Diversity in SF

Posted by Shannon Haddock on April 5, 2015 in Rants |

For those of you reading this who may not know it, there’s been a big deal made in the past few years over diversity in science fiction and fantasy, both in the authors and in the characters.

It confuses the fuck out of me that this needs to be an issue.  SF is about possibilities, it’s about “what if”s.  It should be the easiest place for people who aren’t cis-gendered straight white men to find people like themselves, seems to me . . . because in any future or fantasy world I’d want to spend any time in, the prejudices society has today wouldn’t exist.

SF is written by and for geeks.  We’ve spent our whole lives, those of us who were geeks before being a geek was cool, being teased and mocked for our interests . . . or at least being made to feel awkward.  (I remember a teacher once seeing the Star Trek novel in my hand and saying, “You like stuff like that?” in a tone I’d reserve for someone reading something by Ann Coulter.  A teacher.  You’d think they’d just be happy to see someone reading.)  Yet there are those among us who don’t think women belong, who don’t think people of color belong, who don’t think anyone who’s not heterosexual belongs.  I just don’t fucking get it.

And then there are those who think those of us who aren’t cis straight white men do belong . . . provided we stay in our own little niche.  Women can write sci-fi romance, but by God they shouldn’t write regular sci-fi.  I’ve actually seen the claim, in reviews, that “women just don’t understand science the way men do.”  And that women can’t write fight scenes or military sci-fi and . . . well, basically that women should stick to writing romance and cozy mysteries.  Yes, this is still the twenty-first century, you haven’t somehow landed in an alternate 1950s where they already have the internet.

I’ve been lucky, so far.  As far as I know none of my negative reviews have been because of my gender, sexuality, religion, etc. The closest thing to prejudice I’ve encountered is a reviewer or two who had narrow-minded views of what constituted science fiction.  (Here’s my feelings on that:  spaceships and robots = science fiction, even if there are pirates and swords and a section inspired by the many dungeon crawls I’ve run) And yet time and again I find myself wondering if my sales, especially given that two of my three published works sort of quality as military sf, would be better if my first name wasn’t normally a female name.  I also wonder if they’d be even worse if my name wasn’t also, if far less commonly, a male name.  I hate this.  I hate that I even have to think about this.  This is the twenty-first fucking century.  And there are still people who don’t want to read a book because the author uses a different bathroom than they do.

I know I’m lucky that I’m just a bi, pagan, woman.  It could be worse.  I could be non-white or disabled.  Then even less people would want to read my stuff.  I just cannot fucking understand this!

And then there’s the matter of characters . . . it’s entirely possible that some people don’t want to read my books because I’m so very casual about, say, Lyndsey having both a husband and a wife.  This, according to some people, is the author forcing an agenda on them instead of just entertaining them.  Personally, I see more of an agenda when everybody in a work is straight and monogamous, even the aliens.  (Or elves or whatever, if that’s more your cup of tea.)  If I ever made it clear in something besides this blog post that Lyndsey’s wife is a different race than her, my gods, I’m clearly just trying to appeal to the politically correct/social justice warrior crowd or, worse, am part of that crowd!  I mean, it couldn’t possibly be that I think a culture that’s been around since we here on Earth were still figuring out whether or not fire should be nasally fitted has long since gotten over worrying about things like skin tone and what people do with their genitals.  Or, you know, that I don’t personally think those are a big fucking deal so am not going to make them one in my fiction.  Which I guess that does make me part of that crowd, to a certain extent.  But trust me, I’m not writing to promote an agenda.  If I was, I’d choose someone other than Lyndsey to represent bisexuals.  The buxom blonde who fucks anything that moves is not exactly who you’d want to use in a work that was trying to make a serious point about bisexuals.

My characters have the traits they do because they have the traits they do. If I’m trying to make any point at all, if I’m trying to promote any agenda at all, it’s this very simple one:  It shouldn’t matter what your sexuality, religion, skin color, gender identity, etc. are.    If this makes me part of some cabal of social justice warriors out to ruin science fiction and fantasy forever, oh well.  It needs ruining if it’s not a place where that’s true.

Now, a video that I dearly love, even though I’m sad this song had cause to be made:

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