. So-
Charlie Jane: [00:06:27] Like bee women, and like-
Annalee: [00:06:29] I know we promised that we were mostly going to talk about sex, not gender, but I think that this is one place where, especially in the ‘30s, gender play and queer identity were all kind of bound up together. So, people thought of them as the same thing. And also, that’s kind of the basis for what we think of as camp in the 1960s. A lot of these outfits show up in sort of ‘60’s parodies, they of course show up in Rocky Horror Picture Show, which we’ll talk about later in this episode. But, my point is, it was campy and it was definitely in reference to ‘30s flicks.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:00] Yeah, and there was always a little bit of subversion worked into these movies. I feel like it was a place where people who couldn’t get work elsewhere in Hollywood would go to work in sci-fi movies and TV. And they would sneak in themes about things that they weren’t allowed to talk about elsewhere.
Annalee: [00:07:17] And let’s not forget that James Whale, who did Bride of Frankenstein and a number of other famous monster films of the ‘30s, was gay. And, kind of open about it, actually. There’s an amazing film called Gods and Monsters which deals with his life.
McKellan(Clip): [00:07:36] Our family had no doubt about who they were, but I was an aberration in that household. A freak of nature.
Annalee: [00:07:42] It came out in the … I want to say in the ‘90s.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:45] Yeah, no, it’s one of Bill Condon’s first films with Brendan Fraser.
Annalee: [00:07:48] Brendan Fraser being amazing, by the way.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:52] So you have these sort of queer foundations of science fiction that go back to pretty much the beginning of the genre as a recognized genre. But then, something really amazing happens in the 1960s, which is that actual openly queer people start writing science fiction and dealing with queer themes much more explicitly than before. You have authors like Thomas Disch, who was openly gay.
Annalee: [00:08:15] Samuel Delany.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:16] Samuel Delany …
Annalee: [00:08:18] Joanna Russ, who I love.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:20] And David Gerrold, who started out on Star Trek but then quickly went into writing novels.
Annalee: [00:08:23] Okay, he started, right, by writing The Trouble with Tribbles when he was like 18 or something?
Charlie Jane: [00:08:30] The Trouble with Tribbles actually is an episode that’s all about abnormal reproduction. And about, like parthenogenesis.
Annalee: [00:08:35] It is. It’s so true.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:36] They’re like lesbian little furr balls.
Annalee: [00:08:39] And also, little soft balls.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:41] Yeah. They’re sort of … they take over everything.
Annalee: [00:08:44] But anyway, they… right. And they do. Just like queer sex will take over everything. And then he goes on to write, like in the early ’70s, he kind of has this explosion of novels and writes one of my favorite gay science fiction novels, ever, called The Man Who Folded Himself. Which is about a guy who goes back in time a bunch of times and finally meets dozens and dozens and dozens of versions of himself and they get a giant mansion with a swimming pool and have huge orgies. So, he just has orgies with all these versions of himself, which, you know. That’s the gayest thing ever.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:23] It is basically the gayest thing ever and it’s so fun. It’s like a really weird fun novel. It’s one of the most inventive uses of time travel ever, and meanwhile you do have people like Samuel Delany who are very explicitly dealing with gay sex in books like Dhalgren-
Annalee: [00:09:35] And it’s not at all in a kind of humorous, tribbley vein. It’s really serious literary stuff, and Joanna Russ, who was a very dear friend of Samuel Delany’s, also was doing a similar thing in her work. Her famous novel from the ‘60s, The Female Man, is a very serious literary work also about time travel, interestingly, about several different women who are kind of versions of each other living in different time lines and struggling with a lot of the same problems with patriarchy and microaggressions and it’s actually quite prescient in some ways. She has a great scene with one of the characters who’s an English professor at a university, just dealing with microaggressions and it’s written as a play and the play is just her at a party with every guy microaggressing her. It’s pretty amazing.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:22] Yeah, and then you have Ursula K. LeGuin, who we’ve talked about a lot on this podcast before, who deals with gender and sexuality in these very fascinating oblique ways by going to other planets, and other cultures in which sexuality and gender are handled differently. Like in The Left Hand of Darkness, where you have these humanoids who go from some kind of gender neutral state to either male or female when they go into a state called kemmer and want to mate with someone. What gender they become depends on who they want to mate with and other circumstances. It kind of goes along with all these other things, like they can get an unnatural strength called dothe, where they can become really strong for an hour and then they get really tired. It’s just like their physiology is really fascinating in general. She treats their ambisexual gender with the same kind of seriousness and groundedness as all of the other things that are unusual about them. It’s sort of part of a holistic look at their culture and their folklore, and all of the stuff that they believe in. It’s still like the New Wave of science fiction in books was just a chance to explore everything that science fiction had only implicitly dealt with before, including sexuality and queerness, but also just including every other aspect of life that had been kind of left on the table before.
