(This doesn’t get salty. It started there. Also, every book cover you see has positive queer rep!)
Literally why, though? Why is there ever homophobia in fantasy? If you’ve created an entirely separate world from Earth that includes magic and your own cultures and faiths, why would you include any of the bullshit that takes place on Earth? I just literally cannot comprehend the thought process. Like–okay, here I am, deciding to write a fantasy book, and I’m going to place it on Planet X, which is this brand new world that’s never been seen before, and it’s got this crazy magic system that allows, I don’t know, the elements to be controlled by only people born with a golden birthmark, and these people span across the world in varying skin colors and beliefs, they come from different backgrounds and maybe all feel a little alone, but then they band together, a found family like no other, and two of the girls start to fall in love, and the rest of them are like “ew gross”.
Listen, here’s the deal. If you include homophobia in your fantasy world, it’s probably because you’ve got some homophobia in your own damn self, and that’s real unfortunate. Let it be known, too, that there’s a difference between “the king and his soldier can’t be together because they’re both men ugh” and “well, the king needs to produce an heir, so there’s the issue of how do you have kids if he’s dating another man”. One of those is homophobia. The other one is just your standard monarchy/kingdom system of rules, and it’s easily solvable with also no homophobia. The king either wants kids or recognizes that he needs an heir? Great, he has a surrogate or says fuck all to the rules and adopts. Or, hell, he recognizes that passing down power purely through blood is utter nonsense, and he names an heir. OR, BETTER YET, DIPLOMACY! Y’all, we votin’ in the next king.
But to go “guess that means he’s gotta be straight because no homo” is just–not a good look. It really, really isn’t. I’m not even thinking of a specific book when I say this, just all the fantasy books that have even the smallest amount of homophobia in them. Jfc, however, I will never forget the atrocity that was The Cerulean and how, despite the fact that the MC grew up in a solely sapphic environment, she still managed to be straight? Like, wow, that’s some backward kind of homophobia. It was like the author said, “Look at all this inclusion! So many lesbians! Wow, this is amazing, I’m so great! But please don’t notice that the MC is not queer.”
I have so much rage inside of me for homophobia in fantasy. It makes no sense. NONE. If you’re creating your world from the ground up–or even if you’re giving it Earth-based qualities–there’s no reason to include things like homophobia or racism. What’s the point? They cause so much harm in our current reality, why would you want to force your readers to sit through it in an alternate reality? So often, we use books as escapism, and even more so when it’s fantasy. Never once have I cracked open a fantasy book, saw homophobia, and thought, “Ah yes, that’s what I was hoping for today.” No?????
I understand including homophobia in contemporary works. I mean, I don’t, I really wish we could move past it and just have joyful queer stories, but the real world isn’t a joyful place, and it’s important to address homophobia in contemporary stories sometimes. Books like Felix Ever After just would not hit the same if it didn’t include the horrific transphobia that’s at the heart of the story. But if Felix was set in a fantasy world, I just? Cannot understand why you would want to include that same transphobia? If something as beautiful and wonderful as magic exists, why would you think homophobia makes sense? (All of these questions are rhetorical, I do not want some trash fire coming into my comments to explain why their homophobia is necessary for their fantasy. It’s not.) And I’m specifically thinking high fantasy, too, because urban fantasy generally still exists in the real world, and that’s still going to be a prominent point of some stories. Do I hate how homophobic the Clave is in Shadowhunters? Yes, of course, and I really wish it wasn’t even a thing, but I’m less furious about it because it’s New York in the early 2000s. That was the way of the times.
I think, if I’d gotten to the truly outstanding development between Anton & Jude’s characters, both individually and together, in As the Shadow Rises, I would have flipped my lid if Katy Rose Pool had decided to drop some homophobia in there. There’s actively no reason why it would need to be there, and yet. For some reason, some authors are like “Two boys have fallen in love???? They must hide it because it’s wrong, but look at how beautiful their love is.” Nah, bro, you’ve lost me. There are literal ancient prophecies coming to life, gods descending to the earthly plane, and giant monsters to face off against, but you want me to believe that your queer romance needs to be hidden because it’s not accepted? Literally what the fuck. Are you even listening to yourself?
It baffles me so much. I know this post is way more profane, repetitive, and rage-driven than most of mine, and I don’t know why I thought I was going to be able to form politely cohesive thoughts about this, particularly because it’s been making me mental lately. Again, I’m not really thinking of any specific books because I think I’ve mostly scrubbed them from my memory because if you’ve got homophobia in your fantasy, well. That’s tanked it in my enjoyment a whole hell of a lot. We already experience so much aggression simply for being queer in our current reality that to then see it reflected in the fantasy world that we’re trying to escape to is, frankly, exhausting.
The bottom line is that there’s no place for homophobia in fantasy, and we don’t want it.
Because I mostly just railed against the machine for several paragraphs, let’s talk about some wonderful representations of queer love in fantasy! Obviously, I already talked about one of my absolute favorites, but There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool is one of the most wonderfully diverse fantasy books I’ve read in the last few years. Not only is the writing exceptional, but there’s not a single batting of an eye at Anton & Jude, and it makes my heart swell. The only reason Jude is reluctant to develop any attachment is because his entire life’s mission has been to protect the future prophet, and it feels wrong to him that he would then associate romantic feelings toward that prophet. It has nothing to do with the fact that Anton is a man and everything to do with Jude’s religious beliefs that Anton is meant to be some kind of holier than thou figure that they bow before. Meanwhile, Anton’s just like “wanna make out at this very inopportune time?” while Jude’s just quietly dying inside, AND IT’S GREAT.
Ugh, and Rhys & Alucard in the Shades of Magic trilogy by VE Schwab, don’t even get me started. Their relationship is so adorable and just so wonderful, and, again, it’s not “oh no they’re both men”, but “shit Alucard’s a pirate and Rhys is going to be king, are we doing this???” AND THEN THEY DO IT. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust? Same kind of vibe! Though Soraya has always, to our knowledge, found men attractive, there’s not a single ounce of homophobic thoughts in her character when she starts feeling attraction toward Parvaneh. It’s just like “oh hey this person is cute” rather than anything more sinister. And that’s because there’s no inherent homophobia in Bashardoust’s fantasy world. If it was built in, then yeah, Soraya would probably get real nervous about the possibility of liking another girl, but it isn’t, so she’s not, and that’s all we want.
I don’t want to read about characters stressing out about their potential love interest’s gender. I want to read about them just straight up stressing out about their potential love interest with nothing attached. “Oh shiiiiiiit, I like this person? WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS?” Girl me Lei & Wren from Girls of Storm and Shadow forever, defying the world not because they’re both women, but because they chose their love over the violence of a king. Give me Levi Glaisyer in King of Fools being an absolute bi disaster simply because that’s who he is. Give me Alys in Beneath the Citadel rolling her eyes at all the unnecessary romance around her, but also never being talked about in a sexual way.
I am all set with homophobia in fantasy. I want joyful queer love to come hand-in-hand with magic. In fact, if your fantasy only includes straight characters, I also don’t want it. Not only is not realistic, it doesn’t make sense. Give me the gays, or give me death.
(No wait, please don’t kill your gays, that’s a whole other issue, and I will avoid your books like the plague if you do.)