Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Nine Worlds GeekFest

I'll be down at Nine Worlds GeekFest, at the Radisson and Renaissance Hotels at Heathrow, most of Friday 9th to Saturday 10th August (arriving Friday afternoon, leaving Saturday evening.) It goes without saying that for the most part you will find me in the bar having a drink, or outside having a smoke. Actually, if there's any sort of area you can combine those two activities, that's far and away you're best bet for finding me. I am however also doing some Proper Convention Stuff. So, yeah...

My Schedule

Friday 17:00-18:30, George II&III: Queers Dig Time Lords Book Party

Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who By The LGBTQ Fans Who Love It brings together essays by award-winning writers to celebrate the phenomenon that is Doctor Who. Come and meet the authors, get the book signed, and discuss the importance of Doctor Who for queer fans over a glass of wine. Tell us what Doctor Who means to you for a chance to win a copy of the book and its sister anthology Chicks Dig Time Lords!

Friday 20:30-21:45, Britannia: Electric Spectra: a queer poetry gathering

A friendly poetry session in our cosy Queer Library. Grab a pint, bring some friends, and share some poems! (18+ session)

Saturday 15:15-15:45, Britannia: We Are the Media*

Building New Sodom

Hal Duncan suggests** that, with recent controversies putting a spotlight on prejudice in fandom (and the world at large), misrepresentations and exclusions in narrative play no small part in fostering inequality, that if we want a (sub)culture that's truly inclusive, we need to acknowledge a systemic problem in fiction itself, recognise that a fifty-year long struggle is not over yet.


* The hour-long slot is split into two half-hour slots. I believe I'm up first, with Ruth Pearce and Kirsty Lohman afterwards, giving us a "look at the Riot Grrrl movement, its limitations and its legacy." Which sounds cool.

** Yes, "suggests" may be something of an understatement here. If you've read any of this blog at all, you should know what to expect. Scroll down and look at the immediately preceding entry--July 14th. Yeah, that. And you remember that post on Da Vinci's Demons? That guest post on the SFWA website way back when? I'm not sure I have a topic so much as a target.


Sunday, July 14, 2013


This is what happens with:

"a state of segregation in which black, queer and members of other abject groups are not deemed to belong as main characters. This is the segregation of not being able to sit at the front of the bus. They may be allowed in as an exception if it “serves the plot” (c.f. your reviewer’s expectation of a reason for the character’s gayness.) This is the segregation of being stopped in a white neighborhood and challenged on your purpose in being there.  They may be allowed in as Gay Best Friends or Magic Negros in service of the straight, white protagonist. This is the segregation of travelling into a white neighbourhood to work as a cleaner in someone’s house."

This is what happens when you systemically segregate narrative, excluding the abject from protagonist roles, boxing them into bigoted clichés.

This is what happens when your cheap and easy clueless hackwork consistently erases the permutation in which the abject is central subject.

This is what happens when you can't even write a black cop w/out giving him a clichéd gang kid background---like he has to be "redeemed."

This is what happens when you blithely construct a culture of narratives in which it's second fucking nature to cast Mugger No.2 w/ black skin.

This is what happens when every single movie you produce on this (albeit slightly dated) list has a white lead.

This is what happens when systemic segregation in narrative wires the bigoted clichés so deep, it defines how real life scenarios are read.

This is what happens when you lie to yourself that segregation doesn't exist, or that you're not swayed by its constant agitprop of bigoted clichés.

This is what happens when you think you're "not racist," but you don't even fucking notice the absence of the abject on lists like that linked to above.

This is what happens when you resist pressure for social awareness in your subculture w/ denials, excuses and "PC fascism" rhetoric.

This is what happens when you blithely dismiss the import of bigoted cliché in fiction because it pleasures you like a ten dollar hustler.

This is what happens when you automatically write a black teen into the narrative you're constructing in a normative/default role: threat.

This is what happens when you just don't/can't/won't construct your narrative with the black teen male in the central role, protagonist imperiled.

What happens is murder with impunity.


Thursday, July 04, 2013

This Sunday 7th July...

