Why call Artifice a “gay sci-fi webcomic”?

I got an email yesterday from the contact form of my webcomic Artifice. The email itself was actually fairly thoughtful and the writer had more than a couple intriguing suggestions about ways to treat same sex relationships in a sci-fi setting without evoking the concept of a gay identity. But they also had a couple questions and concerns that I wanted to respond to. Artifice has a story that might appeal to some readers who aren’t that familiar with what’s it’s like to be gay and thus might have similar questions.

This was the email (quoted in its entirety with permission from its author):

Subject: Artifice story vs. presentation

I’m sort of offended by the Gay heading in the upper-left corner. If this is to be a story of some sort of same-sex affection, can we simply put it in the context of a future with artificial people? At least this would be a refreshing approach to realize that if you could manufacture people you couldn’t likewise manufacture their personalities.
-Or is the Gay heading supposed to mean that you shouldn’t be reading this comic unless you’re gay?
Frankly, what offends me the most is gays saying that they’re special when all they mean is they have sex differently than heterosexuals (who don’t go around telling people they’re different.) Why should it matter if this character who has been artifically created finds some emotional level he has not been programmed for- except for that emotion itself which is a declaration of uniqueness and identity?

And this was my response:


Let’s see if I can answer your question. πŸ™‚

I’m sort of offended by the Gay heading in the upper-left corner… is the Gay heading supposed to mean that you shouldn’t be reading this comic unless you’re gay?

No. I’m delighted to have anyone read my comics. And looking at the demographics of my mailing list and Facebook Insights, it seems to break down to about 50% gay and 50% straight readers (mostly straight women, but there are straight guys there too). I work very hard to be inclusive on my blog and elsewhere and I’d like to think the tone of my comics isn’t “inside baseball” meaning that non-gay readers will understand the references and that I am respectful of people of all orientations.

I use the “gay sci-fi” heading in the title of my pages for search-engine purposes. It’s not to be exclusive in any way; it’s to make it easy for readers who like sci-fi and gay romance to find my comic when they search for it on Google and such. You see, there aren’t a lot of gay male romances set in a sci-fi world and so I think readers searching for that might particularly enjoy Artifice. So, I’m trying to make it easy to find my comic when they search for “gay sci-fi” or “gay webcomic”. That’s the only reason I’m doing that.

Frankly, what offends me the most is gays saying that they’re special when all they mean is they have sex differently than heterosexuals (who don’t go around telling people they’re different.)

Because you wrote me a thoughtful email, I’m going to assume that you’re looking to understand why gay people like myself would tell people they’re different (even announcing to the world that their webcomic is gay!), so I’m going to respond to this as well. (Please forgive me if you were just venting.)

If you’re not gay yourself, I can understand why it can be confusing why gay people would feel the need to “come out” and tell others that, unlike 90% of the population, they don’t fall in love with members of the opposite sex. The truth of the matter is, most of us (including myself!) wish we lived in a world where such distinctions were irrelevant. It certainly is no fun having to say to someone who is assuming you’re straight (and asking what kind of girl you like or making an anti-gay joke) that actually you’re gay and then wondering how they are going to react. Honestly, sometimes, it’s exhausting.

But unfortunately, we live in a world where most people assume everyone is straight. We live in a world where the word “fag” or “queer” is the ultimate put-down in the school yards and the word “gay” can be used to mean anything “sucky” or “weird”. We live in a world where in many places you can be denied work, education and housing simply because you were born to fall in love with members of the same sex. We live in a world where people can marry members of the opposite sex and get tax breaks, hospital visitation rights and lots of family and social support; but if you fall in love and want to marry a member of the same sex, in the vast majority of places you can’t do it. Here in the U.S., if you can actually get married, you won’t get any federal benefits (thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act), and many folks will see you as a threat to family and children for even wanting to get married. And this isn’t even getting into the parts of the world where if people found out you were gay, you could expect to be attacked, arrested and even executed (such as in Iran and Saudi Arabia). These are things many straight people never have to think about if they want to start dating someone. They can just do it because it’s considered “normal”.

