Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 17: An Interview with Jerome Stueart

At Fan Expo Canada this year, I had the opportunity to interview Yukon author Jerome Stueart who visited the area as part of his cross-Canada tour. In our interview, Jerome and I discuss topics varying from LGBTQ2 characters, the power of the coming out story, religion in SF, crossing genre boundaries, critical animal studies, and anthropology.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Sexist Con: Geek Gatekeeping and the Convention

By Derek Newman-Stille

The topic of geek gatekeeping has been discussed a lot recently, and I have previously discussed it in my post “My Cane is Not a Costume” http://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/04/07/my-cane-is-not-a-costume-convention-exclusions-and-ways-to-think-about-oppression-at-cons/ , but I wanted to talk a bit about how the structures of fan conventions can sometimes add to the specific incidents of sexism that are perpetuated by fans.

Much as I did in my post “My Cane is Not a Costume”, I am not going to refer to the specific Convention that I am using as the case study for this experience because I believe that many of these issues can apply to numerous genre conventions and that we should look at geek gatekeeping as a whole, rather than direct attention at one specific con.

When I refer to “structures at fan convention”, I am referring to the overall planned events and actions of those representing the con. These set the tone by which fans react to others at the convention.

As in previous years at this convention, and as others have mentioned about fan conventions in general, there were the typical issues of sexual oppression. Women were leered at by men, propositioned by men, and quizzed by men about their knowledge about particular fandoms, creating an atmosphere of discomfort for women and issues that women had to deal with that men did not. Male fans showed a sense of entitlement to stare at, touch, and proposition women.

One of the structural issues I observed in microcosm was a “professional interviewer” on a panel for a television series that featured a post-apocalyptic world. The questions were divided along gender lines to reify ideas that women and men occupy different skills sets and try to suggest that women’s concerns are largely domestic. Male actors wee asked about their acting experience, about whether they are good with weapons and whether they shoot them in their lives off screen. Female actors were asked about romantic relationships in the show and about whether their characters are going to be having babies. Women were further asked about how emotionally harrowing it was to be on set all day and to deal with the charged emotional nature of the show. Despite the fact that one of the women questioned played a character who was an excellent sword-wielder, she was told by the interviewer “obviously you don’t use a weapon in real life”, inferring that it is more likely for a male actor to be interested in weapons use outside of the show than it is for a woman to do so. This dichotomous questioning first of all relegates women and men to different worlds and assumes that they cannot cross interests or experiences. Secondly, the types of questions asked of the actresses were focused on an assumed domesticity, vulnerability, and emotional nature, whereas the male actors were asked about questions of skill.

These types of questions shape a dichotomous view of gender that casts women in a peripheral role, even when they are, themselves, the people that fans are coming to see. When fans see this occurring at the official level, it reinforces the types of gender divisions and alienating of women that occurs at the fan level.

A strong example of geek gatekeeping being structurally created can be seen in the Cosplay shows, where identity is on display for all of those who are watching people perform in the costumes of their chosen characters. For this particular Cosplay show, an announcer was chosen who has reinforced the characterizing of women as sexual objects. Whenever women were on stage with little clothing, the announcer would leer at them and say in a sexual voice “I love my job.” This was not a singular event, but rather occurred every time a women was on stage with a costume that revealed her body shape. He at times would comically chase women across the stage as though stalking them… at least he and much of the audience seemed to consider it comical. But what concerns me is that this is not comical, and expressing laughter at his behavious entrenches the notion of considering women as sexual objects as a taken-for-granted norm and something to be laughed at, which is why fans assume that leering at women is both acceptable and comical and why several fans expressed the notion that “if they dress like that, I should have the right to stare”, “those costumes are distracting”, and “she could have taken more off than that”.

The announcer created a place where these characteristics are considered normative and not problematic. At times he also said things like “she had a nice bum”, “I love my job. All the pretty girls”, and “I am an old man and I get to be a creepy old man.” His entitlement to view women as sexual objects abstracts to the overall culture of viewing women as sexual objects and not as fans themselves.

Although I have only referred to a few select events, I hope to point to overall issues whereby fan conventions create or at least to reinforce a cultural environment of gendered oppression. Fan conventions are not solely responsible for geek gatekeeping or the oppression of women, but it is important for us as fans, as geeks, to be looking at the way that certain sexisms are reinforced and given cultural value.