... I'll be reading at Illicit Ink, at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh, from 8:00. Neatly, this kicks off a season of events in celebration of Iain Banks, produced by the City of Literature. As they say:

A wonderful author, with an incredible imagination and wit, his huge contribution to Scottish writing makes him irreplaceable. His final novel, The Quarry, was published last week and its publishers, Little, Brown, released a statement saying the author was presented with a printed copy at a party with friends and fans before his untimely death.

Details of the event itself on Facebook:

Illicit Ink is celebrating Iain [M] Banks in the finest way we know – by creating a spoken word utopia in the Bongo Club. Brought to you by the folk who like to conduct gruesome fictional experiments on stage and play in the dark, This Side of Paradise will be a heaven on earth.

Compèring the night is science fiction visionary Andrew J. Wilson. Bringing the paradise to life with original stories and instruments of science are writers Ken MacLeod, Hal Duncan, Ariadne Cass-Maran, Erin McElhinney, Halsted Bernard and Tom Moore.

This event is UNTICKETED and there's a suggested donation of £4, every penny, tooth and hair of which will be donated to charity in Iain's honor.

I'm chuffed to have been invited, it goes without saying, honoured to pay tribute to the man himself. Cleaving to the utopian theme and aiming to reflect the relish of life he was always radiating any time I met him, I'll be reading an extract from "Susurrus on Mars," a crazy novella in progress set on a far future terraformed Mars, riffing on the pastoral idyll from Virgil through to Bradbury and Davenport. Sadly, I couldn't squeeze in any of the scenes told from the PoV of plants, equal parts Linnaean botany and Greek mythology, but I think you'll like it.

So come join us!

That is all.


Monday, July 01, 2013

Bert and Ernie

In celebration of the defeat of DOMA, The New Yorker had a cover:

Needless to say, this was  "controversial"

The June Thomas Salon article linked in that HuffPo article (I'm not going to credit it with a link here) ends with a little gesture of YayGayz! ("whoever goes to Pride this weekend dressed as Bert and Ernie is going to gay heaven"--to which I roll my eyes.) But even as it does so, it buys into the bizarre idea that to read Bert and Ernie as a gay couple is to sexualise them ("Bert and Ernie clearly love each other. But does Ernie suck Bert’s cock? I don't think so.") which is, in fact, simply to demonstrate one's own fucked-up mindset. Because, as I've pointed out before, no one in all the years of the Muppets has ever thought, "OMG, when Kermit and Piggy are portrayed as a romantic couple, that means sexualising these puppets, conjuring Kermy's frog tongue giving Piggy the best cunnilingus ever!" The disparity of reaction is prejudice in action. The straight romance escapes such prurient prudery but the gay romance is automatically collapsed to the sexual act itself: cocksucking.

And of course that article also trots out the statement from the Children's Television Workshop a few years back which could have said they didn't want to undermine the core intent "to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves" by making romantic love the factor over-riding difference rather than simple empathy, but that neither were they going to preclude the capacity of gay children to read into them a positive role model of same-sex romance; that they weren't going to change the entire point of the puppets by making them explicitly gay, but neither were they going to make them explicitly not-gay just to kowtow to reactionary prejudice. This would have been a perfectly legitimate stance, and even while refusing to cement them as gay out of artistic integrity, the CTW could have shown real ethical backbone by saying simply that, for the sake of those young viewers who saw a future for themselves in Bert and Ernie, they were not going to lend authority to homophobic influences who sought to deny a child that vision of love.

Instead though, the CTW came out with a cop-out: "they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." This is simply a chickenshit attempt to side-step the question in order to accommodate the prejudice without appearing to affirm it by labeling them straight. In some ways, it's reassuring, because the cowardly stratagem reveals a shame underlying the self-delusion; that they had to rationalise it like this speaks of a guilty awareness that the pressure against the queer reading is wrong, pure homophobia. They clearly saw that to authorise the straight reading would be homophobic and reached for a neutral position, one that did not join in the imposition of heteronormativity.