When I was growing up, there were those who would argue that gay people didn’t need explicit protection under the law for things like work, education and housing. That asking for that protection was asking for “special rights”. But it’s not a “special right” if everyone else gets to do something without a second thought and you can’t. I would argue it’s an “equal right” if you get to do the same thing as everyone else. Straight people can apply for a job and don’t have to hide that they date people of the opposite sex. Same for applying for an apartment or even just talking about how they spent their Saturday night. In many places in the world and the U.S., that’s not true for those who are attracted to the same sex. And in most of those places (including most of the states in the U.S.), it’s perfectly legal to deny gay people that apartment or that job, just because they are gay.

Now, if you live in the U.S, you probably have noticed this is changing. Twenty states now have anti-discrimination laws that forbid denying people work or housing because of sexual orientation. Five states even give equal access to marriage. The U.S. military has just been ordered to change its policy of firing soldiers because of their sexual orientation. This is good news both for gay people and, I’d argue, for all citizens of the U.S. And none of it would have happened if gay people had kept their mouths shut and just let everyone assume they were straight.

I’m going to end this with one of my favorite quotes from Pastor Martin NiemΓΆller, but before I do, I just want to point out that while I’ve framed this response mostly in terms of equal protection under the law and personal safety issues, that there is one other very real reason why gay folks tell others that they are gay. It’s because falling in love is a huge part of the human experience and it feels wrong to lie or be evasive to the people in my life who care about me about such an important thing. Telling someone I’m gay isn’t just saying I “have sex differently than heterosexuals”. While others may define you by it, speaking as a gay man, I can tell you that sex is actually a very small part of the experience of being gay. It’s really about who you want to spend the rest of your life with.

I wasn’t always “out” and so I can tell you, to not be able to talk to my friends and family about those romantic hopes, dreams (and yes, failures and even successes) is like being buried alive in concrete and it created a wall between myself and those who cared about me. You see, people talk all the time about love and romance. If you’re straight, you don’t have to make any special declarations to answer those questions or start conversations of your own. I’m sure you’ve had conversations with friends and co-workers about dating. Imagine if it were a very real possibility that those around you would be “offended” if you were simply being honest in those conversations that they might actually seek to hurt you for joining into that conversation as an equal and then you might be able to begin to understand why it is important for many gay people to try to create a world where you don’t have to lie about or hide who you fall in love with. And that world can only happen if you’re willing to “go around and tell people you are different.”

I want to thank you for taking the time to write me your email. You could have just kept your thoughts to yourself but instead you reached out to me to share them. I don’t imagine you expected to get this lengthy reply back. But the truth of the matter is that I do care about all my readers, both straight and gay. You took time to reach out and write me. And so I wanted to give your words a thoughtful response. πŸ™‚


The quote from Pastor Martin NiemΓΆller (shared with me originally by a straight friend after I came out):

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

We live in a world where bad things quite often happen to good people. And it’s important to remember that sometimes the only way to stop it is by speaking up. Even when we don’t “have to”.

So that was my response and I’m happy to share here that it was well-received and that, in their reply back, the author of the email went out their way to say very nice things about Artifice. For both gay and straight people, it can be easy to jump to conclusions about how open someone is going to be to understanding another person’s view. But I have to say one of the most gratifying experience of starting this blog is the happy discovery that the vast majority of people out there are cool and thoughtful, if only you’re willing to engage in a real conversation. I’m glad this person wrote to me and proved, yet again, that I have the absolute coolest readers in the world. πŸ™‚

In addition to the webcomic Artifice I’m also offering some of my other yaoi comics as free PDF downloads for my mailing list subscribers, How do you get them? Well, it’s easy! Just fill out the form on the Free Comics page and the links will be sent right to you!

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    1. Yikes! Sorry! I was mostly focused on making a point that many of my readers are not romantically interested in members of the same sex but I totally see how that comes off. And, while it’s harder to guesstimate how many bisexual readers I have from Facebook demographics, I’d say from comments and Twitter interactions, that it’s a sizable number.

