Tuesday, March 13, 2012

We don’t live in a perfect world – so why expect us to pretend?

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

On writing reviews for Fangs for the Fantasy – and media in general - one of the most common objections we find is people questioning our “assumptions” about the reasons for a character’s actions.

After all – we don’t know that that character’s love affair with its desperate tragic ending is because they’re GBLT. We don’t know that a gay man  who is flouncing, and mincing, and obsessed with fashion, is because he’s a gay stereotype. We don’t know that that snarky, sassy Black friend is a trope laden side-kick because she’s Black. We don’t know that a woman who has needed rescuing so many times that she must be positively bored during kidnappings by now, is constantly kidnapped because she’s a woman.

No, we don’t “know” this, but we can make a pretty good guess. Because assuming otherwise would be to pretend that this story is completely separate from the rest of the world – that the context of privileges and prejudices that so mar our society, are somehow blessedly absent from this particular book/story/game/film/series. Perhaps, it was created on Mars by little pixies, who never knew prejudice or hatred?

No, I don’t think I’ll assume that. I won’t assume that centuries of prejudice, of bigotry, or stereotypes have magically had no effect on this work and it is merely sheer coincidence that the portrayals (or erasure) within just happen to coincide with some very tired, very insulting tropes. There’s a limit to how far I will deny reality – and usually reality denial on this scale is only perpetrated when I want to poke Beloved – and I’m certainly not going to do it for the precious fee-fees of privileged folks who can’t abide criticism of their precious.

I also ask why these critics think it matters. Authorial intent is no more magical than any other kind of intent. Just because your writing of the GBF, or the camp buffoon, wasn’t meant to invoke a trope, doesn’t mean it didn’t walk the same, tired, path of a thousand stereotypes before it – causing all the damage, harm and offense of every other character that has walked that same damn path.


And, of course, it bleeds over beyond fiction. When I write my various pieces on Spark in Darkness, I still get people asking whether homophobia is the motive. After all, a gay man was beaten by a gang screaming anti-gay slurs – how do I know it’s a hate crime? A man is falsely accused of being a paedophile, then brutally tortured and burned to death – how do I know it’s because he was gay? Just because someone used a slur that doesn’t mean they mean it that way! Our use of “gay” as an insult or negative descriptor is completely separate from the way society regards GBLT people! Assuming Sandusky is gay, has nothing to do with gross stereotyping!  Why would we possibly think that suggesting Adam Lambert has a “testosterone problem” is in any way homophobic?

And yes, it looks ridiculous – but it happens – and has happened in every one of these instances. It’s happened in my life as well. People have questioned why I think my cousin’s mother-in-law is homophobic, because she doesn’t trust me to look after her grand-daughter. Yes, maybe she thinks lawyers are bad for children, maybe I’m too short, maybe she thinks glasses scare them – or she’s bought into the extremely common homophobic idea that gay men are sex predators. Guess which assumption I’m going for?

Sure, we could go for the others –  but that would require us to completely ignore context, ignore history and ignore the society we live in. Why would we do that? Why would we close our eyes to the awful shit all around us? For the sake of homophobic straight people’s comfort? Heh, I invite you to briefly consider just how much homophobic straight people’s comfort matters to me.

We live in a pervasively prejudiced world. Prejudice and bigotry saturates society and we are continually forced into narrow, often destructive, roles and assumptions. We are dogged by stereotypes, we are attacked by prejudice and hatred, we are penned in by tropes and beaten down by bigotry in just about every facet of the world.

Yet over and over, we’re expected to pretend this isn’t the case. People continually look at us when we call out these things and are offended because we won’t pretend that there’s no way prejudice could possibly be the underlying motive or factor. Oh no, of course not – aren’t we being so unfair to ASSUME something? We’re looking to be offended! We want to play the victim card! All because we refuse to wear the blinkers.

We hear the hoof beats and horse after horse has galloped by – but you still call it unfair when we’re not looking for zebras? Given the way the world is, the omnipresence of ‘isms’ and the sheer rarity of good faith out there and all we’ve learned from history – why should we give such massive benefits of the doubt?

Why should we keep assuming the best when it’s been so rarely the case? And no, the fee-fees of privileged people are not a good reason.