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Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED 100% written—and edited—by queer creators.
Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED 100% written—and edited—by queer creators.
2,250 backers pledged $54,523 to help bring this project to life.

Personal Essay: "1984 in 1980" by Lee Thomas

Posted by Lightspeed Magazine (Creator)

When we set out to destroy science fiction with this Kickstarter, we didn't want it to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill campaign. We wanted it to be full of smashing, crashing queer voices, telling what it really means to be queer reading and writing science fiction. One of the ways we hope to do that is by sharing a series of personal essays about the experience of being queer in science fiction.  

Personal Essay: "1984 in 1980" by Lee Thomas

Most of my childhood experience with science fiction came from the screen. On television, I watched Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. On film, I saw Planet of the Apes, Silent Running, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and Star Wars.

Though I loved those visual entertainments, I didn't become a serious science fiction reader. I'd discovered horror literature young. Blame my mom for leaving a copy of The Exorcist lying around the house for her ten-year-old kid to find.

Later in life I would enjoy the works of Le Guin, Butler, and Delany, authors who directly addressed sexual, gender, and racial issues in their works, but the science fiction literature I read in my youth were those books assigned in middle and high school classes: On the Beach, Fahrenheit 451, Earth Abides, and George Orwell's 1984.

By the time I was assigned this classic, I was a pubescent kid who found the high school gym teachers far more stimulating than the cheerleaders. As such, my perspective on the novel was likely different from that of my classmates. Orwell had fantasized the world in which I already lived.

For instance, Winston Smith is forced to meet his lover, Julia, at clandestine locations. They must keep their relationship secret, because the government does not authorize their union. At the time I read 1984, many of the states in this country still had sodomy laws on the books, making sexual contact in "unauthorized" relationships illegal.

The Party rewrote history and current events to enforce its control. Winston was inundated with propaganda from telescreens, including the one in his home. The US media of the day consistently supported and exacerbated the negative perception of gays. The LGBTQ characters the mainstream media allowed through the filter were victims, jokes, and suicidal depressives: characteristics that are not innate. They are the outcomes of a culture that creates psychological damage. Having succeeded in demeaning gays the media exploited the results. Like shooting a guy in the legs and then ridiculing him for not being able to run, the media threw back images of the problems it helped create and said, "See? We told you so!"

Orwell's Newspeak was designed to limit the ways in which people voiced and even thought about ideas. If you only have one word for the LGBTQ community and that word is deviant, you are successfully limiting the ways people think about this group. Of course, there were more words-faggot, dyke, abomination, pervert, and others, none of which really allowed for a positive spin. When people thought of "those people," the words they had to describe them (us) simply reinforced negative feelings toward the group.

Though I couldn’t rationalize all of this then, I could feel it.

My teacher explained that Orwell's novel addressed the dangers of totalitarian governments, warning of encroaching communist oppression. What she overlooked was the fact that many people were already experiencing oppression, paranoia, and fear under the flag of a “free” nation.


Lee Thomas is the Bram Stoker Award and two-time Lambda Literary Award-winning author of the books The Dust of Wonderland, The German, Like Light for Flies, and Butcher’s Road.


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    1. Julia Taylor

      Thank you for sharing this part of yourself. We need voices like your available to the queen commiunity, and the mainstream straightcommunity too. Le Guin was the first author I read who made polymory come alive for me, as well as giving me a way to think through having boys and then men who were my best friends suddenly seem foreign and still completely known and understood, after they came out. I want more Queer authors and Queer characters for my children, and my contemporaries. The world needs a more Queer fiction and science fiction, to allow for a more universal Queer imagination!