LGBTQ Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1990s

The 1990s saw a huge increase in the positive portrayals of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) characters in all parts of the genre: literature, anime, manga, comics, even some television and movie characters. Character-driven fantasy and science fiction became more popular, as did game-driven fiction and fandom. Different kinds of science fiction, fantasy and horror became a global phenomenon via the Internet. Cyberpunk-influenced science fiction with out queer characters, urban fantasies with LGBTQ characters, queer horror and television, movies and comics which celebrated queer subtext, all became more visible to mainstream audiences.

One change in this decade was the increase in the number of queer-identified authors with works that centered LGBT and/or Q protagonists published by large genre fiction publishers. Author Melissa Scott’s best-known novels, Trouble and Her Friends (1994), Point of Hopes (1995), co-written with Lisa Barnett, and Shadow Man (1995), ran the gamut from cyberpunk to science-influenced fantasy to science fiction exploring ideas about sex and gender. Trouble remains one of the few cyberpunk novels that featured a queer protagonist, while Shadow Man is still one of the few science fiction novels that explores cultural conflict based on the acceptance of people outside of the constructs of a binary gender system.

Other out authors included Gael Baudino, whose fantasy novel Gossamer Axe (1990) featured a bisexual, polyamorous female rock musician out to rescue her lover from the Sidhe. Laurie Marks created a post apocalyptic fantasy with a lesbian couple as the protagonists in Dancing Jack (1993). Nebula Award-winning author Severna Park saw two critically-acclaimed science fiction novels with lesbian protagonists published: Speaking Dreams (1992) and Hand of Prophecy (1998), both of which deal with issues of slavery, captivity and the nature of freedom.

Rachel Pollack and Richard Bowes created new kinds of urban fantasy in their novels. Pollack’s Temporary Agency (1994) and Godmother Night (1996) were set in a myth-influenced near future, with demons, ritual magic and queer protagonists. In contrast, Bowes’ novel was set in a contemporary city and featured an alcoholic, gay hustler trying to get clean and gain control of his shadow alter ego. Anne Harris used a future cyberpunk version of Detroit as the backdrop for her novel about two female mutants who fall in love while dealing with the consequences of bioengineering in Accidental Creatures (1998).

Nicola Griffith made a significant contribution to LGBT SF/F with her acclaimed science fiction novels with lesbian protagonists, Ammonite (1993) and Slow River (1994). She also co-edited the Bending the Landscape series with Stephen Pagel, who would go on to co-found Meisha Merlin Publishing. Bending the Landscape consisted of three themed anthologies of stories with LGBT protagonists: Fantasy (1997), Science Fiction (1998) and Horror (2001). The series featured stories by such writers as Robin Wayne Bailey, Tanya Huff, Rebecca Ore, Keith Hartman, Ellen Klages and Jim Grimsley.

Author Geoff Ryman’s fantasy novel Was (1992) was one genre novel that dealt with the impact of AIDS on the lives of gay and bisexual men. Was featured a gay male protagonist with AIDS who was drawn to revisit the sites and people who inspired Frank Baum’s novel The Wizard of Oz. Horror author Clive Barker also dealt with the devastating impact of the disease as experienced by his gay protagonist and the communities around him in his novel, Sacrament (1996). Novelist Peg Kerr’s The Wild Swans (1999) took a different direction with a split narrative, one following the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, the other telling the story of a young gay man trying to cope with the impact of the disease.

Some other authors who created memorable queer protagonists in the 1990s included Pat Murphy, whose novel Nadya (1996) is the story of a bisexual female werewolf in the American West.  Nancy Springer created a fantastical take on small town life in Larque on the Wing (1996), in which the protagonist, a heterosexual female artist, shares her psyche with a young gay man. Eleanor Arnason’s Ring of Swords (1993) challenged the tropes of military fantasy while setting the story on a world where samesex partnership was the norm.