      So, let me make it clear now: I love my bisexual readers! And shame on me for not being more inclusive! I should know better.

      And very glad to hear you’re enjoying the comic. Please keep letting me know what you think!

      1. No worries, I wasn’t offended. I’m just one of those silly people who likes to point things out. πŸ™‚

        Identity is always one of those weird things. My website labels my fiction as “gay and lesbian” but sometimes I’m scared of scaring away people who don’t or don’t yet identify with that but might enjoy being a reader. I was one of those people once, after all. It was long after I was reading yaoi and yuri fiction on a regular basis that I made the leap to “I’m bi”. Sometimes the most obvious things are right under our noses, but I wasn’t actively exploring my sexuality, it just kinda came to me as a realization. The question is, how else to label work? Yaoi and Yuri are not much understood in the West, and I’m sure gay and lesbian get far more searches in search engines. And now that I’ve claimed my identity, those words (gay, lesbian, bi) feel like they belong in my world. But I know they still scare others who might be questioning, but aren’t ready to make the leap to “am I?”

        1. I’m glad to hear you weren’t offended (I didn’t think you were) πŸ™‚ Still, it’s important to me to be inclusive, especially when it comes to bisexual folk. I know from my bi friends that the gay community can sometimes be… rigid in its definitions of sexuality and the pain that can cause. Being clear that I not only support my bisexual readers but fully embrace them (in the metaphorical sense) is important for me. πŸ™‚

          And yes, labels. Like anything when it comes to putting our work out there, it all comes down to who ultimately you’re trying to reach. I use the label “yaoi” on my work because I want to make it clear that my work is for both women and men (as well as make it clear that it’s tone is likely to be more character based than sex based). By doing that, there are some folks who won’t give it a look because they are expecting more traditional yaoi (which they might not care for). But ultimately, I feel it attracts far more of the readers I’m looking for than it excludes.

          But I agree. Finding the balance can be tricky. Particularly if you’re looking to reach out to those who are uncomfortable or unaware of their own sexuality, thus wary of labels such as “gay”. Ultimately, though, I think those readers will eventually find their way to your workÒ€”and probably at a time when they will be better able to enjoy it. πŸ™‚

  1. Hey!

    I have to say, I was almost offended by that email, but not really…

    I can see the person’s view, in that the world should be a place where it matters not who you fall in love with or express your sexuality with, but as you quite correctly pointed out, we do.

    I would never let the fact that I like men define me, and that I believe is the distinction that needs made. If I meet someone new, I will say things in passing like ‘he’s hot’ or something along those lines (not hiding it), but never ‘Hi I’m Sam. I’m gay. =)’ (not flaunting it)

    With reference to how artifice is described, I think it is perfectly acceptable. It is simply a description of what it is about. If I was straight, and this is purely speculation, I would want to know if I was about to read something that had male X male love in it. Just like I don’t like to read yuri or straight love comics. [I do read heterosexual love stories, but I prefer homosexual ones since I can identify better].

    Just incase the author reads my comment, I hold no ill feelings towards them. I do, after all, believe in free speech, and I hope they do not think my comment is a personal attack on them or anything! πŸ™‚


    1. Hey Sam!

      Exactly. And yes, one of the reasons I put that there is to give readersÒ€”who might not be into what’s to comeÒ€”a heads up.

      Thank you very much for commenting. (And I appreciate you making clear to the original emailer that you harbor no ill feelings. Mutual understanding and thoughtful discussion is very important to me and something that I’m glad folks like yourself help to support on my sites. πŸ™‚ )

      Take care of yourself!

  2. I also meant to say that I share your inability to share who you are with family. My friends don’t care, but my family is slightly different. This is not the forum for going into that, but I do, at least, know the feeling.

    My point is that it is refreshing to find comics such as this one. They are refreshingly simple. No overly camp stereotypes. Just people expressing love the way they see fit.


