Queering SFF

Queering SFF – So, This Thing I’ve Been Working On… Beyond Binary

On Dec. 8, I announced the table of contents for Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction—an anthology edited by yours-truly, to be published by Lethe Press in 2012. The book hasn’t exactly been a secret project or anything; I’ve been working on it for a goodly chunk of 2011, soliciting stories here, holding open submissions there, and digging through queer speculative fiction everywhere I could find it. I hadn’t discussed the project in this space yet, though, mostly by virtue of the fact that it was still in-progress.

However, it seems high time to do so now. The book is put together, the table of contents is official, the massive reading binge is finished (and oh, what a reading binge it was).

So, this thing I’ve been working on.

First, a sneak preview of the introduction, to give an idea of the framework of the project:

There are many ways to break, transcend, challenge, subvert, and fuck with strict binary ideas about gender, sexuality, and identity. Speculative writers like James Tiptree Jr./Alice Sheldon and Samuel Delany have done it for decades; in 1969, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness posited a world in which people are agendered for the majority of their lives, and the novel won both the Hugo and the Nebula. We still have the Tiptree Award, devoted to fiction that plays with and challenges ideas about gender, and it’s been going strong for two decades. After all, speculative fiction is the literature of questions, of challenges and imagination—and what better for us to question than the ways in which gender and sexuality have been rigidly defined, partitioned off, put in little boxes?

The thing is, stories about genderqueer and sexually fluid identities are still hard to find, even in a field active with speculation on gender and sexuality. They tend to pop up here and there, scattered throughout magazines and collections, and in queer publications that tend to get less attention from the SF readership. This book is an effort to collect and present some of the best of those stories in one place.

And that’s what I’ve been working on.

Beyond Binary is significant for me in a whole pack of ways, not least because it’s my first editorial project and the first book that’ll be out there in the world with my name on the cover. No small thing, that. However, it’s also a big deal for reasons that are hardly new to long-time readers of my Queering SFF column: the foregrounding of queer voices of all sorts, not just the L&G of QUILTBAG, is something that is hugely important to me as a writer, a critic, and a queer person whose identification is often fluid and rarely binary.

There’s such a big world out there when it comes to expressions of gender, sexuality, and identity—race, class, culture, time-period, age; all of these things come into play with performance and the ways in which we label ourselves (or don’t). “Genderqueer” can be a label, but it’s also an umbrella term that contains a multiplicity of other identities which slip, subvert, or explode restrictive, binary ideas about selves and bodies. The potential for experimentation, change, fluidity and non-normative construction of self is huge—whether it’s today, or in the Renaissance, or in the future, or on a whole other world.

“Genderqueer” is a flexible word, after all, which is only fitting.

There’s also the sister-term “sexually fluid,” meaning bisexual, pansexual, or whatever other kind of non-binary, non-normative identities the characters embrace. And of course, there are the identities that are not on a sliding scale between poles but are off the grid entirely: asexual folks, and agendered folks, are a part of the non-normative, queer world, too, and don’t get nearly enough time on the page.

I was aiming to take a snapshot of at least one small corner of that huge tapestry of possibilities. I like to think that I succeeded, though I’ll have to wait until people can actually read the book to find out. I will say that, despite pride in the table of contents I did put together, there is no way to capture the whole range in one book, or even in ten—and what is “the whole range,” anyway? That implies limitation, and limitations, labels, boxes… Those aren’t what a collection of genderqueer and sexually fluid stories is about.

There are stories I would have liked to have had in the book that didn’t make it, and stories that I desperately wanted to find but never did. All the same, I found quite a lot, each story different from the rest, and I hope that the end result—Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction—is everything I was aiming for when I set out to try my hand at this editing thing.

But, I’ll have to wait to find out.


Brief, Woefully Incomplete Recommended Reading:

“Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea” by Ursula Le Guin: “Another Story” is set on the world of O, where four-way marriages are the custom; it involves a time-traveling incident and the ways in which a man can make life-changing decisions incorrectly, but still get a second chance. The relationships are lovely, the emotional resonance is staggering, and the prose is painfully handsome. This was a story I would have loved to have had.

Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica, edited by Tristan Taormin: While this is not a speculative book, it’s a great collection of trans* and genderqueer stories that aims to collect “representations of erotic identities, sex lives and fantasies of transgender and genderqueer people.” These are stories by and for a queer audience that explore the ways in which language that is restrictive by nature can be used to “worship and respect” the bodies and desires of genderqueer & trans* folks. Yes, it’s erotica; but it’s also an emotional book and one that includes a fabulous range of stories. Sandra McDonald’s “Sea of Cortez” was originally published here. (If only, if only more of these stories had been even a teeny bit speculative! The frequent use of alternative pronouns in these stories is something that I wish was in Beyond Binary.)

Genderflex edited by Cecilia Tan: Tan’s anthology is from the mid-nineties, and it is a speculative collection; the stories are often erotic, playful and over-the-top. The collection is concerned with subverting and fucking the gender binary, and is a spiritual predecessor to Beyond Binary, though I wasn’t lucky enough to come across it until I was nearly finished with the project. It is, unfortunately, out of print. “The Metamorphosis Bud” by Liu Wen Zhuang was originally published here.

(For both of those collections, I would note: stories about sex are often ways of exploring identity and self-acceptance for genderqueer folks, so don’t let the erotic content put you off if you’re feeling flustered!)

Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.


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