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Now that SF Signal is in the process of shutting down, I'll be moving all my LGBT science fiction and fantasy posts over here. See next posts on my thoughts for next steps and where this is possibly all going. Anyway, going in chronological order, earliest to latest.



LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy Before 1970



While portrayals of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) characters didn't become relatively common in science fiction, fantasy or horror until after the early successes of the Gay Liberation Movement in the 1970s, that didn't mean that there was no depiction of homosexuality in these genres before then. Of course, most of those early LGBT characters were depicted in coded terms, their identity only hinted at. Homosexuality was illegal nearly everywhere in the world and could carry severe legal and social consequences if it was discovered. Characters portrayed their same sex interest with a significant glance, a passing comment or a bit too much interest in another character, an interest that often turned villainous or fatal.

Early science fiction and fantasy writers who experienced what one of Oscar Wilde's lovers called "the love that dared not speak its name" and wrote fiction about it paid dearly for it. William Beckford, the gay author of the Orientalist fantasy The History of Caliph Vathek (1786), began his life as one of the richest men in England and ended as a bankrupt disgrace in France. A century later, Wilde himself, author of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), The Canterville Ghost and assorted fairy tales, would be imprisoned on sodomy charges and end his life a broken man.

In contrast, Sheridan Lefanu was able to write about a lesbian vampire in the classic vampire tale "Carmilla" (1872) to praise and acclaim, but Lefanu was heterosexual (as far as is currently known) and the lesbian relationship in his story is equated with death and destruction. Villains and monsters had no need to be subtle about their desires.

It would be another fifty years before bisexual author Virginia Woolf paved the way for   subsequent positive portrayals of LGBT characters with her time travelling fantasy novel Orlando in 1928. In Woolf's novel, Orlando changes genders from male to female, then chooses to present as male for much of the rest of her/his four hundred year long life. Both men and women are attracted to her/him on multiple levels, making it a groundbreaking work for SF/F, though it is generally classified as literary fiction.

Author Olaf Stapledon's superhuman protagonist John Wainwright in Odd John (1936), also has positive relationships with both men and women before embracing asexuality. This was one of the most positive portrayals of a queer character to appear during and shortly after World War II.

The negative portrayals, unsurprisingly, outnumbered the positive ones and, during the War, generally equated homosexuality with Nazism. One of the better-known examples, Katharine Burdekin's alternate history about the Thousand Year Reich, Swastika Night (1937), is a vision of a Nazi society built around homosexuality and misogyny. Another alternate history, Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here (1935) touches on some of the same themes, linking homosexuality to Nazi totalitarianism.

The 1940s were, unsurprisingly, a bleak period for positive portrayals, corresponding with the overall attitude amongst pulp fiction editors and society at large that a character was better off dead than gay. Readers looking to find less dire fates for LGBT characters had to wait until the early 1950s when horror author Shirley Jackson included several sympathetic female characters who can be easily read as lesbians or bisexuals in such novels as Hangsaman (1951) and The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Theodore Sturgeon cast a ray of hope with his classic story "The World Well Lost" (1953) in Universe, about two aliens in love and the intolerance they face. It is considered to be the first openly sympathetic depiction of homosexuality in science fiction.

The later 1950s and 60s ushered in more positive portrayals of LGBT characters by such famous names as Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Edgar Pangborn and Robert Heinlein. The dramatic social changes of the 1960s impacted the science fiction and fantasy genres as they did everything else, inspiring a new generation of writers as well as creating new audiences. The decade also saw the early publications of the first openly gay and lesbian genre authors of the modern period, including Samuel Delany, Joanna Russ and Thomas Disch.

Their stories and novels, as well as those of other progressive writers in the field, paved the way for new perspectives on sexuality and gender in science fiction, fantasy and horror. If you're interested in learning more about the early years of LGBT SF/F, I recommend the excellent reference book Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, edited by Eric Garber and Lyn Paleo (G.K. Hall & Co, 1990) which covers the topic through 1989.

