I’m a huge fan of the X-Men. I’ve been reading the comics since I was a wee lad ,watched the cartoon religiously, and parked my ass opening day in the theater of every film–even X-Men 3, the worst in the series (I will fight you on this!). Like most great works of literature, the series on the whole has multiple layers. Most notable is it’s fight for civil rights and justice, showcasing every facet of a complicated issue that, from the outside, always seems to have an easy answer.

…so I was pissed when they took the easy way out with Iceman.

Iceman recently has been outed as gay by his psychic teammate Jean Grey. The whole incident is written in a lazy manner. Considering that this only applies to an alternate universe version of Iceman (All-New X-Men deals with an old X-Men team being taken from the past to the present, which means that the timelines diverged), but the multiverse is going to be reset in a couple weeks anyway, so none of this might ultimately matter. I have other complaints, but I’m getting sidetracked from the real thing that rustles my jimmies.

Where are all the gay people in fantasy?

Not trying to be a social justice warrior on this one. It’s just a simple question: in the vast body of fiction out there, there are hardly any gay characters who aren’t fetishized in some way. There will always be the “corrupt lesbian sorceress” straight out of a Robert Howard Conan story. I’m talking, though, about genuine characters who are given an actual sense of characterization based on their sexuality.

Now, in urban fantasy this doesn’t seem as big of a deal. Perhaps it’s the modern setting, but writers seem more comfortable writing about gay characters in the modern world.

Classic swords and sorcery, though?

I think the problem is that writers feel that, because a story takes place in the past, it’s somehow insincere to write about gay people. Since homosexuality didn’t exist back then. Just like how all women were prostitutes, too, who just always were bound up. Unless you were an evil sorceress who got to enjoy her lesbian sexuality without anyone judging you because, hey, what’re they gonna say?

This. Is. Stupid.

The problem isn’t that you don’t believe gay people existed. The problem is that writers who avoid those topics are afraid of doing something different–or perhaps have been spoonfed the same material over and over again to the point they don’t KNOW how to write something different.

George RR Martin and Robin Hobb are probably the most subversive writers currently working who really play against type in classic fantasy settings. There are definitely more, but I’d like to highlight them in particular for just how clever they are. In particular, Martin’s take on feminism. A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t shy away from presenting vicious sexism. It doesn’t shy away from rape and oppression. However, as opposed to a trashy fantasy novel where all the women get raped by tentacles or something, Martin gives the ladies dignity and power in the narrative. He has them either adapt to the oppressive system to get their ways or just actively oppose the system. “Fuck your gender roles! I’m gonna be a mother-fucking knight!”

That also said, the sexism in A Song of Ice and Fire is also presented as being bad.

That said, sexism and homophobia are two different things.

It’s funny how science fiction doesn’t seem to have as big of a problem here. X-Men is a long lasting sci-fi series with tons of homosexual overtones and undertones. This makes the whole Iceman thing even more disheartening.  Still, in a lot of ways, it makes sense. Sci-fi is about looking ahead to the future. Fantasy, more often than not, looks back.

And, as we all know, gay people didn’t exist back in the day.

2 Comments

  1. Sorry for the long rant following (not accusing you of any of this btw, just screaming into the void about people who say that last bit because they’re way too common)

    The whole ‘there weren’t gays or POCs and women were always treated like rubbish in historical places’ view taken by a lot of fantasy writers irritates me to no end. I have a degree in archaeology (mostly focused on Mediterranean stuff) which pretty firmly showed the opposite of that in a lot of places, so taking it as a hard rule of a historical period is plain wrong and badly researched. And not just the cliche Ancient Greek/Roman probing of youths (Sapphic lesbians were pretty good though) which were a bit of a misogynistic thing because both those cultures were turds to women. BUT JUST AROUND THE CORNER FROM THE GREEKS: The Etruscans. They need more attention for being incredibly cool about their women doing whatever they wanted which made the Greeks angry, and they loved gay art and stuff in an equal, non-mysoginistic way. They were a free-loving bunch who gave power to everyone and painted gays everywhere. I wish there was more common knowledge of them.
    A bit of an article on their ladyfolk here: http://www.historyandwomen.com/2012/10/those-scandalous-etruscan-women.html and for their gays, google their tomb paintings.

    Also Ovid. Cataloged those gay gods. He was a good bean who believed in gay relations (and made a reference to it being historically common in Thrace, home of oil wrestling).

    I also heard on good authority while studying in Turkey that their first bellydancers were male, not female. And while the harem was a bit funny for oppression, women in them were well educated and very powerful, especially the mothers of the Sultans. I also recall that the ottoman empire was the first to legalise homosexuality after the christian-medieval fad of anti-gayness swept the world.

    And POCs because they’re lacking for the same stupid reason. The silk road existed for an awfully long time (and even prehistoric folk managed to intermingle and wander across the world). People from all races were getting their business up in everyone else’s country for most of human existence and not only as slaves. There were the Moors roaming about Spain and Europe, the Swahili were doing really good business with the Portugese using Indian silks while pretending to be Arabic. Egyptian stuff has been found in ancient Irish sites. There’s Viking graffiti in the Hagia Sophia because they used to be employed as security. Not to mention the Romans would have spread POC citizens from Africa and the east all across their empire well before the medieval period those folks cling to. So I don’t buy the exclusion of them, nor gays or respected women, from supposedly ‘historically accurate’ fantasy and I long for the day when that line of thought is blasted into oblivion and the inclusion of minorities stops being dismissed as tokenism or pandering.

    People get everywhere, and they make things way more interesting when they get all mixed together and their differences can bounce off one-another. And it doesn’t always have to be through oppression.

    But on the positive for the historical argument, I find that quality historical TV shows like Vikings, the Borgias, Britania, etc (not fantasy) are starting a really good move towards showing the diversity that actually existed. Still has a way to go with the gay, but as more stuff gets dug up I’m really hoping that will follow and start to influence fantasy writers to break from such a narrow view of history. AND ONE DAY, people will have to justify why they’re not there, rather than why they are.

    Like

    1. Don’t worry about it being a long rant. It was a good read.

      As you may note, that post you’re responding to was posted quite some time ago. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research on history and all that good stuff to find a lot of the same things you’re saying now, but I had no idea about the male belly dancers. I may need to consider that in some future story.

      I think the problem is that people interpret history not through the real thing but through media. Thankfully, shows like Vikings bring us a long way in the right direction towards historical accuracy and pop culture understanding of what actually happened, but still.

      More people with your knowledge need to write about this kind of stuff so that we as a culture might be able to dismiss the myth that the LGBTQA community is somehow a new development.

      Liked by 1 person

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