Settings commonly used in Speculative Fiction stories typically fall into the Uncanny Valley — that is, they are similar enough to be accessible, but different enough to feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Because of (or in order to enable) this, there may be a larger or more prominent group of LGBT+ characters.
Also known as the "time travelling lesbians", it is notable that Speculative Fiction is kind of the San Francisco of media genres — a much larger LGBT population than the rest of its kind, and with reason. The most widely acknowledged of these reasons is that because the fantastical setting (as close as it may be to the society of its creation) is not 'Real', and therefore the creators have more roam to discuss things that might be considered controversial or unusual. This may be used as a statement on the society in which the work is being produced, but is not necessarily. It is related to the Discount Lesbians trope, where a lesbian couple is deemed more acceptable if one or both (or more) isn't human and so they aren't really lesbians, though this would instead be where it isn't really Earth so it can't really be (or, so it's alright if it isn't) taboo.
Another reason to include non-heteronormative characters in Speculative Fiction may be to support theories of the future of humanity becoming largely bisexual, and also those that suggest potential alien civilisations may not even have sex as we view it.
It may also be, drawing back to the idea of the Uncanny Valley, being used as a marker in order to separate the Speculative Fiction world from the real world. There may be little changed in a humanoid alien civilisation or 20 Minutes into the Future, but a difference in view on gender and sexuality (whether global or just authorial) is a sufficient deviation from the norm that it would suggest somewhere very departed from current Earth's climate.
The use is also one way in which media connects the ideas of advancing scientifically and LGBT+ issues, making discussions of gender and sexuality a decidedly modern concern.
In short, Speculative Fiction settings feature LGBT+ characters and themes because they are distanced from the real world.
This trope's modern Ur-Example may be either Theodore Sturgeon's The World Well Lost (1953), acknowledging sexuality, or Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928), mostly regarding gendernote . The latter is discussed on the Encyclopaedia of Fantasy's entry for "Temporal Adventuress", which includes many female time-travellers who deviate from conventions of gender and sexuality. Of all the variations upon the Other-ing nature of this trope, the time-travelling lesbian may be one of the most prominent as it allows for no fixed period to be set in which the acceptability is occurring, as well as for the issue to be discussed across past and future times, and perhaps also appealing to the presumed audience as a bonus.
Also note that, while some speculative fiction works project LGBT themes onto alien civilizations in order to explore them from a comfortably safe conceptual distance (especially a few decades back, when censors were a lot harsher), or exaggerate them to have fun with weird speculative space sex, others frame them around their hopes or thoughts regarding the progression of real-world civilizations. The latter group tends to present LGBT themes as relatable or commonplace, rather than as a matter of spectacle. Both are made possible because of the setting difference.
An authoritative work on the trope, Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror was published in 1983. The title is a Multiple Reference Pun to 'Uranian' meaning things pertaining to the planet Uranus, a euphemism for homosexual, and in some spaces a third gender.
This trope has, with the rise of podcasts, also become extremely popular in this medium, which has historically been more accepting and exploratory due to its grassroots nature.
Super Trope to Discount Lesbians, Free-Love Future and Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous. See also Bizarre Alien Sexes, Exotic Extended Marriage, Lesbian Vampire, Magical Queer, Immortality Bisexuality, and One-Gender Race. Lady Land works may invoke this explicitly, or simply hint about what the ladies in question are doing for romantic and sexual satisfaction.
Compare Fetish-Fuel Future, when an author creates a futuristic setting where their personal kink is universally shared or tolerated.
- In LightNovel.From The New World, the humans that remain After the End are a society of psychics. They use sex to relieve stress so that their mental powers stay under control. Bisexuality is considered normal, and same-gender relationships are nearly mandated during adolescence in order to avoid teen pregnancy.
- The Island of Themyscira and its Amazon population has been subjected to an extensive variety of interpretations on how a female-only society would exist. These range from asexual to heterosexual-but-without-men to a fully lesbian society. Wonder Woman herself has ranged from heterosexual to bisexual to pansexual Depending on the Writer.
- While neither Avatar: The Last Airbender nor The Legend of Korra explored LGBT topics in detail, The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars does offer some clarity, since it explores Korra and Asami's relationship. In particular, the Air Nomad and Water Tribe nations are the most tolerant towards same-sex couples, due to their beliefs towards pacifism and personal autonomy respectively, while the Earth Kingdom is the most homophobic due to its emphasis on tradition. The Fire Nation used to be tolerant as well, but homosexuality became illegal under Fire Lord Sozin.