 

An interview with Kathryn Allan about “Accessing the Future”

An interview with Kathryn Allan about “Accessing the Future” by Derek Newman-Stille

I had a great opportunity to interview friend and colleague Kathryn Allan, who shares my love of exploring representations of disability in Speculative Fiction. Kathryn and I have presented at several conferences together and I am excited to be able to share her insights with you today. Kathryn and her co-editor Djibril al-Ayad are currently running an indiegogo campaign to create a new collection of disability themed science fiction called Accessing the Future, which you can explore at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/accessing-the-future .

Speculating Canada: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

Kathryn Allan: I wear a bunch of hats—all of which are really flattering. I operate an academic copyediting and coaching business, Academic Editing Canada, and I’m an independent scholar of science fiction and disability studies. Since I left university at the completion of my PhD in 2010, I’ve been following my love of science fiction into interesting places: I’m the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction fellow (2013-14) and the editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). As of this year, I’m also an Associate Editor and Reader of The Future Fire. I write for both scholarly and fan venues, and you can find me blogging and tweeting as Bleeding Chrome.

Speculating Canada: What inspired your interest in disability in science fiction?

Kathryn Allan: I’ve always had an interest in the relationship between technology and the human body. When I was in my second year of my PhD studies, two significant things happened: one, I discovered a deep love of science fiction (I’m a late bloomer), and two, I became quite ill. SF was not only a comfort to me when I was too tired and unwell to do much of anything other than read cyberpunk novels or watch Star Trek episodes, it also spoke to my curiosity about technology’s ability to transform, modify, and adapt the human body to new environments and events. I became acutely interested in reading feminist and disability study theories of the body (by wonderful scholars like Margrit Shildrick, Susan Wendell, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson), and so I ended up writing my dissertation on technology and the vulnerable body in feminist post-cyberpunk. I recognized that there was a huge gap in science fiction studies: very few scholars were addressing disability in SF. I wanted to—and still strive to—contribute to the necessary conversation about how disability is taken up in science fiction.

Speculating Canada: You are currently working on an anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction with Djibril al-Ayad titled Accessing the Future. Could you tell us a little bit about this anthology?

Kathryn Allan: The anthology is an intersectional one, focusing on disability, but also considering race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class in SF stories that explore the imagined physical and virtual spaces of the future. One of our pitch lines for Accessing the Future is: “We want people of all abilities to see themselves, as they are now and as they want to be, in our collective human future.” We want stories that think about how humanity will modify the future world, ask what kinds of new spaces and technologies we will create, and, above all, answer the question: What does an accessible future look like? Both my co-editor (and publisher) Djibril and I love cyberpunk and feminist SF, so we’re hoping to see some stories that are inspired by those SF traditions. We’re currently running an crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which ends on September 17th. The call for stories will open immediately after this fundraising campaign ends.

Speculating Canada: What inspired this collection?

Kathryn Allan: My desire to see SF stories where people with disabilities are represented as people and not as props or lessons! As much as I love SF, it’s tiring and upsetting to see people with disabilities being vilified, “cured,” or simply erased from the future (through things like genetic engineering). The community I live in is not homogenous; the friends and family I love are not all able-bodied. I want to read stories that express my reality and the reality of my chosen community. By editing a anthology of disability-themed stories, I hope that we can provide a space to as many voices as possible.

Speculating Canada: What are some of the problems that you have seen in the representation of disability in speculative fiction of the past?

Kathryn Allan: Ah! There are so many problems! Most of the representations of disability out there in SF are not good. As I mentioned above, people with disabilities are constantly being “cured” through medical interventions (whether they want it or not, rarely does the character in question have a choice in the matter). Prosthetics are idealized as a way to become super human…and then turn the person with a disability into an even greater threat to “normal” people. Visions of genetic engineering in SF are particularly awful: if a writer imagines a future world where disability is erased before birth, then that sends a terrible message to people with disabilities today (i.e., “you shouldn’t exist”). These kinds of representations are not only rampant in SF of the past, they continue to be proliferated today, which is why I feel so strongly in making sure that we encourage writers to create and engage with realistic depictions of disability.

