Queerphobia In Cobrin’Seil

Everyone in Cobrin’Seil is queer to any extent that word can mean anything in talking about my D&D setting. This is not because when you make a dude in that setting part of the character creation setting is ticking the backstory box that, at some point, he has sucked some dick or whatever, but rather is instead because Cobrin’Seil is a world where heterosexuality as you understand it was never invented.

And boy oh boy that right there opens a door, doesn’t it.

The ‘invention’ of heterosexuality is one of those terms that can confuse people because people don’t tend to think of these things as being invented. Cultural practices and roles are often things that we see as being obvious outcomes of a natural phenomena in our world, and that means we wind up imagining them as absolute and natural. That’s something really useful to cultural practices and they can create weird alienating effects when they’re demonstrated as not obviously true.

If you’re ever curious to see a different non-sexy example, ask a white person about bidets or lota. Or you know, capitalism.

Point is that when I describe ‘heterosexuality’ and refer to it as ‘invented’ I don’t mean that nobody was having boy-on-girl banging because nobody came up with the idea and the idea was invented a hojillion years ago just in time to save whatever species did that from extinction. That’s animal behaviour, putting dongs in hoohahs is a thing we’re all very used to doing as organic entities. So much so that there are a lot of animals that will try and do it with anything they interpret as a hoohah, even if it’s, say, a beanbag.

But that’s non-cultural practice, that’s things doing things transcendant of the way those actions are regarded by other members of their group. Chances are very good if you’re reading this, you share a cultural space with me on this point; you’re almost certainly going to be carrying around in your head a set of bigotries and affordances that people can have around heterosexuality, even if you don’t comply with them or value them, because the British Empire was really good at exporting its specific heterosexuality and then America refined that heterosexuality through most of the same cultural connections. The model of heterosexuality we’re talking about here isn’t even unified across that stretch of history either – non-heterosexual behaviour was tolerated extensively across chunks of both American and British culture but publically advocating for and talking about that practice was seen as vulgar (and was illegal).

What is socially accepted is determined by what is excluded from that acceptability. In our world, that acceptability tends to be tied to a serious academic structure, which is also a thing that had to be invented and if you read in your history enough you’ll find a lot of it ties back into the publication of a work by one dude, Richard von Kraft-Ebigg, who died in 1902. That’s where we get some words you may think of as ‘normal’ words, but which were Latin terms he crafted and put into a German book and we adopted them wholesale. Homosexuality, for example, or sadism. Or analingus.

We use that one every day right?

It’s also a moving target. Back in the 1920s, homosexuality wasn’t ‘has sex with men exclusively,’ it was ‘so obsessed with sex it formed a morbid fascination’ and that that focused on sex with men. Heterosexuality at that time was seen as an equally morbid fascination, a pathologised interest in straight sex. Ten years later, it lost the idea of being an obssession with it, and got the name ‘normal’ sex in the dictionary.

(You can dig into this more by reading Jonathan Ned Katz’s The Invention of Heterosexuality, if you want).

Point is, heterosexuality as you and I us the word had to be invented and named. It is a cultural practice with a meaning and associated values and expectations and at no point did it get pushed into existence in Cobrin’Seil. The word probably exists but maybe it doesn’t, and when a player uses the word to express an idea through their character, they’re expressing a different idea with different weights and vibes in the context of the cultural space they’re living in.

This kind of misalignment between player and character happens all the time. A character asks someone something and they don’t understand you so you try again in Elvish. A player doesn’t need to speak Elvish to make that linguistic hop and yet that player is completely unable to use the Elvish language appropriately. The layer of fiction smooths this over.

This doesn’t mean that a player character in Cobrin’Seil reacts to the word ‘heterosexual’ like it’s a macabre outcropping from an alien universe. It probably has some useful cognate in the world, some idea like ‘oh my primary interest is in one of the major dominant genders of my culture that I don’t share,’ and we just roll over the gap there without any need for a contextual language report. But what it also means is that no character feels the need to explicate whether they are gay or straight because in the universe that is not considered an element of culturally expressing a normal persona. You might tell someone you’re straight or gay because you want them to know your personal preferences, but that’s something that they should only really care about if the conversation is about you having some access to your interests.

Basically, in Cobrin’Seil, the assumption is that ‘people have sex with other people’ and that’s about as specific an assumption you can make. It is not the same thing as we live in, because even in our own world homosexual and bisexual and pansexual behaviour are presented as concepts in opposition to a norm, and only need definition in the context of them being behaviours that need distinction.

This means that queerphobia in Cobrin’Seil is not any kind of stated default: there is no ‘normal’ for queer people to be functional rebels against. There may be communities and spaces where queerphobia arises, but those spaces by definition are going to be insular and weird and not places with widespread state power. You can have a queerphobic space to start from but when you get into the wider world of Cobrin’Seil, you’re always going to find that the world you’re in isn’t like that.

What about the Bernean Lodges, eh, though? You, Talen, after all, invented that place (and low key named it after a church you visited) and it’s meant to be oppressive fundie churches that patrol each other. Surely they’re a bunch of homophobes otherwise how else would you, the author, get cathartic joy out of hunting them down and knifing them in the head? Well listen, first, I can be violently opposed to religious bigotry on a number of axes that draw a visceral fictional thrill out of brutal retaliation, but also the Bernean Lodges are by definition isolated communities of weirdoes. Any given Lodge has a set of inexplicable faith guidelines that they are sure are the unique and true explication of divine will in the face of the apocalypse. They’re perfect for this kind of setup.

What about the Church of Olifar in the Eresh Protectorates? They’re very Catholic in their Holy City and their Bishops and Prelates? Aren’t they likely to have some of that same vibe? Well, the Church of Olifar’s vision on these things tends to be a little more Pauline. “Look, pursuit of the divine is the best thing. But also if you can’t just spend all your days in cloistered prayer, and you need to do things like eat, I guess that’s okay. And if that means you need a job I guess that’s okay. And I guess if you’re lonely, that’s okay to have partners. And I guess if you’re really into partners, that’s okay.” Or, perhaps, “Sure, sex may be great but have you ever spent eight of your days in deep fasting and meditation on the nature of the divine, bro?” It’s a faith system that’s a lot more about claiming there is an ideal minimum amount of sexuality, but it’s also way too widespread and pragmatic to actually enforce it.

Imagine one of those cathedrals but all the stained glass windows are ace flags.

Plus, there’s the church as most people see it and the church as its own doctrine sees it. Most Eresh Protectorate citizens are pretty sure that the church’s positions line up with theirs, because it’s just not vital to the doctrines they teach most of the time, because, again, talking about sexuality in an attempt to enforce a ‘normal’ isn’t a thing that happens in the setting.