In Robert Ferro’s 1988 novel Second Son, Mark Valerian suffers from an unnamed illness afflicting gay men, spread by sex, and for which there is no cure. Mark’s only hope seems to be a medical trial that requires the transfusion of genetically identical white blood cells, until his friend Matthew, who recently lost his lover to the ‘Plague’, begins writing letters to Mark revealing another potential cure. Shortly after the disease erupted some seven years previously, a group of gay men made contact with aliens, living on a planet called Splendora, who are ‘long, lean, delicate, in the sense of a swimmer’s body’. ‘Darling,’ Matthew writes, ‘they are gay.’ The aliens’ advanced technology will enable a group of gay men to escape to Splendora, be cured of their illness, and live safely on a planet populated only by gay men – and gay aliens. Mark dismisses Matthew’s letters as the fantasies of a dying ‘queen out of control’; his family eventually acknowledge his illness, and a brother donates the blood needed for his trial. Yet the novel ends with Mark and his lover Bill gazing at the sky, ‘waiting as if for the ship to Splendora’ – attracted, in spite of themselves, to Matthew’s fantasy of a gay planet. It was a fantasy that seemed to promise everything, but there was one detail Matthew couldn’t explain about how this community could survive: ‘Reproduction is something of a mystery.’
For centuries, writers, artists, and speculative thinkers have used science fiction to imagine the possible futures we might have. That’s one reason the genre has long been a storehouse of fantasies about reproduction. Imagining a different future requires imagining a different way of getting there, and the way we get there, the way any group makes it to any future, is by reproducing over time. Science fiction’s reproductive fantasies have rarely been utopian in any simple sense, since one group’s utopia can all too easily slide into another’s dystopia. But because of the genre’s commitment to world building — its requirement to have, if not always directly reveal, a logical and technological explanation for every part of its imagined world — it requires writers to explain how their fantasies of the future can be made real. Sometimes, such world-building can be lazy, gesturing towards a logical explanation for the fictional world without ever convincing the reader. In other cases it can be almost neurotically belaboured: extended histories of alternative galaxies, chapters outlining the reactions of alien chemistries. These explanations are ruled by the science available to the writer, even if they move beyond it: the extent of an era’s science forms the horizon of its science-fictional possibilities. And that is why science fiction’s reproductive fantasies never only belong in their alternative futures, but in each writer’s present: its knowledge, its politics, its desires. Science fiction forces characters like Ferro’s delirious ‘queens out of control’ to take their desires down from the starry skies of fantasy and into the grey prose of reality. It makes these dreamers answer the hard questions lying behind any form of gay separatism: can gay life reproduce itself without heterosexuality? Can gay male desire only survive when gay men are able to control their own reproduction? Should we desire a gay planet? It’s easy to mock these intergalactic fantasies, as Mark does. But just as science fiction is never only about the future, the planets it creates are born out of desires we can find, now, on this planet of our own. Gay men in the 1980s, living under the shadow of AIDS, were far from the first to imagine a world where reproduction happens beyond heterosexuality. One of the earliest feminist science fictions, Mizora (1890) by Mary E. Bradley Lane, is also one of the first outlines of a completely self-sustaining society populated only by women. In the novel, the women of Mizora have reached a level of scientific progress where they can reproduce life in laboratories, and have chosen to eliminate men, the source of all war and violence. They have also eliminated ‘idiots’ and ‘lunatics’ and all but the ‘fair race’, since, as one of their leaders (the ‘Preceptress’) puts it, ‘the elements of evil’ — stupidity, greed, and a lack of ‘genius’ — ‘belong to the dark race’. That certain feminist aims could be achieved by eugenics was no mere speculative fantasy. Many commentators at the turn of the twentieth century, from Bradley Lane to the birth-control activist Marie Stopes, were convinced that the promise of technological progress would not only enable women’s liberation, but would also improve the health of the human race. It turned out that this improvement involved ensuring that vigorously able European bodies could continue the projects of colonial rule and imperial settlement: for these feminists, the ‘human’ race was ideally a white one. Another such society, discovered by three male explorers, appears in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915). The women of Herland reproduce through parthenogenesis, or ‘virgin birth’. Much like in Mizora, they are all ‘of Aryan stock’, practising ‘negative eugenics’ by disposing of ‘bad types’ at birth: bodies that function differently, and are racialised as dark, black, and brown.