Annalee: [00:11:34] I think then, in the 1970s, you see a huge explosion of this kind of stuff. Of sexual experimentation in science fiction. Exploring, certainly gay identity, but also bisexual identity, polyamory, which wasn’t called polyamory back then, but, you know there’s people who are all together in either orgy situations or they’re in plural marriages. You get things like the movie Zardoz, which starts with-
Charlie Jane: [00:12:01] “The penis is evil. The gun is good.”
Annalee: [00:12:03] But I also always mixed up in my mind with John Varley’s novel Steel Beach, which starts with the line, “The penis is obsolete.” Which is, of course, Varley is another one of these writers who kind of comes out of the 1970s and he has a great series of books that I talk about all the time because they were very influential to me when I was a young, queer kid trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He has this book that starts with the novel Titan, which is about heroic lesbians on a giant cyborg planetoid that’s in orbit around Saturn. There’s this planetoid, which is called Gaia, has a bunch of creatures on it called titanites, which have three sets of genitals and look sort of like centaurs, and everybody’s humping everybody. So, the lesbians are just like totally normalized. Okay, there’s humping centaurs, all right, so it’s just like, oh yeah, and also there’s some lesbians.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:53] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:12:54] I feel like that’s kind of emblematic of what happens in the ‘70s in science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:59] And actually, when you get into the ‘80s and ‘90s and beyond, there’s just a lot more casual queerness in terms of experimental films, but also more mainstream films and television. You have things like The Hunger, which is a lesbian vampire movie that harkens back to Carmilla.
Hunger(Clip) [00:13:13] Are you making a pass at me Mrs. Blaylock? Miriam? Miriam?
Not that I’m aware of, Sarah.
Annalee: [00:13:27] David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, I mean it’s its own form of sexuality.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:32] And then there’s your favorite movie, Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Annalee: [00:13:38] Which is actually mid-‘70s, so we’re kind of going back in time.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:41] Kind of going back a little bit which is appropriate.
Annalee: [00:13:42] Because The Hunger … yeah, because The Time Warp, and stuff. But, I mean, that’s a classic example of the height of queer science fiction sensibilities in the ‘70s. Not to say that that was what all science fiction was doing but, it became an interactive story that fostered communities all over the place in the United States and probably beyond. Probably … I know people in Canada where this happened, as well. For me, I grew up in a super conservative area and the only place we could really find queer kids to hang out with in high school was to go to see Rocky Horror Picture Show where you were allowed to dress sexy, to cross-dress, to be performatively gay, and at the same time, you could kind of hide it. Because you’re just dressing up as characters, even though, of course, a ton of us had our first gay kiss or whatever at Rocky Horror. But of course we’re just doing it in character, you know. It’s just like what we have to do. So I think that that was … I think that’s an interesting moment because it’s kind of the place also in science fiction where we see the blossoming of fandom. It’s really in the mid-‘70s that we see modern fandom coming into being. By the late-‘70s with things like Star Wars and so it’s like … you have queer fandom kind of branching out of Rocky Horror and then you have a more straight fandom coming out of other narratives.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:04] I think that the slogan of Rocky Horror, “Don’t dream it, be it,” is sort of emblematic of how science fiction was going from just sort of hinting at gauzy visions of potential queerness off in the distance, to actually embodying those things and having them be right there and you didn’t just have to imagine them distantly. You could actually see them, and they were things that you could emulate at least. Not the centaurs, but the other stuff.
