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bear by san

January 2017



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i pity the fool

Every damned time the topic of diversity in SFF comes up, somebody says something about "Well, if the story demands that the character be queer/disabled/black/trans/female/postcolonial/feminist, that's one thing. But if you're just putting it in to be politically correct***, then you're bound by ideology, and that's bad art."

... ...
... ... ...

...because able Western white cis het male is the default. Because the viewpoint character being an able Western white cis het male totally doesn't inform the narrative, and has no influence in the way the world is presented, because that's the only viewpoint that really exists, and the rest of us are all flavor text. We're spices. We're here to be observed and consumed. To break up the monotony a little bit, or to provide an Issue that can be discussed in the course of the narrative. Because by writing crippled queer fat black Asian gay lesbian trans intersex non-neurotypical African Sikh Muslim Hindu Latino female whatever, we're sure as hell not reflecting the narrative, the experience of millions of real people who have a real existence and a narrative and a right to exist and tell stories and have voices and be heard.

And those people only can be in stories if they're their to illuminate some aspect of the crippled queer fat black Asian gay lesbian trans intersex non-neurotypical African Sikh Muslim Hindu Latino female whatever experience to the able Western white cis het male gaze****.

Because we sure as hell don't have our own stories to tell.


You know what?

I am reminded of the old joke about Heaven being full of parties, and Saint Pete giving somebody the tour so he can decide who he wants to hang out with. And when they finally get to the one quiet room, the new recruit is all excited, and is like, "ZOMG WHO'S THIS!?"

And Saint Pete says, "Shhh! It's the Westboro Baptists! They think they're alone up here!"

...screw those guys. I know where the party is.

I invite all y'all to mention in comments recent***** books by authors or with protagonists of diverse backgrounds that are very worthy of further attention.

I'll start.

Karen Lord -- The Best of All Possible Worlds
Caitlin R. Kiernan -- The Drowning Girl: A Memoir
Ellen Klages -- The Green Glass Sea
Saladin Ahmed -- Throne of the Crescent Moon
Charles Yu -- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

(and many more)

***A brief digression. If you will bear with me, please let me explain a bit about my relationship with the term "politically correct." As far as I know, it originated as a critique of Stalinist policies in the 1940s, and "political correctness" was then considered to mean "in line with Stalinish policies." But I first encountered it in the radical lesbian separatist/feminist movement of the 1980s--which is my native culture and the reason I claim I can't actually write insider stories for anybody who still exists except elisem, Suzy McKee Charnas, and Elizabeth Lynn**--and at that point it was an ironic usage that referred to being in line with the kind of anti-male, anti-het, anti-trans rhetoric--the kind of doctrinal purity--that is today described by the term "radfem."

I own me a lapel button that reads "Politically Incorrect." I bought it for twenty-five cents at the New England Women's Musical Retreat in 1982. I was nine years old*.

I have not entirely adapted to the modern Right Wing/antifemnist/ usage of "Politically Correct" to mean "people who don't suck at compassion." I feel a little appropriated, to tell you the truth. And a little put out.


*My street cred. I shows U it.
**I went home again. It had turned into a convenience store.
****Charlie Stross calls these the 7Ps: pale protestant parochial patriarchal something penis people (ETA: "Pale Patriarchal Plutocratic Protestant Penis People of Power")
*****Let's say, this millenium


I think that the author should craft the characters for the story, and if he or she does this, "diversity" will take care of itself, assuming that the author is aware of human diversity. Operating with a checklist and going, "Ok, I have a character who's black, good; ah, there's one who's gay, good; wait -- nobody's disabled, have to have someone disabled, even though my world has instant full-body regeneration tech" is just silly. Doing so cheapens and degrades one's Art; let characters be what your own desires and knowledge of the world tell you that they are. I've noticed, personally, that your characters seem to fit into their stories; if you're diversity-checking, then you're doing so very subtly. Maybe you just naturally assume that people are of diverse racial, ethnic, religious etc. origins? I know that I do ...

And I'm well aware of what the opposite would look like, and why it would feel wrong. I read a heck of a lot of Interwar Era (1920's-1930's) science fiction, because that's what I mostly run in Fantastic Worlds, and it is weird to compare their depiction of the society of the day with what I know it was like (my father was running around the streets of New York in that period, and told me lots of stories). Every major good-guy (from America or Britain, anyway) is a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, with anyone even as "exotic" as Catholic Irish or German Jewish being played for laughs as total stereotype, with virtually no identity beyond stereotypical (or, very rarely, anti-stereotypical) attributes; as for blacks or Hispanics, they exist purely as servants and field workers. This strikes me as more than a little bit weird, especially when I know that the writers themselves were often non-WASP's.

I dislike the term "politically correct" because it is based on a totalitarian assumption: that the speaker just knows what is politically "right" or "wrong" and that any disagreement with the speaker is to be construed as evidence of the sin of the dissident. In my experience, that is exactly how the term has historically been used, often to the extent of the speaker simply labelling a particular dissent "incorrect" rather than actually-addressing why he or she considers it to be false (in the logical sense of the term).

Among other things, this allows political correctness to be used to support bigotry, provided that the target group has become unfashionable. A good example of this is the way in which anti-Semitism is once more on the rise in Europe, to the cheers of politically-correct intellectuals who have decided that Zionism is politically-incorrect, and that it is acceptable to attack Jews in general for this.

This was true of political correctness from its Stalinist and Maoist beginnings: it was used to attack dissidents in a manner which rendered illegitimate their dissent. And that's how it's used today.

I also notice that a lot of people calling for "diversity" do not give credit to the science fiction of the last half-century for its extreme diversity of character, especially when the writers in question fail to be politically-correct in other matters. For instance, Poul Anderson, David Drake and David Weber have notably written about protagonists (and major supporting characters) with a wide variety of backgrounds, but most politically-correct fans don't like to acknowledge this because Poul Anderson wrote libertarian and the Davids write military science fiction.

In any case, once we get beyond the near future, the prejudices of the present day are very unlikely to remain meaningful. New forms of bigotry will doubtless replace them -- that's human nature.