History Is Full Of Queer People Fighting Aliens (TCWT)

History Is Full Of Queer People Fighting Aliens (TCWT)

It’s Teens Can Write Too! again. It’s weird, the whole TCWT thing. I was involved since the beginning, when I was fifteen, and I was one of the younger members. Now there are a lot of new folks who are several years younger than me and I’m beginning to feel a little elderly.

What kinds of published books would you like to see more of?”

As soon as you saw that prompt, you thought, “Miriam’s going to talk about diversity, isn’t she?” And you’re right. I am going to talk about diversity. Because it’s important.

You see, I want more books with queer characters, I really do. I want queer female protagonists, and happy endings for f/f couples. I want queer characters who aren’t just gay males. Give me stories about non-binary or genderqueer characters. Give me stories about a couple where both people are bisexual and fed up of being mistaken for gay/straight. Give me stories about LGBTQ characters that aren’t focused on sex and physical attraction — hey, scrap that, I just want more asexual characters, because there are so not enough of them and I’m totally bored of reading about kissing by now.

I want historical novels about non-persecuted queer characters, since the world hasn’t always hated people who aren’t straight. I want sci-fi novels. I want fantasy novels. I’m bored of the only books that are “diverse” being Books About This Issue, you know? Contemporary novels about the struggles of coming out in high school. Historical novels about fighting to keep your identity secret or be arrested or whatever. We don’t need those. We need more books where queer characters get happy endings.

I also want more books with non-white characters. Fantasy novels, historical novels, science-fiction novels — not just edgy contemporary novels about racism and school. I want books that say, “You know, not everyone in the Middle Ages was white…”. I want books that stop subscribing to the myth that Europe is full of white people and always has been, or that racism has always existed in the same form that it exists now.

But you know what I really want? Books with disabled or mentally or chronically ill protagonists.

I want books where the characters wake up each morning with their whole body aching and they have to decide whether to get out of bed. I want books where characters are fighting depression just to leave the house. I want books where characters use a cane to walk, and books where they’re in wheelchairs.

I want books about teenagers with one hand, or no hands at all. Fantasy novel? Explore how they use magic to deal with that. Sci-fi novel? Explore computer technology operated by voice and eye-movements. Steampunk novel? Clockwork prosthetics. Come on, guys. It’s an opportunity for so much worldbuilding and so much creativity. If you think those characters don’t fit in your novel, think again. They probably do. You’re just not being imaginative enough.

You see, mostly what I want is books about being a hero even when you’re physically or mentally weak. About overcoming all the limitations of your health to achieve something fantastic.

Recently I read a few books by Rosemary Sutcliff and I noticed that her protagonists are never the strong ones. In The Eagle of the Ninth, the protagonist was discharged from the army due to an injury and he suffers from pain in that leg for the rest of the novel, yet he still gets to be a hero. When I read that the author spent most of her life in a wheelchair due to severe health conditions, it made sense.

Why would you want to read a novel about a strong, physically fit hero saving the world if you could read about someone like you doing the exact same thing?

You know, I’ve struggled to come to terms with not being entirely able-bodied. On days when everything’s aching and I’m really not sure I want to get up, I don’t have characters in books to motivate me. I can’t think, “Well, if [name] can do it, so can I.” Because it’s not like I’ve ever read about anyone with hypermobility syndrome, is it?

We need more disabled characters of all shapes and sizes whose health conditions and limitations take all different forms. We need characters who can walk sometimes but other days limp because their conditions vary from day to day, because a lot of people think I’m faking when I’m having a bad day. We need characters with invisible illnesses and disabilities, dealing with chronic pain that no one else can see, because nobody understands what that’s like without having it explained to them.

Give me a queer, disabled woman of colour as a protagonist in an epic fantasy novel. Give me an asexual girl with one hand navigating Dark Age Britain. Give me a transgender teenager fighting depression and aliens, or a non-binary university student with fibromyalgia exposing a plot to take over the world.

Give me these characters in novels that aren’t about Issues. They’re about people and plot and drama. Because every queer non-white disabled reader has a right to see themselves as a hero — in space, in history, in a fantasy realm, as much as in this world.

Here’s the rest of the blog chain:

May 5th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/
May 6th – http://www.nerdgirlinc.blogspot.com/
May 7th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/
May 8th – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/
May 9th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/
May 10th – http://randomofalife.blogspot.com/
May 11th – http://maralaurey.wordpress.com/
May 12th – http://www.fidaislaih.blogspot.com/
May 13th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/
May 14th – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/
May 15th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/
May 16th – http://taratherese.wordpress.com/
May 17th – http://finnlongman.com/ <- YOU ARE HERE
May 18th – http://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/
May 19th – http://afoodyportfolio.wordpress.com/
May 20th – http://magicandwriting.wordpress.com/
May 21st – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/
May 22nd – http://www.brookeharrison.com/
May 23rd – http://eighthundredninety.blogspot.com/
May 24th – http://www.oyeahwrite.wordpress.com/
May 25th – http://avonsbabbles.wordpress.com/
May 26th – http://b-listerblogs.blogspot.com/
May 27th – http://thependanttrilogy.wordpress.com/
May 28th – http://www.lilyjenness.blogspot.com/
May 29th – http://sunsandstarsanddreams.wordpress.com/
May 30th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – We’ll announce the topic for June’s blog chain!

