Please Sir, I Want Some More

Recently yours truly penned a guest post over at Gay YA (an excellent website by the by). In the post I discuss why more and better representation of LGBTQs is needed like whoa and explained that the next Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Artemis Fowl doesn’t need to be a cis straight white male. Have a gander. 

ETA: Oh and while you’re reading, imagine it being spoken to you in a very wicked cool British accent. You’ll understand why as you read it.  ;-)

Erase me

I am an avid reader. I devour 2-3 books a week. Specifically Urban Fantasy more than anything. Urban Fantasy, in television and books, is my preferred genre. I’ve always enjoyed the fantastical when I read. Fantasy and, to a lesser extent, sci-fi and super heroes. I don’t apologise for my cheesey cheesey fiction preferences – I work long hours as a lawyer which is depressing and harsh reality. I work for GBLT charities which is depressing and harsh reality. I have to read lots of law books and journals which is extremely boring and occasionally connected to reality. In other words, when I sit down to kick back and relax I want me some wonderful tasty cheese, spells and sorcery, vampires and werewolves, elves and faeries

But that doesn’t mean I turn off my awareness when I am reading or watching – I don’t think I could anyway. Which is why my reviews tend to have a nod to social justice, as does the podcast. And increasingly there has been one issue that, I – in fact all of us – have been wrestling with is it better to be erased?

And, while once I would have tried to argue the merits of a token, increasingly I’m really beginning to say “yes, fuck it. No more gay characters please.” How sad is that?

But my favourite Urban Fantasy series? Is Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles (and I fanpoodle in his name!). Zero GBLT characters (and part of that is because Kevin Hearne is more aware than most authors and doesn’t want to write a marginalised person he doesn’t know)

My second favourite series? Kim Harrison’s Hollows series. I love that series – DESPITE Ivy. And it’s a despite. Rachel, the straight girl, living in constant fear of bisexual Ivy’s aggressive sexuality (compare that with Kristen’s male sexy vampireness) the way it’s a constant threat for her, the way she constantly has to tip-toe round it and the way Ivy is never ever happy and her ex-lover is just a source of more pain? Ugh. I really could do without it. I’d rather Ivy be a man or Ivy be straight.

Another good favourite of mine is Tanya Huff’s Vicki Nelson. Great series – but Henry’s love and respect for women contrasted with his paternalistic contempt for his male snack toys gets on my last nerve. I’d rather Henry just looked to women.

I’ve just read Black Dust Mambo by Adrian Phoenix, and I don’t think making Augustine straight would have made the book good or anywhere near one of my favourites (because it’d need a WHOOOLE lot more than that) but it would have made it a much easier read. Much the same with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, I would still have disliked the books, but making Magnus and Alec straight would have made it less of an annoying read.

And, to me, this is a problem. All of my favourite urban fantasy books either completely erase GBLT existence or I love DESPITE the characterisations – the inclusion is a barrier to my liking them. The representation isn’t something that makes me love them, it’s something the story and the writing has to make up for. Which annoys me a lot, yes yes it does. As a gay man, I shouldn’t be in a position where a book having a gay character puts me off.

And, basically, it comes down to authors wanting either something exotic or inclusion cookies without putting in any real effort or respect into their characters or having any awareness of the tropes and stereotypes they are tapping into.

So I’ve finally come down on saying – stop. Erase me. No, really. I’d much rather be erased than tokenised or stereotyped. If you’re not going to make the effort to produce a good, well rounded, real and realistic, non-stereotyped and non-offensive and non-trope laden gay character – or if, for whatever reason, you don’t think you’re capable of it than I’d rather you didn’t even try. It will make for a better book and will be good for my grey hairs.

I don’t think you need to be GBLT to manage this. I don’t think you even have to know GBLT people (though it helps – but only if you know and respect them. And if you’ve ever said “I have gay friends” you don’t respect them) but you have to have been willing and able to get your 101 on at least. Do some reading, do some research, turn on some common sense, be aware of the tropes and the issues

And if you can’t/won’t do this then I’d honestly prefer if you just left the characters out of the book entirely. Just stop. Because I am tired of seeing a gay character and side-eyeing my kindle. I’m tired of thinking “oh dear…” every time it becomes apparent a character is not straight.

On a related note: I’ve been recommended good(ish) books – but they’re outside the genre. I like urban fantasy, I don’t want to read genres I’m not very interested in in the hope of seeing me done well. I don’t want to make the choice between a book that entertains me but sporks me or a book that bores me but represents me. Neither makes for pleasant reading. This is another problem I’ve faced – the idea that because a book has a gay character and if that gay character is done well (which is a big if) then I am suddenly supposed to enjoy it. The sad thing is, no amount of wondrous, amazing, joyous representation is going to make me enjoy boring drek – and I refuse to rhapsodise about drek because it has a good gay character.

It’s a tiresome idea that because I’m gay I will like every book that has a gay character – regardless of how bad the portrayal is or where my genre interests lie or how well written the book is. I don’t see a gay character and yell “a gay!!” kiss my kindle and do a happy dance. Part of having self-respect is demanding good gay characters AND good stories AND in a genre that fits my interests. Picky, aren’t I?