Annalee: [00:15:32] But also, like, just that it was so obviously eroticizing characters that were queer. In fact the straight characters have to become queer by the end in order for them to really sparkle. The fact that there was Frankenfurter, front and center just being so sexy, that just meant everything to me. It was like … I knew that that was the kind of person that I wanted to hook up with.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:59] Aww. And then the ‘70s, speaking of blossoming of fandom in the ‘70s, that was also the era of Kirk and Spock slash fiction, which was a huge development in fandom and in queer culture, in which all these women, some of whom may have actually been straight, but many of whom were queer in their own way, were writing these incredibly beautiful, romantic, sensual stories about Kirk and Spock from Star Trek-
Annalee: [00:16:22] And also hot and sexual.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:24] -having sex. And they were coming up with vocabulary to describe the Vulcan penis, and they were thinking about-
Annalee: [00:16:33] Hint: it has lots of ridges.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:35] And thinking about like, pon farr and the Vulcan mating and what happens if the only person who’s around when Spock is in heat, basically, is Kirk.
Annalee: [00:16:44] Yeah, and this the birth of fic. Now, of course it’s like everything is fic and there’s massive archives on the internet. But at that time in the ‘70s, it was like people mimeographing just stories that they were writing on their typewriters, and the thing to bring it back to Joanna Russ who we were talking about earlier. She wrote an incredible essay, I think in 1980 about K/S fiction, which I think is one of the … I think it’s the first essay that anyone ever wrote that was like a serious scholarly consideration of this stuff. Or even, just serious. It doesn’t matter that it was scholarly, and she talked about the phenomenon and why women are drawn to stories about two men being queer. Her idea was that basically it’s fantasies of romance with mutuality. Where both people in the romance are equals and that that’s an incredibly powerful fantasy for women, especially in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where it was almost impossible to have a heterosexual relationship where you really did feel like you were equal with your partner. Because you were either earning less money, or you didn’t even have a job. It’s in that sense, it’s a very utopian fantasy, because it’s imagining having an equal partner who you love.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:03] It’s interesting to think about Star Trek because Star Trek is a franchise which for many years sort of flirted with queerness. Star Trek: The Next Generation has the famous man walking down the corridor in the first episode wearing a skant, which is sort of a skirt-pant combo, and-
Annalee: [00:18:20] Which is actually a thing that Gene Roddenberry was super into having in there, right? He was like, okay. Women will wear pants. Men will wear skants.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:24] Yeah he thought in the future … David Gerrold who wrote The Man Who Folded Himself was one of the producers of TNG and really wanted to have a gay character on the show, really wanted to … He wrote an episode of the show that was about a gay couple and Gene Roddenberry and the powers that be would not let it appear. It’s since been filmed as a fan-made Star Trek episode, so you can watch it on YouTube but back in the late-‘80s, it was not allowed and it was a huge thing that fans talked about for years that there was this-
Annalee: [00:18:54] I know …
Charlie Jane: [00:18:54] -gay couple on Star Trek that we were not allowed to have. Then, later, they would have episodes that kind of hinted at queerness, like where Riker goes to the planet where nobody has gender, and [crosstalk 00:19:06] is like a secret-
Annalee: [00:19:05] Oh, there’s a subculture of them who fetishize gender.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:09] That’s right.
Annalee: [00:19:09] Basically, it’s like homo planet where heterosexuality is outlawed. It was just the worst. Like, hello, we are grown up enough now that we can actually just have gay people, we don’t need to have your dumb-
Charlie Jane: [00:19:20] I mean, the point is by the time Star Trek was doing these kinds of clumsy metaphors, most science fiction fans had gotten used to seeing explicit queerness that was already very much discussed, in itself, in their fiction. And even in some underground films, like some of the ones we’ve mentioned, and so it felt just like irrelevant and weird. And then you would have Jadzia Dax, who had been in a male body previously and her previous host had been male and now she would occasionally meet women who-
Annalee: [00:19:45] She met that one woman who she was still in love with but then that had to be forbidden for other dumb reasons.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:50] There was … well Beverly Crusher falls in love with a Trill, who changes … oh.
Annalee: [00:19:53] No, in Deep Space 9, there’s that episode where Dax’s hot chick previous lover, whatever, and again they do this dumb thing where they’re like, well, it’s not because they’re lesbian. Obviously, they think lesbianism is fine. The problem is there’s a taboo in their society against, like, getting back together with someone that you were with in a previous body, and it’s like, again … come on, people. Like, give it up. That was literally the hottest situation that Dax was ever in in that show. It was like, really the only compelling thing that she ever did as far as I was-
Charlie Jane: [00:20:26] I liked Dax and Worf but mostly just because it was cute. I liked Dax and Worf.
