April 1, 2015 / Guest Post The Double Standards of Diversity – Dennis R. Upkins Jim C. Hines / Dennis Upkins / This post has been removed per the author’s request. -Jim
April 1, 2015 @ 10:46 am
Well at least Dennis left the violent threats against women out of this post…
Jim C. Hines
April 1, 2015 @ 11:02 am
April 1, 2015 @ 11:25 am
Dennis has a history of expressing fantasies of violently attacking women he disagrees with online. As far as I know he has only defended them and never apologized. For example (tw violence, obviously):
And the next breeder (specifically: speshul str8 wymnz) who tries to mansplain/white-cite/straight-talk down to me and defend that walking heterosexism simply because they have a homophobic fetish because they’re too fucking trifling to deal with their own sexuality, I’m paying them a visit with a lead pipe in tow.
Usually at this point we gay peeps are seeing red aand have to walk away from the keyboard, less we be tempted to run an IP trace and pay a visit to these fools in real life… with a piano wire.
He has deleted most of the evidence now, but there are some summaries online:
Here are some screenshots:
And here: (fail_fandomanon isn’t the best comm, but they do have a lot of the objective evidence)
April 1, 2015 @ 11:28 am
I’m sorry, I meant that to be a reply instead of a new comment!
April 1, 2015 @ 12:17 pm
Dennis Upkins is better known online as Neo Prodigy. He’s made some extremely misogynistic comments about women, including ‘jokes’ about finding women who like slash and visiting them ‘with piano wire’ or with ‘a lead pipe in tow’. He’s also made some very creepy comments about how, if he ever had sex with a woman, he would make her take birth control pills and ‘check her mouth’ to ensure that she swallowed them, “like orderlies do at institutions.”
See http://failfandomanonwiki.pbworks.com/w/page/46348354/Neo_Prodigy for more detail.
April 1, 2015 @ 1:28 pm
It’s interesting this particular blog was posted on the day when Noah Trevor, the South African comedian, went from being hero (when he was announced as the new host of The Daily Show, when everyone rejoiced that the new host wasn’t a white man) to absolute zero (when 12 out of 9000 tweets over the course of 5 years were dug up by internet warriors and found to contain unfunny jokes about fat people, jewish girls, and others) in the span of 24 hours.
April 1, 2015 @ 1:30 pm
Yikes! This dude is a class act! =/
April 1, 2015 @ 1:40 pm
This post does a good job of identifying problems marginalized writers face. It’s a shame you couldn’t have found someone with a less volatile past to voice these issues.
Maybe Mr. Upkins has grown up since 2011 and realizes how unacceptable his past statements were. We are all fed the same sexist BS day in and day out. Being marginalized doesn’t automatically make someone non-sexist. Caring about social justice doesn’t make one a perfect ally on all fronts. An eternal optimist, I’d like to think Mr. Upkins is working to unpack this particular piece of luggage and examine his negative views on women.
April 1, 2015 @ 1:53 pm
to be fair though, Upkins was never a hero
April 1, 2015 @ 2:09 pm
That’s not what I was saying. I don’t know Upkins and never suggested he was a hero.
I thought the topic was of interest in light of Trevor’s super fast fall from grace.
Sidenote: not surprisingly a lot of minority media personalities are asking if a white comedian would have fallen from grace as quickly as a South African for the same kind of tweets.
April 1, 2015 @ 2:52 pm
It reminds me of the Daniel Tosh debacle. Plenty of his supporters came out of the woodwork to defend his right to make nasty jokes about women. Seems like Trevor has been left twisting in the wind. Once again, the goalpost gets moved for a minority.
April 1, 2015 @ 3:59 pm
He once famously said female slash readers should be strangled with piano wire.
April 1, 2015 @ 4:19 pm
An apology/retraction/acknowledgement would be a nice start, tbh, instead of just locking everything down and pretending it didn’t happen. (The Internet NEVER FORGETS).
Below is a response to the essay, more than to Akaria’s comment.
For all that, I thought it was an interesting essay about living the life you sing about, ect. It’s one of the reasons I liked the idea of Tempest Bradford’s challenge, as well as Nora Jemisin’s old essay (linked here at one point) “We worry about it too,” about the pressure on marginalised writers to be all things to all people, and how they themselves are not free of internalised BS.
However, lots of people from marginalised communities, and people who support them also consume media deemed by many to be problematic, and I’m not a huge fan of judgey tone of this essay in regard to that. For one, it’s not a zero sum game. If I spend money on a Michael Bey movie, I may also go see the latest indie film by a director of colour. If I read the latest ASoIaF book, I might also be reading Mr. Upkins’ book. Or I might not be; maybe he didn’t write a book that I would like.
Secondly, if it helps you get through the day, why the hell not? I can’t get through, say, “Sucker Punch” without feeling slightly ill and wishing it didn’t exist, but some women who are survivors of sexual violence have said that it helped them and that they found it valuable. So while I’m not going to watch it, and even find it deplorable, I’m also not going to judge other people, especially other marginalised people, for their taste in media.
Granted, there is quite a bit of hypocrisy in publicly saying, “If only there were books containing x” and then not reading those books or supporting the authors, and I think people should walk the walk, but I’m also pretty inclined to give people lee way in their taste in media.
