A review of Don Bassingthwaite’s “Who Plays with Sin” in Bending the Landscape: Original Gay and Lesbian Writing: Science Fiction (The Overlook Press, 1999).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Cyberpunk, with its attraction to marginalized characters who live on the edge, has needed to be queered for some time, so it is refreshing to encounter a fantastic queering of the genre by Don Bassingthwaite. “Who Plays With Sin” is timely in its exploration of the ways that data can be manipulated and the ways that surveillance invades every aspect of our online presence…. and the ways that those online presences can be employed to either shore up or destroy reputations.
Thunder doesn’t conform to the typical assumptions about internet specialists, nor does he conform to assumptions about gay men. He is burly, strong, and tall, which works well for him in his position as a spider, a web master who uses the internet to seek out truths. His ability to resist stereotypes allows him to throw off those who see him, not conforming to their expectations and therefore giving him an edge in their dealings… particularly since Thunder’s world is one of rampant homophobia, where queerness has been made illegal and LGBTQ people are frequently imprisoned for their sexuality.
Thunder is a figure of resistance, resisting the passification and disempowerment of queer people. Even Thunder’s reaction to the pathologized, passivising term “homosexual” evokes a strong reaction from him: “Say ‘faggot’, say ‘queer’, say ‘gay-boy’. Even as insults, they had a raw power. Primal, street-level, animal-level. There was sex in the words. Say ‘faggot’ and there was a cock in your mouth – whether you enjoyed it or despised it, it was there. ‘Homosexual’ was cold. Clinical. Dead. Desexed, but with implications of perversity and mental illness. It was a safe word for straights, no more dangerous than a sterile tongue depressor.” Thunder illustrates the way that words can be re-appropriated for empowerment and that any image of queer people can be complicated by techniques of resistance.
This is perhaps why when he is approached by a man named Carter, who claims to be the victim of a corporate blackmail to make him seem as though he is gay and therefore subject to the potential loss of position and exile, Thunder tries to assist him to uncover the roots of this manipulation. But, Don Bassingthwaite doesn’t provide easy answers for his characters and this is a tale of convoluted messages and systems of resistance and oppression. There are no simple answers, and every message is complicated. In a world of surveillance and manipulation, nothing is easy and Bassingthwaite reminds readers that the web is always full of spiders.
To read more about the work of Don Bassingthwaite, visit his website at http://dbassingthwaite.com/ .
You can find out more about Bending the Landscape at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bending_the_Landscape .