Why I Selfishly Want Gender Diversity in my Reading

The Internet (or at least my little corner of it) has been aflame today, after Larry Correia’s commentary on someone else’s commentary of gender binary and diversity in SFF fiction. (Read Jim C Hines’s excellent takedown of all this, but I won’t be linking to Correia’s original post because I don’t want to give the man more blog hits over this issue. Hines does more than enough to give you not just the gist, but the very real meat of the debate without having to go to Correia’s post directly.) Most of Correia’s argument seemed centered around the idea that including diversity in fiction would only be including it for “diversity’s sake,” which would lead to bad writing and the destruction of SFF as we know it, which is a terrible terrible thing. When people only write to champion a cause, nobody is entertained, and isn’t that what reading is all about, in the end?

I’ll skip over the arguments about how everyone’s idea entertainment is different, and also how being more inclusive isn’t going to destroy anything but narrow-minded bigotry, and skip right to what’s been bothered me so very much about Correia’s attitude and assumptions.

Correia argues that including things such as gender diversity, specifically when it comes to non-binary gender, is just pointless and stupid, and how it can’t be anything but “message writing,” (which in his view is never good), so people should just write what they need to write to tell a story and not waste words on anything else. Thus, when you include a character who is trans, gay, bi, disabled, any number of things, the only real purpose must be to prove a point, that these characters exist solely as a way of proclaiming to the world that they and others like them exist, and there’s no point to them otherwise. So if you’re looking for entertainment in your reading, then stop reading and writing such blatant attempts to curry favour with liberal lefties.

When Correia says this, when he dismisses the concerns of people trying to get more inclusion in fiction (mainstream, genre, or anything in between and outside), what he essentially says is, “Your concerns are stupid and are of no real interest to most people.”

Now here’s the thing. I’m a selfish person. I tend to fight for causes I believe in, and more often than not, I believe in them because they pertain to me. If I’ve given anyone the impression that I’m a wholly altruistic person, then I apologize, but I’m not. I’m human. This is sort of what humans tend to do. That’s not to say that I cannot and do not fight for causes that don’t immediately pertain to me. The fact that I have a full stomach more often than not does not stop me, for a moment, for trying to work so that those who don’t can get a bit more food and not die of starvation or malnutrition. The fact that I have never been without a home does not stop me from being disgusted over the way people without homes are treated and looked down upon. But when it comes to things that hit me, or have hit me in the past, I feel them very keenly, on a very visceral level. It’s why I also fight for gender equality, better pay and working conditions, and bringing harassers and creepers to justice.

So when Correia, and those who think like him, say that my concerns are stupid, what they’re saying as subtext is, “You‘re stupid, and you are of no real interest to most people.” He says that nobody wants to read about characters who are just like me, that people like me are of use only as morality plays and public service announcements, locked in an endless loop that says only, “I exist solely to tell you that I exist. I am here only to make you aware that I am here.”

Not to make you aware that I am here and deserve as much consideration as the next human being, no matter how I may differ from anyone else. Not to make you aware that I have thoughts and feelings and dreams and hopes and loves and hates just as we all do.

R J Anderson’s Quicksilver has an asexual protagonist. An asexual protagonist who is not asexual due to religious vows or prior trauma. In Tori, I saw reflections of myself. I saw a book that was written about a character who was very much like me. I could relate to her. I could relate to her trying to come to grips with being different, with trying to convince others that she wasn’t some sort of pitiable freak, and above all, I saw the plot move on and she lived her life and her asexuality was as much a part of her as her skin, in the way it is for the rest of us. In David Edison’s The Waking Engine, the protagonist is gay, and it doesn’t affect the novel’s plot in any real way, but he is who he is, and he is like so many readers who are reading for the entertainment that Correia says they can’t possibly be reading for if they read a book with diverse characters like that.

I love opening a book and sinking into the story and discovering that a character is like me. Whether that means they’re asexual or agendered or just have a weakness for knitting with cashmere yarn, it’s a little bright light that goes on, a link between me and the person whose story I am following, and it makes me want to read about them even more. It’s a very selfish impulse to want to read about people in whom I can see myself reflected.

But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. It makes the character real, because I am real. It makes them a person, because I am a person. It means they have no point, because I have no point, but why should that mean that I and everything about me should disappear for the comfort of people who already have far more options to see themselves reflected in the pages of the novels they read? My existence doesn’t depend on someone learning a lesson from me. I am not an after-school special.

Correia does admittedly say that if such diversity is part of the story then of course it should be written. The problem is that he then goes on to say, at great length, that it’s still a bad thing if it’s there because of course it must be a message story. He says that if, in the future an author creates, humans have 5 genders, then go ahead and write them having 5 genders.

