Archive for the ‘ Social Justice ’ Category

Those Cap Feels

CN: Mention of the Holocaust, Nazis, and the current political climate; mention of anxiety and suicide.

For all that warning, this post is actually about saying thank you.

Backstory: Over in my capacity as a blogger for The Ace of Geeks, I wrote this piece on why we will not be covering Marvel Comics’ Secret Empire crossover event. I’d love it if you read it, but tl;dr: because I think making superheroes into secret fascists of any stripe, but especially secret Nazis, is too tasteless to give the time of day beyond saying I won’t give it the time of day.

I posted this yesterday, and the cloak of dread immediately descended on me. Being anti-Nazi shouldn’t be a controversial stance; but, it being 2017 in the Darkest Timeline, Secret Empire has had a legion of apologists standing behind it, insisting we need to give the story a chance, that we’re exaggerating how bad it is, and of course that old chestnut, that we’re just as bad as them if we infringe on their freedom of speech (which of course we are doing by not listening to them). And riding in the sidecar with that dread was the other dread that every artist feels sometimes: the one where you’re afraid that this stand, right here, is the one that torpedoes your career — a feeling that lingers no matter how small or basic the stand is, no matter where in your career you are, because it’s hammered into every artist that any stand at all is career suicide. (A feeling that my dude anxiety only amplifies.)

But it needed to be said (my editor-in-chief and I both agreed), and so said it was, and so dread I did. And sure enough, the initial comments were critical of the decision to varying degrees, most of which I could respond to with “did you read the article?” or “we go into that in the article.” I focused on my day job and just tried to accept that people are going to be people. But then, we got into the comments that inspired this post:

People thanked us. People supported us. People — and I want to say, largely women, people of color, LGBT+ people, people whose families fought against and/or died to the Nazis in World War II — said that it meant a lot that we made this decision. These voices rather vastly outweighed the ones that felt we had done wrong, and they definitely spoke with more emotion than the critics. We had — my words had — touched them, and we had made a difference for just a little bit. It wasn’t the end of The Dead Poets’ Society or anything, but it was enough to make it feel like taking a stand of any kind was worth it, and almost as important, that my words have power.

Being a writer is lonely business, and you spend a lot of time feeling not good enough — the nature of the industry is that you get rejected, a lot, and that successes will tend to be modest, and even when you get a taste of the rarefied air, it’s been so difficult getting there that you can wind up feeling you don’t deserve it, because how could you after all that? But then sometimes, you touch somebody and you feel like things are worth it; and that is how I have felt every time I’ve gotten to approve a comment these past two days.

So thank you, friends and loved ones and anonymous Internet commenters, for making me feel loved and supported and like I did a good thing. I hope I continue to do good things in the future. Let’s all do good things for ourselves and each other, yeah?

How Night Vale Made Me Less Scared


(I’m abandoning the “On [TOPIC]” format for my titles…it’s a little too precious for me.)

CN: Anxiety, violence, profanity, mention of electoral politics

This past Monday night, I had the privilege to accompany Sonya to an author appearance by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, best known as the creators of Welcome to Night Vale; they were in conversation with Mallory Ortberg as part of a publicity and speaking tour for the new collections of WTNV scripts, Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe. The conversation was funny, insightful, incisive, and full of very deep thoughts about the life of a writer; all three participants were charming, and I highly recommend you see any of them any time you get a chance to do so.

What this post is really about, though, is the big inflection point I experienced early in the talk. The exact quote escapes me, as does who said which part, but it should surprise no-one that with these three on stage, they started talking about anxiety, and this brought Ortberg around to the topic of Welcome to Night Vale‘s overall theme: the weird, scary, dangerous nature of this little desert town, and the way its inhabitants think of it as normal. The creators of the show agreed, and said that they felt this was a reflection of real life: That the world is full of some really scary shit you can’t control, and you have to just find a way to live your life. Specifically, that you have to say “OK, I can’t do anything about Donald Trump’s Twitter account…[or] about stomach cancer…” This would have been mind-blowing, but this year of all years it was really important for me to hear that.

