Friday, February 3, 2012

Existence is not Entitlement, Erasure is not Acceptable

'Right Through The Invisible Man' photo (c) 2011, Matthew - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As we have often made note of in this space, Urban Fantasy, Dystopian, Horror, and Steampunk is often filled with the erasure of GLBT people (note: a universal erasure applies to trans people) disabled people and people of colour.  The default as with all forms of media is to fall back on the most privileged bodies at all times. And it’s wall to wall - not only will the protagonist always be as privileged as possible, but so will most of the people who surround them as well.

And in the few cases were marginalised characters do exist, all is not rosy. It’s very rare for us to get more than a single token character; in fact, sometimes we’re lucky to get that - often we will see the odd marginalised face in a crowd scene, or someone referred to in passing without any real ‘screen’ time at all. When we do have them, the characters are often hollow. They have no real traits or personalities, no goals, no personhood - they’re just a placeholder for the necessary inclusion cookies. And, were that not problematic enough, usually they exist to serve the privileged protagonists - side-kicks, best friends, entourage, never people in their own right.

Of course, in the few occasions when they do have some traits, they normally fall into ridiculous, stereotyped tropes that are hardly progressive and serve to further “other” them while maintaining the supremacy of privileged people.

As we have mentioned in the past, gatekeepers do effect the ability of writers to include historically marginalized characters; however, they are not solely responsible for the dearth of representation.  Just like everyone else, writers are born into a discourse that privileges certain bodies and unless they have made a conscious effort to decolonize their minds and consider a world which may be outside of their lived experience, the tendency to repeat dominant social narratives becomes normalised. Even with writers who are aware of this phenomenon, they often fall into the trap of hunting for inclusion points by introducing the gay uncle or a wise negro to fulfill what they deem to be a quota rather than investing in these marginalized characters to the same degree that they invest in characters that come from a dominant sub group.

And this erasure costs. Our children grow up forever seeing themselves as not worth talking about, their stories not worth telling. And when they see themselves? They see themselves as less, or they see some caricature that’s supposed to be them but is barely human. This is why even today when Black children are asked to take the “doll test” they routinely invest the White doll with all positive traits and the Black doll with negative traits. Children learn at an early age to internalize the negative images and messages created by media, and this inevitably follows them all the days of their lives.

For GLBT youth it is equally as perilous.  This erasure teaches them that who they are is filthy and inhuman.  It also feeds into a culture of homophobia, which encourages bullying -- which we have seen has lead to a high rate of GLBT suicide, depression and self harm. It further encourages a closeted existence because erasure teaches that GLBT are not to be visible or part of society in any way, shape or form.

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