Toward a narrative without queer tragedy

‘The Insurrectionist and the Empress Who Reigns Over Time’ is up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

They captured the insurrectionist Yin Sanhi during the Feast of Twelve Luminous Cranes. They found her in Onsakit the Red Capital, which she had helped conquer, where an army led by mathematicians and blade-artists had disemboweled a dynasty five centuries old. It was a baking day, the sun in apex; royal bodies cast to the sand were quick to cook.

This is exactly what it says on the tin, and a proof – if you needed any, which you wouldn’t if you’ve read BCS before – that you can have epic fantasy within 6,000 words (that’s 20-24 pages in paperback). I also wrote it as part of a conversation against toxic queer ‘tragedy porn’. I compiled a growing list of recommendations of books where queer characters are central but the Queer Trauma is not.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating that nothing bad should happen to queer – or specifically lesbian – characters ever. (In fact, if you click through to the story you’d find that… well.) But I am tired of stories where queer people suffer specifically due to their orientation: living in a fascistically homophobic society say, or having the only love of their queer lives die on them, or similar. You know the type. There’s even a trope name for it, ‘Bury your gays’ I believe. You know it when you see it. It’s not just that a queer character suffers or dies; it’s that their suffering or tragedy is linked inextricably to their sexuality – a lesbian queen forced to have sex with a man (i.e. rape), say. This suffering is fetishized, allegedly to show that homophobia is bad but done at the expense of queer comfort. It’s often created or written by someone who is not queer and who doesn’t actually understand queer trauma.

Trust me when I say that queer people, by and large, know that Homophobia is Bad. I’m not sure, then, what purpose the ‘tragedy porn’ is meant to serve, who it’s supposed to be for. Which gaze it caters to. ‘Poverty porn’ isn’t exactly for the poverty-stricken, is it?

(Not to mention that trans people and black people are perfectly capable of telling their own stories and raising their voices. They don’t need me, or you.)

I’m not elected spokesperson for all lesbians, certainly, but on a personal level I confess I don’t like it when people like me are reduced to this single attribute: suffering. It’s dehumanizing, and I often read books that contain lesbians waiting for the moment: where they’d be traumatized because of their sexuality, where they lose the love of their lives (and when a lesbian loses her lover or her wife, it’s extra traumatic), where they’re reduced to the Queer Trauma and nothing else.

Life imitates art. When all you see in media is people like you suffering, and suffering and suffering, exactly for their mark of marginalization, you feel miserable. You can’t envision a future for yourself that doesn’t resemble all the narratives you have seen. It limits your thinking. It chips away at your mind and fractures your imagination.

To judge by twitter chatter for the last few days, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one to feel this way; that I’m not the only one who wants more narrative models of queer joy, whether as couples or alone, whether mundane or epic. We need a narrative model that says it’s possible for us to be happy and alive, that it’s possible for us to find fulfillment. That we are not this one thing, the Queer Trauma, the Suffering from Homophobia Which is Bad. That we are, in short, human and fully so.

And this model, of treating us as fully human, should be the norm rather than the exception.