I have been thinking about this a lot lately, curious to hear from all of you.
I have always thought of Science Fiction and fantasy as progressive genres. In particular, some powerful allegorical stories formed a lot of my opinions as a kid, regarding racism and intolerance, when I lived surrounded by those things in a very small, very rural farming community with little access to any kind of diversity.
But I am questioning these genres a bit lately. First, there’s a lot of stuff to question, even very recently, like known bigots being up for awards. And the lack of diversity in some of the most prominent fantasy works is hard to excuse (though people continue to try).
But I’ve been thinking…why allegory? Why so MUCH allegory?
Why should the audience accept stories about gender fluidity and trans issues and racism and the like, as told by white guys using robots and aliens?
I understand that these stories can be powerful and that sometimes the coded stuff was very meaningful in its time. And I understand that marginalized people often appropriate these magic or science fiction conceptual characters as their own, even when not explicitly stated so in the text.
But aren’t we past the point where that is necessary? Why is the audience still more accepting of a robot that represents a marginalized person, than an actual character that is explicitly from a marginalized group?
I see it all the time. And there’s a lot of coded criticism every time ANY character from a marginalized group is given prominence. Criticism that doesn’t show up when the same group is represented metaphorically with a fantasy stand-in.
Well, I think the problem is that we still need allegory to get things published or made. Like, I’ve had an idea for a children’s movie that is about an allegorical trans girl. Because it needs to be a children’s movie for all the little trans girls out there. Because there’s not a snowflake’s chance in Hell that such a movie would be made for children if it was explicitly about a trans girl. But I realize that can create its own problems.
At the same time, something is generally better than nothing at all.
I’m going to use Mulan as an example (which also has problematic elements that need to be analyzed, but that’s a whole ‘nother post). I’m a transmasculine androgyne, and that movie was super important to me even before I knew why. The song “Reflection” would reduce me to tears, and I understood Mulan’s frustration with the gender roles she was expected to conform to. I know Mulan isn’t genderqueer or trans (I don’t think she is even allegorically), but it was still a comfort to me.
Then again, I’ve seen posts that complain about trans folk—especially trans men—appropriating that story. The idea being that trans men are taking the story away from women, for whom Mulan is very empowering and important. Which would be another example of men taking something away from women. So, it’s possible the way I see Mulan is appropriative (in a bad way), and I don’t want to do that.