I’m kind of over dystopian stories.
There, I finally said it. I read 1984 and Brave New World and The Giver when I was young. I’ve read a lot more since then, bookshelves full of destruction and disaster. But here’s my problem with a lot of dystopias: they warn us that the future could be bad. That the apocalypse—environmental, nuclear, viral, the super-patriarchy—is coming if we don’t change our behaviour right now.
But what if we’re already living in the apocalypse?
I’m writing this blog post 6 months into a global pandemic that has already killed thousands and continues to threaten the lives of the most vulnerable and oppressed peoples around the world. I’m writing as wildfires rage across the west coast and smother cities in smoke. I’m writing during renewed media attention to police violence against Black bodies.
Sounds like a dystopia to me.
Right now, I don’t need someone telling me that it could be worse. I need someone telling me that it could get better, and showing me how it could get better. Not the fascist society of 1984, but the anarchist society of The Dispossessed. I want stories that imagine liberation for oppressed peoples. I want stories where nations have been abolished. I want stories where the police have been abolished. I want gender-affirming stories.
These books can be hopeful or ambivalent, playful or gritty. They can show me how we survive the end of the world, and how we work together to build something better. That’s what I want from fiction now. I want an understanding that we’re already living at the end of the (democratic fantasy) world—and that we’re still surviving, loving, struggling, and caring for each other under incredibly hard conditions.
First generation queer and trans narratives were often about trauma, and that was important—those stories needed to be told. Many still need to be told. But it’s exciting to feel like we’re on the cusp of a new wave of queer and trans lit, where stories are not explicitly about outing or abuse or the other very real traumas that accompany queer and trans life under the cisheteropatriarchy. We’re starting to see more stories of queer hope, more futures and worlds that celebrate queer love and validate trans identities. Stories where, of course, trans protagonists are learning magic and travelling between worlds, because why wouldn’t they be?
I do want to see more nonbinary and genderqueer characters in YA lit—as protagonists, love interests, mentors, parents, and other secondary characters. I also want to see a diverse range of gender representation, not just the thin, androgynous, white enby. But more than anything, I want post-apocalyptic trans stories and hopeful feminist futures that imagine a new way of living and being together.
Because once we imagine it, we can start to make it.
Adan Jerreat-Poole is a reader and writer who loves all things fantasy and feminist. They study disability and queerness in popular culture. Adan lives in Kingston, Ontario. Read more here.