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Prop 8 and Fantasy Writing

It's always been my understanding that fantasy lit is about opening up possibilities, disrupting patriarchy, and creating imaginative, safe spaces for diverse groups to explore their dreams and desires.  How does the passage of Proposition 8--effectively banning gay marriage in California and altering the constitution to strip American citizens of their civil rights--resonate within our community of fiction writers?  We are straight, gay, bi, trans, questioning, intersex, gender-variant, and everything in between.  Our worlds encompass every gender possibility and every permutation of life, love, and magic. 

So what can/should we do about Prop 8?  How does this affect our writing, our worlds, our characters?  Do we have the obligation, as cultural actors, critics, writers, and artists, to protect civil rights and denounce discrimination?  Can we remain neutral? 



( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 12th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
With all due respect, I think this is an inappropriate subject for this forum.
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - maprilynne - Nov. 12th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
clarification - jbattis - Nov. 12th, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: clarification - jayewells - Nov. 12th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: clarification - jbattis - Nov. 13th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC)
I think everyone has the obligation to protect civil rights and denounce discrimination, writer or not. Doing so in a story can be very powerful. Stories change minds a lot better than fact-arguing EVER has.

John Scalzi (sci-fi writer) put up this post recently, and it mirrors my beliefs about writers writing about politics exactly: Why Yes, I Should Write About Politics.
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of fantasy (Urban or not)is about buttressing the status quo. Writers are as much a product of their surroundings and upbringings as nonwriters/storytellers are, and are as likely to reinforce or deny that background as anyone else.
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
If it's offensive to speak specifically about Proposition 8 (and I understand that it would be for some people), why not talk about it generally?

I think -- and obviously I'm not the OP -- that the question is really: Does the fiction writer have some "obligation" to write more openmindedly than mainstream society might appear to be?
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
I think artists are no more obligated and no more guaranteed to be progressive than anybody else. The stereotype is that artists are liberal-minded but then you have Charlton Heston :) (And nobody can tell me Soylent Green wasn't art, man!)

An inquisitive mind may be more the standard in the artist. Whether that inquisitiveness leads you to support or denigrate any given ideology is less the point.

But the cool thing about art is that YOU can take YOUR beliefs and hopes and dreams (and nightmares), whatever they might be, and bring them to life.
Nov. 12th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
Just a lurker's opinion, but I think jbattis has a reasonable question, even if it is presented in a slightly less than neutral manner for a forum full of people with different opinions on the matter. It's a heated issue, though, so so long as name calling doesn't start I'd say it is fair.

Should people write about Issues with a capital 'I'? I think everyone is capable, especially if they feel strongly on the issue at hand. I don't know if everyone is obligated to; if you're not passionate about the issue, then you'd probably make a dull attempt to fill up your social commentary quota for each novel, which doesn't help anyone. I do think that usually some sort of commentary slips into anyone's writing, whether we mean to or not, like gategrrl wrote.

Fiction does lend us an environment to make social commentary and speculation in. Science Fiction is steeped in it. It can be a very powerful medium in which to do this, as everflame said. I would wager a guess and say that if some authors weren't getting their books banned for controversial topics within, they would feel like they'd somehow failed in the writing of it. Other authors may be more inclined to add nudges here and there in their plots. However, what an author chooses to write is entirely up to them.

That said, if authors still feel very passionately about an issue, there are other 'real world' forms of commentary and protest that are much more immediate than writing a work of fiction. I'm sure groups that opposed Prop 8 in particular would love to have an author's clout in the fight for their cause. In fact, I'm sure that if -anyone- feels strongly about Prop 8, there are groups that would love to have your support.

Nov. 12th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC)
also, another thought: what do we define as 'creating propaganda' as writers? if we have a feminist or a disabled or an LGBT character, and we're feminist or disabled or LGBT, does that mean we're writing propaganda to 'stroke our ideologies?'
Nov. 15th, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
No I don't think it means we're writing propaganda. Interestingly enough, just yesterday we had a discussion at a group blog I participate in on erotica authors who write BDSM and how much they bring to the table. For the most part, we all agreed that subconsciously (at the least), yes, we do bring our own values/thoughts/beliefs to the table when we write. I know I do. I consider myself a feminist and I try to write strong characters who are comfortable in their sexuality--it's something I believe strongly in.

(Sorry I can't see the original post) Do we have a responsibility to bring our ideologies to our writing? No. But if it comes naturally to the story (and you're comfortable writing about it), then there's nothing wrong with it either. :)
Nov. 12th, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC)
I don't think the topic is inappropriate at all, especially when posted by a writer who is one of the few that includes gay characters in his books while writing in a genre that's incredibly heteronormative.