Annalee: [00:20:27] Okay, yeah. Okay, I take it all back. I do take it all back. Yeah, Worf … I feel like Worf deserves a little bit better, but that’s fine.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:34] Yeah, and then meanwhile in the 1980s, you have Doctor Who, which is being produced by a gay man, John Nathan Turner. The entire 1980s of Doctor Who is produced by a gay man. John Nathan Turner was not openly gay, but it was an open secret. During that era you have the Doctor suddenly gets younger and cuter. At one point he’s has like this awesome blonde hair.
Annalee: [00:20:54] It’s true.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:55] And he’s suddenly spending a lot more time with the younger men who he has these kind of …
Annalee: [00:21:03] “Special” relationships.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:03] I mean, they have like these complicated relationships, which are kind of spikey but also affectionate. Like, the Doctor has Adric, and then later he has Turlough. It’s kind of the return of the male companion after a long long long time.
Annalee: [00:21:15] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:15] And of not having male companions. But the show can not ever explicitly acknowledge its queerness in the ‘80s, it just has to kind of hint at it, and it gets increasingly campy and kind of over the top and pantomimy, but never actually comes out. Then you have in 2005, Russell T. Davies brings Doctor Who back from the dead and it’s just right there on the page.
Annalee: [00:21:36] Well, and of course Russell T. Davies was famous for doing Queer as Folk. He basically … and he always was a huge Doctor Who fan. That was part of his childhood, but he also was super into being an out gay guy. And he was like, okay, well, now that I’m done doing the gay thing, I’m all about Doctor Who.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:53] Right, and he had—in his first season he introduces Captain Jack Harkness, who is one of the queerest characters in science fiction history-
Annalee: [00:22:01] Ever.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:02] -who kisses the Doctor, like, in the first season. And later has an incredibly beautiful, romantic, and unfortunately tragic relationship with Ianto on Torchwood.
Annalee: [00:22:14] Which is, of course, like … yet another insanely gay show. The gayest show ever, which is delightful.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:19] Everybody in Torchwood is bisexual in their first season, which is great.
Annalee: [00:22:23] Super relatable. And they have sex with aliens and all kinds of other stuff.
Torchwood Clip [00:22:25] We were partners.
In what way?
In every way. And then some. It was two weeks.
Except the two weeks was trapped in a time loop, so we were together for five years. It was like having a wife.
You were the wife.
You were the wife.
No, you were the wife.
Oh, but I was a good wife.
Annalee: [00:22:41] That’s what I love, is when science fiction finally acknowledges this gay subtext, and it’s like, oh, okay, actually we’re all gay. Then you can get into these really interesting stories where you’re like, oh, now we can explore other kinds of metaphors and other kinds of sexuality that we don’t maybe even have words for yet, but kind of move beyond that place of … wow, gayness is a thing? It’s like yeah. Okay, we’ve known that for like a hundred years, so now let’s move on and figure out what all this other stuff is that we’re trying to figure out.
[00:23:12] One of the things that’s so interesting is that time travel comes up again and again as a theme in stories that are queer. There’s Doctor Who, obviously, but we were talking earlier about The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold, The Female Man by Joanna Russ. I feel like there’s just something about queerness that causes time to bend?
Charlie Jane: [00:23:34] I mean, it is.
Annalee: [00:23:35] Timey-wimey?
Charlie Jane: [00:23:37] It is sort of like the warping of time. Like, the Time Warp.
Music Clip: [00:23:39] [Time Warp Plays] Let’s do the time warp again.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:44] As, like in Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Annalee: [00:23:46] Yeah!
Charlie Jane: [00:23:47] Is kind of emblematic of queerness and the breaking down of boundaries. But also time travel is a way to meet yourself or to meet other versions of yourself, or to kind of encounter another version of your life. Which is kind of like a way of thinking about coming out-
Annalee: [00:24:03] It’s also a way of thinking about homosexuality, because of course that’s supposed to be attraction to the like. Attraction to someone who’s like you. That’s literally what homosexuality means, and of course there’s huge debates among queer theorists. Especially in the ‘90s, about like, is it really true that we’re attracted to sameness, because like, maybe I’m like a skinny little nerd who’s attracted to bears, is that really sameness? But the point is that that’s kind of the ideas that … there’s something about homosexuality specifically that means that you’re like, hot for yourself.
