Literary Segregation

Hal Duncan wrote an awesome post on segregation in our fictional culture, and everyone who writes or reads (or watches TV or movies, or makes or consumes any other kind of fictional media) should read it. Powerful stuff.

The status quo in the media, in our narratives, is segregation. It’s a state in which members of abject groups–black, queer, whatever–are deemed to not belong as main characters. This is the segregation of not being able to sit at the front of the bus. The abject may be allowed in as an exception if this “serves the plot” if there’s a reason for the character’s gayness. This is the segregation of being stopped in a white neighborhood and challenged on your purpose in being there. The abject may be allowed in as Gay Best Friends or Magic Negros in service of the straight, white protagonist. This is the segregation of travelling into a white neighbourhood to work as a cleaner in someone’s house.

Yes, this. This is what’s going on whenever someone says they don’t want to read a story about a woman, because they’re not into all that shoes-dating-mommy stuff, as if any narrative about a woman must be about “woman things.” Or when someone else says they don’t want to watch a movie about a black character, because “I don’t want someone preaching at me about racism.” As if any narrative about a black character must feature racism as the driving force of the plot.* Or when someone protests watching a TV show about a gay character, because “homophobia, blah-blah-blah, and besides I don’t wanna see two guys doing it.” As though every narrative about gay people has to be blatantly sexual, and must focus on homophobia.**

Those stereotyped cliches are the uniforms Duncan talks about, the special roles people who aren’t white/straight/able-bodied/male/Christian/and-so-on have to wear to justify their place in a “normal” narrative. A story can have a black protag only if the story is about Black Problems. A story can have a gay protag only if the plot is centered on Gay Issues. A story can have a female protag only if it focuses on Women’s Stuff. The idea that a mystery could have a black detective, or that a war story could have be about a female officer, or that a thriller could be about a gay spy — without the protag’s blackness or femaleness or gayness being a key to the situation or conflict — well, that just doesn’t occur to very many people. The default protag is the straight, able-bodied, Christian white man, and it takes deliberate thought for most writers to reach for someone else, unless they’re writing that Black Story, or Woman’s Story, or Gay Story, or Blind Story, or Autistic Story, or Jewish Story, or whatever other “special” narrative they’re crafting, aimed at a “special” (meaning small, niche, specialty) audience.

Only by recognising that system for what it is can we deal with it, as we must and as we can. If we can desegregate the buses, we can desegregate narrative. When it comes to fictional representation of the abject, if we can understand what we are striving for as desegregation, articulate it as such, there is no argument against this. Otherwise? Simply demand better treatment for queer characters, and they’ll say we’re demanding special treatment; they’ll call it political correctness. They’ll say we want leather armchairs at the back of the bus. Simply demand more queer protagonists, and they’ll say we’re demanding quotas. They’ll say we want seats set aside for us at the front, even at the expense of some poor old white fart called Art.

Demand desegregation, and all this straw man bullshit is exposed for what it is.

This. It’s not about quotas or “special rights” or political correctness. It’s about being allowed to sit in front of the bus, about being allowed to be the protagonist, to save the world and solve the mystery and find love and win the competition, and anything else that straight white guys have been doing in fiction for centuries.

Read the whole thing, because Hal Duncan has a powerful voice, and a clear perspective that sees past the crap that’s been there so long it’s become invisible.


*I won’t even get into how someone who reacts that strongly against hearing about racism is probably the exact sort of person who needs to hear about it.

**See previous note about people who recoil from hearing about bigotry being the ones who need to hear about it.

DOMA and Prop 8 Unconstitutional

When you wake up in the morning (hey, it was still morning) and your in-box is full of joyful announcements that the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 [both PDF links] have both been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, that’s a damn fine way to start a day.

My usual demeanor is pretty cynical, I’ll be the first to admit — the things people do to one another, around the world and particularly here in the US, have contributed to that throughout my life. One of the most ridiculous, hateful, fearmongering trends in recent years has been the insistence by so many social conservatives that same-sex marriage is bad, wrong, evil, unnatural, and a threat to “traditional” marriage. The people who support this vile drivel have been masking their hate and fear and general negativity about the issue by insisting that they’re trying to “defend” marriage. Even with many thousands of gay and lesbian people getting married in the US in states where it’s been legal, even with the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?) of gay and lesbian people getting married in countries around the world where it’s legal — including Canada, right next door — fearful, scowling folks keep insisting that gay marriage is somehow dangerous, that it threatens traditional man-woman marriage.