  3. Hi Alex, it’s Jenna. Agh, wow, this is my first time actually posting a comment on your site! Oh, and by the way, I am happy to say that I FINALLY got that copy of “No Kissing” in the mail! I was afraid it would never come, but now I can look at it every day (and I do, just about!)

    Okay, so reason I’m writing now: I seriously cried reading the end of this article. Not because I was sad or offended, by you or the original emailer.

    No, I cried because you have such an immensely powerful way with words, and you manage to make even your blog posts as touching and thoughtful as your comics. You are such a kind-hearted and considerate person, and I’m a bit ashamed to say that you are a rarity in the internet world … no, wait, a rarity in the world in general.

    Want to know what first brought me to Yaoi 911? I was being selfish and Googled “doujinshi review” because I really wanted someone to read and rate my own comics. Your review of Adamo Anthology was what popped up in my search, and I can say with confidence that there is no other person who reviews comics with such depth and insight. You are truly passionate about what you do, and it shows.

    I’m working on my superhero comic—the one I told you about! And actually, though I first planned to pitch it to the comic industry, I’ve decided to turn it into a webcomic instead! It launches at the end of this month, and I’m so excited and scared at the same time!

    Yes, I am including bisexuality in there, as I said before, because it is the world to me. And so this whole conversation of gay and straight (and bi, based on your reader comments) is immensely helpful. I’ve already written my … uh, LGBT-charged second story (sorry, being vague, but I don’t want to give it all away!)

    Anyway, I have the feeling this second story might get the blood boiling on all sides of the sexual spectrum. Even if I offend people and they decide to let me know about it, I only hope that I can get as thoughtful of emails as the one you’ve featured here.

    Most of all, I aspire to the day that I can write as good of a response to an email as you do all the time. πŸ™‚

    1. Hey Jenna!

      Great to hear from you! πŸ™‚ Gosh, thank you for all your kind words. ::blush::

      And that’s awesome that you’re going to be starting a webcomic! I have to tell you that so far my experience with Artifice has been everything I could hope for and more. I’m now totally hooked on the webcomic format. So, I think you’re making the right choice there.

      Please let me know when your webcomic is up. I can’t wait to check it out! πŸ˜€

      1. It’s finally here! I’m so excited, Alex, you don’t even know! CLICK HERE?

        Anyway, I just want to say, thank you so much for talking comics with me over the past few months. Seriously, just getting your insight when you’re so good at what you do … well, it means a lot to me. Thank you for being such an inspiration! πŸ˜‰

          1. Awww, Alex, thank so much! Not only for visiting but for leaving me such a nice note besides.

            Wow, and you mentioned me on your twitter? Well, crap! I’m insanely flattered! Like, INSANELY! Thank you. It means a lot, really it does. πŸ˜€

  4. Hello, Alex!
    I’m meryvamp, and I really enjoy Artifice! I can’t wait for the next chapter! I’m also a fellow writer and editor. Although, I’m not an artist by any means and sadly, have yet to be published πŸ™
    So, I wanted to say that you can also add me into your demographic as a bisexual girl. I probably figured this out almost two years ago. Although, I’ve always, always been attracted to girls. Women are just softer and easier on the eyes, lol.
    Yeah, it is true, it’s easier for me to post this here than to say this out loud to my mom and dad, which I haven’t, but I have a group of friends who support me and love me. I already know my parents wouldn’t judge me either, but, uh, I’m not exactly the type to settle down. Which brings me back to what you said in your e-mail Alex. I really thought it was thought provoking. I loved the part, “to create a world where you don’t have to lie about or hide who you fall in love with.” Minus, the person who you fall in love with…for me, anyway.
    To me, it’s not so much worrying about what the next person I date will think about me, but it’s more about whether or not I’m comfortable in my own skin. Yup. Call me selfish. But up until recently, I’ve lived my life denying myself certain things and surrounding myself with people I didn’t even like. Ridiculous. So, when you go through some sort of dramatic change like that, I think you are allowed to be selfish. I am who I am, and I’m not gonna change for nobody. If you don’t like it, there’s the door. It’s become my philosophy. Haha.
    ~~Moving on: Based on your comments in your e-mail, I thought I would suggest this Webtoon, which I am proofreading called Welcome to Room 305 @ Webtoons Live. At first, I thought it was about two gay men, and there are times when you truly wonder if some of the characters are gay. However, the story is about a heterosexual guy who by some unusually measures finds himself living with a homosexual. He is forced to get along with him even though he finds it very uncomfortable. The author tackles some major subjects, but I found he/she used the characters personalities and light humor to overcome the seriousness that would otherwise turn readers away. http://www.webtoonlive.com/description/Welcome+to+Room+305/
    I’m sorry for my long response. Again, I can’t wait for more pages of Artifice. ……Wait, was there ever an explanation for the name of this Webcomic? Man, if there was I’m sorry. I’m just a bit curious πŸ˜‰

