I want to give you all a spoiler-free version of the Midamericon description of the panel I moderated:
We Deserve Better: Lesbians and Bi Women for Change
In March 2016 some show killed spoilery spoiler of an spoilery spoiler spoilers. Fans launched a Twitter campaign that became mainstream news. They objected to the “Bury Your Gays” trope, referring to the disproportionately high number of lesbians and bisexual women killed on TV. Two weeks later, one of some other show‘s only lesbian couple was killed. We discuss this disturbing pattern and ask how audiences can help prevent it.
My partners in crime were Jaylee James, Nina Niskanen, and Jay Wolf.
I’m not much for freewheeling moderation. I always show up intending to listen and direct discussion, rather than talking myself, and with questions in hand. What’s more, the four of us did a certain amount of predigesting of the topic, checking out things like this (also-spoilery) list of 162 dead TV lesbians and talking about related topics like queerbaiting and fridging.
Like all good panels, we worked up more material than we actually got to discuss, circled ’round it in an order other than what follows, and we also didn’t get into one of my personal bugbears, the idea that the word “deserve” is actually quite a cruel concept. It’s an important and necessary word, but it has thorns: “You deserve this,” can be honestly intended or victim-blaming. “I deserve this” can be simple truth or blatant entitlement.
But I’m home now, and I’ve noticed that the list of questions I prepared for my panelists is interesting in its own right, a good orientation to the topic if anyone wants it. And so I decided I would post that here.
- Focusing first on TV, which lesbian deaths were most memorable and meaningful to you personally, both going way back and recently?
- Then there are deaths that aren’t necessarily canonical but that have lesbian freight around them. The fate of Ellen Ripley in the third Aliens movie comes after she’s been, to a great extent, masculinized–she’s not gay, but when she dies she has been made to look and act very butch.
- If a show queerbaits us and then kills one of the alleged lesbians involved, is that better or worse than if they hadn’t solicited queer viewers in the first place?
- Looking at the list of 150+ dead TV lesbians, I wondered: were any of those surprises, or did they trigger any Aha! or Uhoh! moments?
- How gender-skewed is this phenomenon? I mean, we all remember how Brokeback Mountain ends. Is it just a woman-on-woman version of fridging?
- I’ve mentioned fridging because it’s another common story development that we, as more sophisticated and politically savvy audiences, have become aware and critical of. All of these tropes have been the subject of discussion and debate within fandom and the writing community. What do you think of this?
- Now, since I’ve glided on to cinema, what about this phenom in comics and prose? In the past, there were the 1950’s bad girl lesbian dies books… does anyone know how this is playing out now?
- As writers, how do you balance the need to occasionally kill off characters with an awareness that every queer character is precious?
- If we add in characters with implied deaths, including incidental victims or even crazy killer lesbians who aren’t part of the main cast (guest star deaths, in other words) then I wonder if the question shouldn’t be: Who’s done it right? Who has survived? Who do we love who hasn’t been killed off?
Kelly and I spent most of yesterday in transit, either getting ready to go or actually going to Kansas City, Missouri, for the World Science Fiction convention. Despite Air Canada’s having trouble closing the door of our aircraft (!!) we arrived in plenty of time for my six o’clock panel and then hooked up with friends to attend the Sturgeon Awards Ceremony. Kelly Link won in the short fiction category; I found I was most excited for two second-place winners, though: Eugene Fischer for “The New Mother,” a story I absolutely adore, and Linda Nagata, whose work is luminous and beautiful in every way.
The rest of the evening amounted to chasing around to various points in the hotel to see friends and babble at people. I met, in person, a number of delightful souls whom I’ve known for a long time online. And, naturally, I got to see several lovely people I’d met at previous events.
I haven’t gone far from the hotel and convention center yet, but KC clearly has many photogenic buildings and art installations, and I plan to make a ludicrously ambitious effort to shoot them all.
Kelly and I couldn’t be in Calgary last night for When Words Collide, so we were rewatching Forsyte Saga and keeping one eye tuned to Twitter when word came that Kelly had won the Prix Aurora Award for “Waters of Versailles.” Delightful news, and I am thrilled for her (and, I admit, just a bit smug about having used the words “awards-quality” to describe it before it had even gone out to market).
About ten nail-bitey minutes after that, we found out that A Daughter of No Nation had won the Aurora in the Novel category. Our brother Bill Robson accepted both awards for us, kindly giving up an evening to hobnob with Canada’s SF luminaries. He called to congratulate us, and sent a pic of himself holding both trophies, both certificates, and our nominee pins.
Here’s the speech I sent to Calgary:
Being nominated for an Aurora is one of those things that I believe all Canadian SF authors aspire to. I always did, so it was a thrill and an honor to be on this shortlist with so many great authors whose work I love. I am thankful to my wife, Kelly Robson, to my family, to the people at Tor Books and to all the many friends and colleagues who’ve helped me, over the years, with everything from research and proofreading to unstinting moral support.
