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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.
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: "Shiva and Octavia" by Sam J. Miller

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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: "Shiva and Octavia" by Sam J. Miller

In 2007, I got a rejection letter that messed me up. I'd sent a story about a gay couple after the zombie apocalypse, and the pro SF market that I sent it to said:

“It becomes too much about gay men and not people in general.”

Now, I’m going to own some of this--I’m a better writer now than I was in 2007, and maybe I did fail to make my love story “work” for that editor. And yes, maybe writing a story about the zombie apocalypse was my first mistake. But for years that line haunted me, making me doubt myself, making me feel like even well-intentioned non-homophobic straight readers wouldn’t get and didn’t want to read about queer characters. It made me steer clear of some stories I wanted to tell, because 90% of readers are supposedly straight, and why write things that 90% of readers are unlikely to get? It made me change the gender of some protagonists to turn gay love stories straight. It made me censor myself. I had to see a lot of queer stories get published--and see a lot of those stories win awards--and I had to go to the Clarion Writer’s Workshop and get lots of community support before I felt comfortable writing the stories that spoke most directly to who I was.

And when I did, I realized: the readers I want are the ones who connect with stories--not labels, not boxes, not cookie-cutter THIS IS WHAT A GENRE TALE SHOULD LOOK LIKE stories. And there’s a lot of those readers out there. Love is love. People are people--even when they’re robots, or aliens, or gods, or monsters. It’s why I, a gay man, got such a severe case of The Feels watching hetero romance unfold between Laura Roslin and Bill Adama in Battlestar Galactica. It’s why Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie” made me cry, even though I don’t have personal experience of the devastating hidden injuries of immigration and assimilation that his tale turns to metaphor. Tell a story well enough and you’ll blow the shackles off the reader’s minds. Of course some people cling hard to their assholery. My own Lightspeed novelette “We Are the Cloud” caught a concentrated dosage of hate from a homophobe. But you’re not writing for them. You’re writing for your people.

Before you can change the world with your words, however, you have to get your words out into the world.

I think it’s difficult for writers and readers who carry privilege, whether of class, race, gender, or sexuality, to understand just how crippling it is to look around at the books and magazines that you love, and not see yourself there. How deep the internalized wounds can go, when everyone around you from high school on up is holding up a book that looks nothing like you, and saying “THIS IS GREAT LITERATURE. THIS IS A STORY WORTH TELLING.” Every writer faces an uphill battle getting their words in print--my hero Octavia Butler said “everyone who tries to write experiences savage rejection, and it just goes on and on until finally you begin to break through”--but the savagery is compounded when you add in the external obstacles outsider writers face when their stories feature experiences and arcs that white straight middle class college-educated editors have no personal experience of ...  and the staggering, sometimes crippling, internalized obstacles: the self-doubt and the self-rejection. Brilliant writer of color Lisa Bolekaja tweeted about facing the need to “work through shit just 2 feel comfortable putting sentences on paper. Somedays 1 sentence is a miracle.”

This is why queers need to destroy science fiction. It’s why women--and people of color--and writers working in languages other than English--and other marginalized communities need to destroy science fiction. We need to undermine the Straight White American Male Underpinnings of the genre.

Understand: destruction is a positive force. Destruction is a sweeping change. I’m talking about destruction as embodied in the Death card in the tarot deck, or Shiva the Destroyer God--a creative force that purges bullshit, crushes the cookie cutters, severs our sentimental attachments. Makes us better.

That’s why I’m trying to destroy science fiction. And why I’m so happy to support Lightspeed’s Queers Destroying SF. And why you should too.

OR BURN IN THE CLEANSING FIRE OF OUR RAGE.

_____

Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His work has appeared in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Shimmer, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Electric VelocipedeStrange Horizons, InterzoneThe Minnesota Review, and The Rumpus, among others. He is a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award and a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop. Visit him at www.samjmiller.com.

Elizabeth Leggett, Su J. Sokol, and 11 more people like this update.

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    1. Missing avatar

      Sheila on February 17, 2015

      I love this essay. It's probably my favorite.