What he overlooks is that the present has all these things that he’s saying have no place in genre fiction. The present has transsexual people. It has gay people, bisexual people, people who fall outside the gender binary. The present hat has been created by our past has all sorts of amazing things in it, all sorts of amazing people who are worth telling stories about.

I suppose that’s okay in his mind, so long as we tell stories about them in some sort of hypothetical distant-future sense where there’s a specific reason for them to exist as they do.

Why do any of us exist as we do? Mr. Correia, as a straight man who identifies as a man, tell me, what is your purpose in being? What do you exist on this planet for? Why are you here? And why is your story so much more valid than mine, or anyone else’s? Is it because you fit the default as you see it, of men being men and women being women and never the twain shall meet?

The world hasn’t been that way for a long time. Why, then, is it such a terrible thing to, as Correia seems to so desperately want (within his own myopic purview, at any rate), have our fiction reflect the reality of our lives?

19 comments on “Why I Selfishly Want Gender Diversity in my Reading

  1. Where does Correia call for anyone not to do anything? He explicitly tells people to do as they want and not impose their requirements on him.

    • Correia seems to be under the impression that it’s a requirement, which is false to start with. He didn’t call for people not to do anything, exactly, but he did mock people who want gender diversity, say that the inslusion of such things would spell the end of genre fiction, and said that nobody actually wants to read anything that challenges them. It’s hard to take a message of, “It’s cool that you guys do what you want so long as I can do what I want” from a post that pretty much says, “You guys can do what you want so long as you realize how wrong you are and how you’re destroying things and BTW, I clearly know better than any of you.”

      • And the whole “I make six figures as an author so you should listen to me over this young’un blogger because I’m obviously smarter than her” (I’m paraphrasing, don’t get all uppity).

  2. No, he mocked people who demand disproportionate diversity. He clearly states do as you feel you have to with the caveat it may not attract readers. At least you admit to not quoting him, exactly.

    • How does one determine that diversity has become “disproportionate”? Disproportionate to what? Is there a baseline requirement that must be met, of the number of books within a literary genre that must feature white male heroes and amply-bosomed heroines whose stories end in a clear moral victory of Good over Evil, before diversity is allowed to be explored?

      • Agreed. Assuming that the percentage of, say, homosexual people in the general population is approximately 1% (and that’s only dipping into that one categorization; not even touching bisexuality, pansexuality, gender diversity, or anything else), you’d logically think if diversity was proportionate, I’d be able to find 1 gay character in 100 in a random sampling of books on my shelves right now. might be able to do this, but my own bookshelves aren’t a good example of the general state of fiction at the moment, not even the state of genre fiction. If I were to go to the library and check into 100 random characters from any number of books, chances are I’d be very hard-pressed to meet that 1% “quota.”

        (And that’s not even going into the statistics that approximately 35-37% of males, for example, claimed to have achieved orgasm due to the contact of another male, regardless of how they identify sexually. Let’s hear it for youthful experimentation!)

        Things may seem disproportionate now largely because there’s a concerted effort to actually make things properly proportionate by introducing more diverse characters. When people are so used to the status quo, they don’t think about when things are the same. Only when they’re different do people sit up and take notice. So it can seem right now that things are disproportionate because people are noticing more diversity where previously there was so much less.

    • ‘Disproportionate diversity’?

      Child, straight authors have ignored the existence of queer people like me for hundreds of fucking years! If every single book written from this second onward for the next three centuries contained a bare minimum of two queer characters, it STILL wouldn’t make up the difference. You people owe us a fucking LOT.

      • I have so much love for this comment. I’m not usually a believer in tit-for-tat justice, but honestly, sometimes something’s got to give, and the only people it hurts when the spotlight is properly shone on us are those who are used to feeling like special snowflakes just because, and now the spotlight isn’t going to shine on them quite so much or so often.

  3. Since this post evidently needs more comments (and work is no longer interfering in my blogging life, gawd!), I’m here :D.

    Yey, love this post. Especially your point about “diversity” characters not needing a point to be included in a story. It’s awesome to me as a reader when I am reading a book I picked up for completely different reasons and stumble across a character that isn’t the standard (yey Waking Engine :D).

    Also, this whole debate has made me realize that we must have a “message friendship” because there is no way that we could be friends just because we want to be friends since neither of us fit into the “defaults” of society, it is obvious that the writer of my life stuck in this friendship to tote a message! Oh wait, we live in real life and that’s not how these things work….

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  6. You’re not selfish, I am. As a straight white male I can see myself in nine out of ten science fiction novels and I’m bored sick with me. I want other viewpoints, other people to take the limelight and have adventures. The best novel I read last year starred a black lesbian woman suffering from a chronic illness trying to find a job as a starship engineer during a galaxy wide depression.

    Correia seems to believe both that science fiction fans, of all people can’t handle reading about anybody but themselves, as well as that all sf fans are white blokes. It’s a stupid, silly attitude.

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