Last year, when I had the opportunity to present one of these trophies myself, I was blown away by my good fortune. I feel lucky to be working among such a lively community of brilliant creators, people who celebrate writing, genre fiction, and, above all, each other. I am touched and gratified that you liked A Daughter of No Nation so much; thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Incidentally, the reason
we weren’t in Calgary was that next week we’re going to be in Kansas City for MidAmericon II
. Here’s my schedule:
The Re-emergence of Environmental Speculative Fiction
Thursday 18:00 – 19:00, 2503A (Kansas City Convention Center)
This used to be a booming field but has only recently re-emerged. Why is this and how do today’s tropes differ from the ecological dystopias of the 1970s?
Mr. Peadar O Guilin (M), Brenda Cooper, Alyx Dellamonica
Oceans: The Wettest Frontier
Friday 10:00 – 11:00, 3501F (Kansas City Convention Center)
James Cambias, Mrs. Laurel Anne Hill, Patricia MacEwen, Christopher Weuve (M), Alyx Dellamonica
We Deserve Better: Lesbians and Bi Women for Change
Friday 15:00 – 16:00, 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)
TV SPOILERS! TW: Character Deaths.
Alyx Dellamonica (M), Jaylee James, Nina Niskanen, Jay Wolf
Reading: Alyx Dellamonica
Sunday 13:30 – 14:00, 2203 (Readings) (Kansas City Convention Center)
Today Kelly and I are taking our show on the road, to ChiSeries Guelph, where the two of us will be reading with Marian Thorpe at the Red Brick Cafe at 8 Douglas Street. Be there or… well, be somewhere else, with my best wishes, and we’ll catch you next time.
(Unless you want to be square, or trapezoidal. Then be that. Hey, I’m not the boss of you.)
As many of you may have already heard, Kelly’s “Waters of Versailles” is now on the World Fantasy Award ballot, along with having been nominated for an Aurora Award and a Nebula. That’s quite the luminous hat trick, and I am exceedingly proud and excited.
“Two Year Man,” meanwhile, is on the short list for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, (more correctly, I believe she’s on the first ever short list for short fic for the Sunburst) and “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is on the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award list. You can read all three stories at her site.
As for me, I am on the verge of wrapping up two glorious semesters as a creative writing professor at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus, and I have also landed one of those gigs that, due to Non-Disclosure Agreements, is officially one of those I can’t talk about it but it’s cool, so cool gigs. And there’s a fair prospect of knocking another thing off my writerly bucket list soon. If I pull that one off, I’ll be crowing very loudly indeed.
One of the reasons I am driven to write fiction is so I can try to capture, in words, the essence of those rare, truly profound experiences that life occasionally hands out. The things that are, by their very nature, difficult to capture truthfully without being trite. It’s hard to talk about bliss and heartbreak and transformation, about love, birth, marriage, or loss, without sounding like a greeting card. My students run up against this all the time; trying to put sincere human emotion on the page and beating their fists bloody against the wall of words.
At some point this past Nebula Awards weekend I realized I was not only in the midst of something that intense–the opposite of crisis, yet every bit as all-consuming–and that part of why it was dialled up to nine was tied to an earlier trip Kelly and I made to Chicago, in 1997, on our way to our second Worldcon in San Antonio. Out of that trip came, among other things, the seed of my Asimovs story, “A Slow Day at the Gallery.” I won’t go on, because a) I need to process; b) what I just said, above; and c) I mean to make art out of it all. But it was a seriously big deal. And a thoroughgoing source of joy.
The con also offered many delights that weren’t quite so all-consuming, including:
- People: I go to cons hoping to develop deeper friendships with people in my social media orbit. This weekend I had several long, thrilling conversations, with individuals who I’ve Liked, many times, and wanted to know. I feel very blessed every time this comes together.
- Dancing: When SFWA releases the official video of Emperor Stardust and the Eunuchs of the Forbidden City, I will post it. We were, dare I say it, awesome.
- Brain food: I wasn’t alone in noticing that the quality of programming, the exchange of knowledge and ideas at the con, was extremely high.
- Body food: Chicago lived up to its delicious reputation. The breakfast joint we settled upon, The Goddess and the Baker, was especially good.
It feels significant, in this context, that Kelly and I have been in Toronto three years as of this very day. On the plane home to our little apartment, our beloved cats, our wonderful neighborhood, with two suitcase heaving with books and someone’s ginger liqueur (you know who you are!) my luminous Nebula-nominated wife, of whom I am so justifiably proud, was aglow. “I couldn’t possibly be happier,” she said.
Know what? Yeah. Me too. Things are just that stunningly good right now.