Charlie Jane: [00:24:36] Right, well, and time travel’s also like the ultimate swashbuckling adventure. One of my favorite kind of goofy shows is Legends of Tomorrow, which is a time travel show where one of the main characters, Sarah Lance is a lesbian. My favorite parts are when she just goes back in time and seduces Guinevere in the court of King Arthur, or seduces some other, like, historical women. It’s just like every episode, it’s like what historical famous lady is going to fall in love with Sarah Lance and end up in bed with her this week?
Legends of [00:25:06] I hate to see a lady so beautiful so sad.
Your husband …
Enjoys the company of his male courtiers, why should I be denied a similar pleasure.
Annalee: [00:25:20] There’s nothing better than time travel to not have to deal with the consequences of things that … of taboos. Because gayness has been – queerness have been so taboo throughout most of history but wouldn’t it be great if you could just parachute in, have sex with your beloved of choice and parachute out. The other thing, too, is that a lot of the way that we think about queerness even now has to do weirdly with a kind of having a time travel perspective. I was thinking about this in the context of the “It Gets Better” campaign.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:55]Oh, right.
Annalee: [00:25:55] Where, it’s all about, like, okay, I know it sucks right now, but just use your mind to time travel to the future when you’re going to be a grown up gay person and it’s going to be fine. So it’s like you’re invited to always be thinking about a version of yourself at some other time, and that’s when it’s going to be okay, is in the future. Or, in the past. As long as you can escape from the past.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:15] Right, and the future is when gay people are finally going to be accepted, or queer people are going to be finally be accepted, and when everything is actually going to be okay. The better future that we wish we could fast forward to, like as a society, is one of tolerance and inclusion, and all those good things.
Annalee: [00:26:32] But that’s not going to happen.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:32] Oh, and another novel from the ‘70s that we forgot to mention is The Forever War where the guy goes to war and then comes back and it’s so much later in time that everybody’s become homosexual and he’s like the only person who’s not homosexual anymore. Like, he’s the last straight person left, and he feels alienated and it’s sort of this weird metaphor because it’s like, what if it was the other way around. And like, how would you feel if everybody was gay except for you.
Annalee: [00:26:55] It’s so funny how … I mean we’ve been sort of talking about how gayness becomes a metaphor in science fiction, or science fiction comes up with lots of metaphors for gayness. Of course one of the big metaphors is vampires. That was one of the things that I found so frustrating about the show True Blood, which of course I watched like a maniac. It’s not like I didn’t watch every frickin’ episode. But, I mean it was … it started out with like, vampires are basically gay people. That was clearly the metaphor that Alan Ball was going for, who is also an out gay guy, who was the show runner and creator of the show. Then, as the show went on it was like, really Alan Ball? Like, is that the metaphor you’re going for? Like, that gay people are like cruel abusers of humans.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:41] Serial killers …
Annalee: [00:27:41] Serial killers, who have a secret cabal and are basically just using people and it … it seemed like it was one of those metaphors that sounded really great on paper, and then once you started expanding the narrative and really exploring it, it was like, actually, that seems kind of problematic. It kind of … the vampire metaphor was great, I guess, back in the 19th century with Carmilla where it was like, okay, all sexuality is kind of scary, especially female sexuality, and so, and also we have no other tools to talk about this, other than to just invoke transgression. But by the time that True Blood comes around, I feel like maybe we could have told a better story. But that’s just one of many different metaphors. There’s also, not just vampires, but monsters in general are often kind of gay. I feel like swamp thing gets a little gay up in there sometimes.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:38] Mutants, like the X-Men are almost-
Annalee: [00:28:40] The X-Men are so gay. We already know they’re gay. Duh.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:41] They’re explicitly gay, [crosstalk 00:28:42]. In one of the X-Men movies there’s that whole scene where somebody asks their kid, have you ever tried not being a mutant? And it’s like … so clearly like they-
Annalee: [00:28:52] We’re going to send you to like mutant rehab camp.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:54] We’re going to cure you of being a mutant. At least it feels very explicitly a commentary on gayness.
Annalee: [00:29:00] Yeah, there’s a lot of gay aliens. Or aliens whose sexuality is challenging to our norms. I always feel like the movie Species is basically about some kind of weird thing. What if women could penetrate men? And it’s this kind of terrifying idea. And then … of course, robots are all gay.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:24] For sure.
