Invisible Inclusion: Google the Minorities

This is a guest post by Paul and Renee. Paul and Renee blog and review at Fangs for the Fantasy. We’re great lovers of the genre and consume it in all its forms – but as marginalised people we also analyse critically through a social justice lens.

This is a complicated issue because, when it comes to media, the 2 often seem to be the same thing. If a book or film or TV series has included marginalised people then surely it has portrayed them, right?

Well, not so much.

Let’s say I write a book. In this book we have Fred, the deeply closeted gay man. We have Jennifer, who has depression that she manages with therapy and pills. We have Jane who is Latina through her mother, but takes after her father in colouring.

None of their marginalisations are noticeable and, because I didn’t feel it relevant, I don’t, mention any of this in the book.

And then someone picks up the book I’ve written and says “this book is erased – everyone in it is straight, white and able bodied.” And, like so many before me, I vault up onto my high-horse and announce irritably that there are actually 3 marginalised people in the book!

And I probably could argue that I included 3 marginalised people. But can I honestly say I portrayed them?

Because portrayal is the key here. We’ve argue a lot about the damage of erasure. How harmful it is for society to not see us part of life and part of the stories worth telling. How we, and especially our youth, grow up without any role models, without any sense that their own stories and their own lives actually have value and are worthy of attention and being told. And none of that is changed by “invisible” portrayal – by inclusion that we can’t see. We don’t get to see ourselves in media if you hide us, disguise us and treat us as a secret.

How do we get to see characters like us, see ourselves included if the only way we can see this is if we decide to do some research, hit the internet, trawl through the author’s blog and random interviews and see if we can find some background hints of a marginalised person. This? This is not portrayal. Having to do homework after reading a book to find the marginalised person is not portrayal. Playing Where’s Waldo with the marginalised people is not great portrayal, no matter how much your background notes say.

And I really have to question how much “inclusion” it actually is. People often forget that the characters in a book or a TV series are not real people. They do not exist outside of their medium – their books or show. I think it can be argued that anything that isn’t shown in their book or TV show doesn’t actually exist – these aren’t real people to have backgrounds and hidden lives and multi-faceted beings. Their existence is limited to the page/screen – if it doesn’t appear on the page/screen then should it be even included in the character at all?

A lot of this is due to societal default. The default person in society is the most privileged – a cis, straight, white, able bodied man. Lacking any other description, this is generally the identity we assume a character has. If we don’t mention a race, we assume Whiteness. If we don’t mention a sexuality, we assume the character is straight, etc etc. And this is not a good thing – we shouldn’t think that way, this shouldn’t be our assumptions and this shouldn’t be a societal standard.

But it is. And, ultimately we do have to deal with what is. If we want to change that – and we should – then I can’t see us doing it with less visible portrayals. We can’t challenge this by only having marginalised characters in a book or on a show that are apparent to those willing to do the homework. We need to normalise the presence of marginalised people rather than casting them as the Other or something hidden.

It’s also a problem because extra-textual identities are being used as a defence when people complain about erasure or tokenism in a show or book. People complaining about the lack decent roles or development for Boyd on Teen Wolf were confronted with the excuse that Tyler Posey, the actor who plays Scott McCall, is Latino. This is something we didn’t know, despite watching both series, and we had to google it to find out (we also found out that Colton Haynes who plays Jackson is half-Cherokee). I’m sure some other watchers of the show did know this or did spot it, but it completely went over our heads. We know we noticed Danny was Native Hawaiian and other people missed that. But Scott McCall as Latino wasn’t raised as one element of the shows inclusiveness – it was raised as an excuse for having Boyd, the least-developed werewolf and Dr. Deaton the magical assistant. If you complain about inclusion in the Harry Potter series, someone is bound to raise the subject of Dumbledore. There’s a reason why TV Tropes actually has coined the phrase “Word of Gay” for all the of the writers out there who have said one of their characters are gay without including it in the text.