- The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, and later the rest of the IDW Generation One universe, takes the premise of Cybertronians (an alien race of robots) being both capable of romance and overwhelmingly male to its logical conclusion. There are also transgender characters, explained as Cybertronians who came into contact with alien races that had female genders and realized that was the best fit for them.
- The description says "modern Ur-Example" because of Lucian's True History, written c. 160 CE. It's known as the first gay science fiction and, let's be honest, we'd be shocked if there was one before it. A typhoon takes the (male) narrator to the Moon, where he meets an all-male alien Proud Warrior Race who have declared war on the Sun. Coming from great military tradition, he helps out and is rewarded by the King of the Moon by being presented his firstborn to marry.
- Possibly subverted by Sappho even earlier (Archaic Greece, the 3rd century BC). She wrote contemporaneously with Epic poetry, so her "elite" style of referencing mystical or fantastical abilities with her thematic lesbian romance was pretty unremarkable, with both (but especially the SF elements) being accepted in literature as effectively Omnipresent Tropes, that weren't really connected.
- Orlando: A Biography: Orlando begins as a heterosexual male in the early 20th Century, and through time travel accidentally swaps gender, but never has to define or justify their existence. Though the concept of gender is wholly linked to biological sex, it is an early example of using the genre to discuss very untouched issues, and may be opening a discourse on the possibilities of living as trans*.
- World Without Men: Several thousand years into the future, and men have been extinct since the 20th/21st century, when feminists forced sterilisation and began reproduction through artificial means. This has left an entirely female population, most of which are blindly satisfied with their world. The main women, though, are a lesbian couple who have seen the truth that this is unnatural, and treat a man that has been created as a Messiah.
- Michael Moorcock's recurring character Una Persson, who varies between being bisexual and exclusively lesbian at different times and in different timelines. See in particular The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the 20th Century.
- Joe Haldeman's The Forever War has this as an unintended side-effect. Sending an army several light years away to fight a war then retrieving the survivors afterwards means, inevitably, that the time-dilation effect applies and those soldiers have returned to an Earth several centuries older than the one they left. After the second or third jump to and from a war-front, heterosexually inclined veterans realise in their absence that the social mores of the world have reversed - being gay is now the norm and a small population of diehard heteros are now the "queer" ones. The inevitable happens and several formerly hetero ladies travel on their next jump into time and space as active lesbians.
- The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, set in a parallel dimension in which there are three distinct genders that also function as guilds/houses that one may be sorted into (logicals, emotionals, and parentals). One of the main characters is Dua, who is split between the genders and so a version of non-binary (which in the setting is also naturally divergent).
- The Man Who Folded Himself, in which time travelling Daniel ends up in a relationship with himself after travelling alongside various realities of himself, as well as with a woman called Diane — who may also be a version of Daniel from another reality.
- In the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie, the Radchaai Empire has no societal concept of gender, their language's Translation Convention defaults to female pronouns, and no mention is ever made of Radchaai basing their choice of partner on which anatomical features they might have. In addition, the main character's Asexuality is acknowledged and accepted by her crew.
- Theodore Sturgeon's 1953 short story "The World Well Lost" is a Gay Aesop featuring a pair of inhumanly beautiful alien refugees from Dirbanu who gain brief popularity and sympathy on Earth, but who are then promptly deported when Dirbanu identifies them as fugitive criminals. The copilot of the ship deporting them learns that the refugees are a same-sex couple, which is illegal on their home world; helps them escape extradition; realizes that the Dirbanu's distaste for humans comes from Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism that makes all human couples look same-sex to them; and is revealed to the reader as a deeply closeted Straight Gay man himself.
- Greg Egan likes this trope, frequently either using it or at least paying lip service to it. His stories are rarely if ever entirely focused on LGBT+ issues, but rather they're folded into a larger concept of humanity and society. Overall, Egan's stories tend to advance a progressive viewpoint, with LGBT+ characters treated very sympathetically by the story. More often than not, the LGBT+ demographic in question has been completely normalized in the setting.
