Friday, February 26, 2016

On Creating an Inclusive Fandom

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Fandom is an amazing, huge and incredible place which can bring people together in common nerdy joy. It’s a wonderful place for bonding, commonality and mutual love

It can also be a very narrow place. Sadly fandom can very often look very homogenous - because marginalised people: POC, women, LGBT people, disabled people and more are constantly driven out of THEIR fandoms

And I say “their” for a reason. Despite the tests cishet white fanboys often try to impose on marginalised people like they are interlopers on someone else’s space. But fandom is everyone’s possession - fandom belongs to marginalised people as well: but they are so often driven away from what should be equally their space

As such, making fandom inclusive is not just about basic common decency, but it’s also about acknowledging that common ownership. Making fandom inclusive isn’t bringing new people into fandom - it’s about allowing fans access to their own culture, their own spaces which they are unfairly robbed of

I can understand, in theory, the idea of wanting to have an open forum. A forum where everyone is welcome, everyone is free to express their opinions, everyone can exchange ideas and there is no-one there to suppress ideas or quiet anyone.

It’s a nice idea. And if you believe it, you’re either hopelessly naive (in a slightly touching, “bless your heart” kind of way) or you’re being deliberately obtuse.

You cannot have a space where everyone feels welcome. You cannot have a space that everyone feels comfortable in: not when some people seem to thrive on hurting others (at worst) and are so utterly unwilling to confront their privilege or the realities of the world that they don’t care what damage their flailing inflicts on those around them.

Your space cannot welcome both the bigot and the minority. You cannot have a space welcoming for women which simultaneously is welcoming for men who think “go get me a sandwich” and “get back in the kitchen” and a range misogynist slurs are the height of witty repartee. You cannot welcome both the racist and the POC. You cannot welcome the homophobe or the transphone and the LGBT person. Yes, it has to be a choice.

Or, to put it another way, you are either demanding the bigots scrape their tongues clean and behave themselves like the civilised adults they are not - or you are demanding minorities stoically endure their attacks. Unsurprisingly, many decide not to stay and move to some place that doesn’t expect them to be punching bags.

A space cannot allow both unfettered hatred and the victims of said hatred. You may not be slapping “No minorities allowed” on the welcome screen, but you might as well be.

Of course, some people are going to start crying about censorship - but I can guarantee that your site “censors” already. Someone deciding to reply to every post with a random collection of wingdings fonts is going to get banned. Some bot trying to get you to buy whatever it is they’re selling this week is going to get deleted. We already set standards on our spaces - and what does it say about our priorities when spam and nonsense is bannable, but bigotry is not? At the end of the day, hate speech is violence and when we pretend otherwise, we are encouraging the idea that some people just don’t matter and that is dangerous in a world which has a proven history of genocide.

Ok, this is the most basic level of creating an inclusive space, it’s also something most people reading this (barring the ones who, unsurprisingly, can enjoy having their comments deleted) would accept

But creating an inclusive fandom is going to take more than site moderators not allowing raging bigots to turn their spaces into a cesspool (this is very much the most basic and tiny of first steps) - it takes fandom as a whole declaring that bigotry is not ok. It takes fandom at large not making endless excuses for attacks on minorities. It takes fandom in total rejecting these behaviours to make fandom itself inclusive and welcoming. But from fan-favourites like Orson Scott Card, to the whole debacle of the Hugo Awards, this hasn’t been what we’ve seen - there’s always someone coming from the woodwork (usually in droves) to defend the bigot, to tell us the bigot’s bigotry isn’t important and, in doing so, send the clear message that minorities aren’t welcome. Usually even talking about the bigotry of these people is met with a huge rejection - from “divorcing the art from the artist” to various excuses as to why it shouldn’t apply to THIS artist, there’s always a reason why discussing bigotry is off the table. With this discussion off the table then you’re sending a message that you’re not willing to allow minorities to be comfortable - or safe -  in your fandom.

This topic needs to be on the table - which is another way that fandom fails to be welcoming. Not only are bigots happily running around with a flock of defenders, but even talking about sexism, homophobia, racism et al gets such a massive silencing pushback (Gamergate is definitely not limited to the gaming community). Critics of prejudice are constantly derided - one of the more common attacks is to call them “bullies” (which has quickly become a terribly badly used term in the community). These critics are voicing real problems, real barriers that make fandom such a hostile place rather than reaching it’s beautiful potential. But too often fandom is not only unwilling to have these conversations - but is furiously hostile to having these questions raised at all. There’s always a backlash - just look at the current twitter backlash because some POC wanted Marvel to cast an Asian man for the new Iron Fist. Or the people who dismissed the whitewashing of Khan in Star Trek and decided that it wasn’t an issue. Or the people who were shocked and appalled that Rue, from Hunger Games WASN’T whitewashed and was portrayed by an actual Black actress. Race isn’t an issue - except when non-minorities decide it is… and always to the minority’s detriment.

Or we can look at the constant war against Trigger warnings (something which is certainly disproportionately needed by minorities): basic accommodations that can make fandom accessible are derided as unreasonable - by the same people who will hang draw and quarter you if you dare post a spoiler.

If you want fandom to be welcoming to minorities, we need a culture of listening to them. If we want fandom to be inclusive, we need minorities to think they can be heard and their concerns - their personhoods - be respected and valued. If you want fandom to be a sanctuary, it needs to be a place that will not constantly repeat the same offenses that the rest of the world does. Too often people feel like not pointing to a problem or not talking about a problem will make it go away. They will happily declare that bigotry isn’t a problem in their fandom - and then wonder, in honest “bless-your-heart” confusion WHY there just happens to be no LGBT people or POC in their fandom? Why, what a surprising coincidence that no-one could possibly explain… right?

It’s another choice to make - you can either discuss issues even when they’re uncomfortable, confront them, deal with them criticise them and acknowledge them and therefore work to address and improve them. Or you can ignore them, silence them and hope it goes away.

One of the most important things fandom needs to do if they do want to be inclusive is not just fight the bigots and not just listen to criticism of the prejudice - but we also have to CELEBRATE diversity. We have to recognise this genre has been so erased for so long that turning the tide is a good thing. It’s something that should bring all of us joy, seeing our stories widen, our genre gaining new material and insight, everything becoming wider and deeper for EVERYONE as well as, again, reinforcing that this is a space for marginalised people as well. We should all celebrate our genres getting larger, having greater potential and ever more and diverse stories. We should celebrate our genres growing, not scream and shout and try to prune them back to just the same narrow parameters we’ve decided are acceptable. The larger the fandom celebrating any one show, book, or movie means that producers become aware that there is a large market and therefore encourages them to continue to produce the content we all want to see.

Yet time and again we see diversity being seen as a terrible scourge, a terrible imposition that somehow afflicts privileged people.Too often we see anything less than complete cishet, white, male able bodied dominance as some kind of threat - like not being dominant in all things robs them of something. At the most extreme we see active exclusion of minorities, literally allowing nothing but privileged dominance. But more often we see hand wringing laments that there’s no REASON for minorities here (unlike the privileged who need no justification for existence) or that it is too much, going too far despite minorities still holding only a tiny fraction of major roles in ANY genre

We need our fandom to be inclusive, it should be welcoming, we should all have a place here. But, sadly this is not currently the case - and it is going to take a real and meaningful cultural shift from all of us to make it so and allow fandom to truly realise its potential.