Gender in Genre – Katie
We wrap up part one of the guest blog posts with this story from Katie about the relative lack of good trans* characters.
My thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and stories on the blog this week, and to all of the readers who responded so positively. My plan is to post the second half of the guest posts in the last week of February, with a round-up at the very end with links to everything that’s appeared here, along with some additional stories that I wasn’t able to include (because there were so many responses).
Have a wonderful weekend, all!
I find it almost laughable (I’m much too cynical to actually derive amusement from this) that for all we can accept with fiction, we cannot seem to accept diversity without at least a “…but…!” comment from someone. I’m not going to make a hyperbolic statement about how accepting dragons means accepting homosexual relationships – I think it’s a ridiculous, weak argument that makes no sense on any level – but instead just talk about how representation has let me, personally, down.
I identify publicly as trans*. I don’t know where on the spectrum I fit, but somewhere in the trans*/gender-queer area. I’m female identified, but I won’t go into the other details. Anyway. I find it so, so, so, so hard to find trans* characters I can identify with in books. Heck, I struggle to find trans* characters in books full stop.
I owe a lot to Mark Charan Newton, who allowed me to beta read some of his third Legends of the Red Sun novel, The Book of Transformations, which introduces a trans* character by the name of Lan. I won’t spoil the story, but we meet her whilst she’s presenting as a woman (but with the body of a male – she’s one of those lucky few who can pass with only a minimum of effort), but is singled out because she acts oddly within a group of female performers, none of whom know ‘what’ she is. Eventually she does get to transition (some cultists perform a possibly semi-magical genital reassignment surgery on her), and she spends the rest of that book (and the next) kicking ass.
I adore Lan. I do. And I wish I could kick ass like she does, or even just pass. Or be in a position where I could present. Anyway. Lan is a character I look up to and respect and love, but she’s almost alone in that respect, because I just can’t really find any trans* characters. Even if they are done well (such as by Guy Davis in his old Baker Street comics), it seems like victimisation is inevitable. Murder, assault, being outcast, etc. are all common situations applied to trans* characters (yes, even the beloved Neil Gaiman is no exception to this), and even if they survive the story it’s often not without some sort of violent conflict. In some other cases (e.g. Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl), the trans* character comes with slurs, and they’re portrayed as being a little bit weird, and again, it just… doesn’t sit right with me. Victim or freak. Freak or victim. Why must it be – somewhat ironically – a binary choice?
On a similar note, I find the ‘Q’ and ‘A’ aspects of the QUILTBAG community to be almost untouched. Whilst authors like Malinda Lo might tackle the ‘Q’ with relation to sexuality in their books, and often with another person acting as a catalyst (e.g., girl thinks she’s straight – or doesn’t question that – until a certain hot girl walks past), I don’t feel it helps people like me. People who just question every aspect of themselves continuously. There’s no… instantaneous or strung-out-over-300-pages answers, there’s just questions, and its position as a valid identity seems overlooked, if not ignored. As for asexuality, rarely – if ever – have I see this, and genuinely it’s in the sense that it’s less the character is asexual and more the book is.
I don’t want to feel like all I can buy are specifically trans*-themed books, because… well, what I want is to see trans* people and gender-queer people and asexual people and questioning people in the same sort of books we’re now seeing gay, lesbian and bisexual people in. I don’t doubt that the trans* and gender-queer revolution will come, just as it has for many other minority groups, but of all the genres that has the potential for dealing with it in many ways – even providing optimism for true transitions, etc. – I find what’s on offer to be lacking.
I guess what I’m saying is I don’t feel like there’s much out there that represents me. Yeah, okay, I can find characters that represent aspects of me or facets of my being, but not something that comes close to the ‘whole’. I suppose that’s true for everyone to some degree, yet for me – and I guess people a bit like me – it’s as if we don’t exist, and if we do, it’s as if we’re there to be made into victims or just portrayed in manner which involves negativity.
Katie is a fan of genre fiction, gaming and animation, and she can be found on Twitter as @Loerwyn. She occasionally posts on her own blog, and that’s basically about it, really. She’s not particularly interesting.* But don’t worry, Jim didn’t write this. She did, so it’s okay.
*Editorial note: Jim would like to state for the record that he strongly disagrees with this statement!
February 15, 2014 @ 10:02 am
A good post, and now I’ve looked up Mark Charon Newton and I intend to read his work. The character Lan in The Book of Transformations sounds interesting, as does the setting. I do think the criticism of Caitlin Kiernan is a bit misplaced, though. I liked Abalyn from The Drowning Girl, overall, and I don’t think the fact that she’s a bit of an outcast, or ‘weird,’ counts against her. That’s not something peculiar to her because of her trans* nature. That’s just a reality of being a character in a Kiernan novel, whether gay, straight, trans*, or whatever.
February 15, 2014 @ 10:35 am
I’d be curious as to your opinion of Lynn Flewelling’s Tamír Triad and Amanda Downum’s The Bone Palace.
February 15, 2014 @ 11:12 am
I’m also a trans person, and I can’t think of a single trans character in a novel I read. In other mediums I saw we’re usually not portrayed… nicely, to put it mildly. I would really like to see more characters like us. I might pick up the Legends of the Red Sun, though I wish Lan would appear earlier than all the way in the third book.