Some recommended reading:

A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn (1954)

"Mr. Wilde's Second Chance" by Joanna Russ (1966)

"Aye, and Gomorrah" by Samuel Delany (1967)

"The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar" by Fritz Leiber (1968)

Les Guérillères by Monique Wittig (1969)


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Catherine Lundoff lives in Minneapolis with her wife, two cats and a huge number of unfinished projects. She writes, edits, toils in IT and is currently on the brink of a grand new adventure. Follow her on Twitter at @clundoff or via her website at


LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy 2000-2010 (Part 2)

by Catherine Lundoff

(NOTE: This is a continuation of Part 1 – please start there for other LGBT SFF books and stories from this decade. It will hopefully ensure that this half makes sense.)


There were also a number of LGBT imprints that published LGBT SFF in the 2000s. Harrington Park Press, an imprint of the nonfiction press Haworth Press, published Katherine Forrest’s lesbian science fiction novel Daughters of an Emerald Dusk (2005), the dark fantasy anthology Shadows of the Night, edited by Greg Herren (2004) and Tom Bacchus’ gay dystopian science fiction novel Q-FAQ (2007), as well as two multi-genre journals which published gay and lesbian short fiction.

Alyson Books, an established LGBT press, released several sfnal titles over the course of the decade, including Lee Thomas’ acclaimed gay horror novel, The Dust of Wonderland (2007) before going on indefinite hiatus in 2008. Suspect Thoughts Press published one of the decade’s few sfnal novels featuring transgender protagonists, Supervillainz (2006) by Alicia E. Goranson. Suspect Thoughts also published several other crossgenre works by authors such as Dodie Bellamy before closing toward the end of the decade.

There were also several LGBT spec-fic specialty presses that were founded in the 2000s. Lethe Press launched in 2001, publishing short fiction anthologies like Wilde Stories, an annual best of collection of speculative fiction featuring gay protagonists, the lesbian fairytale anthology Sleeping Beauty, Indeed (2007), edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, and single author short fiction collections including Tom Cardamone’s Pumpkin Teeth (2009). Blind Eye Books launched with Ginn Hale’s Spectrum Award-winning gay steampunk novel, The Wicked Gentlemen (2007). Speed-of-C Productions focused on works by Don Saker, including Dance for the Ivory Madonna (2002) and re-releasing works by Melissa Scott and others. Queered Fiction was a micropress, best known for queer werewolf fiction, including Naomi Clark’s lesbian werewolf novel Silver Kiss (2010).

Not all the authors publishing LGBT work during this decade were published by small presses, of course. Author Chris Moriarty’s hard science fiction novels Spin State (2003) and Spin Control (2006) explored gender, sexuality and conflict in an intergalactic future. Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy Kushiel series included 6 volumes published between 2001-2008, several with bisexual protagonists. Carey also wrote the dystopian YA novel, Santa Olivia (2009) about a teenaged lesbian protagonist trying to use her genetic modifications to improve conditions in her militarized town on the U.S./Mexican border.

Catherynne Valente featured a bisexual protagonist in her fantasy novel Palimpsest (2009) while Elizabeth Bear wrote about a gay couple on a complex diplomatic mission to a matriarchal planet in Carnival (2006). A.M Dellamonica saw the first book of her series with a bisexual female protagonist, Indigo Springs (2010) released from Tor Books. Tor was also the publisher for Jo Walton’s alternate history series: Farthing (2006), Ha’penny (2007) and Half a Crown (2008), which featured a gay protagonist living in an England that had capitulated to the Nazis. Roc Trade published author Caitlín R.Kiernan’s The Red Tree (2009), a dark fantasy with a lesbian protagonist while Del Ray published Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains (2008), a dark fantasy with a gay protagonist.