Of course, it is also wrong to exclude the existence of people like my characters, Fred, Jennifer and Jane. There are GBLT people who, for various reasons, keep their sexuality and being trans secret. There are invisible disabilities. There are POC who are light skinned and who don’t have names or cultural clues from their heritage. These should be included as well – and they most certainly DO belong to the groups in question and it is never, ever acceptable to deny their identity because it is not always instantly noticeable. But the problem comes when these are the portrayals INSTEAD of more visible marginalised people rather than AS WELL AS. The hypothetical people complaining about my hypothetical book could easily have been mollified if there were portrayals of GBLT people, disabled people and POC in that book who were recognisably so within the text, l that didn’t require homework to identify or access to my explanatory notes. That doesn’t mean all marginalised people have to be grossly trope laden Lesbian Sharks or Blackety Black Black, but we should be able to read the book or watch the show and the only marginalised people we see are ones we have to google to discover.

Even putting aside my hypothetical – look at the actual examples. No-one would be raising stink about hiding Dumbledore’s sexuality in the text if we’d actually had a decent gay character portrayed there. Scott McCall being played by a Latino actor would never have been raised if people weren’t angry at how utterly lacking the portrayal of Boyd was. We wouldn’t complain about the Bromance used instead of representation if Danny actually had a bigger, more involved part of the show.

These characters should exist, we should have the full variety of diversity in our media. But we shouldn’t have them used as an excuse for erasure or tokenism. We shouldn’t be using research-required inclusion as an excuse for not bothering with text supported portrayal. We shouldn’t be afraid of having marginalised people in major roles who are clearly identifiable as marginalised people.

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51 comments for “Invisible Inclusion: Google the Minorities

  1. jemima101
    September 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I fail to understand how Dumbledore could have been portrayed differently to the satisfaction of the author. The story of his first devastating love is clearly laid out, and a vital part of the plot. Teachers do not out themselves to school children, at least not in Britain, and him telling Harry , or any or the other characters, that he was gay would have been unrealistic, and out of keeping for the characterwho revealed very little of himself to anyone.

    To say JK suddenly invented the fact he was gay ignores the fact she had the books plotted from the very start. The relationship with Grimwauld is vital to the plot. There are also the nasty insinuations the Daily Prophet makes about his relationship with Harry, which was a great starting point for discussions about how the media portray gay people with my eldest child.

    This may seem a geeky list of objections, but it is easy to claim people should each be labelled clearly when in fact this would remove so much of the nuance that makes art worth engaging with.

    • EG
      September 4, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      To say JK suddenly invented the fact he was gay ignores the fact she had the books plotted from the very start.

      Meh. So she says. Some–most–of that plotting is so damn rickety that while she may have had the general sense (Chosen One must sacrifice himself to a Hitler-esque figure to save everybody), I suspect she made a lot of the specifics up on the fly.

      • librarygoose
        September 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm


        12 year old me just died a little. I whispered lovingly to my HP hard backs that I waited to get a midnight.

        But for real, I’ll allow that maybe Dumbledore’s sexuality never came up because they were kids and adults doing it is ew. But no other characters? None of the massive amounts of kids in those books? JK said she wanted them to develop normally, but none of the kids are LGBT? In that huge fucking castle?

      • Donna L
        September 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

        but none of the kids are LGBT? In that huge fucking castle?

        In what’s basically an English public school? That wouldn’t be like any such school I’ve ever read about.

      • jemima101
        September 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm

        There are many complaints that can be made about Hp but rickety plotting is certainly not one of them, everything is signposted from several books ahead. Even the very first chapter of the very first book, (the boy who lived) is referenced in the last chapter of Deathly Hallows.

        That aside why do you think she would lie? She only brought up Dumbledore’s sexuality because the studio wanted to give him a girl friend (another example of Hollywood ignoring others traditions but perhaps that rant would questioning of the idea that America can rewrite history at will for here.)

