The Queer Speculative Domestic
Some thoughts about ghost babies and queer relationships.
Like many of us, I grow tired of reading queer relationships in fiction as dead, falling in love, falling out of love, or divorced. There is little about what it means to be in a long term relationship, childless, and commit oneself to learning what it means to love another whole person. In between explorations in queer fiction of sex to reproduction, it seems we’ve skipped the whole “here’s what it means to live and love another whole person” theme somewhere between the (straight) marriage novels of the early 20th century and the subsequent sexual revolution.
Despite the title of this newsletter, sex and death are not what makes queer fiction exciting or interesting *to me*. They’re just not usually what I’m there for, at least not right now. I’m more interested in the different ways we find to make one another feel beyond pleasure and pain. How we learn to feel and love another more deeply, to complicate these emotions while intertwined with one another.
While I generally think of ‘genre’ as a reader’s category, one they tend to know better than the writer themselves—too much personal bullshit is tangled up in one’s own writing that it becomes impossible to see genre clearly, and on top of that, one or two editors in and everything starts to sound the same (contrary to popular belief, I think editors edit much more today, far too much more, than previously)—I’ve felt the need lately to get more specific. Beyond just queer, beyond even queer speculative, to a domestic space which has been a defining feature of my adult life when “of the home” means something very different to itinerant millennials who have learned to find home in different ways, different countries, different genders than their parents.
So who am I to say if this is what I *actually* do in my stories—if it isn’t what happens for you when you read them, then that’s real.
Nature—plants and insects especially—has played a large role in my own queer speculative domestic, due to their abundance of unusual social relationships that provide alternative templates for contemporary life if it were possible to live outside of the systems that currently beat us down. The aspen’s clonal body. Fungal networks that function better than the group chat. The social experiments inside of large ant colonies. These all provide ready templates in which to reimagine how we relate to others and to ourselves.
Paradoxically, in my attempt to get hyperspecific in labeling my own fictional amphitheater, I’ve experienced an opening up. A freedom from relying on just one kind of character, one kind of family or set of circumstances, and freedom from some of the more tiresome restrictions of what constitutes “trans lit.” A freedom also to explore the queer speculative domestic inside of my own real-world relationships as well: the many selves I’ve found inside of myself as the result of my own decade-plus with one person, and the many people I’ve found inside of them, and how we get on together sometimes well, other times less so.
A few others recently writing into this category off the top of my head (truly—if there are some obvious ones I’m missing I’d love it if you’d drop them in the comments on this post):
I see Darryl by Jackie Ess falling into this category (especially elucidated in this interview in which Ess talks about writing around representation, instead of about it)
Joseph Han’s Nuclear Family (though I’m only halfway through so don’t quote me on this)
Detransition, Baby must be mentioned, although with the complication of said actual baby, which both exists and doesn’t, never materializing in the course of the story
Ghostly, invisible children born from sexual transgression might be one requirement of the queer speculative domestic. But it’s not always a haunting, which would imply something lost. The only way I can find to explain is with a few lines from one of my own stories in progress:
“In their relationship, they were each other’s children. Like the phantom branch of a family tree, they held inside of them a new person born on their meeting, one that started with the impetuosity and poor motor skills of an infant and had gradually progressed through adolescence, young adulthood, and maturity.”
It might be the meeting of these grown invisible children that creates community. One thing I am sure of is that love is not about progress. It's not about accumulating more and more love, or more intense love, or reaching a nebulous love destination. It's not about accumulation at all. I don't really know what to do with that information. I've been trained to use information to generate more of it, but that's antithetical to antiprogress or antiaccumulation. The moss doesn’t grow on the rock because of love; the moss grows on the rock because the rock sits still. That’s the story I’m trying to get closer and closer to through the queer speculative domestic, and I may not ever get there because it so clearly resists telling.
What I’m “Reading”
Since coming across Robert Wun’s Spring 2023 collection, I’ve been obsessed with how it manages to tell a complete narrative in a series of looks about many of the themes I am constantly wrestling with: sci fi novels and tv, horror, eco horror, environmental catastrophe, accidents and disaster, even quilting ffs. Seeing Wun’s inclusion of stains and burnt fabric and cuts was also exciting to see made beautiful in working with accident and disaster, and working through fear. (Who says we must restrict our reading to material books? Read fashion! Read the dirt! Read disaster!)
Tonight (!) you’ll find me reading in Portland at the Rose City Book Pub for a marquee event for Portland’s trans writing community, a reading soiree hosted by Little Puss Press, and also featuring local writers Nora Broker, Jazzelle James, Emme Lund and others! If you happen to also live and/or be here, you should come.
I’m teaching another *sigh*ence class // science class, and it starts tomorrow night, 6pm Pacific time. There are still spaces left if you want to join this group and make some movement in your own (un)scientific exploration of style, experiment, and experience in language and story. Discounts available if you register after the first session, just ask.