Please note: history was probably not full of queer people fighting aliens. It was, however, full of queer people. They always existed. Stop telling me it’s “unrealistic” to put them in your historical novel. I’m pretty sure you’ve already managed to sneak vampires in.

33 thoughts on “History Is Full Of Queer People Fighting Aliens (TCWT)

  1. This is amazing. Yes, almost everyone’s talked about diversity in their posts so far, but you really hammered it home, especially on disabilities. (I was about to imagine Star Wars with characters who had lost hands, but several of the characters already had.) All these fantasies about learning to cope with weird powers– how about a paraplegic Ringbearer? What if the prophecy’s chosen one was mentally ill? You’re right, there are so many possibilities for this.

    Great post.

    1. Thanks :) Yeah, I totally think there’s so much potential, especially in fantasy and sci-fi, to explore how different worlds would ‘deal’ with disabilities and how different powers or technologies would be integrated into people’s lives to make things easier for them. I’ve got a character in my current WIP who has physical disabilities but is incredibly strong as far as magic is concerned, and she’s able to create what is effectively a prosthetic hand out of magic. Which I think is pretty cool. It still has limitations, though (when she’s tired, it’s nothing more than an illusion or it vanishes completely). But I found it interesting to write her. :)

    2. Anakin is mentally ill. He turned into Darth Vader and tried to kill Obi-Wan, how much mentally-iller can you get?
      Fortunately for me Anakin is quite obviously straight. Otherwise I would have no chance of being a Star Wars fan because my mother would not let me within a parsec of the stuff.

  2. OK, now I really want to read a story about a transgender teenager fighting depression and aliens! :)

    Excellent post. Have you ever read Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby? The main character is disabled (deaf) and she helps to take care of a chimp that knows sign language and EEEEE IT’S SUCH A GOOD STORY.

  3. These are middle grade, for younger readers, not YA, and don’t deal with gender differences, but you could give them a try:
    RULES by Cynthia Lord
    WONDER by RJ Palacio
    OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon Draper
    These are “about” the differences that certain characters in the books have, rather than the “disability” being secondary to the plot, but the characters are very real-feeling.

  4. I’m not up on much that’s being published these days, but it startles me to hear there’s still so much lack of diversity in the fiction world.

    I remember reading Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang” over 40 years ago. (She was one of the first female SF writers who didn’t take a male pseudonym, and she was the first woman to win a Hugo). The main character is severely disabled.

    “The Ship Who Sang” made a huge impression on me at the time – I loved the idea that disabled people could be heroes. That’s all I remembered of the plot until just now, when I read a plot description. Ugh!!! The basic concept is *horrifying*. But it was written at a time when people with disabilities were being routinely institutionalized, and forced sterilization of mentally disabled people was still occurring. So, in its own horrific way, it could be considered a step forward.

    I started reading comic books in the 1960s. I started with DC, but they were all so dull. I switched to Marvel – so much better. I remembered being particularly intrigued by the blind superhero Daredevil. I’ve always had problems with my feet – problems much exacerbated in my “old age” – so having a superhero with a disability gave me something to identify with. (Like a lot of comics fans then, and I’m sure now, I came up with my own “superhero” characters, and drew their adventures – I never shared them with anyone. One of my characters was unable to walk, so I gave her the power to fly.)

    It was also a pleasure reading Marvel’s “Luke Cage” series in the early 1970s – finally a non-white hero. It made me hope that soon we would all have a place as heroes.

    I read more non-fiction than fiction these days, so it truly is coming as a shock to me that there’s been so little progress in diversity in fiction. I would have thought we would have come further by this time. Silly me. :-(

    1. Marvel is streets ahead of DC as far as diversity is concerned, not least in their cinematic universes. One of the reasons I prefer them. (They’re also funnier.)

      There’s progress being made but a lot of traditional punlishers are afraid of diverse books, feeling that they’ll have a small audience etc, and therefore be a commercial risk. I really don’t think that’s true, and as readers we’ve got a responsibility to support diverse fiction so that they realise there’s an audience waiting for it. Which is hard for me, since I’m always skint.

  5. x1,000 to the above recommendation about Wonder. It’s a really beautiful story. If your library has it, get it!

    And… I love all your points, but especially the one about us needing more books featuring underrepresented characters that aren’t just “issue” books. After all, disabled people can fight aliens too, and so can LGBTQA+ people, and so on. People are more than just their diversity, so to speak, and while I appreciate the issue books, we also need diversity to reach across all genres.

    ALSO – I think you’d like Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis. I believe it’s a fantasy featuring lesbian MCs, one of whom is disabled.

