Tag Archive | gay

Oppression Olympics, part 2: What’s so radical about being yourself?

“There's nothing wrong with you. There's a lot wrong with the world you are in.” —Chris Coffer

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For longer than I’ve been alive one of the lines of dispute within what we would now call the LGBT+ Equal Rights movement can be characterized as the Gay Assimilationists vs the Radical Queers. Gay Assimilationists tend to define equality as the integration of non-heterosexual people within existing cultural norms and institutions, while Radical Queers tend to define equality as changing cultural norms and institutions so that all sexual orientations, genders, and presentations of such are welcomed and supported. The Radical Queers reject integration because they see it as embracing and approving of the toxic values that created sexual and gender-based oppression to begin with.

This divide, or course, exists on a spectrum. The beliefs of most people within the community fall somewhere between the extremes, but, enough are on one side or other of the middle that arguments happen. For instance, I’ve been accused of being an assimilationist because Michael and I got legally married once we were able to do so, and I watch football. I’ve also been called out in the other direction because I wear earrings, the color purple, rainbows, and call myself ‘queer.’

The tension between these two ideas plays out in many (and sometimes weird) ways—and not just within the community. There are still plenty of people (straight and not), who insist that LGBT+ rights advocates should be civil, and politely make their case about why we deserve equality. They wrongly insist that the radical approach never works. They completely ignore the actual history of the movements: decades of work by so-called homophile organizations in the U.S. and Europe politely advocating for decriminalization—always careful for the men to dress in suits and ties, and the women to were skirts and blouses—and never making any progress. It was the riots by drag queens, transgender people of color, and the like that finally made any change happen at all.

Yes, the other approach works well for raising money and countering backlash to each step forward. So both approaches have their place in the long running battle for equality.

Which isn’t to say that only the non-conforming people matter, or that there is some sort of meaning to the question of whether one person is gayer than another (despite some people trying to drag that distinction into some political races this year), it’s mostly a recognition of the old proverb that the “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Both kinds of LGBT/queer person are valid and just as “gay” as the other.

In the last few years as a small number of mostly-gender-conforming male professional athletes have decided to come out of the closet, you see various media people calling them trailblazers whose bravery will somehow make it easier for non-heterosexual kids to be themselves. Ignoring that fact that the actual trailblazers were blazing those trails for many years. It’s not the macho professional male athlete coming out in the twenty-teens who is leading the way, they are trailing far, far in the dust behind the femmy boys and glittery street queens and butch dykes and trans people of all types who led the way at Stonewall and in the years immediately following. And as has been demonstrated many times, no matter how unthreatening, conventional, and mainstream non-heterosexual people are, as soon as they dare to come out of the closet someone is ready with the slurs and attacks.

The two philosophies I mentioned at the beginning (Assimilationist/Radical) roughly map to two distinctive kinds of experiences many queer people lived through growing up:

  • Some of us never fit in. We were bullied by classmates (as well as adults) for the way we talked, or the way we walked, or the things we expressed interest in.
  • Others blended in so well that when they eventually did come out, people who knew them when they were younger express genuine and emphatic shock.

Make no mistake: neither kind of kid had it easy. The ones who did blend in realized, at some point, that they were different, and they lived in just as much fear as those of us who couldn’t figure out why we were constantly being called all those homophobic slurs. Both kinds internalized homophobia leading to feelings of self-loathing.

Those of us who couldn’t blend in are somewhat more likely to focus on trying to make society more accepting of all differences, while those who did blend in seem to be more likely to think our goal should be to convince straight people that we are no different from them.

But it isn’t an exact correlation.

I’m saying all of this for context. Now, let’s move on to my point: any time in the last few months that I have criticized the policies and statements of presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg I get accused of saying he isn’t gay enough. As if that phrase even means anything. That’s not what’s happening. My beef with Buttigieg is very few of his statements about policies would sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. Most wouldn’t sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Mayor Pete is not a progressive politician. He doesn’t advocate positions that I believe will move us forward. At best, his detailed policies look to undo most of the harm Trump has done, and otherwise only promise to not to let things get much worse.

We can do better than that.

Now, I have some theories about why he doesn’t see how harmful late stage capitalism is to most working class and middle class people of every gender, orientation, and race. And I have some theories on why many of his responses as mayor to issues related to marginalized communities were tone deaf or outright dismissive. The quickest summation is: he is unaware of how the privileges he has had (being a man in our society, being white, having university-educated parents, being from a family well-to-do enough to send him to private school, and then to Harvard, and yes, being the kind of gay who can pass for straight when he wants) has protected him from the problems those less fortunate have had to deal with.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s gay enough. That does means I don’t think he is either self-aware enough nor empathetic enough to be a good president.

