A large majority of the nonfiction I read is chosen with an eye toward my own writing — specifically, books that will teach me about the world and the people in it, in order to create more authentic cultures, and characters within them. As a queer writer in particular, I have a perennial interest in exploring the ways that sexual minorities interact with their society’s preconceived notions for them, how much they internalize or rebel against those ideas, and how different personality types will respond to the same social forces in very different ways. It’s an incredibly rich area to explore, especially in fantasy, since fantasy allows you to construct your world from scratch and orchestrate it in a way to produce maximum conflict and drama.
However, you have to put a lot of thought into why your society feels the way it does about homosexuals (or women, or foreigners, or anything). These attitudes don’t arise out of nowhere, and they don’t arise in isolation. In order to achieve internal consistency — and by extension, plausibility — you have to examine what deeply rooted, unspoken cultural assumptions lie at the foundation of the society, because the myriad ways they manifest will be anything but unrelated.
Two things convinced me of this, both of them throwaway lines in larger works of queer academia.
One was from a doorstop called Homosexuality and Civilization, when at one point the author made the offhand assertion that Leviticus wasn’t the reason why Christianity was so singularly intolerant of homosexuality (witness the ease with which other Levitical prohibitions have been forgotten), it was the Sodom and Gomorrah myth. Disregarding the modern argument that S&G was about failure of hospitality rather than gay sex, the precedent it establishes is that if your community even tolerates the existence of homosexuals, God will wipe all of you off the face of the earth. Leviticus makes for a more pithy soundbite, but Sodom and Gomorrah provides the fear that has motivated the witchhunts for suspected homosexuals.
The other was from Leslie Feinberg, observing that historically the societies that have been the most intolerant of homosexuality and other gender variance also happen to be the most traditionally sexist and misogynistic, because they’re the ones that have the most to lose if the gender binary is threatened, or shown to be not so binary after all.
I found that idea arresting when I first read it, and five years later I still haven’t quite decided whether it’s right or not, but it’s definitely worth consideration. I’m also a far better feminist ally now than I was five years ago, and recent forays into the intersections of feminism and queer theory, sexism and homophobia, had convinced me that there was an undeniable connection between the two. (I’m reinventing the wheel, I know, but cut me some slack, I never took any gender studies courses so all this is new to me.)
And then Julia Serano nails it in Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, coming up next.