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bear by san

February 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


Because too many people use that as an excuse to erase me from existence.

You might be surprised to find out that I feel the same way, for a slightly different reason. If you look at my photo on Fantastic Worlds, you might instantly see the reason why.


Both my wife and myself have faced discrimination, including personal attacks on the street and from government-supported agencies, for this reason. And no, it's not because we're white ...

... it's because we're fat. Which you (commendably) put on your list of diversities.

Know how many times it's annoyed me to hear a writer rhapsodize on about the wonderful physical shape of his main characters as if he were outlining a moral virtue? Or having only villains and idiots be even slightly overweight? And this includes many writers whose writing I otherwise love, which makes it all the more painful.

And no, I wasn't trying to "derail" you. I was pointing out that if one honestly believes in diversity, it takes care of itself: if one does not assume that the hero is white, for instance, then one can write the hero as white, black, brown, whatever fits one's vision. The notion that one has to make an effort to avoid having the main character be white-hetero-male is itself somewhat bigoted: it implies that there is someting wrong with being someone who isn't, but that by dint of great effort we can include them too. You don't see why that might not be just a little bit patronizing?
The societal default is white hetero male; it has a gravity well, and writing anything else is pushing uphill. We live in a kyriarchal society: it informs and infects all of us, whether we "honestly" believe in diversity or not.

(I don't have to believe in diversity. It's demonstrably real. It exists. It's a thing. I believe in representation.)

The thing you are accusing me of in your last paragraph is exactly the mindset I am arguing against: that there is something *wrong* with not being "the default," and that the story has to be about that character not being the default to have any validity.

Body type acceptance is indeed a major issue in fiction, and fat=evil is one of my least favorite tropes.

Edited at 2013-03-20 03:36 pm (UTC)
I'm listening to Bujold right now, Paladin of Souls. Man, she really talks about body image in interesting ways.
Yes, and I'm still seeing it even in new and otherwise peasant books. Sigh. (Um - fat bigotry that is)