Concurrent with the growth in ereaders, the 2000s saw a large increase in the number of new epublishers, particularly in romance and erotica. Online fanfiction communities writing slash fiction laid much of the groundwork for “m/m” (male/male) fiction, which features gay male relationships but is written primarily for a straight female audience. Web savvy and possessed of a built-in audience, these slash communities created their own subgenre of romance, which included paranormal and science fiction romances as well as erotica. Some of the authors who crossed over into a science fiction and fantasy readership from m/m romance included Cassandra Clare, Josh Lanyon, R.W. Day and J.L. Langley.

LGBT protagonists were not limited to written speculative fiction, of course. The Doctor Who spinoff, Torchwood (2006 – 2011) introduced the popular bisexual character, Captain Jack Harkness. Willow Rosenberg, one of the main characters on Joss Whedon’s Buffy, fell in love and came out as a lesbian only to lose her first girlfriend, Tara, in the episode “Seeing Red” (2002). Dante’s Cove was an all LGBT paranormal romance that ran on the Here TV cable channel from 2005 – 2007. True Blood, an HBO series about a near future Louisiana populated by vampires and werewolves as well as humans, began airing in 2008. It featured a number of gay, lesbian and bisexual significant characters in the course of its seven season run.

Comics continued their upward trend in LGBT protagonists and significant characters from the previous decade. Artist/writer Colleen Doran created her ensemble cast science fiction comic book series, A Distant Soil (collected by Image Comics 1999 – onward) throughout the decade. The series included several gay, bi or otherwise queer-identified significant characters. DC Comics had their existing character, Batwoman, come out as a lesbian in 2006. She joined the select group of other out mainstream comic characters that included Renee Montoya/The Question, Pied Piper, one of the Green Lantern incarnations, Rawhide Kid and an assortment of minor characters in ensemble casts.

Given the scope of increase in LGBT protagonists in various parts of the genre, this survey can only be introductory. And for reasons of space and lack of expertise, I haven’t talked about the LGBT characters that became staples in popular games or came out in anime and manga. That said, I hope this will peak interest in reading more about LGBT science fiction, fantasy and horror. Portrayals of LGBTQ protagonists continue to change and evolve; I will be fascinated to see what the future holds.


Other Resources:

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Catherine Lundoff lives in Minneapolis with her wife, two cats and a huge number of unfinished projects. She writes, edits, toils in IT and is currently on the brink of a grand new adventure. Follow her on Twitter at @clundoff or via her website at


LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy 2000-2010 (Part 1)

by Catherine Lundoff

The dawn of the 21st century brought massive changes to the publishing industry, fueled in part by a surge in epublishing. More efficient and portable e-readers enabled readers to access an increasing number of ebook publications, fueling ebook sales. Larger print publishers, many of which were unprepared for the shift, responded by consolidating or closing their doors. There were additional impacts to brick-and-mortar stores as well as to print distribution of books and magazines. Many authors responded to these changes by releasing their own books in a variety of formats, sometimes by starting their own small and medium-sized presses.

Alongside the shifting landscape of publishing, there were significant changes in the visibility and legal status of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. LGBT people and their allies pushed for, and in many cases, won recognition of their relationships, equal employment protection, the opportunity to serve openly in the military and other opportunities that they had been heretofore barred from. This increased visibility was reflected in science fiction and fantasy fandom as well as published works, genre TV, comics and elsewhere.

The LGBT book awards founded in the previous decade such as the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, the Queer Horror Awards and the Lambda Awards came into their own during this decade, highlighting works that featured positive portrayals of LGBT characters and bringing queer-themed work to a much broader audience. There were also new awards such as the Goldie Awards for lesbian literature, which launched in 2005 and included a speculative fiction category.

