Back when "War Games" was first wrapping up, I mentioned casually a few times that I couldn't really deal, at the time, with the other thing I loathed about the storyline. You know, the thing which *wasn't* Steph.
The thing which was -- *is* -- Orpheus.
There's a reason for that, and there's a reason why I couldn't deal enough at the time even to rant effectively, and that reason is all wrapped up in, well --
Race, Genre Fiction, Fandom, and the Confluence of Self-Destructive Behaviors with Self-*Protective* Behaviors.
One of the things I tend to bring up whenever the issue of misogyny comes up in fandom is the very personal and very true *truth* that, long before I hit puberty, even, I had accepted the fact that I would never truly see myself in the genre (fantasy for the most part) fiction and other media that I adored.
There was just no room in there for people who looked like me, unless we were the mysterious 'Other' thrown in as a dash of -- heh -- color in the creators' world-building schemes. The people who lived on that other continent/on the other side of that big desert/whatever who would never actually be seen. In fact, that was -- with all too rare exceptions -- probably the best I could hope for, as the alternative was to have the people who looked anything like me be -- just as an example -- minions to the inevitable fucking Dark Lord.
I accepted this, and I moved on -- for values of "moved on" which included the explicit avoidance -- on my part -- of the things which *did* include characters of color, because it was (*is*, still) far easier to deal with being metatextually absent than to be Sambo with a mystical scimitar.
I think this is pretty obvious when you look at my fannish history, but, you know, it's actually a little more complicated than that.
To pick a couple of examples -- well, there is very little wrong/'wrong' with the characters of Charles Gunn on AtS and Teal'c on SG-1. Neither of them -- to the best of my knowledge -- ever really (speaking relatively) fall into the godawful tarpit (heh) of racial stereotyping, and both of them even manage to rise above the whitewashing that afflicted the SV version of Pete Ross.1
Really, they should be kind of a holy grail by the definitions I've flailed about above. They should've been, and they should still *be*, but -- well. It's complicated. Because I came to know those shows as a *fan*, and -- for me, anyway -- there is an objective difference between consuming media alone and consuming media with the full, explicit, and inescapable knowledge that there are people right there (for certain values, etc.) who are also consuming the same media and talking about it, and -- yay! -- writing fan-fiction!
The *complication* comes in...
Well, let me backtrack a bit. Long before blogging/livejournal made it much harder to remain ignorant about the demographics of various fan-groups, back in the days when we, as fans, almost never communicated outside of mailing lists, newsgroups, private e-mails, and all-too-rare conventions...
Well. Some of us were communicating a little more than that. A lot more. Some of us... here, have a typical conversation:
Te: "DUDE I FOUND ANOTHER ONE OF US."
Fan-of-color B: "SERIOUSLY?! WHERE?!"
We knew who we were. We knew what we were doing, what we were writing, what we were watching. And, periodically, we would find each other. Just to -- well, to bask in being of-color together. Is that disturbing? No, strike that, I don't actually care if you find it disturbing. It's the truth, and it was -- *is* -- necessary.
Because there's a difference between *having* cool characters of color and having *fannish* cool characters of color. There's an objective difference -- yes, even now, Virginia -- between the way we as fans (*especially* slash fans) treat characters of color. Why, in some respects...
In some respects, it's as if these admittedly awesome characters of color simply aren't on the same *shows*. Alternately, it's as if these characters only exist on those parts of the show that we, as fans, are not capable of being fannish about.
Probably my favorite ("favorite") example of that remains a story I read back in SV fandom by a writer who had all the "chops" needed to be a good fannish writer. (By my own definitions.) To wit, she had the gift of transferring the 'voices' of the characters on-screen to the page, as well as that all-too-nebulous sense of atmosphere, of place. She was writing, by God, a *Smallville* story, and any fan of the show would've been able to recognize it as such, even though the plot never would've made it onto the show. A good writer, okay?
