This post is inspired by something @MaryRobinette tweeted last week, and a takeaway I had from the Nebula Conference. On a panel there about what’s popular now in genre fiction, the mashup Queer Space Opera got thrown around a lot. It’s trending in the spec fic community, and that’s pretty cool. Several days later, I read Mary’s tweet, and it really hit home. She said: “It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”
Is it okay to make a character queer simply because it doesn’t change the story and it might help you sell the piece? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, per se. You aren’t harming anyone, but you’re certainly not advocating for diversity or acting as much of an ally in doing so. It’s a bit of harmless pandering, trying to use hot button topics and key words to market your fiction.
Instead, why not try to do what Mary suggests, and use diversity as a tool to build realistic worlds? Would an alien planet really be ruled by just one government, or populated by one culture? What are the gender dynamics of the evil empire in your epic fantasy tome? How does racial bias figure into the race for survival in a haunting story? When populist regimes clash with equality movements in your dystopian future, in what directions could the conflict move?
Too often we find ourselves building homogenous countries, organizations, or even worlds, in our genre fiction. True, we might do so to pit one against the other, or delve into some kind of social commentary, but we’re often missing out on a key implement in our writing toolbox: the ability to use reality to aid our fiction.