      • aumentou
        September 9, 2012 at 12:52 am

        “There are many complaints that can be made about Hp but rickety plotting is certainly not one of them”

        Isn’t there a bit where they get a time machine, and use it to solve the plot of one book, but then never use it or mention it again despite it being really useful? If so, that seems poorly planned to me.

      • jemima101
        September 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm

        Hermione is given a time turner in The Prisoner of Azkaban so she can attend lessons. It is mentioned how useful this would be later on, but the entire stock is destroyed when the Department of Mysteries is trashed by the battle at the end of Order of the Phoenix.

        One would not have have been given to Harry, or any of his friends during Azkaban as they are perceived to be enemies of the Ministry, and during Goblet Harry is not meant to ask for any help completing the quests, and given Fudge’s belief in rules he certainly would not have offered one.

        Yes, I know, I ought to get out more :D

      • EG
        September 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

        There are many complaints that can be made about Hp but rickety plotting is certainly not one of them, everything is signposted from several books ahead.

        Then please explain the plot of Goblet of Fire. Voldemore has a man on the inside of Hogwarts. He needs Harry to resurrect himself. So…

        …he rigs the Triwizard Tournament that Harry shouldn’t even have been competing in at all so that Harry wins and grabs the trophy which is the portkey which transports him to Voldemort, taking over 400 pages to do so.

        Because…Voldemort is so stupid it just doesn’t occur to him to make Harry’s toothbrush the portkey sometime during the first week of school? Or a piece of homework the Man on the Inside is “returning” to Harry?

        It’s not because of the apparition nonsense, because portkeys don’t work by apparition.

        It’s because of lousy, rickety plotting.

    • Esti
      September 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      I deeply disagree that the plotting of Dumbledore’s arc was “rickety”, but I think the point this post was making was not that Dumbledore should have been out and proud but rather:

      No-one would be raising stink about hiding Dumbledore’s sexuality in the text if we’d actually had a decent gay character portrayed there.

      There’s no reason that there couldn’t have been a number of openly gay students — in this generation in Britain, a lot of kids come out in high school or even earlier. I really liked the portrayal of Dumbledore’s sexuality, but it doesn’t compensate for the lack of openly gay characters.

      • jemima101
        September 4, 2012 at 7:17 pm

        Now with that I totally agree. Hogwarts is very representative of Britain racially, what a pity JK did not include any LGBT pupils. I would love to ask her why, no doubt she would come out with bollocks about what people expect from children ‘s books, but having just read with my youngest “The boy in a Dress ” By David Walliams, I can say that schools, children and libraries do not implode when these ideas are raised.

      • September 4, 2012 at 8:49 pm

        It would also have beeneasy to have other gay adults. I was so disappointed when Tonks started pining over Lupin, not just because this kick ass female character all of a sudden lost all agency, but also because I previously read her as queer.

      • miga
        September 4, 2012 at 9:56 pm

        I, of course, read both Lupin and Tonks as queer- but Lupin/Sirius is a common ship.

      • Kyra
        September 4, 2012 at 10:09 pm

        I was too—it sounds fangirlish, though I don’t really ship Sirius/Lupin, but I thought they were some variety of Together Like That.

        Tonks also read as queer to me—even little things like her intense hatred for her given name to Molly Weasley’s disapproval of her. Goddamn I wish she hadn’t been written like that with Lupin, not just because of the straightness of it but because she was a grownup and coulda told Snape right the hell off for calling her Nymphadora.

  2. Rhoanna
    September 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Portrayal of, for example, a deeply closeted gay character only counts if the text shows that they’re deeply closeted, whether it’s worrying about someone discovering they’re gay, or fantasizing about a woman while being bored during sex with their husband, or whatever. Otherwise, it’s just some detail the author/creator thought of but didn’t include in the work.

    Another thing that’s not very satisfying, although better than just the author’s word, is only including content that portrays the character as gay (or other minority) in supporting media. An example would be Battlestar Galactica’s Felix Gaeta – you’d only know he was gay if you watched one of the web series. It never made an appearance in the standard TV seasons. Sure, it’s better than nothing, but it’s very token.