Except for one little (HUGE) problem: While every other character this writer mentioned was noticeably -- marvelously! -- themselves, while every other character was written with their *precise* voice (proving that the writer had The Gift)... Pete Ross might as well have been Random Young Black Urban Male, sub-category #3: "obviously intelligent, yet utterly incapable of not peppering every sentence spoken aloud with Black-American-specific slang."
Or, as I reacted at the time, "WHY THE FUCK DOES PETE SPEAK *JIVE*?!"
Because, you know, if you wanted to comment about the curious lack of *any* textual mention of the character's racial background... turning him into a stereotype = NOT THE MOTHERFUCKING WAY.
The same thing, by the way? Absolutely happened multiple times with Gunn.
When you add this issue -- so common that my fellow fans-of-color *all* have the same horror story to tell about one fandom or another -- to the undeniable fact that, in any given fandom *with* characters of color there will be *objectively* fewer fan-fiction stories written about them full stop...
Well, do you see where I'm going with this?
Wait, I don't think you do. Because -- this post isn't, actually, meant to harangue fandom as a whole for ignoring characters of color. I'm not here to scold. This is -- this is *personal*, okay?
*This* -- is one of the primary reasons why I pulled away from the larger fandoms I had adored to focus on not just DC comics, but on one particular *part* of the DC universe.
One of the *Whitest* parts of the DCU.
I'm not leading the charge, here, okay? I *can't*. I tried -- and then when no_absolutes asked for the mantle, I handed it over *at speed*.
Because I can't do it.
Let me backtrack a little more, k?
One of the most intelligent therapists I've ever met just happened to specialize in working with people with mild to moderate cases of OCD. It wasn't My Big Problem, but, you know, I happen to have a couple of the standard obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and I figured... well, why not take advantage of this?
(It was... something of an additional 'seminar' sort of thing for the group therapy program I was in at the time.)
This brilliant woman would first focus on making sure we understood that many of these behaviors were built out of a need to protect ourselves, to cope, to *survive*. Basically, that we'd built ourselves suits of armor because, well, people kept *poking us with swords*.
We needed to forgive -- and *congratulate* -- ourselves for how effective our armor had been, because berating ourselves for it was singularly inefficient and honestly unfair.
Once *that* was in place, she could work on us a bit at a time. "Hey, that's a nice suit of armor you got there, but... well. Do you see any swords around right now? And, while I'm at it -- you're getting kind of nasty heat rash under there, and... well. The armor doesn't do a *thing* for your coloring, honey."
Was that not awesome?
It opened new vistas for me therapeutically that had nothing to *do* with OCD, and, right now, it's giving me the context I need to think about my problematic relationship with race and fandom.
Because my suit of armor allowed me to *not* subject myself to the scimitar-wielding Sambos, and, once I got into fandom... it allowed me to absent myself from the range of all those otherwise wonderful writers who could not ever *stop* themselves from turning people like Gunn...
... into a scimitar-wielding Sambo.
It allowed me to, when it became necessary, forbid myself to watch SG-1 -- despite the fact that I enjoyed the show -- because of the constant, inescapable sense that the fannish zeitgeist was built on the assumption that Teal'c just wasn't *there*. Not as much as Jack, Daniel, or Sam anyway. It allowed me to stay *here*, in fandom-in-general, without needing to beat you (certain values of 'you') all to death.
Self-protection: I *need* genre. I *need* fandom. I *need* to be able to have both in the emotionally safest way possible.
And yet... what *about* that heat-rash? What *about* the fact that suits of armor are fucking terrible at showing off my impressive cleavage?
Because wouldn't it have been nice to write more Smallville fan-fiction? More Angel? Certainly, any number of people have told me explicitly that they wished I had/would. I really *liked* the episodes of SG-1 I watched. Is it any kind of 'better' that I've forbidden myself that show "just" because the fandom made me upset? Leave genre aside -- I did the *same* thing with House.