Time, time, time, see what’s become of us… or, Long Term Relationships from a Queer perspective

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A couple of years ago I was chatting with a new co-worker, who noticed the photo of my husband on my desk. The picture was taken on our wedding day. Michael was wearing his top hat and other formal wear, and a friend was helping him tie his cravat. The co-worker asked who the person in the picture was, I said it was my husband, and the co-worker asked, “How long have you been married?” And I said that we had been together (at that point) nearly 20 years, but had only legally been married for 5 years. The co-worker looked confused, and then asked, “Why did you wait so long?” To which I replied, “Because it wasn’t legal for us to get married until 2012.” The co-worker’s eyes went wide, and then they said (in what I interpreted as a very embarrassed tone of voice), “Oh, right. Um, yeah, that makes sense.”

And that 2012 date was for the state of Washington. For the majority of the U.S. marriage was still not available to same sex couples until the Supreme Court ruling in 2015.

I told you that story so I can tell you this one:

A couple of weeks ago I was busy at work updating documents. I had to type the day’s date several times, and one of those times it struck me, “Oh! Wow! Today’s the anniversary of our first date.” It was, specifically, the 22nd anniversary of our first date. As it happened, we already had plans to meet a bunch of friends a couple of days later, at which event I was already planning to hand out some Christmas presents that had not be collected at the party, and a birthday present, and other things, so during my lunch break that day, I ran out to a store and also purchased an anniversary card to give to Michael, along with a silly present to give him with the card (I also ordered a couple the more substantial gifts online).

As it happened, that same day, while typing the date into a database at his workplace, Michael also remembered that it was the anniversary of our first date. He went online later and ordered an anniversary present for me. And, yes, we do that kind of weird parallel thinking a lot, and every time it happens, I remember all the times that close friends said (that year that we finally got to marry for real) that it was a little strange to think of us as newlyweds, because we had seemed to be an old married couple for so very long before hand.

I understand that not many people who have been in long-term relationships remember the exact date of their first date, nor the date of when they first met, et cetera. One reason that we do is because for most of history, queer relationships have been excluded from the societally-approved institutions related to anniversaries. So, for a few years, we celebrated the anniversary of our first date as our anniversary as a couple.

Then, the company I was working for decided to allow same sex partner benefits but only if you registered with some sort of government agency, and it so happened that the City of Seattle was offering such a registry (though it conveyed no legal benefits), so we filed the appropriate paperwork so I could get Michael on my medical and dental… and then a few years after that the State of Washington offered a similar registry, though initially with virtually no legal rights, but we signed up for it anyway, and so on…

So, technically we have a bunch of anniversaries… but which one to celebrate? And that question isn’t trivial. Go back to the story I started with. Without really thinking about it, a person who had just met me had asked how long I’d been married. That is an extremely common question for people who are just getting to know each other to ask once they find out you are in a relationship. And humans are social animals, and social customs often have a much stronger impact on one’s success, health, and similar things than mere laws.

I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been together for 22 years—if for no other reason than that I know what a complete jerk I can be sometimes (I really don’t know why he puts up with me sometimes!). I’m also extremely happy that we were able to get legally married at last, and getting to spend that day with so many friends that we love was just incredible.

There are still people who think that long-term queer relationships don’t exist, or are so rare that they don’t matter. The fact that the people most likely to publicly declare that are pundits and politicians who have divorced and re-married many times (and often have been proven to have engaged in a lot of affairs along the way) for some reason almost never gets reported. Let alone the sociological and psychological damage we’re all operating under because of decades of bullying, discrimination, hatred, and simple erasure.

That graph I include above is informative, but also a bit misleading. That last bit of the graph shouldn’t be green, IMHO, because it is still legal in at least 28 states to fire someone (or refuse to rent a home to them, et cetera) just because they are gay. And don’t get me started on all the state and local officials in various places that are trying to undo the marriage ruling, or at least ignore it.

And for some perspective, just 35 years ago 60 percent of Americans thought it should be a crime for gay and lesbian people to date, and as of last year that number is still 23%! That’s just dating, not marriage!

Some people, like the co-worker in my opening anecdote, simply aren’t aware of how recent any legal or societal acceptance has been (and are also frequently clueless about how much still exists). In some cases, that lack of awareness are exacerbated by the histrionics that some bigots have gone into every single time we made any progress at all. It’s easy to think that because the bigots were screaming about us destroying marriage for two decades before we actually started getting that right to marry, that we’ve had the right longer. And a lot of people still don’t realize that in 28 states it is completely legal for an employer to fire someone simply because they suspect they might be gay.

We’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go. Fortunately, several of us have demonstrated that we’re in it for the long haul.

Confessions of a self-reconstructed queer

“Your idea of me is not my responsibility to live up to.”

“Your idea of me is not my responsibility to live up to.”

One of the stories of the week in the most recent Friday Five was a link to a series of tweets where Alexander Leon, a writer and human right activist, talked about an aspect of coming out that lots of people don’t understand, and many queer people seldom talk about. The tweets were an attempt to sum out an essay he had written but had never gotten published. Towleroad has subsequently published the entire essay (along with some cute yet informative pictures from Leon’s childhood): Out of the Closet and Into the Fire — How I Stopped Performing and Fought to Become Myself.

Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation & prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.
—Alexander Leon

This is a topic I’ve touched on a few times before, but usually buried in a discussion about people who were part of our lives when we were closeted and how they react when we come out. Specifically, the idea that some of our loved ones didn’t actually love our true self, but rather they loved the mask or facade (or as Leon calls it, armor) that we had adopted in an attempt to protect ourselves from the bullying as well as the much more subtle forms of homophobia.

That particular bit manifests in many ways. Some of them talk about how we’ve changed so much they don’t recognize us any more. Some of them get annoyed (or worse) any time we mention anything that reminds them we’re queer. And I do mean anything. “Why do you have to keep calling him your husband?” “Because that’s who he is? Would you be happy if I started referring to your spouse as ‘your friend’?”

Our family, our friends, are often not aware that life after the closet isn’t the simple relinquishing of our previous self and the effortless taking up of a new-and-improved queer persona, but rather a complex and arduous process of unlearning the often toxic ways in which we have dealt with negative feelings about ourselves and our place in the world. They see the closet door wide open and don’t understand how we could still be hurting.
—Alexander Leon

When, in the past, I’ve called it a mask, that implies that unlearning those coping/hiding behaviors is as simple as taking the mask off. Even the analogy of armor is somewhat misleading—unless you think of it as a kind of cyberpunk armor, which computer chips are surgically embedded in our bodies and wires go through us to connect to and control portions of the armor. It isn’t as simple as just taking off a set of armor and putting on a new ensemble of clothes. I don’t think it’s an accident that a disproportionate number of gay men claim the Star Trek: Voyager character Seven of Nine as one of their favorite characters.

It isn’t a simple process. One reason it is so difficult is because the false self we were constructing wasn’t just meant to fool potential bullies—we were also desperately trying to fool ourselves. That leaves us living in a super-charged imposter syndrome.

It’s not fun. I am deliriously happy with most aspects of my life. I’ve been successful in my career. I have somehow managed to get married to the most capable man in the world (who also happens to be incredibly funny, sweet, kind, smart—as more than one friend has said, he’s awesome and gives great hugs). I have amazing, talented friends.

But…

I’ve been completely out of the closet for just a bit over 28 years, now, and I still occasionally catch myself deflecting and dissembling in certain circumstances. There are still times when I find myself asking why I said something that I know I don’t really agree with or care about, and then realizing it’s on one of those topics—things someone once told me I’m supposed to like because that’s what men are interested in, or something I’m not supposed to like because it’s “girly.”

Which is really wild coming from a guy who was feeling proud of the big sparkly purble rhinestone earrings I’d picked to go with the dangly purple-wires-twisted-into-the-shape-of-steaming-coffee-mug earrings a friend gave me for Christmas; proud because more than one stranger I ran into that day told me that they liked my earrings.

Feelings are, by definition, irrational. One’s identity is a complex combination of feelings, thoughts, memories, and a whole bunch of subconscious supplements. Becoming who we are is an ongoing process of discovery and re-invention. It isn’t easy, but things that are worthwhile seldom are.

When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly face…

Some years ago I found myself in a weird conversation, trying to explain what it was about a certain kind of holiday movie that my Mom loves—she records dozens of them off of certain cable channels and likes to re-watch them. They make my skin crawl, and when I was trying to explain why, the friend kept pointing to a lot of Christmas movies I love that, to them, induced the same sort of eye-rolling they experienced when I described the ones I don’t like.

There were a couple of reasons for the communication mismatch, but I’ve since realized that the biggest one was that I hadn’t correctly identified what was fundamentally common to all these movies that bugged me: most of them are built around some variation of the premise that the only place where people who truly love and understand you is the community in which you grew up.

And for a whole lot of us—especially queer people—that is the absolute opposite of truth.

The real truth is that, here in the big city far away from any of the small towns I grew up in, I am far less likely to have a stranger react with obvious disgust if I introduce my husband as my husband—let alone have them immediately correct me that Michael is my friend. But that’s the reaction I often get not from strangers, but from people who claim to be friends back home.

So, I want to be clear: I have a lot of fond memories of my childhood. There are many people I knew back that that I genuinely loved and admired at the time, and many for which I still feel fondness. But for too many of them it is at best a bittersweet fondness. Because when a person who formed a big part of my life refuses to accept that the person I love and have committed my life to is my spouse—when they claim to still love me yett disapprove of the person I love (not because of who he is, but because of his gender), when they vote for politicians who want to take away what legal rights I have, when they openly talk about how legalizing my relationship is going to result in hellfire raining down on the land—it’s more than a little difficult to believe in their love.

I love my mother. I love my sister. I love my aunts and many other relatives. But I also know that to varying degrees they don’t support my right to live my life openly as a queer person. When I visit the small town where many of them live—the place where I graduated from high school and attended the first part of college—I feel on edge and defensive. And it’s not me being paranoid. From the anti-gay bumperstickers to the casual political comments, it is very clear that some of them only tolerate my presence so long as they don’t realize what I am.

For many of us, our families of origin remain what we might generously call a demilitarized zone—a place where a kind of cease-fire is enforced, though a cold war continues, and unmarked minefields abound.