  3. Ruchama
    September 4, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I fail to understand how Dumbledore could have been portrayed differently to the satisfaction of the author.

    I think the only place where it could have come into the story naturally would have been in the last book, where the insinuations and things from the articles could have been a lot less vague. When I was reading that book for the first time, there were several things that made me stop and think, “Wait, was that supposed to be innuendo?” but by the end of the book, reading Dumbledore as straight was still completely consistent with what was on the page.

  4. matlun
    September 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    People often forget that the characters in a book or a TV series are not real people. […] I think it can be argued that anything that isn’t shown in their book or TV show doesn’t actually exist – these aren’t real people to have backgrounds and hidden lives and multi-faceted beings.

    On the one hand, I completely agree with this.

    On the other hand, I wonder how ambiguous characters and relationships should be judged. How should we for example judge the Xena/Gabrielle dynamic?

  5. Thalia
    September 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I’ve argued elsewhere that (positive) tokenism is a better alternative to erasure but that really, I think, only works in visual mediums such as television or film. And, of course, there’s still tons of potential for that tokenism to be problematic.

    I’ve often wondered, in terms of casting, when someone who doesn’t fit the cis/white/able/straight framework but can “pass” plays within that framework if that can really be considered progress?

    And the corollary, if you have a character that is outside of that narrow framework and they’re portrayed by someone who is, does it “count”?

    … Side note, I’ve been reading this blog for over a year and this is my first time commenting, so hi!

    • September 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm

      if you have a character that is outside of that narrow framework and they’re portrayed by someone who is, does it “count”?

      Speaking as someone with invisible disabilities… no. It really, really doesn’t, because what difference does the actor’s ability status have to do with anything? I mean, Matt Bomer *could* have fibromyalgia, for example, or Lucy Lawless, but it doesn’t matter, because Neal Caffrey and Xena, the characters they’re playing, don’t have any disabilities. In those cases, I’m not represented in the show, though I *am* being represented IRL.

      • September 4, 2012 at 8:21 pm

        Agh, I meant to quote this bit:

        I’ve often wondered, in terms of casting, when someone who doesn’t fit the cis/white/able/straight framework but can “pass” plays within that framework if that can really be considered progress?

      • Thalia
        September 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

        I can completely understand what you mean. For me, as a cis woman of colour, I’m a little torn. I think it may be easier for people like Lisa Ray or other light-skinned women (who might fit the white cis beauty ideal better) to be cast, especially because they can ‘pass’.

        At the same time, I can’t help but think to myself that it’s still outside of the white beauty ideal and that’s a win, right? Someone once pointed out to me that doing a ‘better than usual’ job of portraying a marginalized group doesn’t mean it’s actually a good portrayal, though.

        I’m a pop culture enthusiast and after taking a graduate class on race and culture it became increasingly (as in, nearly impossible) to ignore how completely inured to the lack of diversity in the media I consumed, and not just regarding race or ethnicity.

      • September 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm

        I’m also a cis woman of colour! *offers solemn fist-bump*

        I guess that casting a light-skinned WOC is progress? I don’t know. Maybe because I’m from south India, where the last dark-skinned actress was Nandita Das, who… wait, why doesn’t she get mainstream roles very often? I’m sure there’s a reason that doesn’t denigrate her fantastic acting, her amazing portfolio or her versatility of role choice. >_>

        Honestly, there’s more dark-skinned WOC actresses of renown in Hollywood than there are dark-skinned WOC actresses – renowned or shitty – in south Indian cinema. Which, when you consider the relative proportions of dark-skinned women in LA and Madras, is pretty fucking mind-boggling to me. I don’t want to say that people complaining about lack of diversity in north American casting are whining – not at all! – just that coming here has actually been nice for me, seeing more dark-skinned women in movies, and that’s just depressing as all hell.

      • Thalia
        September 5, 2012 at 10:52 am

        It won’t let the comments thread past three, so I’m replying here, sorry!

