Changing the background

If you look at the majority of non-modern fantasy, be it medieval, pseudo-victorian, what have you, you’ll notice a pattern: everybody’s white and straight. If genderqueer or homosexuality is brought up, it’s with a heaping helping of homophobia and transphobia; if people of color are included, you can expect to see racism that would make the KKK hang their hoods in shame. And if a woman has a “non-traditional” role, it’s because she’s a spunky, norms-defying rebel.

Guys, it’s getting old.

“But we’re just being historically accurate!” you may say.

Historically accurate for some times and places, sure. But remember, there are plenty of other houses to rob.

Yesterday I talked about borrowing story elements from more than the few overtapped sources that have donated to most of our mainstream media. But when I say we should look at other cultures and sources, I wasn’t just talking about mythological animals and pantheons.

From the Library of Congress: TITLE: Thos. W. ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let the spectrum in

William Shakespeare gave us what I consider a compelling Primary Source Document on the presence of POCs in European society when he wrote Othello.

The movie Arabian Nights did a great job of portraying the way international interaction happened in a lot of the ancient world: we have an African wizard venturing out to China to make deals with Aladdin; we have Englishmen and Chinese men and locals alike living within a few blocks of one another in a bustling metropolis.

And that’s the thing– any major urban area is going to attract people from all over the world, especially traders selling rare exotic goods to the social elites. Often enough those traders will be foreign themselves, or have non-locals in their caravan/on their ship/etc. Unless there’s some major isolationist movement going on, there should be a healthy population of out-of-towners.

Homophobia is so 1950…

Keep in mind that

  • Gay male relationships were considered the purest form of love in ancient Greece, and Plato believed that only barbarians would condemn such a love
  • Historical records suggest that bisexuality was considered the norm in China before the Tang Dynasty
  • In New Guinea it’s believed that sharing semen through male/male sex promoted growth, while excessive heterosexual sex led to “decay and death”
  • Several cultures have a third gender (or more than that!)
  • There are entire websites dedicated to this sort of thing. I recommend you check them out.

Women wearing the pants

Several cultures are matrilinial in their leadership and inheritance. Even among cultures that weren’t, women were often encouraged to know how to fight.

Keep in mind that females have held pretty much every conceivable male role. History is full of powerful female rulers, such as Hatsheput of Egypt, Empress Wu Zeitian of China, and Queen Elizabeth I of England. Hell, the world’s first novel was written by a woman (The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu of Japan). There are plenty of websites to explore on that topic as well.

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