Where in Science Fiction and Fantasy are the GLBT Characters?

Over at Mythic Scribes, Marc Davies has an essay up looking at the relative absence of GLBT characters in science fiction and fantasy compared to other genres. This post will echo and contrast with the argument and sentiments of that essay.

As a gay man (and as I’ve repeated a few times on this blog), I want characters with a GLBT orientation. And obviously, I’m not alone. There is a demand for a wider array of protagonists and supporting characters, not just GLBT.

So, what is my take on Davies’s essay? I largely agree with him, to an extent. The presence of GLBT characters in science fiction and fantasy is abysmally low. But, I think it is getting better. And I don’t think the situation is as bad as Davies’s argument makes it seem.

On television, I agree with him 100%. Besides Stargate Universe, Battlestar Galactica, Xena, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I cannot think of other science fiction and fantasy series that include GLBT characters. Ditto on movies.

Comics books are increasingly more inclusive. Both Marvel and DC are actively engaged in increasing the diversity of their characters. Have they both faced push back? Yes, but kudos to both companies (and their creative teams) for sticking to a commitment to diversity. Could they do better, yes. And I expect they will do better in the future.

With video games, I’ve read that there is strong homophobia in the gamer community. But those games that actively seek to add  GLBT characters and include gay options should be applauded. Games like Dragon AgeFable, etc. I wish I had more to say on this topic, but I’m not much of a gamer, honestly.

Now, on to books. Davies mentions two relatively recent novels as examples of GLBT inclusion: Iron Council and The Steel Remains. While these two novels have unambiguous gay male protagonists, there are several other novels and short stories that feature GLBT protagonists and secondary characters. And some of them are even decades old.

Finding and reading these works forms the challenge. Tanith Lee’s Tales of the Flat Earth have several bisexual male characters as protagonists. Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed has a gay character and The Left Hand of Darkness speaks for itself. Samuel R. Delaney has numerous GLBT characters peppered throughout his work. And there is Hal Duncan among many others.

Still, I do think there could be more GLBT characters out there. Especially in YA.

Now, I do have some strong disagreements with Davies’s essay. For one thing, his characterization of “gayness” is, unfortunately, stereotyped. Especially given that neither Cutter or Gil fit that stereotype.

This led, to my second major disagreement with his essay. Yes, fantasy is usually inspired by the medieval period in Europe. But fantasy does not have to blindly follow Earth’s history. Like Paul Cornell has said in a few interviews I’ve listened to, adding GLBT characters is the choice of the author not the inspiration.

Personally, I think representation is getting better. But more can and should be done. Perhaps my strongest area of agreement with Davies’s essay is his argument that art, in all forms, should challenge the beliefs and sentiments of the reader. Art entertains, yes, but it also does so much more.

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Posted on August 29, 2012, in Books and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Do you see disabled people in YA books? No. Do you see LGBT people in YA books? No. Why? I don’t know, but this is the fact.

    YA is about fluff ‘n’ happiness or about teen wangst, but generally with a happy end. I think it would be hard to achieve this goal when introducing a disabled or LGBT character. Also, YA is not about complex social problems which arise in 99% of cases if you introduce such a character, nor about fostering anything, it’s just there for the sake of being fun.

    On the other hand, adult fiction – including science-fiction and fantasy – is a good genre to introduce such characters.

    Re: “not for their own sake” – well, in most cases you can tell that the author put a character in just to advocate his ideals. Unless there are characters of color in general, putting a single person of color in sticks out as a sore thumb. Imagine sticking a person of color into… I don’t know… Lord of the Rings?

    On the other hand, for example, Harry Potter is written in such a way that most people fail to notice that the Patils are Indian or that Dean Thomas is Black. They just naturally and inobtrusively are there and their “being of color” is not used to promote any ideals. I believe this is the way to go – to include them without stressing the differences… this way, people learn to include disabled, LGBT, people of color or whatever.

    • Well, I will admit that I’m not very well versed in YA literature. But from what I can tell, I wouldn’t generalize the genre as being about “fluff ‘n’ happiness.” And I’m pretty sure that there are disabled and LGBT characters in YA out there. You just have to look (or know where to look). I’ve read articles that looked at the issue, and, while not totally absent, the number of YA novels that feature LGBT characters are ridiculously and infuriatingly low (I’ll have to check on the numbers for disabled characters).
      I don’t buy the argument that inclusion equates to either tokenism or soap boxing. I’ve never read an example of soap boxing, to be honest. As far as tokens go? Yeah, those do suck. But there are people of color in The Lord of the Rings. Who do you think comprises Sauron’s human allies? And Tolkien’s attitudes towards race makes up a fairly noticeable chunk of the critical literature. There was a special Modern Fiction Studies issue a about seven or eight years ago that looked at the issue. And I’m sure that is not the only one.
      Rowling does get it right, by and large. But then again, isn’t a theme of Harry Potter a problematic argument for tolerance?
      At the end of the day, I want to see every character be treated with the same care as straight white non disabled male characters. But that does not mean writers should not explore what makes each character unique.
      Unfortunately, the “not for their own sake” argument is often used by prejudiced readers to argue against diversity. Just check out comics websites with posts that explore these issues. Yeesh, the prejudice is palpable half the time in the comments!

  2. I am not a particular fan of LGBT, but I agree there could be some more in novels, provided they are not there for their own sake. Also, I don’t believe YA novels are the place to introduce them.

    • What do you mean by “not there for their own sake”? Does there have to be a reason to include LGBT characters? If so, that seems to be a very, very dangerous slippery slope. Which to be honest may explain the lack of people of color in science fiction and fantasy. Which absolutely stinks, in my opinion.
      I will admit I’m not huge on YA (hell, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a YA). But I think that including diversity, especially LGBT, is so very important when it comes to fostering tolerance, understanding, and acceptance.

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