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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.
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Personal Essay: "The First Rule I Learned About Writing Queer Characters in Science Fiction" by Haralambi Markov

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: "The First Rule I Learned About Writing Queer Characters in Science Fiction" by Haralambi Markov

The first rule I ever learned about writing queer characters in science fiction is: You don’t.

I had an interesting conversation with a close friend, who has always been accepting of my homosexuality and supportive of my writing. Our discussion revolved around whether or not Daryl from The Walking Dead was deep in the gay closet--a rumor that seemed too good to be true (painfully so) and that was discussed by both the comics creator and Norman Reedus himself. This had the power to change queer representation in genre TV in a huge way.

What my friend thought about it? He said that it’s not all that relevant for the story if Daryl was gay; that in the microcosm of the story, there’s no necessity for him to be gay. He did say that the comics have a kick-ass gay character that needs to be brought to the screen, but his first words stuck with me. This seems to be a prevailing attitude in every genre including science fiction. That it’s not all that necessary to have gay characters. That it generally does not matter to the story so why not just make everyone straight.

I’ll tell you why it does matter. The absence of QUILTBAG characters suggests that we can’t survive the apocalypse. That we’ve been weeded out in the futuristic dystopias. That we’ve been scrubbed clean from humanity in the glorious future, actually any future, of space explorers and generational ships. We’re omitted from these narratives and the adventures never seem to come our way. If we do appear, we’re reduced to our sexual orientation, serve as comic relief or get killed. Have your pick. You can be more than one stereotype. The possibilities are endless.

I’m tired of being irrelevant and non-existent in worlds where the human imagination finds no problem giving birth to sentient AIs, god-like technologies and extraterrestrial life forms. I’m also tired of this being the lesson queer writers receive the moment they realize their identity. I never dared writing gay characters while I was learning to write in my teenage years.

I knew I was going to be a writer the first year in high school. I also knew I’d never make it as a writer writing about gay men. I denied myself exploring a most intimate part of my identity even in private, because I honestly believed queer characters would never have place in science fiction, fantasy or horror for that matter. I didn’t write queer characters, because I was deathly afraid I’d be told I don’t belong and a lot of my early work shows that.

Stepping away from this fear is the first step to breaking this cycle of omission, but it’s a hard first step. This is why representation matters, folks. Representation stops self-denial and self-rejection. It’s about becoming relevant to these stories, without them necessarily being about queer issues. It’s about showing that we exist and that the human experience is all the more beautiful for its diversity. It’s about reclaiming our humanity.

This brings me to the second rule I recently learned about writing queer characters in science fiction: Fuck Rule №1. That shit is irrelevant.


Haralambi Markov is a Bulgarian critic, editor, and writer of things weird and fantastic. A Clarion 2014 graduate, Markov enjoys fairy tales, obscure folkloric monsters, and inventing death rituals (for his stories, not his neighbors … usually). He blogs at The Alternative Typewriter and tweets at @HaralambiMarkov. His stories have appeared in Geek Love, Tides of Possibility, Electric Velocipede and are slated to appear in, The Near Now, Genius Loci, and Exalted. He’s currently working on outdoing his output for the past three years and procrastinating all the way.

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    1. Missing avatar

      smercer on

      It occurs to me that SF is also about calling attention to things in current society that need more introspection. "The door dilated" was Heinlein's example of making things stick out just a bit so that people would think about possibilities. So maybe the answer to "it didn't add anything to the story to make this character gay" is "Then neither did the dilating door." But we know the dilating door is exactly what makes SF into SF...

    2. Missing avatar

      smercer on

      One question I struggle with. Should editors/publishers send good SF back to the author and say "Add a gay character." ? Should Dune have been rejected, or at least the third volume, if there wasn't an LGBT character after X number of words? Should an editor say, "Zero romances in Nightfall so we'll publish it without an identifiable LGBT character, but three romances in Dragonsong, none of them are LGBT so send it back to the author."? If authors write what they know, is it fair to insist that they include romances they do not know?

      Would any of us who love SF really insist that the great SF of Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury and more be rejected for not having a single LGBT character in their entire cannon (so far as I know)?

      That feels wrong to me. But without pushing back on the writers and rejecting good SF because it doesn't meet some sort of quota, I'm not sure that this lack of such characters ever changes simply because writers write what they know, and if you've never contemplated your own sexuality because it matches what is accepted by the mainstream, you probably never contemplate the sexuality of your characters.