Queernormative Worlds: Where Cis Isn’t the Default – GUEST POST by Tabitha O’Connell
We’re so excited to welcome Tabitha O’Connell to the Hive today!
Tabitha is here to share with us eir recommendations of stories featuring queernormative worlds. Before we dive into them, let’s find out a little more about Tabitha’s own story, STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY
Messenger boy Kel never expected to strike up a romance with a government official. But Yaan lacks the self-important snobbery of the others, and sees Kel as more than just a pretty face. Living with him in the city’s plush government complex is everything Kel could want: no more expenses, kitchen workers and resident animals to befriend, and of course seeing Yaan every day. Even if Yaan does spend most of his time working or worrying about work, and seems to have forgotten that they used to have actual conversations…
When the city decides to tear down the iconic theater building in Kel’s old neighborhood, Yaan’s indifference toward his pleas to help save it forces Kel to confront his growing unhappiness. In the aftermath, both will have to decide whether their relationship is salvageable.
12,500 words. Content warnings: Sexual situations (non-explicit), disordered eating, alcohol consumption, classism, anxiety
Queernormative Worlds: Where Cis Isn’t the Default
by Tabitha O’Connell
I’ve been loving the increase in SFF books set in queernormative worlds—no anti-queer bigotry to contend with, no assumptions that everyone will be cis, allo, and straight. I love how the queer characters in these worlds get to simply be themselves, with the freedom to question and explore and just exist without fear. It’s refreshing and hopeful, and shows the kind of world I’d like to live in. So, here are three examples of books that depict trans and/or nonbinary characters in these types of settings. Even when specific labels aren’t used, the experiences are captured in a way that’s recognizable to an earth-bound audience, no bigotry required.
Meliora by Talli L. Morgan
In this sweet, soft, fantasy romance, protagonist Winter is nonbinary and uses he/him or they/them pronouns. His love interest, Arturo, is a trans guy, and the two bond in part through talking about their gender feelings. At one point Winter casually mentions that he doesn’t consider himself a boy, and later Arturo brings it up in order to ask how Winter would like to be referred to. Arturo is familiar with more labels than Winter is, and when he introduces Winter to the term “enby,” Winter gets to experience the feeling of learning that other people share his experience of gender and have a name for it.
Other moments that made me happy were when Arturo’s top surgery scars are mentioned, showing that gender-affirming procedures are a regular occurrence here, and when Winter says that it was his sister’s girlfriend’s transition that got him started thinking about his own gender. The depiction of a society where being trans is normal and accepted, where it’s safe for people to be open about it, was a delight to read.
The Dreamwalker series by Erinn Harper
In this series, nonbinary protagonist Nikkeah (he/him) never identifies with a specific label, but his gender feelings are slipped in naturally throughout. There are indications from the first book, Stormbringer, when he doesn’t mind people seeing or referring to him as a girl. Once he gains the ability to cast illusions that alter his appearance, he uses it for both practicality and enjoyment, making himself look more feminine on occasion. In one scene in the second book, Halfsleeper, Olivia (kind of a little sister figure to him) compliments one of these looks and asks him about it:
“Is it…more comfortable this way?” she wonders.
“Not necessarily,” I answer after a pensive moment. “Let’s just say it’s a moving target.”
Her grin is wide and bright. “King, queen, and everything in-between?”
I graze her cheek with the back of my finger. “Exactly.”
This exchange is so sweet, showing Olivia’s concern for Nikkeah and desire to understand him, and giving him the opportunity to define himself and share a little bit of his experience with her.
Feathered Friendship by Katie Silverwings
In this sci-fi novella, the alien race known as the Florivans are a genderless, asexual species who all use they/them pronouns. In addition to this representation of a race that completely lacks the concept of gender, the story’s cast includes multiple queer humans, one of whom is Zoë, who is genderfluid. This is introduced through our POV character, Bernadette the sapient budgie, who has heard about Zoë before meeting them and has picked up on Zoë’s identity:
From what Bernadette has gathered from listening to Mother and Coby talk, Zoë is a special sort of human who is mostly a ‘she’ like Mother, but some days is also a ‘they’ like Coby.
Bernadette taking note of this and making the connection to the ungendered nature of the Florivans (of which Cobalt, or Coby, is one) was a lovely moment of inclusion, and once Zoë appears in the story, the narration alternates between her two pronouns sets in different scenes.
Fiction with queernormative settings is a big source of joy for me these days, and I so appreciate all the indie authors who are out here writing it. These are just three out of many wonderful indie books with trans and nonbinary characters living as their amazing selves, and I encourage you to pick one up this Pride month!
Tabitha O’Connell is a writer and editor of queer fiction. Eir first novella, Structural Integrity, is a queer fantasy romance with a trans protagonist. Find em on Twitter @tabithawrites or visit tabithaoconnell.com.