Thursday, 21 April 2016

Why I Will Never Agree To Calls For Silence

Recently, the RWA issued an apology for survey done in 2005 which asked RWA members to vote on whether romance should be redefined as being between one man and one woman.  This was rightly dismissed as being too restrictive and excluding ménage and polyamory romance as well as LGBTQ romance.

The RWA said the survey should never have been done.  "In issuing the survey, RWA failed its members, its genre and its mission.... We apologize for letting our members down and for failing to treat all our members with the respect they deserve."  That, to me, went to the heart of the issue.  Withdrawing RWA support from those subgenres would have been an attempt to silence them.

J. Michael Straczynski wrote a beautiful "Declaration of Principles" for his show, Babylon 5, which eloquently explains the horror of imposed silence (this is only part of it and I encourage everyone to go look at the whole thing):

The universe speaks with many languages, but only one voice...
It is the small, still voice that says
We are one
No matter the blood
No matter the skin...
We are one...
We must be kind to one another
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost diminishes us.

I support the right of everyone to tell both their own stories and any other story which resonates with their soul.

In the wake of the apology, there have been a number of posts and tweets condemning those who tell stories which "don't belong to them" and blaming them for preventing authors from those groups and cultures from telling their own stories.  I can understand the frustration underlying those posts, but, respectfully, they miss the point.

We are not alien and separate from one another.  We have far more in common than we have differences.  Thus, claiming that those outside a particular group can have no insight or interest to offer is just plain wrong.  They are not authorities, but can offer different perspectives.

Writers of colour and writers from other groups, such as LGBTQ, have traditionally been discriminated against when it comes to publishing.  That's a fact and I don't dispute it.  But the problem lies in publication and promotion, not in the number of stories out there.  Calls to silence other writers will not solve the inherent problem.  I will support efforts to encourage more diversity in submissions and in publications.  I will support efforts to bring attention to diverse writers.  But I won't support silence.

I was speaking about this post with a friend of mine, who rightly asked: would I support telling stories that I consider morally repugnant?  Last year, there was a debate over a contest submission which featured a Jewish woman falling in love with a Nazi commander and converting to Christianity.  Obviously it was a story which resonated with someone and they spent considerable effort telling it.

Here's how I split that particular hair: I support the right of the author to tell that story.  I would have a problem promoting it as I feel that real love requires a sense of equality which can never be between a jailer and someone slated for genocide.  I was also offended by the idea of the heroine abandoning her faith in order to achieve love.  But the solution to my offence is not to demand the author's silence.  It's to use it as an example to share why such ideas are a problem.  The solution to offensive speech is not censorship, it's more speech.

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