Join us on the adventures of young demon hunters, star-crossed Viking lovers, and cyberpunk street artists as we invite you into new worlds where brave heroes with diverse queer identities demonstrate the strength of their hearts and the power of their dreams! Inside this book you’ll find eighteen LGBTQ2SIA+ stories crafted by award-winning international creators. Find your place alongside ace necromancers, glamorous jazz musicians, fey outsiders, friendly monsters, and a superhero still finding his way out of the phone booth.
Spotlighting the work of diverse voices, this collection includes Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Divine), Kelly & Nichole Matthews (Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy), Vivian Ng (Legend of Korra: Turf Wars), and many others.
Our stories have heroes who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, two-spirit, and asexual, from creators who share those identities.
Excerpt from SHOUT OUT: “Show Me Your Teeth” written by Angela Cole, illustrated by Cheryl Young
1. What influenced your style for Show Me Your Teeth, and what parts were the most fun to draw?
Cheryl: I like to think of comics as a fun, enjoyable experience to not only read, but visually enjoy. If I have fun drawing the expressions of the characters as they interact with each other, my hope is the readers will too!
Angela: I’m pretty shy and socially awkward in real life and I appreciate it when someone takes the time to explain things when I make a mistake, especially if it’s about something important to them. I wanted a story where the characters could talk about gender honestly and without judgement. Di makes a mistake but is earnest and wants to understand Kaoru, and Kaoru explains their gender and what it means to them in words I hope someone else can understand, too.
2. Why do monsters and fantasy hold so much appeal for you?
Cheryl: Monsters and fantasy are only a small extension of the world we live in, just adding a little extra fantastical element alongside the real world we face every day. It can mean a lot of things to people, yet also very little. It’s interesting to see people’s interpretations of that and see that we’re not all that much different.
Angela: I think that monsters are the manifestations of our own ignorance of the world and they’re very important in the history of all cultures. They represent the terrible unknowns in every society, whether it be a natural phenomena or a person who is different, and I’ve always had a deep love for the outcasts and misunderstood. Also, I just think they’re pretty neat. I wanted to incorporate monsters from different cultures in this story and it was incredibly difficult to choose which would appear. As for fantasy, there’s so much freedom and possibility in it. Growing up, fantasy was my go-to safe space I would retreat into whenever things got too difficult.
3. Which fictional heroes inspired you as a child?
Cheryl: I didn’t have any as a child, but I really enjoyed playing the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. Just the fantasy RPG role playing aspect of the game along with the storytelling got me really immersed in the world as a player. Consuming various media with fantastical creatures and worlds made me want to create the same thing now in my work.
Angela: Wonder Woman was absolutely the first and remains top. There was also She-Ra, Storm (of Marvel), Elisa Maza from Gargoyles, the unicorn and Molly Grue (The Last Unicorn), and many others I am forgetting. Wonder Woman, Storm, and She-Ra are obvious choices for a young girl, but Elisa was the first biracial character I had seen in something I religiously watched, and she was friends with monsters! The unicorn and Molly are opposite sides of the same coin in the story and I like to say that I wanted to be the unicorn when I was little, but I grew up to understand Molly more.
4. What modern piece of queer media do you wish had been a part of your childhood?
Cheryl: Bisexuality and non binary spectrums being explored, as well as allonormativity being dismantled and more diverse characters being celebrated for just being friends instead of love interests.
Angela:Steven Universe. I grew up in a time bereft of queer media for children and it would have been game-changing to have had something as inclusive and beautifully sincere as Steven Universe.
5. What are you working on now, and where can readers find more of your work?
Cheryl: I’m working on building my universe of Hong Kong and Japanese inspired environments through visual storytelling, found on my twitter (@cysketch)
Angela: I have a spooky comic about a story from my family to be published in the Local Haunts Anthology with beautiful art by Anastasia Longoria! I also have a few pitches in the works.
