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The Midweek Mingle: The BSB

“You got your sci-fi in my QUILTBAG+ manifesto!”

“You got your QUILTBAG+ manifesto in my sci-fi!”

And that, my friends, is the gist of the Midweek Mingle (I promise, this’ll be the only post with an intro like this.). Every Wednesday, I’ll be bringing you posts on bringing in the QUILTBAG+ community, both into your writing and into the sci-fi and fantasy community we all know and love.

But enough of that. Let’s get into the meat of this.


 

For several years now, every time I go to Radcon, I’ve been on panels about gender and sexuality, or building inclusive fannish communities. And almost without fail, I hear this cry go up (in one turn of phrase or another): “If they don’t want to be here, they shouldn’t be here.”

So, let’s just stop that train right here and point something out: that’s wrong. It seems like it shouldn’t be, I know, and it would be right on the nose, in a perfect world. But I think we can all accept that this is far from a perfect world, especially for QUILTBAG+ individuals. For that matter, it’s not necessarily kind to sci-fi and fantasy fans, either. So one would think that it would be common ground, the whole social outcast thing. Once you get past the barriers, that’s exactly what it is.

It’s the barriers that suck. Now, before I start in on this, I want to say that there’s not any one right or wrong way to go about this, and that no one’s really got the right (or the wrong) of the issue, either. It’s complicated. You see, fannish communities are what happens when a bunch of people who were all shunned for liking the ‘wrong’ thing. Those people banded together and created a safe space. And in a lot of ways, that mirrors the QUILTBAG+ community. People who were seen as fundamentally ‘wrong’ banding together. It’s awesome. Both of them are.

The big barrier to get past is the fact that they are both outcasts, and there are wounds, however small or large, however visible or in your face, from feeling that way. Those wounds make both communities open and supportive, but they also create the Big Scary Barrier (BSB).

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Yeah, it looks kind of like that.

So, let’s say that Bobby is trans*, for the sake of argument. Bobby also likes space opera and fantasy novels. So Bobby goes off to a local sci-fi/fantasy convention, and all the sudden there are people around like Bobby, hundreds of people with the same interests.

But Bobby is still afraid to speak up, because there is a difference and, despite the fact that this new community is accepting of Bobby’s entertainment interests, Bobby knows there’s a difference. Bobby is trans*, and people from both sides of this coin, the fannish community and the QUILTBAG+ community, know that the easiest way to stay off the radar, and hence out of embarrassment (or much, much worse), is to just not chime in. Stay low and stay to yourself. So despite the fact that Bobby loved the convention, Bobby doesn’t go back again.

Bobby didn’t feel sure, and didn’t feel safe, so Bobby didn’t join into the SF/F community. Because Bobby didn’t join, members of the SF/F community pull up the BSB: “If Bobby didn’t want to be here, Bobby shouldn’t be here.”

The only blame to be had in this (unfortunately common) scenario is on society as a whole, because it forced us to have these subcultures, these safe zones. Because we have those, when you have to venture outside of yours, there’s always a risk, in the mind of an individual. These people won’t accept me. I don’t belong here. The BSB creates a cycle. One community of outcasts sees that someone from another community of outcasts is there… but that’s where it ends. No effort is made on either party, and it brings everything back around to the point of origin: two separate communities.

So, how can someone go about solving this, getting around the BSB into a world of inclusivity? It’s not on any one person in the equation. If you’re part of the QUILTBAG+ community, and you want to join into the fannish community, the number one thing to do is just stay there. Be a part of it. Gender and sexuality have all of nothing to do with what kind of books and movies you like. I get that it can be tough, I’ve done it myself, but it’s important. If you’re there, maybe someone else will see you and feel okay joining, because there’s a little familiar bit of peanut butter in the SF/F chocolate.

On the flipside, if you’re part of the SF/F community already, and you want to make it open to QUILTBAG+ members, then you have to make it okay. Make it safe. Mostly, it’s a matter of respect. Respect somebody’s personal pronouns. Respect somebody’s right to be who they are. Remember that you, too, are an outcast, even if it might not feel like it, being a piece of chocolate surrounded by thousands of other pieces of chocolate. Everyone in both communities has felt, at one point in their lives, that they aren’t part of the norm, and they were right. Let that be a bonding stone, and help people join instead f just assuming that they ‘don’t want to be there.’

And, as a short aside to content creators (writers, movie maker types, game producers, etc): there’s a little more pressure on us. SF/F has always been a largely cisgender, heterosexual genre. It’s on us to change that. Put in the effort. Create inclusive characters. Trans* characters, lesbian characters, agender characters. If you want people to feel like it’s safe to join in, show them it’s safe to join in.

Help everyone mingle.


 

Voss Foster lives in the middle of the Eastern Washington desert, where he writes science fiction and fantasy from inside a single-wide. He is the author of Tartaros, The Park, and The King Jester Trilogy (Zirkua Fantastic, The Jester Prince, and A Fool’s War, coming in 2015). He has also written several short stories, featured in Apocrypha & Abstractions, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, and other various anthologies and publications. When he can be pried away from his keyboard, he enjoys singing, cooking, playing trombone, and belly dancing, though rarely all at the same time. More information can be found at Demon Hunting and Tenth Dimensional Physics.

4 thoughts on “The Midweek Mingle: The BSB”

  1. I love this, Voss – both the message and the focus of the column. We were just talking this morning about Emerald City Comic Con (one of my friends attended) and how there are more diverse vendors every year. And then, by extension, how it might be safe for us to start thinking about vendor tables at other comic/fan cons.

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  2. There are a lot of good things happening in the SF/F community when it comes to inclusivity. A couple years ago, Norwescon had a huge amount of pride banners and stickers and such floating around, and when I talk to programming chairs at different conventions, they’re always looking for panelists who fall outside the ‘norm,’ either in sexuality and gender, race, neurodiversity, etc, etc. It’s a great time to be in the community, I think.

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  3. I have found some parts of fandom to be highly inclusive, while others frankly cater to “Here WE are on top and get to be the ones dissing people.” The former can lead to awesome events in which everyone is different so everyone belongs. :D The latter can lead to things like that scene in the Fantastic Four movie where the geek and the jock were still hating on each other decades after highschool and people ended up DEAD and the bad guy ESCAPED. >_<

    Things you can do to lower barriers:
    * Write about all different kinds of characters. The more people see themselves reflected in entertainment, the more of them will get involved.
    * Especially, listen for people to complain "nobody writes X" or "all the portrayals of X suck." Write some great X! Apparently there's an underserved market of people who want X. Surely some of them have money that could be yours in exchange for X. MOAR GOODEEZ for everyone!
    * Buy and enjoy things by diverse authors. This widens your horizon, which is fun and healthy.
    * If you're an organizer, try to attract a diverse crowd. Send invitations to diverse speakers, and bait your offers with nice perks. Post announcements in diverse communities — put a flyer at the local QUILTBAG watering hole, put an ad in the Spanish newspaper, etc. Aim to have multiple people from each group, to avoid tokenism.
    * Any time you're at a gather, watch for people on the fringes. Approach gently and ask if they'd like to chat. Often folks are interested but just don't know how to break the ice.
    * Teach social skills and host mixers. Anyone from a disadvantaged group has a higher chance of missing out the opportunities that advantaged people get growing up. It's possible to patch that as adults, just takes a little extra work.
    * Any time you see or hear somebody picking on another person, intervene. That is not okay, and if bullies are consistently told that it's not okay, they will have less inclination to do it and fewer opportunities to get away with it.

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