If I may talk about my own work for a bit, I’m writing a novel where one of the main characters is trans and half the story is about her. I constantly run into a problem when on one hand, I want to show how much trouble and pain it can be (e.g. it’s really REALLY hard to pass, along with all the self-doubt). On the other hand, I want to give her a life I couldn’t have. Wish fulfillment? Yes. But sometimes we need that to compensate for what we lacked. I also worry about whether anyone will enjoy the story if I focus on her issues too much, since most people probably wouldn’t be interested. Even though I’m interested in trans issues, I don’t like reading in depth about it since it just brings back bad feelings. Yet I want to tell people what it’s like.
Sorry for the sort of shameless plug ^^”
February 15, 2014 @ 11:33 am
I’ve also had difficulty finding trans or genderqueer characters who don’t spend a lot of time being outcasts and/or victims. It was tiresome to read Annabelle by Kathleen Winter (up for a national book prize this year) about a young intersex person and hit the inevitable and incredibly graphic sexual assault scene (number of positive sexual experiences the main character got to have = zero). I realise that the sexual assault stats for genderqueer people are pretty appalling, but it feels like cis authors hear about that and feel they have to include something of that nature for the sake of veracity. It’s right up there with killing off your gay character at the end, for me.
Dear every author ever: Please let your genderqueer (and queer and ace) characters be happy.
February 15, 2014 @ 1:05 pm
I’ll be brutally honest and say I haven’t got an opinion as I’ve not even heard of them before now – but I’ll certainly look into them!
February 15, 2014 @ 1:06 pm
Oh, I kinda see that point – as a fan of Kiernan’s Alabaster comics I think she does weird very well – and I think one has to take Kiernan herself into account with such a point, but I just… I guess I was more disappointed that the trans* character involved slurs and was kinda weird (although I’ll concede that may have been the PoV rather than anything). I just hoped for more, I guess.
February 15, 2014 @ 1:11 pm
Hello, Katie here!
Just want to say a big thanks to Jim for letting me – and others – contribute to this series of discussions and viewpoints, but also thank you to those who have read my ramblings!
February 15, 2014 @ 1:38 pm
Very agree! I hate to read sexual assault scenes at all and loathe the trope in which a strong woman is knocked down a peg, then goes on a revenge arc. I don’t care about the stats in real life. I read for intellectual stimulation but also a whopping dose of escapism and entertainment. I don’t need to read about things I’d rather not dwell on to begin with. But at least there are a lot of alternatives for cis female-driven narratives. It’s even more frustrating for this to be prevalent in stories involving trans/genderqueer characters since they’re so difficult to find representations of in the first place.
Applying real world stats to fantasy (or any genre really) just makes me roll my eyes. What are the stats on everyday dudes becoming action heroes? What are the stats on orphans finding out their parents were rich/important/in a conspiracy? In the words of Mr. Solo, “Never tell me the odds!”
February 15, 2014 @ 1:56 pm
So these aren’t novels, but might give people places to consider…please keep in mind that I’m not trans and may misstep out of misunderstanding, but not malice.
Seanan McQuire wrote a couple of collections of short stories in a ‘super-hero’ setting, “Velveteen vs the Super Junior Patriots” and “Velveteen vs the Multiverse”. In them, one of Velveteen’s best friends is trans. The ‘reveal’ was late in the stories after the character was well established as a woman, and there was no direct gender identity drama, which on one hand was really nice to see, and on the other hand may not meet what you are looking for? Basically they characters got into a situation where someone demanded their birth names and the girl says “Scott”. One of the (incredibly naive) other characters says something to the effect of “that’s a stupid name for a girl” and otherwise doesn’t question her it all. It just struck me as a very matter-of-fact ‘this happens’ kind of situation.
On the comic front, Tab of Discord Comics has a series that directly follows several gay/lesbian/trans people, which I quite enjoyed – there is a lot of identity questioning and discovery, and some unfortunately realistic assholery directed at some of the characters. This is not a fantasy or sci-fi series, but a set in modern day fiction, and so I don’t know if this is something you’re looking for? Same author is also currently running a series called “Shades of A”, which centers on an asexual character.
There is a fantasy comic called “Superstep” in which the main character is asexual and aromantic… again, not a novel, and probably not to everyone’s taste, but…
I do definitely think that the genre will benefit from more diversity, and relish the few well-done queer characters I’ve come across, but would also encourage people to look into some of the, I don’t know, less formal? media out there – there are some really great sci-fi and fantasy webcomics which seem to be much more inclusive of diversity currently than many novels.
Jim C. Hines
February 15, 2014 @ 2:06 pm
You’re very welcome, and thank you for contributing!
February 15, 2014 @ 2:28 pm
As a comics reader, I’d be pretty happy not to see another heroine with rape as backstory ever again. It’s been handled well, but sometimes it feels like male authors think it’s the only possible traumatic thing that could happen to a woman to impel her to become a superhero. Number of male superheroes with sexual assault as motivation for donning a cape? None that I can think of.
