A good friend of mine recently used the term “tragedy porn” in regard to the types of representation that queer people are relegated to in the media. Anyone who is a member of this often sidelined part of society knows exactly what I’m talking about. There are plenty of slice-of-life novels starring queer people discovering themselves and coming out. They almost all end with terrible things happening to the queer protagonist and or their friends or lovers. While this is an undeniably true narrative, we are also forcing queer kids into the small box of accepting that this is what happens to them– the only option.
It’s Time for Gay Boy Wizards
Queer literature has been a huge part of the LGBTI+ civil rights movement. The fact that anyone is willing to publish anything starring a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person is a huge step forward! It’s incredibly important that these stories make their way into the public mindset: it is incredibly important that people understand that ignorance and bigotry is not a victimless crime. On the other hand, I take some cues from my own childhood. I loved fantasy books. I devoured C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Garth Nix’s The Seventh Tower, and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as a child. There were many others, too. As a slow-blooming queer person, I searched out refuge in these other worlds that gave me the comfort of a protagonist who was different somehow– like me. All the same, I was often frustrated that none of these characters were exactly like me either. It got even worse when I (misguidedly) began to read Orson Scott-Card’s works in middle school and didn’t understand the concept of queer-baiting; only understanding that bad things always happened to queer people like me without fail. Why was it that there wasn’t a single young wizard at Hogwarts struggling with their sexuality? I asked why an awful lot– and more as I got older.
It’s Just Too Big For Me
When I, as a lover of fantastic worlds and characters that touch people’s hearts, set out to write my first novel after ten years of world building and character development, I did it with these things in mind. And when the rejection letters from publishers and agents started rolling in, they seemed to be accompanied by the same message over and over. “This project is too big for me to handle right now!” and “I don’t think I’m the right fit for you.” After conversing with another queer writer who creates similar stories rife with magic, adventure– and gay people doing the adventuring, I heard that their responses were all the same. The idea of this “tragedy porn” that my friend had mentioned became even more clear to me then.
So Just What IS Tragedy Porn?
The concept of queer narratives is often lost in the same place that the triumph stories of people with disabilities is in the human mind. When able-bodied people see a disabled person doing something incredible, they call them an inspiration. Tragedy porn and inspiration porn go hand in hand– they cheapen the reality of marginalized people, relegating them to mascot or souvenir status. They are not allowed to exist outside of that small box, and for queer people that box is the stories in which queer people are spit on, maimed, and or murdered for being what they are. We are not allowed stories that lift us up and make us the hero. It is time that that changed.
The social climate of the world is in a state of flux. As authors and other creative queer folk like myself set out to influence that change, we can only hope for the better. More importantly, keep an open-minded-eye out for big fantasy novels starring queer people in roles that are about far more than the fact that they are gay, lesbian, trans or something else entirely. The most important factor about a queer person does not have to be their sexuality, and its high time the world woke up to that.