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The Liberating Politics of Queernorm Fiction: a Guest Post by Where the Rain Cannot Reach Author Adesina Brown

I’m excited to welcome Adesina Brown to the site today, who’s gues-posting on queernorm fiction in honor of their upcoming release, Where the Rain Cannot Reach, which publishes with Atmosphere Press on December 7th! Here’s the story:

Tair has never known what it means to belong. Abandoned at a young age and raised in the all-Elven valley of Mirte, the young Human defines herself by isolation, confined to her small, seemingly trustworthy family.

Abruptly, that family uproots her from Mirte and leads her on an inevitable but treacherous journey to Doman: the previous site of unspeakable Human atrocities and the current home of Dwarvenkind. Though Doman offers Tair new definitions of family and love, it also reveals to her that her very existence is founded in lies. Now, tasked with an awful responsibility to the Humans of Sossoa, Tair must decide where her loyalties lie and, in the process, discover who she wants to be… And who she has always been.

In their debut fantasy novel Where the Rain Cannot Reach, Adesina Brown constructs a world rich with new languages and nuanced considerations of gender and race, ultimately contemplating how, in freeing ourselves from power, we may find true belonging.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N

And here’s the post!

Death is inevitable. We learn this fact when we are young. Our family and friends will all die, and so too will this earth, as well as all the stars and moons and planets that make up the universe. Death does not discriminate, I once thought.

Until I died, or something of the sort. Spiteful and unchecked, cisgender and heterosexual people the world over harass, attack, and kill those in the queer and transgender community. In bearing witness to these deaths, a part of myself dies, too—a part of my irrevocably queer, non-binary self dies. In other words, I have learned that death is particularly inevitable for me, and for queer and trans people like me. Before that death, life is a just a series of unavoidable sexuality- and gender-based discrimination defined by constant fragmenting of self to ensure our safety. Because we are preoccupied with surviving all the hostility we face, we have not had the opportunity, neither the time nor the space, to dream of better worlds where we do not have to simply survive.

Unfortunately, fiction reflects nonfiction; our stories reflect our realities. An early fan of speculative fiction, particularly sci-fi and fantasy, I quickly recognized a pattern: if a character was queer and/or trans, they died a horrible, tragic death. This is known as the “bury your gays” trope. If a queer and/or trans character did not die, they lived otherwise miserable lives surrounded by bigots and non-LGBTQ+ people who eased the pain of such bigotry with placating reminders of allyship and frequent rebukes of society, of which they are apparently not a part. Their advice? Look for and accept only the small joys where you can get them; it’s all we can hope for when the world is so tragically against us. It gets better.

We yearn for more, yet we are told that “more” is an unattainable, naïve dream. I found few refuges in fiction where people like me were not being mocked or harassed for character growth, where our deaths were not fodder for the main characters to reach their final act. And, like any of us, I desperately needed that refuge; I needed representation to demonstrate to me that we all may live in ways that feel complicated and authentic—not simply to live, then, but to thrive, unencumbered by prejudice.

My first refuge, as was the case for many young nerds, was in fanfiction written by other people who sought representation in the same ways I did, who did not want to create more worlds where we were marginalized. Instead, we would be accepted, embraced, even expected in these worlds. We wrote dreams of safety and understanding that centered characters who had already provided us some emotional comfort; we wrote them to be as true as us, despite all the lies we had to tell to protect ourselves.

Thankfully, such a haven of queer and trans happiness did not stop with fanfiction, nor did it truly start there. For decades, many authors have written in the spirit of that dream in what is known as “queernormative” or “queernorm” fiction. Speculative by nature, queernorm fiction imagines worlds in which there is no homophobia nor transphobia and often centers a queer and/or trans main character. In it, queerness and transness is a given, and still it is not central; our identities are not made plot points, nor are they the reason we experience (or inevitably cause) harm. Queernorm fiction intends not to create safe spaces for queer and trans people but to create safe worlds for queer and trans people.

The richness of that dream cannot be exaggerated. Whether it be Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga or Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series, or my own novel Where the Rain Cannot Reach, our authors are offering us worlds where gender and sexual diversity is a given, where our visions of gender and sexuality can be morphed into something so thankfully new. Queer and trans characters are not late add-ons to these series, nor do they fall into other tropes that limit queer and trans happiness solely due to our non-normative identities.

When offered the vision of an identity-diverse world, we receive much more than pacifications of fortitude and hope; instead, we are gifted the radical imagination of wider liberation and cannot be satiated with incremental changes. We now know what else is possible. The inherent optimism in queernorm fiction has helped me to cultivate and sustain my dream for radical changes to the way we are treated as marginalized people overall.

And, with that, I am reminded the value of life in ways that cisgender and heterosexual people never have to imagine. When I think on the inevitability of death, I include in that now a hope for a future in which we are all offered the chance to recognize and take joy in our multitudes. For now, as I live, I also write with that dream in mind. I offer myself refuge in worlds of my making, where we are safe in our variance. Our words, our wishes.

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Where the Rain Cannot Reach is Adesina Brown’s debut novel. To learn more, please visit their website adesinabrown.com.