A number of writers who were considered to be literary fiction authors crossed into science fiction to publish novels with LGBT protagonists in the 2000s. Among these were Michael Chabon with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) and Jim Grimsley with Kirith Kirin (2000) and The Ordinary (2004). Other writers who straddled the dotted line between literary and science fictional work during this decade included Octavia Butler, whose novel Fledgling (2007) featured a bisexual vampire and Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo whose novel Not Before Sundown (2000) featured a gay protagonist who temporarily adopts an injured troll. The English translation of the novel, Troll: A Love Story, won a Tiptree Award in 2004.

The decade also saw a substantial growth in the number of writers of color crafting stories with LGBT protagonists. Author Malinda Lo achieved critical acclaim with Ash (2009), her retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian protagonist. Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads (2003) featured three female protagonists of African descent, one lesbian, one bisexual and one heterosexual, in three different time periods. Karin Lowachee won a Spectrum Award for her science fiction novel Cagebird (2005), which featured a gay protagonist. Craig Gidney’s speculative fiction collection Sea, Swallow Me (2008), featured a number of gay protagonists who were also people of color.

There was also greater visibility of writers from different countries (in addition to those mentioned above) writing LGBT SFF than in previous decades. Hal Duncan (Scotland) saw his first novel, Vellum, published in 2005 and its sequel Ink, in 2007; Vellum and Ink were a fantasy series about a war between Heaven and Hell and featured several gay protagonists in an ensemble cast. L-J Baker (New Zealand) was the author of Lady Knight (2007), a romantic fantasy novel about a lesbian knight and Adijan and Her Genie (2008), an Arabian Nights-style fantasy with a lesbian protagonist. Sarah Hull (United Kingdom) won a Tiptree Award for her novel, The Carhullan Army (2007), a dystopian science fiction novel with a lesbian protagonist. Hiromi Goto (Canada) also won a Tiptree for her novel, The Kappa Child (2001), which featured a queer female protagonist who may or may not be pregnant with a kappa baby.

There were several TV shows which had a significant impact on LGBT SFF, one of which was Xena: Warrior Princess. As the series wound toward its final episode in 2001, the previously subtextual romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle become more textual, though never quite consummated on screen. The show inspired several online fanfiction and activist communities, which in turn gave rise to a number of lesbian-focused publishing companies. Several of these companies began publishing paranormal and romantic science fiction along with other genres. Of these, Bold Strokes Books, founded in 2004, is the largest and best known; over the course of the decade, they published romantic lesbian fantasies and science fiction by authors such as Gun Brooke, Cate Culpepper and Jane Fletcher.

Xena fandom also contributed to the birth of a new organization. The Golden Crown Literary Society was created in 2004 to promote the reading and writing of lesbian fiction, including speculative fiction and paranormal romance. It hosts an annual conference where awards are given to books published in the previous year (see link in Resources at the end of Part 2 of this post) and fantasy author Jewelle Gomez has been one of the guests of honor.

The Queer Horror Awards spanned work in different mediums from 1998-2006. These awards were given to such works as the TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which featured several LGBT characters in the course of the series; Bending the Landscape: Horror, the final installment of the trilogy of anthologies edited by Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel; and the Queer Fear anthologies, edited by Michael Rowe. Queer Fear Vols. 1 (2000) and II (2002) included gay horror stories by such authors as Thomas Roche, Gemma Files, Poppy Z. Brite and Michael Thomas Ford.

This post got so big that we split it into 2 parts. Please check out the second part to learn more about LGBT science fiction and fantasy from 2000-2010. The resource list is at the end of Part 2. Thanks for reading!

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Catherine Lundoff is a former archaeologist, former grad student and former bookstore owner turned professional computer geek and award-winning author and editor. She is a transplanted Brooklynite who now lives in Minneapolis with her wife and the two cats which own them. Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012) is her latest book and “Medium Méchanique” in Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam (2013) and “The Light Fantastic” in Luna Station Quarterly (2013) are her latest stories. Visit her online at her website, facebook and Twitter as @CLundoff.


