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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


Hmm. Interesting. That's about the list I have too.

I hadn't encountered The Wild Swans before. I tried to start China Mountain Zhang a few days ago and realized that I wasn't feeling up to reading a closeted or persecuted gay protagonist -- I need to save it for some time when I'm feeling better and okay with feeling worse.

I agree that it should be a solved question, and it's that low frequency which I point to when people wonder why I'm still complaining about it not being solved yet. :-)

(There's a weird lack of gay men writing gay characters, too, as far as I can see. This is mostly okay but occasionally leads to weird disconnects as a reader.)
Yes to "Not solved. Should be. Dammit." That's exactly the sort of thinking I was talking about. In the 90s I was blithely thinking this was all pretty much a done deal. in the 00s I started getting more aware what was actually out there, and more to the point what wasn't. And argh.

The Wild Swans thread with the gay protag. is set in New York about the time the AIDS epidemic peaked. And his family is... not happy with him. So it may not make you feel any better than China Mountain Zhang, even though the question the book is fighting with, at least somewhat, is "Why is there this sort of pain?"

I agree with the fewer gay men -- or men in general -- writing gay protagonists. It's something I would like to see more of. But as another woman who's written gay/bi male protagonists a couple of times, I'm kind of in the position of both wanting to see more and not really wanting to be asked not to...
Please don't stop! That's not what I mean at all. :-)

Bear talks upthread about seeing yourself in fiction for the first time -- her New Amsterdam was that for me, and I value it irrespective of the author's gender and orientation and whatever.

I do think that we would see a different and also-valuable set of stories told if we saw more queer men writing queer protagonists, and I am feeling the lack of those stories somewhat critically right now.

Good fiction is good fiction, and everyone will have to write and publish a hell of a lot before my appetite for good queer characters is sated. :-)
Gay men writing gay men get Even More Ghettoized than lesbians writing lesbians.

Straight women can get away with writing gay men, and straight MEN sometimes get lionized for their Risky Risk Taking for doing it.

Chabon's Kavalier and Klay, I seem to recall, has a gay protag. Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains and associated books.