Over the weekend, I had another clueless dude try to give me crap for “working so hard to manufacture outrage,” and for always “choosing to be offended.” It’s a tired and unoriginal refrain, but I’m going to try to do something a little different this time. I’m going to agree with clueless dude, at least to an extent. Because he’s right. For me, a great deal of the things I write about, and the fact that I’m upset by some of what I see in the SF/F community, these are choices.
A few of the things I’ve chosen to be offended about lately…
- Big name authors publicly mocking and belittling people for asking for representation in SF/F.
- The rewriting of history to present last year’s SFWA Bulletin mess as being about a single cover as opposed to an ongoing problem, one that culminated with two big name authors using the Bulletin as a platform to accuse those who disagree with them of being “liberal fascists” and anonymous cowards.
- A major convention belittling concerns about sexual harassment and refusing to implement a policy … and then minimizing and belittling the experience of multiple individuals who reported being sexually harassed at that convention.
- The backlash against a Hugo host being transformed into a factually incorrect narrative that rakes an individual woman over the coals in major media outlets for the crime of expressing her fear and anger.
Generally, when folks recycle the accusation that people are looking for things to be offended by, the word “offended” is used as a minimizing tactic. It suggests overly fragile and sensitive individuals with bruised feelings. A more accurate choice would be “pissed off,” “hurt,” or “sick of this crap.” Kameron Hurley uses the term “rage” when explaining that the anger doesn’t come from a minor, isolated incident.
The thing is, most of these incidents don’t hurt me directly. Representation in SF/F? As a straight, white, American male, I’m incredibly overrepresented in my genre. Conventions that don’t take steps to reduce sexual harassment? I’ve been harassed a total of once in more than a decade of congoing, and it’s not something I’m particularly worried about happening to me again. The threats, hatred, and vitriol aimed at women online and in the real world? Hey, it’s not coming toward me, so who cares?
When you’re not the one being hurt, you might not even notice the problem. You might decide it’s all blown out of proportion. Or maybe you admit that yeah, there might be a problem here, but you blow it off because the solution would inconvenience you in some way, or make you uncomfortable.
When you see someone saying they’re hurt or afraid, you can choose to mock that person. You can choose to ignore their concerns. You can choose to blow them off by saying they’re manufacturing outrage and looking for reasons to be offended, as if pain and anger and fear are just another hobby, like collecting spores, molds, and fungus. You can choose to ignore the evidence, to disbelieve the repeated stories of ongoing harassment and the countless people speaking out about specific incidents that make them feel unwelcome and unwanted in your community. You can choose to interpret anger as “bullying,” and calls for inclusion as “political correctness run wild.”
You could also choose to listen. You can choose to believe that when someone says, “Hey, this is hurting me,” they’re telling the truth. You can look around at how racially homogenous most conventions are and believe the people telling you why they feel unwelcome, instead of dismissing it as a coincidence or making up falsehoods about how “those people” just don’t read or don’t care about SF/F. You can recognize that just because a problem might not directly affect you, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.
You’re right. I choose to be
offended angry. I see people talking about how finding someone like them in a SF/F story literally saved their life. And then I see people responding with mockery and derision to calls for broader representation. I see people who have traditionally been ignored and silenced raising their voices to speak about their experiences, only to have those experiences dismissed as “butthurt” by those who haven’t had to live through them.
When I choose to be angry, and to speak out about things, it’s because I see people hurting.
No, that’s not quite right. It’s because I see the that the things we’re doing are hurting people. That pain isn’t imaginary. It’s not a cover to try to take over the genre and control everyone else, as one commenter suggested. It’s real. And I’ve got to believe that if more people could get over their discomfort and defensiveness and just listen, they might see it too. They might even be able to help solve some of the problems.
Basically, when people talk about something that’s hurting them, you can choose to care. Or you can choose not to.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
The Lives of Tao [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], is Wesley Chu’s first novel, and I kind of hate him a little bit for that. I picked up and started reading the book because I had met Wesley a while back, and he seemed like a pretty cool person. I finished reading it because it’s such a fun read.
Tao is basically a symbiotic life form, one who requires a human or animal host to survive on Earth. His people crash landed on our planet ages ago, and are now at war. Tao and the Prophus want to peacefully encourage humanity’s evolution until our technology is advanced enough to help them get home. The Genjix are believed to have similar goals … minus the “peacefully” part.
After a mission gone wrong results in the death of Tao’s human host, he’s forced into the body of an unambitious, insecure IT technician named Roen. This is the time, when he’s stuck in an untrained host, that Tao is most vulnerable. He has to keep Roen alive long enough to get him trained, and eventually to try to figure out what the Genjix are really up to this time.
Like I said, the book is a lot of fun. Tao is a great character, one who has existed in some of the greatest hosts in human history. (Genghis Khan, for example.) Tao tells Roen dream-stories about some of his past lives at the start of each chapter, which gives him (and us) the background of both Tao and his people.
Tao has tons of experience and knowledge, but upgrading Roen to superspy status isn’t as easy as simply plugging him in. There’s plenty of banter, entertaining training scenes, lots of action, and characters you want to keep reading about.
The only real complaint I have isn’t about the writing so much as it is one of the tropes Chu uses in the book. He’s created a world in which many of the wars and tragedies of human history were actually engineered by the Genjix. While it makes sense in the context of the book, I’ve never liked that particular trope, since it would seem to excuse us for our own atrocities. I know it’s fiction, but it still bugs me. Humans are capable of amazing things. We’re also capable of horrible, evil things. Pretending otherwise feels like lying about human nature.
Like I said, it’s a personal peeve.
There’s a twist in the ending that I saw coming pretty early on, but overall, it’s a good ending, one that wraps up the events of this book while making it clear there’s more to come in the series.
You can read an excerpt of the book at Tor.com. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, The Deaths of Tao.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Friday says, “Beware. I live!”
- The Orchid Mantis. I swear this gorgeous thing is a superhero insect. A mantis was bitten by a radioactive orchid and now fights crime with her sidekick, Aphid-Boy. (Link from Elizabeth Bear)
- May 4 – The Simpsons will be airing a full LEGO-animated episode.
- Pictures of a Tiny, Adventurous LEGO Photographer. (Link from Jay Lake)
- If it Fits, I Sits. (Cats in boxes and other small containers. Because cats.)
- Cats and Dogs vs. Furniture.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
The UK mass market edition of Libriomancer is out today!
The folks at Del Rey UK have been absolutely lovely to work with, and I continue to be thrilled that one of my series finally has a UK edition.
Now on to the more aggravating part. I received a very polite email earlier this week from an anthology editor, asking if I was still planning to contribute a story … seeing as how the deadline was March 1.
And there was much swearing on my part. I had committed to this a year ago, and I knew this anthology was on my list of things to write, but I had somehow gotten it in my head that the deadline was later this summer. (I think I managed to mix it up with another deadline for an anthology that has now been cancelled.)
Regardless, the editor was kind enough to give me until the end of this month to get something written and turned in.
Looking back a few days later, it was interesting to see how this screw-up on my part crashed head-on into the Depression. Being a writer is a pretty core part of my identity, and one of the things I pride myself on is making my deadlines. There’s a line in Friends where Joey snaps, “Joey doesn’t share food!”
Well, “Jim doesn’t blow deadlines!”
Between feeling a bit stressed already with the novel-writing schedule and the realization that I’d messed up, my mood for the day went down like a level 2 thief who lost initiative against a Beholder. The fact that I had also gotten stuck on the novel just made it worse. Look — two different sources of writing stress at once! Oh, joy!
The up side is that I recognized what was happening, and I knew — intellectually — that I was overreacting. Not that I’m okay with blowing deadlines, but it wasn’t the end of the world, and the editor was very cool about it. It wasn’t enough to drag myself out of that slump, but I think it kept me from getting as deeply bogged down by it as I would have a few years back.
I’m not asking for comfort here. I know I’m far from the only writer to ever miss a deadline. I know it’s unreasonable and unfair and egotistical to expect perfection from myself when I wouldn’t dream of holding anyone else to that kind of standard. And I know the best thing to do at this point is let it go and start working on the story.
Which, for the most part, I think I’ve been able to do. It took several days, but I sorted out the novel chapter I was stuck on, and I started brainstorming story ideas for the anthology. I added the new deadline to my To Do List in HabitRPG. And I woke up this morning without the ghost of that Beholder following me around, zapping me with its eyestalk-beams of, “OMG I suck!!!”
It’s still hitting me with various minor eyestalk-beams of life stress, but I’ve got the hit points and saving throws to deal with those. And I’m back in a space where I can enjoy the fact that the new edition of my book is coming out, and people are talking about it and saying mostly good things.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
A month or so back, I heard about Habit RPG, which is basically a habit-tracking and To Do List app in the form of a role-playing game. You set up your Habits, Dailies, and To Do List, and begin as a level one character. You get treasure and XP for completing items on your list, but you lose treasure and XP if you fail to complete your Dailies.