Please welcome to the site today Leigh Hellman, author of Orbit, a cyberpunk sci-fi which released on September 18th and features pansexual and a-spec characters! They’re here to discuss identity in Speculative Fiction, but before we get to the post, let’s take a glance at the book:
Ciaan Gennett isn’t green, despite the brand of light hair that betrays her heritage: an Earth mother. A mother she remembers but doesn’t know, who left one day and never came back. Ciaan’s as metal as her home planet—cold and hard and full of so many cracks she’s trying to ignore that she doesn’t have time to wonder about questions that don’t get answers.
After one too many run-ins with the law, Ciaan finds herself sentenced to probation at a port facility and given an ultimatum: Prove that your potential is worth believing in. With help from her best friend Tidoris, Ciaan stays away from trouble—and trouble stays away from her. But when a routine refueling turns into a revelation, Ciaan and Tidoris find themselves forced into an alliance with an Earth captain of questionable morality and his stoic, artificially-grown first officer. Their escalating resistance against bureaucratic cover-ups begins unraveling a history of human monstrosity and an ugly truth that Ciaan isn’t so sure she wants to discover.
Now they all must decide how far they are willing to dig into humanity’s dark desperation—and what they are willing to do about what digs back.
Speculative fiction in its many iterations—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and all the sub-categories therein—has fascinated both readers and writers alike for centuries. For all the stratifications between “literary” and “genre” work, fiction as a tool for deconstructing and remaking our world has long been wielded; from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (considered to be the first science fiction novel) to the global phenomenon of fantasy epics like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, speculative fiction has proven itself to be a critical and popular mainstay.
So, what is it about the genre that inspires so widely? Well, in a broad sense, speculative fiction provides a framework wherein to imagine alternatives to our current reality—whether historically, futuristically, or running concurrent to our modern world. Crucial and ever-present issues like race, gender, sexuality, marginalization, and justice can be explored in proxy universes that are free from the constraints of (inherently biased) realism—or universes can be structured specifically to delve into certain aspects of these and similar issues, building parallels and contrasts for readers to consider as they think about the core themes of the story.
But for creators looking to tell these types of tales, there are often barriers that crop up during world-building—especially when it comes to entirely new fantasy worlds and/or futuristic settings—that have to do with what our baseline assumptions are going into a project. For example: in a fantasy setting that has no connection or reference to our universe, what are the assumptions behind structuring racist hierarchies that mirror Western, Eurocentric ones in their history of white supremacy? Or: in a future-set sci-fi world, does it make sense to have characters imposing the rigid sexual and gender binarism on each other (as though the dynamism of LGBTQ identities hasn’t been constantly evolving, even within the past decade or so)? If the story is meant to carry that type of metaphor and purposeful social commentary, that’s one thing—but what if it’s not? Why not build a world where the rules are different, or at least consider why you—as the creator—are not doing that?
I asked myself these questions throughout the process of writing Orbit, my debut new-adult speculative fiction novel, particularly as I was trying to solidify gender and sexuality identities in my near-future setting. Since the story takes place in a speculative future of our current world, it wouldn’t make sense to erase and/or ignore our history of LGBTQ identities and movements—but likewise, it didn’t feel authentic to me that this culture would conceptualize and label gender and sexuality in the exact same terms as we do now. Understanding sexuality as an identity marker rather than an activity-based habit was introduced into mainstream theory less than 200 years ago and the vocabulary of identities remains in constant flux across years, let alone decades and generations. The language of identifiers doesn’t just go in and out of popular fashion; the meanings of the words themselves can and do shift through denigration, reclamation, and basic linguistic evolutions. What LGBTQ people called themselves a century ago isn’t what we call ourselves now, and the cultural discussions around the LGBTQ experiences happen at different octaves with each new social milestone. The verbal identifiers therefore become the most obvious distinction, but the deeper and more complex developments come from the re-forming of socio-cultural norms and beliefs surrounding gender and sexuality.
