tangyabominy: (Default)
[personal profile] tangyabominy
Okay, so. Thing I've had in my head to ramble about for a little while, partly inspired by these submission criteria-- which I do not think reject allegorical use of species or fantastic race issues for the same reason I'm uncomfortable with them, but still kind of made me squee.

So. What do I mean by this? Well, I am totally okay with use of species/fantastic race issues in fiction. It's actually one of my fiction kinks. I co-wrote a 170,000-word work set in a society where speciesism was the main thrust of the character dynamics and had a fair bit of influence over the plot. I've been thrashing out an awesome story with some people lately which involves the issue of species transition in a world where transspeciesism is (barely) acknowledged. (Well, that and a dozen other things. XD) When it comes to the species issues, I am all up in them.

My bugbear, in this instance, is the popular conception that all such stories must necessarily reduce to allegory or metaphor for "real-world" scenarios. I saw this view posited again today on Slacktivist, and it made my hackles rise such that I had to stomp over here and post about it.

It's not that I don't recognise that any work that features species issues will be viewed as also being a metaphor for other issues, and thus one should write with the appropriate level of care. I do. It's not that that I object to.

It's the idea that species issues are always intended as metaphorical and should always be viewed in only that light, because obviously there is no worth in discussing them on their own, or if there were, it's vastly overshadowed by the worth of discussing the metaphorical issues.

I can't explain very coherently why this bugs me. I think it bugs me in part because I accredit fiction, fictional characters and fictional worlds with a whole lot of worth, and to say that the issues of the characters in their world are only worthy as a metaphor for ours strikes me as disrespectful to them. It's-- well-- speciesist. "Oh, the conflict between whoobles and wugglewhatsits isn't really about them, it's about us! They're just a vehicle for telling our story!" Even if you argue there's no "literal" race to get upset about these things-- and having had headpeople of fictional races, I do disagree-- the core structure of the argument is problematic to me: X group's problems only have worth as a metaphor for Y group's problems, which we actually respect and value. It rankles me. (Especially, I think, as someone who has a history of struggling with issues, and has friends who have histories of struggling with issues, that aren't particularly well-respected or well-publicised, and are often ignored or even run over roughshod by mainstream activism. I don't wish to talk about what they are, because that will open whole other cans of worms-- probably a different can for each issue-- but suffice to say I've had this happen a number of times, with several different issues.)

So it's part respect for fiction and part a feeling that only certain minority issues are "worthy", and a distaste for seeing non-"worthy" issues, even fictionalised ones, ignored in favour of the Big Issues That Everyone Gets Upset About. I think, honestly, a lot of what sometimes gets me rage-y at activism boils down to this: my issues, and my friends' issues, are not ones that ever end up on a diversity poster. I love a lot of the work that's been done and a lot of the people who've done it, and am I ever glad I understand privilege a lot better than I did several years ago; there are wonderful achievements that have been made. But when we do clash, I think that's often the root of it. Just noting that, for future reference.

But I think it's also, in part, that I'm otherkin. (Which has nothing to do with the above. I'm not expecting species issues to end up on a diversity poster any time soon; although it sure is nice when we're mentioned, as with Expanded Horizons, we're not a minority in danger and there are much bigger priorities out there.) When I'm writing a story about species, it's a story about species, and often a lot of my own experiences with species dysphoria will be in there. It feels like erasure, to me, if that story is considered to be merely a metaphor for racial issues, or some other thing. And "merely" is important, here. It can also be a metaphor, and while writing it I'd hope that it's a good one, so that no one who takes it as a metaphor or needs to access it as one is hurt. But I wrote it from my own personal core of feeling. If that fact is ignored entirely-- which, inevitably, it will be by a lot of readers, but that doesn't mean it can't be uncomfortable, or I can't alert those people to it who I think will understand-- I feel that the parts of the story that are personal to me have gone entirely uncommunicated. And that's a sad thing.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-08-28 12:12 am (UTC)
spacehawk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] spacehawk

I'm Dash, the editor over at Expanded Horizons. I can't tell exactly when you posted this, so I realize this may have been a while ago, but I wanted to respond and to thank you for posting this.

I think your reasons for being bothered by the "species as allegory for race/ethnicity" stories are closer to mine than you may have realized. Perhaps I should add an extra line to that guideline to clarify, like I did in the "No Lizardmen" guideline, where I explicitly pointed out that this does not apply with regards to Otherkin stories. I suppose I was less clear in the "no allegorical aliens" guideline, and left this meaning vague in the "unless the story otherwise fits very closely with our mission," and mentioning Otherkin in the list of stories about groups that we do want. So I will clarify that guideline.

I put up the species as race guideline because I was responding to a lot of problematic submissions. These stories were mostly, if not entirely, written by white people, romanticized oppression, and usually had a white human hero "save the day." Many of these stories used the "it's not REALLY race, it's species!" maneuver to work in problematic racial and ethnic stereotyping. In all of these stories, "species as a metaphor for race" was being used to tell a story that wasn't about species, but actually about (this white person's) racial oppression/"othering" fantasy.

This premise does assume that other sentient species issues are "make believe," and therefore not of any value to discuss in their own right. It also is part of a larger trend with "X as a metaphor for Y" stories that all of the Xs are default assumed to be make-believe and invalid, and that Y is part of the groups of oppression that "really" matter. What additionally bothers me is that the author in most of these cases never experienced Y discrimination at all, for one second, is writing about it as a romantic fantasy, thinks he/she can just "make it all up," doesn't do squat for research, and is using X people (who he or she assumes aren't real) to get out of having to do any of that actual work.

(This whole thing becomes more complicated when someone who has experienced Y oppression uses X metaphorically, assuming we're not real -- not that it gets them off the hook for it, but it becomes more complicated.)

So. A story that uses species as a metaphor for race (or something else) while also being a valid Otherkin story from Otherkin experience? Completely in line with what we are trying to do. Our magazine is about promoting actual diversity in the genre, and Otherkin (and multiplicity, and fictionkin, and psi, etc.) are all part of that diversity -- not "merely" a vehicle to talk about something else that "matters more." Being given few, if any, authentic representations, and meanwhile being used allegorically under the default assumption that one doesn't "really" exist or isn't worth talking about "for real"? That's a real and valid problem, as we see it.

July 2011

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