- In Distress, the concept of someone being "traditionally" transgender has become a complete and utter non-issue; in addition, five entirely novel gender identities exist: ufem, ifem, asex, imasc, and umasc. Asex is what we would today refer to as gender neutral, but the others refer to varying degrees of femininity or masculinity, ranging from "comically exaggerated gender-specific traits" for the u-genders to "extremely understated gender-specific traits" for the i-genders.
- The main character of Teranesia is a homosexual man. Evolutionary development is a core theme of the novel, so of course the novel examines the question: If facilitating reproduction is the purpose of evolution, and homosexuals don't reproduce, then why does homosexuality occur naturally? The book doesn't offer a definitive answer.
- A lot of the characters in Diaspora and Schild's Ladder are gender-neutral, although to be fair, that's because most of those characters exist as software and were created as such, having never been in an actual homo sapiens body.
- Most of the Orthogonal trilogy is unusually silent on the subject of LGBT issues and characters (the trilogy instead examines issues of gender equality and women's rights), but by the end of the trilogy, the protagonists' initially two-gendered, male/female species has undergone a Singularity that has resulted in, among other things, a single-gender race that is explicitly considered neither male nor female.
- In The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, the planet Gethen is inhabited by androgynous humanoids who only get a specific gender during kemmer, their analogue of being in heat. The gender they get is random (unless they use hormone therapy). Therefore, their analogue of LGBT folk (and about as common as real life LGBT folk) are "perverts", people who tend to be a particular gender for longer than usual. One can guess this creates some problems when they encounter an Earthman.
- Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold is the story of "homosexual obstetrician" Ethan, who is sent to find out what happened to a shipment of vital ovarian tissue cultures. These are needed for his people to reproduce, because Athos (named after Mount Athos in Greece, which has been off-limits to women for millennia) is a single-gender planet of almost entirely homosexual men.
- The Orson Scott Card story Songmaster is described on his page as "Pedophiles IN SPACE!", somewhat accurate but it's more about a beautiful young boy (Ansset) who has the most powerful and honest singing voice in the world (this world being a fantastical future empire) so much that despite being 11, a lot of adult men fall immediately in lust with him. As he ages, Ansset falls in love with Josif, but soon has to deal with the effects of the hormone drugs that were given to him to preserve his voice as he matured (including emasculation and the fact he Can't Have Sex, Ever).
- After the first book of The Red Vixen Adventures, the action switches from the straight romantic couple of Rolas and Melanie, to Rolas' sister Salli and her romance with her bodyguard Alinadar. Notably while Salli's parents object to her love of Alinadar, it's because Ali is a convicted pirate and ex-child soldier, not because of her gender. Later it's revealed that Rolas briefly had a same-sex relationship that ended badly, and that one of Ali's aunts is married to a Sex Shifter
- In John Varley's Gaea Trilogy all of the protagonists are bisexual, with the two main characters a lesbian couple, trying to fight a sentient alien planet.
- Samuel R. Delany's works feature it heavily:
- Dhalgren: Bisexual protagonist, gay friends, explore the discordian strange small town at the geographic center of the United States. Strange things happen. The town, and only the town, is somehow in an event horizon
- Short story "Aye, and Gomorrah...": Astronauts get neutered, and given the fact that it's all of them, and they're all off-world so can construct whatever identity they want, develop into being an undefinable gender. Aliens then become sexually attracted to them as this gender, creating a new sexual orientation. The Other Wiki even maintains that "the story allows readers to reflect on the real world while maintaining an estranging distance".
- Babel-17: The protagonist is a woman in an extended marriage with all men.
- Fallen Máni is a novel in which the Norse Moon god is reincarnated as a boy, who happens to be gay. Originally, this was going to be something of a trans metaphor, until the author realised that the Moon is indeed a masculine god in Norse culture.
- The main characters of Ravelling Wrath are a young lesbian couple living in a polytheistic Urban Fantasy setting, and the main plot involves them trying to maintain a healthy relationship with each other despite being chosen by different gods who are enemies of each other.
- Doctor Who:
- As of Steven Moffat's run, the Time Lords have been established as an all-pansexual and non-binary race, since they can regenerate into other sexes. Of note is that the most famous Time Lords, the Doctor and the Master, have both done this, the show openly skewing the idea of fixed gender.
