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bear by san

March 2017



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rengeek kit & tilda lucifer/gabriel

we save no souls. we break no promises.

First, --30--. I just finished the rough draft of the robot termite story. Which means tomorrow I work on the sargasso lighthouse story, and also that I can start on the final revisions for An Apprentice to Elves, which truepenny just sent over to me with her changes. After lunch. And shoveling. We have always lived in the shoveling.

I've been thinking a lot about stereotypes and representation lately, what with Black History Month, and with seeing the banner art for Gotham Jazz, and Karen Memory entering the world, and various discussions going on elseinternets. And I've been thinking about representation of historically marginalized groups, and how they--we--tend to continue to be shuffled to the side of stories. Not just cast in supporting roles, but cast in the same, passive, extremely limited supporting roles.

Some of it is, I suspect, because we are presented in media with a world that is extremely whitewashed, masculinized, de-queered. People who are not white able-bodied kink-free hetero cismales exist in a marked state in Western media. We're liminal, and in media where we start to approach anything like the saturation we have in the real world, it looks like we're taking over.

You get this in professional groups, too. Many people start feeling as if a space is feminized when it reaches, oh, 30% female. That's less than one in three, just to reinforce the point.

I hear a lot of my colleagues saying that they write stories in settings that don't have roles for women, people of color, queer people. This, of course, ignores the fact that we liminal folks have been existing in non-liminal spaces since people started to choose up sides and wear armbands based on race, creed, color, gender identity, and sexual identity. We've been erased from those narratives, largely, or at best footnoted.

But if you tell me that you can't write a World War II spy thriller with gay characters, or women, or people of color--I'm going to have to assume that your research is pretty surfacy in order to have missed Alan Turing and Noor Inayat Khan. If you're going to tell me you can't have a black gunfighter in the American old West, I'm going to wonder why you haven't heard of Bass Reeves.

The thing is, people who are not the default, who exist in that marked liminal state, deserve to have stories told about us. We deserve to have stories told about us which are not strictly about the ways in which we are not the default, too! (Old joke about the Gay Agenda, which involves Bowling Night and PTA Potluck.) Which is not to say that such fiction can't acknowledge the challenges of the marginalized, but our challenges are not our lives.

And I've certainly learned that with a little creativity, with a little stepping outside the stereotype and the default, history and the real world--not to mention completely made-up fantasy realms!--are full of unexpected places for historically liminal characters to make very fine protagonists. Like, oh, medieval women--as in the work of Sara Douglass--or enslaved Americans, as in Solomon Northup's Twelve Years A Slave.

Which isn't even fiction.

This has the added benefit of telling stories that are a little less played out, incidentally.

tl;dr: Yes, Virginia. Oppressed peoples still have agency.

And there's no earthly goddamn reason why it's any harder for a white man to see himself in a black woman character--for that black woman character to serve as an audience identification character for a wide range of readers--than the reverse, except that she's been taught to do it since birth, and he's been told he doesn't have to.


I was told by a RP friend once that she had no idea how I could play characters of different races and ethnicities.

I still have no idea how she can't. Granted if I haven't done enough research, I'm not going to pick up a character, but other than things like researching a culture or history....

I mean, they're people too.

I might have trouble fitting myself into someone's head who is drastically different than myself sometimes, but in the end... People. All people.

"she's been taught to do it since birth, and he's been told he doesn't have to"

This is the factor that most often fills me with despairing rage as an author. I have spent my entire reading life being expected to identify -- and successfully doing so -- with characters who are different from me. But my own writing is marginalized because I expect other readers to be capable of the same thing.

Re: Yes.

I hope he's getting an A.

See, I demand the right to be a villain, too. But the important word there is "too."

The solution to tokenism is saturation, dammit. Have more than one or two women and suddenly some of them being assholes is less of a problem, now, innit?

Re: Yes.

Do people not identify with others based around common interests or circumstances or something?
A friend's daughter recently put together a database: All Our Worlds: A Database of Diverse Fantastic Fiction
789 books so far, and counting. If you'd like, I'd be happy to provide the link.
It's a lovely and needed idea, and I know of several like it--but I feel like their existence is orthogonal to the point of this post.
No worries, that's why I asked first.
but our challenges are not our lives

I heartily agree.
This is particularly true if you're writing any sort of fantasy AU -- of which steampunk definitely counts! If you can change the course of history and bend the laws of physics, but you MUST have PoC and women limited to their real-world historical roles, then something is wrong with your ideas about fantasy.
Well, and their real-world historical roles and our received ideas of their real-world historical roles have so little in common as to make the latter as good as fantasy itself, albeit not a particularly pleasant one.

(Man, Vikings is the best science fiction on television right now for that. It's in no way a modern society, but it's not Ye Old Medieval Misogyny either, and in some ways it's impressively progressive -- as is backed up by the historical record -- without soapboxing it, all presented through this almost documentary lens. Really, really cool. It started slow, but my housemates and I are kind of obsessed now.)
I still think the wisest thing you ever said on this - and which you just repeated in the comments - is that having *more than one* of a minority, or several minorities, also allows for room to have some of them be good and some be bad, and not imply a Message about What Those People Really Are Like. especially as, regardless of whether the character is supposed by the reader to be perpetuating or countering a stereotype, a single token minority character seems to invariably be given a burden of representing a whole group, no matter how hard the author tries.

Into which I read another implied theory: the tokenism of having just one minority figure is pretty much the cause of the reactionaries' complaint that "diversity = fiction ruined by a Message", and the best solution is actually more diversity.
But if you tell me that you can't write a World War II spy thriller with gay characters

Well, but if you do and don't softpedal the homophobia, will anyone buy it?
I'd be more concerned that the homophobia would resemble recent or current homophobia, not the kind actually present in the time period.

Just as our acceptance of women, minorities, and the LGBTTQA spectrum have changed within my lifetime, so too have *some* of the ways the bigots express themselves. but the latter is often shrugged off, since bigotry is so obviously "Backward".
You're a very smart person.
I was reading a friend's debut sf novel a couple of months ago, and I had the oddest sense of dislocation part way through, because none of the characters were American. She's written a future in which it's the US that's gone, not the rest of us (as is more usual). And I realised that whenever I read sf in English, I hear the characters as USian (with a few exceptions, mostly where the books are by writers of colour, who write much more diversely), because I've been taught my whole life that the future is American with little or no space for the rest of us (thank you, original Star Trek). I just hadn't noticed how readily I assumed the absence of people like me. Weird. But useful, because it made me see something about why so much sf makes me uncomfortable.