Science fiction and fantasy have grappled with social issues for as long as genre fiction has existed, but, with rare exceptions, it’s only in recent decades that we’ve started to see a wide range of diverse sexualities and gender identities out of the coded are-they-or-aren’t-they literary closet and front and center on the page.
We wanted to celebrate some of our favorite recent canonically queer, trans, ace/aro, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming characters (we say canonically because if we were to get into fandom’s headcanons, we’d be here all year). Obviously this is not a comprehensive list by any means – go ahead and add your favorite queer characters in the comments!
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly: Cyril the spy and his crime lord boyfriend Aristide navigate a fascist crackdown on so-called “deviant” sexualities in Donnelly’s dystopian thriller.
The Devourers by Indra Das: Alok Mukherjee, the narrator, finds himself enchanted by a mysterious male stranger with a tale to tell – of werewolf lovers Fenrir and Gévaudan and their human companion Cyrah – in this queer, anti-colonialist, own-voices novel.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson: Demane, a demigod considered a sorcerer on earth, and his partner and lover Captain Isa Johnny navigate a dangerous journey in a science-fantasy world in this novella.
Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series: Tactus au Valii-Rath is bisexual, if not gay, and Cassius au Bellona is bisexual (we confirmed this with Pierce’s editor).
V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series: In Schwab’s sweeping fantasy series, heterosexuality is certainly not the default mode. Prince Rhy is bisexual, Alucard is gay, and many of the other characters fall somewhere in the middle of the gender & sexuality spectrum.
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan: A Lambda Award finalist, The Gracekeepers follows the lives of two outsider women, Callanish and North, who find each other (and more) in a watery world inspired by Scottish myth and fairytales.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson: The eponymous main character is a closeted queer woman navigating a wildly homophobic empire.
Breath of Earth by Beth Cato: One of the most memorable characters in Cato’s alt-historical steampunk fantasy is Fenris, a genius, grumpy mechanic whose identity as a trans man is an unremarkable fact, like height or hair color.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey: A cast full of diverse characters populates this lively alt-history novella, but it’s hard not to fall for the romance between Houndstooth, the gay mastermind, and Hero, a black nonbinary/agender demolitions expert who uses they/them pronouns.
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero: This forthcoming novel is a delightful adventure that imagines the cast of Scooby Doo, but all grown up and with PTSD. The burgeoning romance between Andrea “Andy” Rodriguez and Kerri Hollis is the emotional heart of this Lovecraftian romp.
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden: In an alternate South Africa, the teenage Muzi is wrestling with his feelings for his best friend against the backdrop of a murderous demigoddess, a hallucinogenic epidemic, and a possible AI uprising.
Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone: An urban fantasy set in an alternate Hawaii, Full Fathom Five features Kai, a corporate priestess and trans woman, who creates idols made to order.
Planetfall by Emma Newman: Renata, our protagonist, is a septuagenarian bisexual biracial woman living with severe anxiety – and back off, man, she’s a scientist.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl: Lisette Toutournier and Daisy Albin, both involved with a polygamous man, fall for each other as well in this ambitious anti-racist African alt-history fantasy.
The Thousand Names by Django Wexler: Wexler’s debut military fantasy features several lesbian and bisexual characters, but protagonist Winter Ihernglass is our favorite – she’s an absolute badass and an honorable and caring officer.
The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman: Eliot Waugh is unashamedly gay and proud, definitely funnier than you, and makes a mean cocktail – oh, and he’s the high king of Fillory. (There’s a compelling argument to be made for Quentin’s canonical queerness/fluidity as well, but we’ll let you hash that out in the comments.)
The Wyrd series by Alis Franklin: This reimagining of Norse mythology by way of Australia finds low-level IT support guy Sigmund Sussman falling for Lain, a handsome new coworker who’s much more than he seems…
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany: So many of Delaney’s works feature gay and bisexual characters, but we have a soft spot for Kidd/The Kid, Dhalgren‘s nameless, enigmatic, bisexual protagonist.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey: Carey’s Terre D’Ange is a sex-positive, non-heterocentric society where “Love as thou wilt” is the guiding principle, and protagonist Phèdre is a kinky, queer sex worker who saves the realm many, many times over.
Rachel Caine’s Great Library series: Fan-favorite older gay couple Christopher Wolfe and Niccolo Santi are a sweet delight.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear: A steampunk Western novel where the plot is driven by a lesbian seamstress (the eponymous Karen) and her love for Priya, her girlfriend.
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series: Alan, a scientist-turned-soldier and main character John Perry’s best friend, is gay and entirely matter-of-fact about it. (John Scalzi also wrote a fascinating blog post about trans people in the Old Man’s War universe.)
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: You’d be hard-pressed to find a Seanan McGuire book that doesn’t feature a robust cast of queer characters, honestly. But Every Heart a Doorway sticks in our mind because of two of the main characters: Nancy, who’s asexual but not aromantic, and Kade, a trans boy (and the sequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, expands on the backstory of Jack, a peripheral lesbian character in the first book).
Which queer & trans characters have a special place in your heart?