Having some thoughts about representation, both in original storytelling and narrative fanworks, prompted by a couple of memories.
- On a con panel about disability in the media, someone said it was a decade between them first identifying as disabled and becoming part of a disability community, and that they still didn't see any disabled characters in media who were visibly part of a community.
- I went on a brief kick of reading all the white collar OT3 fic. Slash fandom is pretty OTP-heavy and aside from a few fandoms (like White Collar), stories that don't have an endgame in a single monogamous dyad are a rarity. But, like I said, brief kick. I burnt out on it. Why?
After consideration, I think there are three levels of representation of minority identities (and yeah, lumping together chosen and not-chosen things, because I don't think it matters in this case).
1. Presence. There's a character played by a non-white actor, or who has a relationship with someone of the same gender, or who uses a cane, or with a nontraditional gender representation, or who is in an open relationship, or...
2. Identity. The character is shown to identify in a particular way: lesbian, hispanic, kinky, disabled, polyamorous, transgender. There are fictional contexts where this doesn't make sense, if the character's culture doesn't have a framework for identifying that way.
3. Community. The character has a meaningful relationship with communitie(s) and shared culture around their identity, whether they join it or resist it.
Lots of fanworks stop at #1. That's a thing; plenty of people do that, too. The current slash community tends to stop at #2 for the sexual orientation identity of characters. We no longer have much "I'm straight, except for you," but we do have a lot of characters who identify as gay but never mention the idea of gay subculture (or that being gay is statistically unusual, unless that's required for the romantic tension). I see the full spectrum in fanworks about characters doing BDSM, from the ones who don't see it as identity all the way through to characters who either say they don't like the "scene" or who participate in it.
Why is it so hard to get to the third level in fandom? Sometimes it's only accessible to stories set in a fictional world that culturally resembles modern Western culture. And I think sometimes it's because, with few characters belonging to the minority group, focusing on that subculture moves away from the rest of the canon characters. Usually to show interactions between people who share the identity, you have to bring in original characters. I love groups that are family-like and tight knit and us-against-the-world and that doesn't mesh well with one character having a whole other community that we never hear about in canon.
I don't want to invalidate narratives that stop before #3. As I said, plenty of real people don't choose to go that far, and maybe in the fictional world there's only one (minority to us) race or no concept of sexual orientation as identity. But when I'm thirsting for fic about polyamorous people, the only thing that's truly satisfying is... wait, actually, I have never ever read a fic about polyamorous people that acknowledges polyamory as a subculture that the characters have thoughts about. Even if it's set in a future or fantasy world where non-monogamy is accepted. Rare enough that the characters can find an identity like that at all or get any kind of rudimentary "common pitfalls to avoid" wisdom.
So that's why I get burnt out on OT3 fic. Because every one seems to be a special snowflake relationship between people who were previously romantically monogamous. It's like the difference between "lesbian relationship" and "lesbian person."
This entry was originally posted at http://krytella.dreamwidth.org/25010.htm
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