April 1, 2015 @ 5:15 pm
Dennis, the reason no one bought your book is because it was terrible.
1. Music Theory class doesn’t involve actually playing instruments.
2. Any teacher who made jokes about his female students sucking dick would be sacked.
3. One of your male characters unironically calls two female classmates sluts and then says he would know because he did them — and you don’t make any attempt to condemn the hypocrisy.
4. The climax of the last chapter involves a female judge fucking everything up out of typical female capriciousness just because she’s a woman and she can. The law doesn’t actually work that way.
Jim C. Hines
April 1, 2015 @ 5:33 pm
I’m uncomfortable criticizing the book as a response to the author, but at the same time, it’s a legit response to things he’s saying in the blog post. I guess the only thing I’d say here is that it’s possible for both the reasons Upkins lists and your reasons to all be true and a part of what’s going on, if that makes sense?
April 1, 2015 @ 5:37 pm
Yes, that is a fair assessment. I just wish that this post were coming from someone who hadn’t displayed virulent misogyny in the past.
Jim C. Hines
April 1, 2015 @ 5:39 pm
And that’s a totally understandable reaction.
April 1, 2015 @ 6:20 pm
This is a great & thoughtful response, but I especially like this part: “For one, it’s not a zero sum game.” I feel like lately, it’s been difficult to even talk about aspects of problematic media you like/don’t like without it becoming a discussion about the judgement of a person’s character.
to use your example, I like ASOIAF because it has a huge cast of female characters, which is rare in epic fantasy (thanks a lot Tolkien!). I hate the fact the books are so casual about torture and rape, especially in scenes where it appears to be more about the AUTHOR than the narrative (ie: Dany chapters). But many people want to talk about ASOIAF as either “the worst ever! you shouldn’t read it” or “it’s so feminist/subversive/etc”
April 1, 2015 @ 6:21 pm
fair enough! It seemed like a criticism of people mentioning valid (if dated) reasons for disliking the author of the guest post but I can also appreciate the similarity you’re trying to draw.
April 1, 2015 @ 6:38 pm
I don’t actually read Martin because the rape is too much for me, but I know lots of feminist women who like it despite its flaws, and I’m not going attempt to kick them out of feminism forever because of it, because 1) how would that work? and 2) it’s kind of arrogant of me to assume that I know better than them, and that they’re just too ignorant to realise the problems in the series and are reading uncritically.
Conversely, I get annoyed when people try to make me read something that I’ve already rejected because I don’t like an aspect. Usually people are pretty good about respecting that, but sometimes when you love a thing, it’s difficult to realise that not everyone in the world is also going to love it, and that’s okay.
I have these conversations with my brother a lot.
When I’m on goodreads or other reviewsites, I tend to filter for three star reviews, because I find them most useful. They’re the ones that usually say, “I liked this a lot, but they didn’t really pull that off,” and I can read from there what I’d like about it (if I don’t care about how that is pulled off, I may think it’s the best book ever). Whereas one star reviews are often “Burn it with fire!” without saying why, and five star reviews are often, “best book ever!” ditto.
tl;dr: but I wish that we could have more ambiguity in our conversations about representation in the media, instead of this flip flop between, “Best ever!” and “Burn it with fire!” I totally get the need to vent about media that’s pissed you off, and I don’t want to deny space to do that, but at the same time, different people have different reactions, and that’s okay.
April 1, 2015 @ 6:57 pm
Considering Mr. Upkins’ misogynistic statements in the past (and a lack of even the non-apology apology we’re accustomed to from politicians), perhaps it’s appropriate that this essay appears on the first day of April.
Yo, Dennis, 50% of the people in the world are women — a somewhat higher percentage than those who are black or LGBT. That proverb about logs in your own eye vs. splinters in other people’s comes to mind.
April 1, 2015 @ 7:24 pm
Which is to say, that I completely agree that minority authors get held to higher standards than majority ones. That old “twice as good to be taken half a seriously” thing.
But that said? It is not some huge imposition to refrain from writing about how you’d like to assault women. And no, being gay does not give a man a free pass to indulge in violent misogynist fantasies.
Not to mention that the context of those comments were quite homophobic (including erasing queer female m/m writers, and claiming that gay male sex is all about the hard dominant fucking, no pansy-ass crap like emotions or love there). Real class act all around, really.
TL;DR Some good points from someone who really, really, really does not make me feel safe. As a queer woman.
April 1, 2015 @ 7:27 pm
OTOH, maybe we could try not to make this a contest between women and black people and LGBT people? As a queer woman with many friends who are black women (both LGBT and non-LGBT), that would be nice.
April 1, 2015 @ 7:34 pm
I was just about to say this. Setting one against the other is unhelpful. Queer women of colour exist, as do gay women and black women. It’s just…not a good way to look at things.
And misogynistic murder fantasies would be wrong no matter what the relative proportions of groups were.
April 1, 2015 @ 7:36 pm
Thank you. I didn’t know how to say that without it sounding like something I didn’t mean. Queer man with same.