        *returns solemn fist bump*

        I think one of the coolest things about Mindy Kaling’s upcoming new show is that she doesn’t fit the conventional beauty ideal. But I also occasionally worry that, like for Lena Dunham’s Girls, there’s a lot of pressure riding on her to perform and create a show that is representative of all women of colour (which is unfair, though it would certainly be nice if she was more diverse and inclusive than Dunham’s work ended up being).

        I don’t want to say that people complaining about lack of diversity in north American casting are whining – not at all! – just that coming here has actually been nice for me, seeing more dark-skinned women in movies, and that’s just depressing as all hell.

        It is depressing. I’m not really dark, though I would never pass for white, and I remember being told from very young how light my sister was – we can get into an entire discussion about how colonization left India (and many, many other countries) with mangled notions of beauty and superiority. And one of the things that concerns me, in turn, is the fetishization of darker women – when you can’t hide your “difference” (or pass, as it may be) you are far more vulnerable to exploitation…

        So in ending, yes, a light-skinned WOC is progress but at the same time, and this can be applied to all types of difference, if people with increasingly visible differences are ignored or treated negatively, without respect, or as objects, how much progress is it? Is it really a step forward?

  6. September 4, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    This also reminds me of Serena Southerlyn’s last scene in “Law & Order” when Branch fires her. After 85 episodes, that’s the first and last time her sexuality is ever mentioned in the series.

    • EG
      September 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Because they JUST MADE IT UP. Argh. It just pisses me off. There’s an episode where she goes to investigate something at the offices of a magazine for gay men and lesbians and WOULDN’T YOU THINK HER BEING A LESBIAN MIGHT HAVE COME UP THEN? But it didn’t, because she WASN’T a lesbian because those are some damn lazy writers.

      No, I don’t know why I just got so exercised about that.

      • Gareth Wilson
        September 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm

        That bit was so weird I think it’s easier to imagine Serena was joking, just to freak out the old guy who fired her. On the original post, Nikita on the CW is an interesting example. The title character is one of the very few nonwhite leads on TV shows. Fine so far. But the show went for years before acknowledging she wasn’t white. No Asian culture, no relatives, no surname. Even various people chasing after her never described her as Asian for identification. Finally they did reveal that her mother was Vietnamese.

      • September 4, 2012 at 10:07 pm


        There was a character in Lost–one of the Others, the slightly older guy who traveled to the mainland a few times, who was the one in charge of getting Kate cleaned up when she’d been captured and had to eat breakfast with Ben, you know, that guy?–who was shown off-island in a hotel room having a romantic interlude with a man (the romantic partner came out of the bedroom into the sitting room of the suite wearing just a towel) and it wasn’t even the main point of the scene and it was treated as absolutely the most ordinary thing possible.

        They’d even alluded to it once before when he told Kate that she wasn’t his type, but his sexuality did not define him even though he wasn’t closeted.

        That show was hardly sexually diverse, but at least that time they handled it like it was no big deal, and it really stuck out to me, particularly considering there really weren’t that many scenes with this character at all during the run of the show.

      • DouglasG
        September 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm

        And don’t forget the episode in which Mr McCoy, then still the prosecutor, got all the state’s same-sex marriages annulled in an appellate court simply in order to void spousal privilege in one case. I seem to recall seeing that episode before the firing episode and noticing that Ms Southerlyn seemed to find that unusually dodgy of Mr McCoy, though it was more or less in keeping with his usual style. When seeing the firing episode later, I wondered which was the chicken and which the egg, or if the whole thing had to do with some sort of shot at Mr Thompson, then playing the (conveniently) conservative DA.

  7. Donna L
    September 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    As for trans characters, I’m not sure I agree that they “should” be included. Because how many times have I seen or read such a character being portrayed where the character isn’t horrifying or ridiculous or embarrassing or all three? Pretty close to zero. Mostly, such fictional characters are worse than none at all, I think. (Wholly apart from the fact that trans characters are almost never played by trans actors in visual media.)

