I'm really excited by this one - it involves intersectionality. This is basically the idea that many people can/do have multiple marginalized identities. For example: a Black gay woman. These three types of oppression (racism, sexism, and heterosexism) can not be separated from each other to describe this woman's life; her sexism is informed by racism, vice versa, and including heterosexism.
Take it away!
When I pick up a book, I don’t expect to see myself reflected. I’ve been an avid reader literally as long as I can remember--I taught myself to read at three--but between being genderqueer and growing up poor and grappling with mental disabilities portrayals of people like me in literature are practically nonexistent. I see myself written in piecemeal: here is a character with a classed existence to which I can relate. Here is a genderqueer character with a fluidity like my own. Here is someone whose constellation of mental demons echoes mine. But they never come together.
This summer, the New York Times was rightly called out for publishing a recommended reading list that was entirely penned by White people. This is, after all, an ecosphere in which the We Need Diverse Books campaign has gotten impressive media coverage. But it is still an ecosphere where the Sad and Rabid Puppies, feeling that diversity had gotten out of control, tried to stage a heist on the Hugo Awards in the name of setting things right for cishet White men everywhere. It is still an ecosphere where one particularly entitled white man appropriated his Asian classmate’s identity in order to give his poem what he perceives to be an extra edge.
Too often in writing social power (i.e. privilege) is presented as a zero-sum game. This is a side-effect of tokenism--oh, look, I included a Black character! There you go! My book is diverse! But this ticking-off-the-boxes diversity is not what makes a book good. That’s just surface diversity. Nowhere is there an acknowledgement of the sheer breadth of the multifaceted nature of the Black community: that Black men and Black women experience the world differently, that Black queer people exist, period, that Blackness may intersect with ability status in unique ways. When we, as writers, do not dig into these complexities we are failing our readers. We are not doing our homework.
It is key to realize that no one group is homogenous--not all genderqueers are like me. I don’t speak for all of us. Not everyone was poor the same way I was growing up. Life plays out at the intersections of identities. Drama occurs at the fractious tensions between our privileges and marginalities. It is easy to write a simplified character—one who is marginalized along just one axis—but to do so flattens the richness and tensions of most people’s real lives. To do so would be to flatten the richness and tension of my own life. As a writer, it’s important to me to push through that, to articulate characters who live and breathe and struggle at the intersections. To do otherwise would be a disservice to a reader who exists in this web of identities, some person who, like me, has long been rendered invisible by the general body of literature.
I write fantasy novels. That in itself has the potential to be a radical act, which is one reason why I write them. I love the radical potential of speculative fiction to portray the world as we would like it to be. As we could imagine it to be. What would it be like if we dismantled the oppressive structures we suffered under? How would we do that? What would we erect in their place, and how might they accidentally go awry? What would a society with a wildly inclusive understanding of gender look like—one where all gender expressions and identities are validated? How would that shape the way families form? How would that change the way children are raised? These are the kinds of questions fantasy and science fiction can tackle. But only if we are brave enough to ask these questions to begin with.
As I write my own stories, I strive to be as intersectional in crafting my characters as possible. There is no true diversity without intersectionality. There is no veracity without intersectional characters who inhabit (messily, simultaneously) spaces of both privilege and marginalization along different societal axes.
I hope that by writing with an intentional focus on intersections that readers at multiple points of marginality might pick up a book and feel, for once, seen. Acknowledged. Humanized instead of Othered. That’s the power that art and literature has--to be inclusive, to recognize others, to create community. My hope is to do that for someone, and one day, for someone to do that for me.
B R Sanders
Pronouns: they/them/their. B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B’s latest novel, Ariah, is about queer elves carving out lives of their own in a hostile culture. B’s previous novel, Resistance, is about lesbian elves overthrowing a city. They write about queer elves a lot. Stay in touch with B with their newsletter, their blog, or on twitter.
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