April 1, 2015 @ 8:29 pm
Also, Dennis, the thing about Isaiah Washington was that he didn’t ‘just’ use homophobic slurs. He picked up the other guy, called him a faggot, and choked him. http://www.tmz.com/2006/10/22/isaiah-washington-a-terror-on-the-set/ . Perhaps that is why he was fired while the others were not.
April 2, 2015 @ 12:45 pm
It sounds like Dennis starts with a legitimate beef, and then goes completely off the rails on who’s to blame.
People involved in identity politics have an ugly history of cannibalism regarding those who don’t maintain perfect ideological purity.
People outside the movement have the freedom to do what they want because they’re not beholden the the small cadre of Social Justice Warriors that will eviscerate them if they fail to present their message and characters precisely the way the ideals of the tumblr sociologists think they should this week. The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.
This isn’t the fault of mainstream/white/cisgendered authors. It’s the fault of a social movement that has become so rabid and insular that it has to make examples of the only people who take it seriously – it’s own adherents.
Jim C. Hines
April 2, 2015 @ 12:57 pm
It’s always weird when I get one of these comments, so much of which is an almost word-for-word recitation of the standard “We must win the war against the Evil SJWs” script. Is there any point to replying to someone who’s already decided their so-called enemies are nothing but “rabid dogs”? (An ironic choice of metaphor, considering certain events in SF/F these days.)
Sadly, there are people who continue to uncritically lap up this kind of ridiculous fearmongering…
April 2, 2015 @ 1:03 pm
How else can a movement be judged that seems to take such perverse delight in tearing down the people who are trying to support it?
The goals can be noble, the people remain angry and bloodthirsty. It’s like watching a coven conducting its own witch hunt. Positively Kafkaesque.
Fascinating to watch from a safe distance though.
Sean D Sorrentino
April 2, 2015 @ 1:05 pm
I’m not an author. Nor do I really spend a lot of time worrying about what you call social justice. I do read. My question is, why do you have to tell your reader any biographical details about yourself? It’s kind of like the internet, no one knows if you’re a dog. Unless you put a photo on your dust cover, who the heck knows what you look like, sound like, or who you sleep with. Leave the photo off and let them guess.
How about you just write the story you want to write, make it awesome, cash your royalty checks at the bank and tell the haters to do something anatomically unlikely? What do you really care about here? You want to write, it’s your passion. But you need to eat, so you have to write what you know well enough to make it sell.
I don’t want to get into the argument over writing “commercial” books. I’ve heard quite a few authors say that attempting to write what you think people will want to buy is a waste of time and a heartbreaking waste at that. So write what you love. Write what you know. And make it awesome.
And don’t tell them a damn thing about you. If they find out later that the book they love was written by a gay black guy, what are they going to do, ask for their money back? And if that bothers them, what do you care? You’ll be too busy writing the next book.
And as for the “you need to write more XYZ characters!!!” types. Tell them to write their own books, their own way. You’re too busy writing your book, your way.
Jim C. Hines
April 2, 2015 @ 1:11 pm
“…the people remain angry and bloodthirsty.”
Most of the folks I get lumped in and labeled with as “SJWs” are delightful people and a great deal of fun to hang out with. Maybe you should try seeing them as people instead of buying into the propaganda.
April 2, 2015 @ 1:13 pm
So who are the people giving Mr. Upkins a hard time about the precise levels of diversity displayed in his work?
Jim C. Hines
April 2, 2015 @ 1:22 pm
Well, reading his post, it sounds like there are people who see publishers and stories that include black characters as central, or market to a black audience, as somehow lesser or unworthy. So that’d be the racism thing.
There are people who think black or gay authors can only write about the Black Gay Experience, whith is another aspect of racism.
There are people holding double-standards for what’s acceptable from straight and white and male creators, and people who excuse racism and homophobia and such from some creators but not others.
Shorter version: they’re people. Human beings. Trying to pretend they’re all SJWs or all right-wingers or all anything is pretty flawed and simplistic thinking.
April 2, 2015 @ 1:26 pm
I agree with you. The whole idea of people all being human beings with their own individual flaws and virtues seems to fly in the face of the core of identity politics though – which is my primary beef with the whole movement. I’m not interested in seeing people divided that way.
April 2, 2015 @ 1:28 pm
I can’t claim to be familiar with the work of the author in question, nor can I speak on whether or not he’s a terrible human being or a brave pioneer or what have you. Not my game. If there’s a rule that says you have to like someone’s politics to like what they write or agree with every word they say, no one ever told me.
That said, if one’s books aren’t selling, one should first make sure that the primary reason for the lack of success isn’t insufficient talent. Mr. Upkins seems to be comparing himself to Card in the article. If we take a passage from his work and put it side by side with a passage from Ender’s Game or something, let a person unfamiliar with both read them without telling who wrote what, and they confirm Upkins is indeed as good enough to warrant the comparison, then his point will have been made.
Jim C. Hines
April 2, 2015 @ 1:41 pm
What do you mean when you use the phrase identity politics?
People are individuals, definitely. But it’s also true that society treats people very differently depending on certain perceived group memberships. Research finds that black people get harsher sentences for the same crimes, for example. In order to solve problems like that and someday get to a place where such differences aren’t used for oppression and such, we first have to acknowledge and recognize the problems are real.