(Begin election stuff) Look, I have made no secret of the fact that I am terrified of this year’s Presidential election in America. I’m not here to claim Hilary Clinton is any particular thing (I am in favor of her but recognize she is not perfect), but her opponent absolutely horrifies me. I believe that electing him will do genuine harm to the people of my country, especially people of color and LGBT people, and will set us back decades of progress toward equality of any kind, not to mention possibly kill a lot of people. I, personally, may not be seriously affected, living in California and being an able-bodied white man, but that doesn’t mean I am not scared, because there is no telling what a loose cannon with well-documented racist, sexist, and fascist ideologies will do with the power of the White House (especially if he also maintains a cooperative Congress).

(End election stuff) . I have not even been sure how to keep breathing day-to-day while waiting for this to be over, and I’m not sure if it will even be over in November. And that is on top of my normal everyday anxieties: My worry about police shootings and how they seem to keep getting worse. My worry that my diabetes is going to go back out of control. My worry that I might get cancer. My worry that tomorrow my wife and favorite person in the whole world could get clipped making the left turn she makes after dropping me off at the train. My worry that I’m going to be fired. And on, and on, and on. I get told not to worry about these things, and I get help calming down, and then I get right back on the big, fire-breathing horse. But somehow, hearing it from these two — from these two great creators — made dealing with it feel real and possible. Not because I needed to not be scared, but because I needed to learn how to live my life despite that fear.

There is a movement toward empathy in art over the past couple of years; toward the idea that it’s OK to feel things, that emotion, even negative emotion, is alright and that you don’t need to stop feeling it. You see it in Steven Universe teaching us it’s OK to feel. You see it in Jessica Jones‘ titular character being the second character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to wrestle with anxiety attacks. You see it in the heroes of Stranger Things being scared, confused, and angry, but still coming back together and being friends not despite it, but with it. It’s in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s in The Mighty Thor, and it’s in Welcome to Night Vale…and those words coming from that stage are what made two things crystallize for me:

1. We all have to decide to live our lives, despite how scary and overwhelming the world can be.

2. You can measure your privilege by what events are easy for you to decide to live your life through.

I am very lucky with the privileges I have been handed, and I owe it to the world to use my own ability to live through fear to help others to do the same, whether it’s people who need help coping with their anxiety, people who need shielding from the excesses of a certain spray-tanned politician, or people who just need someone to say “it’s OK to be scared of that.” And I owe it to myself to look fear in the face and accept it as a part of me, and figure out how to find the blooming flowers in the middle of the war zone that is life. Thanks to this weird podcast from the East Coast, I feel like I’m not alone in that mission.

So, that was my Monday.

On Horror and Recovery

CN: sexual assault, victim-blaming, enabling of abuse

This is not my story: three different people in my extended social circle have been revealed to be sexual predators. They have been banned from those spaces they could be banned from, and their victims have safe spaces and support networks available to them. I will not say any more here, lest I accidentally divulge more than the victims want divulged.

This is not my story. It’s easy for me to make it my story: to center it on me and my experience, to make it about how a white man feels about the situation. I will not co-opt the horror, the pain, the bravery, or what I hope was the relief of the victims at seeing that if nothing else, they are believed.

This is my story: I’ve been depressed and exhausted. Because of the above. Because I felt betrayed by a person who claimed to have learned from youthful indiscretions while misrepresenting to me what those “indiscretions” were; because I felt dismayed at knowing that circles I run in include people who did not believe victims when they reported, or who even shunned them or outright protected their attackers; because I was so desperate to help the victims and those who stood with them, to try to fix a situation that by its nature does not fix quickly if ever, and I overextended myself and burnt myself out.

This is not a sob-story, nor a cry for help nor pity; this is just me telling you where my energy has been going.

I’ve been writing. I’ve been writing a lot, actually. Also playing a lot of games, and spending time with Sonya, and wearing my favorite t-shirts and my favorite cologne, and everything else I can think of that falls under self-care. Sonya and the writing are tops there, especially; I’m so very lucky to have her, and I’m so very lucky my creativity is flourishing right now. But it’s been a time of processing and recharging, and that’s meant that non-vital systems — like my blog, and social media in general, and, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, my day job — have sometimes fallen by the wayside while I ration out my energy.

