Race, gender, and sexuality

I’ve been reading up a lot on issues relating to race, gender, and sexuality these past few weeks.

The main catalyst was a link on chronicles to the Requires Hate blog.

While presented as a kind of theatre of trolling, by someone claiming to be a “lesbian racist misandrist”, the underlying criticism is clear: there are too many white male heterosexual writers who cannot write adequately about anything relating to race, gender, or sexuality.

Which is more than a fair criticism.

The Requires Hate blogger provides various examples – usually through a combination of touching on easy targets, and sometimes pedant comments.

They’ve also linked to various other blogs for further enlightened reading.

The result has been some awesome reading, with some particular posts of note being:

There have also been a number of current events highlighting these issues, not least Weird Tales trying to publish self-published racist fiction, and sexual harrassment at recent conventions.

I’ve raised discussions on the chronicles forums:

  1. Sex and Sexuality
  2. The Magical Negro

A key potential problem with my own work is that in the first book, the major characters are almost entirely male. While I did have a number of supporting female characters, many of these have been lost as sections of work are edited out (such as the scene where two women talk about the social conditions of the city – but at 20,000 words I can’t justify keeping that scene).

I’ve been aware of this problem for some time, and have previously considered the idea of making one or two of the protagonists female.

However, not only would that significantly change the character dynamics (not least to the existing relationships and inevitable sexual potential), it would also make some of the character actions unrealistic (such as Erin, the acolyte, traveling alone across the empire – dangerous for any male, impossibly unreal for a woman to attempt).

It would also mean that as I’m trying to write with a degree of mediaeval realism, that “sexual threat” would be necessarily invited – and entirely unwelcome – and would unbalance the character dynamics further from what I’ve already established them to be.

On racial issues, because I’m continuing on from the Roman and Byzantine period, where race was not such much an issue as social class, I’ve not written racism as a subject of focus (though, again, I have one character providing a commentary on it in a scene which I may have to cut out, which relates to racism as based to some degree in perceived sexual threat).

However, I have made a point of using different ethnicities and skin colours, as a necessary part of the realism of the world. This is not least because the empire in my stories tries to replicate Europe, not least where most of the civilisation is in the southern part. So three of the seven protoganists are described from the off as having darker skin – and because of recent reading, one of these will describe one of the other characters as “white” as part of a drive to avoid “white” being seen as normative.

On that issue, one of the protagonists is gay – always was going to be. Reading various posts, such as on Ars Marginal, have helped explore the issue sensitively, so I sincerely hope that comes out in the writing. However, as I prepare for a new rewriting draft, I’m not sure how successfully I can tackle the idea of a “heternormative” reality.

I had a supporting character who was transvestite, and a point here was made that there is a difference between homosexuality and transvestism. Not a profound subject for anyone interested in social issues, but perhaps not your normal fantasy fare. However, again, it’s been lost through editing.

As my original first draft was a badly written 700,000 words (I kid you not) I’ve necessarily had to cut a lot of material I really liked. The challenge now is to be able to retain something of what I originally aimed to achieve in terms of social commentary, while being aware this will be a long slow-paced book and that a reader will only take so much preaching.

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