So, very recently I posted this which contemplated the ‘obligation’ of those of us who have a voice in the public ear to be out about … ourselves, really.
After much thought and discussion I’ve decide that I agree with myself. I’ve no obligation whatsoever to say if I’m straight or gay, bi- or pansexual. If I’m married, single, dating, taken a vow of chastity (though in all sincerity I share Sally’s view of that) that’s my own business. Hell the only validity to saying if I’m male or female is because English has gendered pronouns; what anatomy I currently posses or have previously possessed is certainly no business to anyone except one who intends to make any use of that anatomy.
It can be argued that, were I gay or were I trans, or were I a particularly gifted gibbon that I ought to say so in order to show other gay writers, other trans writers, other gibbons that they too can be a published author. No. I can see a certain validity in that for things like acting or other things that truly put you in the public eye. Writing is nothing at all like that. I cite as my reference and infallible proof: Bill Watterson. This is a man who wrote a comic beloved by millions (billions?) through a number of years (decades?) and who some believe to be mythical as there is exactly one photograph that most anyone has ever seen and it’s been joked/rumoured that even his agent has no idea where he lives or what his phone number is. He could be a she under a pen name. We certainly know nothing about him – does he like men? Women? Sheep? Does he speak Welsh, Russian, or Portugese? Does he have testicles? No one knows … and few have any reason to care.
What Bill teaches us is that, when we are invisible creators, us writers, we are as much or more inspirational than when we are visible. Visible I’m clearly a 6′ tall transsexual lesbian gibbon with a unicorn horn and seven breasts. Invisible I’m whatever and whoever I need to be to make you feel better. I prefer semi-visible. I mean, we learn a little of Bill from his incomparable Calvin and Hobbes comics (if you have been under a rock and know not of what I speak I suggest you hie thee to the nearest place of obtainment and remedy this unspeakable deficiency with all available alacrity); just as we learn a little of any author by taking her collected works as a whole. I’ll talk about whole work versus single character/works later. We learn a little from his name and that one photograph. And we learn one more thing from his reclusiveness: clearly he is a shy or at least not terribly egotistical man.
These little clues tell us some things. Okay, he’s probably not a woman, he’s not a self-centred loudmouth, etc. and his characters tell us he’s probably a pretty swell and thoughtful person with a keen and well-read wit. Does this help you decide if a cisgender llamaphilic lesbian nanny goat can make it big in the comics world? Sort of, yes, actually – as I said, he proves that we’re anonymous behind our pages. People see us as our creations on the page, not as the people our families look at during dinner. Stephen King is a slightly known geekish face, a few people know he writes from his nightmares, and some know about his alcoholism – most people know him as a byline that scares the living shit out of them.
According to authors who’ve discussed it, yes, in the publishing industry there are agents, editors, publishing overlords, etc. who will take one sex or another more seriously than the opposite. SF tends to be dismissive of women is the biggest complaint, but men are sometimes given a little less attention in the romance universe, and people get funny ideas in mysteries and … stuff. But look around. There’re published women in SF (Elaine Cunningham, Andre Norton, etc.), men published under romance (Nicholas Sparks, lots of pseudonyms, etc.), Mary Shelly anyone? Lord Byron? No, in the end, the publishing world is wide open. For one thing, if you must, just do it yourself. Your work is what should matter.
My work shows that I’m sympathetic – be I an ally or member – of the LGBTQ community. My blogposts affirm this. I am colourblind (not in the disability sense, but in the racial sense) – to me a human is a human, their skin colour is nothing but melanin, I even spent formative years of my life somewhere that it was white people who were not the racial powerhouses and, in fact, were discriminated against and bullied – the people of Hawai’i haven’t forgot the whole annexed at gunpoint and the very dubious circumstances of the vote for statehood things. My name is in the feminine form.
People can make of that data, as they can with what they know of Bill Watterson, what they will. No, I’m not going to make an evangelical Christian fundamentalist with very strong anti-LGBT philosophies feel much of a connection with me or my characters, not unless they’re inclined to changing their minds or at least have an open mind for lesbian characters despite their Views against their ‘lifestyle choices’.
Those looking for a rolemodel … in writing your role model should be the text on the page. I’ve next to nothing whatsoever in common with Professor J R R Tolkien, the great man who brought us The Hobbit; I’ve little in common with C S Lewis, little in common with A A Milne or Ed Greenwood. Spider Robinson, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Terry Pratchett, Lawrence Block, or William Shatner. All of those are authors whose works I’ve enjoyed, authors who – along with many more – taught me to write by having themselves written and by my having read them and learned from those pages. I do not know them, I do not feel I know them, I do not feel I must know them. I do know Granny Weatherwax, Bilbo Baggins, Winnie the Pooh, Storm Silverhand, Lady Sally, HAL 9000, Bernie Rhodenbarr, Jake Cardigan, and Lucy Pevensie; they are the ones I met and the ones whose adventures I shared and share again & again. They are the ones who taught me what is possible and how to dream and hope. Those characters told me that it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman; they told me it doesn’t matter one way or the other who I love – just that I should love, and well; they taught me wonder, they taught me many things.
