Queerness has always been categorized by a degree of nonconformity. The term has previously been used to define what’s perceived to be strange. Yet, the strangest aspect of this is not the object or individual to which this term is given. In fact, the most unusual part of this is the public’s inability to perceive a change in normality as progress instead of a threat. Usually, when queerness enters literature or film, there is a common plotline for all characters. The importance of their existence is centered around their sexuality. Writers choose to not give a character a solid arc or personality and opt out to produce two-dimensional fillers. Jemisin has refused to fall into that tradition and instead has written queerness as a normal ideal rather than a defining factor.
“Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world“
Recently I was introduced to a book written by José Esteban Muñoz named Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity. It established queerness as a sign of progression. This definition left me a bit confused about what exactly this means. So I began to think about the role of sexuality in the present day. This newfound rush of acceptance and sense of community has set into motion an era of change. As time goes on, you’re beginning to see kids become more self-aware and honest about their lives. The dialogue begins to go past sexuality. Queerness is no longer just confined to the distinction between straight or other. In fact, through what I retained from Muñoz’s work, I found that it’s better to take the word at face value. So what is the strange or unusual component of our present day? It’s the ‘nonconventional’ or nontraditional approaches to which the new generation stands by. Our morals, beliefs, and ideas are seen as strange because they’re so polarizing to the ones already established. Muñoz stated that “we must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there”. I feel as though our current climate has pushed us to do just that. In fact, with a society structured as it is right now, the youth finds an extreme sense of responsibility to restructure this broken system into a hospitable place for the future. This is where we find Utopia, through the queerness of ideas and methods and through the continuous experimentation for progress.
In relation to Jemisin’s work, I feel as though there’s been a consistent theme throughout all of my blog posts. I tend to address the social implications and meanings that I believe to be behind the trilogy. This is similar in its purpose but instead of exclusively focusing on Essun or the orogene race as I have done in previously, I want to talk more about two other characters. Both Tonkee and Alabaster were the primary queer characters. Their sexualities didn’t define their development, but I feel as though Muñoz’s perception of what queerness entails fits them perfectly. Tonkee was a lorist who studied and found purpose in learning the history of The Stillness. There’s a lot to be said in educating yourself about the past. As a scientist, she also had a great interest in taking her observations and informing herself about all aspects of her surroundings. The ideal version of existence is “distilled from the past and used to imagine a future”. This exactly what Tonkee displays as she takes in what she has learned from her positions within the stillness. Her transition from powerful to dispensible allows her a unique perspective on society’s faults. Alabaster, on the other hand, made a clear decision to not look back. He was the structure for the future. Both characters were, at one point, heavily involved in the power system of The Stillness. They grew up within the system and eventually branched out. Since that moment, their perception and approach to its practices were seen as strange. Tonkee was a commless woman, isolated and avoided. Alabaster was often labeled a madman or a radical for his outspoken rejection of the fulcrum. They were what propelled both the readers and the characters into a new way of thinking. They found potential within the past. They knew the details that were missed along the way and incorporated that into the changes being made in the present day. They both idealized a better future and worked toward their version of utopia. This is the queerness that Muñoz presented; not an outlier but a sign of progression.