In the century since Herland’s publication, science fiction has built countless worlds where new life is created outside a biological interaction between a man and a woman. Some of these are worlds beyond gender, as in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). In Mattapoisett, a village on a future version of our Earth, genetic material is held in communal laboratories and used to create embryos in ‘brooders’, or external artificial wombs. Gene samples are intentionally mixed to eliminate racial difference, and because reproduction takes place through technology, gender distinctions no longer exist, with residents of Mattapoisett defining not as male or female but as ‘pers’. Others feature coupling between humans and aliens, as in Octavia E. Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood (1987-89) where an extraterrestrial race called Oankali is able to mate with humans, and any other species, by means of their own biochemistry. Butler’s suggestion — implicit in her heroine Lilith’s blackness, explicit in the way the Oankali breed humans as humans breed animals, or as white slavers bred black slaves — is that what we call ‘the human’ is not just a biological fact or philosophical ideology, but a fungible concept we use to negotiate the limits of reproduction.
Since the second-wave feminism of the 1960s, several novels have introduced meticulously described societies consisting only of women. Rather than seeking to transcend gender, these worlds reflect a belief that only female separatism can end patriarchal control over women’s bodies, and over the process of social reproduction those bodies enable. In Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975), the planet Whileaway is populated exclusively by lesbians, all men having died in a plague centuries earlier. They use microsurgery to splice together two eggs and impregnate willing carriers with the resulting embryos, enabling conception and birth to take place without men. On Shora, in Joan Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean (1986), a race of women called Sharers create new life through a ‘fusion of ova’ enabled by ‘lifeshaping’, a form of genetic engineering. The novel is built around a series of gender binaries: Sharers are innately peaceful, while men, or Valans, are innately violent. These planets are fantasies twice over: a fantasy that reproduction can take place without men, and a fantasy about the success of female separatism. Female separatists of the 1970s argued that all forms of heterosexual relationships were inherently oppressive, and that liberation could only be achieved in a society free from men. Or, as the slogan went: ‘Feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice.’ Yet these worlds notwithstanding, one kind of planet remains as rare as it was when the inhabitants of Herland asked the Edwardian adventures who found them: ‘Have you any forms of life in which there is birth from a father only?’ ‘I know of none,’ replies our explorer, Terry, ‘and I inquired seriously.’
One such planet is imagined in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Ethan of Athos (1986). Set in a distant future, Athos is a planet exclusively populated by gay men, named after the peninsula in Greece which women are barred from entering to preserve the sanctity of a compound of Orthodox monasteries. Athos was settled centuries ago by a group of Founding Fathers, who came to believe that only a separate planet could protect gay men from persecution in a homophobic universe. The Founding Fathers arrived on Athos with a batch of ovarian tissue and the ability to fertilise the eggs it produced to grow embryos in artificial wombs. Genetic screening is used to ‘filter out the defective X-chromosome-bearing portion’ and ensure that only men are born. The resulting society is a peaceful utopia made up of farmers, scientists, and constant indoctrination that women are the source of the heterosexual desire that makes the rest of the universe too dangerous to explore. The process of reproduction is managed by obstetricians like Ethan Urquhart, raised by two fathers in a family of foster brothers. Unable to face the ‘singles scene’ of Athos – a pre-AIDS ‘Fire Island Disco’ – he dreams of starting a family of his own with his foster brother, who unfortunately happens to be a hard-partying fuck boy. The Founding Fathers expected Athos to be self-sustaining and to grow by attracting gay immigrants fleeing oppression. But immigration soon slowed, and at the opening of the novel, it is revealed that the original ovarian tissues are about to stop producing eggs. The only solution is to send Ethan out to buy new tissue on the intergalactic black market. His first batch is mysteriously sabotaged, and he receives useless animal ovaries. And so Ethan must leave Athos for the first time to source a second shipment of human tissue in order to preserve the planet for the future.
