Science fiction is the broadening of horizons. It’s the extending of what is real for us, now, into what could (perhaps) be real to us in the future. So many of our realities are echoed in these stories set in the far future — or even a long, long time ago — but not so much for folk who fall under the LGBT umbrella. There seems mostly to be a set sexuality in space: heterosexual.
Star Wars, as anyone who has ever talked to me would know, is hugely important to me. However, there’s one (now non-canon!) character I can identify with, sexuality-wise. One! Out of hundreds! My darling Juhani from Knights of the Old Republic, who is often looked over in favour of Carth or Bastila. She is either lesbian or, because of a bug apparently, bisexual. When I first learnt I could romance her with my lady jedi I literally whooped with joy, and she never left my side from the moment she joined my party.
So there she is, the single character I can recognize with in this way in an entire universe (disregarding the “gay planet” from the MMO, which is a whole other can of worms.) It seems bizarre and extraordinarily unrealistic for me, a person whose friend group has one or two straight folk tops. And yet, this is a striking reality for most sci-fi or fantasy worlds I and many others, choose to immerse ourselves in. Looking at you, Cameron Lee.
Obviously this extreme lack of diversity doesn’t go for all works: Mass Effect, for example, has an alien race that is largely pansexual (although their treatment by the writers leaves a lot to be desired.) In every Mass Effect game I, playing my femshep, could romance a woman. This doesn’t excuse the bi-erasure and LGBT stereotyping that went on behind-the-scenes, but it sure was a step in the right direction.
Another work of fiction with more sexuality representation, a series I love on par with Star Wars, is the Chaos Walking series, written by award-winning author Patrick Ness (his other books are pretty good for this too!)
The main boy in the books is raised by two men who are, quite unquestionably, in love. My favorite character is one of these men: Ben (oh, how I love Bens). He’s the epitome of the person I’d love to be. But still he is a man and I, like many other people who identify as women, can’t completely identify with that, though I can sure empathize.
At the end of the day I’m still at a loss: gay men, pansexual and bisexual non-humans, straight women. Where am I among these galaxies?
A post found its way onto my tumblr dashboard recently, as posts often do; A post about reading Luke Skywalker as asexual. The post instantly resonated with me in a way analyses often don’t. Asexuality is hugely underrepresented in media. It is also something I on-and-off identify with. But why should an ace Luke Skywalker mean anything to anyone, really?
This idea hadn’t ever occurred to me before in my life, but it clicked instantly. I’m the kind of person who saw The Doctor as ace, and was slightly heartbroken at the way Moffat turned him into an indiscriminate kisser (and probably more). I found Mordin, from Mass Effect, who was later shown to be not-so-asexual in DLC. I look to a lot of media I enjoy for real asexual representation, but it barely exists. When you think you’ve found something tangible and then have it thrown back in your face, it really sucks.
I’d never considered Luke.
I admit I’ve attempted to write my feelings about my identification with asexuality many times for this post, but deleted each attempt: it’s complicated. I can easily say, however, that I’d always felt wrong for even thinking I could be asexual. It comes from growing up feeling as if I was being left behind by my friends noticing boys, dating boys, living with boys. It comes from every character I’ve ever loved not having even remotely similar feelings to me. It comes from the constant sexualization I face every day when I consume media. It’s like an all you can eat, but you’re intolerant to everything on the menu.
But when I read that post and thought about Luke — a true hero, everything I could want to be — being asexual and it being totally okay to the people who cared for him I suddenly felt as if I could have a place even in their world. It, like my feelings about my sexuality, is not a feeling I can easily explain. It was like a sunrise after a long night; a beacon of belonging. If this paragon of pure good can be asexual, then how can it be bad for anyone else to be? That’s why he matters, and that’s why so many people do in fact choose to read him in such a way.
That’s when the lack of representation for me really hit home. I’ve always fought for others, been angry for others, felt so strongly that my friends and acquaintances and people who are total, complete strangers to me should have the representation they deserve. Before now, I’d never considered the repercussions for myself. I didn’t even notice what I was missing until I saw a glimpse of what could be — and what I’m hoping will be.
(I do, however, have a gut feeling totally unsupported by fact that Domhnall Gleeson will be Luke’s son, which does ruin my vision a tad.)
What means the most to me, in all of these situations, is the acceptance others have for the characters within their given universes. Luke, Leia and Han have an extremely close friendship without Luke being third-wheeled in the films. Juhani can be redeemed from the dark by the player and become a valuable character in your team, even a love interest. Ben is so utterly loved by Todd, the main character, and so beautifully framed in the narrative that you could never think ill of him.
There’s a very, very long way to go regarding representation of LGBT folk in science fiction (and any fiction, too). Especially of people who aren’t cis gay men. There are small attempts at bringing diversity to space, but I am loathe to give people back pats for breadcrumbs. There are those who joke — yes, joke! — about putting disabled jedi or jedi of other races into Episode VII. As if diversity is a joke. As if being an unrepresented minority in Western media isn’t a reality the majority of the world has to wake up to every day. Science fiction has a lot of work to do, and a large part of the burden falls onto Star Wars. Better step it up, Lucasfilm.
A note that we should never forget the Mandalorians Goran Beviin and Medrit Vasur, two married men in the Legacy of the Force series, nor should we forget Luxa’s unconfirmed bisexuality or Belaya quite likely being pretty darn gay for the aforementioned Juhani. I may take issue with some things Traviss writes, but I hugely appreciate her approach to the two Mandos.
These are a bunch of Star Wars name drops that will mean nothing to many, but they are rare sexual diversity in a large universe. They will live on in Legends.
Huge thank you to the Eleven-ThirtyEight twitter for helping me find necessary links! Much appreciated!