I really ought to be either editing or reading subs, but I'm gonna take a little time to point to a couple of really interesting entries in Kip Manley's blog Long story; short pier—a blog I was either previously unaware of or else just not paying attention to.
Manley's been writing about first exposures to the idea of homosexuality, and has been saying some fascinating stuff about sf in the process.
Back when I wrote that "Future of Sex" editorial, some readers responded that the problem with putting queer people in sf is that it distracts from the rest of the story—the idea being (more or less) that sex, and homosexuality in particular, is inherently so foregrounded that putting it in a story at all makes that what the story's about. Here's Manley on The Tomorrow File, a 1975 novel by Lawrence Sanders that's set twenty years in the then-future and has a bisexual protagonist named Nicholas:
Had Nicholas been narrating a contemporary beach-blanket thriller, he’d’ve been an alienating figure. No matter how exotic the locale, he’d’ve been insisting he was with all his queerness here and now, and I could look around me and see that this was not so. But science fiction ... gives him a certain license. He’s insisting that he and all his world could be, and inviting you to step awhile in his shoes and see the sights.
An excellent point. Though I would add that to some extent these days (thirty years after the Sanders novel was published), the presence of homosexuality in science fiction set in the future is more alienating than in contemporary-setting fiction, for a reason much like what I was talking about in my editorial: because there's so much more homosexuality in the real world (and in contemporary fiction) than in sf set in the future.
(Aside: It occurred to me recently, while reading a Human Future In Space story in Asimov's in which there are actual homosexuals, that I neglected something in my editorial: it's traditionally okay to have queer and/or kinky people in HFIS stories as long as they're decadent and jaded and world-weary. This realization led me to decide that I want to write an Absolute Magnitude-style Starship Pilot Adventure Story in which the dashing starship pilot jock hero is gay but not at all decadent.)
So then in a later entry, Manley goes on to discuss the terms ostranenie ("the experience of having the familiar and commonplace made strange or alien," says that Lézard Lexicon page) and unheimlich (apparently hard to translate, but often translated into English as "uncanny"; literally "un-home-like"). And then:
But the thing about any tool no matter how mighty fine is that once you’ve used a hammer for a while you start to expect the nails. Read enough SF and you come to expect those unheimlich touches, the ostranenie of another world. It is itself familiar, usual, canny, heimlich. It’s what you opened the book for in the first place; that door damn well better be dilating by page three or you’re taking your custom elsewhere. —This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, it’s just a thing, and savvy writers and readers take it into account, ringing ostranenie games off their own expectations of the unheimlich as naturally as breathing.
Yeah. I think this is at the heart of a lot of those "but it isn't sf!" arguments—and at the heart of a lot of the playing with genre boundaries that some authors do.
Sometimes I read a submission and I start to get a little tense, thinking This is really good, but there aren't any speculative elements yet. I wonder if the author knows we're an sf magazine. And that tension sometimes lurks in the back of my head through the whole story, until I get to the last line and find out there's something sfnal going on after all, and I breathe a sigh of relief and start thinking, in effect, Will our readers trust us and the author long enough to wait for the dilating door? Or will they decide the story's not unheimlich enough, and give up?
And of course it makes things "worse" (in some sense) when we "betray" sf reader trust by publishing a story that doesn't actually contain any speculative elements at all, per se. The hardened sf reader sits down to read, knowing that since we're an sf magazine a door is going to dilate at some point in the story—and then they get to the end and the doors all swung open on hinges, and they're caught short, trying to step down onto a final step that isn't there (to switch architectural metaphors). Hey! they think, where the hell are my dilating doors? This isn't sf! What's it doing in an sf magazine? I've thought that myself about more than one story published elsewhere, most notably Andy Duncan's brilliant novella "The Chief Designer" (and if you haven't read it, for heaven's sake, go read it!), which was my first real exposure to the idea that an sf magazine could publish a not-really-sf story, a story that has what Ellen Datlow calls "speculative sensibilities." (And it got nominated for a Hugo, and I voted for it 'cause it was the best story on the ballot even though it wasn't really sf, exactly.)
And all of that leads directly to Manley's excellent question "How do expectations of wonder and estrangement limit the otherworlds we can build within [sf]?"
Manley then goes on to talk about "Time's Swell" and my editorial. Good stuff, even though I disagree with various of the specifics.