You know what? My traditional marriage doesn’t need defending, certainly not by people like them. When Jim and I were living in California, about 40,000 gay couples got married during the five months that it was legal, if I remember the numbers correctly, and hey, we’re still married! Imagine that! All those people, men marrying men and women marrying women, and there was never a morning when either Jim or I woke up and said, “Hey, damn, I feel this overwhelming need to divorce you and marry someone of my own sex!” We have a great marriage, it’s as strong as ever, and all those gay people joyfully marrying each other did nothing whatsoever to damage our marriage. Heck, we got a double dose of this dangerous threat to our union when our new home state of Washington legalized gay marriage last year — you’ll be happy to know I’ve still felt no impulse to divorce my husband.

One of my favorite sayings to come out of this situation is, “The only threat to traditional marriage is traditional divorce.” Halle-freaking-luiah.

If you want to defend the institution of marriage, how about taking all the money and energy and other resources that’ve been poured into trying to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying and instead use it to, I don’t know, offer free counseling to couples whose marriages are actually in trouble? That’d be a constructive focus for the beliefs of the social conservatives, one that’d help a lot of people while hurting nobody, unlike DOMA and Prop 8 and related efforts, which are purely destructive and have caused a lot of hardship and misery.

Just a suggestion for any defenders of marriage who are trying to figure out what their next move should be.

So, the Feds now recognize any legal marriage, no matter what the plumbing of the married people looks like. And gay people are free to marry once more in California, which is awesome.

This news actually chips away a tiny bit at my natural cynicism. If the other 37 states ever get with the 21st century and let gay couples marry, I might actually turn into a complete optimist! Let’s work toward that, shall we?


The Perfect Metaphor

Still on the Resnick/Malzberg thing. I’ve been trying to figure out how to model what could possibly have been going on in these guys’ heads, because they’re not stupid, whatever they might’ve been displaying recently. Ferret Steinmetz hit it perfectly.

When you do something very difficult in an Xbox game, you get an Achievement. It’s a fizzy little thrill, not unlike winning a scratch-off lottery ticket: you vanquish a difficult boss and there’s a blip noise, then an alert at the bottom of the screen: ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

You’re told the name of your special Achievement. It is added to your profile, and is yours forevermore.

There appear to be a lot of feisty old dudes who think they’re awesome at this equality thing.

Here’s the thing: by 1970s standards? I’m sure all of these gentlemen were enlightened. Compared to the treatment women, gays, and blacks got from mainstream society at the time, these dudes were well ahead of the curve. And at the time, they deserved all the credit for going above and beyond ordinary treatment. Still do, in a certain sense.

The problem is, in their heads, they Achievement Unlocked. They became Good To Girls, or Friend To The Negro, or Comfortable With Homos. And that badge could never be removed. Once they’d proven their magnificent tolerance in the crucible of the Issues of the Day, they never had to question their position again.

That’s it, right there. Steinmetz nailed it completely. Click through to read the whole thing. I hope Resnick and Malzberg do, and that it makes a lightbulb go off in their heads.


On Free Speech

Far too many people these days seem to think that freedom of speech means freedom from being criticized, freedom from consequences, freedom from verbal retaliation. We need only look at the response of the two guys whose columns triggered the current kerfuffle over the SFWA Bulletin for an example of this — apparently people criticizing their columns is censorship, oh noes!

One of my favorite quotes on this subject comes from Jim Hines, who said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.” Everyone who’s ever whined that their free speech was being curtailed because people responded by saying mean things about them needs to tattoo Jim’s quote on their forearm or something, someplace where they can see it every day.

Tobias Buckell just linked to this great post by Ken White on Popehat, the legal blog. It’s right on point and well worth reading. It starts like this:

Let’s be clear — the right to free speech is the right to express oneself without state retaliation. It is not a right to speak without social retaliation. Speech has consequences. Among those consequences are condemnation, vituperation, scorn, ridicule, and pariah status. Those consequences represent other people exercising their free speech rights. That’s a feature of the marketplace of ideas, not a bug.

