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. 🙂
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 Niemöller, 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. 🙂
The quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller (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. 🙂
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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- I’ve had other interesting and provocative reader questions. Want to read another response? Then check out Why This Gay Man Is Creating Yaoi!
- In my day job, I got the chance to edit a video made for gay teens at risk for suicide also talking about coming out and what it’s like to be gay. Find it at It Gets Better: Google Employees!
- Want to learn more about why I decided to start a webcomic? Then read Gay Sci-Fi Webcomic Artifice Now Online!
- Want to read reviews of yaoi books that might or might not offend you? Take a look at our in-depth Yaoi Reviews!
- Interested in creating your own comics? Start with How to Write a Full Comic Book Script and How to Find the Perfect Yaoi Artist for your Graphic Novel!