So that’s why certain holiday movies and songs don’t quite resonate with me the way they do to some. The towns where I grew up aren’t where I’m most likely to find the sunshine of a friendly face. Our blood relatives are not where the light of unconditional love gleams.

So for many of us, the home sweet home is the place we went to when we escaped those communities. The people with whom we are happy in a million ways are the friends and found family we have assembled since growing up and leaving behind the narrow-minded denizens of our communities of origin.

I can get as sentimental and schmaltzy as can be about the family I have found and built since learning to be my true self and live openly. And that might induce eye-rolling for some, but it is not, by any means, something that makes one’s skin crawl.

Join us in the light! #NationalComingOutDay

Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-sixth anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did). My (very-much alive) husband Michael and I don’t have any anniversaries that are close to this date, but this is the twentieth National Coming Out Day we’ve lived together.

I’ve written about why I think it is important that every queer person (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, nonbinary, genderfluid, asexual, aromantic, two-spirit, questioning, et cetera) who can safely be out of the closet to do so. Study after study has shown that the more queer friends and acquaintances a straight person has, the more likely they are to support equality for LGBT people. Studies also show that queer and questioning teens and children who have positive queer role models in their community are significantly less likely to attempt suicide than those who don’t.

But it is also important for your own mental and physical health. Being in the closet means living in a constant state of fear. You second guess everything. You’re constantly worried about being rejected by friends or family members if they find out. All that anxiety and stress takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being.

Make no mistake: the fear is real. About 40% of the homeless teens are in that situation because they were kicked out of their homes by their parents when the parents found out they were gay or trans (which is why I advise young people to be very careful about coming out while still financial dependent on their parents). Even if you wait until you are a self-supporting adult (I was 31 years old when I came out), you may still face rejection from people you have loved and counted on your whole life. One of my grandmothers forbade any other family member of mentioning me in her presence. A friend I had thought of as closer than a brother since we were teen-agers was quite angry when I came out and to this day (he happens to be married to a distance relative of mine, so I still hear about him from time to time) insists that I’m going to burn in hell because I’m gay.

But, not everyone reacts that way. And some people will surprise you. One of my aunts who is otherwise quite politically conservative declared that anyone who had a problem with me being gay would have a bigger problem with her. Some people who had been acquaintances that I thought would just shrug and move on became genuinely close friends because coming out to them is an act of making yourself vulnerable—and when they react to that vulnerability with acceptance, that changes the way you perceive each other.

Once I was no longer spending all of that time and energy trying to hide part of myself from anyone, I found that I had more energy and enthusiasm to do the things I love. And when you’re doing that, you meet other people who love some of the things you do. Coming out meant losing (and in some cases evicting) more than a few people from my life. It wasn’t a loss, though, because those people had never loved me for who I was—they liked the mask that I wore when I was closeted. And that’s true even of the relatives who had suspected I was gay for decades and had spent many years praying that god would change me. Those were people who were not adding to my life—their love was conditional, and one of the conditions was that I live a life of fear and without love and intimacy. Separating myself from those people, made room for a much more wonderful and supportive found family.

I was lucky enough to fall in love with a sweet man who loved me back. And after he died, I was lucky again to meet and fall in love with another (though very different) man who loved me back. Being able to love and be loved and not keep that love a secret is something that straight people take for granted that many literally can’t comprehend why being out matters. Once you experienced it, you’ll be amazed at how long you put up with concealing your real self.

So, if it is safe for you to come out, you should. You’ll find that standing out in the light, being true to yourself, is so much better than hiding in the dark!

Oh, and some of you may find this article useful: Trevor Project Releases Coming-Out Handbook for LGBTQ Youth.

Weekend Update 8/31/2019: Dozens attend straight pride, and yet another ex-ex-gay

Mostly empty amphitheatre at today's Straight Pride in Boston.

Twitter user @SobaFett posted this picture of the crowd at today’s Straight Pride rally https://twitter.com/SobaFett/status/1167845221113180160

Was it really just this last Monday that I posted about the only one dozen people who turned out for the so-called Straight Pride parade in Modesto? That group (led by the guy who accidentally admitted that they were a racist group when arguing at a city council meeting) failed to get a permit, but the Patriot Front, American Guard, and Proud Boys (all neo-nazi groups) in Boston did get a permit… and boy, they had dozens show up!

The Boston police department contingent sent out to prevent violence outnumbers the straight pride idiots… and the cops are greatly outnumbered by the counter-protesters. You can find details here: Here’s what’s unfolding at Boston’s ‘Straight Pride’ event – Well, surprise surprise — it’s basically a pro-Trump rally featuring Milo Yiannopoulos. Also: Tens March In Straight Pride Parade.

Someone put up these fliers around the parade route in Boston.

Since I opined on this whole topic just a few days ago, I’m not sure if I want to say more. Other than to point out that the so-called Straight Pride Parade’s grand marshal, Milo Yiannopoulos, should only be remembered for when he cheerfully explained how beneficial it is to gay boys to be sexually molested by adults.