I should be more active again in the next couple of weeks, but I also need some time to get my own head together and to make sure that if there is spare energy, it’s set aside for the fallout of the above, because I want to be a resource for victims and those who act on their behalf, and I also want to make sure I don’t harm myself in the process of helping others. If that means less social media from me, the choice is obvious.

Please be patient; we’re trying to build a better world, and that takes up a lot of time.

On Choices No-One Should Face

Sexism, Violence, and Every Iteration of the System.

(Content Notes: Discussion of misogyny, violence of both a sexual and non-sexual nature, death threats, threats of violence, institutional discrimination)

This week, I had to ask myself the question twice: Do I choose possible once-in-a-lifetime advancements of my career, or not working with people I know to be horrible?

There were two different opportunities sitting before me this week. One was to submit a packet of writing samples and a resume to DC Comics, for a chance to get included in their Talent Development Workshop for writers. If I got into that, I would embark on a 13 week online course in writing comics that might end with a chance to write for DC. You don’t need to look through my old posts to see that this would be a dream come true for me — writing comics? Writing superhero comics? The chance to work with a professional and learn how they do things on the getting-paid side of the equation would be such a godsend…

Then, earlier this week, I was pointed to an opening at Privateer Press, the makers of Warmachine, among many other things. Privateer Press apparently needs a Copy Editor, a job for which I am qualified; and I could get in the door at a gaming company, which would marry my passions and my work, and would also facilitate Sonya and I moving to a slightly more affordable part of the country and maybe starting to get the next step of our life on the move.

“Wow!” I thought to myself. “Maybe my cup runneth over? Maybe my life could be starting to turn a big, shiny, sunlit corner? Maybe this is the next step we need! Let me polish up the resume and select some writing samples and try to remember where I was recently hearing about Privateer Press, given that I don’t play Warmachine…”

It was when I told my wife about the opening (with the lead-in “how do we feel about moving to Washington?”) that I was reminded.

An excellent, hard-to-read Tumblr post made the rounds of the social justice spheres recently, entitled “Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem.” (All my content notes for this post? They apply double to that article.) The writer discusses in no uncertain terms her own experience and the shared experience of women in tabletop gaming spaces, and in the world in general — specifically, that white men are allowed to and enabled in harassing and outright assaulting women who attempt to be part of the tabletop gaming hobby, and that authorities will not help them — will, in fact, often blame them for their attempts to portray themselves as victims or otherwise attempt to cover up the truth. Among the stories related in that post is a story of a person slapping the writer across the ass while she is discussing the Privateer Press product Hordes, and the Press Ganger (Privateer Press’s game demonstrators/event organizers) who witnessed it insisting the writer was getting emotional over the whole subject. So, that gives me pause regarding Privateer Press — even if the Press Ganger’s response is not exactly a statement from the CEO.

Then there’s DC Comics. DC Comics, who continue to employ Eddie Berganza. Berganza is accused, very publicly and by multiple women, of being utterly vile toward women — harassment that, according to the tweets linked in this Mary Sue article, have actually caused DC Comics to avoid putting women to work in Berganza’s department as a form of “quarantine.” Other tweets I cannot find have been more specific about what Berganza has done, but as I cannot find them I will not engage in second-hand hearsay, only say that what he has supposedly done is absolutely vile. And while the writers are not at fault for that, and while I doubt the entire company is actively complicit in that, it leaves me wondering if applying to/being employed by DC would be interpreted as tacit condoning of Berganza’s behavior.

Which brings me back to my initial question: Which, if any, opportunities do I pursue, given that they might be interpreted by either victims or victimizers as my stamp of approval? Which brings me to my next question: Why do I have to even consider that question? Why are there so many different reports of sexual violence, of harassment and the sheltering of harassers, that I have to think this about two different opportunities I learned about in the same month?

That, right there, was the icicle to the heart. That right there was one of those moments my white male self has to sit back and go: This, self, is proof of how deep the problem really goes. And just imagine, women don’t have to just ask if they are condoning harassment — women have to ask if they are opening themselves up to that harassment. Any woman who joins the Press Gang not only has to consider whether they are saying it’s OK to touch women without their consent, they have to consider whether their body is the next to be violated. Any woman who works for DC has to wonder if they are saying that it’s OK for Berganza to behave the way he does, and also whether they are putting themselves in the line of fire for the Berganzas of the world to attack next.