Annalee: [00:29:24] Data is so gay. Absolutely. Obviously C-3PO is gay.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:28] C-3PO is incredibly gay. And speaking of monsters’ queerness. One show that really fascinated me, and sometimes in terrible ways, was American Horror Story, which is a very explicitly queer show. There’s a lot of queer characters and frequently their queerness is part of the grotesqueness of the show in general.
Annalee: [00:29:47] But also, their fear of other people’s judgment and also how they’ll be treated by mainstream America. That becomes a really explicit theme in some of the later seasons. That it’s not just gay people as horror, but it’s gay horror. It’s what horrifies and terrifies us as queer people. I’m not saying it’s done well. It’s kind of like True Blood where I’m like, eh, you know, maybe you could have picked a better metaphor, but it’s an attempt to talk about what it’s like to be gay in America right now.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:21] Right. You know, that leads me to sort of wondering if we’re finally ready to get past the story of the gay person being persecuted or actually killed. The tragic gay story that people always refer to. Whether we’re ready to finally get past that being the main narrative that we tell about queer people in science fiction, and you know …
Annalee: [00:30:41] I gotta tell you Charlie, I don’t think… I don’t think we’re there yet. I think often we’re talking to other queer writers and they’ll say things like, “I wrote a story where there’s a happy ending for gay people, and we all smile and hug each other and high five when that happens. Because it’s so fucking rare.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:58] That’s true.
Annalee: [00:30:58] And it’s … that’s awful. Like, straight people shouldn’t be able to hog all the happy endings. I’m super psyched for them to have tons of happy endings, too, but like … we want to have some. I mean, there’s no shortage. You can have all the happy endings for straight people, and all the happy endings for gay people, and we’ll still have 100% of happy endings remaining.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:19] Absolutely. There’s not a limited supply of happy endings, and most genre fiction, unless it’s straight up like dystopian dark horror, tends to have a happy ending anyway.
Annalee: [00:31:30] Or at least like an okay ending.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:32] You have something like Sense8, in which really plays to the persecuted minority kind of aspect of it, where it’s like we’re being hunted. We’re being caught, and it does have a lot of really uplifting happy stuff in the midst of that. Like the relationship between Jamie Clayton’s character and Freema Agyeman’s character is really beautiful and really lovingly depicted.
Sense8 Clip: [00:31:55] I don’t think there’s been a single day when I didn’t hear that same voice in my head telling me whatever you do, do not let her go.
Nomi Marks will you marry me?
Charlie Jane: [00:32:15] There’s a lot of other stuff in that show that’s really gorgeous and affirming of queer people and doesn’t show them as purely tragic. But it also does have this we’re being hunted and persecuted and that’s kind of bound up with the fact that so many of the characters are queer.
Annalee: [00:32:34] One of the things that does kind of lead to happy endings, or at least not sad endings in queer stories is certain kinds of technologies. We were already talking about time travel, which I think is a great example and we see a lot of utopian stuff happening with queer time travel, but also, reproductive technologies. We were talking earlier about stuff from the ‘80s. Lois McMaster Bujold has a great novel that’s in her Vorkosigan series but it’s kind of a … one of those side note ones. She has like 90 million of those novels. At the core of all of those novels is a technology that she calls the uterine replicator, which is an artificial womb. It enables all of these fascinating narratives, including this ‘80s novel called Ethan of Athos, which is a planet of gay men. Ethan is one of the guys from this planet. They do good deeds to accumulate, basically social capital. If they do enough good deeds, if they do enough community service, and do their jobs well, they are able to have a child using a uterine replicator and using eggs provided by women elsewhere in the known universe. Of course … because it’s a Vorkosigan novel, there’s a kind of a murder and a whole Who-dun-it part of it that has to be solved. But the worldbuilding is fantastic. It’s this really interesting way of thinking about how would you have a functioning all-queer society, and the way that it works is oh, we have this technology that liberates us from having to have heterosexuality be at the core of reproducing humanity. Humanity has been totally liberated from that. Also, women have been liberated from that, too. So, of course a lot of the novels are about women being … what happens to women when we no longer have to just bear children in order to maintain humanity.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:23] Yeah, you were mentioning Ammonite by Nicola Griffith from 1992 also has a similar kind of parthenogenesis going on.