I realize the purpose of the event is to troll and get attention. But the old adage about not feeding the trolls is just like the useless advice that some adults give bullied kids: if you don’t react, they’ll stop bullying you. That advice is useless because the bully gets just as much enjoyment from the laughter of the bystanders as he does from any reaction of the target. So ignoring them completely isn’t what works. We have to counter lies with truth. But I don’t need to repeat myself, especially when this article explains why straight pride isn’t needed: On Eve of Straight Pride, Equal Rights Group Debunks ‘Heterophobia’.

In other news: Another Ex-Gay Torture Leader Denounces Movement. It’s a story some of us have heard a thousand times: bullied gay kid growing up in a religious family tries to pray his gay away, becomes involved in an ex-gay ministry, leads a double life pretending to be straight while secretly pursuing illicit relationships, and now he wants to apologize and admit he was gay all along.

Except McKrae Game didn’t just become involved in an ex-gay ministry: he helped found one, and did a lot of the (hypocritical) counseling himself.

Listen, I do feel sorry for Game’s younger self. I get it. I, too, was raised in Southern Baptist churches. I was teased and bullied at school and at church as a child because people thought I was gay. I prayed and cried and pleaded with god for years. And also, similarly to this guy, when I confessed to a good friend (who happened to be a young woman) that I thought I might be gay, I let myself be talked into giving a different orientation a try. Yes, I got married to a woman and then eventually divorced and came out.

So I certainly understand the sort of self-destructive toxic self-loathing that drives a queer person to try not to be queer.

But…

I never claimed to be straight. The lie I tried to live for a few years wasn’t much better, because I wasn’t bisexual any more than I was straight. But I didn’t try to tell other gay people that they could be cured. I didn’t found an organization that wouldn’t just spread that lie, but would sell the lie to other struggling queer people.

And maybe I just lucked out in that the first person I confessed my fear aloud to wasn’t anti-gay. Maybe I just lucked out that the attempts by family and church to intervene in my teen life weren’t as forceful and sustained as one of my cousins was subjected to.

But the thing that I keep coming back to with guys like McKrae Game is: it became his job to do this harmful and ineffective “treatment.” I said some pretty shitty things when I was a teen-ager and younger, trying to deflect people’s suspicions. I owe some people that I will likely never see again apologies for that.

But this guy charged the people he was lying to. Like other ex-gay leaders, he made people pay him for the lies he was telling. And some of those people killed themselves because praying didn’t make their feelings go away.

In the article he seems to understand that:

“Most people in the gay community have treated me ridiculously kind,” Game said, “liking me for me now and not who I was. And I hope they just give me the chance to talk to them so I can hear them out and apologize.”

Game said he realizes that for many an apology won’t be enough. And that he’ll likely be apologizing for the rest of his life.

Yes, yes he will.

Enough about that. Let’s close with this bit from June, when Stephen Colbert commented on the Straight Pride when the group first applied for their permit:

Stephen Colbert: What The ‘Straight Pride’ Parade Won’t Have:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Astounding Stories of Super-Science, or name changes are nothing new in sf/f

The February, 1930 cover of Astounding Stories of Super-Scinece, cover art by  H. W. Wesso. In 1930 the magazine's editor was Harry Bates.

The February, 1930 cover of Astounding Stories of Super-Scinece, cover art by H. W. Wesso. In 1930 the magazine’s editor was Harry Bates.

Just last week I commented on the kerfuffle in sci fi fannish circles about how problematic some of us think it is to have one of our major awards named after an extremely racist (and misogynist, classist, xenophobic, anti-democracy advocating authoritarian) and long deceased editor. I only linked to a fraction of the commentaries and arguments posted online since the acceptance speech that kicked this off. And while the kerfuffle has raged on there has been a very significant development: A Statement from the Editor.

As we move into Analog’s 90th anniversary year, our goal is to keep the award as vital and distinguished as ever, so after much consideration, we have decided to change the award’s name to The Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

So, Dell Magazines has decided to rename the award. They pledge that the award recipients will continue to be selected in the same way as before, and pledge to work with WorldCon going forward to implement the change. This might seem like really swift action on the company’s part, but another article published just the day before this announcement, the current editor is quoted as saying that he has been having this conversation within the company since shortly after he read an early draft of Alec Nevala-Lee’s book about the Campbell era: Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

As many people have pointed out, there have been previous op-eds, letters, and even petitions suggesting changing the name of the award, so it is hardly a new idea.

This decision has been no less controversial than the aforementioned speech. And I find it particularly amusing that one of the arguments being put forward by people who don’t want to change the award’s name is that changing names is bad and it somehow erases history.

This argument is particularly amusing in light of both an award an an editor tied to the magazine formerly known as Astounding.

When the magazine just began publication in 1930, the full title was Astounding Stories of Super-Science, as you can see by the image of the ‘zine’s second issue included above. A few years later, the title was shortened to Astounding Stories. Then, shortly after Campbell took over as editor, he renamed the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which is the name it operated under until 1960, when Campbell changed the name to Analog Science Fact & Science Fiction.