Other authors focused on unconventional stories within more conventional genre narratives. Robin Wayne Bailey’s Shadowdance (1991) was a fantasy with a disabled gay protagonist who was given the “gift” of being able to walk at night as long as he performed a dance that drove his audience to act out their darkest desires. Author Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer series, beginning with The Tower of the King’s Daughter (1998), featured a gay protagonist in a world modeled on the Crusades.

Small presses also continued to publish some science fiction and fantasy with LGBTQ protagonists. Cleis Press published three anthologies of lesbian horror and dark fantasy, all edited by Pam Keesey: Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Tales (1993), Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Erotica (1995), and Women Who Run with the Werewolves (1996). Cleis also published a companion volume of gay vampire stories, Sons of Darkness: Tales of Men, Blood and Immortality (1996), edited by Michael Rowe and Thomas Roche. Alyson Books published several fantasy titles, including the anthology, Swords of the Rainbow (1996), edited by Eric Garber and Jewelle Gomez.

Seal Press published Ellen Galford’s The Dyke and the Dybbuk (1993), about an ancient Jewish demon sent to haunt a contemporary lesbian cab driver. New Victoria Publishers released Chris Anne Wolfe’s popular romantic lesbian fantasy Amazons of Aggar series, beginning with Shadows of Aggar (1991), while Rising Tide Press published the first of Jean Stewart’s Isis series, Return to Isis (1992).

Circlet Press was founded in 1992 by publisher and editor Cecilia Tan, with a focus on erotica science fiction and fantasy; 1990s titles with LGBTQ protagonists included The Stars Inside Her: Lesbian Erotic Fantasy (1999) and Wired Hard: Erotica for a Gay Universe (1994). Other presses that published sfnal erotica included Belhue Press, which published an erotic cyberpunk novel by Perry Brass, The Harvest (1997), along with his other nonsfnal work.

In a small sample of other mediums, Marvel Comics allowed the writers of Alpha Flight to have the superhero Northstar come out as gay in 1992 (it had been implied previously). Television shows like Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 flirted with subtextual bisexuality, but Xena: Warrior Princess took the subtext and ran with it. The show first aired in 1995 and quickly began cultivating its lesbian and bi fan base by suggesting that its protagonists, Xena and her partner Gabrielle, were going to become lovers. A number of Xena/Gabrielle fan fiction writers were inspired to go on to establish new queer presses such as Bold Strokes Books, as well as to write original science fiction and fantasy novels. In manga and anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena (launched in 1996) was one of several series to feature a same sex romantic relationship between its protagonists.

By comparison to the previous decades, the 1990s were something of a “Golden Age” for positive portrayals of LGBTQ protagonists in sfnal contexts. Out writers within the genre achieved new visibility and had greater access to a larger audience and LGBT fans became much more visible in fandom. One aspect of this visibility was the increase in programming and panels at conventions that focused on LGBTQ writers and works. In addition to integrating queer fans, writers and artists into mainstream fandom, there were and are LGBTQ-centered conventions. Gaylaxicon is the best known of these; it was founded in 1988 and continued through the 2000s. Gaylaxicon is an semi-annual convention that focuses on LGBT fandom and creators. It moves around the U.S. and Canada and is hosted by member chapters of the Gaylactic Network. The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, founded in 1999, are fan-based awards for sfnal works with positive portrayals of LGBT characters; they are often awarded at the Gaylaxicons. There are also Lambda Literary Awards for LGBT science fiction, fantasy and horror, which merged the previously separate gay and lesbian categories in 1993. All of these continue to help provide greater visibility for LGBT characters and storylines in the genre.

For further reading:

Catherine Lundoff is an award-winning writer, editor and publisher from Minneapolis. Her stories and articles have appeared in such venues as Respectable Horror, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology, Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror and SF Signal. Her books include Silver Moon and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, both from Queen of Swords Press). Website: www.catherinelundoff.net

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