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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Survivors: The End of Whose World?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 2nd January 2009

Surviving: Anya, a young lesbian doctor
The BBC has remade Survivors, the classic seventies SF series that dealt with the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a devastating mutant virus. And this time, one of the central characters is a lesbian doctor, Anya. How would we deal with the end of the world as we knew it?
Over the course of last century, the mode of global apocalypse has shifted in emphasis. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Soviet/American Cold War that followed, nuclear obliteration dominated the concerns of twentieth century peace activists, concerned scientists and SF authors. Not so much LGBT communities, given that we resided in metropolitan centres, fior the most part, so a disproportionate number of us would be killed in any ensuing nuclear exchange. Add to that nuclear winter, widespread famine and epidemic disease, malnutrition, and the breakdown of law and order in the wake of WW3, and one can probably see why there were so few LGBT surmises about what life for us would be like.
After the Cold War, the nuclear arms race receded somewhat, although we still have some anxieties about what would happen if India and Pakistan came to blows over the horrific tragedy that recently occurred in Mumbai. One hopes that we don't see widespread urban devastation, the breakdown of social order, epidemic disease, malnutrition, and panicked refugee outflows from the affected areas. Not to mention the devastating psychological consequences.
We've begun to wonder about bacteriological warfare, instead. Let's ignore more outre zombie apocalypse fantasies, excellently written though the works of Max Brooks, David Wellington and Robert Kirkman are. There are no such things as rapid response undead predatory post-humans in our world, with the possible exception of soon-to-be former US Vice President Dick Cheney.
In this scenario, something goes badly wrong in an experimental biowarfare facility somewhere covert. As a result, a mutant virus escapes biosecurity constraints, and starts to infect the general population. With modern transportation technologies, the virus kills those humans without genetic predisposition toward immunity. Cities turn into massive reservoirs for cholera and typhus, and the survivors flee into the countryside.
In this version of the end of the world as we knew it, there's still some prospect that lesbians and gay men would survive as a consequence of an inherited immunity to the virus or the luck of the genetic draw. In Survivors 2.0, this happens to Anya, a young lesbian doctor. She witnesses the deaths of two people close to her, and as a result, isn't inclined to 'come out' as a former medical practitioner due to a crisis of faith in her abilities.
Let's imagine that this happened to other lesbians or gay men. Much would depend on whether one was in a situation where one had an IT or finance sector professional career, or worked in medicine or social work, or had manual or agriculturalskills, or had previously been involved in the armed forces or police. In some contexts, those skills might be more useful than others. One would need to arm oneself, not be squeamish about armed self-defence, find a convivial community to join, and eventually, one would probably find a lesbian or gay soulmate amidst the debris after the apocalypse.
Other specific problems of LGBT post-apocalyptic survival might be these. Where would transfolk get their transition meds and prospective surgery from, unless they were lucky enough to find a surviving reassignment surgeon, with operational medical facilities? What about lesbian breast cancer survivors and PLWAs, and their palliative care? What would safe sex be like in an environment with no large scale urban gay communities, even if condoms would be relatively easy to manufacture out of sheep gut?
On the other hand, would it be worth it if you ethically clashed with each other? What if you were a doctor, and she was a mercenary bandit, for example? Or if he was a ruthless despot, and you were a farmer whose practical skills he needed? There's no guarantee we'd all line up on the side of virtue.
At present, Anya is the sole lesbian character in Survivors 2.0. Here's hoping that the new version answers particular LGBT questions about our stake in the post-apocalyptic world depicted therein.

Craig Young - 2nd January 2009