Now, see, let me tell you all Te's little secret for judging -- yes, *judging* -- how a fandom is negotiating issues of race. It's all about those pretty little 100x100 pictures so many of us are so desperately addicted to.
Pretty much as soon as the character of Ronon Dex appeared on SGA? So did all those pictures of him. It's inescapable, even on *my* f-list. And that? Is a beautiful thing. I didn't really care for the show when I tried to watch it, but that's cool -- I can believe, in my heart of hearts, that y'all are doing your level best to get Ronon all the love he apparently deserves. Why, you're even *slashing* him! Right and left!
Did that sound snarky? It wasn't meant to. I am being dead fucking serious when I say that it makes me happy beyond *words* to know that, at this point, it's just not that hard to find tasty and well-written Ronon slash, even though I'll probably never seek it out for myself.
Contrast that with House fandom... well. They're in season three over there. How many of you not watching the show -- and not reading the few things I said about it here before I ran screaming -- had any idea that this man was on it? That he was, in fact, as much a part of the ensemble as Cameron or Chase?
That he probably got *more* screen-time than Wilson -- certainly, this was the case in much of *first* season?
Now, I'm still -- *still* -- not trying to give anyone shit, here. We have a limited number of icons to use, and I am *still not leading the charge*. I am not holier than any of you, okay?
I'm just saying -- just as the icons tell a story about the kind of fan-fiction one can find in SGA, so do they tell a story about the kind of fan-fiction one can find in House.
My suit of armor -- my self-protection --
I left. I left and I won't come back, even though -- again, I loved the show.
The problem is that there are still swords I need to avoid. I still *need* my suit of armor, even though this heat rash is getting *painful*.
Even though it's hard to tell, sometimes, if the heat-rash (not being able to watch certain shows) is more painful than the swords (being subjected to metatextual racial redaction/Sambocation).
Six of one, eh?
So our heroine skips off to a place where there have never been *any* major characters of color save for Cassandra Cain, who had been neatly designed to make the lack of sensible (or, you know, *any*) mentions of her racial heritage not just reasonable, but necessary. A whitewashing one could enjoy without guilt, really -- because she's far more of an alien than an Asian human being.
All that and --
Well, it seemed perfect, you know? Because while all of the major characters were White in a way that just wouldn't fly in *any* other medium -- hell, it wouldn't fly in a different section of the DCU -- we still had a very nice selection indeed of minor characters. Characters who could both be of color *and* it was fine -- it was *right*! -- for them to almost never get anywhere *near* center stage -- not in the canon and *not* in the fan-fiction.
That's *key*! It's *okay* that there never was much nor will there ever *be* much Renee Montoya fan-fiction. There is, in fact, *enough* Cass Cain fan-fiction. Some might say there's too *much* Lady Shiva fan-fiction. (Not *me*, but 'too much' in terms of her level of canonical importance to the day to day lives of the characters/functioning of the Batverse as a whole.) The Batverse section of the DCU had a kind of sociopolitical *safety* that I'd been craving like oxygen.2
The operative word, of course, being "had."
I can't even tell you how *happy* I was when I saw that they'd brought Orpheus back from metatextual obscurity. Black male characters of *any* sort had always been at critically low supply in the DCU, and he was neat, and had interestingly non-standard-male-hero *things* -- that's him in the pretty blue tights dancing about in my mood icon -- and the *way* they reintroduced him was just perfect:
It was understood and *right* that he would show up as a part of the secondary/larger ensemble, in the second circle of Gotham heroes and vigilantes, and thus not likely to *be* anywhere save for DETECTIVE COMICS and, perhaps, the occasional cameo in GOTHAM CENTRAL.
He would be -- *there*. And that was *cool*, because it allowed the writers to acknowledge that there were Black people living in Gotham, and that some of those Black people committed crime that needed to be stopped. Yay! Instant -- *instant* -- broader range of characters of color and thus broader range of potential storylines. And then! They gave him his own sidekick/partner! Who happened to be a large Black woman who spoke a lot of jive and it MADE SENSE FOR HER TO DO SO. (a. It was a very specifically *outdated* sort of jive, because b. she'd spent much of the past several years in a monastery away from the world. SO COOL.)