It’s not for everyone, but for an old gaming geek like me, it’s worked surprisingly well. I only set up two Dailies: writing at least 1000 words, and working on the dishes (a chore I sometimes neglected). I’ve now got a 36-day streak on dishes and 22 days of at least 1000 words. For Habits, which you don’t necessarily have to complete every day, I set up things like Writing At Least 1500+ words, Exercise, and Reading. I’ve added things to the To Do List as they come up, and it works well as a reminder.
Once you advance a few levels, you unlock the drop feature, and can get eggs, potions, and food when you complete a task. The potions are used to hatch the eggs, and the food helps your new pets grow. I’ve got four pets so far, including the lion below. (Yes, I’m wearing a party hat. But only because they didn’t have a fez.) There are quests you can set up, but I haven’t gotten there yet.
I wish you could do a little more customizing. You can set specific days of the week for your Dailies, but you can’t configure it for something like, “Exercise at least three times/week.” Some of the features require you to pay real-world money for gems, which can be redeemed for other goodies, but you can get along fine without those. And the mobile app is rather bare-bones. But none of these are deal-breakers, especially for a free application.
The best part has been getting my son into the game. I set him up with his own character, and we created his lists. Now instead of hounding him to do his various chores, all I have to do is ask if he’s earned his XP for the day. He pulls up his character and starts running around to feed the dogs, take care of recycling, hang up his jacket, and everything else. It’s not perfect, and if we don’t remind him to check, he forgets. He’s gotten down to about 10% of his hit points before, but he hasn’t died yet. (When you die, you lose a level.) But it’s still a lot more fun than it used to be, and he does his chores with a lot less trouble.
My daughter, being a little older and not a geek, wasn’t interested. But it’s definitely helped my son and I get a little more done, and have a little more fun doing it.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I want to once again thank everyone for the guest blog posts last month. They were amazing and powerful and thought-provoking. I know that you got me thinking about things I hadn’t considered before, and judging from the comments, I wasn’t the only one. Here’s the full list of posts:
- Parched – Mark Oshiro
- Boys’ Books – Katharine Kerr
- Clicking – Susan Jane Bigelow
- The Princess Problem – Charlotte Ashley
- Autism, Representation, Success – Ada Hoffmann
- Gender in Genre – Katie
- I Don’t See Color – Michi Trota
- Evil Albino Trope is Evil – Nalini Haynes
- Options – Joie Young
- Representation without Understanding – Derek Handley
- Non-binary and Not Represented – Morgan Dambergs
There were several other posts I wanted to mention in this roundup.
- Aging Children, I am one, by M. Fenn
- Lesbian Genre Fiction: The Importance of Having All 31 Flavors, by Heather Rose Jones
- The Power of Representation: SFF Saved My Life, by Nonny Blackthorne
- Spending Time with Old Sci-Fi, by James Ebert
- Disabilities in the Media and the follow-up post, Confession: I’m Part of the Problem, by Datista
The frustrating thing about blogging is that, for the most part, any given blog post has a very short lifespan. They get their moment in the spotlight, and then wander backstage to the archives. I wanted to find a way to keep these essays alive for anyone who wanted to read and share them. Which is why I spent the weekend sending contracts out to my guest bloggers and a couple of additional individuals for Invisible, an electronic anthology that will collect these essays in a more permanent form. I’m still working out the details, but each contributor will receive a token payment for their essay, with the rest of the profits going to Con or Bust. The essays will remain online for free, but the anthology will be $2.99, which seemed reasonable for a collection of this length. Here’s the cover I’ve been working on. Feedback is very much welcome. The contributor names are pixellated out because I haven’t received all of the contracts back yet. I’m excited about this. If all goes well, I’d love to make it an annual thing, both the guest blog posts and the electronic anthology.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
In part of her introductory essay on non-binary gender in SF/F, Alex Dally MacFarlane wrote about Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, noting that it has become the, “go-to book for mind-blowing gender in SF, despite being written in 1968. Nothing written in the decades since has got the same traction.” Le Guin herself has written about her choices in that novel, and acknowledged that there are ways in which she fell short of her goal and failed to create a truly agender society.
Bookseller Morgan Dambergs talks about the very few books that acknowledge non-binary gender at all, and reiterates that what they are asking for isn’t to be included in Every Single Story, but simply to be acknowledged, and for the genre “to treat us in stories and in life as regular human beings rather than oddities or jokes or something purely alien.”
I am genderqueer—agender, specifically—and at thirty-one, I have yet to read a novel that features an agender character. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising to me: in the last decade or so, I’ve read more than two hundred science fiction and fantasy books, and only three have included non-binary characters at all. I think that lack of representation has a lot to do with why it took me twenty-one years to find out that non-binary identities exist, and why it’s only been in the last six months that I’ve finally accepted my own genderqueer identity as real and something I’m allowed to express.
When I was nineteen, I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I remember being very interested in the Gethenians, a species of humanoids that spend most of their lives sexless and genderless. But a mild fascination was as far as it ever went for me; there was never any sense of identification. There are two reasons why The Left Hand of Darkness failed to resonate with me. First, when I read the book, I had never yet heard the words “genderqueer” or “non-binary” or even “genderfuck,” or heard of anyone who identified as anything other than binary male or female. I had no lexicon to help me drawn a connection between the genderless Gethenians and my lifelong discomfort at with treated as either purely female or purely male. As far as I knew, there was no human experience comparable to how the Gethenians lived. For example, except during their monthly breeding period called kemmer, Gethenians don’t have any genitalia, so they’re not assigned a gender at birth. Our world, on the other hand, had made it clear that because I was assigned female at birth, I had two options: “stay” female (I didn’t have the word “cisgender” yet either) or “become” a transgender man. Since my biology and society were not and could never be like the Gethenians, the genderlessness of Gethen life never amounted to more than a pleasant thought experiment for me.
My second issue with the book was the human protagonist, Genly Ai. Genly is a cisgender male who finds the genderless Gethenians completely baffling, and spends much of the novel arbitrarily labelling them masculine or feminine to make himself more comfortable. I realize that Le Guin was trying to use Genly’s prejudices to point out the arbitrariness of that kind of labelling. But like the human protagonists in many SF and F stories, Genly is also intended to be the readers’ entry point into Le Guin’s speculative world. His point of view is the one meant to ease us into and explain the stranger aspects of the Gethenians—not least their lack of gender. When you’re a human being who is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having to choose between being exclusively male or exclusively female, and your first introduction to the idea of a genderless society is from the point of view of a human who can’t wrap his head around how anyone could ever be truly genderless, it’s pretty, well, alienating.
And then there are the other two books I mentioned. The first is Valentine by S. P. Somtow, the second book in one of my favourite horror trilogies. The book’s non-binary character is named PJ Gallagher. He identifies as cisgender male in the first and third books of the trilogy, but becomes temporarily (and mystically) non-binary as part of the plot of Valentine. PJ accepts his transformation gracefully, as do his fellow protagonists, and he’s not treated like a freak. But he does ultimately identify as a cisgender man, not as a non-binary and/or genderqueer person, so there’s little about his experience of non-binariness that matches up with mine. PJ’s non-binariness is fleeting, not a journey and a struggle he’s been going through all his life. Also, PJ is from a half-Shoshone background, and Somtow misappropriates a real non-binary Shoshone identity, called “berdache,” to describe PJ. My understanding is that being berdache is a lifelong identity, not a temporary one. I can only imagine that PJ’s portrayal must be infuriating and hurtful to anyone who identifies as berdache in real life.
The second book is Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Habibi, which is no less problematic. The non-binary characters are based on the Hijra, a real third sex—neither male nor female—that has long existed in parts of the Indian subcontinent and Pakistan. My understanding is that, like Somtow’s misuse of “berdache,” Thompson’s idea of what it means to be Hijra has little to do with the lives of real Hijra people, especially in the modern day.
The Hijra in Habibi take in Zam, an adolescent boy who is one of the book’s two protagonists. Under their care, Zam becomes a eunuch (a practice that is not especially common amongst real-life Hijra) and is taught how to live and work within their communal home. When Zam eventually rejects them and runs away, he talks about feeling disgusted and regretful that he “ruined” his body in trying to become one of them.
It’s hard to put into words just how much that bothered me—and again, the portrayal must be so much more hurtful to anyone who self-identifies as Hijra. I can’t speak as a Hijra; but I can say as an agender person that, although I don’t deny being genderqueer has made my life more difficult, I also don’t regret growing up to be the person I am. I definitely don’t pine for the cisgender woman I could maybe, potentially, have been. And I’ve read nothing that implies the average Hijra feels any less comfortable with their non-binariness than I do with mine. That makes Zam’s arc little more than a twist on the old “gay recruitment” scare story: an innocent young boy becomes trapped in the clutches of the twisted Hijra, who coerce him into becoming one of them—and it ruins his life forever!!! (Yeah, ’cause that’s not horrible or marginalizing or written from a place of extreme cis privilege.)
So let’s recap real quick. Of the three books I’ve read in the last eleven years that include non-binary characters, one features non-binary aliens who are painted as too alien for me to find identifiable; one has a character who self-identifies as cisgender male but becomes non-binary very briefly for a specific, mystical purpose; and the third treats its non-binary characters as manipulative, pathetic and/or self-hating.
Not much to work with, really, is it?
I followed the comments on Alex Dally MacFarlane’s introductory post for her Tor.com series on non-binary characters closely. One of the most frustrating arguments I encountered is that because some SF and F stories featuring non-binary characters have already been written, there’s no need to spend time talking about them. The people making that argument seem to feel that all the books need to do is exist and the people who need them most will find them somehow. But I’ve been in need of those stories for as long as I can remember and have been actively searching for them for close to a decade. So far, with no resources at all to point me in the right direction, The Left Hand of Darkness, Valentine and Habibi are all I’ve managed to turn up.
When I was younger, reading about shy and introverted characters helped me feel like I wasn’t the only shy, introverted person alive in the world, and like those traits were just personality differences, not flaws I had to fix. I have every reason to believe that, if I’d had the chance to read more books about non-binary characters as a teen or young adult, I could have understood and accepted my agender identity many years ago. That’s why the discussion of non-binary genders in the science fiction and fantasy community is so important to me. Drawing attention to—maybe even inspiring authors to write more—SF and F novels that include non-binary characters can potentially change the lives of real non-binary people for the better. We’re not demanding to be included in every single science fiction and fantasy story ever written from now on. But asking the science fiction and fantasy community to acknowledge our existence, to no longer assume the gender binary is the default, to treat us in stories and in life as regular human beings rather than oddities or jokes or something purely alien—I don’t think that’s really so much to ask.
Morgan Dambergs runs a very small used bookstore in their hometown of Halifax, Canada. They spend much (though never enough) of their free time reading and writing speculative fiction. They hope to someday publish some fantasy and horror novels, which will, naturally, include both non-binary and binary characters.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I really appreciate Derek Handley talking about the difference between lack of representation and poor or lazy representation. As writers, research is important. It’s not enough to just decide a character is in a wheelchair without considering why, or how that affects their day-to-day life. As with so many of these essays, this post has given me a lot to think about as a writer.
Tomorrow, Morgan Dambergs will bring this whole series full circle, talking about non-binary gender and referencing the Alex Dally MacFarlane post that helped bring about this collection of guest posts.
At a very basic level, wheelchair users are not an under-represented group in fiction. We’re just very misunderstood.
Take a moment and I’m sure you’ll easily come up with a dozen characters with wheelchairs: heroes and villains, lead protagonists and supporting characters. They might be from science-fiction or period drama or comedy. You might not be able to think of a character in fantasy—although they do exist—but I’m certain you can come up with a dozen.
I’m going to make a few predictions about your list. Most of the characters are white men. Over half are extremely intelligent. Most of them have vaguely defined injuries. Most of those with clearly defined injuries lost their legs rather than injuring their spine.
My final prediction is that the creative team will only have done some real research if the story is about the disability itself. Otherwise, the wheelchair is at best, descriptive color and at worst, so misunderstood that it might as well not be part of the story.
I’ve been using a wheelchair for almost 16 years, and while friends claim not to see that as one of my defining characteristics, it is. Wheelchair user goes on the list with Irish, gay, ex-pat, hearing impaired, and writer. We are the sum of our experiences and being a wheelchair user is a very different experience to not being one. I am not defined by my disability, but it is part of my daily life and it affects almost everything I do.
Becoming a wheelchair user later in life—or indeed acquiring any condition or disability that drastically changes our interactions with the world—provides a unique perspective on representation. There is a before and after. There is an acquired desire to connect to something that previously was just a plot point or some descriptive color.
In my case, I went from not really thinking about wheelchairs to seeing them everywhere—not to mention seeing the obstacles to their passage. I lost that inattentional blindness that we have about things that don’t affect us. I found myself wanting to know more about my new state, and even needing to find evidence that I hadn’t completely lost my old life, that I still had possibilities.
I gradually realized that very few of the characters I found meant something to me.
There have been some characters that work or at least come close to being good representations. Jason Street (Friday Night Lights) is one. As far as the writing went, Gail Simone’s Barbara Gordon (Birds of Prey) was another, although the art in those comics was rarely as well researched. The Open Hands Initiative’s Bashir Bari (Silver Scorpion) is a character I hope to see again as he was really well done. Finally, as absurd as his physical prowess is, Joe Swanson (Family Guy) is a breath of comedic fresh air.
Despite those few names, some fundamental issues remain. Unless the character’s sole purpose is to tell a story of emotional struggle and physiotherapy (Jason Street) or the disability makes a climactic scene more dramatic (Jake Sully in Avatar), there is a real disconnect between the reality of a wheelchair user and the fictional world.
Many of these issues are subtle but irritating. The wheelchair might not fit the character’s injury and lifestyle. Barbara Gordon has gone through a dozen heavy, thoroughly unsuitable wheelchairs thanks to poor research by artists. The chair might be an absurd contraption. Professor X’s floating metal box in the early 90s and his seated Segway in New X-Men spring to mind. Undefined spinal injuries often lead to inconsistent portrayals of what the character can physically do. Yes, quadriplegics can play sports like wheelchair rugby and go bobsledding, but that doesn’t mean they have full upper body control.
It could be argued that I’m nit-picking but if these characters were supposed to represent people like me, then they failed on some level. The research wasn’t done—or wasn’t complete—and the effect alienated me rather than making me feel understood or included. Some characters fail completely. Professor X, probably the most famous wheelchair-using character, has no traits that show him to have a disability except the wheelchair itself. Even his injury is vague. He’s a better representative for premature alopecia than for spinal cord injury.
The worst insult for me is the sudden cure. The cure negates the character as a representation. Most male comic book characters get cured: they’re cloned into a new body (Professor X); they have costumes that grow new legs for them (Flash Thompson in Venom; Soldier Zero); they get prosthetics that are indistinguishable in function from the real thing (Flash Thompson in Superior Spider-man); or they turn out to have been faking (I won’t spoil that one). Female characters get retconned out of existence (Wendy Harris from Batgirl) or retconned back to health (Barbara Gordon).
That last one particularly stung. While the art had often let the character down, it merely downgraded her from a great representative character to a good one. Gail Simone did some great work, showing in subtle ways that while Barbara Gordon had built a fulfilling life, she faced and overcame daily challenges. Those ranged from keeping her father from worrying about her to being immobilized—but far from helpless—when she was captured and had her wheelchair taken away. She was great. And then she was gone and we were back to pseudo-representatives like Flash Thompson.
Representation is important. When you’re a kid, it’s about having a positive role model with your defining characteristics. When you’re an adult, it’s about being reminded that you fit in somewhere and escaping into that character. And when you’re going through a major life change, it’s about finding solace in stories that show you that someone understands and that maybe you can overcome the challenges you face.
And that’s why representation without understanding hurts as much as not being represented at all.
Derek Handley is an Irish-born writer living in Germany. He divides his time between writing fiction, providing language training, and doing scientific writing and editing for corporate and academic clients. Having traveled extensively since becoming a wheelchair user, he plans to start a resource center for other “rolling travelers” and also develop materials to support able-bodied creators in understanding characters with disabilities.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Anyone know if there’s a good plugin for emphasizing pull quotes in a blog post? Because I’d love to be able to make lines like this stand out even more:
“That book – that wonderful, hidden, slim brown book – was a lifeline. It gave me the option to consider something other than the horrific status quo I was maintaining.”
Also, my thanks to Joie Young for mentioning xyr frustration with Dumbledore. I had mixed feelings about that revelation as well, but xe articulates it better than I’ve been able to.
I’ve got at least two more guest blog posts coming, but I’m still deciding which one to run next. So I guess you’ll just have to come back tomorrow to find out!
I couldn’t even tell you when I began to notice women. I have no memory of my first crush on a girl. I can look back and identify what would have been a crush if I had thought for a second that I could crush on a female, but I can’t tell you who it was or when it was or even why I crushed on her.
Because that simply wasn’t an option.
What I can tell you is the moment I first saw myself reflected in a book – not that I recognized it was me in that reflection. I was in high school. My literature class was working in the library on some sort of internet search worksheet. I had just completed the worksheet, so I scoured the bookshelves for something to read while the rest of the class completed it. The book I chose was literally on the bottom shelf in the back corner of the library. Honestly, I thought it was part of the reference section at first. The back cover introduced the book as a coming of age novel, and that seemed like a decent enough distraction. So, I went back to my desk and read.
I could not have known what I was getting into. This wasn’t just a coming of age novel. This was a close look at race, education, class, and sexuality. The main characters were black, poor, had insufficient resources at their school, and weren’t of the “traditional” sexualities. Now, I’m pretty lucky in this world. I’m white and middle class with parents who invested in my education from the start. I have so much privilege. But I’m also pan-sexual and non-binary. So, while much of the discussion in this book – oh how I wish I could remember the name of it! – was totally foreign to me, I still needed it in a way I would not be able to describe until years later. When the main character in the book, an aromantic girl, sees the boy she has convinced herself she has a crush on kiss another boy, the moment spoke to me.
The clarity of that moment – both in the book and my recognition of something familiar there – has often occurred to me in the years since. I finally came out when I was twenty-five, a short eighteen months ago, to a few friends. And I was terrified. Because when my family found out, and I wanted them to find out from me, how would they react? The boy in the book was so terrified of being found out. The girl felt so much shame, but she wasn’t sure why. Was it because of what she saw? Or what she felt? Or who he was?
The resolution of the book was the girl working things out in her own head. She re-extended the hand of friendship to the boy, who was relieved that she knew. She realized people were just people and that was nothing to be ashamed of. She became comfortable with her lack of romantic interest. It was an uplifting ending.
And it gave me courage a decade later. Maybe I shouldn’t be so scared (though I was). Maybe I should give people the opportunity to be amazing (and they were). Maybe I should be comfortable with myself (now I am). That book – that wonderful, hidden, slim brown book – was a lifeline. It gave me the option to consider something other than the horrific status quo I was maintaining.
There was another book, Faerie Wars by Herbie Brennan. This one I read about two years before I came out and two years after having fallen in love with a woman (not that I would admit it at the time). It was a revelation. First of all, because it was such a sensory book. The main character is a teenager and the descriptions are focused on concrete senses, especially touch and smell. It was like an adult author finally remembered what it was like to be a teenager – or at least how it was to be a teenager like me.
The second reason the book had such an impact was what was happening in the background. Henry Atherton, the young teenaged protagonist, was trying to understand his parents’ sudden divorce, as was his sister. And the parents were getting divorced because his mother had fallen in love with a woman. The reactions ranged the spectrum. Henry was shocked – his mom had, after all, married his father and had two children with him. Henry’s sister was flat-out in denial and spouting all the stereotypes about it being “a phase” and it not being “real” and how every woman “goes through this sort of thing.” Mr. Atherton was resigned and doing everything he could to keep the family as in tact as possible. He understood his wife no longer loved him and chose to move out. Mrs. Atherton acted as if nothing was wrong, as if she could make it all right by pretending nothing happened.
I haven’t read the book since I came out and began learning about representation (and how not all representation is good). It’s possible that the treatment of the situation is offensive. But at the time, I needed to see those multitudes of reactions. At the time, I needed an idea of what might happen when I came out (not that I would admit I thought I might be coming out in the near future). I needed to know that coming out – after years of silence – was an option. I needed to be told it wouldn’t kill my family or my friends and that there would be people who loved me at the end of that day. And oh, how there were.
Even now, out and happily so, I need those books. I cried when a character in one of my favorite series came out, in canon, as gay (I’m declining to mention the series as the book is barely four months old – I don’t want to spoil anyone). That was my greatest frustration with Dumbledore – we need, I need, canon representation. Those words in black and white have great meaning and hope. Often times, still, books are the support I do not get from the culture that told me for twenty plus years that my sexuality and self were not options.
If those words mean so much to me, I cannot fathom what they mean to those who don’t have all my privileges. Representation in art matters so much. I wouldn’t have known where to begin had I not had it. I would not have known that I had options.
And so, I fight when and how I can for representation. I get angry when people try to deny it. I feel hurt, too personally sometimes, when people say it’s not necessary. I cry when we get small, too tiny pieces of the pop-culture pie because at least there’s a piece for us. Sometimes, I honestly don’t know if those tears are of rage at the smallness or of joy at the existence. Sometimes, I know they’re both. We’ve got such a long way to go, so it’s especially important to me when celebrities and athletes and everyday people come out.
Because someone out there needs the option.
Joie Young is an aspiring author currently knee-deep in the editing process of xyr first manuscript. Xe spends most of xyr time steeped in faerie tales, mythology, and rodeo. Xe writes about writing here, tweets here, and – in general – enjoys being an avid fan of good literature, good TV, and good food. Books were xyr only advocates for many years, so xe is especially passionate about representation in literature.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Welcome back. I’m doubly grateful to Nalini Haynes for this essay, both for writing it, and because it’s a facet of discrimination and stereotyping that I haven’t thought as much about. Thank you, Nalini, for helping to remedy that.
Come back tomorrow for a post by Joie Young.
When I was in primary school, my classmates explained that I was evil because ‘all albinos are evil, look at albinos on TV and in the movies.’ I’ve been looking ever since.
Star Trek Deep Space Nine featured an albino Klingon who murdered defenceless wives and children.
The Da Vinci Code’s villain was an evil, masochistic albino. Every time he self-mutilated, I cringed and died a bit inside.
The pilot of Defiance had two albino-type alien villains, significantly paler than everyone else. Their son was Romeo to another character’s Juliet; ‘Romeo’ had a large tuft of blue hair to differentiate him from his evil albino-type parents.
The Heat’s albino was painted as the villain but [spoiler alert] he was ‘only’ a misogynistic bastard whose unprofessional conduct should have resulted in inter-departmental complaints.
The Hobbit: the Desecration Desolation of Hollywood Smaug features an albino orc. Orcs are so evil that, to make one orc stand out as being super-evil, Peter Jackson made him an albino. I loved the original book; IF ONLY PJ STUCK TO THE STORY.
The Silence of Medair received an honourable mention from the Aurealis Awards judges for its ‘playful’ dealing with racial tropes. I suffered its atrocious prose to discover the judges’ idea of playful dealing with racial tropes was making the villains a race of albino-types.
The evil albino trope is so prevalent that authors trying to be clever create evil (generically bad and/or inappropriately-behaving) albinos who are not the ultimate villain to mislead the audience as in The Heat (movie) and Wolves by Simon Ings. The evil albino trope affects popular perception of and treatment of real-life albinos.
Erin Carpenter said, “A minister’s son told our daughter she was the devil because she had red eyes and that she was going to go to hell.” Because evil albino is the devil.
In 2001 I overheard a conversation between the parents of an albino in grade three and the teacher. The teacher said the albino spent her class breaks in tears hiding in the bushes because her classmates were bullying her. The teacher said the albino had to take responsibility for being bullied, had to stop crying and hiding from the bullies. Because evil albino is always at fault.
In 2005 I landed a job at CNAHS, part of the Department of Health in South Australia. I was refused disability access repeatedly, including in email and in a staff meeting where I was publicly humiliated before walking out in tears. Because evil albino should be refused disability access.
A CNAHS colleague commented she couldn’t read the smallest print on a notice without her glasses. I replied that I couldn’t read anything beyond the largest print on that notice with my glasses. The senior social worker said, “That’s because you’re too vain to wear coke bottle glasses.” The senior social worker repeatedly asked me not to apply for work elsewhere because she needed me, requiring me to work the longest hours and take on the most difficult clients (clients she should have accepted). Then she participated in a selection committee that gave my job to a student she hadn’t allowed to counsel clients only three months earlier. After I lodged a complaint about managers refusing disability access and then replacing me, the senior social worker refused to be a referee, thus ensuring I could never work as a counsellor again. Because evil albino is vain.
CNAHS’s investigator initially committed to natural justice but later refused to include my evidence. After redacting others’ interviews, the investigator falsely claimed I did not have a disability, I had not asked for disability access and I did not need disability access. Because evil albino deserves neither justice nor a job.
The Equal Opportunities Commission investigated. The EOC found that CNAHS refused disability access repeatedly but that this was my fault because I hadn’t asked “enough times.” Because evil albino is always at fault.
I took the matter to court, representing myself (unemployed, remember?). The judge ruled crucial evidence inadmissible; this ‘inadmissible’ evidence included manager’s notes, employment forms and emails proving declaration of disability and refusals of access. When I asked why he was ruling my evidence inadmissible he laughed and said, “Because I can.” Because evil albino should not have evidence.
After losing my career I turned to further study. In 2007 the Human Rights Commission found the University of South Australia discriminated against me. The Human Rights representative presented an offer on behalf of UniSA: $4000 compensation, a gagging order and a permanent ban from further education. Because evil albino is not entitled to an education nor a job.
Once I was allowed to return to study (after threatening to expose UniSA on radio), they harassed and victimised me, forcing me to withdraw. In 2008 UniSA’s lawyer offered me over $3000 compensation with a gagging order and a permanent ban on further education. In the next few years I repeatedly applied to universities to retrain but was continually knocked back until 2012 when RMIT wanted to make me an offer but could not do so because UniSA refused to confirm my previous education. Because evil albino should not be allowed an education.
(I wrote to UniSA threatening legal action then the difficulty was magically resolved although they denied responsibility. I’m now enrolled at RMIT, earning distinctions and high distinctions.)
The evil albino trope is lazy writing, creating a sense of ‘other’ by victimising a small minority group. The evil albino trope alienates albinos, punishing us for looking different and suffering bad eyesight. Reinforcing perceptions of incompetence and evil-ness in this people group is discrimination and victimisation.
Last year I spoke up against the evil albino trope in a cultural misappropriation panel at a convention. Afterwards several people told me that they weren’t misappropriating albinism, they were justified in writing their evil albino.
If you wouldn’t write an ‘evil [insert racial group, sexual orientation or disability group here]’ then do not write an evil albino.
- Where it’s dangerous to live with Albinism
- The biennial conference of the Albinism Fellowship of Australia
- TV tropes: the Evil Albino trope
- Wikipedia: albinism in popular culture
Photo by Kevin Mark.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Welcome to the second week of guest blog posts about representation in SF/F. Today’s essay is from Michi Trota, whose photo (at the bottom) is SO MUCH COOLER than any of my author photos. Not that I’m jealous. Nope, not me. Sigh.
There’s a line in this piece that really stuck with me:
Skin color was nothing more than interchangeable window-dressing if we were “all the same underneath,” right?
It resonated with something an artist was talking about this past weekend at the “Diversity in Nerd Culture” panel at No Such Con, about how changing the race of a character like Perry White can be problematic if it changes nothing except skin color, treating race as something that has no effect on who someone is. It was a good panel, and I’m still processing a lot of what I learned.
In the meantime, thank you Michi for sharing her story and kicking off the second round of posts. And tomorrow, Nalini Haynes will be talking about the “evil albino” trope.
Almost all of the women in science fiction/fantasy fandoms that I have felt the strongest affinity for have been white. Partially it’s because there just aren’t many Asian (particularly Pacific Islander) women in supportive (much less leading) roles in the fandoms I grew up with. Most of the TV shows I loved watching as a child had a terminal case of Smurfette Syndrome in which the single girl on the team was white (Voltron, Battle of the Planets, Silverhawks, Starvengers, Starblazers, I’m looking right at you). And when there were characters who were Asian women, they almost universally conformed to some variation of Asian stereotype: the awkward (science/tech) nerd, the ingénue pop star, the Dragon Lady, the grades-obsessed student, and almost always without a love interest (or at least one who reciprocated their feelings).
No one wants to see themselves as a walking cardboard cut-out, but that’s not really the problem with seeing characters who look like you being played as stereotypes. It’s not that I didn’t find anything of myself to relate to in those stereotypes – yes, I played the piano, I was a hyper-competitive honors student, and I even studied kendo for a few years – it’s that many of them felt painfully familiar. Seeing those moments reduced to caricatured facets and bad punchlines that all but screamed “Look how DIFFERENT and EXOTIC these characters are!” made me want to run in the other direction. When you’re the only Asian kid in your neighborhood and get weird looks for bringing chicharrón with spicy vinegar and garlic pork-filled siopao to the annual block party, you really don’t need any more reminders that you’re not like everyone else.
So when I discovered comics, I ignored spunky teenaged, fireworks-spouting Jubliee because I wanted to be like the poised and telepathic/telekinetic (and occasionally cosmically powerful) Jean Grey or the sarcastic, ass-kicking Domino instead. I played Sonya in Mortal Kombat instead of Chun-Li in Streetfighter. Robotech was probably the defining fandom of my childhood, and it had lots women in positions of authority, many of them tough, intelligent, independent and just as likely to do the rescuing as be rescued. But I hated the single Asian girl, the pop star Lynn Minmei. Even though she was one of the most influential characters of the series, I found her shallow, self-absorbed and selfish. It was her romantic rival, the no-nonsense Lisa Hayes, who I empathized with. She was brave, responsible and resourceful, and in the end, she got the guy.
At the time, I didn’t see anything odd about this. I grew up being told that not “seeing color” was the best way to avoid racism. Regardless of the color of their skin, people were not different “inside,” and treating everyone as if they were the same meant that you were not racist. So if everyone was “the same,” there was no reason I shouldn’t want to be more like Lisa than Minmei, or see myself more in Jean Grey than Jubilee. After all, Psylocke was still the same person after her mind was switched from her British white woman’s body to that of the Asian assassin, Kwannon. The writers wanted Psylocke to not “look like everyone else,” so why not makeover the white girl into an Asian? Skin color was nothing more than interchangeable window-dressing if we were “all the same underneath,” right?
But if people didn’t really “see” color, why was I the only one getting asked about martial arts and told I spoke English very well? Why did I always have to play Sulu during make-believe Star Trek at recess? If people still treated me differently, maybe it was because I wasn’t acting enough like everyone else or trying hard enough not to see skin color, especially my own.
There’s a passage from David Byunghyun Lee’s powerful essay about growing up Asian in America that encapsulates what I’ve struggled for most of my adult life to articulate about my relationship with racial identity:
“[W]hen [our parents] saw that their children could perform as white, they encouraged it without teaching us or telling us to love our Asian side. And as the line between performing as white and being white blurred, so did the line between thinking white people are better and thinking that being white is better. In hindsight, our biggest mistake was having believed in the line at all.”
Nowhere has the absence of that line become more apparent than in my own writing. Every piece of fiction I’ve ever written has been based around white characters. The short story I wrote about a family dealing with parental loss like mine? All white characters. The aborted fantasy tetralogy I spent years outlining and rewriting the first five chapters for? The main characters were all white, and the setting was another Tolkienesque pseudo-Western Europe. When I Mary Sue’d myself into my fan fiction, I wrote myself as a white girl. Apparently it never once occurred to me to write any Asian characters, much less as protagonists, even when they were supposed to be me.
In my personal essays, there is next to nothing about my experiences as an Asian American, outside the mentions of the Filipino food my mother made. I can easily write thousands of words about what it means to be a woman who loves geeky things and what it was like to be the only woman in my local comic book store every Wednesday. I can write about the shock of recognizing internalized sexism within myself and the embarrassment of realizing cotton candy pink blush is really not my color (simple bronzer, on the other hand…). I don’t have to force myself to acknowledge my relationship with gender.
Writing about my relationship with race, however, is a struggle.
When I write about being Asian, I instinctively move to the emotionally neutral realm of academia and sociological concepts. Writing about my relationship with race is like trying to talk with a distant relative who engenders no discernible feelings. Rebuilding that connection requires peeling away thirty-six years of scar tissue I never knew that I had, and while each layer reveals new depths of understanding, it also forces me to deal with the consequences of self-alienation.
What does it mean when I say that “I don’t see race?” It means that because I learned to see no difference between “white” and “color,” I have white-washed my own sense of self. It means that I know more about what it is to be a white person than what it is to be Asian, and I am a stranger among both. It means that I built my identity on a warped foundation but never noticed the asymmetry until I not only tried to create new worlds upon it, but began exploring my own as well. In the absence of acknowledging how being Asian is an inescapable part of who I am, I’ve become a cipher to myself.
Navigating the pitfalls and traps of gender stereotypes as a woman has been daunting, but I’ve never lost sight of my internal compass there. Exploring what it means to be an Asian woman, not just in distant terms of abstract social constructs, but in the language of my deepest self, means chasing my own personal white rabbit down the hole. And I have no idea what I’ll find on the other side.
Michi Trota is a writer, speaker, communications manager and community organizer in Chicago, IL. She writes about geek culture & fandom, fire performance and occasionally bacon on her blog, Geek Melange, and is a member of the Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Board of Organizers. In her spare time, she spins fire (sometimes in cosplay) with the fire+bellydance showcase, Raks Geek, and at the Chicago Full Moon Jams (for which she also manages communications and event planning). Her mutant power is making anyone hungry merely by talking about food. Which she does a lot.
Photo by Braden Nesin.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I’m off to New York this afternoon for No Such Convention. Have a good weekend, all!
- Cats Taking Selfies.
- Wet Cats. (Link from Michi Trota)
- AT-ATs attack the Winter Olympics. (Link from Comrade Cat)
- Book Sculptures by Malena Valcarcel. (Link from Kat Howard)
- A can of Ravioli is devoured by lava. Just because.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Detcon1 is doing some very cool things, one of which is the creation of an award for YA and Middle Grade speculative fiction. Two awards will be given out, one in each category.
Anyone can nominate up to five titles for the awards. Only Detcon1 members (attending or supporting) will be able to vote on the final ballot, but you don’t have to be a member to help create that final ballot.
YA and MG works first published in 2013 are eligible. From the website, “Works published in a language other than English are also eligible if their first year of publication in English translation was 2013.”
The nomination deadline is coming up fast. All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on February 28.
Oh, and if you’re a Michigan-based 3-D artist interested in designing the award, please let them know on Facebook or at email@example.com!
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I’ve fallen a bit behind in book reviews, so I’m going to do a quick threesome to get caught up.
Let’s start with Chuck Wendig‘s Under the Empyrean Sky [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], a dystopian YA novel with genetically engineered super-corn. The stuff will grow pretty much anywhere and on anything … including people.
Cael is a young scavenger, sailing over the endless sea of corn, searching for anything they can sell to bring in a few extra bucks. Life in the Heartland pretty much bites the wax tadpole, but the Empyrean government in their floating cities are the blaster-wielding Goliath to the Heartland’s slingshot-carrying David, making it difficult for folks like Cael to do anything beyond grumble and survive the best they can.
This is book one of a trilogy, and there’s a lot of worldbuilding and groundwork being laid out. It’s fast-paced, gritty, and dark. (I did mention it was a dystopian story, right?) There are some very cool ideas here, from the corn that can infest and grow into people’s bodies to the different ways people attempt to rebel against their rulers.
A little grim for my personal taste, but a lot of creativity and plenty of action, and it ends with the promise of even more to come in book two.
On a planet settled by Muslims and ravaged by constant war and pollution, Nyx, a former government-sponsored assassin or “bel dame,” gets by as a bounty hunter. Her assistant is the foreign magician Rhys, who can control the ubiquitous insects that drive the planet’s technology.
There’s a lot I really liked about this one, starting with the bugs. Hurley creates an entire world that runs on insect-based technology, from glowing bugs in lamps to carefully-bred beetles that can be used to deliver injections or draw blood to organic vehicles that run on bug-powered engines. The whole biological and genetic technologies are fascinating and engaging.
I also appreciate the central role of religion in the story, and the different perspectives we get from devout characters like Rhys and characters who appear to have turned their backs on God, like Nyx. That said, it bothers me that we have a planet colonized by Muslims that’s spent the past 3000 years fighting a religious war. I don’t know if this is something that will be addressed in the next books, if we get a broader view of the universe, but for now, this struck me as problematic.
The society Hurley creates has become dominated by women, in part as an effect of the neverending war. It was fascinating to see the reversals and changes.
Overall, not an easy book to read: it’s dark, different, at times troubling, and often thoughtful. Despite my reservations, I’m curious about the larger universe, and will probably be picking up the next one to see what happens.
When a tragic battle blows a hole in the city of Stamford, killing hundreds of people, the U.S. government demands that all super heroes unmask and register their powers. To Tony Stark – Iron Man – it’s a regrettable but necessary step. To Captain America, it’s an unbearable assault on civil liberties…
I like the premise of the story a lot, the struggle between security and liberty, the danger of superpowered individuals and collateral damage. Unfortunately, the story didn’t really work for me. I certainly enjoyed watching Iron Man and Thor go toe-to-toe in The Avengers, but during that battle, you never really had the sense they would go so far as to kill one another.
That’s not the case in this book, which turns superheroes into deadly enemies … and that’s where I kept getting kicked out of the story. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to accept that these characters would let themselves get so out of control. I get the urge to make them more human and flawed, I thought it went too far. While there are exceptions, I generally want my superhero stories to feature heroes I can actually like.
There were some good bits, and it was certainly a fast read, but it’s not one I’m likely to reread.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
We wrap up part one of the guest blog posts with this story from Katie about the relative lack of good trans* characters.
My thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and stories on the blog this week, and to all of the readers who responded so positively. My plan is to post the second half of the guest posts in the last week of February, with a round-up at the very end with links to everything that’s appeared here, along with some additional stories that I wasn’t able to include (because there were so many responses).
Have a wonderful weekend, all!
I find it almost laughable (I’m much too cynical to actually derive amusement from this) that for all we can accept with fiction, we cannot seem to accept diversity without at least a “…but…!” comment from someone. I’m not going to make a hyperbolic statement about how accepting dragons means accepting homosexual relationships – I think it’s a ridiculous, weak argument that makes no sense on any level – but instead just talk about how representation has let me, personally, down.
I identify publicly as trans*. I don’t know where on the spectrum I fit, but somewhere in the trans*/gender-queer area. I’m female identified, but I won’t go into the other details. Anyway. I find it so, so, so, so hard to find trans* characters I can identify with in books. Heck, I struggle to find trans* characters in books full stop.
I owe a lot to Mark Charan Newton, who allowed me to beta read some of his third Legends of the Red Sun novel, The Book of Transformations, which introduces a trans* character by the name of Lan. I won’t spoil the story, but we meet her whilst she’s presenting as a woman (but with the body of a male – she’s one of those lucky few who can pass with only a minimum of effort), but is singled out because she acts oddly within a group of female performers, none of whom know ‘what’ she is. Eventually she does get to transition (some cultists perform a possibly semi-magical genital reassignment surgery on her), and she spends the rest of that book (and the next) kicking ass.
I adore Lan. I do. And I wish I could kick ass like she does, or even just pass. Or be in a position where I could present. Anyway. Lan is a character I look up to and respect and love, but she’s almost alone in that respect, because I just can’t really find any trans* characters. Even if they are done well (such as by Guy Davis in his old Baker Street comics), it seems like victimisation is inevitable. Murder, assault, being outcast, etc. are all common situations applied to trans* characters (yes, even the beloved Neil Gaiman is no exception to this), and even if they survive the story it’s often not without some sort of violent conflict. In some other cases (e.g. Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl), the trans* character comes with slurs, and they’re portrayed as being a little bit weird, and again, it just… doesn’t sit right with me. Victim or freak. Freak or victim. Why must it be – somewhat ironically – a binary choice?
On a similar note, I find the ‘Q’ and ‘A’ aspects of the QUILTBAG community to be almost untouched. Whilst authors like Malinda Lo might tackle the ‘Q’ with relation to sexuality in their books, and often with another person acting as a catalyst (e.g., girl thinks she’s straight – or doesn’t question that – until a certain hot girl walks past), I don’t feel it helps people like me. People who just question every aspect of themselves continuously. There’s no… instantaneous or strung-out-over-300-pages answers, there’s just questions, and its position as a valid identity seems overlooked, if not ignored. As for asexuality, rarely – if ever – have I see this, and genuinely it’s in the sense that it’s less the character is asexual and more the book is.
I don’t want to feel like all I can buy are specifically trans*-themed books, because… well, what I want is to see trans* people and gender-queer people and asexual people and questioning people in the same sort of books we’re now seeing gay, lesbian and bisexual people in. I don’t doubt that the trans* and gender-queer revolution will come, just as it has for many other minority groups, but of all the genres that has the potential for dealing with it in many ways – even providing optimism for true transitions, etc. – I find what’s on offer to be lacking.
I guess what I’m saying is I don’t feel like there’s much out there that represents me. Yeah, okay, I can find characters that represent aspects of me or facets of my being, but not something that comes close to the ‘whole’. I suppose that’s true for everyone to some degree, yet for me – and I guess people a bit like me – it’s as if we don’t exist, and if we do, it’s as if we’re there to be made into victims or just portrayed in manner which involves negativity.
Katie is a fan of genre fiction, gaming and animation, and she can be found on Twitter as @Loerwyn. She occasionally posts on her own blog, and that’s basically about it, really. She’s not particularly interesting.* But don’t worry, Jim didn’t write this. She did, so it’s okay.
*Editorial note: Jim would like to state for the record that he strongly disagrees with this statement!
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I haven’t been shy about sharing my opinion on a certain petition that’s been causing some internet uproar. At the same time, it’s a fact that some intelligent people, some of whom I respect, signed the thing. (As did some people I don’t respect, and don’t consider particularly intelligent, but that’s the way it goes with just about any group.)
A part of me really wants to be done with this conversation. But I also want to understand why these people would sign something that, to me, is such blatant over-the-top fear-mongering and dog-whistling, with bonus helpings of rewritten history. I’ve spent some time trying to find people’s reasoning in their own words. I’m quoting them not because I want to point fingers or attack anyone, but to try to understand, and to process my own responses to their statements.
If I’ve misrepresented anyone’s views with these quotes, please let me know so I can make the appropriate corrections.
This is a very long post about a topic that’s already been beaten to death and brought back in zombie form and strung up as the world’s most gruesome pinata, so I totally understand and respect anyone who chooses not to wade through another round. Have some emergency kittens instead.( Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I don’t remember when I started following Ada Hoffman’s blog. I know it was after my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I believe I had come across some of her reviews of books & stories with autistic characters. Through Ada’s blog, I found a number of other autistic bloggers, and I’ve come away with a great deal to think about. My thanks to her for taking the time to write this guest post.
Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the week with a post from Katie about gender in genre.
I get a lot of praise, from certain corners, for being a “successful” autistic person. It’s weird for me. I don’t think of myself as an overachiever – frankly, most days I look at myself and only see the things I haven’t done yet. But it is increasingly clear that overachieving is what I do.
I’m only recently starting to unpack how this relates to the way I read and write autism.
There is a curious duality to the way we think of autism and success. It’s always one extreme or the other. “Cure” stories, which show up all over speculative fiction, typify this in the worst way. Here’s a line from a fictional doctor in Nancy Fulda’s awful short story “Movement”:
Without treatment, some children like Hannah develop into extraordinary individuals. They become famous, change the world, learn to integrate their abilities into the structures of society. But only a very few are that lucky. The others never learn to make friends, hold a job, or live outside of institutions.
Be amazing, say the doctors. If you’re not amazing all the time, if you slip up and let yourself look or act disabled, if you have a problem that inconveniences other people in any way – you’ll be one of them. The people with no future. The people who are only ever a burden to others.
This is ableist talk, of course. Horrifically so. “Low-functioning” autistic people get the ableism thrown directly at them, like there’s no possibility they could ever be anything else. “High-functioning” autistic people get it brandished at us from a distance. It’s the stick that’s used to drive us forward. Stop moving, and this is what we will think of you; this is what we will say about you; this is what you will be.
And “forward”, of course, means whatever the doctors want it to mean. It has a lot more to do with pretending to be NT [neurotypical] than it does with real achievement.
This is why I sometimes respond well to stories that don’t show autistic people at our best.
Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory”, for instance, is a horrible character. He is one absurd stereotype piled on another. From an “objective” standpoint – from the standpoint of NTs evaluating the show in terms of things they can understand, like stereotypes and “depth”, and “realism”, and whether or not the characters are “sympathetic” – there is nothing good to say about him.
But Sheldon doesn’t have to pretend to be NT.
Sheldon is totally unapologetic about who he is. He follows his routines, pursues his own interests, and gives no fucks at all about whether his friends are annoyed. He behaves like this constantly. And the world doesn’t end. No matter how outrageous Sheldon is or how much his friends profess to hate him, at the end of the day, he’s still a part of the group. He has friends. He has a job doing something he loves and is good at. He has money. He has, in later seasons, an autistic girlfriend. He is utterly unsympathetic to the NT characters. Yet he has all the things that doctors tell us we will never have, unless we work constantly, and without fail, at being sympathetic.
To a certain kind of autistic viewer, this is powerful.
Of course, as authors, we can and should do better than Sheldon. We can create much more nuanced portrayals. We can do much more with intersectionality and with the diversity that exists within autism. We can do much more to show that there are midpoints on the spectrum of sucess: that there are, for example, autistic people who do ordinary jobs instead of being a famous physicist, or who rely on support people to a degree while retaining their autonomy, or who live on disability cheques because the job market hates them, but find fulfillment in other activities. That all of this is okay, too. That our worth as humans is not dependent on anyone’s definition of success.
We also need to remember that people who are labeled “high-functioning”, and who have this neurotic relationship with our own success, are not the only autistic people whose feelings matter. That the other end of the spectrum matters too, and that there is not really much of a divide between us at all, except in the way we are treated.
My instinct is an author is to show people like me being happy, and good, and successful – and never too weird, because that would be a stereotype, and never too unsympathetic. And, let’s be fair. I like it when I see autistic people portrayed this way. It makes me feel happy and confident. It’s a valuable thing, and I want to see more of it.
But if this kind of portrayal is where we stop, we are doing ourselves an incredible disservice.
Maybe we, as autistic people, need to be shown warts and all sometimes. Maybe what we need most desperately to see is that we can be visibly disabled, and unsuccessful, and fail to meet NT expectations in all kinds of ways, and be treated with all sorts of horrible ableism, and still be human. And still be lovable and worth something, even if no one else sees it.
I’m not sure I entirely know how to do this. Meda Kahn does it very powerfully with a non-speaking protagonist in her story “Difference of Opinion”. I’m not sure if anyone else has ever done it quite that way. I act like some sort of big autism expert online, and that’s such a lie. There is a ton of this I still haven’t figured out, and I’m still looking and learning, like anyone.
Ada Hoffmann is a Canadian author with Asperger syndrome who blogs about autism in speculative fiction.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Charlotte Ashley’s story struck several nerves with me, both as an author and as a father. (So much so that I can’t even bring myself to joke about Canadians inserting an extra letter U into every third word.) It’s another story that leaves me just sitting here saying, Yes. That. That’s exactly why this conversation matters.
Tomorrow’s guest post comes from Ada Hoffman, and delves into the portrayal of autistic characters.
I have never spoken to my daughters about race because I thought I didn’t need to. At least not yet.
We live a fairly privileged existence despite being a low-income, mixed-race family. We’ve carved out a small space in the heart of one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and what we lack in money I like to think we make up in education and community involvement. This is a neighbourhood without an obvious dominant cultural group, and my girls – who are 2 and 5 – see people of every colour in every possible context. We manage “screen time” very closely, and so to date my kids haven’t watched much television beyond Miyazaki movies and nature documentaries. We invest in educational and creative toys rather than “brands.”
In short, we have tried, perhaps naively, to create a sort of post-racial utopia for these kids, in the hopes of delaying the baggage that will inevitably come from being poor, female and brown. I have never spoken to my daughters about race because I thought that the surroundings we have chosen would speak for themselves.
That’s my excuse. I tried, but I was wrong.
I realized my bubble of utopia had failed when the kids and I were colouring pictures from a Melissa & Doug princess colouring book, which was a gift. Maggie, my 5-year-old, started hunting for the peach marker because she was colouring the skin, but it was nowhere to be found. There were plenty of other valid skin colours, but she was adamant that princesses can only have peach skin.
“Maggie, give me a break. What colour is your skin?” I asked.
“Brown,” she grumbled.
“Then here. Use this nice light brown.”
She would not be moved. “But it has to be the RIGHT colour!”
5-year-olds are huge on order. They want things to be the way they “should” be. Tigers are orange and have black stripes. Farmers wear overalls. Houses are all single-family detached and nestled in wide, green fields; forget our cramped, urban reality. Kids are big on symbolic representation. The symbol for a princess is a blonde white girl in a pink dress. So it’s a costume, right? One anyone would have to put on to do it right?
“Don’t you want your princess to look realistic?” I tested her. “Real princesses don’t look like that.” She knows this because we’ve looked at pictures of historical “princesses” from all corners of the world, trying to head off this moment.
“Yes they do,” she insisted. “My girl is going to have blonde hair like B.” Her blonde, blue-eyed friend down the street.
So, not only do princesses have blonde hair, they have the same hair as the little white girl. This isn’t simply a symbol, she is mapping the symbol onto her real-life experiences. If B were to be a princess, that would be right. If Maggie were, it would be wrong. Because she’s the wrong colours.
I don’t need to ask how this happens. I know very well she gets this from school, and from our friends’ houses. My friends are concerned about representation too, but as mostly white, middle-class families, they haven’t felt the same urgency to represent diversity in their own houses. They see their daughters playing with their dolls in cool ways (Barbie and Ariel: Demon Hunters) and that convinces them that what the dolls show doesn’t matter because kids make their own messages. But it does matter.
There is an idea out there that brown dolls are for brown kids, so that they can “see themselves” in their playthings. The same attitude exists in media – that we need diverse characters for diverse audiences. But kids notice that their toys are different from their friends’. To them, the one token black princess is an outsider, like the one girl Smurf. Kids don’t relish being the singled-out one. They don’t think being different is quite as cool as we do.
In time my daughters will will learn that there are many ways to be, and some day they will find their places as a freaky but funky iconoclasts and learn how great it is to be different, but we’re not there yet. They are still learning the foundations of their identities, learning their limitations. They’re learning they can’t hit other kids, can’t fly (sadly), and can’t hold their pee forever.
And they’re learning they can’t be princesses.
Representing diversity matters. I’ve been told engineers say “the solution to pollution is dilution,” and they’re right. Next time you pick a toy or a costume or a book, think twice about how you’re contributing to the culture. Got white kids? Get them a black doll. Diversity is for everyone.
Charlotte Ashley is a writer, editor and independent bookseller from Toronto, Canada. Her bookish ramblings can be found at http://charlotteashley.wordpress.com/.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Today, please welcome Susan Jane Bigelow, talking about the portrayal of gender and the click of recognition upon finding characters like you. As well as the pain of those characters being played as a source of laughter and disgust.
Tomorrow’s guest post will be by Charlotte Ashley, talking about “The Princess Problem.”
I remember the first time it happened: I was watching “Saturday Night Live” at some point during the early 1990s, long before I’d ever even thought about words like “transgender,” when a sketch came on called “Lyle: The Effeminate Heterosexual.” Dana Carvey played a straight guy whose effeminate mannerisms made everyone assume he was gay. In retrospect it’s incredibly offensive, and even at the time it wasn’t very funny. But at the time I thought to myself, ah! This is what I am!
