this thing we are doing (a manifesto)

Hey so I wanted to talk about why I am so excited about this blog!

When I was 14, I picked up Sabriel, by Garth Nix. Sabriel lived on one side of the Wall but always knew she belonged to both sides and was singled out for it in both places. Despite living in a fantasy world, with her dark hair and her dark eyes and written, as she was, by an Australian author, I knew deep in my heart that she was a mixed-race Australian girl, just like me.

Science fiction and fantasy was always my safe place, as a kid; a place where my idiosyncrasies were nothing more than that, where my brown skin and my black hair weren’t out of place. I read, almost exclusively in English, and I could always find some kid with dark hair, some girl with olive skin. I knew exactly what our future held: a whole lot of mixed kids, amorphous brown kids of varying hues, just like me, and also space ships.

Instead, the science fiction future I have found myself in is a sea of scientifically improbable white faces, and I have sadly and with deep regret left most English-language fantasy behind to its its fae and its beautiful red heads and its dragons shaped all wrong. I found myself drifting away despite my wishes: disillusioned by yet another Anglo-Celtic barely veiled Arthurian dragony thing with some barbarous coloured people and a whole lot of white people (GoT, I’m looking at you); surrounded by  humans on colonising, conquesting adventures through time and space. I started reading Chinese SF instead, but as a first generation adventurer into the world while that’s an option for me that’s not an option for all brown kids in an English-language world.

In 2011 I was on a panel at Continuum called The Dark Side of Steampunk. During it I ranted and I waved my hands and I’m pretty sure I nearly ended up in fisticuffs with other panelists over the things about which they were wrong (everything, but especially race and ethnicity) and afterwards someone I had never met, someone not white, had come up to me and, shaking, told me how happy they were that I had said every word.

Earlier that year The Wind-Up Girl was the Swancon bookclub book; at the panel discussing it, the bad bits were brushed aside so time could be spent on the good bits, and I sat there, choking on my loathing.

I have felt uncomfortable in Australian fandom for a long time. I go to cons, but I feel ill at ease, and as the years have gone by I have become more and more angry that I have to negotiate these spaces, these discussions where I am invisible, where to be of colour is to be the other, where male voices are the default, where I have educate rather than debate.

So in 2013 I chaired a Continuum. It is one of the biggest things I have ever done. I invited two non-white Guests of Honour (though in the end, only one was able to come), and everybody who came on board the committee was told in explicit words exactly what I wanted to achieve. I understand that it’s a slow process, an ongoing process. This year I was so proud of the programme we put together, its focus on putting all sorts of views forward and expanding horizons and challenging assumptions and even doing the 101 work, which I don’t mind doing. The panel simply titled “Social Justice 101” overflowed out the door and certainly was too full, but it worked and it challenged the people in my SFF community and for that I am grateful. This blog is a direct outlet of that, a direct result of that panel and the success of this con.

I kept my plans secret, for a while, aside from telling my committee. But in the programme I said it outright. My welcome was:

Our theme this year is Contraindicators. Speculative fiction and pop culture often challenges assumptions and dominant story lines, but so often it is complicit in all sorts of unpleasant things. This year Contraindicators seeks to actively challenge that, to create new and surprise endings, incorporate different themes, and to poke at assumptions and stereotypes. Contraindicators is about intersections and things that start off one way and don’t finish the way you think they will. It’s about cryptids. It’s about challenging the dominant paradigm. It’s about creating a space where people feel comfortable to talk about the things that make them feel uncomfortable in fandom, about working together to change our space into Our Shared Space.

In my opening speech I was even more explicit, talking about my experiences of racism and disillusionment within fandom, and within stories. I am sick of being quiet and polite about this! I want everyone to have to think about this, to have to challenge their own assumptions and be shaken from their privilege.

Not many of us panelists were people of colour, this year; but as the programme continues in this vein (which I hope it will; certainly it has the blessing of the next chair), and we continue to work towards a space where people can feel comfortable and as people see a community where their own faces are welcome, and reflected, I hope that this will change, and I won’t have to abandon this community and this SFF world that I do, in fact, quite enjoy.

This blog is not the only space in which I’m working towards my goals, but it’s the one that’s currently foremost in my mind, and I’m super excited to be sharing this space with Liz, one of my favourite people in fandom and real life.

As Liz mentioned, an important part of this space is that it’s primarily a not-USAmerican space; we are two Australian ladies of varied backgrounds, and this space reflects that, because my science fiction future also doesn’t involve USAmerica saving the world.

ALSO this blog is not just about me being Azn. It’s also about other things. But.

Fifteen years later that same copy of Sabriel still sits on my shelf, currently wedged between Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix and Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover. I haven’t read it in a while, but everything I ever hoped for, and everything it ever gave me, still holds true, and I will always love it for that.

10 thoughts on “this thing we are doing (a manifesto)

  1. “I have sadly and with deep regret left most English-language fantasy behind to its its fae and its beautiful red heads and its dragons shaped all wrong.”

    DERAIL: Remind me at some future point to have a good rant about the over-representation of redheads in media, 2-4% of the human population but vastly more common in, you know, everything. ‘Cos red hair is as exotic as you can get while still being EVEN WHITER THAT MOST OTHER WHITE PEOPLE.

    (General exemption for Scotland, where red hair is abnormally common, but even there, imagine Katie Leung as Amy Pond.)

    Tumblr had something to say about it last year, but then it was decided that being born with red hair was inherently problematic, so well done Tumblr.

    1. Stephanie

      You could do a post that’s just sff ya book covers with girls with long red hair!

      I am imagining Katie Leung as Amy Pond and it’s glorious and also the internets are fraught with racism and misogyny, hdu.

  2. I’m really excited by this blog! Looking forward to reading on. We need more non US voices speaking out about SF & pop culture.

    Continuum sounded marvellous, and I’m very sorry I didn’t get to go. NK Jemisin’s GOH speech was heard around the world, and I wished very much I had been in the audience to hear it in person.

    1. Stephanie

      Hello Tansy! I’m very sorry that you didn’t make it to Continuum (it was pretty great, if I may say so with pride) and I’m so excited at the opportunity to be Australian voices on some of this stuff.

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