No -- SO COOL, WITHOUT PARENTHESES.
But... let's look at it, shall we? Because, as it turned out, they brought Orpheus and Onyx back *just* to help set up the "War Games" storyline, so that Orpheus could be horribly murdered to help set up the horrible murder of Steph, to put angst into Cass Cain's life, so that she could then be turned evil, so that the powers that be could bring back...
A White Batgirl.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the Batverse, the fabulous (Black male) character of Cris Allen has also been recently killed off, apparently to help give some "needed" angst to Renee Montoya (am I supposed to be happy that it's a Latina woman's *turn* to be pushed into the spotlight by the use of a character-of-color's/female character's death?) to amp up the... whatever between her and the mysterious new White Batgirl.
Meanwhile, Jim Gordon actually retired a few years back. They introduced the character of Commissioner Akins to replace him, and then proceeded to do next to nothing *with* the guy other than to set-up Jim's triumphant return.
1. Two dead Black men.
2. No more character-of-color Batgirl.
3. One Black strawman.
Are you seeing my angst?
Now, the thing is? I'm being a little unfair, actually. Because if you've spent any time studying comics at all, it becomes clear that, periodically, there's a massive changeover of editors and creators, and each new set of powers-that-be get the chance to remake the universe. It's just kind of a *thing*, especially in terms of the DCU. Every 10-15 years, a *different* subset of DC fans get to be enraged and bitter.
I am not averse to this -- it means the canon I get to play with as a fangirl is unbelievably varied. It's huge, wild, and strange, and I wouldn't be *me* if I didn't get off on the fact that the state of DC canon means that I can write an AU solely by using canon from two separate comics published in the same month and pretending (oh, how giddy! how wild!) that they exist in the same universe, as opposed to in slightly different universes, which is what I'm *supposed* to believe. It's *fun*, okay?
More than that, if it wasn't for fanboys-and-girls deciding that "no, what we *really* want is to make the DCU look and feel more like it did several years ago," we never would've gotten the wonder that is the Timm/Dini/Romano DC toonverse, which, as I've stated a million different times in a million different ways, nothing less than an extended remix love-letter to the late pre-Crisis and early post-Crisis (the eighties) era of the DCU.
It's possible I'd give up a *limb* before I gave up toonverse, you know?
At the same time, though... well, let's face it: The comicsverse version of rolling back the clock is motherfucking *problematic*.
Do I think the powers that be are racist sekrit neo-Nazis? Well, really not.
I do, however, think they've shown a blisteringly *profound* lack of forethought in their methodology. I wonder if they've even *realized* what they've done here -- and I've deliberately left out the misogynistic aspects of their metatextual time travel, but just trust me for now that they're there, k?
It's bad out there right now. It's *bad*, and it's socio-politically unsafe, and it's that much worse that these crimes -- these *crimes* -- are being committed by people who not only *should* know better, but, demonstrably in many cases, *do* know better.
They're just not looking at the big picture here, and while this is something everyone is subject to now and again... well, I'm sorry. If you're writing in a medium explicitly designed to cater to the young -- when not explicitly aimed at *children* -- you do, in fact, have a larger responsibility. You can't just fuck around with this shit, man, and if you do...
If you do, then shame *on* you.
Because this is personal, yeah -- but the personal *is* the political, and we *can't* forget that. We can't let this slide.
My suit of armor might still be necessary, but it's getting old. It's getting *worn*. And those swords don't hurt any less.
And even though I still can't lead any charges, I also can't just stay quiet. Even though I tried. I'm married to this fandom, because there's still so much more *here* for me than in any other fandom I've tried. I actually deliberately tried to *leave* -- several times -- but, at this point? I'd have better luck quitting smoking. I'd probably have better luck quitting *sex*.