- Madame Vastra and Jenny, an ancient reptilian warrior and a Victorian maid who are married. They solve alien crime together, sometimes assisting the Doctor.
- Also River Song, the Doctor's wife in the Moffat era, who hasn't been depicted on screen with anyone who wasn't a male version of the Doctor, but has made remarks strongly implying that she's bisexual, confirmed by Word of Gay.
- Bill Potts, the lesbian companion of the Doctor's, with mentions of her sexuality happening in every other episode, and being a plot point in a few, as well as leading to discussions of views on sexuality with a Roman Legion. The only negative thing that happened to her because of her sexuality was that her date freaked out when the Pope walked out of her bed room in an angry huff. This incident was actually in a Lotus-Eater Machine so didn't actually happen. When Bill tells her date about this, the date actually laughs at the whole situation... and then UNIT agents raid Bill's apartment. Bill's sexuality is particularly significant in the first episode she features in, where her attraction to a female student (Heather) is what causes her to end up travelling with the Doctor. Heather then ends up resurrecting Bill, because she's been absorbed by a water-alien but kept her own mind so can do that somehow, in the final episode of the season.
- Ace, one of the Seventh Doctor's companions. Though they couldn't be open about it at the time, later sources confirmed she was into girls. This would seem to defy the trope, but the presentation of her on-screen was decidedly bi in all but name, which showed it off at a time when the BBC wouldn't have allowed any explicit mention of sexuality at all to air. However, this aspect of her is largely omitted in the Expanded Universe, which focuses on her interest in men.
- Captain Jack Harkness, an Extreme Omnisexual from the future. It's stated that in his native era, the 51st century, hang-ups about sexuality no longer exist, as humanity has spread across half the galaxy and is happily "dancing" with other species.
- On spin-off Torchwood literally Everyone Is Bi.
- Legends of Tomorrow:
- Seems to be exploited in Sara, who is taken from sister show Arrow, where she was canonically bisexual but ever since joining the time-travelling legends has discussed more and more how she exclusively "prefers girls". Sara's sexuality spills over into the stories, with her various romantic entanglements through history being aligned with the plot of that episode.
- One episode takes the fantasy setting of Camelot and makes Guinevere gay as she prefers fighting alongside Arthur to being romantic with him and falls for Sara Lance, a lot. The romance of Merlin and Arthur also features, with Stargirl as Merlin and so transcending gender.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Jadzia is the host for the Dax symbiot and has the memories of the previous hosts, several of which are male. It's expressly stated that Jadzia is a unique personality and can access the memories of the previous hosts, and as such is not bound by obligations of the past host, which is included in an episode about Jadzia meeting another female Trill whose previous host was married to Jadzia's Dax previous male host. The two women start to "rekindle" their relationship, which is a taboo on Trill... not because they are two women in love, but because they are two joined Trill in love, with the Trill concerned that lingering bonds between two joined Trill carrying over to their next host would result in rulership by an elite The Nth Doctor class. The fact that they were both women at the time is never called upon, though the taboos and the pressure against the relationship do parallel many LGBT issues. Given that the woman was not physically the woman Dax remembers, it's quite possible that joined Trill take on the sexuality of the host, but leave the emotional attachment to past lovers, regardless of sex, which could be a form of pansexuality (they are attracted to the person for reasons beyond traditional binary gender attraction). Her comments to why she let Worf plan the wedding with little input from her indicate that at this point in the symbiot's life, the wedding had been experienced from both the point of view of the bride and groom several times and was pointless beyond the happiness of the spouse.
- Supergirl: When Alex comes out to her and Kara's friends in season 2 (an example in itself), Mon-El is the only one not to have a reaction. He makes sure to note that on his admittedly hedonistic home planet of Daxam, sexuality is a complete non-issue and "the more the merrier!"
- The Flash (2014): In the dream-world induced by The Music Meister in season 3, dream!Iris has two gay dads — this also being The Roaring '20s — and it is treated as normal. It seems to, therefore, discuss the trope, with the dream world being an SF setting in itself and also conjured up between the minds of Barry, Kara, and the Music Meister, who are a meta-human, alien, and fifth-dimensional being, respectively. Both the setting and all the minds that it was created from are not (at least not entirely) earthly and so of course being gay is fine in 1920s America.