I’ve had people talk about how they don’t see color, and while I think I understand what they mean, and the ideal they’re trying for, saying I don’t see color means I’m refusing to see the reality of these inequities, or the fact that people’s lives and experiences are different based on things like race or class or orientation or so on.
To pick one, race doesn’t define who you are or how you experience life. But it most definitely impacts those experiences. Does that make sense?
April 2, 2015 @ 1:48 pm
IMHO It’s pretty hard to fix a broken system by reinforcing and perpetuating its worst characteristics.
A lot of people who focus on identity politics are putting themselves into the smallest box they can find and then raging at everyone outside their box.
That certainly seems to be how Mr. Upkins is approaching his problems, and with no regard for how much sense it actually makes to do so.
Jim C. Hines
April 2, 2015 @ 1:51 pm
Is he angry at everyone outside of his “box”? Or is he angry at the double-standards and hypocrisy he and other creators face because of who they are?
I’m in a different box than Mr. Upkins. Is he angry at me?
April 2, 2015 @ 1:59 pm
He’s angry that his books don’t sell and he’s blaming *everyone* but himself.
Here’s one part where he expresses some anger at your box:
“The same white fans, specifically in social justice circles, will deliver a Meryl Streep Oscar-worthy performance swearing that they would sooooooooooooo buy a novel that features a heroine of color or a gay protagonist, but when said alternatives are brought to their attention, they’re nowhere to be found.”
Jim C. Hines
April 2, 2015 @ 2:06 pm
I think there’s a valid point that we have to look inward as well as outward for why our books don’t sell, sure. I said elsewhere that both possibilities — problems with the book (which I haven’t read) and discrimination against the author and subject matter — could be valid factors here.
In the part you quote, he expresses anger at white fans, particularly in social justice circles, who bemoan the lack of nonwhite or nonstraight protagonists, but are only paying lip service to diversity, and don’t actually try to buy or read such books.
I don’t believe that’s my box at all. A white fan, certainly. And a fair number of people I interact with, though not all of them, get labeled social justice workers.
If you have a reason for trying to put me in the box Upkins describes here, I’m open to hearing it.
April 2, 2015 @ 2:10 pm
The unfortunate reality sometimes is that by being one can become political. I came out at a time that simply being gay was a conversation being had with everyone around me at all times – whether or not I wanted it, whether or not I PARTICIPATED in it.
As time moves on that kind of conversation becomes a necessity at points and when you start writing – as I did – you are already known as X, Y, Z person. So divorcing who is behind the book from the book as a person who is or has been Other in some way tends to be difficult.
The other part of this argument that I don’t particularly like (and this is me thinking out loud so it’s not a “YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT” so much as a “huh, this makes me think”) is that it can create this kind of moment in which if you’re an author who has a particular thing that others will not like- remove yourself from the work. Which… not so great. I want my works to be MY works and not the works of a name devoid of my identity, of me. I want to claim my work as my own, in full view. I don’t want to have to avoid revealing myself so that who I am “isn’t an issue”.
I want who I am to not be an issue.
I do fully understand, however. When I first came out my gayness was in the room before I was. Hand out, before I got in the door, introducing myself as “I’m gay, my name is Mike”. Over time it wore off, as much of youth tends to, and I now just introduce myself as Mike. But I DO talk about my husband. So whether or not I will it into the Monday morning watercooler conversation, part of my weekend is still going to be gay because I’ve stories of what I did with my husband. Not my wife. Refusing to allow myself to BE that person with a book to my name?
Strikes me as backward.
Sean D Sorrentino
April 2, 2015 @ 4:26 pm
Does it define your writing? If it is what you want to write about, if it’s what you know, what your passion is, sure, write that. My point with that is that you don’t need to be defined by being “the gay black author,” not that there is any reason not to be gay, or black.
Whatever you happen to think about Mercedes Lackey’s writing, I loved it as a teen and young adult. When I was 19-20 years old, being gay was NOT acceptable. I was in the Army and got loaned the books about the character Vanyel. I wasn’t really interested in him being gay. But I liked the stories and read them all. Because it was a good story. The fact that there was a message didn’t trip up the story any.
What bothers me is people telling the author that he SHALL/MUST/WILL become some sort of message to the readers. A token. The good gay dude. Or the good black guy. Or whatever BS they seem to want to push. Doesn’t that sort of tokenism and message pushing kind of destroy the story? I’ve never read anything where someone set out to “be political” that wasn’t tripe. I don’t care who you are, if you set out to write a message, you’re going to suck. But write a story about interesting people doing interesting things that HAS a message, golden. And I’m pretty sure that Mercedes Lackey made a few bucks on those books.
Write the book you want to write. The haters can go to hell. We can all agree on that. But how do you deal with the jerks who insist that because you’re black, or gay, or whatever, that you ought to write the stuff they think you should write? Why can’t they write their own book? Why do they have to drag this author down?
April 2, 2015 @ 5:58 pm
But why should it be the author’s responsibility to hide who they are, rather than the reader’s responsibility not to reject books because the author isn’t white or straight?
