Oz and the Queer History of Fandom

As anyone who attends the annual, overflow-crowded “Sci Fi Made Me Gay” panel at CONvergence can attest, science-fiction and fantasy fandom is a very queer place. It is deeply rooted in SFF being a genre that fundamentally embodies one’s beliefs about the future, and for LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, Asexual) people, the future looks substantially brighter than the past.

In fiction, until relatively recently, queer lives had to be coded in different ways to avoid the intrusive hand of censorship; queer characters until the groundbreaking 1950 novel Quatrefoil (after which the Quatrefoil LGBT library was named) were condemned by editorial censorship to lead sad, self-destructive lives. One of the rare but significant exceptions came in L. Frank Baum’s 1904 book The Marvelous Land of Oz, the first of 18 sequels to his 1900 book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In this second book of the series, we are introduced to more of the history of the world of Oz. One of the primary characters is Princess Ozma, who is mostly unfamiliar to the modern audience because the movie is based on the stage-play adaptation of Wonderful Wizard and ends without revealing substantially more about the world of Oz. (The film, of course, is an LGBTQ icon in its own right.)

Tip and Pumpkinhead in The Marvelous Land of Oz

The Marvelous Land of Oz, 1904 (illustration by John R. Neill).

Marvelous Land introduces numerous new characters to the world of Oz, including Tip, a boy who is secretly Princess Ozma of Oz. Tip is even before her revelation as Ozma a relatively feminine child who in many lines avoids an uncomplicatedly masculine identity, such as calling herself the inventor, rather than the father, of Jack Pumpkinhead, her created “child.” The revelation that Tip is the missing Ozma takes place near the end, followed by the hurried acts to reverse the magic that’s ensorcelled her.

Ozma of Oz

Ozma of Oz, 1907 (illustration by John R. Neill).

Even with this explicit example of gender transformation, however, The Marvelous Land of Oz (along with a small number of works like it) is not an explicitly or implicitly transgender book, though it may be so interpreted by the modern author. An explicitly transgender interpretation of the secret queen hidden magically in a boy’s shape was written in Lynn Flewelling’s novels The Bone Doll’s Twin (2001), Hidden Warrior (2004), and Oracle’s Queen (2006). Third-gender and transgender people have always existed in many cultures (the Chevalier d’Éon being a particularly famous trans person of the Early Modern period in the West), but they are and have traditionally been actively discouraged in Western culture because of the influence of Christianity. To change that reality we have to confront it, because, as Katherine Cross writes, “Confronting a grotesque reality, paradoxically, necessitates a robust change in the realm of fantasy. In order to be what we see, we must first create those visions and archetypes—fantasy is an ideal place to do this. Imagination is not just a prerequisite of praxis here; it is praxis itself.” (“The New Laboratory of Dreams”)

We loop back here to SFF fandom. Fandom has been reinterpreting characters to fit the needs of fans to see themselves in the future since the early 1900s. SFF fans have created self-reflecting interpretations of works ranging from the Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes canon to present-day Supernatural. (It could be said that the 2010–2o15 series Lost Girl was a queer reinterpretation of Supernatural.) Embracing the LGBTQA future of SFF fandom is an important, but natural, step. Let’s take it!

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