Annalee: [00:34:31] We were talking about Herland earlier, the Charlotte Perkins Gilman novel which has parthenogenesis and then Nicola Griffith who is an amazing queer writer has that idea in Ammonite. Ammonite is also a planet of queer people. It’s women, and they … they reproduce through parthenogenesis. It’s a little bit. I’m not sure that it’s technological in that book. I think it’s a little bit like they just love each other so much that…
Charlie Jane: [00:34:58] I think they’re on a planet that does things to change their bodies sexually.
Annalee: [00:35:02] It changes their biology, that’s right.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:04] It’s a super fascinating set-up. I don’t think men can come to that planet without being killed or something.
Annalee: [00:35:09] They have all kinds of problems, so.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:12] It’s an amazing novel.
Annalee: [00:35:13] It’s really fantastic. I mean, she’s gone on to write some incredible stuff. Like, historical novels about queer people. Her novel Hild, which is like one of the greatest books ever, is like a retelling of Saint Hilda, and it’s all about this young queer medieval badass chick who’s just wielding a sword, getting laid, super great.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:36] Yeah, and so Nicola Griffith is part of this ‘90s flowering of queer science fiction writers that kind of mirrors what we were talking about happening in the ‘70s where there’s suddenly more openly queer people writing stuff, except it’s kind of taking it even further. You’ve got people like Nalo Hopkinson who starts writing in the mid-‘90s and is openly queer and has a lot of bisexual and other queer themes in her work. You have Jewell Gomez, who writes a lesbian vampire novel called the Gilda Stories that’s become considered a huge classic. You have Geoff Ryman who’s been writing for like 25 years now, who has written some incredible stories about queer relationships and also different kinds of reproduction.
Annalee: [00:36:17] Octavia Butler’s writing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and she has a lot of exploration of aliens and humans becoming kind of half alien and how that changes our sexuality. One of the things that happens in a lot of these books that we’re talking about is that it isn’t just queer identity. It’s really intersectional. A lot of these novels deal with racial identity, deal with post-colonial identity, and so we’re seeing sexuality dealt with in a really nuanced way. It’s not just like, oh and now we’re on the planet of gay people. It’s like, no, actually we’re in a futuristic Toronto with Caribbean people and some of them are queer and some of them aren’t, and it’s a rich, well-imagined community of actual humans.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:01] That leads us to more recently you have another wave of novels which include things like Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and there’s been a couple of sequels to that, since, which have just very casually queer, open relationships and in the first novel, spoiler alert, one of the main human female characters ends up getting together with an alien woman, but it’s not—The fact that it’s a relationship with an alien is not sort of a metaphor for lesbianness. They’re lesbians and-
Annalee: [00:37:36] They’re an alien, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:36] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:37:37] And she’s from a polyamorous culture, so, that’s again something that I think starts happening in the ‘90s or the noughties, or the oughts, or whatever the hell we’re calling them, where suddenly it’s… Like I said, once gayness becomes the text, or queerness becomes the text then suddenly all this other stuff starts bubbling up and we start questioning. You get things like Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, which both show, actually not entirely unhealthy polyamorous relationships. Actually, in Caprica, it is kind of unhealthy-
Charlie Jane: [00:38:07] It’s not the greatest.
Annalee: [00:38:08] It’s not the greatest, but it’s … there’s this clear suggestion that polyamory is just kind of a thing that everybody, that you can do. Nobody thinks that’s weird. They think it’s weird that it’s a creepy cult, but they’re not like, oh well, you’re all sleeping together in a big group? Well, that must be what’s wrong with you. It’s like, no no no, it’s because you’re trying to create heaven in virtual reality. That’s the problem. You also have authors like Mary Anne Mohanraj who has this novel that came out a few years ago called The Stars Change. It’s about queerness, but it’s also about aliens and humans getting together. It’s set on a university planet, which I love, because I love universities and I love the idea of a whole planet that’s sort of like that. The way that The Stars Change is set up, is it’s linked stories and each story ends with the character having sex with someone and then the next story is about the person that they had sex with. And then of course it all ends up coming together. So, it’s kind of a set of short stories, but it’s also kind of a novel, because we follow an event that’s happening. Some of them are like gay lizards. Some of them are lesbian humans. Some of them are really nice grannies who help out when there’s an emergency. Again, it’s not just rethinking sexuality, but rethinking families, and rethinking connections between people through sexuality.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:29] I really … I feel like it’s been wonderful just in the last few years to see much more varied kinds of queerness and much more intersectional queerness, even than we saw in the ‘90s.
