I write sci-fi stories, and over the years, I've been occasionally accused of humor - and even wit. Sometimes my work has been rather flatteringly compared to several well-known authors in humor, fantasy and sci-fi - not that it's ever gone to my head - one day if my books ever start making me actual money, it might. For now however, I concentrate on telling my stories - and telling others about them.
Unlike any of the authors I've been compared to however, I write stories that feature LGBT characters in a positive, affirming light. Some of my main characters are like me - in one or more times in my own life - lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender. One of those characters is even a plant - and another is a talking cat - not that I am or have been one of those before, but oh well, now you can see what I mean by humor!
The question I'd like to explore with you today is "Why"?
Why do I write about LGBT people? More to the point, why bother to use LGBT characters to tell my stories through?
Well, briefly, in almost every book I'd read, where there were gay and transgender characters, they were portrayed as negative stereotypes.
Often this is so because stories typically reflect the views of the storyteller, and consequently, if the writer has a bias or prejudice against LGBT people, this will reflect in the way they portray LGBT characters in their stories.
Some would say that this means the writer and their work were products of their time. This isn't necessarily true - after all, if someone has nothing good to say about someone, they have the option of not saying anything about them at all. As a basis for this statement I would like to refer to the many shelves in libraries today filled with books of fiction which not only do not attack or vilify or mock LGBT people, but which completely omit any mention of LGBT people at all.
Often, reading such books which do not mention the topic can be a good alternative to reading books that make one feel like a pariah - even if one is still closeted and your grievances are kept private. But as many people do, I needed more than that. I craved books that involved people like me - without making them out to be villains just on account of who they felt attracted to, or what gender they felt comfortable being.
Some writers then, over the passage of time, have gone to some effort to promote misunderstanding, and intolerance of LGBT people through their own ignorance and resulting hostile views. I can only say that - according to me at least, this is deliberate and premeditated character assassination.
This is particularly true in stories where the only time a gay, bi, or transgender person appears, they're portrayed as a villain, or an adversary to the main characters, or as an example of a conservative's views on immorality, or as the punchline in some limp-wristed misogynistic, homophobic or transphobic joke.
In such cases, the LGBT community is by proxy cast in a negative light - and these homophobic and transphobic notions are conveyed to the reader in a matter-of-fact, taken-for-granted and authoritative manner by the author - even though the writer's opinions are more than likely based upon right-wing propaganda, religious fanatic views and pseudo-science.
These writers, one can infer, tend to presume that whomever picks up a copy of their book and reads it, shares their own views. As a writer, I can see why they make such presumptions. Every writer writes from their own heart and soul, and aims their stories at people who share their needs, views, fears, loves - and their hates. Sometimes writers hope to change the minds of those who read their works - and in that sense, I am no exception. However, rather than trying to subtly coerce people to hate anyone, I work to inspire empathy and understanding in the reader, for the characters facing their circumstances, obstacles and challenges.
But again, why? Why do I write stories that feature LGBT characters in a positive light?
As with everything, my motives come from personal experience.
Imagine being a gay or transgender person, perhaps a teen, reading your favorite book or series of books, only to discover - as I once did - midway through the book or series, that the author is virulently homophobic or transphobic - and that they express their contempt and disdain for people like yourself in their books? Imagine how that would feel, to read how hatefully and scornfully the writer portrayed LGBT characters and their feelings or experiences - or how cruelly they delighted in describing how their lead heroes dealt with their LGBT villains, while making their being LGB or T central to their justification for the treatment they received?
Well, I can tell you, I stopped reading that series and stopped following that author altogether!
Back in the 80's when I was at high school, there was no internet (it would only be in the early 2000's that I would get regular internet access) and the only reading material I got, I found in libraries or book stores. Finding anything in fiction that involved LGBT people without painting targets for abuse on their foreheads was improbable. Back in those days, nobody spoke about gay people in "polite company" even - and the only places one could expect to find anything at all about LGBT in literature was in the XXX "Adult" section of the local CNA ("Exit" magazine) - or in church libraries under "Repent Or Go To Hell"!
In the 1980's, even gay clubs were few and far between (I only found out there was one in my city AFTER it had closed down!) - and mostly underground. Gay and transgender folks kept low profiles if they wanted to avoid the attention of the police and homophobic thugs and holy-rolling church bullies! One didn't just walk into a library or book shop and ask for novels featuring LGBT people! Being a teen, I was myself coming to grips with my own nature and coming to terms with the fact that in pre-1994 South Africa I was already classified as a criminal just on the grounds of existing as a transgender youth, looking for ways to express myself in a hostile environment!
