Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Confused thoughts on representation

We all live at the intersections of multiple identities. Most of mine happen to be privileged or relatively so in our society. Some are not. Some vary, depending on context. It's confusing, messy, like all things pertaining to people.

Some of my identities include (in no particular order and certainly not an exhaustive list):  white, cis-female, heterosexual, Jewish, American, feminist, neuro-atypical, and writer.

I include writer here because it's not just what I do, it's interwoven with the way I process the world. If I want to understand how I think about something, I write.

This post is an attempt to work my way through an enormously important issue that pertains both to myself as a writer, but also as any of my identities; that of representation in fiction.

Once upon a time, a white, cis-het, female writer wrote a space opera series. 
That series contains an ensemble cast of a half-dozen principal characters, each of whom gets 'screen time' as a point of view (POV) character. Unless that cast consists of clones of some version of the writer, that means said writer is creating characters outside of her own direct experience. Not only are there male characters in the cast, but also characters from non-white backgrounds. There are also characters who are not heterosexual.

The writer did not create this cast as an exercise of filling out some kind of diversity bingo sheet. She grew up on the original Star Trek (albeit in syndication) and imprinted on the message (albeit somewhat flawed in the show) that the future was for everyone. And when she grew up, those were the kind of stories she wanted to tell.

Speaking for one, not for all
So, it's pretty obvious that writer is me. And in crafting the series and its characters, I worked hard to balance honoring the (not) diverse (enough), (not) inclusive (enough)  world I live in with my vision/hope of a future that is more so. I was aware the identities that bring me privilege also put me at risk for drowning out writers with less. I was also aware it was not my place to speak for someone else's experience, especially when someone from an identity different than mine could speak with their own voice. And yet, I also knew that creating a future with a cast of characters who were all cis-het and white would be erasing the reality of the majority of people on the planet.

 Imagination can only take you so far
I chose to create a cast of individuals who came from different backgrounds and who lived at the intersections of their own specific identities. Each of these characters are uniquely themselves. They represent, not a race or a creed or a belief system in any way, but a richness of individualities.  They are each, based in part, on pieces of people I know who are themselves living at the intersections of many identities. I also draw on personal history and experience of simultaneously being privileged for some of my identities and disadvantaged in others. 

But you're not . . .
Fill in the blank: gay, Black, Latino, Japanese, etc. There are characters in the Halcyone Space book who have those as part of their identities. By far, the most criticism I get is why I chose to make Ro (Rosalen Maldonado) and Nomi (Konomi Nakamura) gay. I have been accused of "ruining" my space opera with some sort of homosexual agenda. Never mind that their relationship is primarily a deep emotional one, with little overt physicality. (The novels are SF, not SF/Romance.)

My answer is something along the lines of 'because you're still asking the question.' I live in a world where I joyfully attended the wedding of my sister-in-law and her wife. Where my dear friends Alan and Paul used to tease me that I was their token 'breeder' friend. Where my son carries the name of my husband's former boss and mentor, who passed away while I was pregnant and whose family had disowned him for coming out.

Because when I introduced Nomi to the story, she was everything Ro needed, but didn't know it yet. Because I couldn't imagine a future where love between two women would be anything to remark about. They are simply two people who care for one another. That is neither revolutionary nor particularly worthy of praise.

And yet, and yet, and yet. . .
I'm somewhat dismayed that it has become something to notice - that there is a gay couple in a space opera series.

This is a screen shot from this afternoon. DERELICT is the 2nd highest selling book in the LGBT SF category on Amazon. When I took this screen shot ITHAKA RISING was 7 and DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE 8. (It also made the hot new release category.)

On one level, I'm thrilled. I've worked hard on these novels. They are good stories.

On one level, I'm dismayed. First, that the bar is so damned low that a series with 2 woman in love as a very tangential part of the plot is enough to have the books rank this well in the subcategory. Second, that 3 of my books are in the top 10 of this list and I very well may be drowning out the voices of queer writers of SF in the process.

I don't know if I am or not. I do know I never marketed these books as LGBT SF. And yet, here they are. I can't pull them from the category and I wouldn't want to. I do know that I am proud of each of my characters and their individuality.

And I will continue to do my best to honor that little girl who grew up to believe that the future was for everyone.



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