So this year we have had an LGBT panel at Worldcon and an LG panel at World Fantasy. In both cases the write-up of the panel was all about whether the subgroup in question is now fully accepted by society, with the underlying premise that the answer to that question was “yes”. In both cases the people on the panel answered the question with a resounding “NO”.
Yeah, sure, President Obama has just signed the Hate Crimes Act, and lifted the ban on HIV positive people entering the USA. But you know, if queer people were fully accepted by mainstream society they wouldn’t need hate crimes legislation, would they?
So do you think that maybe next year we could not have any more of those panels, and maybe talk about something else with LGBT themes instead?
It all comes down to tokenism in the end. Having a token gay character in a book might be progress from not having at characters at all, but having just one gay character who appears to stand for all gay people, and whose portrayal is heavy on the stereotypes, and whose function in the story is to highlight the problems of gay people in society, is still all about gay people being a problem. And so are panels like this.
Sadly they are still necessary, because one of the first comments from the audience was someone going on about how as a reader if he discovers that a character is gay he immediately wonders why the author has chosen to make that character gay. And that means that in his mind being gay is somehow exceptional, not “normal”. Being white and male heterosexual is “normal”. Anything else the author is expected to justify in some way. -sigh-
But we did have a good panel today. One comment of Malindo Lo’s that I tweeted got a lot of notice. She said she has got a lot of questions about how realistic it was to have a fantasy world in which there is no homophobia, because didn’t she know that in medieval times people were really homophobic. And she tends to answer those questions by pointing out that her book has fairies in it too. Is it really easier to believe in fairies than in a society that is free from homophobia? Apparently it is.
I also discovered the Doselle Young is a really awesome panelist, so if he’s coming to a convention you are running make sure that you use him.
And finally, to get back to the question of tokenism, I got in a comment about how a single L, G, B or T person tends to get seen as standing for the entire group, which makes writing that character quite difficult. I think it was Grá Linnaea who said, “You know, it is really odd for a gay character not to have any gay friends.”