That said I don’t always mind sexual assault in my fiction, depending how it’s handled and the context. Jim, for example, wrote a very interesting novel about an abuse survivor learning and recovering. I don’t appreciate it when it seems to be included in the story for, seemingly, no other reason than cheap angst or to prove the villain is evil or because the author seems to think it’s a thing that happens to all women/queer people/gender queer people, and must therefore be included, not adding anything in particular to the greater story.
February 15, 2014 @ 2:47 pm
Going back to that comment, it comes off as kink shamey and awful. Sorry.
As matter of personal preference, I tend to avoid stories with sexual assault, especially ones by men about women, by straight people about queer people, and by cis people about genderqueer people. However, I realise that a lot of people either do not mind or enjoy reading about such things, including women and including abuse survivors, and I personally feel there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Though I do appreciate content labels, and will often ask for spoilers regarding sexual violence and queer people dying.
February 15, 2014 @ 3:26 pm
It also dovetails really nicely with the character’s powerset/mythology, if you think about it for a bit.
February 15, 2014 @ 3:33 pm
Have you read Fly Into Fire by Susan Jane Bigelow? It’s quite good and the protagonist Renna is trans*.
February 15, 2014 @ 4:42 pm
“because the author seems to think it’s a thing that happens to all women/queer people/gender queer people, and must therefore be included,”
The really scary thing is how close to reality that sometimes does seem.
February 15, 2014 @ 4:52 pm
_Bloodhound_ by Tamora Pierce has a trans woman secondary character: http://tamorapierce.wikia.com/wiki/Okha_Soyan – certainly not a victim, lives in a stable relationship and plays an important role in the book *not* because she is trans.
February 15, 2014 @ 5:02 pm
Actually, Ms. Bigelow posted a few days ago as part of this series…http://www.jimchines.com/2014/02/clicking-susan-jane-bigelow/
February 15, 2014 @ 5:02 pm
Was having this discussion elsewhere today. Very frustrated that whilst you hardly ever see good trans-women in fiction, you never ever -ever- see trans-men at all, good, bad or otherwise.
February 15, 2014 @ 5:12 pm
Which is odd, as I (me personally) know more trans-men than trans-women. Not by much, since I can count the total on both hands, but still. Possibly an extension of garden-variety sexism?
February 15, 2014 @ 5:32 pm
Indeed she did. I should have mentioned that.
February 15, 2014 @ 5:42 pm
I just finished a reread of Jo Walton’s The King’s Name which features an asexual woman as a protagonist. I should now go back and read the previous book, which I remember contains a sexual assault, because I hope it doesn’t read as the assault causing this. But the character doesn’t see this as a problem; she’s completely comfortable in herself and occasionally bemused by other people because she forgets that they aren’t like her.
Anyway, that’s one example of a book where the protagonist is asexual but the book isn’t. After I reread The King’s Peace I’ll know whether there are two examples.
February 15, 2014 @ 9:18 pm
I recently read Laura Lam’s Pantomime, with a trans protagonist.
February 15, 2014 @ 9:52 pm
I found Bloodhound to be a pretty poor portrayal, actually. (I’ll disclaim right now that I’m not trans, and thus hardly an authority here, and also that the book in question went back to the library a fortnight ago).
We’re told that Okha identifies female, despite having a male body and generally dressing male (I think it’s implied this is out of fear of prejudice and assault). This is all fine and good, but then the author spends the rest of the book referring to the character as “Okha/Amber”, rather than Amber (literally, Okha/Amber, that’s not a sign the names are interchanged, that’s literally how she refers to them) and also using male pronouns to refer to the character. Not being an expert, this seems to be … not cool? As in, kind of offensive? As in, actually quite offensive?
You could say the name thing is because the author worries we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the change, but people coped well enough with Alanna being referred to as Alan, so I don’t think that really holds up. And I’ve always been told that misgendering is Not Good, so I don’t know how you might excuse that one. In a lot of ways, the portrayal of the character feels more in line with what I understand of drag queens than with trans people (uses biological gender and birth name unless actually dressed female, only seems to dress female to perform at a somewhat dodgy bar, never seems to be upset or offended by being ID’d male rather then female etc)
I mean, the character herself is decent enough, but if these things made me raise an eyebrow, I’m not sure if/how they’d affect the reading experience of someone with a personal stake in the issue (I’d be interested to hear other thoughts about the character, by the way).
February 15, 2014 @ 10:04 pm
Having someone call me “he” or “sir” (even if it’s just a random coffeeshop person I probably won’t ever see again) could ruin my day. I would be really mad if someone kept repeatedly doing it or referring to me with double names.
Not sure if I would read Bloodhound, but it would take a lot of convincing and really good reviews at this point.
Heather Rose Jones
February 15, 2014 @ 10:26 pm
I have an interesting conundrum in my current work-in-progress (historic fantasy). There is a minor character who has informed me he’s trans. But because he isn’t a viewpoint character (and I’m using a very tight POV) there isn’t a context for clearly informing the reader of this. In the current work, this aspect of his character consists of one part allowing for the possibility (e.g., in physical description) and one part never contradicting the possibility (e.g., no context where another character would see him naked). He’ll be a continuing (minor) character in the next book and I do plan a “reveal” that will be resolved in a positive fashion. But given the structure of the narrative, it’s being very tricky to figure out how to signal his background prior to that overt “reveal”. Ideally, my readers will react with “hmm, I was wondering about that” rather than “WTF?” if I do it right.