I over-compensated for a while - dealing with internal self-loathing and recrimination and went in the complete opposite direction for a time, in a bid to escape my own nature - but I've already written about that and those experiences ad nauseum.
To continue, while there were some books that celebrated homophobia and reveled in meting out sticky endings to LGBT characters, there were far more that never addressed the topic directly, and so I contented myself with those instead for a while... But I wanted more than that! I wanted to read action-adventure or sci-fi stories that featured lead characters that expressed their lives the way I wanted to express mine! I wanted to read good, positive stories that featured people like me in them! ...
But there were far too few of those around. In fact, the only one I thought that came close to that appeared to be nothing more than a full-length parody!
I wanted more, better than that - and I set out to do it myself!
I was a reader, and a writer after all... and I wanted to tell the world the truth - I wanted to set the record... well, straight.
Being at first a closeted young writer who enjoyed writing sci-fi, I began to write about LGBT issues in futuristic sci-fi settings. The first workable, complete example - was "Beyond" (1993) a short story about a transwoman in a transphobic military scenario, where evidence of her past life comes to light and threatens her career - and her life.
Later, during one of many manual rewrites, I exposed the secondary character of Blachart as a gay man, and explored that aspect of his character through "Blachart" and "Dead Beckoning" where Blachart falls love with a transwoman. In "Demonspawn", a chiller-suspense novel, I placed a gay man in the main role of a starship captain dealing with prejudice from his crew - and aside from murder, being stranded in deep space and escaping from the Akx - Joe Lofflin's affection for a young crewman twelve years his junior. In the upcoming fifth book in the Galaxii Series "Where Darkness Softly Treads", the leading characters are two women soldiers in two different armies on different sides of a devastating planetary civil war. There are of course many more narratives at play here, and more than just the obvious.
"Like many of us, Engela has been frustrated with the representation of LGBT characters in mainstream fiction, where gay characters are often nothing more than superficially portrayed plot devices or worse, the object of satire and ridicule. Engela’s work breaks the trend. In her stories, a gay man may be the anti-hero or villain, but not because he is gay. A transwoman may fall in love with a cisgender straight man, and their relationship doesn’t revolve around her gender identity. LGBT characters, in Engela’s work, follow narrative arcs that occasionally intersect with their sexual or gender identity, but are more often driven by the human characteristics shared by all people—hope, fear, ambition, humor, and love." - Sarah Rutledge Fischer, Focus Mid-South magazine
My Quantum series features gay and transgender characters - and not just in secondary or supporting roles, but also in positive, leading roles. Who says gay or trans characters can't or wouldn't be adventurers, spacemen, pirates, explorers, statesmen - or heroes? If they did, I surely ignored them!
I set out to write stories that would portray LGBT people as they are, as I've known them - and as I know myself - to the kids out there questioning their gender or sexuality and wondering how it would restrict their other life choices, to the parents, siblings, classmates, friends, relatives, and acquaintances of LGBT people wanting to understand - for the curious - or even those who haven't made their own minds up yet.
In reading these stories, they get to see in their mind's eye, what life is like for LGBT people - in the midst of goings-on in a sci-fi reality. What do gay or trans people get up to in their free time? What do they think about? What is the "gay agenda" really, other than wanting to be happy and loved and treated fairly like everyone else, without prejudice? That's not an "agenda" - that's an inalienable human right!
Would the reader, for example, feel motivated to challenge all the negative stereotyping they're bombarded with daily through personal interactions and propaganda on social media - and even more subtly, in books and TV - become career soldiers, race-car drivers, firemen, academics, scientists, make-up artists or technicians? Would they stand up to refute hateful allegations that LGBT people are "weak", "unpatriotic" or "immoral"? Some people - the most base ignorant - still believe that LGBT people are pedophiles! Would the reader support others around them for breaking with "traditional" mores that deny human rights and equality and stand with those challenging these hate-filled stereotypes?
My stories are intended to challenge these tropes, and to inspire people of all walks of life to find the strength within themselves to rise to these challenges.
I have no doubts that the LGBT characters, and indeed also the cisgender and heterosexual characters in my stories - and in relation to each other - help to demystify and to clarify any misunderstandings surrounding LGBT people.
At the same time, in conclusion, I tell rollicking good stories filled with action, adventure, romance, thrills, chills, suspense, realistic characters and space opera - all of which make each book about the story and its characters far more than about any activism issues!
"It’s refreshing to read some old-school action sci-fi that works more on the story than the plausibility of the sciences in it." – Anike Kirsten, author of "Of Beasts And Men".
For more information, visit http://www.christinaengela.net/
#scifi #humor #fantasy #horror #recommendedreading