Yet too many people seem to think that free speech includes not only a right to be free of consequences imposed by the state, but a right to be free of consequences imposed by other people. Therefore they attempt to portray criticism as a violation of their rights. This, of course, finds no support in the law, and is patently unsustainable as a philosophy besides — it nonsensically elevates the rights of the first person to talk over the rights of the second person to talk.

There’s more; click through and check it out.


Abusing Child Protection Laws

Kaitlyn Hunt is an 18-year-old high school girl who’s in love with another girl, a 15-year-old who goes to her school. They met when Kate was 17, and the younger girl’s parents disapproved of the relationship, but rather than, say, talking to Kate’s parents about it, or trying to resolve their concerns in a civilized manner, they waited for Kate to turn 18 and then called the police.

Kate was expelled from school, and arrested in February for “lewd and lascivious battery.”

According to Findlaw:

Under Florida law, engaging in sexual activity with a minor between the ages of 12 and 16 is a felony. Because the law does not make an exception for consenting minors, Hunt could potentially face up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted, and up to $10,000 in fines.

Florida does have a Romeo-and-Juliet law. These are generally intended to provide some rational exceptions for two young people who are close in age. Unfortunately, the Florida law would only let Kate petition to have her name taken off the sex offender registry after she’s convicted; it would do nothing to save her from the rest of the legal meatgrinder, and she could still spend those 10 years in prison for the heinous crime of having a girlfriend who goes to her school.

Oh, and if one might be thinking of giving the younger girl’s parents the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that it’s the relationship with an “adult” that they’re objecting to, they’ve also accused Kate of turning their daughter gay. So… yeah. This is pure, hateful homophobia at work here.

Please sign the petition on asking to have Kate freed. This is a ridiculous abuse of the laws intended to protect children from actual predators, and of the sex offender registry — unfortunately one of many. We need to make it clear to parents who disapprove of their kid’s boyfriend or girlfriend that criminalizing teenagers who fall in love with other teenagers won’t be allowed to stand.


There’s Always One Joker

In with all the other April Fool’s posts that went up a couple of days ago, one of the web site staffers over at the Locus website decided to write an incredibly unfunny joke stirring a stack of feces that’d long since gone cold and crusted over — the incident from 2010 when WisCon, an SF convention founded specifically on principles of social justice, dis-invited one of its guests of honor for publicly posting an anti-Moslem screed on her LiveJournal. The basic message of the post was diametrically opposed to the foundations principles of WisCon, and continuing to honor this person would’ve been a travesty, so she was dis-invited. There was some kerfuffling, but then it died down. The person who wrote the non-funny April Fool’s post for the Locus site decided it needed to be stirred up again, and saw nothing wrong with saying nasty things about Moslems, women, feminists and fat people in order to get his “point” across. Or maybe he saw that as a bonus?

The Locus magazine staff, being decent people, pulled the post as soon as they saw it that morning, and posted an apology. We know they’re decent people because it’s a real apology, not the usual “We’re sorry you’re so overly sensitive, and we had no idea you’d be so unreasonable as to be offended” kind of non-apology these incidents usually produce, so kudos to the Locus folks.

The guy who wrote the offensive post decided a little more stirring was necessary, so he posted to his personal blog, making it clear that yes, he had intended to be offensive, and yes he had meant to be taking a shot at WisCon over this 2.5-year-old incident, and that he was outraged — outraged, I say! — at the craven censorship to which his superiors were forced by the politically correct harpies of WisCon. Because clearly it’s impossible that anyone not associated with WisCon could have been at all upset by what he’d said.

[If anyone cares, I don’t work on WisCon, and have never even attended.]

I’m not linking to Mr. Shit Stirrer because I don’t want to reward him for his behavior by giving him any traffic, or his blog any incoming links. I’m not naming him for similar reasons. If you click through to the page with Locus’s apology, though, there’s a link in the comments to his post, if you really want to read it. It’s the usual self-righteous garbage bigots spew when they’re called on their shit.

Jim Hines posted a commentary on his own blog, and as usual made some excellent points and worded them beautifully. One of my favorite parts:

I was a skinny, overly bright, socially inept, fashion challenged kid with glasses and a speech defect. My teenage years were utter hell. Looking back at any of those incidents of name-calling, having my books knocked out of my hands, being shoved in the hallway, tripped on the steps outside the school, having my belongings destroyed, and so on, very few of them in isolation were such a big deal. Real physical injury was relatively rare. But when those small jabs continue day after day, they add up. They whittle away at your strength and your hope, and it never, ever lets up, never stops, until you’re sitting alone in the bathroom with a syringe full of your father’s insulin, searching for a single good reason not to jab the plunger down and hopefully put an end to it all.

