In last week’s post about Lana Fox’s upcoming new series, Maddie, Aflame!, I looked at the roles queer marginalization, community and found families play in Maddie’s world. This week, I’d like to springboard off that topic and talk about gender stereotypes and sexual fluidity, and how they play out in Maddie, Aflame! Hell, while we’re at it, let’s talk about fluidity in relationships too.
One of the most interesting things about Maddie, Aflame! is that the tension between rigid conformity and humanistic fluidity is one of the plot’s main drivers. The antagonists go to great lengths, including kidnapping, murder, and torture, to impose a rigidly traditional social structure on the populace. And yet, beneath that structure, individual people reject conformity in favor of boundless self-acceptance and love. It’s that sense fluidity (in gender and emotional / sexual relationships) that ultimately helps our heroes counter the rigid traditions that threaten them.
It’s a bit tricky to talk about without spoilers, so forgive me for being a little circumspect as regards plot. What I will say is that, while the governing body responsible for the kidnapping and oppression of queer citizens tightens it’s net over the course of the book, Maddie and her friends and lovers slowly discover freedom in their conscious lack of conformity.
When we meet her, Aud, a spiritually minded young woman whose sexual identity defies labeling, is in a loving relationship with her boyfriend, a trans guy named Raj. With these beautifully drawn, deeply humanized, stereotype-defying characters, even the expectation of a traditional relationship is undermined when it’s revealed that they’re non-monogamous. And, while this is new for Maddie, they are so accepting and positive that she finds herself falling for them both.
Their relationship, as well as Maddie’s (absolutely fucking lovely) relationship with Pike, another member of their group, opens her eyes to new ways of engaging partners both sexually and emotionally. In Raj and Aud, she finds two people engaged in a healthy non-traditional relationship, while the fact of their queerness poses a real, imminent threat to their safety. And yet, Lana handles their relationships and identities with such grace that their fluidity acts as a counterpoint to the negativity that surrounds them. These are people who defy the stereotypes attached to the queer label by replacing it with love and openness.
This is an important thing. Maddie Aflame! is a damn sexy series, but it’s also a story that I would hand to anyone, including older teens. It depicts LGBTQ characters and alternative relationships in such a warm, accepting way, that it gently, but effectively, makes the point that labels are tools, not identities. Far more important than a label, is the freedom to be who you are and love whoever you love without falling victim to the fear of gender or social conformity.
The fact that Maddie is attracted to Aud and Raj, doesn’t make her attraction to Pike, a cis male, any less plausible. In fact, her relationship to each of them can best be described as “human” in the very best of ways, defying the constraints of gender, sexuality and even the corporeal body.
We hold onto labels to define ourselves, and labels are incredibly useful. But the defiance of concrete labels through sexual and emotional fluidity is a healthy thing, just as healthy as its traditional converse. The themes of identity, defiance and conformity show up in various genres and in various forms, but I’ve never seen them approached through the lens of gender and sexuality with such openness and frank compassion. It’s both supportive and subversive, and that makes it something special.
We need more portrayals of non-traditional relationships in fiction. We need more characters that aren’t defined by easy-to-digest sexual labels. We need variety in story telling that better reflects humanity in all its various forms. In short, we need more advocacy and education and, though not the point of erotica or sexual literature, the fact that it is such a meaty part of Maddie, Aflame! makes me respect both the story, and its author, all the more.
Next week, I’ll be tackling one of my favorite topics in any genre – world building. Stay tuned….
Maddie Aflame! Book One: The Swallowing Mansion is now available!