Lots of people have read, seen, or heard about the article posted earlier this week on xojane by K.T. Bradford. Her challenge to “Stop Reading Straight White Male Cis” has been discussed ad nauseum in and out of writer’s circles.
But I just wasn’t digging K.T.’s label for me. It got me thinking: what should I be? I think I’ve got it, but it’s a bit long for the dust jacket:
WARNING: Gaelish Sarcasticus Phallus Domesticatus
There. I want my handful of fans to know: it’s totally cool to challenge yourself to read my drivel.
Okay, I don’t agree with the outrage in certain circles. Everyone needs to broaden their reading horizons. Get a grip. What I do disagree with is the practice of labeling people at all.
Tribalism is an ugly thing. Go check the comments section on that article. Even Neil’s Twitter feed went to shit briefly when he mentioned the article and noted he wasn’t outraged.
Some will blame white dudes for whining. Others will blame the non-white dudes for hypocrisy. The finger pointing starts, the trolls begin to breed, and pretty soon nobody gives a hoot about that well-intentioned article with the click-bait title.
What everyone seems to be missing is that while you’re all hurling insults and upvotes, there’s really only one problem: Neil Gaiman.
Wait! Why is everyone picking on Neil? WE LOVE NEIL!
Neil Gaiman may be a poster child for social activism. He may be a champion for diversity and an unapologetic feminist. His writing may be critically acclaimed, popularly lauded, and just plain AWESOME. But he’s also the poster child for an industry.
The very same industry that has been selling the white-washed view of the world. The very industry that is reluctant to take risks with alternative stories and authors.
As an unabashed fanboy, I’ll be the first to say that Neil deserves every bit of success he’s received. But my point is, the problem isn’t with an entire class of people Neil happens to belong to. This problem isn’t solved or even made remotely better by “not reading straight white males cis for a year”.
I was repeatedly reminded how my whiter-than-the-driven-snow book, Crimson Son, wasn’t “marketable”. Told how boys in the target audience “didn’t read”. Too “niche”. An unclear audience (i.e. not straight up YA.) There was a certain thing the traditional publishers wanted to push, and my odd little book wasn’t quite it.
And here’s the deal – a lot of fiction that has even a subtle focus on gender identity, or sexuality, or even minorities will hear some of the same damn things. Over and over and over.
Publishers that big are about money. They want the broadest audience with the fattest wallets and a story engineered to as close a commercial sure-thing as they can get. They find guys like Neil Gaiman and print money around them. He writes stuff that resonates with lots of people, not the ever smaller groups we keep trying to fracture ourselves into, and people eat it up.
And you know what? I’m fine with that. I’ll gladly take my quirky shit elsewhere and pray people find me in the endless sea of words. The digital revolution has unleashed the floodgates for better and worse. Gate keepers, perception managers, be damned.
Does that mean I don’t think the entertainment industry needs a big ‘ol kick in the ass? Hell no. In our books, our movies, our comics, audiences are demanding to see a world that looks more like them. We’re waking up to the reality. It’s slow and painful and at times, it requires these labels to get the point across, but we’re getting there.
Does this mean I think people who aren’t “Straight White Male Cis” can’t write things that resonate with broader groups? Hell to the double no. They can absolutely trump in human experience what most white guys in America have to say. But too often, like with the article in question, their platform becomes about their label and not about their words. Their appearance and not deed. Their voice gets lost under all this chest beating and posturing as the tribes go to war.
We’re all human. All individuals. That’s all you really need to know. Tell me an amazing story about you. Find some way to get it to me – the big machine or the tiny one. I hope I find it and good luck to anyone, no matter their label, foolish enough to try this writing thing. We all have voices that need to be heard.