Revelation to Revolution, in Search of Queer Liberation through Self-Actualization, Self-Definition, and Group Mobilization in Science Fiction Narratives

A Senior Capstone Experience by Erica Quinones ’22

Submitted to the Department of English

Advised by Dr. James Allen Hall

Contributor Biography: Erica is a first-year English PhD student at the University of Delaware where she studies the intersection of language and queerness in post-1945 sci-fi texts with a particular interest in personhood, fluidity, and futurity. She graduated summa cum laude from Washington College in May 2022 with majors in English and German Studies as well as minors in Political Science and European Studies. She served as Editor-in-Chief of Washington College Review and The Elm, was a Sophie Kerr Finalist for her journalism and scholarship, and was awarded the Eugene B. Casey Medal at graduation for her scholarship, leadership, and service. As a PhD student, she is paying-forward the support and mentoring she received at Washington College, learning to cultivate inclusive learning environments that challenge students to not only do the work but learn from it. Their current research topics include explorations of AI-ethics, robot narratives, and nonbeing.

Description: Science fiction builds subversive worlds in which essentialized identities such as gender, sex, and even species become fluid in both a sociological and physical sense. This quality is especially prevalent in sf which draws upon posthuman philosophies, evoking man/other dichotomies which challenge definitions of normal within the text, often through the inability to label the other. Speculative fiction holds a special place in this discourse as it creates future societies that are grounded at least partially in reality. The questionable fictionality of speculative literature allows queerness to seep through their posthuman hierarchies; after all, in worlds where aliens may be equals to humans, why should heteronormativity remain hegemonic? I will read three sf texts to demonstrate how they create queer liberation narratives through their nuanced approaches to labeling: Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Christa Wolf’s “Selbstversuch,” and Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild.” These texts’ speculative natures partake in categorical disruption by blurring minoritized characters’ identities through acts of self-labeling, relabeling, and mislabeling, disregarding the assumed essentialism of gender and sexual identities, and instead emphasizing their fluidity through performance. By reading minoritized characters as active agents in the destruction of hegemonic bodies, we can answer W.G. Pearson’s call to examine how sf bypasses “the old familiar routes ‘across the misleadingly symmetrical map’” of heteronormativity (Pearson 18), speculating upon the deconstruction of binary, essentialized identities. 

Key Words: queer theory, labeling, heteronormativity, speculative fiction, posthumanism. 

Read Erica’s SCE below:

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