In a just world, authors would indeed be judged on their literary merits rather than the colour of their skin or what gender they slept with. This isn’t that world yet, sadly. A black gay author has the right to be as open as the white, straight guy who thanks his wife in the acknowledgements. If readers don’t like that, it’s not the author’s fault for not flying under the radar enough.
(And even in a perfect world, gay black readers might want to read something by someone who’s had similar experiences and gets them in a way that, say, a straight Japanese author might not.)
“If it bothers them, what do you care?”
You care because people DO make racist and homophobic buying decisions. Because you will make less money, just because you are not white or not straight. Writing what you love (which I support, which I do myself) won’t change that any more than the power of positive thinking will cure a broken leg. And saying “But you should just never let on who you are” is unfair. It’s like the people who say, “Sure, you can be gay, but don’t wave it in my face! Don’t ever talk about your boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t ever wear a rainbow, don’t ever put gay characters in your story because then I’d have to admit you actually existed.”
(Upkins may be an asshole, which is my experience of him. But he does raise some good points.)
April 2, 2015 @ 6:14 pm
Do you get upset when white male authors have their pictures and biographies on dust covers? Do you think all authors should use gender-neutral and race-neutral (which in the modern American climate defaults to “white”) names?
April 2, 2015 @ 7:59 pm
Ok you just ran in interesting circles. When I see that it tends to make me think two things: we’re talking the same issue and SEEM like we’re at odds but we’re really not. Or I’ve misunderstood something. I’m betting a lil of column A and a lil of column B, here.
The article to me, and what I said is pretty much about “Doesn’t that sort of tokenism and message pushing destroy the story?” Yeah. That’s kind of the point. It does. I agree with that sentiment.
But you also ask does it define your writing. Um. Yes. Actually. Who I am is not divorced from what I write. No author is so absolutely separate that their sensibilities are absolutely removed. Even if we’re not talking socio-political issues we’re talking : you don’t write about something you’re uninterested in. A person who loathes homosexuality is not going to write a compassionate, reasoned, fair story that is pro-gay. They CAN. It’s within their ability. But they won’t. Just from that ALONE, yeah. Who I am definitely, absolutely defines my writing. How I tell stories, what stories I tell, what I find interesting definitely influences and shapes my writing. It does if you’re upper middle class white man. That’s the point.
Who we are is part of what we choose to communicate. Asking us to not represent ourselves on our own books so that people measure the story on the story’s sake.. is how it WOULD be nice. But it’s not how it IS. And asking a section of the writing/arts world to withhold that information (while others don’t) so that our work doesn’t get judged strikes me as missing the point of writing a story. It’s my story. Not A story. MINE. That I share. Damn right my name is on it, my face, and who I am. (shrug) It does not need to be set on fire with fifty foot letters that I’m gay but I am not going to dedicate it to someone with gender neutral terms so that my love for my husband isn’t offensive to people.
Which is what all this is about. I don’t WANT to be a token, but the process of sanitizing my identity so that my identity doesn’t unduly influence readers, over an issue that I don’t think IS an issue but others do so that THEY are comfortable with something I think is a non-issue…. is… crazy making. For me. Just to be clear – for me. It’s a weird, strange cyclic sort of thinking that I’ll just clean up this bit of me that isn’t a problem for me so that, this thing that SHOULDN’T be an issue for someone, it isn’t. Um… What?
PLEASE know I’m not attacking you. When I talk about how this makes me feel, my frustration tends to come out. It’s a frustration with the conversation, the fact that it happens. Not with the people, necessarily, IN the conversation. We’re talking in good faith, I want that to keep going.
Sean D Sorrentino
April 2, 2015 @ 8:14 pm
I don’t feel attacked at all. I feel like you’re the only one who’s taking my comments seriously and actually thinking about what I’m saying. The other two comments seem to completely miss my point. You’re trying to find it despite me not explaining it well.
“Sanitize who you are?” Nope. Don’t do that. That would be just as wrong and stupid as turning it into everything you are as an author. I think you and I would agree that you are trying to sell a story, not your bio.
What I mean by “Does it define your writing” is more in the neighborhood of “does it COMPLETELY define your writing.” Are you “The Big Gay Writer and His Big Gay Book?” or is it a story you wrote. I would object to the first as not a story.
You’re pretty good as explaining yourself. It makes me want to find one of your books, actually.
April 3, 2015 @ 6:52 am
Ok, I think I see where we differ.
For myself, and I think a lot of people in this conversation, there are things about a writer that just will not ever NOT be part of their writing. So as this series of essays and conversations attest, if some one is white, male and middle class N. American… there are going to be a set of variables that influence their writing. We generally accept that they are, if unchallenged, limiters of vision due to privilege. The thing here is that it is a function of anyone – not just those that we believe should make room, not be superseded by – to have a set of preset preferences. Prejudices even.
I, and some others I know, tend to believe that sensibilities or the influences of one’s life are intrinsic to the art one creates. As much as the person who is colour blind is not going to paint a picture in a colour scheme that some one who is NOT colour blind would think of as realistic… a person who is for instance straight will have a bunch of blindspots that are due to limiters of experience – in general. Most straight people don’t NEED to experience any other way of living as they are part of the dominant culture and hold what I’d refer to as places of privilege that is really just another way of saying they are the “normal” people for their culture up until such time as that culture grows beyond the unchallenged assumption that “everyone” is like them.
