There’s something to be said for literature that’s a product of its time.
There’s an entirely different set of things, I believe, to be said for literature that’s a product of a future time.
As I’m typing this, halfway drunk and snarfing down palmiers to have something to do with my mouth, I don’t know if Prime Minister Fuckwit, Lord High Master of Golf and Dad Never Loving Him,has actually signed the executive order that would allow damn near goddamn anyone to withhold services, business, or basic human kindness from queer Americans under the pretense that this protects religious freedoms. It’s 10pm, I’m on my way to a level of drunk from which only my genes can save me, and I don’t know the future.
But when I was 15, I had some grim if abstract projections.
I’ve alluded from time to time to a project I wrote in a binder when I was a teenager. Lots of people know it was a space opera, a few people know I’ve been trying to knuckle down and bang roughly half the structure into a reboot for the better part of a year. Exactly two people know it was and remains a story wrapped up in queer rage and anxieties.
So today I’m going to write some about the Black Spot.
To understand the Black Spot, you first have to know that the story opens on a dystopic Earth that’s abandoned space exploration and embraced isolationism in the wake of a violent and severely damaging encounter with alien life at the edges of humankind’s reach into the universe. No one goes beyond Pluto, and even that’s a stretch. Life centers on an Earth cored out and cooked dead by opportunistic industry. Those who can live in meticulously designed and landscaped town centers that mimic Earth at its imagined best. Those who can’t live in housing complexes that spiral out into climbing, sprawling shanty towns that blanket hillsides and cascade down ravines.
Among those who can’t, there exists a class of people indelibly but invisibly marked by the Republic’s government as dangerous, inhuman individuals.
As a teenager, I was fascinated by a lot of disparate things. My mother’s recent bypass surgery had me deeply interested – in a largely abstract, artistic way – in the heart and in things like pacemakers. I was closing in on 18, came from a family with a fairly rich military history, and was preoccupied with DADT. I was interested, too, in the rampant discrimination and scapegoating that the September 11th attacks and the ensuing wave of Jingoism that followed stoked in my hometown in the South. I was fascinated with the extravagant shows of nationalist pride from which I felt implicitly excluded even as my entire world demanded I participate. The people most loudly proud were white, gender conforming, Christian, and straight. The America they lauded and rallied to Protect was all these thing and nothing else. I felt very much like an outside observer, even when pressured to perform with everyone else. I always knew, if they knew, I wouldn’t be welcome. I wouldn’t be welcome anywhere.
So that’s all context and little explanation of the thing itself. It’s just the jims and jams of the process of creating the thing. It’s what was rattling around in me at the time. The preoccupations that brought me to the point where I’d make something like this up.
It sounds like I’m justifying, but I’m just taking you to where I was. Many of you are younger and faced different pressures than me at the time, or none at all. Some of you were in pre-school. A couple, I know, didn’t exist. So I take you there, to the place in my mind and my life where I made up the Black Spot.
Some of you might recognize the term from Treasure Island, and a lot of you straight up very well might not. Did I mention I’m drinking while I write this? Anyway. That’s where I took it from, the name and the crux of the meaning. The Black Spot in its original context is a sheet of paper marked with a big blacked out circle that pirates hand to other pirates marked for deposition or death. It’s a proclamation of guilt and sentencing. It’s a warning and a curse. An under the table death sentence. Something apart from the acknowledged world of law and order. So that was on my mind, that and the idea – which comes up later in the book – that to perform this rite with a page from a Bible is blasphemous bad luck.
Cursing someone with a page ripped from the holy Book for your worldly purposes and quarrels, very bad luck. Very bad.
//toots on beer bottle
Now who’s got the conch?
So the Black Spot. My Black Spot. It’s a thin apparatus implanted in the chest, and it is black, and it is round. It’s a Black Spot under your skin. It’s invisible by design. It’s fair on paper. No one can see you wear it. It responds to signals from devices in gates and doors to sensitive areas, like military bases and government buildings. It throws the heart off rhythm and incapacitates whoever’s marked. It’s called a security measure. It keeps the inhuman and untrustworthy out of those areas.
Except the technology for those sensors isn’t controlled. Anyone can buy it. Anyone can manufacture it. It’s manufactured at such a rate by people out to capitalize on terror that it becomes cheap. It’s everywhere. It’s in doorways to bakeries, it’s in libraries, it’s on handheld devices and keychains that flash and alert the user to the presence of a marked person. The Black Spot is only invisible in the very literal sense. And those marked with it find themselves excluded from all but the very fringes of human life. Their travel is restricted by severely limited access to space ports, they must shop only in stores that deign to have them, many cannot hold down jobs because the site of their work itself is secured against them.
One of the ways to get marked is by being outed as gay or bisexual, because of course it is. It’s one way to be identified as borderline inhuman, as a proto-enemy. But in theory, on paper, you aren’t an enemy. You just can’t be trusted the same way as undeniably human people are. The leading assumption is that your sliver of inhumanity predisposes you to alien sympathy and collaboration. It makes you Apart, and that which is Apart cannot be trusted.
You can get marked for collusion with socialists, or an exceptionally prolific protest history, or for being too loudly religious in ways considered suspect, but it’s mostly for those who buck gender conventions and fall for like kinds.
Yeah, I somehow envisioned this weird nuanced future where we’ve embraced trans individuals as valid under the caveat that they undergo ‘total’ treatment, but still hold everyone to the same societal expectations the GOP has been pushing since they shat their collective pants about the Civil Rights movement. The same story has a woman who underwent her transition later than average because her parents desperately wanted to continue the family’s military history and women haven’t served in any capacity in five decades. Anyway.
When I was first writing this, it felt very sensational. It also felt good. The hero is marked with this curse splotch that excludes him from a normal life, and it’s really no fault of his. That felt like a distorted, heightened version of my reality. Don’t try going in the nice shop, they’ll stop your heart at the door. The police and many civilians carry what amount to Very Serious Laser Tag guns that drop you like a sack of sawdust if you’re the wrong kind of person.
It all felt so heightened, but it reflected my anxieties so perfectly. Something terrible was laying down roots all around me, and it frightened me. It drove me into fantasy, a dark fantasy that got angrier as I wrote and rewrote it.
I feel like that terrible something is blossoming now. That’s a thing people don’t talk about enough, the idea that this has been a long time in the building. That jingoism and scapegoating will bear their fruit. I’ve seen people nostalgic for the days after 9/11 where everyone was Americans and we were all banded together, and I have to wonder: Who were you then, and who did you know? Because you didn’t know anyone like me.
I can’t say “I told you so,” because I didn’t show this to anyone. But my teenage terrors feel very real, my projections abstract but on point. And I feel like this might be a story I’m meant to resurrect before this terrible period in American history is through.