Ethan heads to an intergalactic trading post, where he meets his first ever woman – ‘uterine replicators with legs, as it were’ – Commander Elli. Elli is a spy intent on unravelling the mystery of Athos’s sabotaged shipment, and they develop an unlikely friendship. Ethan explains to Elli that Athos’s economy barely grows because of the exorbitant cost of paying men in social credits to compensate them for the income they lose while raising children. Ethan is astounded when Elli reveals that on other planets ‘the labour costs aren’t added in. They’re counted as free.’ ‘I believe,’ she sarcastically adds, ‘they call it women’s work.’ Bujold uses Athos to illustrate one of the key claims of the Wages for Housework movement: women’s reproduction is a form of labour, and if it isn’t compensated, as Ethan points out, that means women are subjected to a hidden ‘labour tax’. But the implication of this strange alliance of Marxist feminism and gay separatism remains uncertain. If women were compensated for reproductive labour, the economy might not be able to generate a surplus and would collapse. Is the solution to eliminate women, as in Athos, or to eliminate the wage-labour system?
Elli helps Ethan unravel the mystery of the sabotaged shipment. A military project on the planet Cetaganda bred humans capable of telepathy, but when they grew up they rebelled and escaped to freedom. The only telepath who survived, Terrence Cee, switched the shipment 33 Ethan was meant to receive so it contained the last ovary with telepathic DNA. He hoped that if this ovary reached Athos, it would spread safely, since it would be the only set of female genes used on a planet with no other women, producing as a byproduct a race of gay telepaths. Terrence’s scheme, however, was foiled when a woman whose gay son had fled to Athos sabotaged the first shipment in order, as he puts it, to ‘cut you unnatural motherless bastards off’ — exemplifying the homophobia that remains in the universe outside Athos. In gratitude for Ethan’s help, Elli donates an ovary to Athos, but with the knowledge that this batch too will die out and Athos will eventually need to search for new ovaries all over again. At the last minute, Ethan realises the benefits of Terrence’s plan: if all gay men became telepaths, they could use this power to safely steal ovaries from the rest of the universe in perpetuity. He sneaks the telepathic DNA back to Athos and raises a family with Terrence, who reveals a hitherto secret attraction to Ethan and becomes his ‘designated alternative’.
Ethan is faced with a dilemma: accept that reproducing a gay planet depends on the generosity of women in a way he can never control, or attempt to maintain a purity that places his gay planet forever at war with the outside world, condemned to launch raiding parties to steal new ovaries every couple of hundred years. To preserve a gay planet, he believes: ‘There are only two choices in the long run that don’t risk race war or genocide: all, or nothing.’ In the end, Ethan chooses Terrence’s ovary. He chooses all, he chooses purity, he chooses war.
Ethan’s dilemma isn’t just a plot twist in an obscure science-fiction novel: it runs throughout the unconscious of modern gay identity. Gay identity – in distinction to identities like the homosexual, the poof, the sissy, or the queen – was born out of the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s, from which the gay liberation movement borrowed some radical beliefs. One of these was the idea that gay culture, and indeed gay people, could only survive when separated from the rest of society. In 1969, Don Jackson of the LA Gay Liberation Front proposed that hundreds of gay men should move to the sparsely populated Alpine Country in the California mountains and set up ‘Stonewall Nation’ as a ‘Gay Homeland’. Planning advanced far enough to consider strategies for gathering gay children from state institutions and care homes across the US, thus relieving the government of a financial burden. The organisers also considered sending diplomatic contacts to gain recognition for their new state from the Algerian government, which at the time also provided a haven for Black Panthers — among them Stokely Carmichael — in an attempt to undermine what it saw as American Cold War imperialism. ‘Stonewall Nation’, according to Jackson, would be an exclusively ‘Gay territory’. Like Athos, he insisted, the colony ‘could become the Gay symbol of liberty, a world centre for the Gay counter-culture, and a shining symbol of hope to Gay people in the world.’