I personally believe that limiters is probably a confusing word here as it seems to imply “less”. It’s actually meant to be an indicator of limits. Of parameters. And those are, in my opinion, something that each of us has.
So yes, my writing would be a big gay author writing a big gay book – in one way. I wouldn’t write a book that doesn’t reflect the life experience I’ve had. So there is no null value in writing for the life experience, culture, society and time period of the author. ANY author has that.
What this conversation tends to end up kind of skipping over is that there is a conceit here that certain ones are BROADER than others, for limits. Due to the place an author has within their experience within that culture.
In other words… an outsider or minority is going to have, it is believed, a greater chance to have a broader view of the society that they have been ignored, suppressed or marginalized by. Because that experience tends to be one that means one has to move around/make space for the majority. Either silently and playing nice or invisibly. And in that shadow it’s often believed perspective tends to be a bit more… (hands flailing)… I don’t want to say realistic but more… balanced? I guess?
So here’s the thing. You are asking me a question that implies a segment of the conversation we’re not actually in agreement on. You SEEM to be implying that ANY author is capable of writing a work that does not reflect their life experience. I don’t agree. I think we can learn – and most of these essays are about the desire that the industry and all participants in it do just that. Learn to expand those limits and personal experiences beyond natural assumptions of each person’s center of normality.
Basically.. we all grow up not originally understanding people are not exactly like “us”. That there are differences. At some point in development we understand it to a degree (boys aren’t girls or white people aren’t black or adults aren’t children). And it’s fairly easy to measure because it’s usually done through things like sight or what have you. Where these conversations Jim is facilitating rests is the crux of culture today : there are MORE differences that are often less obvious that tend to be ignored as they don’t effect the dominant culture directly.
MY ideology is that the differences aren’t real. Dominant society disagrees. I’d AGREE that any story, if done well, can be told by anyone. But that’s in a vacuum outside of the society (and it’s opinions) that it comes out of. As such whether or not _I_ write a big gay book, the society differentiates and values me in such a way that by extension my WORKS are effected by those perceived differences.
The OTHER answer is no, I DON’T write a big gay book, but by BEING gay it becomes that in the dominant metric because it won’t let it be anything else.
THAT seems to me to be where we differ. You seem to be saying that writing is what I’m HOPING ONE DAY for writing to be. I’d disagree that we’re there, today. I, and my feeling is everyone writing these essays, are working toward the moving the dominant culture’s perspective TO that point. But you’re asking questions here that indicate you believe we’re there. That assumption is what’s blocking the conversation for me. We disagree only on whether or not we are there, not whether or not we SHOULD be. ABSOLUTELY we’re in line with how it should be.
Did that make sense or was it horribly condescending? Sorry, I just felt it important to fully spell out what I think the terms are so I’m sure we’re both using the same framework.
Sean D Sorrentino
April 3, 2015 @ 7:26 am
“was it horribly condescending?”
I’m having trouble reading “condescending” into your writing. You seem awful polite about your attempts to disagree with me, but you’re not going to succeed. You make too much sense to me for me to see it as disagreement.
“I, and some others I know, tend to believe that sensibilities or the influences of one’s life are intrinsic to the art one creates. ”
That seems obvious to me. It would take some very serious proof before I was willing to accept the opposite view, data that I don’t think people could come up with.
“Most straight people … hold what I’d refer to as places of privilege”
I hate the whole “privilege” argument. It seems like an unwarranted attempt by people to silence people they disagree with.
“that is really just another way of saying they are the ‘normal’ people for their culture up until such time as that culture grows beyond the unchallenged assumption that ‘everyone’ is like them.”
Though your explanation of what you mean doesn’t seem the least bit offensive to me so I won’t take offense at it.
I have direct experience with this. I’ve dated bisexual women on more than one occasion. It was amazing the difference in attitude between them and straight women. They had dated exactly the same sort of women that I had dated and they had the exact same experiences I had with them. It was incredibly helpful for us to have a common frame of reference.
“an outsider or minority is going to have, it is believed, a greater chance to have a broader view of the society”
I would not necessarily say “broader,” but certainly different and, if they happen to have the smarts to use it, absolutely broader. Some outsiders are just idiots, so I wouldn’t necessarily accept their viewpoint just because they were outsiders. But a smart, thoughtful outsider can reveal a different view of people, places, and things than you can come up with yourself. You can borrow their view and see things in a different light.
“MY ideology is that the differences aren’t real. Dominant society disagrees. ”
Sorry, you’ve lost me. To what differences are you referring?
“You SEEM to be implying that ANY author is capable of writing a work that does not reflect their life experience. I don’t agree.”
I don’t agree with that, either. Sorry for giving that impression. There’s a middle ground between “my book is my biography,” and “I don’t exist in my own art.” You have to make your book relatable to people who pick it up. When I teach people things I have to find a common frame of reference. I’m sure you do the same. But that’s not at all the same thing as erasing yourself.
The author complains that people expect him to write more in terms of how they see him and less of what he wants to write. That would piss me off, too. There’s a fine line between “hey, if you write stuff like this, you’ll sell more, get paid more, and be in a position to negotiate better contracts,” and “Hey, you’re a gay black man, you’d better be down for the struggle, and damn the idea of selling books, making money, and being able to be anything other than your biography.”