I think in most ways public figures only matter in what they do, not what they are. Exceptions – always exceptions – would be those who rely on others to see their dreams through, like actors. If, after coming out, Neil Patric Harris was never seen nor heard from again in Hollywood … well, that’s a pretty strong message. Thing is, yeah, it makes sense that he should be out, and his career being so strong is inspirational – despite being a married gay father he is a beloved STAR, but actors have directors and producers who can decide to never give them a part because “I just can’t work with someone with green eyes, oh God no! They’re really Satan come to Earth in disguise” and, necessarily, artistic pursuit is left open to some discrimination (hey, I’m sorry, if you’re not tall enough nor leggy enough you just can’t be a Radio City Rockette … the routines won’t work for it, learn ’em and start a competing group of shorter folk, might work though) so stupid discrimination gets by far too often; sad but true.
But as writers we’re not selling ourselves – recently popular advice to the contrary exists, but it’s bull as the good Mr Watterson so fabulously illustrates (uhm … no pun intended). We do not inspire with our selves, we inspire with our creations. Writer is a, largely, crappy job – pay sucks, it’s sometimes (for some, rather often) thankless, it’s lonely … it’s a lot of things, none of them glamorous. It is those who populate our pages they are our contributions to societal change and philosophical debate. Professor Tolkien may have been a force to be reckoned with in the world of academia, but that inspired people studying philology and myths; Bilbo Baggins inspired people, lots of them. Suddenly it didn’t matter how small or inexperienced you were, you could out riddle a voice in the dark, escape goblins, face down dragons, ride the skies with the eagles, meet elves, and live through the war of five armies – not bad for a timid little hobbit from The Shire. Classics have few (no?) LGBTQ characters … at one time, including them would have actually got the authors worse than just shunned and boycotted, so give ’em breaks. Today … today we have Lauren & Sally, we have Dumbledore (I’m sorry, but I was not surprised when Ms Rowling said he’s gay). We’re lacking, admittedly, in trans* representation. I’ve only got Sally’s cousin Joe, and he’s pretty minor. I’m sorry, I’ve just not met any trans characters in my head with a story to tell, just a few who exist as … decoration. Maybe that’ll change one day, I certainly hope so, it’d be interesting to see what stories they tell. I’m no expert, but I think it’s not unheard of in manga, for what it’s worth.
That doesn’t matter, though, today you write your story. You tell of the heroism of your pansexual Japanese trans woman, then you put it out there. The more who do this the more it becomes visible. Sooner or later someone else has to rise to the ranks of Pratchett and Rowling, King and Meyer … sooner or later no one will notice that a character in a story is a lesbian because it won’t be that important a detail, or that he’s transgender, or that she’s black, or that he’s Asian or … already that’s starting to happen, and it’s a Good Thing. The key isn’t to make the books about being black, or about being Asian, or about being a sentient dolphin – not that those books aren’t helpful too, but they’re not necessarily as generally accessible as books not about those things – it’s to make books about fighting dragons, about saving the princess, about climbing Everest, about life but with characters who aren’t status quo. Few, if any, who read The Hobbit were, themselves, hobbits … and it wasn’t exactly about him being a hobbit, it was about him being on an adventure despite all the things that define a hobbit, and proving that Gandalf was right in suggesting that one, this one in particular, be brought along; and who has never, not once in their lives, had something they had to be overcome, especially something that was no handicap whatsoever but rather only perceived as so by the short-sighted?
That is the obligation of a writer, I think, if we wish to be inspiring and to Change The World – we need to all have more Bilbo Bagginses. We all need more Tiggers, and more Aslans, more Prince Thorks, and more Tee Tuckers. It’s them who spread the message. If your book preaches to the choir, you do a service and your book is important – it tells those who may feel excluded and alone that they are not alone; please by all means do still write and keep on writing them. But if you don’t want to write a book about someone being gay, but you want to have a gay character … well … that’s a damned fine idea too – that‘s leading by example.
I think I’ve wandered and meandered long enough. I’m going to stop here and hit publish. I’m tired and almost afraid to actually spellcheck or proofread this.
- Bill Watterson will draw the Angoulême Festival poster and write more intros (comicsbeat.com)
- Art from Watterson’s comics return up for auction (usnews.com)
- In the Spotlight Now: Nicole Gibbons (potterybarn.com)
- Pastis confirms Watterson drew ‘Pearls Before Swine’ this week (robot6.comicbookresources.com)
- Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did. (l1b3ra70r.wordpress.com)