But I want to say this anyway, and it is delicate. It is odd. But I hope you will listen to this one voice among the many. It is a white voice, but it is also a female voice, and a queer one, and this is about those things, too.
Do you know why we get so upset about whether or not there are depictions of women, people of color, gays, lesbians, transgendered, and humans of all sizes and kinds in genre fiction? Because it seems a bit of a small issue, what SFF writers choose to write about as opposed to equal pay, equal rights, and protection from rape, right? Yet we all seem get so very upset when this subject is brought up, when Dollhouse makes rape so neat and pretty, when CSI punishes women for living every week, when space opera has blue and green but no black. The straight, white males of the internet get their hackles up, because it just isn't a big deal to them, and they can't understand why it's this big a deal to us. It sucks, sure, but why the rage? Why does this cut us so deeply? Why are we criticizing what they have poured blood and love into, the works of their lives?
I have a theory. The reason, I think, is subtle, and doesn't usually get brought to light.
Why do we need stories? In the greater human sense, not in the bestseller, ZOMG Alan Moore is awesome sense. Storytelling is an essential human activity, a paleolithic one, hardwired into us. It's the campfire and the tribal circle, the shaman and the nomad. And while you could argue many motivations for this ritual act, I want to focus on one. One especially applicable to folklore, fairy tales, mythology--and therefor to fantasy and science fiction.
Stories teach us how to survive. They tell us that our lives can be transcendent, that we can overcome almost anything, no matter how strange, that we can go into the black wood and come out again, that the witch can be burned up in her own oven, that we can find someone who fits a shoe, that the youngest, unloved child will find their way in the world, that those who suffer can become strong, can escape, can find their way into comfort and joy again. That there are secrets, and they are always worth discovering, that there are more and different creatures in the world than we can ever imagine, and not all want to eat us. Stories teach us how to win through, how to perservere, how to live.
As a child of abuse, fairy tales kept me going when I was a girl. Because Gretel could kill the witch, because Snow White could come back from death, because Rapunzel could live even in the desert--then, well, I could too. I could dry my tears and clean up the blood and keep living. This is what stories do. They say: you are worthy of the world, no less than these heroes.
And when we see story after story that has no one like us in it, a book entirely without women, a TV show where white people speak Chinese but there are no Asians visible, a movie set in California without Hispanics, image after image of a world where everyone is straight, and when we are told that it's no big deal, really, there is no race in future societies, that it's not anyone's fault if all the characters are white, that's just how they are, in the pure authorial mind, that we have no sense of humor, that we are ganging up on people because we speak our minds, this is what we hear:
You do not have a right to live. There are no stories for you, to teach you how to survive, because the world would prefer you didn't. You don't get to be human, to understand your suffering or move beyond it. In the perfect future society, you do not exist. We who are colorblind, genderblind, sexualityblind would prefer not to see you even now. In the world we make in our heads, you have been obliterated--even better, you never were. You are incapable of transcendance. You are not worthy of the most essential of human behavior. If you are lucky, we will let you into our stories, and you can learn to be a whore, or someone's mother, or someone's slave, or someone's prey. That is all you are, so pay attention: this is what we want to teach you to be.
And when our protests are drowned out by a privileged few who insist that their stories are even more difficult than ours, even more hurtful, in fact just like ours but better because someone who looks like them is telling them, that their voices MUST be heard, that we are wrong to even bring up the subject, when they try to punish people for speaking out, when they tell us over and over that when they are done speaking, when they are done telling their stories to all the people who look just like them, so that people who look like them can learn to survive and be strong, maybe we can have the mic for a minute while the janitors who look like us are cleaning up, what they are saying is not literary theory.
It is eugenics.
That is what this is about. Evolution. Only those who look a certain way, act a certain way, fuck a certain way are allowed to have the blueprint, to have any guide on a path grace, peace, love in their lives. Everyone else can just lay down and die. It is almost never a virtue to silence another soul, by shouting them down, by shutting them out, by derision, by omission. Even the worst soul has the right to tell its tale. And we are not the worst souls.
Stories are important. Stories, in fact, are life. They are what is left of our unique experience in this world. They speak--no. They scream. And when an author sits down and constructs a completely imaginary world in their heads, if people like me, people like us, do not exist in it, or exist only to be ridden like animals or raped or murdered or humilated or destroyed so that an audience can acheive catharsis via symbolic annihilation of our lives, bodies, and souls, well, certainly, we can sit down and look at the floor and say: yes, you're right, that is what we deserve.
Or we can stand up. We can scream back. We can band together. We can demand our right to exist, to take part in humanity, to learn, to grow, to evolve, to self-examine. We can tell our stories, to anyone who will listen, to the campfire, to our lovers, to coffee shops, to strangers, to publishers' skyscrapers in New York, to the heavens, to the earth. Yes, you're fucking well right we can.