No, now that I think about it, that line is pretty wide. It sounds like he’s being told to stand on the “be our pet goat” side. I’d be angry too.
April 3, 2015 @ 7:52 am
Privilege is becoming problematic. I’m hesitant to use it but it is just so damned alluring as a shorthand. At it’s core as it was introduced to me, it stands as a good word: as a white male there is a lot in my life that I can rely on. A personal aside is that a LOT of that gets really WEIRD when the rest of my life starts to eclipse that white male identity. As an example I grew up being able to walk into any store and get attention easily. It got interesting once I started to get tattoos and grew out my beard. Now I take it as written that no matter where I go until people – and maybe not even then – interact with me I’ll be treated like I’m going to rob people. Or threaten them. The moment of realizing it’s annoying for me but nowhere the same degree as say a person of colour in the same spot – and my original indignation that people would treat ME that way is EXACTLY the moment I realized I was afforded and relied on an unrealistic place in society. My own ‘privilege’ was how DARE people look at me like a criminal. It was only when it started to go away that I realized how much I’d enjoyed. (shrug) If that makes sense.
“Some outsiders are just idiots, so I wouldn’t necessarily accept their viewpoint just because they were outsiders. ”
I was very careful with “a chance”. Being an outsider, other or minority does NOT bestow virtue or insight any more than age is synonymous with wisdom. So.. yeah. Totally agree.
““MY ideology is that the differences aren’t real. Dominant society disagrees. ”
Sorry, you’ve lost me. To what differences are you referring?”
Essentially I’m a human. I should have the same rights, responsibilities and freedoms as the next person because I am in no way I can understand – in terms of value – different from the person next to me. Whether they have different skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, so on and so on and so on. A large chunk of the world would disagree with that. Many people are changing and believe otherwise, but the inertia of historical precedent is such that at this point in time, it’s up for debate that I’m the same and differences are important enough to modify my place in society.
And back to the point of this essay : I’m absolutely in line with the last bit you said. In my own life (to be open) I’m gay, HIV positive, part of the leather world, have lived in a polyamorous and kink set of relationships. I’ve by turns been told that I’m not the RIGHT gay to be seen publicly (be good, clean, sexless so not to rock the boat) and then when I do start talking about what my experiences are at some point some one inevitably comes along and says “but that’s not what being gay is!” As I’ve said for ages pure, absolute representation is impossible. I don’t want to have my life reflected in all authors and creative endeavours. What I want is room at the table to present my own or see my own. But not to the exclusion of OTHER representations of other people’s experiences. Once, however, you start standing in a spotlight it seems almost inevitable that as, in this instance, a gay man it’s expected that you represent ALL gay men. If not all people who identify as gay. And holy hannah… that is just not possible. For a bit it’s ok to have that pressure, but from time to time it just gets to be too much and I start randomly swearing under my breath and drinking. Heavily. (lol) In that, the essay definitely reflects a lot of my own frustrations with ASPECTS of the conversation about representation. There is no absolute, all in one, covering every experience, way to do it. But by god we all BETTER do that. (eyeroll) Yeah.. no.
April 3, 2015 @ 9:14 am
I love the three-star review idea! I’ll have to give that a shot.
April 3, 2015 @ 10:20 am
That’s a nice thought, Sean, and I wish it could be so easy. The world isn’t an easy place for some of us. I wonder… have you posted a similar comment on all the other guests posts?
Or just this one?
Sean D Sorrentino
April 3, 2015 @ 10:33 am
Why celestineangel, whatever do you mean?
April 3, 2015 @ 9:56 pm
Even setting aside the virulent misogyny, as someone who has read Sunset, I will say that it’s also just flat-out bad. It is an awful book: the characters, the plot, even the punctuation are all terrible. It is so sub-par that its quality calls into question the reputation of the publisher, because surely no respectable publishing house would actually publish it. (That reputation was already called into question on the AbsoluteWrite forums after Parker Publishing put out Mr. Upkins’ first work, although that was more due to his behaviour: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=205761).
Usually I would agree that there could be multiple reasons for the book to fail, despite its drawbacks, but in the case of West of Sunset the fact that it was published at all is astonishing. If you disagree, please, buy a copy and read it yourself. It really must be seen to be believed how bad it is. The fact that the author is such a terrible writer really undercuts anything else he has to say about how he faces challenges in his chosen profession. Mr. Upkins does not have the skill required to be deserving of being called an industry professional.
(And, yes, there’s the fact that I’m not publishing this under my actual name, due to his long history of violent rhetoric against women who disagree with him or criticize his writing.)
April 4, 2015 @ 1:08 am
The quality of the work in question is relevant with the sorts of accusations he made. I decided to poke around the internet and see what I could find, and was somewhat surprised to find out just how much people tend to either love it or hate it. Very little middle ground.
Hollowstone averages 2.5 stars on Amazon, with the majority of reviews divided almost evenly between four stars and one. Common complaints include terrible grammar and spelling, poor pacing, flat characters, and mysogyny. Positive reviews praised his depiction of the frustrations of LGBT characters as realistic, though they often mentioned poor editing as well. One thought the pacing to be pleasantly breakneck.
