Saturday, November 12, 2016

Quick Thoughts - The (Ever-Present but Especially Relevant) Need for SFF

As I sit down to start this it is the day after. I don't want to write about it. I don't want to think about it and what it means not just for me and my family but for my friends and for so many other people out there, in SFF and beyond. I have to, and I am, but I'm not going to use this space to do it. Not exactly. I'm going to write about SFF instead, because… SFF is presumably defined by depicting worlds that are markedly different from our own. Worlds of magic and technology that don't exist or don't seem to exist in our "real" world. For many, SFF is an escape. From the very real dangers and disappointments of the world. For others it is a way to aspire to something better. To reach for something that seems less out of reach when there is a story to bridge the distance to it. For still others it others catharsis, allowing the reader to be discomforted by the way a story twist experience and perspective. And SFF can teach empathy, can challenge philosophy and discourse and form.

And SFF just got that much more important.

There is a reason that certain groups have adopted the language of censorship to fight against inclusion and representation. It is because stories are important. And who gets to tell them and how they get to tell them are incredibly important. In SFF, we are experiencing a crisis. But it's not one that effecting SFF alone. With the spread of the internet and devices to utilize it, borders have opened. National borders, yes, but also borders of discussion and access. Anyone can (hypothetically) write and submit a story for consideration to most SFF publications as long as they can write in English and have some sort of internet-enabled device. With free apps you can write and format, and with free email you can submit or register for some other submission system. Unlike certain other genres that charge reading fees with the express purpose of limiting who is able to submit, SFF represents a rather open system. There are gatekeepers, yes, and there are trolls and bigots aplenty, but the borders are relatively open.

What I have seen in recent years is a concerted effort to close borders back down. To return people to isolation and to fear and to vulnerability. To treat a widening of voices as an attack on the straight white male voice. This is why people cry at being censored by people who simply do not find their work valuable (while yelling at those same people that _their_ work is not compelling, though apparently that's not censorship but objective weighing of merit). And the sad, discouraging, infuriating, disgusting thing is that people buy into it. Because they like that narrative. It makes them feel better. Comfortable. Like they're the hero in the story instead of the villain or (at the very least) complicit henchperson.

None of this is okay. This is how people die. Are erased. This is how atrocities happen.

How does SFF help? In many ways. By imagining different worlds with different people. Different peoples. By showing futures where queer characters exist, where people of color exist, where neuroatypical and disabled people exist. Not a future that looks like "the good old days." Showing fantasy stories filled with characters who don't fit into the white straight dominant mold. Who throw out the mold and then burn it and use the ashes to make something new and awesome. These stories are being told now by writers who pretty much every day remind me why I love SFF. And they're being told by people who haven't broken in yet, who are writing but not selling or not showing their work or not allowed to show their work or who are pressured or threatened or intimidated away from it. And I want to read those stories, too. I want to read them all and know that I am not alone. That despite being surrounded every day by people who would rather erase me than acknowledge me there are others out there who feel the same, who live the same. It's very likely now that people might hesitate more about coming out. I understand that. It's not safe. But out or not, safe or not, people deserve compassion and understanding, and sometimes it takes a story to fill that need.

People need to see that they're not alone. That they are exactly how they feel they are. That even when the hurt lasts and lasts and lasts, there can be joy as well, and defiance, and hope. And SFF delivers that. Can deliver that. If it doesn't back away from the challenges facing it. If it embraces those who are vulnerable. If it keeps the borders open.

And how can you help?

If you are a queer writer, or a writer of color, or a disabled writer, or a trans writer…write. Submit. Share your stories. If it's safe, do it loudly. If it's not, do it quietly. But we need your stories. And if you're a marginalized reader, keep finding stories that inspire you. Stories you care about. Talk about them. Don't let them be erased or ignored.

For more dominant writers…write, but be aware of what you write and how you write it. And maybe try to give the help you can afford to give. For dominant readers, too, try to support those who are more at risk. Many people can be supported directly but if not you can help by buying their books, by helping to fund their projects. By signal boosting. By offering encouragement or time. By reading widely and gushing about the stories that you love. By spreading the love, and spreading the word.

This is going to suck. But I will still fight for the future. I don't really have a choice in the matter. Many don't. We'll fight, because this is our home. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur


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