Speculating Canada: What are some examples of science fiction that has done a good job of representing disability?

Kathryn Allan: The old standby answer is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, but I try to direct readers to more recent novels that they might not think of as being about disability. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a guest post on Pornokitsch [link: http://www.pornokitsch.com/2014/08/friday-five-5-positive-representations-of-disability-in-sf.html%5D “Five Positive Representations of Disability in Science Fiction,” where I talked about the Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl, Laura J. Mixon’s Up Against It, Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ancension, James Patrick Kelly’s “The Promise of Space,” and Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine. All of these stories take up disability in a way that does not reduce a character to their disability, their characters are both interesting and flawed (not just one-dimensional “inspirations” or villains), and they situate disability as a social construction (not as a personal “flaw”).

Speculating Canada: What do you hope to see more of in the representation of disability?

Kathryn Allan: Basically, I just want to see characters who have disabilities being awesome, boring, kickass, thoughtful, arrogant, funny, sexy, stubborn, clever, etc. I think you can see where I’m going here: I want representations of disability to be realistic and dynamic. Like, please, SF writers, stop curing everyone!

Speculating Canada: Disability Studies tends to focus a lot on realist fiction. What are some of the important things that can come out of looking at the representation of disability in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative genres?

Kathryn Allan: SF is a like testing ground for viable visions of the future. Writers get to try out new ideas in SF, as well as imagine possible futures that might come to be from the politics and events of the current day. Since so many people read speculative genres, I think it’s really important that the representations of disability in our “pretend” worlds have positive, realistic roles in them for everyone to identify with–and it’s also easier, in a way, to notice when those realistic roles aren’t present. When a writer creates a monstrous character, for example, what features are they using for monstrosity? When we start to read for and with disability in SF, all of the cultural assumptions about what makes a “good” worthwhile person comes to the foreground.

Speculating Canada: What things have really gotten you excited so far about the Accessing the Future volume you are working on?

Kathryn Allan: We’re still in the crowdfunding stage, but I’m excited about the level of interest we’ve had from both people with disabilities and able-bodied allies: stories are already being prepared for submission! As well, I’m quite happy that we’ve helped boost the level of conversation about disability in SF. Several able-bodied people have told me that they never thought about disability before at all, and are now reflecting on what they are writing and reading in terms of disability representation. More voices and more awareness means the better future(s) we can work towards!

Speculating Canada: Is there anything further you are interested in adding at the end of this interview?

Kathryn Allan: Signal boosts of all kinds are welcome. The more tweets, Facebook shares, and blog posts that people put out there, the greater visibility our campaign receives. We’ve done a solid job of speaking to the “diverse SF” community so far, but we need to the signal to be going out every day in creative ways, and to other genre communities as well. One of the ways that people can also participate is through our blog hop—you reflect on a short series of questions about disability and power in a current/recent story that you’re writing (or reading). You can find out more information about the blog hop here: http://djibrilalayad.blogspot.ca/2014/08/blog-hop-accessing-future-fiction.html

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

I want to thank Kathryn Allan for this brilliant interview and for all of her work looking at representations of disability in science fiction. I particularly want to give thanks to her for running an indiegogo campaign to fund Accessing the Future.

Upcoming Interview with Kathryn Allan About Accessing the Future on September 17

Kathryn Allan is an academic editor, an independent scholar of science fiction and disability studies, and has just launched an indigogo campaign to create a collection of science fiction featuring disability and people with disabilities titled Accessing the Future. As you can imagine, Kathryn Allan and I share a tonne of interests and I feel very fortunate to be able to interview her here on Speculating Canada.

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Kathryn Allan: “I’ve always had an interest in the relationship between technology and the human body.”

Kathryn Allan: “SF was not only a comfort to me when I was too tired and unwell to do much of anything other than read cyberpunk novels or watch Star Trek episodes, it also spoke to my curiosity about technology’s ability to transform, modify, and adapt the human body to new environments and events.”

Kathryn Allan: “We want stories that think about how humanity will modify the future world, ask what kinds of new spaces and technologies we will create, and, above all, answer the question: What does an accessible future look like?”

Kathryn Allan: “As much as I love SF, it’s tiring and upsetting to see people with disabilities being vilified, “cured,” or simply erased from the future (through things like genetic engineering).”

