Gender and sexuality are endlessly complicated. And yet we tend to see everything in terms of male or female, gay or straight.If you identify as a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, you’re trans. If you like someone of the same gender, you’re queer.
If you identify as a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, you’re trans. If you like someone of the same gender, you’re queer.
Even all the different types of women – femme, butch, masculine-of-center, stemme, and more – are just lumped into the category of women.
But it’s more complicated than that.
That’s why fantasy books are the some of the more progressive pieces of queer literature available. They reimagine what sexuality, gender, relationships and even race could be.
For example, let’s look at Jon Skovron’s Empire of Storms Books.
Skovron is a man who knows the blurring of identities. He identifies as a man, but considers his masculinity atypical – he’s sensitive and creative, all of his close friends are women and gay men, and he was raised in a houseful of women. He was married to a woman for nine years until she realized she was a lesbian and left him for another woman.
After that devastating event, he realized that gender and sexuality are fluid. Just because his wife fell in love with a woman didn’t mean that she had never loved him. He realized that people are always changing.
That helped to inform the characters in Empire of Storms. He finally freed himself up to write dynamic characters that defied labels. He says,
If we can imagine flying dragons and elves, why not a third gender, or a fourth, or a whole spectrum of gender?”
The protagonist, Red, identifies as a man but not with “typical” masculinity. Like Skovron, Red identifies more with emotions and female friendship than with “many” activities like fighting. He says, “Red is, in part, my attempt to embrace and celebrate my own somewhat unconventional masculinity.”
Another gender-defying character is Brigga Lin, who can magically change sexes at will. This power is less about how cool it would be if one could switch back and forth, but about how powerful it is to be able to present as your desired gender at will.
Skovron isn’t the only writer to do this. In Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, everyone is sexless except for once a month, for breeding purposes, and everyone uses the pronoun “he” regardless of what sex they happen to take on that month.
In Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, the main character comes from a genderless society and finds it tiring and futile to interact with a society with such rigid genders. The character refers to everyone as “she.”