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The world is fucking grim.
If this were a book, this is about the time the hero would be born. Right on the edge of the tipping point, when things go from bad to abysmal. A shining light, a beacon in the darkness, that sort of thing. Someone to pull the world forward, back into balance.
It’s easy to think that hero isn’t going to come. Because this isn’t a book — this is real life, and we don’t have magical or genetic superpowers to get us through the dark. (At least not to my knowledge.) It’s easy to believe that all those stories we read as kids were nonsense. Instead, I think those stories are more important than ever. Not only because they are metaphors on how to overcome evil, but because they show us that the world doesn’t just need heroes — it wants them. And a good story will show us that anyone can take that role.
We’ve seen the push in recent years — people of all races, religions and orientations standing up and sharing their voices, demanding more and better representation. The call for diversity in all forms of media has been heartening, even if the response has been a little late. And yet there’s still an odd trend in publishing, especially in books for teen readers. Anyone can be a protagonist. Anyone can be the center of a story. But it’s still rare to see diverse heroes across the board, particularly a hero who identifies as anything other than straight.
To me, protagonists and heroes are two different things. A protagonist is the center of a fairly modern-day story. They deal with their own issues, live out their own drama. Maybe they’ll fall in love or battle an illness or do something epic in their own right. But a hero — in fiction, at least — is someone who is given the task of saving the world in addition to all of that.
LGBTQ heroes tend to be few and far between.
Thankfully, we’ve seen more queer protagonists and stories in recent years. These are often ‘Issue’ stories — books where the main focus is on the protagonist’s sexuality, whether it be discovering, embracing or enduring pushback because of it. These books are incredibly important, especially for teens growing up in areas that aren’t as accepting as more diverse or urban environments can be. More than ever, we need to show that queer lives are important, loved and worth living.
I also think it’s time, however, to push that envelope.
We’ve shown that everyone has a story worth telling. Now it’s time to show that everyone can be a hero.
Fantasy and sci-fi books have given countless queer kids safe spaces to dream themselves into a safer or more manageable version of reality. We are, if nothing else, very good at imagining ourselves into a different, more fabulous future. We’re inherently magical AF. Trouble is, when queer voices do appear in these stories, they are often given roles as sidekicks. We’re also usually the ones killed off so the main hero can complete the quest. Which … isn’t exactly the model I want teens to have to live off of anymore.
For years, I’ve wanted to write a fantasy series where the protagonist could be queer without it being an Issue. Which, sadly, meant writing a book that takes place after the collapse of society, when we have more to worry about (like not being eaten by monsters) than being dicks to each other. In my latest book Runebinder, the protagonist Tenn is never asked his orientation. He falls in love with a guy and the guy falls in love back, and that’s that. Somehow, even just typing that out seems more fantastical than the magical elements of the book. Him having to save the world is the icing on the cake.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? To push the boundaries of what we think is believable. We can swallow books with magic and monsters, and yet imagining a world where society believes our sexual orientation is just an aspect and not the sole characteristic of ourselves is, well, fictional? Don’t get me wrong — we know that we are multi-faceted, beautiful creatures with plenty of stories to tell. It’s just getting the rest of the world to a point of accepting this that becomes a battle.
Right now, I think, that battle is one of the most important that we face, and that’s where heroics come in.
The world desperately needs heroes. It needs diverse voices, queer voices, underrepresented voices. Change is happening. And we need to be the ones moving that change in the right direction. In fiction, that means showing that queer people are more than just protagonists, living out our own personal stories. We are heroic. LGBTQ heroes are up to the task of saving the world.
We are, and have always been, the heroes the world needs. Some day soon, we’ll get the rest of society to recognize it.
Alex Kahler is the nomadic author of multiple series, including The Immortal Circus and The Pale Queen. His next series, the queer post-apocalyptic fantasy Runebinder, debuts November 2017 from HarlequinTeen. You can find him at his website or on Instagram.
Featured image by Gearstd via iStock