These are the questions women have to ask every day, self; these are the risks they have to take for the crime of doing something they want to do while also identifying as, or being identified as, a woman.

And this is a question we all have to keep asking. How do I know no-one at my current office is horrible? How do I know any given publisher I work with has no-one who is horrible? It’s easy when I work at smaller companies like my current one, but it’s not like I have never had a toxic interaction there. It’s easier with smaller presses like Alliteration Ink, where there are single-digit employees and a clear harassment policy, but what if I ever get picked up by Penguin Random House or Harper Collins? What if I move on to copy edit at a large corporation? What if, in a some-day life as a freelancer, the jobs that will put food on my table are coming from Gators, from Puppies, from people who hold or have held MRA views? How do I reconcile my promise to believe the victims with my own desire to advance my own life, and what does that say to the marginalized people in my life about how I value my life over theirs?

I did decide to apply to DC, with the reasoning that the whole company is not Berganza, and that I could help from within the offices more than I could from outside, at least by being a voice of privilege corroborating the stories coming from voices more traditionally silenced. But I recognize the enormous privilege shielding me in this case, and I recognize that this does not change the basic truth at work here.

No-one should have to make a binary choice between full-throated success and dealing with terrible people. The victimizers, not the victims, should be the casualties of restructuring, the ones having trouble finding work, the ones who have to explain themselves and apologize and work their way back into the good graces of those in powerr. This needs to change. And there is not a one of us who does not need to be involved in changing it.

It’s so easy for me to say. Let’s see if I can do it. Mostly, today, I am hoping that someone besides me is now really thinking about this, and that some day very soon, we push hard enough that no-one has to think about it anymore.

On 2015

I am 4.5 hours away from beginning the celebration that will put 2015 firmly in my rear view mirror, and therefore, it is time to reflect on the year.

“Mixed bag” defines most years in a human life, but in many ways this year has been one of extremes in that regard. I’ve had some of my lowest lows this year, but also some of my highest highs, and the latter often came as a result of the former.

Low point: Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a manageable disease, but still a disease, and a chronic one there is currently no way to cure, only to avoid being hurt by (and that partially with a little luck); having my wife, the most important person in my life, receive the same diagnosis a month before I did. Realizing both diagnoses only came because she went in to have something unrelated checked up on, and that if we hadn’t checked we would have kept eating in a way that was ruinous to our health and potentially deadly long-term. Dealing with the tide of internal and external fat-shaming, diet-shaming, and general feeling of screwing up that comes with a type 2 diagnosis, along with the feeling that somehow this was life laughing at me after I decided to take charge of my mental and physical health this year.

High point: Going in for our first quarterly check-ups on the disease only to discover we have them totally under control with diet and exercise, we have praiseworthy amounts of willpower and discipline, and barring a curveball we should be able to avoid complications for our entire lifetimes. People told us we were an inspiration, and we learned that we are capable of a level of courage, self-discipline, and mutual support that will serve us well in every aspect of our very long, very healthy lives.

Low point: After resolving to submit more stories and novels, batting a perfect .000 for submission acceptances from January to December.

High point: Learning that I’m not the only one who goes through fallow periods like this; the hardship forcing me to learn things about my writing strengths and weaknesses that I might not have seen had I met with even moderate success. I’m finding my writing voice in a  way that I never have before, and I’m relaxing into the act of writing in a way I never have before. I’ve also figured out how to set reasonable goals for myself creatively and, as a result, in other aspects of my life. While I am not a financially richer writer after this year, I am a richer writer in every other sense.

Low point: My anxiety went off the rails at the beginning of the year, with multiple explosive crying jags, only further exacerbated by the discovery of the diabetes issues.

High point: The explosions were finally bad enough that I had some conversations with Sonya about our relationship that were absolutely necessary and strengthened our bond as friends, partners, lovers, and teammates — there’s no steel without fire, as I think they say. From that came the decision to grab hold of my mental health as well as physical, and from that came a relatively saner Tyler; not one free of anxiety, because that demon is never truly slain, but one who can take a step back and assess his problems and deal with them rationally in a way he never could before.

