Wednesday, 6 January 2010

It’s only fiction!

I ran across, in my internet browsing, someone who was frustrated by all the self-justification from straight women writing M/M fiction (all of it? personally I’ve seen very little self-justification - and a whole lot more appropriation without a second thought. What justification there is from most seems to be more to deflect the “eeew why do you want to write about mansex, you weirdo?!” critics than the “are you treating homosexuals with respect?” concern). Normally I’d just walk on by, but it came to a refrain that I’ve heard in many many places that made me springboard this post. I heard it during Lambda Fail. I heard it during Race Fail. I’ve heard it repeatedly whenever it comes to discussing marginalised people in fiction

It’s just fiction.

It’s made up.

So it doesn’t matter.

Dingding! Privileged check on aisle 3, privileged check on aisle 3!

“It’s just fiction” is a stance that a privileged person can take. But for the marginalised? That book with gay/lesbian/black/trans/asian/disabled etc characters is an oddity. It’s a rarity in a world where such portrayals are only remotely common within narrow genres and are nigh-non-existent in the mainstream.

To the privileged, that takes some grasping. I am currently sat surrounded by my library - hundreds of books and dvds. I can pick up any one of them and KNOW there will be a white person inside. I can pick up about 90% of them and know the main character will be white. I can pick up any of them and KNOW there will be a straight person inside - and, again, 90% of the characters within will be straight.

I would say at least half of them are lacking even a token appearance by a POC and up to 80% have no GBLT presence at all. Add in that of those token characters, I would say as many of half of them are strongly stereotypical or otherwise problematic.

It‘s only fiction. But it matters. It matters that, growing up for so long I didn’t see a single depiction of a gay man. It matters that the first depiction of a man like me I read was written by Ann “you can turn gay by being anally raped by a tent peg” McCaffrey. It matters that I STILL haven’t read a book with a gay main character that is even remotely considered mainstream. It matters because, in the world of literature, people like me hardly exist.

I repeat again that, no, I don’t think straight people should stop writing with GBLT fiction. They should write it - just as I think white people should write about POC. I will never ever say that people should only write about people like them. But there is a huge world of difference between writing the other well (or trying to) and using, appropriating and stereotyping the other.

So, yes, I like it when straight authors write their justification for why they are using gay characters. I like that they’re THINKING about how to portray their characters in a respectful, non-fetishised and non-abusive manner. And, no you can’t assume that authors are. You can’t assume that just because they want to write about gay men or black people or Native Americans that their portrayals won’t be offensive or damaging or insulting. There’s far too much out there that makes it abundantly clear that this isn’t the case. Just because they write something doesn’t mean they care about the people, doesn’t mean they are an ally, doesn’t mean they’ve worked and researched to make their work

So, yes, I like the justification musings. I like the thinking. I like that they may be thinking of the young gay kid looking for someone like them. I like that they’re recognising that portrayals can be damaging and insulting. I like that they are looking beyond their privilege and trying to respect us, rather than use us. I like that they are trying to get it right.

It may be fiction, it may be made up - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

ETA: the origina article that served to prompt this can be found here however, this was more one straw on a very large haystack on an already very broken camel