The backlash against the Locus article isn’t about someone taking cheap shots at Muslims and women. It’s about yet another person taking those shots, lining up to bully those who are already a popular target for abuse. And it’s about everyone else who stands around, encouraging and enabling that bullying.

The whole thing’s worth reading.

And he’s absolutely right — it’s not just about this incident, or some older incident, or another one that’ll happen next week. It’s about all the incidents taken together. If every day, someone pokes you — never the same person twice, but someone new every day — it might seem ridiculous to charge any of them with assault. But let it go on for weeks and months, let alone years or decades, and your body would be one huge bruise, and each new poke would be agonizing on top of the damage left by all the others. And if you complained, people would say, “Why are you making such a fuss? He just poked you! Sure, it’s kind of rude, but you don’t have to make a federal case out of it! Mellow out!” Those same people would glare with indignation while the person who “overreacted” dragged their purple, crippled body away.

A constant stream of offenses which are individually minor is just as harmful as one huge offense. This slam against Moslems, women, feminists and fat people was just one more in a long, long stream of offenses that members of every one of those groups has to put up with regularly, often daily. It’s not minor, it’s not funny, and the Locus staff acted appropriately, as any decent people would.


On the Gay Marriage Case

Writer Courtney Milan, who’s a lawyer in her day job IIRC, wrote this seriously awesome summary of Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments in the Gay Marriage case, in transcript form. They’re nowhere near done, but this is interesting and humorous and well worth reading. Probably a lot moreso, for most of us, than the actual transcript (which is 82 pages long) although she links to that if you want to tackle it.

Oral argument starts with Charles Cooper speaking on behalf of the petitioners, who are not in favor of same-sex marriage in California.

COOPER: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court. Today, we—

ROBERTS: In keeping with the practices of this Court, we don’t allow anyone to complete a full sentence before interrupting them. Tell us why the people who hired you should even be allowed to bring a case.

COOPER: Because California said so.

GINSBURG: So? We’ve said before that in order to be able to bring a federal case, you have to have an injury in fact, something that is specific to you.

COOPER: But these people were injured. They didn’t want gay people to marry, and now look! Gays. Lesbians. Able to marry at will. It’s very injurious. They’re injured just thinking about it.

Click through to read the rest.

She also summarized the next chunk, which is shorter but still has some good ??? stuff in it. She says she’s not going to do any more, which is a shame, seriously.


Scalzi Comments on Random House/Hydra Deal

John Scalzi doesn’t make a major point of discussing big publishers messing over writers, so when he does, you know it’s bad. He looks over a deal sheet Random House’s new electronic imprint Hydra is offering, and points out a few red flags.

* No advance.

* The author is charged “set-up costs” for editing, artwork, sale, marketing, publicity — i.e., all the costs a publisher is has been expected to bear. The “good news” is that the author is not charged up front for these; they’re taken out of the backend. If the book is ever published in paper, costs are deducted for those, too. [Note from Angie: there’s also a permanent 10% of net charge for the on-going sales and marketing that Hydra most likely won’t be doing.]

* The contract asks for primary and subsidiary rights for the term of copyright.

Click through for more detail and some commentary I found pretty entertaining. It’s clear, though, that Random House is looking to squeeze as much money from ignorant baby writers as it can, while hoping to pay out little or nothing.

Also recall that “term of copyright” these days means your lifetime plus seventy years. Your grandkids will still be getting royalty statements from Hydra saying, “Nope, haven’t made up those costs yet.”

This reminds me of the electronic “imprints” set up by some of the other big publishers through AuthorHouse, which were clearly meant to be cash cows for the sponsoring publishers. It looks like someone at Random House figured they could rip off writers just as well on their own, without having to hire another company to do it. Eliminate the middle-man and make more money, right? And hey, some bright RH executive thought of taking the rights for the duration of copyright, which even AuthorHouse, as horrible as its rep might be, doesn’t do. Go you, Random House! Way to be eviller than a notoriously deceptive vanity press!

