Other than in my first attempt at novel writing, which we shall speak of no more, for it is legendary in its awfulness, I write queer characters. They aren’t all queer, but my heroes are. The whole raison d’etre of both my standalone novel, Chasing Cold, and my Maverick Heart series is to write the kind of heroes I loved growing up, but make them unapologetic in whatever flavour of queerness they called their own.
In the early days of what would eventually become Soul’s Blood, I submitted to a press in Edmonton run by Candas Jane Dorsey. As it turned out, I was going to be in town, and she very graciously took me to lunch and gave me feedback on my very early efforts. And one of her comments formed a cornerstone of how the novel and series would grow.
In the initial incarnations, Keene and Daevin were initially forced apart because Daevin’s father was bothered by Daevin being in love with a man. It was the late eighties/early nineties when the novel was first conceived and I was living in a city where there were no Pride celebrations, no businesses that specifically targeted the queer community, other than the one gay bar. In many ways, we still lived our lives in shadow.
Over that lunch, Candas said to me, “His father is homophobic? That far in the future? Haven’t we gotten past that?”
And, hearing that, my approach changed. Over the course of several rewrites, over several years, the motivations that drove Daevin’s father became much more nuanced in ways that enabled me to layer in far more interesting ideas about how their culture and society worked. None of which had anything to do with homophobia.
It became a rule as I continued to write. Whatever the conflict is, it absolutely cannot be about the character’s sexuality. Characters can be greedy, selfish, venal, selfish. But never, not even once, is the conflict driven by homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or any of the associated phobias.
In Chasing Cold, I created a culture that, due to their environment, developed very different ideas about sexuality, due to their confined spaces and physical environment. The main character was in love with a man, but had sexual relationships of varying degrees with both men and women in his community. Sexuality was never a problem for anyone.
In the Maverick Heart books, Keene is gay. Lexa-Blue started out as bisexual, but as my understanding has grown, I’ve realized she’s more properly pansexual. The Artificial Sentiences, like the spacecraft Maverick Heart has no gender at all, and has pronouns to match. In the most recent book I’m working on, I’m developing my first transgender character.
But that’s a challenge in and of itself. In a world where being trans isn’t an issue, where one can easily transition through genetic sculpting, how and why does it come up? I thought about it a while and found a way that I liked and thought worked. Most importantly, I ran it past a a few trans friends to make sure it wasn’t problematic. Because I wanted it to be just a fact of the character’s existence, no more or less significant than her growing relationship with another character. And something that has no bearing on her intellect, her skills and her actions in the motion and resolution of the plot.
Because, ultimately, with my rule in place, those are what matters. Orientation and gender have no relevance unless I need to tell you in order to move the plot. In Soul’s Blood, Keene’s former relationship with Daevin motivates the plot to happen. But the fact that Daevin happens to also be a man? Irrelevant.
And that’s what motivates the work. Because, for me, the fights we continue to fight are for the express purpose of making a world where gender and orientation mean nothing to our place in society. Where we are judged by the actions we take, how we treat those around us, how we stand up for each other, and how we react in the face of crisis.
Because that’s the world, I’ve always fought for, and, I suspect many of you have too. And if that world exists, for now, only in the pages of my books, at least it exists somewhere. And that helps open the door, if only a sliver, for it to exist everywhere.
Next: How artificial is the intelligence?