Christopher Barzak, Guest Editor-in-Chief & Fiction Editor
I spent my childhood and adolescence yearning for a world beyond the one I was born into. Yearning for a world where magic was real—where, if a person knew the right words or the right gestures, they could transform the world, or at least their own place in the world. Fantasy is exactly that: a way into another reality (not just an escape from this one). And in those other realities, the configurations of this world are revealed to be exactly what they are: which is to say, it’s all made up. At least in terms of the social orders we live within.
I yearned for these other worlds where magic empowered people who understood it because I wanted to change my world, or my place in it. I wanted to either be more visible, seen for who I am in my entirety and respected for it, because magic-wielder, right? Or else I wanted to be even more invisible, protected from a world that would attempt to damage or destroy me if others knew I was unlike them. That I was other. That I was queer.
Magic is real, but it doesn’t really look the way it does in fantasy stories. It’s performed by the art of story itself, of convincing people of something that isn’t necessarily true when it’s uttered by the magician, but becomes true when others receive those words and believe in them.
Lately, the world has had a lot of magic changing it. The stories queer people have been telling for years now, in intimate interactions with other individuals and in public displays on the internet or in courtrooms, have transformed the world by making a space for themselves within it that demands the respect we have always deserved but never received. Ten years ago I would have said the entire idea of gay marriage being legalized in the United States was a complete and utter fantasy. Now that fantasy is reality. And we all—queer or otherwise—benefit from this act of social metamorphosis. The world has gotten bigger and better for once, instead of smaller and meaner.
I still wish that magic was real in the way that I wished for it as a young person, but I’m also happy to know that it exists in this more seemingly mundane way. I no longer desire to be invisible in order to protect myself. These days, I feel seen, recognized and respected for who I am in my entirety, and not because I’m a magic-wielder so much as because I—like anyone—am seen as equally human (at least by a majority, at this point).
The stories in this volume stretch the boundaries of our world, and reach into the unknown. That’s the thing that has fascinated me about fantasy stories since I was a child. The storytellers behind these stories have different approaches, and are all in different phases of their careers. But all of them share one thing in common: they are magicians and enchanters of the highest order, and the worlds they create before our very eyes here will make the world we inhabit bigger and better.
Liz Gorinsky, Reprints Editor
One thing I hoped to accomplish by working on Queers Destroy Fantasy! was to make the previously occluded landscape of queerness in fantastical literature a bit more visible.
For those of us who are lucky enough to have queer communities, the notion that we can be reduced to stereotypes, let alone those codified by mainstream heteronormative society, is laughable: we know there is as much variation—in personal histories, gender presentation, relationship styles, intersectional identities, how we fall for each other and get it on with each other—under the QUILTBAG umbrella as there ever was outside of it. Probably more, because the kind of scripts cis and het people can use to simplify these decisions are rarely tenable for us.
But one thing that does seem universal is a history of hunting for glimmers of queerness in culture. This is necessary, because with a few exceptions, like the fine work of GBLT+ publishers, we daren’t hope to see ourselves as the dominant figure in any narrative. So we search the margins for a hint of a gay character in a secondary storyline (even if we know their lover will probably get killed), or read historical epistolary exchanges looking for queer subtext, or wonder if a particular phrasing is a marker of trans or non-binary characters, or read between the lines of author bios wondering if “partner” means what we hope it does. If you grew up when I did, somewhere in the Gen Y-to-Millennial morass, you probably didn’t find much of it. The speculative fiction world might be more welcoming than others, but it’s still rare to see more than one story with queer themes in an anthology or magazine issue (or a year of them).