February 15, 2014 @ 10:30 pm
I look at this subject from the “write what you know ” angle. I’m all for all types of gender identification being properly represented in speculative fiction. Even though I am a from the easiest level (Scalzi) SWM, I was raised to shut up and listen to others who are not white and privileged. As such, the narratives that relate these viewpoints are very interesting to me. I have no idea what a trans person’s life has been like and I couldn’t presume to represent such a life in any story that I write. So what is important? Comments above indicate that people wish there were more properly represented trans characters in genre. But who is really qualified to write these characters? I couldn’t begin to do these characters justice. Just including them cannot be good enough. It must be done right. There can’t be tokenism. Am I right or wrong this?
February 16, 2014 @ 2:33 am
You can be white and write black characters.
You can be Jewish and write Sikh characters.
You can be male and write female characters.
You can be gay and write straight characters.
There’s no “qualification” except that you handle sensitive subjects with some level of respect. Honest mistakes are more forgiveable and understandable than ‘true’ ignorance. If you’re not sure if you doing something right, ask around and try to find out what you’re doing wrong. It’s not about who’s “qualified”, it’s about who’s willing to represent people – not just trans* people – from all walks of life in a well-rounded way.
February 16, 2014 @ 2:35 am
I haven’t, but I’ll certainly look into it.
February 16, 2014 @ 2:37 am
I’ll have to give Tab and Shades of A a look, certainly, and likely Superstep too.
I know Jeph Jacques’ Questionable Content has bi, gay/lesbian and trans* characters now, but I’m years and years behind with it and I’ve not got so much interest in it these days. But it’s always worth pointing that one out.
February 16, 2014 @ 9:06 am
Glenda Larke’s Stormlord novels feature a trans man as a major character and I think he’s handled pretty well. I’m not sure he makes an appearance until the second book but I enjoyed the trilogy and would recommend it.
I think it says it all though that we’re having to hunt around for examples.
February 16, 2014 @ 12:00 pm
Hah. I totally forgot QC; my bad. Though really, the above should not in anyway be taken as more than random examples. I read something like 4 dozen webcomics on a regular basis, and could make a much more extensive list just from those, without even a small claim to being a comprehensive list… Those were just the 2 I’d happened to read shortly before commenting on this thread. If anybody wants such a list, I’d be happy to start one, though it’s possible it already exists somewhere.
February 16, 2014 @ 12:58 pm
I think it’s more telling that it’s “major character” or “supporting character” rather than “protagonist”, bar a couple of YA novels.
February 16, 2014 @ 2:35 pm
[Spoiler] Micah is intersex – I seem to recall Gene being raised as a girl, and a visit to a doctor who intends to “correct” things accordingly, which is one of the reasons for running away to become Micah.
February 16, 2014 @ 3:06 pm
Way to go, kiddo.
February 16, 2014 @ 3:23 pm
Qualification is a term that I would apply to myself than anyone else. I don’t read books comparing characters with the authors who create them. I think for me it is about forcing myself out of a comfort zone and taking the risk. More than likely making the mistakes and learning from them and the input that is generated. Thanks for the comment.
February 16, 2014 @ 4:08 pm
Great post Katie. Thanks.
February 16, 2014 @ 4:48 pm
Thanks Big Kat 🙂
February 16, 2014 @ 4:52 pm
There’s a few trans* webcomics I knew of, and I’ve forgotten the name of one, but it was fairly crudely drawn and was about a young trans girl, and it was really good until the creator took a hiatus (for their own reasons) then came back, did a few issues that REALLY didn’t go down well because of the violence in them, and then… I don’t think it ever resumed.
The other was about a much younger girl, and I think it was called The Princess. That was fun, and it had recurring characters who fell under the QUILTBAG label, and it also dealt with the parents as well as the girl. I think she was called Sarah. I forget. But it was fun.
February 16, 2014 @ 5:37 pm
Tracked down The Princess and am reading it now 🙂 For anybody else looking – there are several dead pages, you want the one at theduckwebcomics.
February 17, 2014 @ 2:14 am
I remember reading and enjoying these books. My feeling was that she had never been all that sexual to begin with but that previously she was thinking she would get married and have children mostly because that was what people did. Then she was assaulted and joined the army and she no longer had any need to get married.
February 17, 2014 @ 2:41 pm
I’m genderqueer and a Tamora Pierce fan… I was not exactly impressed by Amber’s portrayal. The male pronouns were the worst, and then there were things like… she was in a relationship with a guy who was referred to as gay, and although I respect that sexual orientation can become complicated, given the context it just read like more misgendering to me. :/
February 17, 2014 @ 5:09 pm
Oddly enough I’m a transwoman who writes and draws comics and I’ve never really had an urge to do a story about A Trans Character. I do stuff about women going through other transitions, I’ve done one comic about a woman who happens to have a penis in a setting where nobody thinks this is the slightest bit notable, but a story about someone going through transition, in a setting with similar gender expectations as ours? Heck no.
February 17, 2014 @ 11:07 pm
This reminds me of Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy. Paks has one or two chances at romance but turns them down and generally is disinterested in romance and sex. I think she could be read as asexual (but it has been a LONG time since I read those books and I never did read the ones that came after the initial trilogy–will have to reread with this in mind!).
February 18, 2014 @ 1:44 am
…it was fairly crudely drawn and was about a young trans girl, and it was really good until the creator took a hiatus (for their own reasons) then came back, did a few issues that REALLY didn’t go down well because of the violence in them, and then… I don’t think it ever resumed.
That sounds like Venus Envy. It last updated on January 30th after more than a year. I’m not thrilled with the art shift.
February 18, 2014 @ 7:29 am
Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith has an asexual protagonist. It’s the first book I’ve read with an explicitly asexual protagonist, and it’s great.
February 18, 2014 @ 1:12 pm
Anybody read the YA sci-fi novel _When We Wake_ by Karen Healy? Not prose that will set the world on fire, but I like that it has gay characters and a trans* character where those traits were not the central point of the characters–I actually gave a copy to my 14-year-old niece (white, straight, cis) because of it, even though some of the book felt like it was going down a diversity checklist.
February 18, 2014 @ 3:07 pm
YES! That’s the one.
February 21, 2014 @ 3:40 am
I read an interview shortly after Bloodhound was published where Tamora Pierce basically said that Beka (the character who narrates the story) is an unreliable narrator in regards to Okha’s gender. In the interview, she states that Okha is a woman but that Beka and the society she lives in don’t understand that.
(I think Okha is her preferred name and Amber is a stage name)
I can sort of see what she was trying to do, in terms of portraying how trans women were viewed in medieval and early modern European society, but I wish she had made Beka’s unreliability more obvious. For instance, she could have included an author’s note stating that Okha is a woman and that Beka is wrong to misgender her.
February 21, 2014 @ 5:42 am
Yeah, if that’s what she was trying to convey, I don’t think she really did a very good job. 95% of the time I find it impossible to tell when the narrator is being unreliable, and when the author fell asleep at the keyboard, and this is one of those times.
Also, interview clarifications aren’t really good enough for the large majority of the population who don’t typically read author interviews.
I mean, it doesn’t even take an authors note. It takes an incredibly brief exchange along the lines of this. “Hey Nestor, when your boyfriend gets back, can you tell him I want to speak with him?”
“Sure, Beka, when she gets back, I’ll tell her you wanted to speak with her.”
“Oops, right. Sorry. I’ll do better.”
And then Beka does better, because presumably Amber has some idea of how she wants to be seen by the world, and presumably she has managed to convey this to Nestor to at least some degree.
I don’t know. If she wanted to do the ‘history sucked thing’ this could have been an opportunity to educate on what we do in civilized times that means history comparatively sucked. Without some sort of in-text rebuttal, its like any other insensitive portrayal of a minority group, and saying ‘oh, well, I didn’t mean…’ doesn’t really fix that.
February 25, 2014 @ 4:38 pm
I’m really glad to see this post and will share it on social media, but I had a question. What do you mean by “even providing optimism for true transitions, etc”
Anyway, thanks for the post and to the hosting blog and also totally to all the folks who have been sharing your own suggestions and stories.
February 25, 2014 @ 4:40 pm
Jes said: If anybody wants such a list, I’d be happy to start one, though it’s possible it already exists somewhere.
Monster thinks it would be so great if you would start such a list.
February 25, 2014 @ 11:26 pm
I am working on this – I’ve made it about halfway down the list of comics in my feed. Will ask my hubby to make a page to host this for updates and such, but just wanted to ask, is it acceptable to post a super-long reply with tons of links or does that trigger spam warnings and cause headaches for Jim?
February 26, 2014 @ 2:30 am
My initial list of comics with LGBTQA characters and/or themes. Some are central, some more peripheral. I’ll try to give a brief summary of the comic, and the level of LGBTQA involvement.
The internet being the internet, there are several other folks with similar lists out there. I’d start at http://www.boyinpinkearmuffs.com/lgbt-webcomics/ for a lot of pretty links. The following are comics I personally read and enjoy. In making this list, it looks like roughly 40% of the comics in my regular reading list have queer characters and/or themes. Clearly, there’s some sampling bias here since it’s my reading list, but as you can see, my tastes in comics are fairly broad, and I don’t (consciously anyway) select for queer, so I think there’s a good chance of finding queer folk in webcomics of most any genre.
Better Days – http://jaynaylor.com/betterdays/archives/2003/04/post-2.html – Anthropomorphic comic, completed. It’s actually been several years since I read this, and I don’t clearly remember how significant LGBTQA issues were in this one, though there was some incest and other sex/relationship stuff. The sequel is in progress and listed below (Original Life). Art was kind of rough early on but serious improvement over the course of this comic, and I liked it well enough to continue on to the sequel.