    • September 4, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      I actually find trans characters (of both ftm and mtf varieties) get much more exposure – and compassionate, relatively enlightened exposure – in manga and anime. Sure, there’s some stereotyping, but to be fair, it’s no more than the LGB or straight characters get stereotyped. Even really goofy or fantasy-based manga manages to do better than the average European/NA work.

      Indian cinema also actually has a lot of exposure for mtf transfolk, but it’s…horrible. As in, I will warn you right off the bat that any plotline that involves trans people and isn’t in an explicitly activist movie will be hideous and triggering and please don’t watch it ever. FTM people don’t exist, naturally, there’s just some people “pretending”. (It makes me nuts that trans women – who identify more as a third gender in Indian, particularly Hindu, custom – edge out trans men’s voices entirely. I don’t think I’ve even ever seen any media about trans men in Indian society.)

      • Thalia
        September 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm

        In my third year sociology class on gender, hijras were presented as a positive (or at least, more positive than Western conceptualizations) example of gender fluidity.

        My impression from family members who were born and raised in India was that there was a casual disdain for hijras. I don’t much watch Indian cinema but I recall a few instances of seeing trans portrayals and, in retrospect, were quite awful.

      • Alexandra
        September 4, 2012 at 9:45 pm

        There was an interesting recent article about this on NPR recently.

      • September 4, 2012 at 10:09 pm

        I think that there’s a…disconnect between the religious position on hijras (highly niche but acceptable, religious acceptance of third gender identities) and the social position on hijras (ugly transphobic bullshit, sexual exploitation, mass discrimination). Arguing from religion on trans acceptance in Hinduism is rather like arguing from religion on feminism in Hinduism; the reality’s about sixty bajillion light-years away from what the philosophy would lead one to imagine.

        I haven’t actually seen a positive portrayal of a trans person outside a movie specifically ABOUT said trans person (and not a comedy either, I’m talking serious art films) in India. I just haven’t. It drives me nuts, because there’s plenty enough trans characters in Hindu mythology!

      • DonnaL
        September 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm

        more positive than Western conceptualizations

        I will assume good faith, and ask if you could please explain what you mean by that?

        I’m hardly an expert, but from everything I’ve read, there are actually quite a few hijras these days who identify as trans women, not as a “third gender.”

      • September 4, 2012 at 10:24 pm

        I’m hardly an expert, but from everything I’ve read, there are actually quite a few hijras these days who identify as trans women, not as a “third gender.”

        AFAIK, Donna, there’s trans women identifying as trans women as well as hijras who specifically don’t want to identify within the binary and who consider it constricting and who are pretty offended when people try to lock them into feminine pronouns, etc. So, while the phrase “third gender” makes me cringe personally, I find myself having to use it sometimes simply because the alternative feels reductive to the person addressed.

        It’s more…nuanced in north Indian languages, most of which are gendered since they’re based in Sanskrit (the Tamil-derived ones, which I speak much better, are non-gendered in the same way that English is). Sanskrit actually has a third gender form, which has been traditionally translated as “it”, but which – having progressed to the equivalent of Sanskrit 201 – I can fairly confidently say also adapts to “them” or “zie”. It’s often used to refer to people of non-heteronormative sexual orientations, too.

        FTR I don’t think current Hindu thought on gender in general is remotely fucking healthy or more positive than Western thought, though it’s probably no more negative either. There’s a Hindu tendency to paint our religion as rosy as we can, and while I understand the temptation as a colonised people, I think 60 years of freedom is about time we started to drop the defenses and look at ourselves more clearly.

      • SophiaBlue
        September 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm

        Yeah, I’m not a huge reader of manga (although I’m trying to get more into it) but off the top of my head I can think of Kamatari from Rurouni Kenshin and the two women who’s names I forget from 20th Century Boys as trans characters who are more-or-less well portrayed.