So that idea—what does the culture that I’m world-building believe about gender and sexuality, and how many of those beliefs do I have to take from our current culture?—became a foundational stone for me. I could keep the same, or similar-enough, rhetoric and identities to signal a familiar cultural framework for the story, and more easily categorize my characters for representation tallies. But that felt disingenuous to how I was coming to understand this world I was building and to how I myself conceptualize gender and sexuality—which is to say, fluidly and running along multiple spectrums. In a culture where the most significant identity markers are pseudo-species (p-person, Earth human, Artificial)—and also taking into account the current growing acceptance of gender and sexuality diversity (not to say that acceptance is universal or equally-distributed, because it isn’t)—it made sense to me that LGBTQ identities would be both more prevalent and less explicitly stated. I tried to demonstrate that (in a story with no explicit romantic or sexual plots) in two subtle ways: 1) a main character’s casual reference to a side character being “alternative” before moving on in the conversation, and 2) ongoing and completely normalized flirting and intimacy between all of the four main characters (two implied cismen, one implied ciswoman, and one explicitly non-binary person). Rather than being read as pushing some kind of non-normative (non-heterosexual) environment that audiences could infer as an exception rather than the rule, I hoped to present this as-is—a world where intimacy and attraction manifest naturally across these spectrums, without needing to make any “no homo” caveats for my characters.
One of the most difficult concerns that I struggled with in this world-building choice was the nagging doubt that I was making a “safe” trade-off, that I was closeting my characters by not explicitly labeling them in our current cultural terminology. Is there still value in representation if it shares an experience but not a name? Honestly, I can’t say for certain one way or the other; what I do know is that my characters are not closeted. There were never moments that I edited to be more coded, nor were there relationships that I played up or down because I felt like that was what would be expected of them. All of my characters are authentic—and that extends to their genders and sexualities. The fluidity—the messiness—of human identities, the fact that for all our boxing and re-boxing we still seep out around the edges, is what fascinates me as a creator. The slippages between binaries—gay or straight, cis or trans, male or female, ace/aro or allo—are not mistakes; they are who we are. We’re reflected in those coloring-outside-the-lines moments, and we are forged in the fires of the struggle for answers that may never be as neat as we want them to be. That’s how I chose to speculate in Orbit, fully aware that there were a thousand different ways I could have gone and that each of them—if they’d been thoughtfully executed—would’ve been worth reimagining.
These uncertainties plague the codified racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other systemic oppressions that are woven into our reality and then parroted back in fiction—if fictional perpetuation of these histories is not mandatory, is it necessary? And beyond that, how can we push for less restricted reimaginings without being hurtful and dismissive of the very real effects of these systems on (our, our readers, and our fellow human beings’) lives?
I don’t have all the complicated and messy answers—nor do I pretend to be an expert in any of this—but I believe that some guidance may lie in our commitment as writers to more nuanced world-building, with ongoing consideration for our (intended and unintended) implications as well as continued self-education and challenging of our internalized –isms. Just as my identity as a queer and non-binary person cannot be erased from my writing, neither can my whiteness or any of the other intersecting systemic privileges that I carry with me. But rather than be complacent with them—rather than say that these define what stories I tell—I try to push back and be purposeful in my narrative and world-building choices.
What is genuine for your characters and the reality they inhabit will always be more compelling than stock settings that rely solely on “but that’s just how it is” deflections. Not every story needs to be a meta deconstruction, nor should most stories be expected to be. But I think that not digging back at those impulses as both readers and writers—to fall back on stereotypes to fill out new worlds, to call out authentic interpretations of an identity experience that differs from your own, to cling to the belief that these systems that we were raised in are always immutable and universal—wastes the full “speculative” potential of our beautiful and vibrantly diverse literary nook in this wide and, all too often, rigidly unforgiving real world.
LEIGH HELLMAN is a queer/asexual and genderqueer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest.
Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times.
Their first novel, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction story now available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the SWP anthology, Magic at Midnight.
Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies.