Not Being Inclusive Is Also A Political Choice

Gonna try to keep this short and tight, like a hobbit sock.

[Edit: I fear I have failed to keep it short and tight, like a hobbit sock.]

As you well know, I WROTE A STAR WAR, and in fact, I wrote THREE STARS WAR, plus a STARS WAR SHORT STORY and a WAR STAR BOOK OF COMICS and it’s been pretty great except for the fact that sometimes I get some, ahem, interesting reviews, tweets, and emails.

Last week, a wonderful hashtag spun around the Twitters — #SWRepMatters — which is to say, Star Wars Representation Matters. Go read the tweets that line up behind it.

Someone responded to one of my tweets and said the following:

 

My response was:

1. everything is forced in a story because they’re not magic

2. stories are not a natural state and so nothing occurs naturally within them, nor can they “call for” anything

3. inclusivity is part of good storytelling

4. not being inclusive is also a political choice

This person deleted his tweet and went on to clarify that he in fact totally supported a pairing like, say, Finn/Poe, but he wanted it to have a purpose in the story and not simply be included for political purposes. Abstractly, what he’s saying is, he’s not a bigot, not a homophobe, he just cares about storytelling. Which is fine, in theory, and I’m not suggesting this person is worthy of excoriation. I’m sure he means well. But I think it’s really worth shining a big, bright-ass light on this, because I think there’s a soft, unacknowledged prejudice at work.

It assumes that there exists a default in storytelling — and that default is one way, and not the other. The default is straight relationships, or cisgendered characters, or able-bodied white dudes, or whatever. One of the criticisms Aftermath received was this very special kind of softball phobia, right? “I don’t mind LGBT characters, but these were forced into the narrative for a political agenda,” assuming that the characters are somehow not characters at all, but rather protest signs or billboards advertising THE WONDERS OF GAYNESS or THE FABULOSITY OF THE NON-BINARY SPACE PIRATE LIFE. The complaint then becomes that these characters are political levers, identified as such because their natures (be it LGBT characters like Sinjir Rath Velus and Eleodie Maracavanya, or a character of color like Admiral Rae Sloane, or women characters like Norra Wexley and Jas Emari) do not somehow factor into the plot. Like, Sinjir’s homosexuality is not a plot point. He doesn’t shoot gayness out of his eyes to blow up the Third Death Star, oh no, he’s only there as a commercial for GAY PEOPLE EXISTING.

And the defense these critics make is that, “Well, Anakin and Padme’s relationship is plot-entangled, because their heterosexual coupling yields children of destiny.” So too with Han and Leia. (Erm, less so with Luke and Leia, unless we are to believe Rey is the child of incest, and boy, wouldn’t that be a twist?) Basically, Anakin and Padme do blow up the Death Star with their heterosexual coupling by proxy, because their two children literally work together to do just that very thing.

Problem is, that’s a shitty defense for a lot of reasons, first because it assumes characters are on the page only to serve plot, rather than to be on the page creating plot with their wants, their needs, their problems, their fears. Characters are who they are, and are not all driven by some kind of mythic quest — it’s okay that they want love, or respect, or are the products of their history and circumstance. It’s also a shitty defense because it assumes that the existence of a relationship is not itself plot — even if two characters have an untroubled relationship and exist together, they’re still making choices based on that relationship. Sinjir and Conder have a relationship in Aftermath, and it literally affects Sinjir’s character arc. It changes who he is. Each character has gravity and affects the other accordingly. Which in turn means they make decisions based on this, and those decisions do not follow the plot — they become the plot. So, the characters actually do affect the plot with their relationship.

But so fucking what if they didn’t?

So what if they’re just… together? And it affects nothing? So what if they’re simply visible examples of LGBT characters in a relationship? Who gives a shit? (Answer: a lot of turd-people, admittedly.) So what if The Doctor is now a woman, or James Bond ends up being played by a black actor? Someone says, “WUH, PFFT, WELL, THAT’S JUST SERVING A POLITICAL AGENDA, THEN.” Except, I got bad news for you: not including LGBT characters is similarly a political choice. Same as it is to not include disabled characters, or characters of color, or women, or, or, or. You just don’t see it as a political choice because it’s the politics in which you already swim. Like a fish, you have no context for the water all around you because it is your automatic default. If you view the presence of these characters as being political in the story, then you likely view them in reality — in your really real life! — as similarly political.

As I said above, stories aren’t alive. Yes, we tell tales ideally in an organic way so that all the widgets and flywheels in the mechanics are hidden from view, and yes, sometimes it feels like the stories somehow “flow” from us, as if we are simply summoning Cosmic Creative Energy, but the truth is, none of this is natural. Believing anything to be natural about stories allows us to create uncomfortable crutches for the stories we tell. Storytellers are engines of creation, not conduits for it. We force them into being. We conjure pyroclasm and lightning to tell tales. We make deliberate choices in our narrative — and, if you don’t make those deliberate choices, then you’re likely relying on lazy tropes or outmoded prejudices to tell those stories. A lack of inclusion in narrative is one such choice — based on lazy tropes and outmoded prejudices, it’s a choice that refuses to acknowledge actual people and actual reality.

None of that is an excuse, by the way, to make the opposite choice lazily — it’s entirely worth seeing the line where inclusion stumbles into a host of other problems (white savior stories, appropriating narratives that are not yours to tell, injecting such inclusion with other shitty tropes), but that’s a reason to do it and try to get it right rather than simply not to do it at all. Because it bears repeating: not being inclusive in the work is a political choice. Stories are not real. We tell them. We make them up. We will them into being with our fucking minds. 

It’s up to us to make them right and to tell them to the widest audience we can reach. Further, it’s also up to us to help support inclusivity outside the stories and among storytellers — inclusion shouldn’t just be on the page or the screen, but also behind the camera, behind the executive desk, behind the editorial and authorial pen. We have a lot of work to do, and choosing not to do it is no longer acceptable.

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57 comments

  • Tricky subject, Chuck. I know of few writers that would attempt to cover it, and I must admit I try to avoid these issues in my own writing – mostly, but not entirely. Could you expand on this bit in brackets: (white savior stories, appropriating narratives that are not yours to tell, injecting such inclusion with other shitty tropes). Probably deserves a post all of its own. I have been accused of appropriation, but never fully understood what that meant.

    • It’s probably something similar to what J.K. Rowling was accused of, when she came up with the American wizarding world-building behind Fantastic Beasts. I.e. the culture of Native Americans was referenced (and portrayed in a way that some Native folks believed was belittling of Native ‘magic’) but the story(ies) centred largely on European settlers and how they brought wand-magic to the U.S. and set up what was basically Hogwarts In America, with Native folklore/legend built in as way of propping up/serving the setting, rather than having integral Native characters.

      I’m trying to think of another example but I haven’t had enough coffee and my mind’s drawing blanks.

    • I’m not a great person to unpack that stuff. There are far greater voices than I in this regard.

      Here’s a thing to read, from Jordan Peele’s keynote:

      http://deadline.com/2017/10/jordan-peele-get-out-film-independent-forum-keynote-speaker-diversity-inclusion-1202192699/

      Go follow NK Jemisin on Twitter, starting with this thread:

      https://twitter.com/nkjemisin/status/920440636133789697

      Jim Hines did a fine job of aggregating some good links here:

      http://www.jimchines.com/2014/05/diversity-appropriation/

      Look to Daniel Older, and here I’ll link to a good list of his where he features urban fantasy authors of color —

      http://danieljoseolder.net/blog/urban-fantasy-writers-of-color-an-ongoing-list

      Follow Mikki Kendall, Roxane Gay, Saladin Ahmed, Eve Ewing, Katherine Locke, CB Lee, Alyssa Wong, Sarah Kuhn, Paul Krueger, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Steven Spohn, and on and on — follow, read them, see who they follow and retweet, try to read widely and understand and listen rather than try to be heard.

      Ultimately, take the inclusion I’m talking about here and spread it around your social media feeds and you’ll start to get some fresh perspective, and it isn’t always about right answers or hard-and-fast facts, but about trying to see things from a POV where you’re not the one centered. I dunno. Hopefully that’s a start.

      • The link to Jim Hines is quite good. I am writing a novel with Aspies (autism) as the main characters. My daughter, who is autistic, is working on it with me. There are too many voices who are underrepresented and misrepresented in literature. It’s like listening to music that consists of one or two notes for an entire symphony. It’s just plain wrong – and uninteresting – and headache producing. It is tricky to get this all “right” and someone will always fuss. But we need to try. Great links and blog piece, Chuck!

        • I have an autistic (asperger) son. I’ve never attempted to write ‘his story’ although I have featured people in my books on the autistic spectrum – but without labels. I’m 100% happy with the way I’ve handled that.

          • That’s awesome! I’ll have to look into your works. Many don’t know what it is – still. Or that girls can have Asperger’s. As you know, most ASD works are about one narrow demographic that looks like Sheldon Cooper. There is zero diversity and when they attempt it, it is often poorly executed. It annoys my kid (and my readers) to no end.We did the book as a family and she’s proud of getting a female voice out there. Chuck is right; you do the best you can. Critics can be harsh, yes, but meeting families and Aspies face to face and hearing them say thanks for producing a diverse work (in our case, about females w ASD) is incredibly humbling and fuel to keep trying. My new pieces are character-driven (fiction), not label-driven. It’s making all the difference. (And this is waaay more than I meant to write.) Totally appreciate Chuck’s push for diversity, etc.. It is sorely needed.

      • I chased down several of those links, thanks; some have been deleted. I’m not much wiser than I was before, quite honestly. The impression I have now is that this is a can of worms. If I was to restrict myself to my own cultural and racial background, I could only write about white Irish people, and given my religious convictions, I couldn’t even write about white Irish Christians. That’s depressing. Most of my books are about WW2 Germany. I’m writing about a culture that (hopefully) no longer exists. Can I assume that I’m safe enough there?

        • Well, for one thing, assuming that the culture of Germany, as it was in the 30s-40s, no longer exists is a massive mistake. Nazis as an open political party in power no longer exist — and German culture has been, to an extent, traumatized by the experience –but the culture is mostly the same. Parts have changed, large parts have not.

          So, no, not “safe enough” — writing about any culture other than your own requires a deep researching dive, at the very least.

        • Everything is a can of worms. Every choice is tough. You handle it as fairly and as faithfully as you can muster, and you deal with the slings and arrows when you come up short, and do better next time.

        • Considering the current political climate, I think assuming that culture no longer exists is…not supported by the evidence.

          In the ongoing debate of who gets to write what and why, I haven’t seen anyone seriously suggest that writers only write their background; just that it’s important for writers to understand that they’re not automatically entitled to others’ backgrounds and stories, either. Tess Sharpe summed up the issue pretty well on Twitter when she said “I still maintain, important questions to ask as a privileged writer: Why do I want to write this book? Who is it serving? Who will it hurt?” For instance, a white savior narrative hurts because – even if the author means well, or think they’re speaking truth to power – they’re still ultimately positioning white people as superior, and POC/religious minorities as dependent on the kindness of white people.

          Chuck didn’t link to it, but I’ve always found Daniel Jose Older’s essay on writing the Other to be the most helpful overview and advice on the issue: https://www.buzzfeed.com/danieljoseolder/fundamentals-of-writing-the-other?utm_term=.idJ0GQYvv#.fyDGJ0kPP

          • I take your point that there are still neo-Nazis in the world, but I imagine nobody will be outraged if I write bad things about Hitler and the Nazis of the 1930s and 1940s or ‘appropriate’ their ‘culture’.

          • I read that Daniel Jose Older piece. Very helpful. I cut this small piece:

            ‘Further things other people’s cultures are not: a circus act, a freak show, a music video prop, a kitschy household accoutrement, a Halloween costume, a stand-in for having your own sense of self.

            See the above quote from the American Horror Story writer: “none of that is true (laughs).” If the possibility that these beliefs are real is a joke to you, don’t write about them.’

            I find Creationism as much of a joke as the notion of a flat earth. Other jokes include Holocaust-deniers and Climate-change-deniers. Does this mean I can’t write about them?

          • October 25, 2017 at 9:28 AM //

            “I find Creationism as much of a joke as the notion of a flat earth. Other jokes include Holocaust-deniers and Climate-change-deniers. Does this mean I can’t write about them?”

            No one’s saying you _can_ or _can’t_ write about anything. You can write about anything you like. And likewise, people can think anything they like about what you’ve written and the way you’ve portrayed a particular group. Sometime you might think it’s worth the critical scrutiny to write about a group that you think is a joke, because to you those beliefs are silly, harmful or otherwise worthy of lampooning.

            You also might think it’s worth the scrutiny to write about a group of which you are not a member because their stories are important and worth telling. You’re going to have to figure out what your reasons for writing are, and whether _you_ think it’s a worthwhile thing to do.

        • “I imagine nobody will be outraged if I write bad things about Hitler and the Nazis of the 1930s and 1940s or ‘appropriate’ their ‘culture’”

          I would rather hear *accurate* things about them. Writing bad things about Hitler and the Nazis is different than writing about the bad things that Hitler and the Nazis did. The latter is telling a historical story. The former is you writing stories with your own opinion laid over the top. For fiction I imagine this would be much more acceptable than if you’re writing a historical novel (I’m not familiar with your work, so forgive any assumptions.)

          Sorry I couldn’t reply to the right post.

  • I hear ya. The best comment I got was a request to not include “today’s politics” in a story set 70 years ago. The politic in question was a soldier questioning his sexuality. Because you know, that’s a totally modern thing. Nobody questioned their sexuality back in the Good Old Days; everybody was straight and proud. Just as there were no paedophiles or child molesters back in The Day. Massive coincidence that we have so many these days, when everybody’s suddenly shining lights into dark places (coincidentally, my character was also tormented by his parents, so that’s another piece of “Today’s Politics” I messed up by including as a plot point. Oops).

    It’s awesome when POCLGBTQQminorityLessAbled characters are represented as main characters in excellent stories… but even if they don’t have centre-stage, they should be present and visible. Whitewashing (no pun) them out of contemporary stories fails to serve any purpose other than perpetuating the dominance of straight and white and mostly male characters.

      • I wasn’t aware of that book! But now that I am, it’s on its way to my kindleapp. Sadly, it seems that no matter how you try to educate folks, some people would just rather close their eyes, cover their ears, and refuse to hear.

  • It’s so sad that some people can’t identify with characters/real people who don’t fit their world view. Does that explain why it’s so easy for some to be exclusive when it comes to rights? I can’t help but think of those people as simplistic, naive, and it makes me sad because I don’t know how to help them change. Do we need to step on some white dude throats (I’m a white, middle-aged dude), oppress them for a bit to help them understand? What would help them develop empathy?

    I’m all-in with what you’ve posted here, Chuck. You’re a great storyteller and I love reading your work. Thank you.

    P.S. Whenever I I include your name and then read it back to myself to check for typos, etc., I can’t help sometimes that the voice in my head is Peppermint Patty.

    • “Do we need to step on some white dude throats (I’m a white, middle-aged dude), oppress them for a bit to help them understand? What would help them develop empathy?”

      I feel like a lot of it comes back to the stories we’re presented with. Most of the approved/accepted stories that we’re given in schools feature white men or white boys; few of them feature girls or women or people of color (I don’t know what the current reading list is for schools, but when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, gay people didn’t exist at all in the literature we were given). Women, gay people, people of color — we all grow up seeing the world through eyes that aren’t ours — the eyes of straight white boys/men. But the reverse isn’t true: straight white boys aren’t presented with nearly as many stories featuring women, or people of color, or gay people. Television and movies (at least in the US) are even worse for this. The result is that everyone learns empathy except straight white boys, who grow up to be men who bristle when they’re asked to see the world through the eyes of other people; they haven’t developed the muscles for that kind of empathy, because our culture doesn’t require them to.

      There are straight white men who learn that kind of empathy on their own, but it would be easier for them to learn that, and easier for other straight white men to join them, if our culture helped them to learn it. (This, to me, is the biggest reason we need more representation of women, gay people, and people of color in our stories. Yes, women, gay people, and people of color deserve to see themselves in stories, but we’re also doing a huge disservice to straight white men by not including these characters, by teaching empathy to everyone but straight white men.)

      • “I feel like a lot of it comes back to the stories we’re presented with.”

        Amen. Growing up, every fairy tale I heard was about the Handsome Prince rescuing the helpless Princess/damsel/what have you. Evil was vanquished in the process. From a young age, minds are conditioned to accept stories like these, and even as a kid, I largely hated them. I’m keen to try out some alternative stories on young minds… surprisingly, most of my Married With Children friends aren’t queuing to ask me to babysit for them. Can’t figure out why.

      • “But the reverse isn’t true: straight white boys aren’t presented with nearly as many stories featuring women, or people of color, or gay people.”

        This was me as a young person in the midwest, but, thankfully, I appreciate a wide range of players and don’t feel butthurt when a white male is not the main character or when they are presented in anything but a positive light.

        “There are straight white men who learn that kind of empathy on their own, but it would be easier for them to learn that, and easier for other straight white men to join them, if our culture helped them to learn it.”

        It would very much benefit a large group of white men in the US to have been exposed in their formative years to a more varied group in literature and media, and in other areas of their lives.

  • Excellent post, Chuck!

    “but he wanted it to have a purpose in the story and not simply be included for political purposes”

    Argh. Is this person demanding that every gay person in the world justify their existence to him? Gay people exist. No other justification is needed for including gay people in a story.

    I mean, one could write a story with no characters other than straight white men and maybe one token straight white woman, but since that’s not at all representative of the real world, one would need to justify that in the story: what happened to every person of color, and how does that affect biological diversity and intelligence and health (purebred animals tend to have more health/intelligence issues than mixed breeds)? Why, when the real world has not only always had gay people, but homosexuality is well documented among animals as well, does this world have rigid sexual stereotypes — is it religious strictures that force the characters into those boxes, or is this a world with different biology, and if so, what are the (inevitable) repurcussions (because it won’t just be sexual orientation that’s affected)? What wiped out most of the women in the world, that only one or two appears in the story alongside many, many men, and how does that affect the family unit and reproduction?

    So many (generally unanswered) questions when one writes a story with only straight white men (and a token straight white woman or two). When one writes a story with gay people, men AND women, and people of color, these questions don’t arise: we know how that world works, because we live in that world.

  • There’s a certain pedagogy that accompanies bigotry. Whenever someone talks about “real Americans” or biology-driven social behaviors, it’s an immediate tip-off that there’s an agenda to excuse flawed ideology and bad behavior. I think the same thing goes with “natural”. You can’t trust it on food packaging and you sure can’t trust it when someone uses it in the context of storytelling. That we sometimes refer to it as the “craft of writing” alludes to purposeful design. Love posts that get the gray matter churning.

  • I see both sides. So maybe that makes me an issue altogether. There have been stories (books, novels, novellas) where I felt the author forced things, where ::I felt:: a scene, moment, or character perspective didn’t fit or felt slightly off-beat for what was going on. But I’m obviously not an author or storyteller.

    As for doing a callout stating a political agenda, that guy’s an ass. (“Someone says, “WUH, PFFT, WELL, THAT’S JUST SERVING A POLITICAL AGENDA, THEN.”) LGBTQ+ people are people, not props. I watched a clip via Facebook of Niecy Nash on Chelsea’s Netflix show and she was talking about inclusivity in television and movies with all brown women, and not in the usual media stereotyping fashion.

    So yes, inclusivity.

  • “There have been stories (books, novels, novellas) where I felt the author forced things, where ::I felt:: a scene, moment, or character perspective didn’t fit or felt slightly off-beat for what was going on. But I’m obviously not an author or storyteller.”

    Doesn’t that say more about the writer’s abilities to make that particular scene happen? I mean, I’ve had those moments too, but the scenes weren’t off/forced because some particular character or situation had been shoe-horned in, but because the scene in question just wasn’t particularly well-written.

    Of course, nobody can tell you how you can or should feel, but the way I see it from both sides of the book is that a talented writer should be able to make their own story work without it feeling forced.

    • I agree, but I also take into consideration how I as the reader is interpreting such scene(s) or moments/character perspectives. For example, I love the movie Cruel Intentions (I had it on VHS and that’s probably a secret I should’ve kept). I haven’t gotten around to the book it’s based off yet, but maybe one day. There is a scene in the movie that I feel does not in anyway enhance, add to, justify, motivate the theme of the movie. And that is the scene where Sarah Gellar’s character kisses Selma Blaire’s. In my opinion that is in there because Hollywood. But it’s a possibility that someone out there feels it was necessary to the film.

      Perception is reality. And that’s an ambiguous fallback, but it’s how I feel. Just like when you read reviews on books or movies and lean toward what critics are saying, or the audience/readers have noted and felt about the movie or book.

      • That particular scene in Cruel Intentions is a grade-A example of fetishizing sexuality between women for the male gaze. Rather than being inclusive of queer women, it’s exclusive, because it implies that it’s only acceptable for women to be attracted to other women as long as they’re conventionally attractive and ultimately would rather be with a man.

        It’s important to note that you can champion inclusivity while also being critical of it when it’s done wrong (see Chuck’s note about white savior narratives). The idea that LGBT folks have to choke down narratives which misrepresent them and even do them harm because it’s better than nothing is really wrong-headed. At the same time, there’s a big difference between saying “you need to justify the presence of LGBT (or POC, or women, etc.) characters or else it’s political correctness run amok” and saying “this character/scene/storyline embodies damaging tropes and should have either been done better or left out.”

        • I agree because even when I first watched it at the age of 13, my initial reaction/thought about that kiss was “that’s attention seeking/shock value, definitely for the boys/men who will see this film.” To counter that, I didn’t feel that way when Gellar’s character is with Phillippe’s character and she’s seducing him to get what she wants because her actions depicted the idea of who her character was and how his character responded to her’s. There was purpose essentially.

          Though it can be argued that when Gellar’s character was teaching Blaire’s character how to kiss, it was showing the lengths Gellar’s character would go through to get what she wants as well as showing how naive and innocent Blaire’s character was. I could’ve definitely done without the string of saliva though. That was just gross.

  • October 24, 2017 at 10:20 AM // Reply

    I mentioned this on Twitter but it bears repeating here: the “serving a purpose” narrative is a form of gatekeeping used against gay people (by way of media critique) A LOT by straight people. We can’ fulfill baseline desires like, say, dating, without looking to the straight audience member and waiting for their nod of “is this okay?” We have to earn the thumbs up, except these audience members don’t ask questions when straight people hookup in fiction/media because it’s viewed as a societal norm. With queer characters, mental calisthenics have to occur to buy into coupling being a fundamental desire. It is somehow “different” than the heterosexual equivalent. And sure, there ARE some differences, but the actual desire for companionship IS universal for allosexuals. Wanting to not be lonely or to have someone to spoil or to mash tingle parts with–that’s not going to change simply because the genders of the partners are different. That guy’s tweets might have seemed innocuous, but it’s kinda a prevalent, baseline evil of “you can exist and fulfill this desire for companionship /in fiction/ IF I SAY SO.” If you believe that about TV or books, I’m not going to trust you or your perceptions about what I can/cannot do IRL.

  • “So what if they’re simply visible examples of LGBT characters in a relationship?”

    Yes, all sorts of people populate the world. But as you said a story is an artificial construct, often defined in very narrow parameters. If something, or some person is there, it is to build your world. And part of that world building is interpersonal relationships. How our characters react to other characters informs us about who they are and the world they live in. Speaking as a SFF writer, If in one world gay relationships are not accepted, then your gay character is in conflict with much of their world. And this has to bleed into the story. Is that the story you want to tell? No? Then it is a big “so what.”

    And I’m NOT saying writers shouldn’t explore this issues. And I’ve done so in a bunch of my stories because I find such characters interesting. But I do not agree that you stick a secondary or tertiary character in just to “round out” your diverse character population. Nor should you not do it either. It’s just a writer’s choice and shouldn’t be used as a bludgeon to say “Ah ha! You aren’t honoring the fact that LGBT exist.”

    It does not automatically make you a less prejudiced or better writer by including people that you do not understand well.

    That being said, it behooves us all as writers to explored our personal predujices, stereotypes, heuristics and schemas. Knowing who we are can make us better writers. and give us a chance to explore our inner psyches through our writing.

    • Writing a world in which gay relationships are not accepted is, indeed, the author’s choice – meaning that if the author excludes LGBT characters because they don’t want to deal with the consequences of said choice, then that exclusion is deliberate.

      You’re correct that interpersonal relationships in stories must help drive the story’s central conflict, but I’m confused as to why you seem to think LGBT characters and relationships are limited in the type of conflict they can provide, whereas heterosexual relationships are not. Is the idea of a world where same-sex relationships and non-binary genders no big deal so anathema? Even if the conceit of “my identity/our love is forbidden” is removed, LGBT people still have the same needs and conflicts in relationships that every other person on this planet (and beyond) does. So why do LGBT characters have to jump through additional hoops to justify their existence?

      If you think that LGBT characters should only be included when it’s necessary to explore certain issues, then you have some unexamined biases. Our existence inhabits all the same possibilities and potential as your own.

      • Thank you for your comment. I did not say, nor would I ever say that LGBT relationships do not inhabit al the same possibilities and potential as straights. I did not say nor would I ever say that who you love is an issue. Seems that I touched a nerve. That is regrettable.

        Let’s see if I can say this without pinging sensitivities too much. I might not be able to. That might be part of my “unexamined issues.” (Ahem.) (Sorry. It really does touch a nerve in me when people make assumptions about what it is I believe or values to which I ascribe.)

        All of our society is structured along power dynamics. Who is on top, the middle, the bottom?
        Where you lie in the power structure does determine to a certain extent how much you can do or accomplish in life and how you relate to other people. Much of society like to ignore that these power dynamics exist, as if we are all equal in opportunity. But ask any woman who earns 80 cents on the dollar to men if they are equal economically. We are not. But we keep chugging along like this is the natural state of affairs and no one seems to be particularly bothered by it. And if anyone gets a wild hair to examine this issue (usually, a woman) that person is branded a “crazy feminist,” because we all know that women who speak out against the current system are crazy. And hate men. bacon and possibly, their dogs.

        Okay, let’s talk about LGBT people. Can I safely assume that many (not all) LGBT people can experience serious issues within their own family about their sexual identities? That some suffer shaming, vilification, ostracism and even violence and then can walk away without that pain inhabiting their soul? Does a heterosexual have to “come out” to his or her family? Does an LGBT person hide their sexual identity at work so it doesn’t become an issue? (Maybe is different now than when I was growing up when being gay was literally a crime and a source of shame but shades of it still exist.) Living outside the norms of the bulk of society just is a different, often painful and difficult experience. It does affect how people relate to the world at large and effects their life choices and their relationships.

        I will not ignore that part of fabric of experience just to say “hey, aren’t I just all modern by saying a character is gay, but they don’t effect the story in a substantial way, so they are just there.” So yes, I’m (respectfully) disagreeing with the point of the above essay. I’m not saying you can’t do it. I’m saying that I won’t do it, because denial of the realities of people’s existence doesn’t do anything to further inclusiveness or correct the misperceptions and prejudices of society. But when I do have an LGBT character in my stories, (and I have a bunch) I will examine how the perceptions and prejudices of society affect them and how that informs their personal relationships and decisions.

        And this is not just a LGBT thing, but any person of any segment of society that we marginalize because they are not white and male.

  • Yes! I write sci-fi with LGBT main characters, but gods, some of the comments I get! “Not a story but political propaganda”. Or “This might have been a not bad story. Instead it had a political agenda shoved into it that distorted it from SciFI to gay fantasy.” For some readers (a few? a lot?) stories with anything but cis white heterosexual spacemen **distorts** SciFi. And that’s just sad. Because if there’s one genre you’d hope was open to ‘distortion’, it should be sci-fi.

