A lot of good blog topics start out, “So somebody asked me about....” Well, nobody asked me about this, but it would be a very excellent question and I’m kind of surprised nobody has. Let’s pretend it happened. So nobody asked me, “Heather, given that you write stories with lesbian protagonists, why the heck do you put them in oppressive historic settings? Why not put them in contemporary settings? After all, it’s rather an exciting time to be non-heterosexual in the USA. Or why not put them in futuristic settings where we can imagine that prejudice will be entirely eliminated? If you’re going to create secondary world fantasies, why use ones that carry over prejudice from our own past? Why not create a fantasy world -- even a pseudo-medieval one -- where being LGBTQ simply isn’t an issue?”
I wrote a blog with that opening paragraph back two years ago. And my answer boils down to this: I refuse to cede history to straight people. I refuse to let stand the position that same-sex desire was invented by late 19th century sexologists. That lesbian history started in the ‘50s with butch-femme culture. That the only pre-20th century gay stories are tragic ones. I refuse to accept that it is not possible to find and write satisfying historic novels about queer people. I refuse to yield the stage, abandoning it to default to straight actors. I love the rich and detailed tapestry of history and I have as much right to own it as anyone else.
It seems I’m not the only author to take that position. The Historic Fantasy Storybundle has representation from a wide spectrum of sexualities. Character sexuality doesn’t alway fit well into a book blurb, but here’s what I’ve been able to identify, with the help of the authors.
Steel Blues by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham traces a coast-to-coast air race in the early 20th century, with the aviation team beset by both supernatural and human perils. One of the several protagonists is a gay man.
The Emperor's Agent by Jo Graham follows the exploits of a bisexual woman blackmailed into becoming an agent for the Emperor Napoleon in a France where not all the battlefields are mortal.
Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones plunges two young women into the excitement and danger of exploring mystical talents, while juggling the hazards of early 19th century high society and trying solve the mystery of their past. They add to those hazards by falling in love.
The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone by Geonn Cannon is a steampunk thriller in which several women, some of them lesbians, forge an unlikely partnership to stop an ancient evil.
The same author wrote Stag and Hound, an occult shape-shifter adventure set in WWII. The four protagonists include two gay men and two lesbians.
The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells takes place in the gas-light world of Ile-Rien where noblemen, thieves, and necromancers clash wits. A significant supporting character, Captain Reynard Morane, is gay, and features as a protagonist in one of the stories in...
Between Worlds by Martha Wells, which collects shorter stories set in Ile-Rien.
The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett brings real historic figures to its stage, including playwright Christopher Marlowe as one of the protagonists.
Similarly, Judith Tart’s Lord of the Two Lands tackles the story of Alexander the Great, including a realistic portrayal of sexual attitudes of the times and his relationship with Hephaistion.
I haven’t been able to confirm whether the other two books in the StoryBundle (PIllar of Fire by Judith Tarr and The Orffyreus Wheel by David Niall Wilson) have any significant LGBTQ characters, but the bundle contains plenty to interest historic fantasy readers who wish to stray from the straight path.
(Apologies if I’ve misrepresented any of these characters or their settings. In writing brief sumaries, I may have emphasized aspects differently from what may strike the reader.)
You can buy the Historic Fantasy StoryBundle for as little as $5 for the basic bundle of five titles, or get an additional six titles if you pay more than $15. All details are explained at the website.