Note: this post crossposted with permission – original post appeared at Rainbow Romance Writers.
Anyone who tells you that sex in space would be cool is not a true science fiction fan, or at least doesn’t have a good grasp of actual science. Issues with sex in zero or low gravity environments are, perhaps, not insurmountable, but they are considerable. Low gravity interferes with certain blood flow functions – erections are just less reliable. Sweat tends to layer on the body making it slippery. Every action leads to an opposite and highly exaggerated reaction.
So – you’re trying to get it up, in frustration reach for your partner who has grown slick and slimy, and send him hurtling across the capsule to crash into the opposite wall.
Yeah, not so fun.
Science fiction writers have been thinking about this stuff for years. Believe me. Artificial gravity. Special pods for having sex on board a zero-g vessel. Super lubricants and high tech toys, center of mass techniques and machines that address the issues of lost bone and muscle mass.
Is it any wonder we’ve taken things a bit farther by now? As a genre, science fiction’s unique advantage is its ability to allow us more freedom to speculate, more leeway to experiment. Sexuality is no exception. One of the SF writer’s favorite brain games? What would it be like to have sex with…? Sorry. We can’t help it. We tend to be geeks and a bunch of perverts. But we’re perverts with standards. I would argue that in order for a story to be considered a successful science fiction exploration of sex and not simply an erotic fantasy in a futuristic setting, certain criteria need to be met:
- Is it physically plausible?
Is it believable?
Is it consistent?
Does it take us beyond terrestrial sex as we know it in some way?
Does it take into account social issues inherent in these differences?
Many LGBT writers and romance writers in particular find this daunting. True, SF is not for everyone. A certain comfort level with one branch of science or another is vital. I’m not suggesting every SF writer needs a PhD in physics, but some familiarity with and fascination for science, whether biology, astrophysics or anthropology, is necessary. With basic knowledge and curiosity in hand, SF becomes primordial creative soup for the LGBT writer, allowing so much freedom, so many possibilities to explore concepts and conflicts uncomfortable for contemporary Earth settings, that our ideas sometimes threaten to drown us.
Fifteen years ago, I only would have been able to speculate about the possible variations of SF sex in LGBT romance. By now, though, the romance landscape has changed in an ongoing rainbow terraforming. We can point to real, successful examples of broad categories and discuss how LGBT romance writers approach the questions posed above.
The Altered Human
Super soldier, custom-bred worker, humans altered to adapt to certain environments–these aren’t new in SF romance, but with M/F romance, most of the questions above are never addressed. Female submits to male, blah blah blah, never mind how differences in size and structure might affect coupling. In LGBT SF and particularly with M/M pairings, the writer ignores the differences at his or her own peril.
For instance, if we look at Damon Suede’s Grown Men, we have a character custom bred by a corporation as, essentially, a work slave. Ox is huge, not simply linebacker-sized, but huge, a true giant in all his proportions. Had Damon glossed over this fact and ignored the first three questions above, he might have simply written penetrative sex between Ox and Runt. SF fans would have shrieked foul, and if this had taken place between actual people, Runt would have been seriously damaged, internally, pelvic girdle and so on, or possibly dead since they were far from any medical assistance. However, Damon considered the above questions carefully, Ox and Runt find more inventive ways to have sex, and no characters are harmed in the making of this sex scene. It is believable and plausible, consistent with what we know about the characters, and Runt’s struggle with his attraction takes into consideration his social expectations for himself.
Sumerki Silka, in my own Vassily the Beautiful, is a GMO with a lot of odd gene splicing and dicing involved. His creator/mom never admits to using cat DNA, as his brothers suspect, but it seems pretty evident with his feline eyes and his whisker-sensitive nerve endings. When we extend his enhanced abilities into the bedroom, the story has to take into account his violent twitches and his aversion to anyone touching him. Sex scenes with Sumi couldn’t simply be grope and tackle. They had to be approached with care, with his partner constantly aware of his issues if he didn’t want a fist in the face.
