In Room C, a cozy corner of the New York Marriott where Flame Con was held, a panel of fabulously queer writers discussed the queer books they grew up with. “This book meant so much to me,” said Proxy author Alex London. “It was filled with queer themes, accepting yourself, young men bunking together—queerest book I’d ever read! It wasn’t until much later, when I learned the author’s politics, that he didn’t know what he’d written.”
This big queer book, of course, was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, inglorious anti-gay bigot.
The other writers on the panel (and the packed crowd in Room C) agreed wholeheartedly that Ender’s Game is not only a queer book but a good one. “Books are smarter than their authors,” London continued, saying he hoped his Proxy fans continued to find positive things about his work that he never even intended. (NOTE: Proxy is a dead-fabulous YA about Syd, a gay slum kid assigned to be the Whipping Boy to a spoiled rich boy in order to work off his debt in a dystopian world.) London created Syd to be a gay action hero, but he expressed remorse at writing Syd overtly masculine. “Why can’t femboys be action heroes?”
This was echoed by panelist Donna Minkowitz, whose madcap magical realist memoir Growing Up Golem explores Donna’s mother treatment of her as a golem created by Jewish magic. Donna contended amongst her fellow panelists that masculinity wasn’t a necessary ingredient in creating queer-empowered fantasy. Same with panelist Soman Chainani and his School for Good and Evil series, the second volume in which introduces a potion that temporarily changes the gender of the drinker.
The panelists, rounded off with Midnighter helmer Steve Orlando, questioned each other over—when creating worlds different than our own—what the writer’s responsibility was to bring in issues of identity, sexuality, race, and gender. The common argument against this is that it politicizes the entertainment. Our panelists unilaterally rejected this. “We’re in the possibility business,” they agreed. “Speculative fiction puts cracks in the façade of society’s rules of the day. [Writing diversity into sci-fi/fantasy] brings real life struggles to the audience who otherwise might not know.”
So, where does a queer creator begin? For Steve Orlando, his “queersploitation” comic Virgil began by watching Django Unchained and wanting more. For Chainani and Minkowitz, it began with character. For London, it’s an idea of what the world becomes. “Artists become obsessed with a question,” London said. “And they have to explore it.” Chainani, whose School for Good and Evil series is currently in film production, summarized best the conflict of queers and the fictional worlds they inhabit:
“Dystopia is a Utopia for somebody.”