The Alpine Country project ultimately failed: the largely Christian existing residents refused to sell their land, and the once-keen gay activists blanched at the thought of camping out in the mountains all winter while waiting for a chance to buy property. However, the belief that a separate gay state was the only way to secure the preservation of a newly self-defined gay people was, if not widespread in the 1970s, not exactly marginal either. In 1989 Larry Kramer, the AIDS activist and founder of ACT UP, saw the state of Israel as a model for gay liberation. In an essay titled ‘Report from the Holocaust’, Kramer wrote, ‘For a while, San Francisco was the gays’ Israel… Tragically, with the devastation of AIDS, gay power in San Francisco has waned considerably.… We don’t have Zionism as a hopeful haven from the world’s hatred of us.’ Kramer believed that gay men during the AIDS crisis were like Jews during the Holocaust, threatened with extinction by a hostile world. In his call for a gay state, he invoked Hannah Arendt’s description of the threat facing Jews: ‘As Arendt pointed out, Zionism’s solution was not one of fighting anti-Semitism on its own ground, that is, wherever it existed, but to escape it…. “The simple truth is that Jews will have to fight anti-Semitism everywhere or else be exterminated everywhere.”’ Arendt’s argument was, in actual fact, the opposite of what Kramer intended: writing in 1946, she warned that a separate state would not protect Jews from anti-Semitism, and that in fact it could weaken the commitment to eradicating anti-Semitism by implying that all one had to do to escape it was move to Israel. Perhaps Kramer’s mistake was caused by the pressure of the AIDS crisis at its peak, perhaps by political expediency, ‘Israel’ being a metaphor for an acceptable form of separatism. Perhaps it was caused by a willed ignorance to the sufferings of others, not just those who suffered due to the establishment of the state of Israel, but to those neither gay, nor male, nor white, who also suffered – and still do – the devastation of AIDS, and who presumably would find no hopeful haven in Kramer’s gay state. Undoubtedly, Kramer’s desire for a gay state involved ignoring the specificity of Zionism as a response to anti-Semitism. Instead he saw a model where a way of life became an identity which, in turn, became a people requiring a state to protect them: otherwise, that people would become extinct.
In the 1970s, William S. Burroughs also took Zionism as a model for the solution to gay oppression, a view which similarly collapsed it into a vision of a separatist state. He reflected in an interview that: ‘Now that we’ve been forced into the same position as Jews perhaps we should enact the same strategy. We should try to get our own state like Israel… I believe that Gays should be allowed to live in an all-Gay community.’ If this didn’t happen in reality, Burroughs imagined it in his 1971 novel The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead. The wild boys of the title are an ultraviolent, knife-wielding, jockstrap-wearing horde of gay men who live in the deserts surrounding Marrakech. This was not quite the Marrakech nor the Morocco where, like writers from André Gide to Jean Genet to Juan Goytisolo, Burroughs had pursued a desire that fetishised the racial difference of the ‘Arab’: as more masculine, less rational, and always available for purchase. ‘Marrakech’ – like the ‘Interzone’ that appears in his novels Naked Lunch (1959) and Nova Express (1964) as a fictional territory outside the control of any centralised state – here offers a vision of future capitalism: an imperial city-state dominating the surrounding natives, whose white populace consumes drugs, violence, and technologically mediated sexual pleasure while the world around them suffers ecological collapse. It’s not clear whether the wild boys are resistant to or complicit with the violence of Marrakech. Their gay separatism exiles them from the city’s pansexual pornocopia, which encourages its inhabitants to pursue endless new pleasures in order to sell them new products. It forces them to become murderous killers as they fight the violence of the city’s authorities with violence of their own. But their gay separatism also provides a unifying principle that transcends the racial divisions of empire: the wild boys are made up of men of all races. Less a separate gay planet, in Burroughs’s imagination they are like a virus spreading within our own: ‘the wild boys exchange drugs, weapons, skills on a world-wide network.’ At first, the wild boys reproduce by finding surrogates: ‘A baby and semen black market flourished in the corrupt border cities… You could take your boyfriend’s sperm to market, contact a broker who would arrange to inseminate medically inspected females.’ Then, in ‘clandestine clinics fugitive technicians experimented with test-tube babies and cuttings’, attempting to grow embryos in male assholes. But eventually the wild boys transcend science to create offspring known as Zimbus. In ceremonies that take place during vast orgies, men conjure ‘mist’ out of the sky that becomes a ‘phantom’ boy which they then fuck until they cum inside the phantom and it suddenly becomes real, steaming flesh. When families watching Top of the Pops in the 1970s sang along to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, whose appearance was modelled on that of a wild boy, or when countless bros pumped iron to Duran Duran’s The Wild Boys in the 1980s, the ‘virus’ of Burroughs’s gay separatism was spreading via generations of oblivious heterosexual hosts.
