It's #BiWeek from 19th to 26th September 2016, so what better time to run a feature on sexuality in the Armada Wars universe? This is a topic which has reared its head a few times in the novels so far — sometimes with great subtlety, sometimes not so much — and you will doubtless appreciate some pointers on how the culture of the Imperial Combine differs from ours with regards to love and intimacy.
Before we get started, let's take a quick moment to recognise what #BiWeek is. Simply put, it's a time for recognition and education. It aims to address the stigmas, misunderstandings, and falsehoods surrounding bisexuality, and to tackle problems such as bisexual erasure.
The biggest problem facing campaigns of this sort is that people like to believe that they "know what they know", and can't be wrong. Given the opportunity to actually look at some information, stats, and first hand accounts, many people suddenly realise that — even though they mean well — they actually hold a few quite large misconceptions.
So by all means get on and enjoy the rest of the article about a fictional universe, but please consider reading more about #BiWeek and helping to get the message out there!
Sexuality in the Imperial Combine
In the culture of the Imperial Combine sexuality is simply a fact of life. Whereas we might view a person's sexuality as an attribute which we subconsciously prefer to be definable, categorisable, and properly labelled, in the empire of 3740s Earth it is simply... there.
From the point of view of, say, Euryce Eilentes, her friends' and colleagues' sexuality is very straightforward: either they are sexually or romantically involved, or they are not. Questions such as "is Caden gay?" do not arise for her, because there is nothing to gain by considering a problem where any given answer has no intrinsic value of its own. As far as she is concerned, Elm Caden might end a relationship with a woman, and after a suitable period begin a new affair with a man. If he likes that person, and they like him back, the pair may well become more involved with each other. The whole process is simply a matter of attraction, and artificial complications such as definable categories are not required.
In short, the only time an Imperial citizen generally has any curiosity about the preferences of another is if they are interested in pursuing some kind of sexual or romantic encounter with that person.
A Brief History
This 'lowest energy state', as you might call it, took centuries to develop. From the first days of gender and sexuality equality in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, the culture surrounding sexuality became turbulent. Ideas such as the sexual spectrum emerged, were challenged, adapted, and eventually entered the collective consciousness. Sometimes these ideas would persist in the general population even when those who had originally defined them found they were not fit for purpose.
Along the way there were unexpected effects in this revolution. Cultural fetishisation of the ritual known as "coming out" applied pressure to people — particularly young people — who were uncertain about their sexuality or how to communicate it. The ritual was intended to celebrate the sexual identity of the subject, and to demonstrate to them that they had the support of their friends and family. However in some situations — largely due to lack of standardised guidance for people helping to organise or influence such events — it could also place that person in the spotlight, making their most private and personal business the property of everyone they knew, in a fashion which those others would never expect to experience for themselves. It neglected the fact that as that person went through their life, they would meet many other people (acquaintances, co-workers, employers, social contacts) and be made to feel that they must "come out" over and over. It could also implicitly convey the idea that a person had a social obligation to declare their sexuality to others. The very existence of the ritual may even have reinforced the notion that the person experiencing it was different to the majority, and had to be treated with special measures.
Although the coming out ritual was well-intentioned, as early as the Twenty-Fifth Century it was recognised by cultural history circles that it put many people in situations they did not wish to endure. Fortunately, by the mid-2100s the ritual had died out in response to a more sophisticated understanding of sexual identity and development.
As the Fourth Millennium approached, humanity had already begun to reach for the stars. Colonisation efforts were underway across the Orion arm of the galaxy, the political landscape was in a state of upheaval, and new sapient species were being located on a weekly basis. As humankind learned just how weird and wonderful lifeforms and cultures could really get, the whole concept of diversity began to change. It is interesting to note that this not only influenced human notions of sexuality, but also eroded what prejudices remained around race, gender, age, and belief.
Already mentioned above, Elm Caden is the subject of at least one conversation which deals with sexuality. In The Ravening Deep Euryce Eilentes questions why he is unattached, and suggests potential partners from the group of people with whom they are both acquainted. It is interesting that only one of her suggestions is female. It is even more noteworthy that Caden does not comment on the gender or sex of the people she suggests until she accuses him of discriminating along a sexual axis.
As a side note, Caden's sexuality inadvertently became "in question" for some readers during the climax of List of the Dead, and following conversations with fans it seems that some people remember the specific lines of dialogue as having Caden expressing his undying love for Rendir Throam. That's not the case. The actual line is:
"...nothing in this universe can stop me loving you."
The intention there was not to reveal a love interest, as that has never been the intended route for those characters in this story. By this point Caden and Throam have been close friends and colleagues for a decade, and their bond is strong. It is natural that Caden would feel like Throam was his brother, and vice versa. This is clarified, incidentally, in From Shattered Stars.
On the subject of Rendir Throam, I doubt it takes many readers very long to realise that references to his "mothers" are not down to a typo. He has two mothers; Lamis and Peshal. Their conception of Rendir was medically assisted in a procedure which at that time was fairly widely available and socially acceptable in Imperial Combine culture. What is interesting here is that it first appears indirectly, during a flashback in List of the Dead, when a child calls the young Ren a "dirty bastard creation". The empire considers such reactions to difference to be rooted in instinct, and aims to routinely educate them out of existence through schooling. Since adults in the Imperial Combine rarely — if ever — share such views, the process appears to work.
Euryce Eilentes is perhaps the first character who gives us any insight into sexuality in the Armadaverse. While she is preparing for the mission to the ill-fated Gemen Station in Steal from the Devil, and also while en route, she muses over her lost relationship with Throam. She not only considers that he may now be involved with Caden, but also allows her thoughts to wander to her own short relationship with another female. We learn that it was "not for her". But even in this passage, it is obvious that Euryce has already considered the question of "but do I mean all women, or just that one?"
It's clear that although the Imperial Combine takes a very simplified view of sexuality compared to our own, it is not such a simple matter for us to understand it. There is much more to say, particularly on the topics of inter-species relationships and alien sexuality, however that will have to wait. I would not want to deliver spoilers for upcoming books.
I hope that this article answers some of the questions readers have posed about sexuality in the Armadaverse, and also hope you now have a clearer understanding of what is running through the heads and hearts of various characters.
And if I have done my job right, you will have some interesting ideas to explore in the context of #BiWeek.