Low point: I found a safe space for social justice-minded folk like myself, and promptly said something truly terrible and followed it up with a series of anxiety-riddled mistakes and outright bad behavior that ended in me needing to leave said safe space and in fact helped catalyze a general fracturing of it, losing myself at least two friends and leaving my Internet social media experience awkward to say the least.

High point: That huge screw-up and wrongdoing on my part forced me to confront problematic aspects of myself and my relationships, forced me to accept that there are consequences for my actions in a way that was frankly a little abstract before (being as I am a very privileged person), and took me down the road of learning a whole lot more about how to be less problematic and how I need to comport myself in public and in private. And I did keep a few good friends out of that, who though they are wholly digital right now, are an important part of my support network going into 2015.

High point: I rediscovered my love of comics, especially superhero comics, and broadened my artistic tastes in all fields.

High point: I navigated the waters of how to relate to my friends and family, and how and when and why to identify people who are unhealthy for me and keep them at the necessary distance.

High point: I celebrated a year in a fantastic marriage with Sonya, who has helped me learn to be a better person and has helped me learn just how happy I can be. I love you, sweetie. Hail Hydra.

High point: I recognized, eyes wide open, how truly lucky I am to have the life I have, and how valued my contribution to the world really is.

High point: I made mistakes and still have friends and loved ones. Forgiveness can be so important.

High point: I learned how to be diplomatic when angry.

High point: I got to hang out with my new nephew and niece (marriage grows families in the most unexpected ways) and watch them continue to be interesting and smart and engaged.

High point: I had a tweet liked by Squirrel Girl.

High point: There are way more high points on this list than low points.

2015 kicked me in the bojangles more than once, and it did its level best to get me on the ground and bloodied; but in the end, the scars left by this year are scars I can bear with pride. I’m a better person, a better writer, a better husband, and a better Tyler all around than I was last December, and that is a treasure that will never tarnish.

Next year’s resolutions:

Keep up the writing schedule.

Attend more cons, as a guest and as an attendee.

Keep working on excising problematic language.

Take time for self-care.

Go on more dates with Sonya, and recognize that sometimes, time at home quietly reading is the best date night of all.

Play more board games, especially ones I have not played before.

That said, play more Sentinels of the Multiverse and Red Dragon Inn.

Watch more wrestling that is not produced by the McMahons.

Go to more Fathom Events.

Have a really good beer when the carb count is available.

Love Sonya.

Love my friends.

Love myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, two friends and their wonderful son are coming over soon to hang out and play some, oh yes, Sentinels of the Multiverse. I cannot think of a better way to start saying goodbye to 2015.

I love you all. Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

Happy 2016,


On Mary and Also Sue

tl;dr: As of today I am going to make a conscious effort to use neither the term “Mary Sue” nor the term “Gary Stu” any longer, as after reading some very smart posts from my very smart friends and colleagues, I believe the roots of those terms to be misogynistic, misguided, and mean-spirited.


  • This all got started in my brain thanks to a Facebook post from a friend of mine. I want to give him full credit for inspiring me here, and to say that the root ideas here are his; I’m only not naming him because I don’t yet have his permission to do so, and it’s the Internet.
  • Trigger warnings: mention of violence, rape, racism, homophobia, transphobia.

Longer form commences. It may get a little essay-format in here. I have tried to avoid spoilers and do not mention anything about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


Mary Sue.

For a definition of the term(s), I turn to the august Web sites Wikipedia and TV Tropes.

From Wikipedia’s entry on “Mary Sue”:

Mary Sue or, in case of a male, Gary Stu or Marty Stu is an idealized fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through extraordinary abilities…”Mary Sue” today has changed from its original meaning and now carries a generalized, although not universal, connotation of wish-fulfillment…the “Mary Sue” is judged as a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting…

From TV Tropes’ entry of the same name:

…the term “Mary Sue” is generally slapped on a character who is important in the story, possesses unusual physical traits, and has an irrelevantly over-skilled or over-idealized nature.

Okay. That’s enough to go on.

Let me sum up my feelings: this is garbage.

I say it is garbage not because bad writing and wish-fulfillment do not exist; but because bad writing and wish-fulfillment should be allowed to exist, and shaming people for involvement in them is simple cruelty.