Gay separatism might seem today to be a lost relic of 1970s radicalism, overshadowed first by the crisis of AIDS, when gay men had to fight for support from actually existing states to access the medical treatment they needed to survive, and then by the emergence of queerness as a theory, practice and identity that denied any fixed separation between different kinds of desires. But its legacy can be detected in what might appear, at first, to be a wholly unconnected movement increasingly dominating twenty-first-century politics. Gay men play a puzzlingly prominent role in contemporary white separatist parties. In the 1990s, Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands and Jörg Haider in Austria began Europe’s turn to racist populism; by 2017 a third of French gay men said they would vote for Marine Le Pen’s Front National. The belief that ‘white’ people will become extinct due to the higher rate at which other ‘races’ reproduce is one of the rallying cries of white supremacists around the world, often referred to as the coming ‘great replacement’. The term was first coined by the French writer Renaud Camus in the 1990s and subsequently outlined in books such as Le Grand Remplacement (2011). But Camus’s fears of white extinction first appear, decades earlier, in the unlikely pages of a book called Tricks (1979), which chronicles the casual sexual encounters between men that have been made possible by the new world of gay liberation. For Camus, what liberates his generation of gay men from shame is that they transcend the division of tops and bottoms, roles which, for Camus, serve to mimic the hierarchy of heterosexuality. If you top in the morning and bottom at night, then gay sex becomes the great equaliser, and freedom can be achieved by fucking.
For Camus, one group threatens this new sexual utopia: ‘Mediterraneans’, a euphemism which really means the North African men who emigrated to France after the Second World War. ‘Mediterraneans’, he argues, remain trapped in ‘a sexuality of roles, rigorously defined once and for all.’ They distinguish between objects of desire not in terms of gender, but in terms of a hierarchy between tops and bottoms, valorising the former and denigrating the latter. In Camus’s imagination, the problem with ‘Mediterraneans’ is that they bring this hierarchy and its attendant shaming into the otherwise proud orgy that modern gay life is meant to be. The ‘Mediterranean’ man has a different kind of sexuality: the implication is that he can fuck both men and women in a way that the white gay can’t, threatening white gays in France not only with shame, but with the prospect of being outbred by more virile North Africans. Some ‘Mediterraneans’ may fuck men, but all will at the same time be fucking women, thus reproducing at a faster rate than ‘white’ people, an increasing proportion of whom are gay men opting out of having sex with women. According to Camus’s theory of the great replacement, this is what white gay men share with the fate of the white race as a whole: both groups will be wiped off the face of the planet by a different and more potent ‘race’. Gay men are the canary in the racial coal mine, as it were: they will be the first to be overwhelmed. Not all white gay men are racial separatists. But the sinister logic Camus advances suggests that gay men and white people share a fear of being made extinct by the same threat. And his solution of ‘replacement’ suggests that your way of life can only ever be truly safe, your identity can only sustain itself as such at all, when you control the means by which life – your life – is reproduced.
