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February 10th, 2010

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03:41 am - Seeing Ourselves in Others’ Eyes
I’ve seen quite a bit of recent discussion about slash fiction being problematic because most of it is male/male romance & porn written by women who do not understand gay male culture. Here’s one excellent discussion of the issues involved, and here’s another excellent post on the issue with several worthwhile links. However, some of my recent fan fiction reading has pointed out that there’s a lot more going on than women writing male/male romance and porn. What I want to look at is the one of the strongly positive sides of fan fiction – revealing characters and lives that are rarely seen.

I read more geeky genre fiction than fan fiction and these days, it’s fairly easy in the geeky genre fiction I read to find openly queer characters who are positively portrayed, and there are a number of such books with openly gay or lesbian protagonists. This has been vividly true for at least the last 20 years, and there are a number of older examples like Diane Duane’s wonderful Tales of the Five series.

However, there are others who are largely invisible in published fiction. A substantial number of the people close to me are trans, and I have read exactly one published SF&F novel with a trans protagonist (The Mission Child by Maureen McHugh, which is excellent). Sure, there are a number of stories with John Varley-esque gender switching, but those have absolutely no connection to the experiences of any of the trans-people I’ve known. However, I’ve encountered several fan fiction stories with trans protagonists – which range from rewriting existing characters as trans in a more or less believable fashion to actually examining what the implications of the various magical gender changes found in comics and similar media might be. The authors writing these stories clearly understand the issues & challenges involved. I definitely appreciate seeing characters who are like people I know and love in fiction that I read.

Then, there’s an issue even closer to my heart. The first place where I encountered the idea of polyamory was when I was sixteen and by chance read both Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novel The Forbidden Tower & Joan Vinge’s Outcasts of the Heaven Belt, but neither book did more than mention the idea, the fact that the protagonists were in poly relationships was largely unimportant to both stories. Since that time, I haven’t seen much that was different from these novels in published fiction.

I’ve recently started reading fan fiction for the new (and exceptionally fluffy, but also fun and surprisingly non-offensive show White Collar, and there are a number of excellent fan fiction stories involving a poly relationship between three of the characters, a number of which were clearly written by people who clearly understand poly. I have no idea if these authors are poly or not, and it doesn’t matter one whit to me. What matters is seeing in fiction truths I know that someone who has not been or known poly families will not know, and reading such things is important to me, especially since it’s so very rare. If anyone is interested, here’s one such story.

One of the many important functions of fiction is showing both showing us people and lives very different from our own, but also, and especially for those of use well outside the social mainstream, showing us visions of others with lives and experiences like our own in ways that are rare and not often seen. This is one of the reasons that I read fan fiction – in addition to my having a taste for sappy romance.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:February 12th, 2010 02:26 am (UTC)
Tangentially, could I ask your opinion of Tales of the Five w/r/t alternative sexuality issues in general? I hear thirdhand that it's pretty open and positive about alternative relationships / xenophilia / multiple/poly relationships as well as just the gay/lesbian angle (and IIRC someone mentioned it in the context of a dragon being among the relationship participants), but I don't have any personal exposure to the books.
[User Picture]
Date:February 12th, 2010 05:21 am (UTC)
It's wonder, sex & diversity positive, & the 2nd book has the single best dragon character that I've ever read. I highly recommend it.

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