Okay, I admit it might be a tad presumptuous to say that my new fantasy novel Raziel’s Shadow is “reinventing” love and sex, but I did set out to create a world in which love and sex work with different cultural expectations. For starters, there are no sexual orientations.
To me, the problem with a “sexual orientation” is that it takes a single aspect of a person’s life and then adds a lot of social baggage and a whole identity to that person, based on that one thing. Having sex is an act, and it’s usually based on some personal, in-born preferences. But the same can be said of anything we do.
We eat food, and usually we eat food we like. But we don’t formally label a person a chocoholic or an egg-lover and then make a lot of assumptions about how they dress, speak, gesture, and behave for the rest of their lives. That’s crazy talk.
Yet that is how we treat sex. If you personally prefer to sleep with those of a certain gender, society saddles you with a bunch of labels and names and terms that are laced with assumptions about clothing, mannerisms, morality, religion, politics, family planning, and TV show preferences. (I realize you know this, but I need to say it to form a coherent essay here.)
Categories and labels
I recognize that we humans use categories and labels to help simplify and understand the complex world around us. But honestly, I think we’ve gone way too far into the zone of “Intellectual Laziness Requiring Shallow Labels and Assumptions” about everyone we meet.
But the problem isn’t just straight people labeling gay people. It’s also straights and gays labeling and judging everyone else in between: bisexuals, demisexuals, asexuals, transsexuals, and other queer people. The straights and gays (some of them) have tried to divide the world into two distinct camps and want everyone to fall neatly in one or the other. But again, the real world is not so simple, and I (along with many others) don’t see any need to force it to be so simple.
So in Raziel’s Shadow (an otherwise traditional epic fantasy novel), I simply proceeded without any sexual labels or identities. I stated to myself that my characters would engage in sexual acts according to their preferences at the time, and that would be that. Just like wearing clothes or eating food, sex should be something you do, not someone you are (in my opinion).
The result is that the book contains both vague and explicit sexual and romantic (they’re different!) relationships, both in the characters’ pasts and in the current story. Men have loved men and women have loved women, and this is accepted by everyone else as unremarkable (and un-label-able). More importantly, characters move from straight to gay to straight to gay relationships without comment from others or commentary from the author (that’s me!).
They even form complex multi-partner relationships, which can be awkward and dramatic from time to time (because they involve people, which are notoriously imperfect creatures), but the drama doesn’t come from outside, just from within the relationships themselves.
Love and romance
I’m dwelling a bit much on sex, so let’s talk about love. We don’t talk about love much in mainstream media. Well, we talk about Hollywood-style romance, but not real love. We talk about hate and revenge and death and suffering a whole lot, but not love. I sometimes think our modern language has become stunted when trying to describe the many facets and complexities of love, which is rather tragic.
Passion and compassion are wonderful things. People can love each other in many ways for many reasons, both briefly and for all time. People can also love animals, objects, and ideas in much the same way. And this is a wonderful thing. Love pulls people together, and it pulls people closer to the world around them, to nature and culture and history.
In Raziel’s Shadow, love has been a rare commodity for several of the characters, and they sometimes struggle to understand their own feelings and needs and desires, but they have the courage to try. And even when they fail to understand how they feel or what they want, they have the courage to let go of their anxieties and let go of the need to label things, and simply enjoy the simple sensation of loving and being loved, of feeling safe and content, even if only for a moment.
These are important ideas, not only for storytelling but for society. Sex is a good thing. Love is a very good thing. And we should be trying so much harder to shift our cultural focus and language away from violence, cruelty, and anger toward kindness, trust, and hope.
I know that most people are good people. If most of humanity was awful, then we wouldn’t have lasted this long, and we certainly wouldn’t be enjoying the most peaceful and healthful period in human history (according to historians). But we can still do so much better. Raziel’s Shadow is, in one small way, me trying to do better.
[ Learn more about Raziel’s Shadow ]