Queer Families in Octavia Butler's Science Fiction

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Bennett, Jess Scott
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Middle Tennessee State University
This thesis explores the constellation of race, gender, and sexuality in two novel series by African American feminist author Octavia E. Butler, published from the 1970s through the 1980s. The central pursuit of this project is to explore the “Butler Family,” which refers to the queer, interracial families of Butler’s fiction that contest racist, sexist, and heteronormative hegemonies. This exploration first observes how Butler’s queer characters come to understand their identities within a familial context. Next, the thesis analyzes how Butler champions queer, feminist, anti-racist constructions of family for their active resistance of oppression. The closing chapter combines theorizations of queer futurity with Afro-Futurism to explore how the children of the Butler Family secure a queer future. To explore Butler’s progressive future, this thesis analyzes two novels of the Patternist series, Mind of My Mind (1977) and Wild Seed (1980), in addition to the novels of the Xenogenesis trilogy, which include Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989). Her Patternist series, which focuses on superpowered humans in the throes of a breeding imperative imposed by the antagonist Doro, presents the readers with Anyanwu, a black, bisexual shapeshifter who forms an interracial family with a female partner and defies Doro’s heteronormativity. Butler further explores issues of race and sexuality in the Xenogenesis trilogy, which follows the relationships between humans and the Oankali, an extraterrestrial, tri-gendered species that plans to incorporate humanity into its gene exchange. This series focuses on Lilith Iyapo, a black woman who participates in the first human-alien hybrid family. Through both series, Butler offers her audience a resistance literature that creates a queer, feminist, anti-racist space. This project ultimately posits the importance of queer family structures to Butler’s SF as she conceptualizes the groundwork for this progressive space.