Between Failures – http://betweenfailures.com/ – Real-life-ish comic about the crew of a book store. Takes quite a while to get to it, but in current arc it’s revealed/confirmed that 1 main character is lesbian, and secondary character is bi.
Blaster Nation – http://www.blasternation.com/ – Real-life-ish comic, main character is a guy just home after serving in the military. Girl he crushes on is gay and crushing on a girl he can’t stand.
Broken Plot Device – http://www.brokenplotdevice.com/ – Completed/no longer updating anthropomorphic comic. One of main characters is gay.
Bucko – http://www.buckocomic.com/ – Completed/no longer updating comic by Erika Moen of oh-my-lord-she’s-awesome-you-MUST-have heard-of-her…. er, Strip Search fame. Sort of a murder mystery story with lots of humor. Main characters are a lesbian, a bi girl, and a straight guy. Secondary characters are many and varied.
Cherry – http://footloosecomic.com/cherry/cherry.php – A spin off of Foot Loose, centered on Steve, a teenage boy who prefers dresses and unexpectedly becomes Magical Girl…er Magical Tranvestite Cherry, fighting for good and justice.
Citation Needed – http://fullpickle.com/citationneeded/ – No longer updating; older comic from one of the participants of Strip Search. 1 main character is gay, another is lesbian. Also touches on inter-racial families and adoption.
Dar (A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary) – http://www.darcomic.com/ – Autobiographical comic by Erika Moen (you may have noticed I am a fan when I mentioned her above at “Bucko”…). Erika discusses her own sexual identity, confusion over falling for a man when she’d always identified as lesbian, how lesbians have sex, and the joys of orgasms along with general life the ups and downs of being an artist.
Flaky Pastry – http://flakypastry.runningwithpencils.com/ – Fantasy comic with elves, goblins, magic, and time travel. One of lead characters is bisexual, and her brother (very minor character so far) is gay. Not at all focused on sexual identity issues, and it’s possible sometimes to read her bisexuality as an aspect of being chaotic evil. Read for fantasy humor, not deep thoughts on representation.
Footloose – http://footloosecomic.com/footloose/today.php – Fantasy comic with elves, werewolves, etc. Magically fighting evil with puns and high heels. Assorted sexual identities, and this is the main comic from which Magical Transvestite Cherry spun off.
Ghastly’s Ghastly Comic – http://www.ghastlycomic.com/ – Hey, it says Ghastly in the name twice, at no point should you expect high-brow humor. Gay, lesbian, cross-dressing, and chibi/tentacle love. Uncle Ghastly has not updated his comic in quite some time.
Girls with Slingshots – http://www.girlswithslingshots.com/ – Real-life-ish comic, if only real life were as accepting of people. Gay, lesbian, and asexual characters, gay marriage, kink, polyamory, inter-racial relationships, and a deaf character. Oh, and a couple straight people.
Go Get A Roomie – http://www.gogetaroomie.com/ – Main character is pansexual and polyamorous, there are gay and bisexual characters, one I think is asexual though that’s not been specifically stated.
Gunnerkrigg Court – http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/ – Main character’s best friend is lesbian. Intermittent focus on relationship issues, but mostly this is science meets magic fantasy tale.
Humon Comics – http://humoncomics.com/ – No real plot here, lots of short arcs and one-offs, fairly random topics. (Same creator as “Niels and Gang” and “Scandinavia and the World”.)
Kahmith – http://www.kahmith.com/ – Science fiction story, main character is asexual and has a progressive genetic disease which he’s hiding in order to accomplish his goal of becoming a pilot. Wow, that makes it sound like an “inspiring after school special” but seriously, it’s not that sappy. If nothing else, check it out for the artwork.
Khaos Komix http://www.khaoskomix.com/- a series of stories of gay, lesbian, transgender folks in overlapping and sometimes conflicting social circles. Very much focused on coming out, and coming to grips with sexual and gender identity. (Same creator as “Shades of A”.)
LaSalle’s Legacy – http://lasalleslegacy.com/ – Fantasy + pirates. Ship’s healer is a transvestite, captain gets grief for that and for taking on an actually female crew member (women are bad luck on boats, don’tcha know.)
Leftover Soup – http://leftoversoup.com/ – Real life setting, with gay, lesbian, bisexual, polyamorous, and inter-racial relationships, and tons of humor.
Mary Elizabeth’s Sock – http://mess.troutcave.net/index.php – Kind of surreal, sort of real-life comic about a private detective; main character’s sister is lesbian, at least on secondary bisexual character.
Meaty Yogurt – http://rosalarian.com/meatyyogurt/ – Weird little comic about a woman trying to get out of a town she thinks is cursed. One of the 2 main characters is lesbian.
Menage a 3 – http://www.ma3comic.com/ – This one is kind of an over-the-top college roommate story, except none of the main characters are actually in college. Gay, bisexual, and confused characters, romance, cheating, break-ups and make-ups. (“Sticky Dilly Buns”, a spin off of this by same creators, is listed below.)
Misfile – http://www.misfile.com/ – Main character is a guy who’s been gender swapped by a filing error on the part of a stoner angel. Gender identity confusion, a bisexual secondary character, a straight girl willing to date boy-in-a-girl’s body.
