Cyber Sex, Straight Sex?

Ian Jones

Is homosexuality an anachronism? After reading several cyberpunk novels, I am beginning to wonder about the future of the love that dares not speak its name. Whether due to authorial puritanism or purposeful absence, there is an extreme void in the fiction of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson when it comes to either man-to-man or woman-to-woman love.

Gibson skirts around the issue by being farely prudish about sex in general. In Neuromancer, the one encounter between Molly and Case is barren, empty, and lacks any substantial repercussions on either character. Sex is like cyberspace, plug-in and plug-out, only cyberspace is the much more enjoyable of the two activities. This heirarchy is further emphasized in Mona Lisa Overdrive, in which Mona Lisa finds her livelihood as a prostitute dependent on her resemblance to the Net star, Angie. With this realm of minimal person-to-person intimacy, Gibson appears to be arguing for the gradual disruption and dissolving of queer identity politics, and possibly identity politics in general. The character Robin's homosexuality, which is barely treated in Mona Lisa Overdrive, is offered only as an example of the Net's power of appearance vs. reality (Angie and Robin are lovers on screen, completely incompatible in actuality).

Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash, treats sexuality as virtually unchanged from today (with a few technological enhancements, such as the dentata). A natural sexual tension between YT and Hiro builds up through the novel, and much of the plot revolves around Hiro's desire to reinstate himself with Juanita, and YT's fling with Raven. Despite the prominence of the sexual side of human interaction, there are few to no references to homosexuality whatsoever in his novel. Where are they? Identity politics definitely exist (look at the apartheid burb-claves), yet no gay identity.

Mitchell's vision, where identity disintegrates into the anonymity of an email address, or Stephenson's, where commercialized or self-designed avatars act as go-betweens for human interaction on the Street, both point to a redefinition of identity by the sudden lack of physical context to human interaction. In a sympathetic or even passive reading of Gibson or Stephenson, this redefinition implies an ambandonment of sexual politics as a viable means of forming community. Considering the embracing of the Internet and WWW by the gay community, the absence of homosexuality in these futurist settings is problematic.

[To other discussions of Snow Crash by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]