When 52% of a population votes to make it okay to legally discriminate against a group of people it's important for not just writers, but everyone to denounce that discrimination.

Literature can be one of the most persuasive forms of art we have, and if a writer wants to talk about politics they should. You may not like what they have to say, and you may not agree, but that doesn't mean they should be silent.

Nov. 12th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
When 52% of a population votes to make it okay to legally discriminate against a group of people it's important for not just writers, but everyone to denounce that discrimination....

And there you have the crux of the situation. It IS discrimination. The sad part is some groups find it necessary to try to legislate what should be a private matter between consenting adults. It makes me incredibly sad.

(no subject) - jbattis - Nov. 12th, 2008 09:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - venusunfolding - Nov. 12th, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 12th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm a big ol' Friend of Dorothy, contributor to No on 8 and Invalidate 8, and passionately activist, but I don't believe in the whole WE AS WRITERS group collective, and I believe even less that we should use our books as propaganda, even for the side we believe in.

ETA And I think we all know what propaganda is, but least I be completely unclear here- propaganda being deliberately slanted text that lies by commission and/or omission to demonize the "wrong" position and canonize the "right" position. My world as it exists contains straight, queer, genderqueer, null, and everything between, so the books I write? Contain straight, queer, genderqueer, null and everything between.

We should not be obligated- in fact, I think we should be actively discouraged- from writing propaganda. Every free-thinking person should, as a human being, stand up to injustice as they see it, but artists create art- and it's the truth that changes minds. Not heavy-handed didactism and manipulations of worlds to make them more right.

And it's a waste of time. Makes you feel good to write a rousing story that rubs your righteous belly, wtfever. Paint a picket sign and join the march. Donate. Make calls. Be part of the PROCESS.

Stories are stories and if you write honestly, your truth will resonate. But if you want to express your outrage against a system you think is unfair, get off your ass and actually do something.
Nov. 12th, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
I don't feel like it's my obligation to do anything about prop 8 or any other political issue in my writing. What goes into our books and any other art form should be what's appropriate for that art form. Pieces chasing after political issues just to make a statement about the political issue are rarely true to themselves. When I write a gay character into a piece I rarely sit back and think about all the ramifications of it. The character fits in the book and you go forward.

I think if you are wanting to get in on a political issue there are many forums to do so, but that's a personal decision. Just as the voting was a personal decision and should be respected as such.

Nov. 12th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
you should think of all the ramifications. you should always think of then, because those 'ramifications,' those political issues, are a gay person's real life, their real position everyday. same goes for other minority-communities and communities who deal daily with patriarchy, sexism, racism, and homophobia.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - venusunfolding - Nov. 13th, 2008 03:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 12th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
Have you ever read a fantasy lit story (or anything else, I suppose) that actually CHANGED your mind about an issue? (Righteously reinforcing something you already believed or swaying you on an issue you found tepid to begin with doesn't count.) What was it?

Octavia Butler was a good one for me. Since I grew up in monoculture suburbia, her stories impressed upon me not just "we are different" but "we are the same." Although that didn't really change my mind, I guess, just opened it a little more.
Nov. 12th, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC)
There are definitely examples of fiction that can affect people's thinking. But speaking as a writer who writes mostly books about gay characters, I think the best reason to do so is the same reason activists encourage gay people to come out: the more literature and fiction there is out there with gay themes and characters, the more it becomes normal and accepted in society. Not that there should be gay characters in every book, but littlebutfierce had it right, above, in saying that books with a complete absence of gay characters underscores a hetero-norm society. If you are gay, or gay-friendly, and you believe that gay people shouldn't be discriminated against, then toss in a supporting character.

(As an aside: the first gay characters I encountered in science fiction was in Anne McCaffrey's dragon books, and though I didn't 'get' it at the time, I have a lot of respect for her including them. They weren't viewed as weird, or perverts, it was just how they were because one had a female dragon, see.)
(no subject) - jennablackbooks - Nov. 13th, 2008 12:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jbattis - Nov. 13th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jessaslade - Nov. 13th, 2008 05:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 12th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
There's a Jane Yolen quote now on the tip of my tongue that I need to look for now, about how a child who's travelled with wizards like Ged and hobbits like Frodo and all manner of species and races will be more likely to tolerate differences in others ... fantasy definitely has a role to play in our understanding of same, even fantasy that isn't directly trying to convey a message.

