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April 2016



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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


...But if you're just putting it in to be politically correct***, then you're bound by ideology, and that's bad art."

Or a third possibility ("Oh noes don't make me count to three!"): that the writer is just trying to get the reality part right. That part of the job where the description of stepping out the back door on a cold morning is so well-observed that the reader is transported to a moment in his life of breathing out fog and blinking against the slanting light.

But if the reader has never noticed the cold, the fogged breath, the angle of the light--if the reader hasn't been aware, really aware, that all moments aren't the same moment--he may call that description filler, artsy-fartsy shit, pretentious writing. Bad art.

Or maybe, the next time he steps out into a cold morning, that description will come back to him, illuminate and transform that moment for him, and he'll feel a little thrill of being connected to other people, places, and times. Every moment will cease to be the same moment, if only for a while. And the more often it happens, the longer the effect lasts, until awareness becomes a habit and a joy.

A writer who tries to get the reality part right is trying to deepen her or his relationship with the world, with the reader, with her or his own perceptions and beliefs. The reward for that is good art, not bad.
Gosh, you're smart.
Yes, this. I have deliberately put non-7p people into stories because I said, "Wow, whole bunch of limited universe here. Maybe I want to think about this."

And I found that once I started doing it deliberately, various non-7p people started walking onto the page without my thinking about it. (I am of the "characters have some autonomy" school of writers.) And some of them were indistinguishable from 7-p people except in physical description, and others brought more complications with them

But seriously, getting to write about people who don't all look alike and don't all have the same ideas makes for a lot more fun writing, IMO.