Kathryn Allan: “if a writer imagines a future world where disability is erased before birth, then that sends a terrible message to people with disabilities today (i.e., “you shouldn’t exist”).”

Kathryn Allan: “I want representations of disability to be realistic and dynamic.”

Kathryn Allan: “More voices and more awareness means the better future(s) we can work towards!”

Check out our full interview on September 17th and check out the Accessing the Future campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/accessing-the-future

 

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

 

Sexist Oppression is her Kryptonite

A Review of Faith Erin Hicks’ The Adventures of Superhero Girl (Dark Horse Books, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Image of Superhero Girl courtesy of http://www.adventuresofsuperherogirl.com/archive/

Image of Superhero Girl courtesy of http://www.adventuresofsuperherogirl.com/archive/

The life of Faith Erin Hicks’s comic book superheroine Superhero Girl is marked by identity crises, many of which are inspired by a figure who has become her arch nemesis… and the arch nemesis of many women in fan communities, the man who thinks of women in fandoms as “fake geek girls”. The term ”fake geek girl” is one used by conservative males in the genre fan community to try to alienate women from fandoms. These are the same type of males who will approach women at cons and quiz them about their knowledge of fandoms in an attempt to “prove” they don’t belong there. It is another element of con sexism and “geek gatekeeping”.

Superhero Girl encounters geek gatekeeping when searching for an arch nemesis. She is approached by a man who quizzes her about various aspects of the superhero genre that he believes are canonical: asking if she can fly, asking for her origin story, telling her that she needs to have a tragic catalyst for her desire to become a superhero. When he discovers that “all” she can do is leap over tall buildings, lift heavy objects, and shoot rays from her eyes, he tells her “then you’re not a real superhero”. He tells her the rules she should be using to live her life like “Rule one: You gotta have a tragedy in your past that made you want to become a superhero. Two: you need a uniform complete with logo, although spandex is optional. And finally, of course, a villainous archnemesis.” He concludes by telling her “If you don’t follow the rules, you’re just some nobody in a mask.” Her arch nemesis excludes her from the very job that she is doing on a regular basis, superheroing, even though he, himself is not a superhero. She is subjected to geek gatekeeping from her own profession. Faith Erin Hicks is able to illustrate the pervasiveness of geek gatekeeping by abstracting it onto a superhero who similarly faces the existential crisis that many female fans have when subjected to alienating techniques by male fans who want to cast women as an inescapable Other.

With its blend of wit and play with the genre, Faith Erin Hicks’ The Adventures of Superhero Girl is a definite classic. Superhero Girl is a hero who can be just as empowered giving a homeless person spare change as from fighting a giant space monster… and just as disempowered by forgetting to put on her mask, leaving her cape at home, and having to deal with her arrogant corporate superhero brother Kevin as she is by supervillains who manage to put the whammy on her. Plus, she has to deal with those awkward moments of running into ninjas at the grocery store or when she is applying for jobs. But, her superheroic activities are so practiced and proficient that she has most criminals trained so that all she needs to do is tell them to “put it back” when they rob banks to defeat them.

Hicks’ Superhero Girl is not powerful because of her superpowers (of which she has many), but rather in her ability to be fundamentally human and to play with the superhero genre overall.

You can find out more about the work of Faith Erin Hicks at http://faitherinhicks.com/personal.html

You can discover more about Superhero Girl at http://www.adventuresofsuperherogirl.com/ .

Adrift

A review of A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea (TOR, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Home is a complicated, multi-faceted, problematic notion, and A.M. Dellamonica captures this complexity in Child of a Hidden Sea. She begins her novel seemingly mid narrative, with her protagonist floating in the sea, facilitating the sense of dislocation for the reader that would shape Sophie’s experience of her new/old world. The reader is swept up by a whirlwind of prose and submerged in an unfamiliar realm, just as Sophie, in her quest to find her birth family, has been placed in a confusing muddle of conflicting stories, feelings of rejection, and torn obligations.

Sophie finds herself in a different world, one that is largely made up of islands located distantly from one another, and yet there is something familiar about this place. The stars are the same as on Earth, but the cultures and languages are entirely different… and there are species of animals that she as a scholar has never seen before on our Earth.