- Dracula, an In Name Only adaptation, has Lucy as a lesbian pining after Mina. Mina isn't so open to her best friend's advances, but is never horrible about it, even deflecting away from it when her boyfriend wants to know what's wrong with Lucy. At one point Lucy does mention how "it's perfectly natural for a woman to fall in love with another woman".
- Caprica: Homosexuality is treated as completely unremarkable in Colonial society, even among hardcore Tauron gangsters; Sam Adama is happily married to a guy named Larry. Sister Clarice Willow is also part of a group marriage, though this is treated as a quirk among monotheists, and isn't really seen among the mainstream polytheists.
- Defiance: Post-apocalypse humanity seems to think nothing of homosexual relationships, bordering on Everyone Is Bi. Though at least one of the Votan species, the highly patriarchal Castithans, take a dim view of either lesbianism or women cheating on their husbands (it's not entirely sure).
- Black Mirror: San Junipero:
- The Hugo-nominated episode plays with the Bury Your Gays trope like a cat with yarn, with this likely being one of the episode's social commentaries given that it's Lighter and Softer than the rest of its series. It takes the dream beach from The Zero Theorem, and allows people to infinitely upload their minds there during death, letting wives Kelly and Yorkie have the life together after passing that they can't whilst alive.
- One review also points out that the setting as created with the San Junipero technology as norm legitimises and justifies homosexual relationships, as theoretical "salvation" is possible without the need to live through children (also enforced by Kelly's daughter's death), and it prioritises individual enjoyment. The moral philosophy arm-in-arm with the SF setting has normalised and even promoted homosexuality, which might be more the allusion that Kelly makes when she tells Yorkie that nobody cares anymore (rather than just that it is about 2030).
- David Bowie—especially as Ziggy Stardust, where he uses Glam Rock and Sci-Fi together to push the boundaries of gender, sexuality, and human experience.
- The lyric of Terpander (7th century BC Archaic Greek father of music and poetry) is notably playing with the trope, but ultimately reinforces why it would later be invented in the first place: it features themes of speculative fiction, and themes of homosexuality, but not in the same places.
- Most of the main characters of EOS 10, a Medical Drama set on an interplanetary space station, have shown interest in characters of multiple genders.
- The Penumbra Podcast has both the Juno Steel episodes, which take place on a futuristic Mars, and The Second Citadel episodes, which has a fantasy setting. Both have LGBT characters, though they are treated differently in each; in the Juno universe, fluid genders and sexualities are accepted, while in the world of the Second Citadel, same-gender relationships are considered childish things to be put away.
- Night Vale Presents has multiple speculative podcasts with gay protagonists.
- The flagship series Welcome to Night Vale is narrated by Cecil, a public radio host who gleefully gushes about his boyfriend later husband Carlos, the scientist.
- The narrator of Alice Isn't Dead is a truck driver looking for her wife Alice, who is presumed dead for all of the first season but whom she insists is still alive somewhere.
- The Strange Case of Starship Iris is aggressive on this topic, to say the least.
- The crew of Wolf 359 are pretty chill about sexual preferences.
- Neo Kosmos takes place in the distant future, where Earth had been destroyed and the only remaining humans are children raised by alien scientists for their research. Those aliens are a One-Gender Race who use gender-neutral pronouns in most situations and leave the children to identity however they want. Most of them settle on being agender and use neutral pronouns as they have little interest in the whole "gender" thing, except for Iris. She, after research into old Earth culture, realizes that she's a girl; everyone, including the aliens, respects this. The fact that she's a "human type XY" and by modern standards transgender is a non-issue for them.
- Always Human is a lesbian romance story that takes place in a future where most people modify their bodies at will using nanotech "mods". One of the main characters is the daughter of a gay couple and at least one side character is non-binary.
- Homestuck is a Science Fantasy comic where (nearly) Everyone Is Bi. The pre-teen characters play a video game where they work to create universes. Personal growth is a requirement to play the game successfully, so it is both a metaphor and mechanism for growing up/self discovery, which of course often involves gender/sexual identity. The most clear-cut example of this trope is the Trolls, an alien race who are hermaphroditic and bisexual by default; many of the human characters change their views on gender/sexuality after interacting with them. There are also the Cherubs, for whom the Masochism Tango is an essential part of their romance system. Parodied with the Leprechauns, a homosexual race with nine forms of romance.