I want justice in a world that seems increasingly less likely to dish it out. I want the media to have greater and more accurate representation for everyone. I want to go to the movies and see a veritable Crayola box of colors of people in them. I want all of these things and more. As much as I want to see these things now, I’m also a pragmatist who understands that overturning the status quo doesn’t happen overnight. For that, I have to dip into my patience reserves.
Before I go any further, I’m going to put a few things out there. I am a white, bisexual woman. I grew up comfortably middle class in the affluent Montgomery County, Maryland. I am college-educated and the high school I attended, Thomas S. Wootton High School, has appeared on many lists of the best schools in the country. I am, at present, overweight and reasonably healthy. It’s necessary to say these things before beginning any kind of discussion that involves the feelings of marginalized groups. As the folks on Tumblr would say, this is me acknowledging the privilege in my life.
I can speak about my personal experience as a chubby woman in a culture that prizes thinness as a part of the conventional beauty package. I can talk about how bisexuals are either completely erased or terribly portrayed in the media. I can talk about the sexism I’ve experienced in my life. Those are the struggles I can speak to with some degree of authority and feel like I’m not stepping on toes or speaking for others. There are so many fights in which I’m not an active participant. For those, I try to make myself the best ally I can be.
It’s a learning experience and no one gets it right the first time. I’ve had to do a lot of research and really think about the words that come out of my mouth or fly from my fingertips. No, I’m not expecting to get some sort of pat on the back for my efforts. It’s just called being a decent human being. Being human, I still get things wrong and I still step into messes that I didn’t quite realize were there. Thankfully, those moments are becoming fewer and fewer as time goes by.
For all of the work that I do, there are still so many who don’t even bother to understand or empathize. They’re happy in their own little boxes and are uncomfortable with things that don’t conform to the standards with which they were raised. The deliberately close-minded are one of the few groups that I just don’t understand at all. With them, the best we can do is to try and educate them even if the attempt may seem futile.
Are We There Yet?
Now that I’ve established all of that, I’m going to address a trend that is making me twitchy and irritable. In recent years, there has been some progress made as far as the representation of various groups in media. While I understand the frustration that many feel, it just bugs me that it seems as though we aren’t allowed a moment to say, “Look at this baby step we made! Isn’t that great? We moved forward!” Instead, we must greet each step forward with, “Why haven’t we taken three steps forward? There’s a whole long hike ahead of us and we need to be so much farther along!”
It’d be like Frodo in Farmer Maggot’s field complaining about how they weren’t at the Black Gate yet. You just freakin’ left Bag End, where did you think you’d be by now? Or someone going up to Theoden after Helm’s Deep and complaining that their post-battle celebration was premature. After all, they could have driven all of those orcs back to Mordor. He should just drop his tankard and get that shit done.
I’m not saying that we should take the crumbs they give us without standing up and asking for more. As I established earlier, I want the whole damn cake. Sure, I’d like it now. I’m a big fan of instant gratification because I know that’s going to be one fantastically delicious cake. I also know that baking a cake takes time.
I really need to stop with the random metaphors and similes.
So, there’s been this article floating around Facebook about the awesomeness of this openly trans character in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I posted it. A bunch of friends of mine posted it. Everyone seemed to be really excited about this moment of progress and making plans to acquire the game as soon as they could. Then, the discussion started about the choice of voice actor for the role. A woman had been chosen to voice this trans man. I defended that decision. That said, I do agree with those who point out that it was a problematic decision.This is just another in a long line of discussions that have arisen surrounding progress that hasn’t been progress enough.
I’m all for holding major media companies to higher standards. I just want us to be able to celebrate when they do take a step toward progress. I want them to know that we see they’re trying and that we appreciate their efforts. Sure, it’s like giving them a gold star for participation but, hey, they’re participating.
These are companies who are frequently controlled by forces that just care about the bottom line. As I’ve said before, they’re businesses motivated by money. Ten years ago, an openly trans character in a major video game would have been unheard of and a risk many companies would never take.
Step By Step
It’s frustrating that progress is slow. It’s frustrating that we still have to fight tooth and nail to have more voices heard. It’s frustrating that for every step forward there are still so many left to go. I get that anger and disappointment. I mean, who else just sort of rolled their eyes at the predictable casting of British darling Benedict Cumberbatch as Marvel’s Doctor Strange? He’ll do a fine job, yes, but it’s a part of the on-going trend of Marvel playing it annoyingly safe when it comes to the boundaries they were once willing to push.
For all those setbacks, we’ve got the victories of the upcoming “Agent Carter” and Captain Marvel. The scales aren’t balanced yet, but we’ve got a couple of weights in there to make things a little less skewed. That’s something to celebrate. It should be okay to celebrate those little victories while still acknowledging that the job isn’t done.
That’s what I really want to say here. We are making progress. It’s halting and not without issues, but it’s forward motion of some variety. Allow people a moment to cheer those first steps toward greater inclusiveness. It’s okay. It’s also okay for you to point out what improvements could be made. It just feels like we get so used to expressing outrage that we find it hard to express excitement at the incremental progress.
It’s alright to like a thing while still admitting that it’s problematic. It’s all right to cheer on that ground-breaking trans character while pointing out that it would have been much better had said character been voiced by someone of the appropriate gender. I just wish that the focus would be more on the positive than the negative. As I wrote earlier today, “I just want it to be okay to celebrate a victory in battle without focusing on how we haven’t won the war yet.”
Keep fighting the good fight. Keep on pushing for more and better. We deserve so much more than we’ve been given. That said, it’s cool to take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come without letting the worry of how far we’ve yet to go rain on your squee parade. Once that moment has passed, kick into high gear again. We still have that long fight ahead of us.