      • miga
        September 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm

        There’s a show on Hulu called “Wandering Son” about a trans girl and her friend/love interest, a trans boy- along with their other LGBTQ friends. It’s pretty cute:

        Also, if you’re interested in cross-dressing characters I’d recommend Princess Jellyfish, about a shy nerd who is brought out of her shell by the handsome cross-dressing boy who falls for her. It’s hilarious and deals with the nature of “true” beauty and being yourself.

      • Chataya
        September 4, 2012 at 10:53 pm

        There’s an anime called Simoun (Shimun) which features a race of humanoids who are all born the same sex, but choose a permanent sex at 17. The main plot revolves around giant robots punching each other.

    • Thalia
      September 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm

      I can’t seem to respond to your question within that particular thread but thank you for giving me a chance to clarify.

      I meant that, in my gender class, hijras were presented to the students as being normalized within Indian society and, I apologize for my poor wording, I was trying to indicate that they were positively received compared to how trans and gender-fluid individuals were understood and received in Western societies.

      Is that more clear?

      • DonnaL
        September 4, 2012 at 11:30 pm

        Absolutely! Thanks.

    • aumentou
      September 9, 2012 at 1:03 am

      There’s a way to do this that I haven’t seen done yet: Have the character be stealth, don’t make a point of any differences. Then at some point it comes up and everyone else finds out. Then the key: instead of having a big scene about it, just have everyone go “oh, okay then”, and get on with the plot.

  8. Alexandra
    September 4, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    I watched Firefly out of order a few years back, and I remember being extremely disappointed to find out that the engineer, Kaylee, wasn’t actually lesbian. I took Jayne’s slur at face value!

    I always liked that Ender’s Game and the subsequent sequels made such a point of showing a multiracial (and multicultural) universe. Pity OS Card’s politics are so bizarre and… mormon.

    • Kyra
      September 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      Oh yeah, I forgot about OS Card’s issues. I just recently picked up The Worthing Chronicle at a used book store and got into the middle of it where the protagonist is starting a society and he decides that because he wants it to be a stable society, he decides it needs “the institution of marriage” and it’s pretty obvious he means it in terms of one-man-one-woman-having-children-together and I had a “what the fuck, dude, you’re a sci-fi writer, why so limited?” moment and then came to your comment and remembered who I was dealing with.

    • im
      September 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      IMO nuclear families don’t make any sense for TEH SOCIAL ORDER. My worldbuilding attempts usually have great big extended families with mairrage being assymetrcial: one person is brought from either a familiy or from just being a bachelor/bachelorette not part of one of those big families and marries into it. (this can either be polyamorous, or not.)

  9. Henry
    September 5, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    You are talking about 2 different kinds of inclusion:

    1. inclusion in the narrative story – e.g. Star Trek’s inclusion of minority astronauts in its story,

    2. inclusion in labor – e.g. hiring of minority actors regardless of who they play.

    For example, a Black actor playing Hamlet does not make Shakespeare’s work inclusive in the narrative sense, however unlike ancient Denmark, modern settings should represent the population of that setting (see the criticism of the television series Friends for its all white Manhattan characters). Then you can get into inclusiveness in choice of story. Hollywood for example could choose to set all its shows in an all white region of the Caucasus mountains, but this would be laughable for a US audience that either interacts with minorities on a daily basis or is a minority.

    Sometimes 1&2 clearly overlap, as in the original Star Trek’s ground breaking cast (though still the main characters were white males, with Scotty the sole white ethnic character and Spock a half alien who conformed to stereotypical white male aspects), but still given the time it was shot as a series (1960s) they did a decent job on progress.

  10. drob
    September 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Sometimes 1&2 clearly overlap, as in the original Star Trek’s ground breaking cast (though still the main characters were white males, with Scotty the sole white ethnic character and Spock a half alien who conformed to stereotypical white male aspects)

    I’m not sure that a Scotish is a ‘white ethnic’?