That last name change was handled in an interesting way, graphically. For a few months both the name Astounding and Analog could be seen, with Astounding fading more and more each month. There was also a lot of variation with the rest of title, sometimes appearing as Science Fact & Fiction, sometimes Science Fact/Fiction, and sometimes with the ampersand or slash replaced by a glyph that looked like an inverted U with a line through it which Campbell said meant “analogous to.”

Which gets us to another faulty argument being made against the new name: calling it the Astounding Award still makes the name honor Campbell, and why isn’t that problematic? First, Astounding was published for seven years before Campbell became editor, and the previous two editors weren’t quite as ideologically driven in their story choices as Campbell. Second, Campbell was the one who wanted to stop calling the magazine Astounding all along. And third, while Astounding is one of the names of the publication in question, it’s also an adjective which is a synonym for wonderful or amazing.

Based on a lot of comments I’ve seen from the irritated ones, most of them don’t actually know that much about Campbell. They certainly haven’t read any of his notorious editorials. I suspect that for most of them, they know that he published Heinlein and Asimov and the like—and I suspect they haven’t read many of those author’s works, either. Campbell’s sort of a Rorschach test in that way: they see what the want to see. And frankly, the main thing they know is that those darn Social Justice Warriors and uppity people of color and decadent queer fans are critical of Campbell, therefore he must be defended at all costs no matter how illogically.

I didn’t start regularly reading sci fi zines until shortly after Campbell’s death, and even then, the magazines I preferred were Galazy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Most of what I knew about Campbell in my early years came from the autobiographical bits that Isaac Asimov included in his anthologies (especially The Early Asimov) but even Asimov’s portrayal of him did not ignore some of Campbell’s eccentricities and flaws.

I recall Asimov seeming least happy about Campbell’s insistence that if aliens appear in a story, they absolutely must be shown to be inferior to humans in some way. It so bothered Isaac, and Isaac felt that he owed Campbell first shot at any of his stories, that Asimov simply stopped writing aliens at all. Asimov’s future history galaxy-spanning society was inhabited by humans and their robots and that was it.

Campbell had a lot of other rules about stories that pushed the field of science fiction into a specific idealogical corner. One in which rich, white, aggressive men were always on the top of the heap, and where the working class, poor, less educated, and women and people of color were always on the bottom—and always in need to the leadership of the folks on top.

For all that Campbell is often regarded as a proponent of keeping science in science fiction, one has to note that Campbell meant physics and chemistry. Sciences such as geology, paleontology, anthropology, linguistics, and sociology weren’t part of the Campbellian vision.

Society changes. Our understanding of the universe and our place in it changes. Science fiction as an art form and the fannish community of Campbell’s peak years wasn’t very welcoming to women, queer people, people of color. Yes, there were always fans and creators within the sci fi community who came from those other communities, but it was clear that we weren’t meant to be heroes. That our stories never mattered. That our role was always to be supporting characters or sit quietly and marvel at the competence of men like Campbell.

And that’s neither true of the real world, nor is it something an ethical person should aspire to.

So, yes, the name change is a good thing. Because one of the things I love about good science fiction, are those moments that astound me.

Oppressed oppressors: A Dozen Peaceful Racists Show Up for “Straight Pride”

“There's no 'straight pride' for the same reason we don't have soup kitchens for the rich, dumbass.”

(Click to embiggen)

Six years ago there was an ex-gay rally held in Washington, D.C. The organizers insisted that there would be thousands of participants. Several news blogs I followed at the time predicted that the rally would be attended by possibles tens of people. After the event, some of those sites issued a retraction—because the number of attendees was only nine people. And all nine of those attendees were employees of the ex-gay “ministry” that organized the event. When the various groups started applying for permits for straight pride events earlier this summer, I wasn’t quite so sure the crowds would be small—because the people organizing the events are groups associated with various violent white supremacist rallies over the last few years.

One such group failed to secure a permit in Modesto, California earlier this month. The video of their leader arguing at a city council meeting for why they should be allowed to have the event went viral because, after countless times earlier insisting that they weren’t white nationalist, nor white supremacists, nor otherwise racist, he angrily said, “we’re a totally peaceful racist group!”

The council didn’t grant the permit, though I should point out the reason why was not the slip of the tongue. The groups, because of the connection several of them have to those hate rallies I mentioned earlier, had been unable to obtain the necessary insurance coverage required for a parade or similar public event. The slip of the tongue was just icing on the cake.

Despite not getting a permit to shut down traffic, the group vowed to hold an event anyway. And this weekend they did: Modesto protesters outnumber straight pride supporters at tense but peaceful rally. Outnumbered is putting it mildly: California’s ‘Straight Pride’ aimed to celebrate straight, white Christians. Only 12 people attended — They faced 200 pro-LGBTQ counter-protesters “standing together to reject this group and what they represent”.