Narbonic – http://www.narbonic.com/ – Completed comic, but there’s a spin-off/sequel (Skin Horse) in progress. Mad scientist story, from the side of the mad scientist, of course. One of her creations/henchmen is a gay human/gerbil shapeshifting genetically engineered organism. There are gender swaps, a gay gaming buddy, and someone will end up as a floating head in a jar in the future… The whole thing is delightfully chaotic and crazy and it’s possible I have something of an obsession with creator Shaenon Garrity, or at least the meats of her brains.
Niels and Gang – http://nielsg.com/ – Inter-racial polyamorous triad who also happen to be organized crime leaders, and of course the bisexual cop (who ends up paired with the handsome older gay cop) who is keeping tabs on Niels. Niels also has a transgender kid who is (sadly) only around a bit. This comic is sort of free-flowing with only a generally tied-together plot, and does not update regulary. Same creator as “Humon Comics” and “Scandinavia and the World”.
Punch an’ Pie – http://punchanpie.keenspot.com/ – Sequel to “Queen of Wands”, real-life setting, main characters are a bisexual girl and her lesbian ex-girlfriend.
Queen of Wands – http://www.queenofwands.net/ – completed comic (ended in 2005 – it’s been a long while since I read this, and have a hard time differentiating in my head from the currently in progress sequel, “Punch an’ Pie”.) Lesbians, bisexuals, relationship drama, etc.
Questionable Content – http://www.questionablecontent.net/ – I have no idea how to describe this comic other than “damn good”. It’s a bit alternate-world/sci-fi with totally could be your neighbor people living alongside smart-ass artificial intelligences and a character with a robot hand in a world where (other than said AI, etc.) everything is basically like it is here. Main character’s mom is a professional dominatrix and his gay dad just got married to his new step-dad. He has a transgender friend, who’s coming out was handled really well. Another friend is not technically asexual but is unlikely to ever get past her germophobia enough to actually have that degree of physical contact with someone.
Oglaf – http://oglaf.com/latest/ – Uhm. Well, short-arc and one-off porny stories, I guess? Depending on which week you check could be just about any gender sexing it up with any other… or another species, or the wall… definitely NOT safe for work.
Original Life – http://jaynaylor.com/originallife/ – Sequel to “Better Days” listed above. Recurrent character is semi-closeted/not sure of herself lesbian trying to be “one of the guys”. Current arc centered on a bisexual guy striking up a relationship with a polyamorous guy of female presentation, possibly trans but that character’s gender identity hasn’t been openly discussed in story yet.
Robot Hugs – http://www.robot-hugs.com/ – autobiographical comics from a creator who described herself in a recent comic as “mentally ill, queer, and currently occupy(ing) a non-normative internal gender identity.” Many comics address queer life directly, many others concern depression. An absolutely wonderful one on body shaming and sexism here: http://www.robot-hugs.com/body-policing-police/.
Sam and Fuzzy – http://www.samandfuzzy.com/ – Totally surreal comic about a bloke who ends up as head of the ninja mafia. Included here because in recent arcs there is a developing relationship between two women, but they’re relatively minor characters. This is in the “weird creatures do exist but are hiding from general human knowledge” genre. I know that’s not really a genre, but sure seems like there are a lot of that group around anyway.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – http://www.smbc-comics.com/ – Primarily one-off comics with no ongoing plot arcs. Intermittently addresses gay issues, most famously with the concept of intentional weather control via the “C.I.Gay”. Even if you’ve never read anything else of this strip, you probably saw this one (http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2781) floating about in November of 2012.
Scandinavia and the World – http://satwcomic.com/ – Addressing national stereotypes via comics of anthropomorphized countries. Big words for a cute comic! Sexuality is… kind of fluid, since characters are representing countries and population attitudes toward other countries. Just go read it, really. (Same creator as “Humon Comics” and “Niels and Gang”.)
Scenes From a Multiverse – http://amultiverse.com/ – Primarily one-off comics with a few repeat characters or short arcs. Several comics addressing gay marriage, equality, bigotry.
Serenity Rose – http://www.heartshapedskull.com/serenity-rose/ – Main character is a witch, and a lesbian. Hard to tell which causes her more confusion. Sometimes dark but still manages to be touching and surprisingly sweet.
Shades of A – http://www.discordcomics.com/shades-cover/ – Main character is asexual, his best friend (whose preferred gender identity is they). Shades is a parody of Shades of Gray, and follows the relationship between Anwar (asexual) and Chris (submissive transvestite). I’m not sure there are even any straight folks with speaking parts in this story… (Same creator as “Khaos Komixs”.)
Sinfest – sinfest.net – I actually don’t know that there are any main characters in varieties of queer, but the comic regularly mocks homophobia and sexism so I’m tossing it on the list anyway.
Skin Horse – http://skin-horse.com/ – Sequal/spin off of “Narbonic” by Shaenon Garrity. Possibly gay/struggling with orientation lead character who happens to be a genetically modified hyper-intelligent (and very well mannered) dog, a cross-dressing psychologist, and a zombie comprise the main 3 characters, Artie the gay gerbil/human shapeshifter from “Narbonic” is a recurrent character, with a major role in the current arc.