Goodreads is much the same story, coming out to an average of three stars. Several of the reviews were gushing, and several made it seem like snorting plutonium dust would be better for one’s health than reading the book. Both of these extremes suggested an emotional stake in the process. Very few reviewers had no clear emotional attachment one way or another, and they thought it to be okay, but largely forgettable.
It’s hard to draw accurate conclusions from such a small collection of data points. That said, if I were looking for a new book to read (and I am,) the divisiveness alone would be enough to make me give it a miss (and I did.) That even the most saccharine reviews mentioned glaring editorial missteps doesn’t help matters any.
Mr. Upkins may be correct in asserting that being both black and gay makes it more difficult to attain commercial success, but based on the this data, I’d say he had bigger problems in his way.
Jordan S. Bassior
April 4, 2015 @ 2:57 pm
“I don’t actually read Martin because the rape is too much for me …”
So I’m guessing you’re very much not okay with any fantasy that realistically depicts pre-industrial warfare? Or, for that matter, any fiction that realistically depicts most warfare?
Rape has in most times and places been one of the perks extended to conquerors, at least during the initial sack of any place containing women. It was actually used (along with the right to pillage) as an inducement to recruit troops in some real-world settings.
The idea that allowing rape and pillage was both morally bad and destructive of the discipline of one’s troops has only occasionally been dominant in military culture. It is most notably dominant in the culture of modern Western armies — even today, many Third World armies rape and pillage as part of normal military operations.
Realism can be ugly, but I think it is also necessary and useful to show the ugly side of something as destructive as war.
April 4, 2015 @ 3:20 pm
I’m not Muccamukk but I do personally give most stories with realistic depictions of the horrors of war a pass. It can sometimes be illuminating, but much of the time I don’t need excuses for my depression to kick in. And on the rape angle, I would love to be able to go a while without being reminded of how often just being female means that the chances of torture being inflicted on me have jumped drastically.
Your point about rape as a tool in war is well taken, though given the behaviour of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (rapes of both fellow officers who are women, and female civilians) I’m afraid the West isn’t as far from that mindset as one could wish. 🙁
April 4, 2015 @ 9:46 pm
I apologize. That came out wrong. Sorry.
I guess I was just so horrified that, in a series where everyone’s been firm but fair and polite, all of a sudden someone pops up advocating murder. It made my brainz no work good.
Sean D Sorrentino
April 5, 2015 @ 9:39 am
ACK! I thought I had taken the time to respond to your last post, MT. I don’t want you to think I wandered off and didn’t read it.
Thanks for taking the time to respond thoughtfully so many times. I feel like I’ve made a new friend.
April 5, 2015 @ 11:30 am
I don’t have any interest in a man explaining the cultural significance of violence against women to me. Pretty much everything on earth is keyed to give me daily reminders as it is.
What Nenya said though. She’s polite and articulate and stuff.
April 7, 2015 @ 2:17 am
Haha! Spot on, Wilson.
So. When Upkins’ first novel was about to come out, a number of my friends hyped it as Upkins himself was hyping it: a fantasy where the protagonists were queer teens of colour, written by a black gay man with an interest in social justice, who would address issues of racism, sexism and classism in the novel.
I tried to help promote it, because it would be nice to see YA fantasy that includes those elements. I am a librarian. I tried to help promote it by telling collection development librarians about it. They are actively looking for things of that sort. It’s a need. It’s a gap in the collection. But they wouldn’t buy Upkins’ novel.
It’s not racism and homophobia that stopped them. His race and orientation were points /for/ him.
Jordan S. Bassior
April 7, 2015 @ 3:05 am
So you honestly believe that the same argument means something different if made by a man than by a woman? Isn’t this belief a bit … sexist? Not to mention pure ad hominem?
April 7, 2015 @ 4:03 pm
It’s only ad hominem if you take a lack of interest as an attack.
Which considering your valiant defence of Martin from people not wanting to read his work, seems about right.
April 7, 2015 @ 4:45 pm
I don’t think it’s sexist to assume that the gender that is disproportionately on the receiving end of sexual violence has a clearer understanding of how its depiction and treatment in the media affects them. Unless the man in question has some defining experience (like Jim’s years working as a rape crisis counsellor, or other more personal experience), it’s likely that he hasn’t thought about it as much as most women have, and I’m going to engage with his arguments accordingly.
Mostly though, you’re talking past both myself and Nenya. I said three posts ago that I felt it was arrogant to assume that I knew more about a feminist topic (such as rape or representation in the media) than other feminists. I also said that I disliked people trying to talk me into reading things that I had already stated I don’t want to read. Nenya further explained why she might not want to read explicit rape no matter how ~culturally significant some male author thought it was (as well as the jingoistic implications of saying that western armies don’t rape), and I seconded her.
You didn’t reply to any of those points, but first lectured me for not understanding a feminist issue I was already talking about and clearly had considered, and then called my posts (and Nenya’s) sexist and fallacious. It certainly has not increased my desire to talk about sensitive topics like violence against women with random dudes on the Internet. So, point well made, I guess.