Brendan Williams-Childs is a Colorado-based speculative fiction writer. His work has appeared on NPR, in Midwestern Gothic Magazine and in the Lambda Award nominated anthology Meanwhile Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers. He has been the recipient of the Larry Neal Writers’ Award as well as a Literature Fellowship from Queer|Arts|Mentorship, a NYC-based program that supports emerging lgbt artists.
Brendan wrote “You Can’t Grow Corn on the Moon” in issue 3 of Vulture Bones. Below is an interview about his story.
I would love for you to unpack this story a little. Something that’s stuck with me after having read “You Can’t Grow Corn on the Moon” a few times now is that this is set in a world where we have the wherewithal to colonize not only the moon but also Mars--and at the same time, life seems not to have changed all that much for trans women. Nina, the main character, is still almost thoughtlessly worried about violent interactions with her coworkers. Her ability to transition was dependent on an act of generosity from another trans woman. She mentions that trans people’s life expectancy still isn’t much past forty. Tell me about this vision of the future as you’ve written it.
This is a lot to unpack in just one reply! I’ll address it as briefly as possible in three points:
Technological advancement and improvement in social conditions of marginalized people (in this case trans women) isn’t necessarily a 1 to 1. I’ve certainly heard the idea floated that in a nebulous, ultra-high-tech future there wouldn’t be discrimination, but I find that hard to believe based on what I see happening in our current world, which is vastly technologically advanced and still tremendously dangerous for trans women globally.
I’m mildly surprised to hear that her concern about violence was interpreted as thoughtless worry. While it’s true that the men around her in this story don’t present an active danger, the world of this fiction is still one where men, generally speaking, still do present the potential for danger. Like many women in the world, that’s always somewhere in Nina’s mind.
This vision of the future is maybe a little more than 10 minutes into the future, as it’s called. It’s maybe 15 minutes in. As you mentioned, this is a world where Mars is effectively undergoing terraform, but also where global climate change has limited water and electricity in the Southwest, where the company who owns a meatpacking plant calls the shots about that resource allocation, and where slaughterhouse operations still haven’t been automated. Escapist space epics are fun, of course, but I’m more concerned about the human cost to fuel them. Who doesn’t get to go to Mars, or, in this case, what does it cost the people who do?
There’s a line in the story that stopped me in my tracks: “She would have been trans wherever she went, why bother keeping it under wraps like it wasn’t worth being?” Nina has a complicated relationship to her gender--clearly resentful of how front-and-center it makes her, but also clearly at peace with it. Did the story come first, or did the story grow up around Nina?
The story came first, actually! This piece was significantly revised since I first drafted it. Initially the cast was all straight cis men. That was a mistake. Ultimately, I wanted to find a way to talk to some of my experiences while still exploring a particular vision of West Texas and a specific perspective on traditional space exploration narratives. I grew up in Wyoming and I think “resentful of and resigned to the attention of” non-lgbt community members is something anyone from a small town or rural community, especially in the West, has some experience with.
Where can people find more of your work? What’s coming next?