The best part of reading reprints for QDF, therefore, was discovering that those scattered exceptions can build up to quite a stunning field when considered in aggregate. Before I began, I wouldn’t have predicted that I could start listing queer authors I wanted to contact and hit seventy-five names without much trouble, or that many of them would lead me to others: to friends, or anthologies they’d worked on, or stories they themselves loved.* In the end, I looked at well over a hundred stories by brilliant queer authors, far more than I could ever hope to fit in these pages, emphatically proving that not only are we here, we’ve been around for decades. And I found that one of the most exciting things about assembling sufficient quantities of stories by queers is that that queerness no longer needs to be exceptionalized: These writers are not trying to make a point about Diversity or Identity Politics, they are simply portraying characters who look or live like them and the people they know, but just happen to inhabit a magical universe.
I hope QDF will eventually be one of many places to discover queer fantasy, especially because—due to the aforementioned variation within our community—we couldn’t possibly represent every queer person, or even a small fraction of them, in one volume. And once the world understands the wealth of writers and stories emerging from queer communities, perhaps younger generations of queers won’t have to wonder where they are in the narrative, because they’ll see themselves there every day.
* In this camp, special thanks to QDF’s own Matt Cheney, who directed me to Austin Bunn’s “Ledge.”
Matthew Cheney, Nonfiction Editor
The essay is itself a queer form because, like queerness, the essay is amorphous, rhizomatic, mercurial. It is an attempt, and like any attempt, the essay courts failure, a noble queer art. Leave usefulness, respectability, and the soul-crushing quest for normality to the writers of memos for bankers. The queer and the essay are forms for the rest of us.
Fantasy is queer. It imagines the world otherwise, and otherwise is where queerness dwells. We, the queer, delight in our strange tales.
Of course, queers don’t really “destroy fantasy.” (How can you destroy your breath of life?) But we do destroy certain fantasies. We destroy the fantasy of compulsory heterosexuality. We destroy the oppression of the closet, that monstrous cabinet of enforced incuriosity. We destroy the fantasy that everybody is a cisgendered/missionary-position/lifelong-monogamous/heterosexual-until-otherwise-proven-fabulous person. So yes, we destroy. Those fantasies deserve their ignominious deaths.
(On page 110 of The Queer Art of Failure, Judith Halberstam urges: “ . . . we must be willing to turn away from the comfort zone of polite exchange in order to embrace a truly political negativity, one that promises, this time, to fail, to make a mess, to fuck shit up, to be loud, unruly, impolite, to breed resentment, to bash back, to speak up and out, to disrupt, assassinate, shock, and annihilate.”)
The passion to destroy queerly can be a creative passion, too.
I grew up in rural America when Ronald Reagan was President and AIDS was thought to be a death sentence. My father used the word “queeries” to talk about us, and the contempt and hatred dripped from his mouth, and he didn’t know we (both my mother and myself) had silently invaded his heteronormative world—or maybe he suspected, and that’s why the hatred was so sharp, so desperate, so (ultimately) pathetic. Families breed their own traitors.
I remember watching the news at night and seeing brave ACT UP activists getting arrested, and I especially remember the weird and wonderful people of Queer Nation who screamed out through my family’s TV screen: We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it! They saved my life. They gave me my self.
And here we are now, decades later. We’re here and queer and we can do more than get used to it: we can enjoy it.
Here we are with our stuff that can only be labeled by what it is not: non-fiction. These pieces are not entirely fiction in the way I am not entirely heterosexual, and I love them for it.
My task as an editor was to seek out a few writers of my choice. I chose by thinking about people I wanted to read. I asked around, and the writers gathered here are the ones who answered my call. I gave them no guidelines. I said: Play around. Have fun. Be queer. Be you. I said: Don’t worry about form or style or propriety. Find something that fits you. Go long, go short, go wherever. Fantasize queerly and queerify fantastically.
The results are just a tiny sample of possibilities, a hint of a taste of a dream of a hope of a new world that has been here as long as we have, which is to say forever, because we’re here and we’re queer and we always have been and always will be until the oceans dry up and the air disappears and the sun turns off and our imaginations, filled to overflowing with glorious fantasies and failures, disperse into stardust.