The universe is huge. It’s mind-bogglingly, humongously huge. So for us to say we’re the only planet able to support life is the worst sort of hubris and the more planets we spot within stars habitable zones these days, the more the probability of other life out there increases. But why would they look like us?
While it’s possible that life may have evolved from, say, an ammonia solvent environment instead of water, it’s just not as likely. The whole water, carbon, oxygen set up is just more conducive to self-replicating life. Because of this, convergent evolution is also more likely (species that evolve independently but share similar characteristics.) Here’s where we can set the LGBT SF writer free to run, play, and go crazy, since we understand that similar does not mean the same. Sure, it’s important that an alien love interest is at least attractive to the SF romance reader, (who wants to have their hero copulate with something that looks like a cockroach? Ew) but variations on basic physical and societal structures are otherwise infinite.
To create a race that is identical to humans, except perhaps in some cosmetic or superficial way, cheats the SF reader. It implies an absence of internal research, of fully considering the possibilities, if your alien race has tails but then has all the plumbing of a human male, goes to human-style restaurants and has cars, mortgages, and universities. Writing a believable alien race takes just a teensy bit more thought and writer guts.
Belinda McBride does an excellent job of both alien creation and exploring issues within these alien societies that hold a mirror up to our own in The Bacchi. Only in SF could you have gender fluidity in one race and sensuality as a societal pillar in another, one species acting as a societal foil for the other. As genetic hermaphrodites, we might expect Valorans to be the sensual race, but they regularly repress half of their sexuality in order to identify as either male or female. The few Valorans who choose to express both are considered social pariahs and aberrations. In contrast, the Bacchi himself, while sensual on a biological level (he has aphrodisiacs in his saliva, for heck’s sake) is often derided for the very sensuality encoded into his DNA. His gender identity is firmly male, but his sexual orientation is far more fluid, pansexual, which is both normal and acceptable for his species.
The Male Pregnancy
I don’t think there’s a theme in M/M romance more derided, misused, and misappropriated than this one. No matter how you feel about m-preg, though, the only place it can really work is in a Science Fiction milieu. Sure, if you want to explain it away with magic, go right ahead. But I’ve rarely seen it done well. The organs involved, the physical space necessary for these organs or their equivalents, are rarely taken into consideration. Let’s not even discuss why YY chromosome pairing doesn’t work for humans.
Now, that’s not to say that we don’t have real male pregnancy on good old planet Earth. We do. Certain frogs have intersex possibilities going on. Female seahorses impregnate male ones rather than the other way around. Pipefish, leafy sea dragons, we have enough actual examples on this planet to be able to extrapolate to offworld species. However, a male human would need to undergo radical anatomical changes in order to support a pregnancy and give live birth. The rather lazy and dreadful explanation that the fetus gestates in the large intestine (don’t laugh, I’ve seen this written) is neither feasible nor plausible.
So, in order for male pregnancy to work for humans, either the human must be significantly altered or there needs to be a non-human species involved in M/M parent pairings. One of the most interesting I’ve come across recently is Lexi Ander’s Alpha Trine, where the mating involves a human-related protagonist and his dual form, symbiotically-bonded two-species lover. While all three are involved in sex, the symbiote is the one impregnated, and said symbiote then implants the fetus into a marsupial style pouch on the larger half of the bonded species. Intriguing stuff, a male pregnancy one can actually buy into since the anatomy and the social issues are laid out for us.
The whole idea of male pregnancy is intriguing for us, simply because our species doesn’t have the equipment. I’m all for it if the mechanisms are thought through. No more convenient half explanations and sloppy science, which reduce what should be an amazing, miraculous event to a ridiculous trope.
Male pregnancy? Sex between partners of differing anatomies? Sex in space? Sure. Go for it. Just remember to take little things like the laws of biology and physics into account. Beyond that? For LGBT fiction the edge of the universe is the limit. Just remember that every ecosystem, every organism, every biological mechanism has rules. Intersex, gender fluid, altered biology, we get to play with all of it–so long as you think it through.
Angel Martinez writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.