    • jemima101
      September 6, 2012 at 3:26 am

      Why not? Upon the British official forms which collect the data White Irish is a classification, and many Scots I know use the other box to designate themselves white Scottish.

  11. im
    September 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    I’ve always felt kind of uneasy about inclusivity, worrying that I would mess it up very badly. And to speak the truth, I do occasionally feel like I just can’t win. Fortunately, perhaps, hardly anyone ever sees anything I write.

    Any guidelines for utopian or semi-utopian stories? I’ve heard that making it look like all the present-day oppressions just vanished in a story that isn’t generally super-duper-utopian can seem insulting, but on the other hand I’ve heard people faulted for including the existence of oppression in a fairly realistic way in works which were not utopian.

    • September 6, 2012 at 8:30 pm

      Well… having a fairly well balanced racial/ethnic/gender/orientation mix of characters. Showing a mixture of religious and cultural traditions to varying degrees. Either realistic depictions of disabilities or medical handwaving such as cybernetics. Avoiding referring to people as “exotic” or “ethereal” or suchlike. Referring to people being married, as opposed to “same-sex married”. Referring to people as their gender of expression, casual references if you like to that having changed. Etc? I’m not terribly sure, tbh.

    • snorkellingfish
      September 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      I think an analogy can be drawn to just not being any sort of -ist in general. Will we fuck up? Inevitably. But it’s more important to try and get it right more of the time than to just throw up our hands and give up. Honestly, I feel like the message sent by not including groups that should be in the situation your novel sets up is worse than the messages sent by tokenism or imperfect portrayals.

      I can’t speak to everything, but macavitykitsune gives some good tips. In terms of the semi-utopian thing you’re thinking about … it depends, really. Is it a utopian future? In that case, when constructing your society, be aware of past inequalities and how they were overcome and any lingering effects. The fact that people might not be prejudiced any more doesn’t mean that people won’t still be feeling the hurt or be sensitive to things because of their history. Is it an AU? In that case, think about how the world would be very different as a result of a very different history. I think it’s something to be considering at a world-building level rather than just something to tack over the top.

      I think the other thing to remember is that oppressed people aren’t a monolith. There isn’t a hive mind and people aren’t going to agree on what they like. Some people might not like it when even their escapist fiction reminds them of real life oppression; others might feel it’s a denial of their reality to ignore those things. And that’s not something special about issues of representation – readers are going to have different likes and dislikes about everything, from which POV they prefer to what sort of structure they enjoy to what genre they like to read. That’s life and it’s impossible to write something that works for everyone. Accept that some readers aren’t going to like your stories and do the best you can and don’t use that as an excuse to decide that representing people is too hard.

    • im
      September 7, 2012 at 1:13 am

      Yeah. As an outsider to whole social justice thing I have a hard time comparing competing advice.
      – Residual oppression a huge thing. An important theme is that of paternalism and it’s benefits and drawbacks. Unfortunately, I have a hard time evaluating that.
      -Here are some examples of things I have been trying to figure out:
      -The whole ableism / transhumanism thing. Resistance against transhumanism from the disabled? Or is that just a product of the Tumbler bizzareness? IIRC, Xavier in X-men never gets permanently cured of his disability to keep from trivializing this, although that’s not very utopian.
      -Cybernetics allowing perfect transition for transexual people, and the serious transphobia has been pretty literally crushed out of existence by the reformist government … and what else. I have no freaking idea what other problems might happen. It occurs to me that a story about a society like this might render trans people invisible via normalcy… problem?
      -Are there some examples of stories you can point me at that fail badly on the little things, while not making any hugely obvious errors?

  12. nerfulness
    September 9, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Excellent post; you have finally articulated what bothered me so much about John Stewart as Green Lantern in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Yeah, the creators put a PoC on the team, but they never bothered to deal with the implications it. GL never encounters overt racism, or talks about racism, despite the fact that the show is set in the modern era. So yeah, they have a character who is a black man, but he doesn’t live a life that is in any way familiar to real life PoCs.

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