These fears aren’t only projected onto the sweeping scales of global migration. They also manifest in something as intimate and private as gay men’s thoughts and conversations about having children. And in few books are these anxieties more painfully exposed than in Patrick Flanery’s The Ginger Child (2019), a memoir about Flanery and his husband’s failed attempt to adopt a child in Britain. Flanery knows that adopting a child into a married gay couple is not the only way to raise a family; he knows ‘performance artists and writers and queer scholars and activists’ who have alternative family structures, and he is at pains to reassure us that his is a ‘radically queer couple’ who reject heteronormative relationship models, and who refuse to self-identify, to adoption services, as something so simple as ‘gay’. What makes this memoir so brutally honest is that Flanery knows all this and yet still admits he wants ‘a child of my own’. He owns the ‘selfishness of these desires’, their contradictions with his professed politics, and his inability to escape them even when he knows they are the unwanted inheritance of his own upbringing by a heterosexual family. Few books more clearly show the psychic wounds and contradictions inflicted upon gay men by the urge to reproduce along the model of the heterosexual biological family: ‘the desire, problematic as I know it is, for us to turn ourselves into that camera-ready middle-class same-sex couple with a toddling baby crawling across the lawn we don’t have in front of the house we don’t own.’ This need for a child of his own, Flanery concludes, is ‘hardwired, biological, even for a man like me’.
There is much that is compelling in this memoir: the account of the homophobia inflicted by adoption services on a gay couple, the honesty with which Flanery admits that he could not raise a child with a mental disability or with HIV. But what makes this memoir more than a record of one couple’s experience of adoption is Flanery’s reflection upon the envy produced when gay men desire to have children of ‘their own’; that is, to have children the way a heterosexual couple have children. Flanery feels ‘envious of pregnant women… envious of trans men who are able to become pregnant and give birth and then, miraculously, carry on being men… envious of people I know or meet with biological children who are smart, funny, well-adjusted… envious of that security and stability, that sense of uninterrogated connection.’ Scrutinising himself, Flanery realises that envy, like desire, is a feeling produced by a lack: women, able to reproduce children, have something he does not. But that lack, he argues, is caused not by something missing in him, but by a social inequality, the ‘inequality of the ways in which reproduction is unevenly distributed’. This envy is a source of solidarity with women, since they, too, reproduce in a world where the resources needed to give birth are unfairly shared: how many women can say they have total control over the conditions in which they choose or choose not to have children? This envy can be channeled into a motivation to build a world where the capacity to reproduce is shared more equitably — or, at least, to start the work of imagining what that world would look like. And yet, this sense of solidarity cannot be separated from the envy and lack which caused it in the first place. Even if we could create a more equitable system of collective reproduction, and a gay man like Flanery were to receive the children he yearns for from a willing surrogate, he would still ‘never be able to be a (biological) mother to those children’, but rather, as he puts it, ‘in enacting my own parenthood I will always envy the woman who carried that child or those children’. Contained in this conclusion is the assumption that women simply ‘carry’ children, that this gives them an unquestionable connection with that which they carry, that this never occurs in situations of precarity and danger, or that carrying a child is always wanted. Flanery lets us see another way in which envy is like desire. What it desires is a fantasy.
This envy is the consequence of giving up the fantasy of a gay planet: refusing to imagine a world where gay men can reproduce without women, whether by eliminating them altogether or stealing their eggs, renting their wombs, and technologically replicating their bodies. If this is the price of a gay planet, it isn’t one worth paying. But the honesty of Flanery’s memoir lies in his admission that this refusal has costs as well as compensations. Just like a pearl can only form around a speck of dirt, so too the solidarity gay men can feel towards women can only form around the recognition that, without a planet of their own, gay men need them in order to reproduce.