LGBT Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in the 1990s

by Catherine Lundoff

The 1990s saw a huge increase in positive portrayals of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters in all parts of the genre: literature, anime, manga, comics, and even some television and movie characters. Character-driven fantasy and science fiction became more popular, as did game-inspired fiction and fandom. The Internet fueled increased interest in and access to different kinds of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Cyberpunk-influenced science fiction with out queer characters, urban fantasies with LGBT characters and queer horror as well as television, movies and comics which celebrated queer subtext, all made LGBT characters and stories more visible to mainstream society.

A number of LGBT and allied authors saw works with LGBT protagonists published by large genre publishers over the course of the decade. 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 was one of the few early cyberpunk novels to feature a queer protagonist, while Shadow Man is still one of a minority of science fiction novels to explore the cultural impacts of moving beyond a binary gender system.

Other out authors included Gael Baudino, whose fantasy novel Gossamer Axe (1990) featured a bisexual, polyamorous female rock musician trying 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 three critically-acclaimed science fiction novels with lesbian protagonists published in the 1990s: Speaking Dreams (1992) and Hand of Prophecy (1998) both deal with issues of slavery, captivity and freedom while The Annunciate (1999) ventures into virtual reality, drug use and the conflicts born of social stratification.

Authors like Rachel Pollack, Richard Bowes and Anne Harris 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 city, with demons, ritual magic and queer protagonists. In contrast, Bowes’ novel Minions of the Moon skirted the edge of literary fiction with its contemporary city setting and its gay alcoholic hustler protagonist trying to gain control of his shadow alter ego. Harris went in still another direction by creating a 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 anthologies with Stephen Pagel, who went 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 books featured stories by such writers as Robin Wayne Bailey, Tanya Huff, Rebecca Ore, Keith Hartman, Ellen Klages and Jim Grimsley.

The impact of AIDS and HIV reverberated through many of the LGBT-focused stories published during the decade. Author Geoff Ryman’s fantasy novel Was (1992) 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 devastation of the disease as experienced by his gay protagonist and those 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 parallel story of a young gay man trying to build a life for himself in a contemporary gay community hard-hit by the disease.

Other authors focused on unconventional LGBT-focused stories within more conventional genre narratives. These included Pat Murphy, whose novel Nadya (1996), about the adventures of a bisexual female werewolf, was set in the American West in the 1800s. 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. Robin Wayne Bailey’s Shadowdance (1991) is a fantasy with a disabled gay protagonist given the “gift” of being able to walk at night as long as he performs a dance that drives his audience to act out their darkest desires. Author Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer series, beginning with The Devil in the Dust (1998), featured a gay protagonist in a world modeled on the Crusades. Eleanor Arnason’s Ring of Swords (1993) challenged the tropes of military science fiction while setting the story within an alien culture where same-sex partnership is the norm.

Small presses published more science fiction and fantasy with LGBT protagonists than in previous decades. Cleis Press released three anthologies of lesbian horror and dark fantasy, 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 fantasy 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 romantic lesbian fantasy series, the Amazons of Aggar, beginning with Shadows of Aggar (1991). Rising Tide Press published Jean Stewart’s Isis series of romantic fantasies, beginning with Return to Isis in 1992.

Circlet Press was founded in 1992 by publisher and editor Cecilia Tan, with a focus on erotic science fiction and fantasy. 1990s Circlet Press titles with LGBT 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 Perry Brass’s erotic cyberpunk novel The Harvest (1997), along with his other work.

Mainstream comics began to include a few lesbian or gay characters. Marvel Comics allowed the writers of Alpha Flight to have the superhero Northstar publically come out as gay in 1992 (his orientation had been implied previously). DC Comics had already outed the Pied Piper (Flash) in 1991 and the characters Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet in 1990 (Legion of Superheroes). In manga and anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena (launched in 1996) and Sailor Moon, first broadcast in 1992, were two of the best known series with sfnal content to feature same-sex romantic relationships between their female protagonists.