Still, that statement does rule out the queer reading, and in its disingenuous self-delusion it does so for Bert and Ernie while being blatantly untrue as regards Piggy and Kermit. It's not remotely possible to sustain the idea that Piggy and Kermit, as puppets, are absent sexual orientation. They may be desexualised but they are not de-oriented. They may not be practicingly sexual characters but they remain actively heterosexual in terms of emotional attraction--i.e. romantic love. Piggy and Kermit put the lie to that assertion as a generality, as a principle that muppets "do not have a sexual orientation." It's clearly only really applied in the specific instance of Bert and Ernie as an expedient falsehood, only applicable there because as long as the focus is on them desexualisation can be conflated with de-orientation--will be, in fact, because the inverse conflation of orientation with sexual activity (as per the automatic collapse of gay romance to cocksucking) is part of the prejudice. That it's not legitimately applicable there (or anywhere else) only becomes self-evident if we widen the focus to include Piggy and Kermit--which of course isn't likely to happen even among the queer-reading advocates because it's natural to focus in on the point of contention.

And in all this, I haven't even touched on the fact that Piggy and Kermit are, of course, a pig and a frog, that were the conflation of orientation and sexual activity applied to them as it is to Bert and Ernie, we'd be dealing not with a queer reading of two gay men in a touchingly healthy relationship of mutual tolerance which is collapsed by prejudice to cocksucking, but rather with a straight reading of a rather unhealthy relationship of abusive jealousy between an awkwardly batrachian male and a female barnyard animal in which the muffdiving is erased because, one can only presume, the heterosexuals are OK with bestiality as long as the different species is of a different biological gender.

If we even accept for a second the notion that those objecting to the perception of Bert and Ernie's relationship as a gay romance are doing so for the sake of the children, from a fear that the chastely asexual puppets will become a locus of confusion and temptation luring innocents to a healthily homosexual human/human life-partnership, well, we've no recourse but to judge them supportive of Piggy and Kermit serving as a comparable lure toward an unhealthily heterosexual inter-species relationship of abuse. It can only be that they condone the promotion of sexual relations between animals of different phyla let alone species. Why, clearly in their commitment to polarity in relationships, to the radically oppositional biological difference of one partner from the other, these vehement advocates of heterosexuality reveal it to be a slippery slope to bestiality.

Or as I like to put it: if we can't trust you to stick to the same gender, cuntfuckers, can we really trust you to stick to the same genus?

I jest, of course. (Or do I?) But the fact remains that Piggy and Kermit stand as an evidential demolition of every nonsensical rationale brought to bear by the opponents of the queer reading of Bert and Ernie. As I say, I'd actually support the CTW in cleaving to their core intent--because as a writer I recognise how specifying them to be gay would write out much of the import. If they're in romantic love then that becomes the predominant reason they overlook each other's foibles--not the caritas the characters were invented to illustrate. Were I a spokesperson for CTW, actually, I'd offer this as my statement, playing to the conceit of their actuality, as the muppets often do:

Bert and Ernie do, of course, have sexual orientations, but these are private matters to Bert and Ernie. It is clear that they have a deep and abiding love for one another that overrides all differences, and this is what makes them, we think, important role models for children. This is why they keep their orientations private. If both are seen as straight, they're a wonderful role model of friendship. If both are seen as gay, they're a wonderful role model of romantic love. We'd ask you to consider the possibility also that one is straight while the other is gay, and that they won't say which is which because they want you to see that either of them could be, and that such a difference wouldn't change their love for one another any more than all the other differences. We at the Children's Television Workshop respect their attempt to serve as role models for viewers of all orientations, and we hope you will too.

Still, until such time as I get to write the PR releases for the muppets, we're going to have the argument over whether they're both gay or both straight, erasing that other option. And we're going to get the obliviation of the straight muppet couple sustaining the absurd nonsense that "they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." In the aim of widening the focus then, I've made a few memes for you to take forth into the interwebs with you. Do feel free to blog and Tumblr and Tweet them. I rather think that image is eminently inviting of other captions, and easy to find by a quick Google, so do feel free to make your own too.