Gender, Non-Binary, and Things (or, the Likelihood of Failure)

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As you may have heard, I changed my review guidelines so I could join my podcast, The Skiffy and Fanty Show, in its 2015 “Women and Non-Binary in SFF” theme.  This post isn’t really about that so much as the related subject of life and getting things right.

Or, rather, getting things wrong and hoping for forgiveness.

Already, I can tell that my efforts to provide representation for women and non-binary folks is going to an informative journey through no fault of the people involved.  Learning is, after all, partly experiential, and so it’s unlikely I can go through a year with such a clear focus without picking up on my own failings or picking up new behaviors, habits, concerns, dreams, aspirations, and so on.  I’m the type of person who finds something they love or care about, and then I start dreaming about all the ways I can do that thing, often knowing deep down that I won’t be able to paint the whole picture with the resources on hand.  Ambitious to a fault, if you will, about the things that matter to me, or that I find I’m most passionate about.  Podcasting and issues of representation happen to be two of the things from which I currently derive the most joy.  Partly, that’s because I find podcasting to be a great deal of fun — reading books, watching movies, and hanging out with friends; what’s not to love?

And while issues of representation don’t provide the same kind of joy, they are something about which I am deeply passionate (if my Twitter feed were not already an indication).  It’s something I try to get right, not just in terms of science fiction and fantasy, but in terms of my everyday life.  Representation encompasses so much of the world we live in, and it informs so much of the life I now lead.  That’s why I wanted this year’s theme to be “Women and Non-Binary in SFF.”  I wanted the thing I love doing to be part of the thing that I am deeply passionate about, but in an explicit, “out there” sense.  This is about doing what I think is important and right.

In truth, I will fail at this — sometimes miserably.  I will identify people by the wrong pronouns, even when I know it’s incorrect; habit will often get the best of me.  I will also assume a gender or sex for someone because I don’t know how to ask, or I may just get it wrong because I’m monumentally stupid sometimes.  In fact, I’ve already done some of these in the past (thankfully, to someone who is enormously gracious with their forgiveness).  I will fail in ways I can’t even imagine right now, because there’s so much I still don’t know or understand about gender, sex, sexism, patriarchy, women, non-binary people, and all manner of related topics.  The things I don’t know could fill the Grand Canyon.

In truth, I haven’t been a good feminist for my whole life.  At times, I have been anything but.  I’ve done things I know now were wrong — and probably knew were wrong then, but used all kinds of mental gymnastics to convince myself otherwise.  Things that sometimes haunt me when I realize I was one of “those” guys, even though I was also one of “those” guys, too (relentlessly bullied, depressed (still), insecure (yeah, still), hopeless).  But being one of “those” guys didn’t make it okay for me to be one of “those” guys.  And I still feel a deep need to atone for the wrongs I have done, not just to women, but to all manner of people.  Not because any individual demands it, but because I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

I want to be a better person tomorrow than I am today.  I want to be the best person that I can be, even though I know perfection is impossible and that I will always be just shy of the mark no matter what.  But striving to be something “more” in life is, I think, more important than succeeding and moving on.

So this is going to be a year where I try to be a good person, where I will fail, and where I will apologize.  By 2016, I hope I am a much better person than I was when this year began.  We shall see.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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