New paradigms of urban crimefighting in comics?

Here’s the latest from Frank Miller, everyone! Aren’t you just soooooo excited?

What would be interesting for me is to see urban crimefighting take on a more systemic approach. Instead of going after petty thieves, purse-snatchers, and cat burglars, it would be fascinating for masked vigilantes to go after – I dunno – CEOs approving the dumping of toxic waste into poor neighborhoods. I want to see a crimefighter in Manhattan who watches over the people the police don’t care about (say, poor trans women of color and/or sex workers). Stuff like that.

What about you?

The Dwayne McDuffie Tribute You Won’t Be Seeing

What Comic-Con International Wouldn’t Print:

by mattwayne on Fri Jul 08, 2011 11:10 am

I’ve debated airing this in public for two months now.

Comic-Con International is printing tributes to Dwayne in the San Diego Comic-Con program this year, and they approached me to write one. What I came back with was my sincere feelings, and something that I feel the industry needs to understand about itself: Dwayne should have been running the comics business, and instead he was barely tolerated.

Why It Matters

Well, hello there, I’ve been invited to add my drabbles to Ars Marginal. I will try not to break their most excellent space, but I make no promises, with me and technology and all.

So before I start rambling about all and sundry I’m going to indulge in a little preaching to the choir, if I may, and answer a question people have asked me over and over before they ask me again (not that they won’t ask, but I live in hope).

Why do I do this?

And why do I care?

In a world where people lose jobs, homes, families and even their lives due to anti-GBLTQ prejudice, why oh why oh why does Sparky care about books of all things? And why is he so gleeful about being invited to add to a site that is dedicated to analysing the various fuckeries arts and entertainment pulls?

Well, here’s the thing.

I’m a gay man. I’m also currently sat in what I call my study. I like that word, it makes it sound serious and studious where Important Work Happens rather than the big room where I keep my books and junk.

Because of the wall to wall shelving, I am surrounded by most of my immense book collection. I’m not going to count them (gods preserve me from ever being that bored!) but I would guesstimate on there being… oooh… 400 books? Maybe, discounting the actual worky type ones (also discounting my White Wolf books for that matter). Yes, I love being in my paper fortress (or deathly fire trap as my husband likes to call it).

By my right hand is my Kindle which I am now utterly incapable of living without (and it is never more than a foot from my body – ever – or I wither and die from lack of books. Yes yes I do). I don’t have to count the books on there, it does it for me and tells me it has 655 books in its memory.

So, that’s over 1,000 books, works of fiction all (rather cheesy fiction at that, I must admit). Wow, maybe they’re right, maybe I do read too much. Still, I sit here and wonder, of those 1,000 books, how many of the protagonists in these stories are gay men like me? In all this fantasy and sci-fi and superheroes and urban fantasy and murder mysteries – how many gay male protagonists are there?

And totting up in my head I think I come to less than 60. And that requires a rather generous definition of “protagonist” in some cases.

Ok, how many of them contain any gay men at all? Hmmm maybe 200. Maybe. And, again, this is probably counting victims, bit parts and slight references rather highly. Both of these numbers are highly generous.

And are all of them decent portrayals? Well, some of them are written by Ann “you can become gay by being anally raped by a tent peg” McCaffrey so no, most definitely not. In fact, I have to say that most of the books with gay men in them are the least read – because they’re so utterly and irredeemably dire.

There’s something wrong with this picture, methinks. This isn’t just some random collection of books. This is the collection of books belonging to a gay man who is an avid and voracious reader and who talks (somewhat interminably) repeatedly about GBLTQ rights and the importance of representation in all forms of media.

Yet there’s almost no gay protagonists in my library?

Yet there’s almost no gay portrayals at all in my library?

Yet of those portrayals I do have, I avoid reading because they’re so flawed?

That is not just wrong, but it’s also frightening. I expect to be treated as fully human by a society that’s more eager to write fascinating stories about aliens than it is to write about people like me? I expect to be treated as fully human by a society that can commonly write in-depth, nuanced and fully fleshed characterisations of vampires, werewolves, orcs and elves but can’t write me except as a gross caricature? I expect to be treated as fully human by a society that can envisage a world with demons and angels, faeries and spirits, aliens and interstellar spacecraft, time machines and light-sabers, magic and mayhem – but cannot imagine that same world with GBLTQ people in it?

Because, y’know what? I don’t think any of that stuff at the top of the post – the end of bullying and violence and discrimination and all the other fucktons of shit – is going to happen in a world that is happier to accept a sparkly vampire than a non-sparkling gay man. Society both shapes and is shaped by it’s popular culture – our prejudice creates these gods-awful portrayals (or erasures) and said prejudice is then encouraged, reinforced, justified and perpetuated by these portrayals (and erasures). Or, to put it another way – so long as our culture is so fucked up that most gay portrayals will send me screaming than bring me running, then the various fuckeries in our society are unlikely to be diminished.

I’d also kind of like to read a book that has me in it that doesn’t make me want to break my kindle. I want my cheesy escapism without sporks please – extra me, hold the sporks. Thanks.