How Social Justice Has Improved My Series

It’s been rather quiet around here lately because I’ve been reading back through my own canon, and doing some deep thinking, and then I spent thirteen goddamned hours writing a chapter. That was a Merry Christmas, indeed!

One thing that stood out like a tumorous thumb was the fact that I’ve got a sausage fest going on. Oh, yes, I’ve got strong women characters. But aside from one, they’ve mostly been supporting cast. And they were thin on the ground compared to the dudes. Dudes, everywhere, man.

A lifetime of consuming media that featured mostly male protagonists and antagonists, overwhelmingly white male ones, has an effect, even when we’re fighting it. I wanted diversity, but I kept reverting to the default. Walk-on character? Probably going to be a dude. Tech guy? Well, dude, obvs. Lead detective? Dude. You’re a dude, and you’re a dude, and you’re a dude… Here a dude, there a dude, everywhere dude, dude. Okay, some of them were gay dudes. Some of them were black dudes. But they were still so many dudes.

Image shows Woody and Buzz from Toy Story. Buzz is gesturing out of the frame with a googly-eyed grin. Woody looks perplexed and vaguely horrified. Caption says, "Dudes. Dudes everywhere."

As the years passed, I started putting in more female characters of various species when I wrote new stories. When I went back to the very beginning of it all, I found strong women. The person who headed up the most powerful people on Xtalea at the most critical point in its history? Woman. And what a woman. She’s not even beautiful. Did you know you can have a powerful, middle-aged, not completely beautiful woman in charge, and she could rock it without being matronly? Yep. You can. And the person who trained up the most powerful soraan the universe has ever known? A woman. A tetchy, difficult, definite, take-utterly-no-shit-and-dish-out-all-the-whoopass woman. In a lesbian relationship.

One of the most powerful godlike beings in the known Universe? Presents as female.

Okay, so we were adding new women to the canon, but there was no way I could ret-con anything about my already-existing characters. Nope. Dudes were dudes, and that’s how it was. I’d been writing them as dudes for years, couldn’t change ’em now.

Then I took two years away. And I’ve come back, and I’m looking at them, and I realize… Dana, you haven’t published a damn thing, and there are these characters here who could actually do with a gender swap. So let’s do it. Let’s swap a few. Karbous Trao, Lord Regent Commander of Miraldo, one of the most powerful rulers in existence at the present time? Fuck it, the Miraldians don’t give a shit about genitals, and since it’s a story language, we don’t even have to change the name. Therefore Karbous is now a woman. And she seems to be liking it. She seems so settled, there in her chair, talking to Ray, the dude who held her office in two of his lives and therefore makes a good adviser, even though she is far more aware of the nuances of current politics than he is. She is so secure in her identity as a woman. Although she’s still extremely elderly, I mean to the point where they have to keep her hooked up to machines to keep her alive even in a universe where most things can easily be healed. Just because she’s a powerful woman doesn’t mean she needs to be beautiful and young.

And for all I know, she’s been plenty of genders in her youth. Why can’t Miraldians, with their outrageously advanced technology, be able to explore at will? I mean, some of them have fiber optic implants for hair, they’re probably down with other body mods. But she identifies as female, even if she has expressed her gender in other ways in the past.

There. Isn’t she more interesting, now? Aren’t Miraldians?

I moved on. Who else, who else… Detective Marks comes up quite a bit. Detective Marks is all over The Novel, the central story. Why does Marks have to be a 40-something black dude? Why can’t he be a 40-something black woman? Fine. Just need to change her first name. Our own Tony helped me come up with the right one: Inomi. Inomi Marks, not Shawn.

And then this happened, which I told people about on Facebook:

I think Marks was meant to be a woman all along. She was just a bland, generic black dude before. Now that I’ve swapped her, she’s bursting with personality. I can see her face, her hair, her jewelry. I can see the Starbucks cup in her hand, and the way she purses her lips ever-so-slightly at the annoying dude in the street. I can see that you do not fuck with this woman, because she’s a homicide detective now and used to be SWAT back when she was young. I can see her like she’s about to stride down the driveway, crush my hand in a very definite handshake, and tell me I’m welcome to follow along with her and Ray, but I’d better not fuck up her crime scene. I know Inomi Marks in ways I never knew Shawn Marks.

