QSFer Redfern Jon Barrett has a new queer cyberpunk alt-history book out: Proud Pink Sky.
Proud Pink Sky breaks down the binary between utopia and dystopia—presenting an ambitopian vision of the world’s first gay state.
A glittering metropolis of 24 million people, Berlin is a bustling world of pride parades, polyamorous trysts, and even an official gay language. Its distant radio broadcasts are a lifeline for teenagers William and Gareth, but is there a place for them in the deeply divided city?
Meanwhile, young mother Cissie loves Berlin’s towering high rises and chaotic multiculturalism, yet she’s never left her heterosexual district—not until she discovers a walled-off slum of perpetual twilight, home to the city’s forbidden trans residents.
Challenging assumptions of sex and gender, Proud Pink Sky questions how much we must sacrifice to find identity and community.
When she was a little girl, Cissie had read picture books all about handsome princes and beautiful princesses; books which were, without exception, the only literature allowed that wasn’t stamped with a golden cross. Once she’d learned these fairy stories by heart, Cissie’s parents had gifted her animated movies, and so she’d watched and re-watched Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella until the videotapes were chewed into buzzing, fuzzing static.
There must be some way of becoming one of these princesses, so she reasoned. She’d perch herself in front of the television set for hours, her brow furrowed in single-minded concentration, and after months of studious analysis she’d arrived at three conclusions.
The first was, to her young mind, the most appealing. According to the movies, each princess would summon small animals to do her bidding. For years Cissie dreamed of this animal menticide, of commanding mice and bluebirds and becoming dictator to all woodland creatures. It seemed a rather more substantial prize than marriage to some willowy prince.
Cissie’s second conclusion was that she would need to be placed in mortal, supernatural danger. This prospect seemed quite exciting, particularly as her world—which comprised, almost exclusively, of the cozy farm-style house in which she was raised—seemed rather tame and limited by comparison. If there was danger, well, at least something was happening to you. Besides, were she to die she would simply reappear in the Heaven her parents so often talked about, and which surely was much bigger than their small Ohio home.
Her third conclusion had been the least agreeable. There was no avoiding the fact that these stories always ended with a marriage, which in turn was sealed with a chaste kiss. Cissie could do without these princes, yet it seemed there was no way of acquiring queenhood and the corresponding royal superpowers without one. So she approached the subject with an adult pragmatism, neither drawn to nor disgusted by these boyish regents. They were simply a means to an end.
These infant fantasies changed with adolescence. Ashamed of her blood-dotted underwear, she’d thrown all her clothes straight into the laundry hamper, and later that day her mother had sat upon her bed, patted the ancient quilt, and told Cissie to join her. With her thin face pulled tighter than Cissie had ever seen, she’d dished out opaque advice: You’re a woman now and This is our burden and It’s part of His plan for you and your husband. The shared prayer her mother led afterward lasted longer than the talk itself, and though Cissie still had no clue as to why she’d bled, she’d been left with the impression it was somehow because of men. It was surely a warning, her body cautioning her away from boys. Especially handsome princes.
Yet Cissie was an inventive child. Men were dangerous, that much was true, but perhaps women were safe. This led to the natural conclusion that she could avoid the terror of a prince by marrying a princess instead. So she’d invited her one friend, another homeschooled girl named Susan Michaels, up into the attic and into her old playhouse; which to grown-up eyes was an ancient refrigerator box with hand-cut holes for windows. With Susan safely inside, Cissie had sealed their relationship with a kiss.
Her friend’s next words had opened the door to another world. You’re a dyke, Susan had said, her little face stern with condemnation. She’d told Cissie that women who kissed women were dirty and sent to a special land far away. Susan knew so because her aunt had gone there, and once you left you never came back.
Of course Cissie had been surprised. The idea to marry another girl was all her own, and it had never occurred to her that someone else might have thought of it first. Questions had piled upon questions. Why could you never return from this land? Why had it never been mentioned in any of her stories? And most importantly: Where was this other world?
Cissie had never kissed another woman, but nearly twenty years later this mysterious city would become her home.
Oh, it hadn’t been her idea; her youthful curiosity had been fickle, and besides, what family woman would choose to live in homosexual Berlin? Yet Susan Michaels had been right about one thing: Cissie had never returned to Ohio.
At first she’d wandered the criss-cross streets, staggering around while gawping up at the crowded overhead transit lines, a foolhardiness which twice resulted in stolen purses. She’d only later learned said streets were part of Hetcarsey, one of the Berlin’s two straight districts. Though it wasn’t pretty—in fact most of the tenements had a raw, unfinished look about them—it was thrilling, and so different to the wide boulevards and gleaming art deco towers she’d seen in the postcards. With millions of residents, Hetcarsey was practically a city unto itself, and while Cissie had since learned to walk with thief-deterring speed, she still marvelled at the noise, at the dizzying array of lives above and around her.
After six years she’d even honed her life to a fine routine. Not because she was a particularly precise person, but because the boundaries of her day allowed her to carve a cranny for herself, a Cissie-shaped hole in a dizzying, sprawling, unknowable city. After taking the kids to school (they would have a proper education, not the rote Biblical learning she’d received) Cissie was left with nearly two whole luxurious hours to wander, to chart this territory, to wallow in chaotic multiculturalism.
Redfern Jon Barrett (they/them) is author to novels including Proud Pink Sky, a speculative story set in the world’s first LGBTQ+ state – which will be released by Bywater Books in March 2023. Redfern’s essays, reviews, and short stories have appeared in publications including The Sun Magazine, Guernica, Strange Horizons, Passages North, PinkNews, Booth, FFO, ParSec, Orca, and Nature Futures. They are nonbinary, have a Ph.D. in Literature, and currently live in Berlin. Read more at redjon.com.