    1. Hey meryvamp!

      Thank you very much for your kind words and for sharing your experiences. I’m definitely glad there were things you connected with in this post.

      As for an explanation for why I called this story “Artifice”, well I haven’t stated a specific reason, but it’s been discussed quite a bit in the comments. πŸ˜‰

      And I’ll be sure to check out that webcomic link. Thanks again!


  5. I’m jumping in very late, but I just have to add that some of the initial commentator’s statement(s) resonate with me; specifically the objection to the application of labels and the use of labels to highlight distinctions in sexual orientation in the future.

    I’m not offended in as much as I too wish for a future in which such labels are not necessary, and we have evolved as a culture to accept consensual relationships between individuals as an inherent individual right, moreover, we as a culture even support and celebrate diverse relationships.

    I understand that in today’s socio-political climate, advocacy for diversity is important and therefore, making such distinctions can be crucial to advancing progress.

    I just hope we arrive at a time and place that we don’t need to draw explicit attention to such differences and can instead truly accept diverse expressions of intimacy, love, etc. I do believe that in a truly progressive future (at which I hope we arrive), we would not need to employ labels and distinctions. So I can understand an objection against a futuristic sci-fi story that utilizes contemporary labels as it’s sort of catering to the lowest common denominator rather than the highest ideals.

    However, again, I realize that we rarely can have our cake and eat it too. The fact of the matter remains that we are in a socio-political environment in which it is important to articulate clear support for alternate sexualities, and being subtle or nuanced is probably not the best use of socio-political leverage.

    I thought the Niemoller quote was very apt in this respect, and ultimately, I think I do agree with your course of action in terms of identifying the comic as “gay.”

    Again, I just wanted to say that I really do hope for a future world in which such labels become archaic and even the “coming-out” process becomes unnecessary.


  6. This makes me really think about stuff that I hadn’t earlier thought about, because I tend to be naive. I really wish I could share my thoughts but I keep struggling with my words because of the language barrier.
    Despite that, I’m glad to have read this and to thank you for sharing it~

  7. Very accurate response, liked it. πŸ™‚ Even regged to say this. Well, not just for this, of course.

    All that quite universal as well. Those rules works just as well for pretty much anyone who happen to be non-standard in one way or another. Especially in a society where you either be like everyone else or keep your mouth shut that you’re not, so no ‘proper’ people would have to pay attention to someone else’s problems they don’t care of. Which i know first hands, being part of nearly non-existing in my country orientation.

    Also, surprisingly to myself, i enjoyed your Artifice webcomic. Surprisingly because generally i avoid plots with focus on erotics and/or too much accent on characters’ relationship. Not because i have anything against it – just usually those happen to not have enough stuff that’d be interesting for me. But i love sci-fi, and your work has panty to it aside from guy-on-guy stuff, and even that appears to be a harmonic part of plot with particular sense in sci-fi context. Which, should i say, is quite rare to see wherever you may find R+ elements. ^^’

    By the way, you now also have at least one asexual agender viewer. πŸ˜›

    1. Thank you, Barsa! I’m glad you liked what I had to say here. And I agree that the experience is fairly universal to those whom society sees as “abnormal” in some socially significant way.

