I am back in LA after yet another amazing WisCon. This was a big year for me. I presented on three panels (one on judging the Titpree, a second on Sense8, and a third in response to the vids that premiered at the vid party). The Sense8 panel, which included brilliant papers by micha cárdenas and Cáel Keegan and extended our discussion about the series’ utopianism from the Spectator roundtable, was especially well received. I also premiered my Hidden Figures vid at the vid party and my student Nina Lamaria premiered “Meeting of Two (Space) Queens,” the Barbarella femslash vid she made for my “Sexuality and Science Fiction” course. The audience loved the latter and discussed it fervently at the panel the next day. I felt extremely proud to be her teacher. Finally, as a member of the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award jury, I was given the incredible opportunity of introducing Anna-Marie McLemore and giving her the award for When the Moon Was Ours. I am sharing my speech about the novel below as well as the vid I made, which played for the 1000-person audience before Anna-Marie came on stage.
A few weeks after we selected When the Moon Was Ours as the Tiptree winner, I assigned the book to a small class of USC undergraduates. The seminar was “Sexuality and Science Fiction,” and I begged the forgiveness of those more fastidious students invested in the differences between science fiction and fantasy for sneaking in this work of magical realism. This stake in genre specificity was partially a result of my having assigned Joanna Russ’ “Speculations: The Subjunctivity of Science Fiction” on the first day of class. In that 1973 essay, she made the argument that what provides science fiction its dynamism is that “science fiction must neither be impossible nor possible.” By this she meant readers must judge the science-fictional-ness of any given story by what they themselves know of the actual world. In comparison, fantasy, she wrote, carries its own frame with it. “Actuality is the frame, fantasy (what could not have happened) exists inside the frame.” However, my last-minute choice to assign When the Moon Was Ours in a science fiction seminar was quickly forgiven.
True, in this novel my students encountered impossible characters, objects, and events quite unlike those we had read in any other text across the semester: a girl who grows roses from her wrist, their changing colors exposing her most intimate desires; pumpkins that turn to glass, only shattering and rising to the stars when long silenced truths are finally spoken; a river with the potential to either change one’s body, as one had always wished, or take it away, as one had also sometimes wished. However, to my students, many of whom were queer and at least one of whom was trans, When the Moon Was Ours and its impossible characters and events articulated the very possibility of their own lives. Too often rendered impossible by those who would wish them so, my queer and trans students found in the magic of Sam and Miel’s love (and that of Miel’s sister and Sam’s mother and even the Bonner sisters who learn to let go) the magic they experience every day. In speaking her and her husband’s truths, Anna-Marie McLemore shattered the frame that tells queer youth that their love could not or ought not to exist. She created imagery that made the forms of intimacy and kinship so familiar to me, my students, and thousands of others like us as palpable as a pollination brush on a flower petal. She gave us the moon and made it ours.
Before Anna-Marie comes on stage to accept her prize, I would like to play a vid I made of the book, which celebrates the queer love story at its core.