On Writing Queer Characters in Fantasy

There’s no doubt that as a genre fantasy has made some great strides in terms of representation. Even epic fantasy–notoriously conservative in its depiction of gender, sexuality, and race–has begun to catch up with the times, with women and people of color (and even some queer folks) finally staking their claims. It’s really quite refreshing to see the enormous diversity of voices that have come into their own as the genre has entered into a new phase, that it’s begun to move beyond its very Euro-centric biases.

However, to our eye it’s still pretty rare to find queer people as the heroes of their own stories. There are some recent exceptions to this rule–Tessa Gratton’s Lady Hotspur is one notable example–and of course the Kushiel books have a lot of queerness in them. However, it still seemed to us that epic fantasy needed its own queer couple to root for, a pair of heroes that were very much in love, indeed whose love would prove to be absolutely vital in their epic journey.

Thus, when we set out to write The Filliquian Chronicle, we knew from the beginning that we knew that our leads-Nicholas and Alric–were going to be lovers, and that what began as basically a one-night stand (with profound political consequences). However, as their journey has unfolded, we’ve found that simply having them engage in sexual encounters with men was not only repetitive; it also seemed like a betrayal of the religious system that we’d developed. So, with each of the books that we’re writing, we’re really asking our characters, particularly Nicholas, to think outside of the boundaries that have been imposed upon him and which he has taken to heart.

In that sense, The Filliquian Chronicle is itself a questioning not only of the ways in which people use faith to (often hypocritically) restrict and punish the expressions of healthy human desire, but also of the categories that we use when we talk about the expression of gender and sexuality. After all, the world that we’ve created doesn’t have to operate according to the same rules as ours does. Thus, in a nation like Troyeis, monogamy, even in marriage, is something of an anomaly rather than the norm. Indeed, as we’ve begun to follow Nicholas (who’s something of an ingenue), we find him experiencing the full range of human sexuality (even when he’s not comfortable doing so at first).

Indeed, it’s transpiring that, despite the many struggles Nicholas and Alric have endured and the many challenges their relationship has faced, that they do truly love one another. Though we still haven’t quite figured out the ending of the series as a whole, part of us hopes that these two characters will become the sort of figures that people can get invested in. After all, part of the reason we started writing this series was to fulfill the gaps that we sensed when we were younger fantasy aficionados yearning for queer heroes.

As we’ve begun to sketch out the later threads of our narrative, we’ve found that we need to add in more characters in order to capture the full range of human sexual and gender expression (or at least as full as we can come within the scope of one series). Indeed, when we started writing the storylines for the second major arc of our story, we found that there were a number of characters that were just clamoring to get their own voices heard. Some of these were characters that had already introduced in the first arc, but a number of others, including a young woman who is pansexual and a character that would probably identify as trans in our world, suddenly began to make appearances.

We want to emphasize, however, that we’re not interested in tokenism, and we’ve working very hard to avoid that particular fictional trap. We don’t want these characters to be defined exclusively in terms of their gender or sexuality, though of course that is a key part of who they are and we make no apologies for that fact. However, we also want our readers to see and to understand them as fully-fledged characters in their own right, with complex realities and ways of looking at the world. And, while some of them are heroes, some are decidedly not. To our mind, it’s high time that we have some unequivocally queer villains out there.

All of this, of course, is quite political, and we are very much aware of that fact. Representation matters, and it matters that our characters are queer (in all of the many ways that that word is defined). We’re almost making a concerted effort to include people of color in this world, not just as window-dressing and not just as dispensable characters. In fact, Alric is what we in our world would be called biracial, since his father is from the France-like nation of Troyeis, while his mother is from one of the southern kingdoms. What’s more, it matters that they engage in explicitly queer sex. We’ve made clear from the beginning of this process that we wanted to write an epic fantasy that was a fantasy in all the senses of the word, and we like to think that we’ve succeeded.

Are we going to get everything “right?” Almost certainly not. We understand that there are a lot of risks in including various minority groups in our fiction, precisely because, though we are queer ourselves, we recognize that there are many types of experience that we will never inhabit. However, what we hope to keep doing, as we work on The Filliquian Chronicle (as well as our various other projects), is to provide our readers, and ourselves, an opportunity to really and truly explore the world in new ways. If we happen to stumble a bit along the way, we hope to be able to make them learning experiences. And through it all we hope that you, dear readers, will enjoy reading our books as much as we enjoy writing them.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close