Militant heterosexual white cismale…erm… man speaks

On Tuesday, January 28, Larry Correia wrote a response to Alex Dally MacFarlane’s “Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction” on Tor.com. Regardless of what you think about the thrust of McFarlane’s points, Correia’s response is disproportionately offensive and factually wrong.

In her piece on Tor.com, McFarlane declares, “I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.” A bold pronouncement, but one couched in the idea that McFarlane is “not interested in discussions about the existence of these gender identities: we might as well discuss the existence of women or men. Gender complexity exists. SF that presents a rigid, unquestioned gender binary is false and absurd.” These statement are what those of us in the business refer to as opinions. Interestingly, no where in the piece does McFarlane suggest that writing with binary gender is wrong, merely that she is no longer interested in reading fiction that trends in that direction. And, slightly more strongly worded, she wants more writers to challenge themselves to break through their own rigid thinking.

The impetus behind Correia’s response is,

Okay, aspiring author types, you will see lots of things like this, and part of you may think you need to incorporate these helpful suggestions into your work. After all, this is on Tor.com so it must be legit.  Just don’t. When you write with the goal of checking off boxes, it is usually crap. This article is great advice for writers who want to win awards but never actually be read by anyone.

Although Correia goes on from here to say some incredibly misguided things, the core statement has merit. Writing about gender, particularly non-binary gender, in such a way that it is not organic to the story you’re trying to tell is awful writing advice and will almost assuredly make your book suck. The problem is McFarlane never purports to give advice. Not even a little bit. She is writing her point of view. She is demanding something more of herself and the fiction she reads, not the fiction Correia writes or his readers’ read. What she’s asking for is more fiction that appeals to her, not less that appeals to Correia. It’s the same argument used by those advocates for marriage equality. Our marriage doesn’t lessen your marriage. Except, much like Correia is offended by McFarlane’s feelings, conservatives around the country cannot fathom sharing the precious with someone not like them. It’s a position that, as someone who has self identified as a conservative white male, I find continually reprehensible.

Moving beyond Correia’s initial foray is like watching a motorcycle lay down in rush hour traffic on the 405 in Los Angeles. He is offended by the idea that McFarlane, who he misgenders throughout the post in spite of Google, wants these things that are in opposition to his wants. The entire piece is written with the kind of close minded harrumph I associate with Mr. Wilson hollering at Dennis. He seems to claim that agenda fiction, or something written to make a point, is inferior. And then he decides to just insult everyone,

They’re SCIENCE FICTION readers. You’re probably not going to stun them with your big shocking ideas. You really want to shock a sci-fi reader with your book nowadays? Actually entertain them.

Not only is Correia arguing that science fiction as a genre is no longer relevant (because boring), he’s arguing that the readers are already progressive enough. He’s making the case that science fiction, which many have argued is an idea factory gone bankrupt, has enough big ideas and needs to focus more on telling stories. As if that wasn’t enough, he also believes that addressing gender issues, or anything of a social nature, will somehow create uninteresting fiction, that anything non-binary or non-straight won’t sell. These kinds of sentiments are damaging. They feed a narrative that only ciswhitehetero stories with patriarchal cultures have an opportunity for success. Even if the facts support that idea (and I’m not sure they do), it’s still a position that seems in direct conflict with creative work. Fiction or art must be willing to consider all aspects of the human experience if it’s ever going to grow. Maybe Correia has no interest in growing the field. Maybe he’s only interested in securing his own fenced in slice of the pie. I’d like the pie to get bigger.

What’s really going on here is Correia decided to conflate a host of issues because he felt like getting on a soapbox. To give himself a platform to do so, he put words in McFarlane’s mouth and looks like a hammer in want of a nail. It’s pandering to an audience that offered over a hundred ‘attaboys in the comments. Sadly, the good advice Correia was trying to give, write a good story, is completely lost in a murky diatribe.

I believe there’s plenty room for the kinds of stories McFarlane is in search of. And it won’t destroy science fiction.

…there’s also some really weird stuff in there about the Hugos based around the assumption that the Hugo voters are progressive and interested in social agendas. I don’t think Larry Correia and I have the same interpretation of the ballot. I believe Correia is looking strictly at the fact that his novels aren’t being nominated and making an assumption that story driven adventure novels are precluded from the ballot. He should probably read more Seanan McGuire. And/or, pull his head out of his ass.

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer's Book Review. When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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Comments
  • Jared January 29, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    The only things more vile than that man are the diseased cuttlefish that comment on his blog.

    • G January 29, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Tom Kratman ultra-LOLz.

  • Thomas Wagner January 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Correia decided to conflate a host of issues because he felt like getting on a soapbox.

    That was what I saw, too, and doubly ironic set alongside Correia’s angry pronouncement that “Readers hate being preached at.”