This mixture of envy and solidarity also drives a more public form in which gay men project their troubling fantasies and desires onto and about straight women: drag. In How to be Gay (2012), a book which tries to salvage the impetus towards gay separatism by redefining gayness not as a sexual orientation but rather as an aesthetic, David M. Halperin goes so far as to say that the envy expressed by drag, at least in its traditional form, defines gayness as a style. Halperin gives the example of the Fire Island Widows, Italian-American gay men who annually drag up as grieving Sicilian widows to mourn their friends and lovers who died of AIDS. Far from mocking grieving women, he argues that this act ‘does not express hatred for women, so much as envy of some women’s ability to carry off a public spectacle of private pain.’ Undoubtedly constrained as women are in a patriarchal world, rituals do exist for their emotional suffering to be expressed. This is one thing that drag as an aesthetic act can express: envy of the permission for public displays of emotion and suffering.
At the same time, men in drag accentuate the stereotypes of femininity to show just how limited this license is. Women can express emotion in public on the condition of playing roles: the grieving widow, the fierce black bitch, the Essex hun. Drag doesn’t express misogyny, it makes the stereotypes of misogyny public, and makes them an object of serious humour. Drag of any kind begins to fail if the audience doesn’t believe they are seeing a performance, or if the performer stops thinking they are giving one. This is the basis of drag’s claims to be subversive, to not simply replicate that which it mimics: only straights believe their gender is natural. The drag queen wants their audience to know that when the wigs come off, he returns to the very different advantages and disadvantages granted to gay men. But virtuous as this may sound, drag in this traditional form is an art which can only exist in a world which assumes a fundamental difference in kind between men and women. That’s one reason why RuPaul’s Drag Race for a long time refused, to intense controversy, to let transwomen compete: as RuPaul claimed, ‘drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it’. Of course, outside the limited parameters of a show clipped and plucked for mainstream consumption, drag flourishes in basement clubs in south London and Nairobi and Beijing in ever more polymorphous forms, fully welcoming to transwomen and bioqueens – cisgendered queens assigned female at birth – even if the name bioqueens make them sound like aliens from a distant galaxy. But maybe that’s because they are. RuPaul’s fear that drag would become meaningless is a fear that gay men as a distinct group would become extinct if we moved beyond a biological understanding of sex and the division of reproductive labour it presumes: women reproduce, gay men don’t. If for Ethan on Athos the choice faced by gays for survival was ‘race war or genocide’, for RuPaul it is gender difference or dragocide: all or nothing.
This is why the fear of extinction accompanies all these attempts to isolate and reproduce a distinctly gay world, whether that is the planet Athos, a gay Israel, or a middle-class family of one’s own. The desire to have one’s own identity slides into the belief that only a separate planet can keep that identity safe. But this gay planet can only be produced and reproduced by relying upon women, who end up becoming the impossible-to-eradicate bad conscience of the dream of the gay planet. Or maybe the good conscience, because there does seem to be some block that has prevented gay men from fully elaborating a planet where they can reproduce themselves without women. There is some deep-seated fear of a gay planet, some subconscious acknowledgement that the sense of security it might buy is not worth the cost. That might mean that deep in the gay unconscious, the love of femininity trumps the love of family. Or it might be evidence of a buried recognition that the reason the desire for gay reproduction without women is shadowed by the fear of extinction is because the dream of a gay planet, like all kinds of separatism, is a kind of death wish.
This death wish has produced the planet Mytra. Mytra is a planet that is colonised by a group of gay scientists fleeing persecution on Earth. They use cloning technology to ensure that their planet’s population only consists of men, but they never discover a way to ensure all these men are gay, since neither gayness, nor same-sex desire, can be genetically engineered. And so, all men are accompanied by robots to monitor any hints of heterosexuality, and all boys are systematically sexually abused to accustom them to same-sex intercourse. We know about Mytra from the adventures of a team of Christian missionaries, who travel the galaxy saving lost souls. One missionary, Sarah, helps a Mytrian man to see the combined lights of Christianity and heterosexuality, converting him by lengthy theological sermons. Mytra appears in The Discipling of Mytra (2009) by Rich Coffeen, an American evangelical writer of Christian science fiction, as an imagined inspiration for missionary zeal. It is one of the rarest gay planets, one with a complete explanation of how gay men reproduce themselves: not just as men, but as men with same-sex desire. And it was imagined in order to inspire its elimination. If the desire for the extinction of gay men drives successful fantasies of a gay planet, then fear of extinction causes the failed ones.