(Well bad writing should not be allowed to exist without criticism…I’ll follow up on that later.)

Life is hard. Life as an oppressed class of person (woman, person of color, LGBT, etc.) is especially hard. Wish-fulfillment, escapism, and fantasy are perfectly reasonable responses to how hard life is, and legitimate ways of coping with getting through the hard parts of life.

We could argue back and forth all day about how much escapism is too much escapism; we can throw around words like “addiction,” and maybe even ableist nastiness about discerning fiction from reality; but the bottom line is that basically everyone, in every culture, sees the value of living and learning vicariously through entertainment, whether that’s a win by your sports team, a painting that speaks to you, seeing a fictional character succeed in the face of adversity that looks a lot like your own, or seeing someone who looks like you be socially accepted and noticeably successful.

Let’s hang on that last line for a second. “Seeing someone who looks like you be socially accepted and noticeably successful.”

You don’t have to look far to see the kinds of venom that are spit daily at women — say, rape and death threats when they criticize any form of media in any way — or at people of color — a potential Presidential candidate calling for all “Muslims” to be banned from the country or forced to sign a registry — or at LGBT people — the entire Westboro Baptist Church. I’m not going to link to real examples, because those monsters do not deserve the attention, but they are out there and easy to Google or ask your friends about.

If you have to deal with that on a daily basis, you probably want to see a ray of light somewhere, right? Some indicator that it is possible for someone who is like you to be a badass, strong in the face of difficulties, successful in the face of insurmountable odds? Hell, you probably want to see that on your harder days, even if it does not involve being threatened with sexual violence, right?

And you acknowledge the idea of “different strokes for different folks,” yes? You recognize that your wish-fulfillment/stress relief/enjoyment/whatever does not necessarily look like the method of achieving said state that works for spouse, or your best friend, or your next-door neighbor, right? If nothing else, do you understand intellectually that when your team plays the rival team, your idea of “fun” is probably going to look a lot different than the idea of “fun” held by most fans of the other team?

OK. Great.

So, assuming no-one is actually being hurt, and I mean actually being put in an actual negative place that lessens their actual quality of life…

Where do you get off deciding that another person’s way of having fun and feeling better about themselves is bad?

That is one of my three root issues with the term “Mary Sue.” No-one should be shamed for enjoying wish fulfillment. No-one should be shamed for wanting to have a good time, so long as that good time is not coming at the cost of the well-being of others.

I’m going to tap into that last statement in a moment, but I want to finish up my issues with “Mary Sue” first. My second issue with the term “Mary Sue” is the inherent gendering of the term. Yes, we have now come up with “Marty Stu” and “Gary Sue”; yes, people talk about how the term is not gendered; but, as TV Tropes says, “The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character,” and if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck…

The term grew out of Star Trek fanfiction (specifically, it “comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story ‘A Trekkie’s Tale'” [Wikipedia]), and it’s an accepted if not concretely observed notion that fanfic writers were, initially, largely female. It is also overwhelmingly applied to original female characters who get to be as important as canon male characters — and as it has grown into a term used in fiction at large, it has continued to be disproportionately used to describe female characters. The only male character that I hear routinely get called a Sue/Stu is Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: the Next Generation; other male characters who are just as obviously given a disproportionate chunk of the spotlight (e.g., Wolverine and Cyclops from the X-Men franchise) or just as obviously get to save the day when the chips are down despite not being the only ones canonically capable of same (e.g., Batman in any DC universe fiction), either do not get slapped with the label despite qualifying, or get the label alongside so many jabs at either their “feminine” traits or their sexuality that it’s hard not to see this as being about shaming women for wanting to have rad protagonists available to them.

And that’s gross, people. Gross.

And now, my third and final issue with the term “Mary Sue”…it is generally used as a hallmark of bad writing, right? We are all agreed on this point? Well, bad writing needs to exist.

Writing bad stories is the only way you figure out what doesn’t work and get to good stories. Just like every hockey player (except maybe Wayne Gretzky) had to play some truly terrible games of hockey before they figured out how to reliably play well; just like every baker’s first-ever batch of chocolate chip cookies was likely inedible; just like if I went out today and tried to run a marathon, I would wind up calling someone to come pick me up in my new superhero disguise as the Human Cramp; every writer has to write bad stories. Most of us even keep doing it, because everyone has their off days!

