Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One Author's Ongoing Attempts at Intersectionality (or, "Hey, Be Part of the Solution")

The blogosphere has been alive with discussions of gender in spec fic recently.  First, Alex Macfarlane introduced her plans to spend some time at Tor discussing binary gender in Sci-Fi.  Then Larry Correia posted his rebuttal, which was then dissected by the indomitable Jim C. Hines.  And then, of course, there was the A-to-Z listing of Non-Binary Genders over at Shattersnipe (a blog which you should follow, because it's excellent).

Anyway, with all of that churning around, of course I have to jump in the middle.  I've never been one to walk away from a controversy.

Today I don't have the energy to tackle another author's choices or arguments, though.  I'll have to save that for a time when I've had more sleep and no swine flu-induced fever dreams.  What I am feeling up to, though, is a little introspective journey.  Because while I certainly can't begin to speak for every speculative fiction author, I can at least explain the choices that I've made in my fiction, and how those choices represent my (ever-growing) awareness of intersectionality.    


The main character is a cisgendered white male.  So white, in fact, that he's a ginger.  But I purposely toyed with gender norms in a few ways.  For one, he holds a job (social work) that's not necessarily male-dominant.  For another, he's not exactly a paragon of masculinity, and time and again he ends up in the type of danger a woman might be expected to face: He's kidnapped, ogled (very uncomfortably) and later literally sold as a sex object.  He cannot walk alone at night in this world.

Females outnumber males in the world, and you run into several strong women -- for varying definitions of "strong." The fairies are physically stronger than him and also hold political power (of note, one is a queen, another is an influential merchant, and a pair of lesbians are fairy law enforcement officers -- just to name a few of the people he meets).

Also of note is Adrian's mental health.  Although never expressly named as such, he suffers from OCD, and that was an important thing for me to characterize because it's something I share with him.  All too often, OCD gets mishandled in fiction, and often trivialized.  I didn't want some over-the-top Monk stuff happening in this book.  But I did want to showcase his anxiety in a way that felt authentic.  You see him drawing comfort from ritualized behaviors...and, well, let's just say that obsessive thought patterns can cause a lot of trouble in a world where nightmares become real.

Nezumi's Children 

Aside from being rats, the cast of this book is overwhelmingly female.  There are four named male characters, and of these one is essentially a eunuch.  Because of their unique circumstances, the domestic rats of Rocco's Pet Emporium are matrilineal -- and their discovery of the very patriarchial (and significantly more violent) wild rat culture is the impetus behind much of the story.

Of course, readers will know about the troubling rape scene in Chapter 17.  Troubling not just because it's rape, but because the values dissonance between species creates an added layer of problems to an anthropomorphic narrative: Human consent does not necessarily carry over to the animal kingdom, especially in a species that practices despotic polygynandry.  But in the end, I chose to give the character some agency in this.  It's up to the readers to tell me whether this ambitious attempt succeeded.  

Moving Forward...

In the past, I've often shied away from including too much intersectionality, in large part because when you deviate from the "norm" it becomes easier for the story (or, anyway, people's reactions) to become about the deviations.  Part of the reason I write speculative fiction is so that I have better control over the world I write about -- like a scientist controlling variables -- and I don't like introducing variables whose interpretations could lead to unintended consequences.

I'm growing bolder, though.  My current WIP (which is about self-aware zombies and government control) features a bisexual protagonist, his gay best friend/it's complicated + his girlfriend, and a lesbian couple.  None of which is necessarily relevant to the story.  It's just sort of how things worked out.

Reading that list of gender-binary-alternatives on Shattersnipe's page, though, I can't help but realize how much opportunity there is to mine there.  Clearly I need to do some more research and see what kind of world I can incorporate some of that into.

So, anyway.  There's a brief look at how I've handled intersectionality in my own work.  Care to share how you've tackled the issue (or whether you've even given it thought)?  I'd love to hear your $.02 in the comments.

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