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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.
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Personal Essay: "A World of Queer Imagination" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

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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: "A World of Queer Imagination" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

My freshman year of high school, I learned a lot from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: about human nature, friendship, the strength of metaphor. I learned what was and wasn’t allowed in popular depictions of queerness. The arc of Willow’s sexuality threw me; I loved that I finally had queer role models in her and Tara. I loved that she had experienced two true loves: one with a man, one with a woman. But the few brief times that she alluded to her sexuality, she didn’t acknowledge the dual nature of it. Willow was straight, then gay, and as much as I loved the understated approach to sexual orientation, I longed more for a role model who would let me know that it was okay not to feel an attraction to one gender only. I wanted a metaphor that addressed queerness not as an absolute but as a spectrum upon which I could slide whichever way I needed.

***

Imagine a middle school girl, awkward in her skin. She has always, thus far, used her right hand: to draw, to write, to hold her fork. But the muscles in her left hand itch; the itch comes on suddenly, or perhaps it has been there all along but only now does she notice it, only now does it bother her when she tries to sleep.

The awkward girl tries using her left hand. It feels right, more right than anything she has ever done. In a small-town, this is unheard of; for a week after, the girl is approached before each class by a deluge of classmates and their questions. What does it feel like to use your left hand? The school nurse calls her parents to tell them what their daughter is up to.

The mother is unhappy. The girl lies: I’m a righty, look. The mother backs off. The girl writes with her left hand only in secret. There’s always an itch. There’s always the urge. “There’s no such thing as being ambidextrous,” her sister says. “You can be a righty or a lefty, but you’ve got to choose.”

And where is the evidence to the contrary? The awkward girl grows older. There are no ambidextrous people in the books she reads. There are few lefties, even, relegated to side characters, rarely allowed their own agency, and never allowed to show their affection to other lefties. For someone seeking permission to be comfortable with herself, for someone struggling to fill too-rigid shoes, this lack of representation is a blow that bleeds beneath the skin.

Imagine being told, being shown, that you do not exist. Imagine what that does to someone. In Buffy, invisibility becomes literal. In our world, invisibility breaks the mind.

***

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not science fiction in the traditional sense. When I sat down to write this essay, I racked my brain for depictions of fluid sexuality in science fiction books, shows, movies, that affected my younger self. These depictions exist; in my adulthood I’m discovering them. Jack from Doctor Who. Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster. Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. “Inventory” by Carmen Maria Marchado in Strange Horizons. But these stories are few and far-between and required seeking-out. Some people are not so lucky to uncover them. That I had to use a supernatural show as my example only underscores my point.

Stories matter. Some say that it’s not important to depict fluidity of sexuality because love is love. But love is not love, especially not in popular culture’s eyes. First love is different from second love. Love, like sexuality, does not come in absolutes. The culturally-validated love of a man and a woman may not feel different in the heart from the culturally-shunned love of a woman and a woman, but it can feel different in the body when you do not belong to the world in which you love.

Science fiction has the power to change things. Already, science fiction has inspired the future in new technologies, new ways of thinking. It’s time that science fiction challenges our notion of sexuality as either/or. It’s time science fiction grasps not our future view of sexuality but our present view, even. Here science fiction has unfortunately lagged behind.

Imagine a world where queer characters populate popular culture as frequently as they populate the real world. Imagine a world where specialized anthologies are not the only place we see ourselves. Imagine. It’s what we’re good at, we readers and writers of science fiction.

_____

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Interzone. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and curates an annual Art & Words Show, profiled in Poets & Writers. You can visit her on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle or through her website: www.bonniejostufflebeam.com.

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