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?