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 lovers. This, in turn, inspired a sizable online fan fiction community; a number of Xena/Gabrielle fan fiction writers went on to establish new LGBT presses such as Bold Strokes Books, as well as to write original science fiction and fantasy novels.

In comparison to the previous decades, the 1990s were something of a “Golden Age” for positive portrayals of LGBT protagonists in sfnal contexts. LGBT writers and their allies 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 founding of the first LGBT-focused convention, Gaylaxicon, in 1998.

Gaylaxicon is an annual convention with an emphasis on LGBT fandom and creators. It is hosted by member chapters of the Gaylactic Network in different cities. The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, also founded in 1998, are fan-based awards for fantasy, science fiction and horror with positive portrayals of LGBT characters; they are often awarded at Gaylaxicon. 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 events continue to help provide greater visibility for LGBT characters and storylines in the genre.

For further reading:

catherineldf: (Default)

Catherine Lundoff is a former archaeologist, former grad student and former bookstore owner turned professional computer geek and award-winning author and editor. She is a transplanted Brooklynite who now lives in Minneapolis with her wife and the two cats which own them. Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012) is her latest book and “Medium Méchanique” in Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam (2013) and “The Light Fantastic” in Luna Station Quarterly (2013) are her latest stories. Visit her online at her website, facebook and Twitter as @CLundoff.


LGBT Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in the 1980s

by Catherine Lundoff

The 1970s, famed as an era of free love, political protests and hallucinogen-fueled utopias, gave way to the era of punk and New Wave, AIDS, and the politics of Reagan and Thatcher in the more conservative 1980s. And science fiction, fantasy and horror followed suit, with hard-edged military science fiction, dystopian visions, anti-hero sword and sorcery, vampires and of course, cyberpunk. None of these, on the face of it, seemed any more LGBT-friendly than the sfnal works of the previous decade, yet the number of portrayals of LGBT characters more than quadrupled.

This was due in large part to greater visibility and increased social acceptance of LGBT people. In addition to LGBT characters, there were also more out lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans authors in the genre than ever been before. Delany, Russ, Disch and Lynn were joined by Melissa Scott, Geoff Ryman, Rachel Pollack, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, David Gerrold, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Jewelle Gomez, Jeffrey McMahan and others.


Fantasies with LGBT protagonists included the last book in Elizabeth Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor series, The Northern Girl (1980), as well as Samuel Delany’s sword and sorcery series, The Tales of Nevèrÿon, which were released in multiple volumes over the course of the decade. The Silverglass series by J.F. Rivkin: Silverglass (1986), Web of Wind (1987), Witch of Rhostshyl (1989) and Mistress of Ambiguities (1991) featured a bisexual swordswoman and a lesbian witch in a series of swashbuckling adventures. Writers S. M. Stirling, Shirley Meier and Karen Wehrstein collaborated on the post-apocalyptic fantasy series The Fifth Millennium, which included The Snow Brother (1985), The Sharpest Edge (1986), The Cage (1989), Shadow’s Daughter (1991) and Shadow’s Son (1991) and featured two bisexual women warriors as protagonists and partners.

Ellen Kushner and Mercedes Lackey created very different gay protagonists in Swordspoint and Magic’s Pawn, both published in 1989. Lackey’s novel takes a more traditional fantasy route in the first volume of the Herald Mage series, creating a coming out story focused on a young gay magic user with psychic abilities. In contrast, the influential fantasy Swordspoint depicts established lovers, a swordsman and a young scholar, caught up in political intrigue in a European-style city that never existed.

Joanna Russ, Storm Constantine and Delia Sherman were amongst the authors who created stories and characters dealing with gender liminality and how alternative genders are perceived by others. Joanna Russ’ story “The Mystery of the Young Gentleman” (1982) features a protagonist who presents as a young gay man, but is, in fact, not as he seems, traveling with his teenaged female protégée, who is something else entirely. Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu books, which begin with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (1987) is focused on a telepathic intersex species that presents as male. Delia Sherman’s Through a Brazen Mirror (1989) is based on the ballad “The Famous Flower of Serving Men” and features a protagonist compelled to disguise herself as a man and hide at the king’s court. Complications ensue when the king and the ladies of the court fall in love with the man he appears to be.