If we're writing about werewolves and vampires and demons ... we're at least indirectly engaged in a dialogue about how to deal with differences and otherness, whether that's our surface intention or not.
Nov. 13th, 2008 02:17 am (UTC)
If you happen to find the direct quote, I'd love to have it. But you've certainly made your point. Fantasy and Science Fiction naturally appeal to more open minded individuals. And just because the characters are different species instead of different races, doesn't mean there isn't a lesson of tolerance there.
(no subject) - janni - Nov. 13th, 2008 02:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mlady_rebecca - Nov. 13th, 2008 04:51 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 13th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)
I have a million thoughts on this, so my post will probably come out incredibly jumbled and nonsensical. But I'm going to give it a go anyway. :)

My problem with your original post is that I don't feel comfortable circumscribing fantasy's scope--and saying that fantasy lit is "about" anything in particular (even such a worthy thing as creating a safe space for diverse groups) limits the genre. It is "about" whatever the writer wants it to be about.

I also don't believe in limiting a writer's reasons for writing. For some, it's political; for others, it's not. Neither one is better than the other. Neither is more valid than the other.

Another thing that troubles me is the presumption that there is a consensus view about anything within the fantasy community--or that there should be a consensus view.

Maybe what it all boils down to is--making this topic revolve around Proposition 8 instead of, say, authorial responsibility in general, or the use of politics in fantasy, is divisive. And I'm not willing to demonize people just because they disagree with me, even about this.

Personally, I find Prop H8te disgusting and disturbing (and destined to be squashed by California's courts); that doesn't mean my opinion is more worthy or important than the opinion of a person who supports it.

Possibly none of that makes sense. *Goes back to editing.*

Nov. 13th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
no, it makes a lot of sense. i just think that sometimes it can be really productive to introduce a topic that creates division, even if it's discomforting. obviously, getting into a 'yes' vs. 'no' on Prop 8 war isn't going to accomplish a lot. i just figured it would be a chance for people to weigh in about politics in writing and see what comes of that. the fact that i'm against Prop 8 is just my own political perspective, and everyone else is allowed to have theirs. but, over and above that freedom of thought, everyone also ought to know that a minority community's civil rights are being challenged by a series of majority communities, and we have to call attention to that no matter how divisive it seems.
(no subject) - jbattis - Nov. 13th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 13th, 2008 01:14 am (UTC)
Just a note to say that I'm not seeing any problem with you posting the general topic, Jes. I think your question--"Do we have the obligation, as cultural actors, critics, writers, and artists, to protect civil rights and denounce discrimination?"--is a valid one to ask writers.

We decided a while back that imposing limits on topics bc they might offend readers or members isn't the way we're going to run things. I ask, however, that everyone keep the tone respectful. Beyond that, all topics related to writing & the writing life as connected to UF/Paranormal Romance are fair game.

Melissa Marr--Founder & Admin of FFF
Nov. 13th, 2008 02:13 am (UTC)
You asked, "Do we have the obligation, as cultural actors, critics, writers, and artists, to protect civil rights and denounce discrimination? Can we remain neutral?"

I think obligations are more of a citizen issue than an artistic one. As a citizen, I feel it's my obligation to speak out through voting, email campaigns, petitions, donating money, etc., on causes, rights, or issues I feel passionately about. As a writer, I feel it's my primary responsibility to tell a story that's true to the characters/world I've created. I don't feel it's my obligation to make social/religious/racial/gender/sexual orientation commentaries - unless it's pertinent to a particular character or to the plot.

For example, I write books where vampires and ghouls exist in secret alongside humanity. As an author, it made sense to me that not all of my long-lived supernatural characters would be Caucasion heterosexuals. So my books have characters of different races, religions, sexual orientations, etc., not because I felt like I had a political agenda or minority quota to fulfill, but because I felt it was a more accurate reflection of the world I was presenting to readers. *shrug* As a writer, I don't like feeling that I "have" to do anything in my books except tell the best story I can. I leave my politics to Jeaniene the Citizen, not Jeaniene the Author.

That being said, fantasy has frequently been a place where cultural taboos or social discrimination is confronted and discussed. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the first on-air, interracial kiss was between James T. Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, for example. So I think the topic of fantasy as it relates to social issues is valid, though heated opinions for or against those issues can be expected.
Nov. 13th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
So my books have characters of different races, religions, sexual orientations, etc., not because I felt like I had a political agenda or minority quota to fulfill, but because I felt it was a more accurate reflection of the world I was presenting to readers.

I think this quote says it best. Of course we are the filter, as authors, through which our writing passes so it's not impossible that Real Life can color our craft, but I write the story that I want to tell, not with particular agendas or politics in mind.

I am also not saying that this is the only way -- this is *my* way (for now); certainly my heroes, Kurt Vonnegut & Mark Twain, used their incredible talents to make MANY political statements and stands.

Words have power, ergo, authors have power. But that may not be part of our skiffy fiction world, and instead manifests as citizens, educators and activists in Real Life.
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