The only thing I don’t know for sure yet is whether she has a wife or a husband. For all I know, that means her spouse is non-binary. I fucking love seeing the world as filled with far more than straight white cis people with a few ethnic minorities and gays salted sparingly on top.

She’s so excellent, my darlings, and I utterly cannot wait until she and my main character Dusty Morgan meet for the first time, because here are two strong women in law enforcement, and I think they will relate in ways that Shawn and Dusty never could. I think they will trade war stories and make Ray’s jaw drop with the shit they have to put up with as women that he never sees. I think they will be friends for a long damned time.

Right, then, who else? Kevin the tech dude, August’s partner? I mean, I’m not swapping August, he’s one of my awesome gay dudes (although I’m pondering whether he’d work as a trans man). So we look to Kevin, and lo, we can get rid of some of the whitewash, too, because there’s no reason August’s Number One can’t be Kavin, a lady geek of Indian descent. I like her. I like her a lot more than generic ol’ Kevin.

As for the whitewash, I’d been concerned about it for some time, but it hadn’t really struck me, you know, that Ray, for all that he’s a 17,000+ year old consciousness that has been a huge number of species, is currently residing in a body that codes as 100% Mexican-American. He’s not biracial in body, even if he’s multi-species in soul. And he’s not white-passing, either. Also, he’s in his 40s this go round, so we don’t have to do that only 20-somethings can save the world shit. Huzzah.

Dusty Morgan? Sounds whiter-than-white, and she’s white-passing, but her Mom’s always been Hispanic, probably also Mexican, though from a different part than Ray’s family. So Dusty’s mom married into an Irish-European family, but her kids are biracial. She died when those kids were young (actually, both parents did), and her white-ass paternal granddad had the money and the power to take those kids and do what he wanted, but he didn’t take them completely away from that side of their heritage. He’s a State Department diplomat, he’s a world traveler, and he’s far from parochial, anyway. So Dusty isn’t completely culturally Latina, but she’s been immersed in some of that with her mother’s side of the family. And then there’s the small matter of being dragged all over the world by her granddad, with a Japanese martial arts guy (yep, probably will still be a guy – maybe) as a tutor, trainer, and caretaker for a good part of the time. Not to mention a few other unique experiences that make her distinctly not culturally white.

I just wasn’t good at thinking about these things before. I’m still not super-spectacular, but it’s a lot better now. And it’s because I got involved in social justice circles. It’s because I learned how to really listen to people who are not from my whitebread background. I’m learning how to avoid exotifying or fetishize them in the name of diversity. I’m learning how to educate myself. I’ll probably fuck up along the way, but there’s a social justice community around me that can set me straight.

When my characters move through their worlds, they’ll encounter things I’ve become aware of, things white ol’ me didn’t ever have to be aware of. And they won’t have white saviors coming to rescue them, because they can rescue themselves just fine, thanks.

My novels and my worlds are expanding away from that parochial viewpoint I had as a straight white cis girl raised by conservative white parents in a mostly-white cis het world. By the end, considering how much stuff I have in my head, there will probably be enough stories for just about anyone to find someone heroic who reflects them. And it’s going to make for far better stories. There are stories that wouldn’t have been possible in my mostly-male, mostly-straight, all cis, extremely white worlds. There are pitfalls I can avoid (like casual racism – oh, dear fuck, it happens even when you don’t mean it to, and some of it just glares at you once you’ve hung around social justice folk for a while and learned what to look for). There are so many different ways to think than the ones we’ve been presented for so much of our lives.

So, my dear fellow social justice warriors: thank you.

And remember: social justice impacts more than just our everyday reality. Keep demanding entertainers give us more than the male hero with the plucky minority sidekick, all right? The stories are ever so much better.

Finally: I cannot wait for the MRA and white supremacist tears. I’m getting my mug ready for them right now.

How Social Justice Has Improved My Series

5 thoughts on “How Social Justice Has Improved My Series

  1. 5

    Congrats on breaking out of your thought box and finding the true face of at least one of your characters! I’m loving reading about the process you’re going through.

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