Writing lesbian SF in the aftermath of the election

I had a post planned for earlier in November, but things happened. Horrible, election-type things that I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go into here. Needless to say, I was blind-sided and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened and what it means for people like me and all the other groups of people who are suddenly feeling very exposed.

So… yeah. I’ve dealt with it so far by retreating to my writing world and having my characters kick some major demon ass. A little vicarious conquering of evil, as it were, and it’s done my heart some good. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the most productive way to deal with the election and the potential loss of rights people have worked toward for decades, but it’s something.

It also got me thinking.

Why do I write lesbian science fiction? I assure you, it’s not for the glamour and/or the paycheque. It’s something I love doing. These are the stories inside me that I want to tell, and there are a few people out there who want to read them. So fine, that’s all well and good on the surface. But what is it about these types of stories that I keep coming back to? Sure, there’s adventure and conflict, romance and relationships. These are all good things, but I’ve been thinking about why they resonate with me the way they do.

Then the election happened.

A lot of people I follow on the various forms of social media talked about the importance of telling the stories of those on the outside, those who will be especially vulnerable over the coming four or more years. That made a great deal of sense to me! Suddenly, doing the thing I love seemed subversive in a way I’d never considered before. All I’d wanted to do was tell some good stories and entertain people who don’t normally see themselves represented in SF, and now it even has a greater purpose. I don’t write great literature, after all. I write fun adventure stories that are pretty much what you see on the surface, so yay me, right?

And then I read the article: Do Better: Sexual Violence in SFF. It’s a call to arms to imagine different futures for the female characters in science fiction and fantasy, away from sexual violence. As I read through the article, I found myself agreeing with what the author had to say. That women in fiction are exposed to much of the sexual violence and degradation as they are in real life is puzzling. Surely the women from those imagined futures should no longer have to deal with such things. That would be great and lovely. And so I read this paragraph:

I get a little mad, because we can imagine horrors beyond human comprehension, and yet still we insist that rape is the worst thing that can happen to our female protagonists. We can open a rift between universes and allow a tentacle to herniate through a void in the sky, but we can’t suspend our disbelief enough to erase casual misogyny from the worlds we build. We can give a wizard access to a centuries-old volcano-powered spaceship, but we balk at the notion of a woman who has never been made to feel small and afraid. (http://www.tor.com/2016/08/22/do-better-sexual-violence-in-sff/, paragraph 10.)

For the record, I’m not disagreeing with any of this, but it made me think more closely about my work. Themes of sexual violence do surface in my stories. My first trilogy, On Deception’s Edge, is mostly set on a planet where the women of one of two warring nations are bound in sexual slavery. Why? Because it was one of the most horrible things I could think of. Apparently, my powers of imagination aren’t strong enough to develop a world where sexual violence toward women isn’t a thing, which is certainly only one of my many failings as an author. I’m working on it. However, in this story, I wanted to give my female main characters the most evil of situations I could think of to fight against.

Neither character is herself enslaved, one is a disguised as a man and is a member of the all-male army of the other nation, the one that doesn’t treat its women quite so badly. The other is a smuggler from off world, who makes the mistake of coming to this world looking for a big score. Each of them has to deal with an environment of far more than “casual misogyny.” This world seems not nearly so far-fetched today as it did when I started write it five years ago.

The article and examination of my fiction crystallized things for me. The adventures are fun, the romance is great, but what really attracts me to this kind of writing is giving my fictional women the ability to kick some ass against some of the very same crap they’re exposed to today. Literature is a mirror. As much as I would like to be able to create worlds where women are never exposed to sexual assault, violence, or degradation, it is more important to me to give them the agency to fight back. That’s what I want to see, a fist in the eye of the patriarchy. I’m sure it’s more subversive to create worlds where this isn’t an issue, but I’m not the subtle type. My fiction is my line in the sand. With it I will fight the battles I see around me every day, to the best of my abilities.

I’m not glorifying sexual violence against women. I don’t wish to see any woman abused, assaulted, raped, or any other form of violence for my entertainment or for that of others. I do want to see women fighting back against their oppressors and succeeding. That’s what keeps me writing.

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