Even if something is bad, it may represent the absolute best a person can do right now, not because they are in any inherently bad, but because they are still learning how to be good. Criticism is a part of helping that person to grow, but dismissive criticism may snuff out their fire while it is still just sparks. Also, not everybody is ready to be put on blast just yet; that’s why I don’t publish every rough draft I ever write on my blog, and that’s part of why fan-fiction communities exist. We need safe spaces to figure out how to be the best us we can be. Why invade and dismiss that just because you don’t think my How to Train Your Dragon/WWE crossover fic is the next Aenead?

Now, there are forms of (or elements present in) “bad art” or “bad escapism” that are truly, objectively bad. Those that uncritically glorify rape, racism, murder, or other forms of violence and hate. Those that reinforce negative and problematic social narratives, like the idea every rape victim “kinda enjoyed it” or that a person of color is “asking for trouble” by behaving in a certain way. Those that stir up hatred toward a real-world group. Those that encourage hateful and destructive urges rather than offer a catharsis that prevents the need for actualizing those urges. In short, things that actually hurt actual people, even if only by making it seem OK to hurt those people. And those do need to be taken out behind the woodshed sometimes, and called out as either “problematic” or even sometimes outright hate speech.


Don’t deride people for doing their best, just because their best isn’t the same as somebody else’s best.

Don’t deride people for liking things that aren’t hurting anybody. Liking things is cool.

And don’t ever forget that everything is problematic in some way, and that criticism and dismissal are not synonymous.

Like stuff. Make stuff.

Figure out how to be you.

Figure out what doesn’t work.

Figure out how not to hurt people.

The world will be a better place.

That, in a 1700 word nutshell, is why I will never, ever again call any character a Mary Sue.

On Not Being Political

I saw some wonderful advice on a friend’s Facebook page the other day. I have since allowed the link to slip through my fingers, so please accept my apology for not having the exact wording to hand. But, basically, it boiled down to this: that to be against things and to make enemies is to put your artistic career at risk; to instead be for things, be for people, be a positive force in the world. That gets you more friends and more allies and it helps your career.

And I agree, though I think the progenitor of this idea was a bit categorical about it. I’m sure that’s a casualty of them saying it in an eloquent way, or possibly of them being of a life experience that is disconnected from a lot of the tragedies and injustices going on today (in an empathetic way where they see it’s terrible). I’m sure they didn’t intend that. But I only agree to a point, and that point is this:

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being angry about some things.

There is nothing wrong with being angry about inequality. There is nothing wrong with being angry about injustice. I won’t sit here and itemize, but being upset at people and at institutions that believe in the idea that some people deserve a better life than others because of some accident of geography or birth or ability is a perfect legitimate, human reaction to things, and I think that the fear of it limiting our success if we say something is partially born of a desire to not offend, to be friendly, to get along, but also of a system that will do anything it can to keep us from talking about those things. It’s the system that gets prominent web personalities to dismiss the Puppies as just another voting block and ignore the very real problems underlying their stated goals; it’s the system that gets mad at us whenever our reaction to mass shootings is to maybe talk about gun control. Because our outrage, and our desire to fix things, is seen as some kind of verbal flatulence, something unsightly that people do not want to deal with.

And yes, there are times when that is inappropriate to bring up — spaces where people are there to relax and blow off steam. You shouldn’t interrupt little Jane’s birthday party to talk about what you think the latest shooter’s motivation was, and you shouldn’t go into the con suite and apropos of nothing make the discussion about Teddy Beale’s loathsome beliefs. (Though I’ll be fair, if I for some reason saw VD in a con suite I probably would not be very civil with him.) And certainly there are topics outside of, like, civil rights that are perhaps best left behind when in public spaces — I’m not going to push my socialist agenda while on a panel at a sci-fi con. And yes, you should try to be positive when you can. But being angry because people are being treated poorly, are dying — especially when you know that is happening because of a trait you or a loved one share, especially when there is a centuries-old legacy of people being treated this way, especially when you live with the threat of it every day — is not indecent, and it should not make you enemies, except among those who were enemies to humanity already.