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, SFWA has issued a statement declaring that Hydra is not a qualifying market. [cough]


Writer Hit by Trademark Bully

I’ve been watching this one develop all day, since I saw John Scalzi’s post about it, and things look to be turning around for the writer involved. Still, she’s still pretty firmly in suckland at this point, and the fact that it’s happening at all is outrageous.

MCA Hogarth wrote a book called Spots the Space Marine and self-pubbed it. Games Workshop (a large game company that publishes the very popular game Warhammer 40K) has recently decided to exercise its trademark of the term “space marine” — it has the term trademarked in the area of tabletop games and video games — against fiction. It sent a DMCA notice to Amazon, claiming that Spots violated its trademark, and Amazon took the book down.

Wow, where to start?

First, Games Workshop does not own the term “space marine” in the context of fiction. There’ve been space marines running around SF for about as long as there’s been a recognized genre called science fiction, and maybe even longer. Doc Smith and Robert Heinlein had space marines. There’s reams of prior art. Just because GW’s got a lock on the term in the gaming arena doesn’t mean they own it in fiction too, and the fact that they’ve started publishing fiction recently doesn’t change that.

Second, as Cory Doctorow points out, the DMCA doesn’t cover trademarks, only copyrights, so Amazon was under no obligation to comply with the take-down notice. They chose to do so freely when they didn’t have to — a thwap of the salmon to Amazon for being an auxiliary idiot here. (The comments to Cory’s post are pretty entertaining, if you’re at all familiar with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. 😀 )

Third, someone at Games Workshop must know their trademark assertion is completely bogus, because they’re going after a tiny little indie-pubbed book, but (so far as I’ve heard) haven’t said so much as “Peep” any of the big New York publishers who are “infringing” just as much on their supposed trademark, but who all have lawyers on staff.

This is pathetic behavior on the part of Games Workshop. I don’t know where their legal advice is coming from, but it’s not a source I’d ever hire, because it’s making them look like idiots.

The legal blog Popehat is calling for pro bono help for Ms. Hogarth in fighting this crap, which she can’t afford to do on her own. (Which GW counted on, I’m sure.) Popehat has a good track record with this sort of thing, as when attorney Charles Carreon sued Matt Inman; I’m betting they can get help for Ms. Hogarth too, and I’m looking forward to reading about the results.

I’ve been a gamer since I was a teenager. I played in the same FRPG campaign for almost twenty years, until I got married and moved away from my group. I used to work as a developer/gamemaster for a company that does online multi-player RPGs. I have no local gaming group, but still play computer games. As a member of the community Games Workshop is trying to do business in, I have to say that I’ll never again buy one of their products, ever. They’re a pack of cowardly, bullying douchebags and don’t deserve my business. I hope a lot of other gamers make the same decision.

And I hope a trademark attorney or two responds to Popehat’s call and gives Games Workshop a good smack upside the head on Ms. Hogarth’s behalf. They definitely need a few brain cells jarred loose.


The Invisible War

I really want to see this movie. I know it’s going to piss me off royally, but I still want to see it. And after researching things like this, I can’t even find it in me to be skeptical about the movie’s accuracy, based on what’s in the trailer. If so many in Congress will help government contractors in the field (i.e., mercenaries working for the US government) cover up rapes, when these are just hired hands and not sworn troops, how can we imagine that the US Military would not do whatever it could to cover up a plague of rapes within its own ranks? What a scandal! Of course they’d cover it up, for the same reason the the Catholic Church covered up its child molestors for so long, the same reason Penn State covered up for Jerry Sandusky for so long. The authorities think that the scandal to themselves and their institution is worse than the horror of what the victims are put through.

Apologists claim that some significant number of women who report being raped are lying for whatever reason. Some radical wingnuts claim that most women who report a rape are lying. The fact is that even today, in the 21st century, enough women who report being raped are treated horribly — during the report, during the investigation, during the trial if there is one, and sometimes even afterwards by their friends, families, co-workers — that most women who are raped have to think long and hard about reporting it for fear of being traumatized all over again, and many never do.

This looks like a good movie. I hope it draws some attention to the issue.


PS — of course, men are raped too. It’s just as horrible for them, and the social pressure against reporting a rape is just as strong for men, if for different reasons. Most people who are raped are women, though, so that’s where most of the problem is. If there are men in the military being raped by their fellow soldiers, I hope someone makes a movie about that as well. Any nest of vipers needs to be hit with a flamethrower, no matter who’s being bitten.