Lasguns1 and Lesbians
I am going to begin this blogpost with a completely and totally unfair statement that is downright libelous: Warhammer 40,000 has more queer characters than all of Star Trek from the 1960s to right now. And it has more female characters. Okay, first, let’s back up. Warhammer 40,000 (or just ’40k’ for people who want to save on syllable and zeroes) is a sci-fi property from the 1980s that is known for being the most ludicrously extreme settings in all of human fiction—a setting where everything is happening to the most maximum degree possible while being set to heavy metal crossed with those hyper-dramatic Latin scream-choirs that movies used to score their trailers with before the Inception sound took over the universe.
It is also the GRIMMEST and DARKEST2 setting ever. A setting where a thousand people are sacrificed to a slowly dying god by a galaxy spanning empire every single day as a matter of course. And get this? This moldering, death worshiping, planet destroying theocratic state is the good guy of the setting. There’s no rebel alliance, no plucky underdogs, no understanding and peaceful federation of nice people. Nope, in 40k you’ve got an incredibly brutal dictatorship on one side…and something far, far worse on the other.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
It also doesn’t sound like a place that would have a lot of queer characters. I mean, a brutal theocracy that likes lighting people on fire for minor doctrinal differences? That sounds decidedly unfabulous. And yet, there are queer characters in the fiction (in fact, Caves of Ice by Sandy Mitchell actually has a squad where everyone but the lesbians die). Meanwhile, if you are looking at Star Trek, from TOS to Enterprise, can you think of any queer characters?
Well, there was that queer character from the episode The Outcast (TNG Season 5, Episode 17). You know, the androgynous alien who felt she was a woman and fell in love with Riker. Of course, the producers tried to force them to use dialog like, “love is between a man and a woman” and shooed off background queer characters. But, hey, they tried! Then, of course, there was Profit and Lace (DS9 Season 6, Episode 23), where everyone’s favorite sleezy bartender Quark undergoes a gender reassignment surgery3 as part of a Whacky Scheme ™.
Now, as I said earlier, this is completely and totally unfair. In the universe of Star Trek, being queer has to be great, because in the universe of Star Trek, being human at all is the best thing that could happen to you. You rolled a nat 20 and were born when humanity finally figured out how to make a Utopia. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but you have replicators, amazing medical science, FTL that works efficiently enough to make maintaining a galactic polity so easy that they don’t even really need a military. Oh, and holodecks.
Meanwhile, being queer is awful in Warhammer 40,000, because being anyone in the universe of 40k is terrible. You live in a universe where god is on life support, where traveling between solar systems requires a starship to literally fly through hell, complete with soul sucking daemons. The most common alien species in the universe is a species of genetically engineered walking mushrooms with Cockney accents who literally think that warfare is fun. And that’s not even getting into the cocaine addled, soul-stealing rock star torture porn obsessed jet-bike riding elves4, or the galaxy devouring swarm of space locusts that has already eaten Andromeda and is ready to work its way through us.
And thus, we come to the first practical upshot of this whole post. Your worldbuilding doesn’t matter. No…
IT’S THE CHARACTERS, STUPID
In Warhammer 40,000, the good guys have a very short checklist.
1) Do you pay your taxes?
2) Do you worship the God-Emperor of Humanity?
3) Will you die for the Imperium?
If you said yes to two of the above, congratulations, here’s your lasgun; go and kill some filthy xenos/heretics/traitors. That way, you can both have a repressive, horrifying dictatorship that quashes free thought while also having a diverse set of characters—because, when set against the horrors of the universe, minor differences seem less important. And even if the Imperium repressed queer people (and, to be fair, considering the vastness of the Imperium and the wildly divergent cultures of the planets under its rule, it is not impossible to imagine that some chunks of the Imperium are rabidly homophobic) that doesn’t change the fact that you can STILL HAVE QUEER CHARACTERS.
Because this is the second practical upshot of this whole post.
QUEER PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS EXISTED
Yeah, I know. Shocking. Queer people have always existed. Meaning that you don’t even need the hard nosed realpolitik of the 40k setting to have a reason to have a queer character—all you need to do is to have the imagination and integrity to remember the vast swaths of humanity that have been wiped from our art and our history by that most galling of bigotry: Unknowing, unthinking…unimaginative.
And that is why representation is important.
And for those of you who were just dying to include queer characters in their grimdark fantasy, historical novels, or alt-histories where the Nazis won World War 2 with their terrifying legion of cyber-giraffes…well…
If you can give lesbians lasguns, then I think you’re fine.
1) Do you guys pronounce as laz-gun or layse-gun? I prefer layse-gun, personally. As in laser.
2) Fun fact! The 40k tagline invented the term “grimdark.” In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Funner Fact! The 40k tagline is a TOTAL LIE. See, the Imperium of Man is beset on war by all sides, yes, but it is also one of the most mind bogglingly massive civilizations ever described by fiction. Conservative population estimations put its galactic population at 1.8 quintillion people, spread across almost a hundred million planets. Most of these planets aren’t actually being invaded. Meaning if you are lucky, you can be born in the middle class of some moderately advanced world and the only interaction you have with the Imperium is your planet sending off a few gigatons of refined ore off to the local Forge World to be turned into cardboard armor. Honestly, the biggest killer in the 40k universe isn’t Abaddon the Despoiler, the Hive Mind, the Ruinous Powers of Chaos OR the Necrons. No, it’s being hit by an autocar while walking home from your shift at the manufactorium.
3) This has always bugged me—I thought gender was how you felt and sex was your bits. Right?
4) The single greatest thing to ever have been said about the Dark Eldar is “we shall kink shame them with cyclonic torpedoes.”
About the Author
David Colby was born and grew up in a household and family so nice and wonderful that his early life was completely and utterly bereft of interesting drama beyond a single incident in high school when he slipped on some grass and damaged a very valuable sousaphone while trying to please his marching band instructor. To correct this, he took up writing and kept writing until he got halfway decent at it.
Currently laboring on works spanning science fiction, fantasy and all the bizarre fusions in between, David is publishing novels and short stories through Thinking Ink Press and Fiction Silicon Valley.