About a dozen proud bigots showed up for an event at a rented barn—which was cut short when the owners of the venue saw their hateful signs and other things. Then the 12 proud bigots walked to a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic (which was closed) and they chanted various slogans that, oddly enough, didn’t have anything to do with being straight. I mean, I suppose the anti-gay slogan kind of count. And the pro-Trump signs I suppose could be argued to be about the straightness of a philandering twice-divorced man who, by his own admission, loves to grab women by the pussy. But, um, I don’t quite get what the Build the Wall chants had to do with straight pride. Sounds like could old-fashioned racist xenophobia.

About 200 counter-protestors, on the other hand, showed up to express support for queer rights and to denounce hate. And while apparently some angry shouting happened at one point, no actual violence broke out.

We know that this is just a gimmick. The real straight pride happens 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year. It has never been illegal to be straight anywhere. It has never been legal to fire people because they are straight anywhere. Straight children aren’t shamed and bullied in schools for being straight. It has never been illegal in any country in the world for opposite-sex couples to marry. No one calls for a boycott of a television network when a male character goes out on a date with a female character on any television show. No local television stations refuse to broadcast a specific episode of a show because of the inclusion of a marriage between a man and a woman.

And if straight people think that they don’t have a holiday, go take a look at how many Hallmark Channel movie listings during Thanksgiving and Christmas time have a straight romance as the central plot. Heck, how many times does a kiss between an opposite-sex couple at the stroke of Midnight on New Year’s Eve figure into romance movies?

And let’s not forget Heteroween — a holiday that once did belong to the queers, but y’all took it away with all those sexy mummy and sexy nurse and sexy fireman and sexy pirate costumes that are sold in pairs that result in a clothed-male/nearly-nude-female. Please note, the only problem I have with straight people co-opting our fabulous holiday this way is that they don’t do it equitably. It shouldn’t just be the ladies in those straight couples showing off some skin. I mean, c’mon, isn’t the point of being a straight studly man that woman want your sexy body?

If straight people don’t want to embrace the values of throwing off sexual repression and insist that they are all about family values, I have a quibble about that, too: Straight Pride organizer criticized by her gay son for planning ‘straight, white, Christian’ event .

Maybe instead of attacking the rights and freedoms of their neighbors, co-workers, and even their own children, they should put a little more time into asking themselves why queer people make them so uncomfortable. A little self-reflection would do far more good than staging these white supremacist events masquerading as straight pride.

That has always been here, or politics aren’t a new thing in sf/f

The cover of the November, 1950 issue of Astounding Stories. Cover art by David E. Pattee. The cover illustration shares the same title as John W. Campbell's political editorial published in the same issue.

The cover of the November, 1950 issue of Astounding Stories. Cover art by David E. Pattee. The cover illustration shares the same title as John W. Campbell’s political editorial published in the same issue.

I’ve been a fan of Jeannette Ng since a friend recommended her novel, Under the Pendulum Sun a bit over a year ago, so I was overjoyed when at this last weekend’s WorldCon they read her name as the winner of this year’s John W. Campbell Award. And her acceptance speech began with the line: “John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist.” And she went on to talk about how the way he shaped the genre excluded many people but then, “But these bones, we have grown wonderful, ramshackle genre, wilder and stranger than his mind could imagine or allow.” And then she pivoted to talk about the current situation in Hong Kong, the city in which she was born. You can read the text version here. As you might guess, her speech has drawn some criticism from certain corners of the fandom.

I am not one of the people upset with her words. I was watching the livestream and when she spoke those opening words I literally exclaimed, “She went there! YES! Oh, you go grrrl!”

The reasons people have given for being upset at her words boil down to basically three claims:

  • It is inappropriate to make a political statement in a science fiction award acceptance speech,
  • Campbell was conservative, but not really a fascist,
  • It is extremely ungrateful to say such a thing about a man while accepting his award.

Let’s take on each of those assertions:

Are political statements inappropriate at sci fi award ceremony? During the approximately 33 years that Campbell was Editor of Astounding Science-Fiction he wrote an editorial for every monthly issue and almost none of those editorials were about science fiction. Most of those editorials were on various political topics. You can read a bunch of them here. He injected his opinions on race, democracy, the poor, and many other topics every month into that magazine. Many years after his death, Michael Moorcock (award-winning British sf/f author probably best known for the Elric series) observed that Astounding under Campbell was a crypto-fascist platform.

Campbell wasn’t the only one putting politics into science fiction.

  • Part of the plot of H.G. Wells’ classic novel, The Time Machine (published in 1895), is a commentary on the destructive nature of capitalism and the economic/social class system.
  • One of Jules Verne’s novels, Paris in the Twentieth Century, was such a scathing indictment of the dehumanizing power of industrialism, that no one would publish it until almost a hundred years after his death! In the original manuscript for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (published in 1870) Nemo was a Polish scientist who was bent on revenge agains the Russian Empire because Russia had invaded his homeland and killed his family. It had a moving speech by Nemo condemning Russian Imperialism. Verne’s publisher, knowing that much of the income for Verne’s earlier scientific adventure stories had come from Russian reprints, asked him to remove that, and suggested that if Nemo needed to have a political cause, that perhaps the abolition of the slave trade would be a target that wouldn’t harm sales. Verne decided not to do either, and so there are some enigmatic scenes in the novel when Nemo destroys some ships flying a flag he finds offensive, but our viewpoint character never knows what flag it is, nor why Nemo hates it.
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (published in 1818), among other things, explores the relationship between individual freedom and one’s obligations to society. Many of her short stories and books written after Frankenstein explore the role of women in society (and why they should have the right to vote and own property) and directly tackled various political institutions.