  • Bob @ Beauty in Ruins January 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I have to admit, I’ve only skimmed Larry and Jim’s responses, but I did read Alex’s piece and found it interesting. One of the strengths of science fiction for me is that it’s always been able to freely explore new ideas and concepts, especially when talking about distant futures, alternate realities, or alien civilizations. Personally, I find stories that step outside the gender binary to be fascinating.

    Admittedly, sometimes I just want to be entertained with a ciswhitehetero adventure, one that reeks of pulp patriarchal prudishness. Then again, sometimes I want a story that will challenge my expectations, make me think, and imbue me with a sense of wonder.

    There’s room on my shelves for both.

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) January 29, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Larry Correia writes a fair amount of successful fiction (NY Times Bestsellers).

    However, he does have an, ah, traditional point of view that IS a hammer in search of a nail. He decided to wield that against Alex today.

    If you write to a checklist, be it for diversity, plot points, or anything else, the fiction is going to suffer. I agree with Larry on that part, but the rest of his post. Uh, no.

    • G January 29, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      It’s just so horribly reductionist–as if saying “I want authors of science fiction to challenge traditional binary gender assumptions” means “YOU CAN’T USE TRADITIONAL BINARY GENDER SCHEMES ANYMORE.”

  • […] on a fundamental (and perhaps intentional) misrepresentation of what #1 was getting at." By Justin Landon As you can probably tell, I'm most inclined to the set of arguments and framing of said arguments […]

  • Cat Rambo January 29, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I started reading the Correia piece and it got so incoherent I had to stop. Yes, write what you want to write is good advice. Excellent advice. It’d be a more interesting point if MacFarlane was talking about anything that had to do with that.

  • Herb January 29, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    It’s hard to argue that “I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories” isn’t “purport[ing] to give advice.”

    • Kathryn (@Loerwyn) January 30, 2014 at 4:14 am

      Especially when he says “Listen to me I’ve sold many books”.

  • Nancy January 31, 2014 at 1:44 am

    I got the impression she was saying what she would personally like to see in Science Fiction. I also thought this is her area of study so it made sense that she’d like to see it extended beyond a default. To add to that she wasn’t prescribing what we should like or be reading for our enjoyment. Correia’s piece had some very valid points, but it was lost in the vitriol and hyperbole of his post and the ‘takedown’ of Hines piece felt petty. His fans didn’t help with ‘yeah you totally destroyed the sissy liberal, all liberal fiction is message fiction and bad’ posts that came after. I thought it ironic he complained about the conformity of thought in the comments of both mcFarlanes and Hines pieces yet didn’t recognise it in his own (and dissenting voices in the comments section didn’t need to be moderated as they were were quashed or dismissed by him then dog piled on by the fan/commentators.). The real question is, isn’t asking for more diversity and egalitarian stories in science fiction a good thing? It’s not destroying what’s already there (as some claim) it’s just broadening horizons, and to me, that’s what science fiction is all about.

  • Tom Lloyd February 3, 2014 at 6:22 am

    As a hetro white male author who lives in a fairly insulated world when it comes to such things, anyone got suggestions as to where I can get an understanding of what’s meant by post-binary gender? Obviously I get what non-binary itself means, but terms like cismale or whatever mean nothing to me. I’m guessing someone on the net has written an idiot’s guide to terminology and issues/questions being discussed?

  • BDG February 4, 2014 at 7:14 am

    As a sociologist-in-training I’ll attempt to answer your question. The term cisgender means when ones gender matches up with the body they are born with (a term created so people would stop using it as the default of existence). North American cultures defines gender as a binary, as in there is only two ‘male’ or ‘female’…this is a false dichotomy as gender is a vast spectrum of being (much of the time informed by culture). This binary often denies other modes of gender as being non-existence, a mental illness (transphobia given legitimacy via science like all good hate in the future!), or being morally wrong. This binary is often enforced by popular culture. ‘Post-binary’ is simply getting past this scientific falsity and acknowledging the spectrum of how humans exist. A side-note binary gender, while not a solely western phenomenon, is not how every culture deals with gender. Third genders do exist is some cultures, some cultures have more than three.

    Things that gender is not:
    1. biological sex (male, female, intersex)
    2. sexual orientation (gay men still can identify as men)

    Things that gender inform:
    1. how one dresses
    2. how one interacts in social situations
    3. how one views oneself

    That was a crash course in gender, and how it relates to the conversation brought up by the Tor post. As I’m mainly a student at the moment (and one that has mainly taken classes dealing with classical theories, class struggle, statistics, and general inequality) I would defer to any trained sociologist (especially those from the (intersectional) feminist school of thought), trained anthropologist, and/or person who is actually affected by (and thus involved) by the problem of binary gender.

  • Zachary Jernigan February 4, 2014 at 11:48 am

    “Attaboy, Justin! Well said, all of that. Correia’s one of the most self-righteous, hyperbolic writer out there, and deserves to be called out for aggressively misinterpreting MacFarlane’s (pretty obvious, I thought) intention.

  • mattABrinks February 13, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Ignorance is the best punishment. We need to stop billowing Correia’s post. Any press is good press..

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