In the introduction to one of the earliest collections of queer theory, Fear of a Queer Planet (1993), Michael Warner describes the picture of a nude man and woman inscribed on Pioneer 10, the first man-made object to leave the solar system, as a reminder that ‘speeds to the ends of the universe, announcing to passing stars that earth is not, regardless of what anyone says, a queer planet.’ Academic queer theory since has been torn between two impulses towards building that planet. On the one hand, thinkers like Lee Edelman have argued that all political movements committed to a better future rely upon the fantasy of transmitting that future to ‘the Child’. The ‘future’ is inherently a product of the very kind of reproduction that queerness should refuse. On the other, theorists like José Esteban Muñoz have argued that the alternative kinds of sociability and sexual connection created under the umbrella of queerness are glimmers of a utopian remaking of the world. We get closer to the queer planet with every anonymous hook-up in a cruising ground, with every act of labour that sustains a kinship network in place of the families we are born into.
In recent years, however, books like Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015) and Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now (2019) have posited queer forms of reproduction as the key to freeing us from the oppressions of capitalism and patriarchy, and taking us closer to the queer utopia. This turn produces the discomfiting implication that these oppressions become a task for queer thought – or even queer lives – to solve. Queerness is burdened with experimenting with the most radical forms of reproduction in order to solve the problems of capitalism for everyone else unhappy with the ways in which social and biological reproduction are currently woven together.
Sometimes, these books rely upon the kind of technological determinism already evident in feminist speculations like Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1970). In Full Surrogacy Now, Lewis exhorts us to imagine possibilities offered by reproductive technology that will decouple the social category of ‘woman’ from the act of gestation. But for decades these possibilities have been imagined in the form of the gay planet, and the result of these technologies has not been to liberate women, but to eradicate them. Yet at other times, these books show the universalising ambitions of queerness at its best: straight people are right to fear a queer planet, because a whole new world is exactly what queers want. Queers want to change everything: to create a world without patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and environmental destruction. The happiness Nelson achieves in The Argonauts is the happiness of having it all: bearing her own child and being queer and being able to desire masculinity and not having to desire patriarchy and having a partner so understanding that they will write in your book affirming your own writing. Hers was a queer pregnancy, she explains, because it showed someone ‘wanting something both ways – and getting it’.
Whatever new galaxy is formed out of the remnants of our own, a gay planet won’t be part of it, at least if the kind of gay men who discovered the reasons to be afraid of a gay planet have any say. And maybe they won’t. Maybe gay men won’t be part of that new galaxy either. What we call gay is just a temporary knot produced out of the tangle of how we presently understand bodies – ‘male’ – and desire – ‘attracted only to men’. There was a time when the concept of gayness didn’t exist, then it did, and maybe its time is already passing. After all, who would identify as gay – gym! shopping! masc-4-masc! – when you could be queer – politics! theory! fluidity! But gay also names a position in relationship to the system of biological reproduction, a position in which your desire excludes that which reproduces your way of life. Gay desire depends on the very thing it excludes – women – in order to continue existing in the world.
If gay as an identity might not make it to the queer galaxy, there could be some value in maintaining, or at least not forgetting, gay as a position in relation to reproduction. There is something valuable in maintaining a separation between desire, in all the ways it might flow, and the desire to reproduce. There is something valuable, too, in accepting that to fulfil your desire to reproduce is to become dependent upon someone and something over which you have no claim or control, and never will. A gay planet isn’t something to fear: it’s something not to want.