Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Erase me

I am an avid reader. I devour 2-3 books a week. Specifically Urban Fantasy more than anything (as can be seen by the Fangs for the Fantasy Podcast and Blog). Urban Fantasy, in television and books, is my preferred genre. I've always enjoyed the fantastical when I read. Fantasy and, to a lesser extent, sci-fi and super heroes. I don't apologise for my cheesey cheesey fiction preferences – I work long hours as a lawyer which is depressing and harsh reality. I work for GBLT charities which is depressing and harsh reality. I have to read lots of law books and journals which is extremely boring and occasionally connected to reality. In other words, when I sit down to kick back and relax I want me some wonderful tasty cheese, spells and sorcery, vampires and werewolves, elves and faeries

But that doesn't mean I turn off my awareness when I am reading or watching – I don't think I could anyway. Which is why my reviews tend to have a nod to social justice, as does the podcast. And increasingly there has been one issue that I – in fact all of us – have been wrestling with is it better to be erased?

And, while once I would have tried to argue the merits of a token, increasingly I'm really beginning to say “yes, fuck it. No more gay characters please.” How sad is that?

But my favourite Urban Fantasy series? Is Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles (and we fanpoodle in his name!). Zero GBLT characters (and part of that is because Kevin Hearne is more aware than most authors and doesn't want to write a marginalised person he doesn't know as discussed in our podcast interview).

My second favourite series? Kim Harrison's Hollows series. I love that series – DESPITE Ivy. And it's a despite. Rachel, the straight girl, living in constant fear of bisexual Ivy's aggressive sexuality (compare that with Kristen's male sexy vampireness) the way it's a constant threat for her, the way she constantly has to tip-toe round it and the way Ivy is never ever happy and her ex-lover is just a source of more pain? Ugh. I really could do without it. I'd rather Ivy be a man or Ivy be straight.

Another good favourite of mine is Tanya Huff's Vicki Nelson. Great series – but Henry's love and respect for women contrasted with his paternalistic contempt for his male snack toys gets on my last nerve. I'd rather Henry just looked to women.

I've just written a Black Dust Mambo by Adrian Phoenix review, and I don't think making Augustine straight would have made the book good or anywhere near one of my favourites (because it'd need a WHOOOLE lot more than that) but it would have made it a much easier read. Much the same with Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, I would still have disliked the books, but making Magnus and Alec straight would have made it less of an annoying read.

And, to me, this is a problem. All of my favourite urban fantasy books either completely erase GBLT existence or I love DESPITE the characterisations – the inclusion is a barrier to my liking them. The representation isn't something that makes me love them, it's something the story and the writing has to make up for. Which annoys me a lot, yes yes it does. As a gay man, I shouldn't be in a position where a book having a gay character puts me off.

And, basically, it comes down to authors wanting either something exotic or inclusion cookies without putting in any real effort or respect into their characters or having any awareness of the tropes and stereotypes they are tapping into.

So I've finally come down on saying – stop. Erase me. No, really. I'd much rather be erased than tokenised or stereotyped. If you're not going to make the effort to produce a good, well rounded, real and realistic, non-stereotyped and non-offensive and non-trope laden gay character – or if, for whatever reason, you don't think you're capable of it than I'd rather you didn't even try. It will make for a better book and will be good for my grey hairs.

I don't think you need to be GBLT to manage this. I don't think you even have to know GBLT people (though it helps – but only if you know and respect them. And if you've ever said “I have gay friends” you don't respect them) but you have to have been willing and able to get your 101 on at least. Do some reading, do some research, turn on some common sense, be aware of the tropes and the issues

And if you can't/won't do this then I'd honestly prefer if you just left the characters out of the book entirely. Just stop. Because I am tired of seeing a gay character and side-eyeing my kindle. I'm tired of thinking “oh dear...” every time it becomes apparent a character is not straight.

On a related note: I've been recommended good(ish) books – but they're outside the genre. I like urban fantasy, I don't want to read genres I'm not very interested in in the hope of seeing me done well. I don't want to make the choice between a book that entertains me but sporks me or a book that bores me but represents me. Neither makes for pleasant reading. This is another problem I've faced – the idea that because a book has a gay character and if that gay character is done well (which is a big if) then I am suddenly supposed to enjoy it. The sad thing is, no amount of wondrous, amazing, joyous representation is going to make me enjoy boring drek – and I refuse to rhapsodise about drek because it has a good gay character.

It's a tiresome idea that because I'm gay I will like every book that has a gay character – regardless of how bad the portrayal is or where my genre interests lie or how well written the book is. I don't see a gay character and yell “a gay!!” kiss my kindle and do a happy dance. Part of having self-respect is demanding good gay characters AND good stories AND in a genre that fits my interests. Picky, aren't I?