So, I will try to be positive, to be an advocate, to be a fan, especially because I do not believe in co-opting the rage of marginalized people for myself; but I will not be pleasant for the sake of being pleasant, if it means that we are silent when someone speaks out in favor of oppression. The choice there is, and should be, obvious.

End of line.

On Being Prepared (Convolution Post the First)

So, I had a few arguments today. Some of you may have seen them.

I am proud of myself for standing up for diversity; I am not necessarily proud of the all-caps rant I went on on a friend’s thread. I feel kind of bad about that. Not because I don’t think the people there didn’t need to be stood up to; but because I really don’t like losing my cool. I am not one of the voices that needs to be raised right now.

But this is a post about my first appearance as a guest at a con. I’m appearing at Convolution 2015, and I’m so excited and also so scared. Scared because the con chair has specifically said this year is going to be about talking about issues of inclusion and equality in fandom, and this is the very issue that I tend to get angry about, because…Jesus Christ, is it important to me people all get a fair shake in this world, and in fictional worlds.

So, I am nervous about my ability to stand up to this conversation, especially if I start seeing some of the arguments I dealt with today that made me pop off. But I want to represent my cause better — not just for the cause, but because I think a reasoned argument might help turn some people who are on the fence about diversity, and that should be a goal of mine. (I won’t claim it should be a goal of everybody’s; but since I am one of the most privileged people I know, I think trying to help bring other privileged people around is a good use of my time.) In the interest of calming my nerves, I’m collating some good stock responses and useful data to help support my efforts toward sane, logical arguments about diversity, equality, inclusivity, feminism, intersectionality, etc. If anyone wants to help me out with some of their favorites, I would really, really appreciate it. I’ll keep them here, in this post, ready for anyone who needs it to access.

Note: the intent is not to develop “snappy rejoinders”; the intent is to help people using the list to remain logical and to have useful data and time-tested arguments to use as anchors in difficult conversations about social justice.

Note the Second: Poking holes in arguments is not an appreciated input here. If you disagree with the cause of social justice, um…I’m not sure how you get here…but I’m also not interested in having that argument here, right now. I am happy to engage with you later in some other context.

Ones where I don’t have a really solid argument yet are blank and presented as things I could use help with. Let the grand experiment begin.

(When referring to a fantasy/sci-fi piece) “Diversity in this instance is not historically accurate”: Neither are the fantastic elements of the story. It is OK to give underrepresented people representation in a story that is already diverging from reality.; Bonus: It’s not historically accurate to not have ANY people of color; there were black people in Elizabethan England, there were Chinese and Japanese people in 1940s New York, etc. etc. Homosexuality has been a thing for millennia. There is no reason not to have some of that stuff in some scenes.

It’s just fiction, it doesn’t matter”: What we tell each other in our stories absolutely matters. Everyone deserves to be able to see themselves in stories, and also see other people in stories; it helps humanize them through the characters. Martin Luther King wanted Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek for a reason. Christians worked pagan symbolism (Pan) into the “evil” characters of their religion (the Devil) for a reason.

“What I say about a fictional character doesn’t matter”: 

“We’re/you’re being too sensitive”:

“This is too much diversity”: How can something be too diverse? Why is it a bad thing if we want to see a wider variety of people in our media? How is that preventing people from enjoying it or taking away from anyone?

“Adding diverse characters would be tokenism”:

“Adding diverse characters prevents the story from being fun”/”Why can’t we just let this be fun?”: How is it not fun to read about characters who are not white men? Yes, you have to stretch to identify with them if you are white and/or a man, but that’s what POCs/LGBT characters/women have been doing this whole time, and they seem to be doing alright.

“Replacing a character with someone of a different race/gender is wrong”: Why is it wrong for a story to be about someone different? Why can’t a woman be Thor, or a black guy be Captain America, or Starbuck be a woman, or whatever? There’s nothing inherent to any of those characters (given the fact Asgardians are not actually directly the myths they inspired in the Marvel canon) that prevents them from being something else. Women can pilot ships, black dudes can lead, and women can kick ass. Requirements fulfilled.

I’m sure there are more, and I’d love your help with it all. Thanks in advance!