I could find many more examples throughout the history of science fiction. But the upshot is, politics have been in the fiction itself, and creators of science fiction have used both the stories and other associated platforms they gained access to as writers for making political statements the entire time.

Was Campbell a fascist? At least several of the people claiming he wasn’t a fascist admit that he was racist, but they insist that isn’t the same as being a fascist unless you are using a really loose and “modern” definition of the term.

Campbell advocated a lot of fascist ideas in addition to his racist policies, such as means-testing for voting rights (Constitution for Utopia {1961}). He argued many times against democracy (Keeperism {1965}) or the rule of law (Segregation {1963}) rather than the rule of wise men. He argued that many people (particularly black people) were better off enslaved (Breakthrough in Psychology {1965}, Colonialism {1961} and Keeperism {1965}) and they even wanted to be enslaved, and that the genocidal disasters caused by colonialism were the fault of the inferior culture of the victims (Constitution for Utopia {1961} and Colonialism {1961}), not the colonial powers. He also argued that the death of children in medical experiments was for the good of society (The Lesson of Thalidomide {1963}). He argued the poor people were poor because they deserved to be (Hyperinfracaniphilia {1965}) and that society was better off transferring wealth to the rich. He argued in favor of racial profiling and the persecution of anyone who did not conform to conservative societal norms (The Demeaned Viewpoint {1955}). And (because of course he did) he argued for sterilizing people with undesirable traits to prevent them having children (On The Selective Breeding of Human Beings {1961}).

That last one is right out of the Hitler-era Nazi playbook!

John W. Campbell espoused and promoted fascist policies. You don’t have to use a modern or loose definition of fascism to recognize that he was a fascist, you just need to read what he wrote there in the pages of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Those editorials are part of the reason that, for instance, Asimov said that Campbell’s views became so extreme that he sent fewer and fewer stories to Campbell.

Campbell liked to micro-manage authors he published, in some cases pressuring writers to revise stories to conform to his authoritarian, racist, and misogynist views.

Is it ungrateful to accept his award while critiquing him? I (almost) can’t believe people are making this argument. Campbell’s ghost is not giving out this award. Campbell’s estate is not giving out this award. This award is handed out by the World Science Fiction Society, after a nomination and voting process in which members of the World Science Fiction Society participate. The award is named after Campbell, but it isn’t his award nor is it coming from him in any way.

I am a member in good standing of the World Science Fiction Society, and it just so happens that on my Hugo Ballot this year I put Jeannette Ng in the number one spot for the John W. Campbell Award on my ballot. But even if I hadn’t placed her at #1, I would still insist that the award is coming from the 3097 World Science Fiction Society members who voted in this year’s contest. It is not coming from Mr. Campbell, who died 48 years ago, the award is coming from us.

In recent years we’ve had a misogynist, racist, and homophobic faction of the fandom organize to try to purge science fiction of the “wrong” kind of fan and the “wrong” kind of writer. That’s the bones of exclusion that Ng talked about in her speech coming back to haunt us. Part of their attempted purge was to slate-vote the Hugo awards, until we changed the rules to make it much harder for them to take over entire categories. That means that the Hugo award ceremony is not merely an appropriate place to deliver Ng’s critique, it’s the perfect place.

It is clearly time to discuss renaming the award. That doesn’t mean penalizing any past nominees or winners. It doesn’t mean exiling Campbell and the writers he cultivated from the canon of sf/f. It simply recognizes that just because a person had a profound effect on the genre, that impact doesn’t negate problematic aspects of his actions within the community. And as the sf/f community and field grows and changes over time—as our awareness of the diversity of people and ideas that have previously not been welcomed to the table expands—it is perfectly appropriate to make changes in how we recognize and honor excellence in the field.


Mike Glyer has an excellent round up of postings and comments from other people over at File 770: Storm Over Campbell Award.

Edited to Add: Elseweb I received some quibbles about the third part of my argument here. While the nominees for the award are chosen by the Hugo voters of the WSFS, and the winner is chosen by those same voters, the award is technically owned by Dell Magazines, the company that publishes the science fiction magazine Campbell was most associated with. That’s why the announcements and such always mention that the award is technically not a Hugo. I was aware of that at the time, but considered it only a distracting tidbit. Dell Magazines is not the Campbell Estate. Campbell’s estate doesn’t contribute any money to the making of the award pins that all nominees get, and of course, Campbell’s ghost does not hand out the award.

More news here: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, or name changes are nothing new in sf/f.

Fumble fingers again

I was still editing and accidentally click Publish in stead of Save.

But now the post is up: That has always been here, or politics aren’t a new thing in sf/f.

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