I'm married to this fandom, but I'm not going to pretend my husband isn't an ignorant, abusive sonofabitch.
And that -- right there -- is my other problem. Because one of the curious things about DC fandom is that there are any number of people here who'd apparently like me to do just that.
"You're not giving the new canon a fair shake!"
Honey, the new canon is built on a steaming pile of racist, misogynist shite.
"Yeah, there's a lot of problematic stuff, but it was just there to get us all to the big new ideas, which are really cool in a lot of ways!"
See above. And if I didn't let Tolkien fuck with me, why would I cut fucking comic books more slack?
"You're asking for too much/you know they didn't *mean* to be racist or misogynist!"
I don't care. I. Don't. Care. Accidental misogyny is still misogyny. Accidental racism is still racism.
There's no safe space for me, anymore. And I have to admit -- I have to *own* -- that the only reason why it seemed like there *used* to be a safe space...
... is because I was pretending that it was okay to stumble around in a full suit of armor all the damned time.
In the end, nothing has changed. I still need fandom. I still need *DC* fandom. And while I don't think this essay is going to change anything, or help anything, or help *anyone* other than me...
Well, this *is* my journal. And, if this gets me any closer to being able to take the armor off someday... well, no.
Even if I never *do* take it off, I'll know that I've owned up to it. And that's good enough for me.
1. This post by annavtree has some very interesting points about why just having a Black face (or Asian, or whatever-of-color) really isn't enough, sometimes.
It *can* work just fine -- for certain neurotic/self-destructive/self-protectiv
Kids, don't try this (ever) at home!
2. So, about the word 'enough.' Basically, I'm talking about highly subjective and *suspect* -- but still, in my view, valid -- equation I haven't been able to stop myself from doing since the old days of my fannishness.
Variable A: How many characters of color are on a given show/in a given book/whatever?
Variable B: How central are those characters of color to the *emotional* plot of the show/book/whatever? (Kendra? Not so much central to the emotional arc of BtVS season two. Gunn? Unbelievably vital to the emotional arc of AtS season two.)
Variable C: How "'shippy" are the characters of color with the other characters? If you replaced the character of color in Scene X with one of the other major White characters, how much fan-fiction would you reasonably expect to be produced?
Newish-to-Te Variable D (still in beta): Is the show an ensemble, or does it have two primary characters and some variety of a host of secondary characters? Is the character of color a primary or secondary character?
Still very *much* in beta Variable D-sub-1: Does the fandom treat the show as a 'primary character(s)' show even if it *is* an ensemble? (More witter on this here.)
If A = 1 or more, B = very, C = very, and D = ensemble, then your fandom has a problem if there aren't at least a *few* stories 'shipping the character of color with one of the other characters.
This is not to say that I expect there to be an equal number of Jack/Teal'c stories as Jack/Daniel. I do, however, think it wouldn't have been so much to ask for there to have been a sizeable *fraction* to play with. By which I mean, no less than, say, five percent of the regular slash writers writing slash about Teal'c *regularly*.
Subjective, yes. You can't fucking tell me it isn't valid, though -- so don't fucking try. (Why D-sub-1 still doesn't let SG-1 fandom off Te's hook: Sam fan-fiction. It's there, and so are Sam icons. Far, far more than Teal'c.)
AtS as a fandom? Did pretty well, all things considered. Didn't quite make it, but still. SGA seems to be cruising along. In terms of the DCU, and the Batverse in particular...
Well, despite the fact that, prior to *right now*, Renee hadn't truly been emotionally central to any storylines, it's still not *that* hard to find fan-fiction about her. Ditto with Cass Cain, with the additional yay/'yay' that once she *did* become emotionally central to a plot arc -- the War cycle -- the amount of fan-fiction about her made the expected jump.
ETA: So you've made it through all of this and feel the need to tell me that you're not a racist. Why don't you go read brown_betty on the subject first? Shit, but some of y'all make me tired.