Annalee: [00:39:39] Oh, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:39:39] Just coming out everywhere in science fiction and fantasy. If you look at a lot of the stuff that’s been nominated for major awards, like the Nebula and the Hugo in the last three or four years, you just suddenly see all this stuff that is queer in different ways from Ann Leckie’s we’re just going to call everybody “she” no matter what novels.
Annalee: [00:39:59] Or JY Yang who has characters that are third gender in their novellas. Their sort of linked Tensorate series.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:09] Right, and then you have things like Sarah Gailey’s hippo novellas which have just all kinds of queerness.
Annalee: [00:40:16] Swashbuckling gay dudes.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:17] There’s a gay man who gets together with, I think, a non-binary person named Hiro. There’s just … there’s so much stuff going on right now, and at least in books we’ve just gone so far beyond even the questions of whether gays need to be tragic or whether we need to worry about that. Like, N.K. Jemisin has some incredible queer characters in the Broken Earth trilogy.
Annalee: [00:40:40] And, again, polyamorous characters. So, I think it’s really … I think that’s one of the things that we really should be looking out for in science fiction going forward is that as queerness is normalized to a certain extent, we’re going to be seeing new kinds of relationships coming up. Again, this is going to get at what do we think of as “kin?” Who is our family? How do we form those kinds of close, supportive relationships? And maybe coming up with a lot of new recipes for that. And also coming up with new ways of thinking about gender. We’ve already promised that that will be a future episode, but I do think that the rise in people identifying as non-binary, or asexual, or all kinds of other possibilities are part of that revolution. We’re really thinking about what does it mean to be in a relationship with another person, or another sapient being. Actually, we have lots of options. It isn’t just like, fuck them or not fuck them, okay? There’s all kinds of shit in between there and that’s what’s wonderful. You don’t have to make that choice. You could be like, we’re just special friends. We’re like cake friends. We’re like, we had sex once friends, or we’re like we’ll have sex in the future friends. Or we’ll travel through time and have sex but only in 1864, okay.
Charlie Jane: [00:41:58] And to bring it back around to what we talked about in the beginning, I feel like a lot of what’s so great in queerness in written science fiction right now is that there’s a sense that reality itself is a little bit up for grabs. There are paradoxes. There’s kind of … things are a little bit wobbly. We didn’t really talk about it, but Cat Valente’s Palimpsest has this thing where you can enter another reality almost through having sex with people.
Annalee: [00:42:22] Yeah, it’s a sexually transmitted portal to another reality.
Charlie Jane: [00:42:27] I feel like that kind of stuff is just becoming really exciting because it … even as in the real world, reality is feeling less and less nailed down to any thing reliable, in fiction we’re celebrating how reality can come unglued. And how you can shape your real reality with the people who you love, or the people that you want to be with for however long you want to be with them. Meanwhile the idea of the monstrous and the terrifying and the alienated can be something that we deal with, with our queer family, together. We face it alongside out queer family, instead of it being our queer family.
Annalee: [00:43:04] As we sort of discussed before, those ideas, those metaphors: the alien, the monster, the outcast, the mutant, those are coming to stand in for new things. In 50 years, I hope someone’s doing a poopcast, or a zerbdoff about well now that we no longer refer to this subjugated minority as mutants, we’re moving onto a new realm.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:27] By then we’ll have actual mutants. We’ll all have, like mutant powers.
Annalee: [00:43:29] Yeah, well we already do kind of technically have mutants now. But yes, by then, hopefully we will have solved all the problems in the world, and it’ll be great. We’ll be living in Herland.
Charlie Jane: [00:43:40] So, thanks for listening to Our Opinions Are Correct, please subscribe to us on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or any place else that you can possibly subscribe to a podcast, and please follow us on Twitter @OOACpod and tell all your friends about us, and possibly knock on some doors, I don’t know.
Annalee: [00:43:58] Yeah, and review us on Apple Podcasts.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:01] Review us, please.
Annalee: [00:44:02] And …
Charlie Jane: [00:44:04] And thanks to Veronica Simonetti at Women’s Audio Mission for editing this episode, and thanks so much for Chris Colmer for giving us some wonderful music.
Annalee: [00:44:12] We’ll see you in two weeks, so…
Charlie Jane: [00:44:14] Don’t forget to be weird.
Annalee: [00:44:15] Yeah, don’t forget to travel through time.
[00:44:17] Outro music plays.