Something Positive – http://www.somethingpositive.net/ – Insanely long-running semi-autobiographical comic. One of the original main characters was a gay man, though he has been absent from recent arcs. Lesbian couple, main character’s wife is bisexual, another main character has, through totally geeky naievete, become a ‘gay equality super hero’.
Sorcery 101 – http://www.sorcery101.net/ – Wizards, werewolves, vampires, and boys kissing boys… Currently updating prequel to “Strange Someone”.
Spina Cage – http://comic.inkbeast.net/spina/ – Rewrite of Beauty and the Beast with a gay male “Beauty”. Sadly stopped updating before finishing the story.
Spinnerette – http://www.spinnyverse.com/ – “Fluffy” superheroine comic; main character is lesbian (luckily, so is her girlfriend).
Strange Someone – http://www.sorcery101.net/strange-someone/strange-someone/ – Handsome gay police detective with a mysterious past? Don’t mind if I do…
Sticky Dilly Buns – http://www.stickydillybuns.com – Spin off by same creators as Menage a 3. Title character is a gay man rooming with a bisexual woman, both work in the porn industry.
Supernormal Step – http://supernormalstep.com/ – Reluctant superhero story. Main character is asexual and aromantic.
The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal – http://tjandamal.com/comic/ – Road trip story, main characters are a gay couple.
The Princess – http://www.theduckwebcomics.com/The_Princess/ – Fairly cute story of a transgender kid with a confused and scared mom and a confused and super-supportive dad. No longer updating.
Widdershins – http://www.widdershinscomic.com/ – Sort of alternate-world/magical England setting. Main character is masculine (but presumably straight) woman detective. Current arc (wrapping up now) has a gay character. Queer issues are not central in this comic, but it’s a fun concept – magic is summoned from/powered by archetypical traits such as greed, courage, or gluttony, and of course the trait used for conjuring affects the outcome of the spells.
With Fetus – http://www.withfetus.com/ – most characters are co-workers at a woman’s health clinic which provides abortions. Several gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters, as well as a primary focus on women’s health and sexual discrimination. Surprisingly funny given the topics covered.
Yellow Peril – http://ypcomic.com – Small group of friends leave large corporate to create their own advertising business. Gay and lesbian characters, and one of the first advertising jobs they take turns into a chance to strike back at a former boss’s bigotry by casting only gay, lesbian, or cross-dressing actors in an advert campaign.
February 26, 2014 @ 2:34 am
As I thought it might, my links list got snagged and labeled “awaiting moderation”. (Probably because link-heavy comments are so often spam.) Hopefully you’ll be able to see it soon, but I imagine our esteemed host is busy with things other than instantly reading my comments! 😀
Jim C. Hines
February 26, 2014 @ 7:36 am
Jim C. Hines
February 26, 2014 @ 7:38 am
It does trigger the spam filter, and that makes me spend WHOLE SECONDS of my day clicking the “Approve” button!!!1!1!!!
Seriously, it’s no trouble at all. Thanks for putting that together 🙂
February 26, 2014 @ 12:55 pm
Yay! Thanks 🙂
Jim C Hines series on Equity
March 1, 2014 @ 3:15 am
March 1, 2014 @ 11:46 am
Wow Jes that’s an amazing list. Thank you so much!
March 1, 2014 @ 5:37 pm
No problem. I don’t know that the list is amazing as much as it points out my amazing nerdiness…that’s actually less than half of the comics I follow, which might be a factor in my reading fewer novels lately. hmmm.
Anyway, you should add to that list, I found this one the other day, (actually while making that list) through Boy in Pink Earmuffs.
Finn and Charlie are Hitched – http://hitchedcomic.com – Real-life semi-autobiographical adventures of a married couple.
March 3, 2014 @ 5:04 pm
Sorry, I didn’t see this post until about a week after.
What I meant by that statement was I think science fiction has the ability to have cures for conditions or diseases or to fix problems that we currently can’t. So we can imagine futures where cancer is no longer a killer or where new limbs can be created and “installed” without issue. Both of these are reasonable assumptions given what we can currently do with medical treatments. It might be possible in the future – certainly possible within the realms of more advanced medical, psychological, etc. treatments found in sci-fi books – that a transgender person would be able, if they chose, to undergo a surgery that provides them with a fully functional set of genitals that they would feel happy with.
March 11, 2014 @ 2:47 pm
I hope it’s not too late for me to add few words 😉 And I want to apologise for my english – it’ not my mother tongue and i can only have hope I won’t mess anything.
Anyway, did anybody read Robin Hobb’s series? It contains 3 trylogies and begins with “Assasin’s Aprentice”. Action takes place in fantasy world and we get very interesting character: Fool. He’s genderfluid, we never find out what his gender is, but he loves main character (who is male). Personally I think he’s asexual. Through all the books he’s becoming more and more important . He has few aliases, one of them is female, Amber. Also he is way more than simply queer representation. I only wish main character was wiser…
Well, I’d like to know your opinion; do you think, he is well written?