Because I wasn’t gay. I was just … girlish? Effeminate? I didn’t have any interest in other boys, but I was decidedly un-masculine and sometimes I cross-dressed, so what was I? It was the early 90s in white, suburban America; there were just no other words. Something about Lyle clicked in my teenage mind, and that sketch stayed with me for a long, long time. I’m Lyle, I would think. The effeminate heterosexual!
It didn’t really fit, but at least it was a start. It took me forever to sort out what I was, and where I really wanted to be. My sense of my own gender evolved and changed over time; I wasn’t the sort of person who knew from the age of five and stuck with it. I’m wonderfully clueless in some ways. But I’d still feel that same click of recognition whenever I came across characters in fiction that I knew, somehow, were sort of like me.
For instance, Belize, a drag queen in Angels in America, gave me that sense. Angel in the musical “RENT,” which I was lucky enough to see on Broadway when it was still in previews, was another — here was a man who was very effeminate, and sometimes used female pronouns. Later, I discovered Bel Thorne in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, a hermaphrodite whose presentation wandered freely across gender lines. I felt that little shock of identification with the gender variance embodied by each of them.
There were a lot of negative portrayals, too. There’s a very obscene reveal of a transgender woman in both Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Naked Gun 33 1/3, both of which I saw in the theater. The main characters reacted with disgust; Leslie Nielson’s character runs and throws up in a tuba. The audiences laughed.
I laughed, too, but inside I cringed and pushed that gender variant piece of myself down a little further. I was lucky; I wasn’t really aware of where I was headed yet, or why I felt the way I did. If I’d been more aware, those movies would have crushed me.
After I finally figured it all out and transitioned I started actively looking around for more media, especially in my favorite genres of science fiction and fantasy, where people like me were portrayed positively. There wasn’t much, and there still isn’t — though that’s changing now.
Because of that, I decided to take a risk. My own books were finally coming out, published by the excellent and progressive small press Candlemark & Gleam, and I decided to make the protagonist of the second “Extrahumans” book, Fly Into Fire, a transgender woman. I didn’t put a flashing sign over Renna’s head, but it’s pretty clear in the text who she is.
I hesitated about doing that. I wondered if I was going to be pegged as “that transgender author,” and if I’d find it hard to break out of that mold. I worried about backlash. I also wondered that when I wrote the story “Ramona’s Demons,” an urban fantasy short for the Lambda Award-winning The Collection from Topside Press. But then I thought about how little there was out there, especially in genre fiction, and how important those few positive characters who were enough like me to click had been, and decided it was worth it.
Not every book or story I write has transgender people in it, though I almost always have queer people of one sort or another, and almost all of my protagonists identify as women. I also don’t sell a ton of books. That’s life in the long tail! But every once in a while I get a fan letter from someone saying Thank you for Renna or Thank you for Ramona, and that makes it all worth it.
A big thank you to Jim for hosting this piece, and to all his wonderful readers.
Susan Jane Bigelow is a librarian, SF/F author and political columnist, among other things. She started writing science fiction when she was little, but her first published novel was 2011′s BROKEN (Extrahumans #1). Since then, two more Extrahumans novels, FLY INTO FIRE and THE SPARK, have been published. The first book in a new series, THE DAUGHTER STAR, came out in May, 2013. She writes a weekly political column for the Connecticut political news website, CT News Junkie, where she focuses on politics inside and relevant to the Nutmeg State. She also likes biking, reading, walking, Doctor Who, My Little Pony and all kinds of other things.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Originally, I had intended to gather signatures for my parody, but a wise friend pointed out how that could be counterproductive, adding to the sense of an Us vs. Them schism within SFWA. Which would have been ironic, considering how I was grumbling about such attitudes earlier in the week.
I like SFWA. They do a lot of really good work. It annoys me when someone who isn’t even a member stirs up this kind of silliness, creating conflict and bad press over nonexistent “hypothetical” boogeymen or issues that were dealt with — including the solicitation of input from the entire membership — a year ago.
I like RWA too, for that matter. I love hanging out with romance writers, and I’ve learned a lot from talking to them. I have zero patience for people who, despite never having read the genre, go around dissing romance as nothing but mantitty and bodice-ripping and simplistic formulaic fiction. (Also, I wish my genre sold that well!)
My response is not meant to belittle anyone or anything except for the original, ridiculous petition and the individual who put it forth.
RWA President Secretly Censoring Romance Writers Report?
By Jim C. Hines
Terry McLaughlin, President of the Romance Writers of America, has obviously been part of an ongoing policy of P*litically C*rrect censorship in the organization’s organization’s professional publication, a professional magazine for professionally writing professionals, the Romance Writer’s Report., the Romance Writers Report.
As a professional author who once read a romance novel, I was shocked when I investigated this organization I don’t actually belong to and found covers such as this gracing their magazine:
Yes, they’re wonderfully clean and professional-looking covers. But I visited the page on the RWA website where the Romance Writers Report is described as, “a trade publication that mails monthly and covers all aspects of the romance writer’s career. Free with your membership.” (Emphasis added.)
This mission statement is, on the surface, seemingly harmless. Unless, that is, you are aware of the ongoing history of cover art selected for the Romance Writers Report and my selective oversimplification and misrepresentation of that history! Because the alleged meaning of “all aspects” here doesn’t mean what it’s commonly taken to mean, which becomes clear when you look at these covers and see the meaning that’s missing.
The problem can be summed up in one word: mantitty.
It’s the lack of mantitty that made me sit up and rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing what I thought I wasn’t seeing. These covers represent “all aspects” of a romance writer’s career? Say whaaaaaa…? As an amateur cover model, I’m quite familiar with the manly pecs and flowing man-locks that are such an essential part of my selective interpretation of the romance genre’s history and roots.
[SELF-CENSORED EDITED TO REMOVE SECTION ABOUT HOW GAY MEN LIKE MANTITTY TOO SO THIS IS TOTALLY DISCRIMINATORY AGAINST THEM]
There is a tradition in this country of people misunderstanding the First Amendment and crying “Freedom of speech!” when a professional organization chooses not to publish content it deems unprofessional. As a Writers’ Organization, RWA should be at the front line in the deep, wet trenches of this battle, fighting in their torn uniforms, with sweat glistening on their firm muscles, their piercing blue eyes fixed upon the Enemies of Freedom. Enemies who had once been allies on that winter night so long ago, when firm hands slipped beneath the tight waistband of our jeans to grasp our tight buttocks and pull us close—
…sorry. Where was I? Oh, right. Freedom! The heart of the matter is that RWA has been committing an ongoing offense against freedom of the press – its own press! – through this blatant self-censorship of mantitty!
So I clasped my pen firmly in my strong, eager fingers and spilled my ink onto the page.
[Email to RWA President Terry McLaughlin, February 11, 2014]
Why have you chosen to TRAMPLE THE FREE SPEECH AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS by not putting rock-hard abs and chiseled man-chests on the cover of RWR?
Why do you hate freedom? And mantitty?
Jim C. Hines”
I received no response. I blame censorship. (Or the fact that I didn’t actually email her.)
In the light of the preceding unsubstantiated fearmongering and hot-button buzzwords that don’t actually exist in RWA’s policies or procedures, I strongly object to the RWA’s ongoing mantitty-censorship. Specifically, I have the following objections:
- “Romance writer’s career” is so vague it leaves many questions unanswered. What is romance? Who is a writer? Why are you so determined to portray these “writers” as professionals instead of the boa-wearing, bon-bon munching stereotypes of old?
- What about the advertisers? Will you be auditing them to make sure the purity of your publication isn’t soiled by mantitty-tainted dollars?
- If you continue this Politically Correct censorship of mantitties, aren’t you creating a slippery slope that leads to DEATH PANELS?
In view of these considerations, I ask that the President and Board of the RWA (1) put out an open call for mantitty and (2) begin a conversation about romance cover art, because this topic has never before been discussed in a venue where I was able to satisfactorily explain to everyone else why they were wrong.
[SELF-CENSORED EDITED TO REMOVE SECTION ABOUT HOW HOLDING A PROFESSIONAL MAGAZINE TO PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS IS JUST LIKE SLAVERY!]
It cannot be emphasized too strongly here that the issue is not one of Left vs. Right, SF/F vs. Romance, Peanut Butter vs. Jelly, Kirk vs. Picard, or Fabio vs. Hugh Jackman. The only issue here is a First Amendment one that lovers of both Fabio and Jackman should be able to agree on. When our forefathers signed the Constitution of the United States of America, it was with the understanding that Thomas Jefferson was going to get to see some chiseled, powder-wig-wearing man-chest.
“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
—Charlton Heston (actor, and apparently the kind of guy you quote in petitions)
It is my hope that RWA President Terry McLaughlin will immediately kill any “professional” guidelines or oversight in the organization’s publications that might censor or infringe upon any RWA member’s Freedom to Enjoy Mantitty (and throw out any and all respect they’ve fought so hard to earn) in the pages of the Romance Writers Report.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.