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.