Fiction and identity politics

Ooh look! A lesbian on the telly!

She’s in a crime drama, so her sexuality does not come out until the end, when she is revealed as the murderer. She is a psychotherapist, a good source for horror: the touchy-feely carer who validates her teenage client’s feeling that she is worthless, so inciting her to commit suicide, after taking her to bed. Empathy as a way of controlling others: what should be safe is made scary. This is in DCI Banks- To burn in every drop of blood.

I like the way she is so powerful. I don’t need her to be the good character. Is her sexuality used to enhance her repellency? She is suspected only by accident: she appears normal, at first, if controlling.

I like Maxine in Wentworth Prison– she’s trans, warm hearted, strong, one of the good characters. She has a tough time at first but some of the other Good people accept her. It’s innocent fun for me.

On cultural appropriation, Ottomaddox makes a good distinction commenting on Lionel Shriver‘s speech. Shriver speaks out for the freedom of the novelist to enter other people’s minds, including those of other genders or races, saying that restricting her characters to German-heritage middle-aged women in their fifties from North Carolina reduces her creativity. Ottomaddox says there’s a moral duty to display sensitivity when using elements sacred to the oppressed cultures of native Americans or Aboriginal Australians, which have been all but wiped out by the colonisers, but eating sushi is cross-pollination and so acceptable.

Teaching yoga brings to people’s minds the strengths of other cultures. It is generally done respectfully. Yoga teachers go to India to learn their trade. Britain has oppressed India in the past, but now India shows its power.

What would a story of a trans child humiliated and driven to suicide say? I could believe such a story. It certainly happens. Would it instill sympathy with the trans child, or with the bullies? Would it encourage some readers to condemn the parents for permitting a transition? If it did, would that be a reason to deprecate it?

Shriver also says that dramas are criticised for lack of diversity. Her novel was criticised for being straight and white. She calls putting gay characters in drama “tokenism”- it is mere fashion. I like visibility of trans characters. It humanises us.

I am talking myself round to acceptance of any kind of story, any portrayal. If I try to imagine one I would dislike: contemptible Black people in Gone with the Wind? Is the character believeable? Is the work simply outdated, not telling truth as we see it now? I would not trust Tim LaHaye to write a realistic gay character.

I think there is a possibility that a portrayal of a minority character will be oppressive. I don’t think the mere fact that a powerful person is portraying a person under constraint is oppressive. Much of the interest of that character is how they escape constraint, or try to, or fail to.

The ideal, though, follows Martin Luther King’s words to Nichelle Nichols: “You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.”

5 thoughts on “Fiction and identity politics

  1. Hi Claire, I love how you write, you ‘think there is a possibility that the portrayal of a minority character will be oppressive.’

    Sometimes, the very use of the word ‘minority’, suggests that oppression is unconscious and deep rooted, probably inevitable, until we stop putting people into categories. It can be done, but realistically, within the constraints of a society that insists on male /female dichotomy, that is patriarchal and based around ownership, the chances are slim.

    It is not only a possibility, but an ongoing, rather irritating oppression. Sometimes the oppressors make out that they are proud of their oppression, other times they band together by identifying their mutual oppression, (why should there be, for example, any need for a ‘disabled workers association’? That only forces people who may otherwise have nothing in common to identify with factors that are oppressive.)

    Love ya! (((xxxx)))

    Liked by 1 person

    • Deaf people can be proud of deaf culture and language, and queer people can be proud of our distinctive way of being. Someone said it’s all a gender identity issue- much of the objection to gay people is that they don’t behave like normal men or women.

      My friend whose father and brother were miners was in a working class Academics’ group. They felt social hierarchies operated as well as academic ones.

      And- down with Patriarchy. Let us replace it with fellow-feeling and sympathy.

      Liked by 2 people

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