    I wish I knew how to encourage readers to see the characters as just people with a job to do – save humanity, fight aliens, fight oppression – who get pulled into what I hope is an interesting adventure, and who happen to be gay and in a relationship. The gayness is part of who they are; it’s not the entirety of who they are. I’m writing SF, not gay fantasy romance. There’s a bit of me that says “Oh for fuck’s sake, it’s science fiction. It’s science fiction with people in it. People with all their warts and faults, all their brilliance and intelligence, all their courage and loyalty and great hearts, all their beauty and all their ugliness. And if the bigots snort into their cornflakes when they realise Bennet is in relationships with other men, then let’s hope that milk up the nostrils hurts.”

    I write stuff where the hero is gay and to me, it just isn’t a big deal. A small step toward a place where we just write about people, and not worry about who they sleep with.

  • Someone expressed disappointment in the fact the mc of my last book was gay. He said the narrative didn’t call for it.

    But the whole point of her being gay was exactly that. Because some people are gay and they aren’t there to make a point about gayness. They’re there because in real life some people are gay. And also because a gay friend said she was fed up that characters are only gay in books when the author is making some political point about gayness and she wanted someone to be gay and completely ok with it. Just coz.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • 100% with you on this! I want to see Deaf characters represented, not to make a point or to educate the wider community about deafness, but just because some of the people in the world happen to be Deaf. I’m delighted to see that beginning to happen. Ditto for LGBTIQ characters, disabled characters of all kinds, characters of all races, genders, ethnicities, etc…. In fact, every kind of diversity. There is some damn fine storytelling with great characters who represent “minorities”. But there’s still also a lot of very awkward, tokenistic, cringeworthy storytelling out there too, storytelling that just tries too hard. (Not yours, Chuck, obviously.) Fictional worlds are impoverished by the absence of diversity just as the world we live in would be if the eugenicists had their way (hey, I reckon there could be a story in there somewhere… )

    • I think it’d be a good day when we could look at those awkward, tokenistic, cringeworthy attempts at diversity (or rather, “diversity” since they seem to inherently miss the point) and just shrug and call them shitty writing/storytelling. Because that day would be the day where there was so much fiction out there with real difference, real representation, that a shitty book would just be a shitty book and not “this is why we can’t diversity and we must stick to straight-whited00d forever.”

  • Thank you for this post, Chuck. It’s perfect. In my world, the world of historical romance, it’s much the same. Some authors write inclusively, but the majority don’t. They have many justifications for this, but none of them hold water. Things are changing for the better, but very, very slowly, and there are still many naysayers among authors and readers alike. Always — but more than ever now — these are political choices.

  • I love everything about this. I only have one point to make, and it is this:
    If Sinjir actually shot GAYNESS LASERS OUT OF HIS EYES THAT EXPLODED THE THIRD DEATH STAR INTO RAINBOW SPARKLES AND DEATH, I would have bought, like, six more copies of Aftermath. Just saying, for future books.

  • I’m totally unable to figure out how to use the reply function here, but in response to the thread with Fluffy, Rachel Rush, and The Urban Spaceman (that sounds like a band, you guys should totally start one), on the subject of boys learning to empathize with female characters… Shannon Hale wrote an essay about doing school visits as an author, and how boys’ reading of “girl books” is policed by adults and school administrators. It’s an enlightening and kind of nauseating read:
    http://shannonhale.tumblr.com/post/112152808785/no-boys-allowed-school-visits-as-a-woman-writer

    Hale sums the problem up beautifully when she describes it as “the myth that women only have things of interest to say to girls while men’s voices are universally important.” Which is exactly the same as the idea that stories about straight people/white people/cisgender people are universal and stories about queer people/POC/trans and genderqueer people are “niche” or “political.”

    I could seriously rant about every topic in this article (and the excellent comments section) for days, but I’m trying to keep it short so I thought I’d just contribute that excellent essay to the conversation. 😀

  • Great post, Chuck. The only thing I worry about as a writer is if I write about a different culture, I may say something that that culture and people find racist.

    I am a (mostly) straight white American woman. I work as a nurse. I worked in a predominantly Black and Latino part of a major city. If I use my observations of Black culture and speech in my work, would that be considered racist or insensitive? For example, using Black English in dialogue. Or working Spanish words into the dialogue of Hispanic characters.

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