    1. Ah, cool, I’ll try and check it out. Sounds great.

      Yeah, when you’re facing Issues in everyday life you kind of don’t want to read about them, y’know? You want escapism.

  6. I knew this was going to be a great post when I saw the title in my notifications. I was not disappointed.

    I got pretty annoyed recently seeing a bus side ad for ‘Divergent’. Oh look, two white able bodied heterosexual people, almost certainly both cis, allosexual and neurotypical. And yet, the tagline is ‘What makes you different makes you dangerous.’ and ‘Are you divergent?’

    No, what makes you different makes everything difficult. It makes society go ‘ahaha no you’re obviously not trying hard enough or ‘you don’t need any help’ or just ‘you’re a minority, so you don’t matter’. No, you’re probably not divergent. Anyone who wants to be different very rarely is.

    (Not even going near the matalan ad that claims to be ‘for everyone’, yet pretty much every model is white. There’s a few mixed race, but it’s not easy to see.)

    I’m personally claiming Bee from Bee and Puppycat as an ADHD headcanon, because it’s plausible for the character and I really want decent ADHD portrayal.

    Also, if you don’t mind, could you tell me about hypermobility syndrome? (Or link to something, that works too.) I just thought while writing this that it might work perfectly for a character, but I don’t know much about it, and real people are far better sources than Wikipedia, I’ve found.

    1. Happy to talk about hypermobility syndrome, though here might not be the best place. Contact me via contact page and I’ll email you about it? :)

      Ah yes, dystopias, where straight people find out what it’s like to be kept from the people they love by society’s expectations. Gosh, wonder what that’d be like.

    2. Oh, and in the video I linked to in this post (the remark about coming to terms with not being able-bodied), I talk about hypermobility and how it’s affected me. Not in detail, but it may be helpful. :)

  7. This is such an awesome prompt…I should’ve signed up. ;) I totally love your list! And I agree with the needing “disabled or mentally or chronically ill protagonists” too. I think absolutely yes. It’s not something we should hide or be embarrassed about either, and when you represent minorities in books, those books usually become special and more real to the reader. So I reckon anyway. ;)
    I also would love to see more varied world-building! Like we use the same plot devices over and over…sexism and racism…gah. Bit tired of it, yes?! Why can’t fantasy worlds invent NEW antagonistic plot devices? It’d be very interesting to read anyway!

    1. Indeed. Or even pay attention to those in our own society that often get overlooked. Everyone goes on about racism, and classism is often linked, but quite often it’s not. It’s there (hell, it’s at the centre of The Great Gatsby), but less often.

  8. You have just given me plot bunnies. Or, rather, the ghosts of plot bunnies yet to be. There shall be disabled/mentally ill characters in my future. You are absolutely right – there’s so much potential there, for both plots and world building. I totally want to read about Steampunk prosthetic limbs.

    Excellent post. And I completely agree with what you said about books that aren’t Issue Books. Those aren’t the plots that snag me. Let’s have other plots with characters that happen to be diverse.

  9. I loved reading this. Yes. All this is SO important, and this is what I want to read, too. I’m autistic. I’m bisexual. Where are all the people like me in the fiction I like to read? I can count them on one hand, and that’s just shameful.

    So thank you, thank you. I look forward to a world where these books are commonplace.

    Admittedly, however, I particularly enjoyed this line:

    “Give me a queer, disabled woman of colour as a protagonist in an epic fantasy novel.”

    … because that is literally my book, OTHERBOUND, which has a bisexual, mute + signing woman of color as one of its two protagonists. I wouldn’t have just come in here to advertise my book because that’s tacky, but since John Hansen already mentioned it (thanks John!) I just wanted to confirm and slightly correct him, as the protagonist is bisexual, not lesbian.

  10. Having reread this blog, you have given me a fantastic reason for two of my characters to NOT get together (because, to be fair, I’m kind of tired of kissing and love triangles and the like too- I read far too much YA fiction). Still, I kind of feel that I’d be making a big deal of said character’s sexuality and not just letting her be a ‘normal’ character like everyone else… At least it’s a step in the right direction.

    Also, I’m a bit scared of writing disabled characters. Having the good fortune of being in good health all my life, I’m worried about not doing a disabled character justice, or exaggerating the matter. Of course, it’d be good for me to talk to people with the disability I’d be planning to use, but as a huge introvert, I wouldn’t know where to start.

    A thought inspired by Friday’s release date: what are your thoughts on The Fault In Our Stars? If you’ve read it that is.

    1. The internet is always a good place to start when you want to write about characters with disabilities etc. People write blogs about their life, recording day to day struggles etc, which you can usually find without too much difficulty. I found a whole lot of other folks with hypermobility just by typing “hypermobility syndrome” into the search function on Tumblr :) So that’s a good way to start, and then you can often ask those people to tell you more.

      I have read TFiOS but my thoughts on it are stars I cannot fathom into constellations ;) In all honesty I read it in early 2012 when I wasn’t thinking of diversity while reading, so it wasn’t something I paid attention to or even really registered, you know?

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