Discovering courage, hope in queer nerd culture

By Alixandria Thomason

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I can still remember with frightening accuracy staying up well into the hours of the morning as a closeted teenager to watch Inara bring a woman to her bed aboard the spaceship Serenity, or Tara sing to her fellow witch the not-at-all subtle lyrics of being “lost in ecstasy, spread beneath my willow tree.”  It was a kind of coming home, getting lost in these worlds where our kind of love was not only allowed but celebrated. From the amorous, pansexual “Time Agent Captain Jack Harkness,” to the queer necromancer in space “Gideon the Ninth,” sci-fi and fantasy fandoms have provided a uniquely safe space for LGBTQIA+ people of all kinds. 

At my first Dragon Con, I looked on the schedule to see a panel titled “Queer Themes in Doctor Who” and openly cried like an infant, all while wearing full steampunk apparel. Now as an adult, almost all of my reading is carefully chosen based on the representation of queer characters. My fantasy books are lesbian retellings of popular stories (Malice, anyone? Triple points for that villain arc) or comfort fanfictions like the one where Lexa and Clarke make out for the rest of their long-lived days (and Lexa can get on her knees again, please). 

Maybe it’s the hope that in their portrayals of the future, these authors envision a more accepting place. Even in the most horrible dystopian settings, characters still find each other and take care of their own. Sci-fi and fantasy authors are known for pushing limits and hunkering down into spaces deemed wibbly wobbly (see what I did there, Time Lords?). The first interracial kiss took place on Star Trek, and Willow and Tara had one of the first lesbian relationships featured with a main character (not counting Xena and Gabrielle, of course).

These nerdy love stories provide a needed escape, especially for younger queers. In these worlds of dragons and eyebrow scars and swords and danger, we could be anything we wanted to be. We could get the girl, or the boy, or the half-blooded orc on a quest to free their family from the werewolf overlord. Above all, though, I think it’s the “found family” trope that speaks the language of our queer hearts. Most characters in sci-fi and fantasy lose their traditional families and then take up with a ragtag band of odd characters that puzzle piece together and create a beautiful rainbow tribe of belonging. Many of our first introductions to nerddom happened when we were sorted in our Hogwarts Houses (even if JK Rowling is a TERF who can suck my wand). I still get a rush of endorphins when I see a fellow Hufflepuff out in the wild. Just like in the books, we found a family outside of the often unaccepting walls of our homes (and literal and metaphorical closets). We learned that our brothers and sisters and caregivers don’t have to be biological, we can find that love and protection within adopted families and fierce friend groups. 

And where better to meet your ragtag band of heroic adventures? In a tavern. Welcome to the DnD table. I’ve heard it said that the same people who go to Dragon Con also go to Renaissance Faires and Kink Cons and play DnD, and I have found this to be true. So when someone tells you that they are a dungeon master and you ask what kind, the answer is very possibly both. Dungeons and Dragons not only fills that deep void of belonging, both in the game and outside of it, but it also allows you to be whatever you want to be. Want to play as another gender? Perfect. Want to play as someone emotional when you’ve felt like you had to be stoic your whole life? Get it on, little Bard. Find those lost pieces of you scattered in a world of make-believe, and you may just discover more truth than imagination. Many are drawn to fantasy worlds for the same reason they are drawn to kink: to explore new things safely, and to work through trauma in a way that feels less daunting. I often write my characters with a backstory trauma of being kicked out, because I can then dissect the way they deal with it and they heal from that pain, even when I can’t figure out how to. 

For many of us, these imaginary places will always feel more like home than anywhere else: Hogwarts, Tatooine, Middle-Earth, Serenity, somewhere in Cardiff running with the Doctor. We learned to stand up for ourselves in District 12, found our strength with the Dauntless faction, and learned that family meant more than blood in The House in the Cerulean Sea. But we queer nerds can also find that magic all around us, seeped in our bonds with each other and in the strength it took to become who we are. We have fought battles worthy of Tolkien, found loves that would make John Crichton and Aeryn Sun blush. We have stood against injustices and fought for a better tomorrow. Maybe the reason we are so drawn to these epic tales is because we see the hero inside of us reflected in their pages.