      I’m very glad to hear that you enjoyed Artifice. Thank you very much for taking the time to let me know. Welcome aboard! πŸ˜€

  8. Hi Alex, my name is Fariba, and I’m a girl and I live in Iran. I just wanted to tell everyone that you’re right about the laws in my country, that they execute gay people here. I had the worst day of my life when I was reading one of our local news papers. It said that a gay couple had been arrested, and executed the day before JUST for being gay. And what made me mad the most was they way it was written, like they’d won a trophy for it! I have to say that so many other people were also executed, and being executed right now just for asking for their rights, and those are people that everyone knows that they are innocent, and they shouldn’t have even been arrested, yet executed. Apart from that, my people have some very weird ideas about many things, and most of them hate homosexuals, and if a family has a gay child here, they do all they can to stop their child from coming out, because they don’t want their poor innocent child to be executed and hated.

    You should honestly be grateful for your freedom, however small it is, for our people here don’t even have that much of freedom. So many gay people commit suicide because nobody likes them, and nobody wants them. Homosexuals are truly suffocating here, and they reach a point where they can’t breath anymore, and they’re ready to kill themselves.
    One of my friends has a brother, and her brother had a gay friend. He was friends with him because he felt sad for him for not being wanted by anyone. That boy was lucky he had a rich and strong family and as long as they gave money to the government laws wouldn’t hurt him. But he had a fragile and weak personality, and not being wanted and being hated was enough to send him over the edge. He jumped down a bridge in Shiraz last year.

    Now I know that it’s completely wrong to be this weak, and take the chance of living from yourself because people have a bad idea about you, but what I wanted to give you an idea about was the amount of pressure on homosexuals in Iran. Though I’m only 18 I’ve always been ready to defend human rights, and I will always defend homosexuals’ rights, because they have rights. They have the right to live. And they have the right to love, and have a happy life like everyone else.

    When it comes to gay people my friends tell me I’m weird and say things like “aaww cut it out Fariba! those guys are crazy and we know it!” or “They deserve the punishment they get.” And when I say “Imagine playing football was banned in Iran. If you loved football and wanted to play football, would you think then that you deserve to punished, or even executed?” they all become silent or say:That’s just different.

    It’s not different. It’s like saying: I’m executing you for breathing!! And when you will die either by giving in to them and not breathing, or not giving in and get executed, why not fight for your pride with all your might? Why not make your people fight for their right as well? why die in silence and dark when you can die with your people loving you and respecting you?

    I’ve already said too much but there’s one last thing I want to say. I know wishes this big mostly never come true, but I only want to wish one thing: That someday all the people in the world, homosexual or heterosexual or bisexuals or whatever ‘difference’ they might have, they get to be treated as equals, and get their rights, because everyone has a right to live.

    1. Amazing what you say, we dont realize how lucky we are. The world seems all about making people unhappy and really we’re here such a short time. I really wish you well and hope live is good for you.

  9. Fariba, your words broke my heart!! You’re so right, it is like executing someone because they breath! Your homophobical friends should be ashamed for their support to this cruel murderous law! And it is good that an young Iranian person like you is so supportive! I hope that your generation would change the things there!!

    And your wish for the future is not big, it is a logical, human and normal wish for humans rights to live and love!

    These hard conditions for GLBT people in Asia don’t mean that people in the countries where the oppression is much less should stay inactive. Oppression is oppression, no matter of the quantity! It just should be uprooted forever!

  10. New reader here and already signed up and firm fan and supporter of your goals and your art. Thank you for sharing. I just wanted to applaud your incredibly kind and thoughtful response to this individual’s questions about “gay” labeling. Not just regarding how it helps your work’s search-ability, but also what it means to want badly to do something so simple as hold hands in public with someone special, and be denied that due to fear. I also use your example with people that the word “gay” is often used as a synonym for “lame.” How wrong is that? I grew up with that one also. Regardless, your response was thoughtful, articulate and very generous. I think your laudable attitude is reflected throughout your work and this site. Congratulations. You have a new supporter in me and I’m very much looking forward to your future work. Thank you.

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