The decade also saw a series of new interpretations of vampire legends, often interpreted as a response to the AIDS epidemic. Anne Rice’s popular Vampire Lestat novels and related works with their queer supernatural creatures were the best known, but writers like Jewelle Gomez were also creating their own takes on the tales. Gomez’ African-American lesbian vampire, Gilda, appeared in a number of her early short stories. Author Jeffrey McMahan introduced his gay vampire, Andrew Lyall, in several stories that appeared in his collection Somewhere in the Night (1989) and again in his novel, Vampires Anonymous (1991). Author Jody Scott featured a bisexual vampire who falls in love with a highly memorable alien in her novel I, Vampire (1984).

The Gomez and McMahan stories appeared in a small number of LGBT science fiction, fantasy and horror titles released by such LGBT presses as Alyson Press and Firebrand Books. Alyson also published the anthology Worlds Apart: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Eric Garber, Camilla Decarnin and Lynn Paleo (1986). Naiad Press published Katherine Forrest’s lesbian science fiction novel Daughters of the Coral Dawn (1984) and her mystery and science fiction collection, Swords and Dreams (1987). Meanwhile, in the UK, Onlywomen Press published Carolyn Forbes’ lesbian science fiction collection The Needle on Full (1985) and Anna Livia’s lesbian SF novel, Bulldozer Rising (1987).

The LGBT presses primarily marketed books to the gay and lesbian communities, generally through specialty gay and lesbian bookstores. As a result, some of these books and authors never achieved recognition in larger science fiction and fantasy fandom. In contrast, authors Melissa Scott and Geoff Ryman, achieved mainstream success and won a number of awards for their portrayals of LGBT characters. Scott’s novels of the decade: A Choice of Destinies (1986), The Kindly Ones (1987), the Silence Leigh series and Armor of Light (1988), co-written with Scott’s then partner, Lisa Barnett, all feature queer protagonists ranging from Alexander the Great to starship pilots and Christopher Marlowe. Ryman had several novels and short stories out during the decade, of which his Campbell-winning The Child Garden (1989) features a lesbian protagonist

I’ve been focusing on LGBT portrayals in books above but wanted to end by mentioning a couple of works in other mediums. The Hunger (1983) is a horror film staring Catherine Deneuve as an immortal vampire and David Bowie and Susan Sarandon as her lovers. Love it or hate it, it remains one of the most glamorous vampire films with LGBT protagonists ever made. Also worth watching is Born in Flames (1983), in which filmmaker Lizzie Borden creates a documentary about a feminist/queer/people of color revolution that never was.

I also wanted to put in a plug for Mike W. Barr and Brian Boland’s limited series from DC Comics, Camelot 3000 (1982-1985). Camelot is about the return of King Arthur and his knights in the year 3000 when Earth is threatened by an alien invasion, led by Morgan Le Fay and Mordred. Arthur’s knight, Tristan, is reincarnated as a woman, as is Isolde, and one of the subplots focuses on their relationship and conflicts, making it one of the first positive portrayals of a lesbian relationship in mainstream comics.

This is, of course, a high level overview, and some aspects of what we now associate with the science fiction and fantasy of the 1980s didn’t include LGBT protagonists until the 1990s. Early cyberpunk, for example, is remarkable for its absence of LGBT characters. Overall, the decade saw a remarkable growth spike in depictions, positive and negative, of LGBT characters in SF/F/H and for reasons of space and time, I haven’t touched on secondary characters or short fiction or fan fiction or characters who were incidentally bisexual, however positive the portrayal. For those interested in reading more, here are some resources and references:


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