Sophie, motivated by a desire to discover, a desire to understand the unusual or unfamiliar is placed in a scholar’s dream – an entire world that is new and exciting… and yet her curiosity isolates her here. She is viewed with suspicion when she asks questions, interrogating things that those around her treat as taken-for-granted truths. This is a world of magic, which differs greatly from the comfortable world of home, governed by rules that she understands – physics, mechanical properties, and simple rules of causation. She treats this whole world as an object of inquiry. Her curiosity is seen as a threat and it only furthers her persistent feeling of rejection which has shaped her life but gained sharper focus when she finally met her birth mother, who rejected her and reacted with horror at her return.

She is filled with wonder at Stormwrack, a world which she discovers she has familial connections to. She alternates from feelings of belonging, finally finding a place of “home” and discomfort, particularly when she discovers a religious cult whose approach to the world is homophobic and sexist. When she brings her adopted brother Bram with her to Stormwrack, he encounters homophobic violence at the hands of this religious group as part of their general attempt to annex an entire island that is based on polyamorous notions of diverse sexual and love relationships.

Dellamonica explores the isolating power of homophobia and its ability to displace LGBTQ populations in her general narrative of displacement. Child of a Hidden Sea is powerful as a narrative because it embodies both curiosity and the desire to find a sense of home and place to belong as well as its ability to point out that displacement is still a persistant feature in our world, one that is further sharpened by economic inequalities, sexism, homophobia, and general power structures that serve to elevate certain groups of people over others.

You can discover more about the work of A.M. Dellamonica at http://alyxdellamonica.com/ .

To read more about Child of the Hidden Sea visit http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/05/child-of-a-hidden-sea-am-dellamonica-excerpt

CyberSexualities

A review of Don Bassingthwaite’s “Who Plays with Sin” in Bending the Landscape: Original Gay and Lesbian Writing: Science Fiction (The Overlook Press, 1999).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cyberpunk, with its attraction to marginalized characters who live on the edge, has needed to be queered for some time, so it is refreshing to encounter a fantastic queering of the genre by Don Bassingthwaite. “Who Plays With Sin” is timely in its exploration of the ways that data can be manipulated and the ways that surveillance invades every aspect of our online presence…. and the ways that those online presences can be employed to either shore up or destroy reputations.

Thunder doesn’t conform to the typical assumptions about internet specialists, nor does he conform to assumptions about gay men. He is burly, strong, and tall, which works well for him in his position as a spider, a web master who uses the internet to seek out truths. His ability to resist stereotypes allows him to throw off those who see him, not conforming to their expectations and therefore giving him an edge in their dealings… particularly since Thunder’s world is one of rampant homophobia, where queerness has been made illegal and LGBTQ people are frequently imprisoned for their sexuality.

Thunder is a figure of resistance, resisting the passification and disempowerment of queer people. Even Thunder’s reaction to the pathologized, passivising term “homosexual” evokes a strong reaction from him: “Say ‘faggot’, say ‘queer’, say ‘gay-boy’. Even as insults, they had a raw power. Primal, street-level, animal-level. There was sex in the words. Say ‘faggot’ and there was a cock in your mouth – whether you enjoyed it or despised it, it was there. ‘Homosexual’ was cold. Clinical. Dead. Desexed, but with implications of perversity and mental illness. It was a safe word for straights, no more dangerous than a sterile tongue depressor.” Thunder illustrates the way that words can be re-appropriated for empowerment and that any image of queer people can be complicated by techniques of resistance.

This is perhaps why when he is approached by a man named Carter, who claims to be the victim of a corporate blackmail to make him seem as though he is gay and therefore subject to the potential loss of position and exile, Thunder tries to assist him to uncover the roots of this manipulation. But, Don Bassingthwaite doesn’t provide easy answers for his characters and this is a tale of convoluted messages and systems of resistance and oppression. There are no simple answers, and every message is complicated. In a world of surveillance and manipulation, nothing is easy and Bassingthwaite reminds readers that the web is always full of spiders.

To read more about the work of Don Bassingthwaite, visit his website at http://dbassingthwaite.com/ .

You can find out more about Bending the Landscape at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bending_the_Landscape .

 

Speculative SEXtember