Another day, another Powerful Ally lost to the fire of criticism from the minorities they profess to champion. As one does, I came across a straight man who was complaining that he feared that, having made the protagonist of his nonexistent fantasy novel bisexual, the fact would ‘bite him in the ass’.
Hmm, interesting. I proceeded to ask him if he was queer. What happened next will shock you!
Okay, flavor, got that. Next, how come he doesn’t read queer writers? Well uh…
As you can see, queer people lost a powerful ally that day. But, as they say, let’s unpack this!
First there’s the obvious that–okay–a heterosexual man doesn’t see what’s wrong with telling people he’s making a character queer as a ‘flavor’ and it’s not even ‘a main theme’, his lady character just happens to be bisexual. He just happens to never come across stories where ‘being queer is integral’ that appealed to him.
What he believes is that normally, queer writers make being queer ‘integral to the story’, and… for some reason (not because he’s homophobic, you understand, god he would never be a homophobe!) that just ‘doesn’t appeal’ to him. Hmm. He has failed to find anything that involve queer characters and contains ‘blood, guts, war and magic’ (hmmmm) and… okay, did Google ban homophobes? Is that it? Is that why so many of them are so… slow?
In seriousness, of course I can name a billion books that fit the bill (I write some, after all) but that’s beside the point: this isn’t a person who would read them in any case. Christopher specifically named several writers, to which our boy AJ responded, ‘Maybe I’ll look for those books someday.’ You can’t lose a customer who was never going to buy, to put it another way, and you cannot educate a rabid pig to perform calculus any more than you can turn a polite homophobe–and AJ is one, even if he insists he loves queer people (on account of the fictional bisexual woman he intends to write, or what have you)–into a person of empathy. Homophobes have already determined that queer writers are beneath their attention, and like AJ many of them do honestly and truly believe that they can do better than us. Queer writers with our boring ‘integrally queer’ message fiction! Ugh, why can’t we write books where protagonists just happen to be queer, eh?
But here is the thing.
By the first chapter of my book–well, the first where she’s an adult at any rate–you’ll find out immediately that Nuawa, one of the protagonists of Winterglass, is a lesbian. Queerness is integral. The setting of the book is queer-normative. As Christopher Kelly points out, queer authors write queer characters because we’re queer. Some of our stories will be about struggling against homophobia or about coming out, and some will not be, but queerness isn’t something that ‘just happens to be’. Suggesting that a little bisexuality or whatnot is good ‘flavor’ is the heterosexual version of the white person’s ‘color-blind’ mantra: the heterosexual can’t see gender or sexuality, everyone’s just a person to them. But in our real world, marginalized identities are marginalized literally because we are dehumanized, and all people who are privileged over us enforce this dehumanization and benefit from our misery–whether they wish to admit it, whether they want to acknowledge it.
Thus it is not something that ‘just so happens’. A heterosexual man who insists on being ‘sexuality-blind’, ‘we’re all just people’, ‘queerness shouldn’t be integral to a story’, ‘my character just happens to be bi’ is saying that he does not acknowledge his part in the oppression of queer people. He is saying that the oppression happens due to someone else, a terrible force and institution that have nothing to do with him. He does not wish to admit his complicity. This isn’t just our boy AJ here; this is a considerable majority of cisgender heterosexual people–many of whom, like AJ, want to write our stories in our place because they think they’re all that and they can do it better.
They don’t need to actually read queer writers or speak to queer people, do they?
If a bunch of queer people keep telling them they’re being wrong and offensive, they don’t need to listen… do they?
If you cannot admit there is a problem, you will never be part of the solution. If a cisgender heterosexual man cannot acknowledge his part in the oppression of queer people–especially queer women, whose story he professes to want to write–then he must, of necessity, be part of the problem. And if you’re part of the problem, you are absolutely not an ally.
Please don’t write your shitty book.