Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Open Letter to Wen Spencer Regarding the Elfhome Series

I have been unable to find Wen Spencer's contact information. If anyone knows how to get in touch with her, please let me know in the comments.

Hello Ms. Spencer,

A friend of mine recommended I read Tinker and I'm glad she did. I loved the story and I loved the characters. I was also impressed by how open-minded Tinker's universe seems to be.


Tinker cover
Both Tinker and Oilcan have "nut brown" skin and no one ever seems to notice that or mention that it makes them different. I was thrilled to read about non-white characters, especially in a sci-fi setting where race doesn't seem to matter.

Your main character Tinker is an independent and intelligent woman. She's one of the best engineers and inventors of her day, a field traditionally dominated by men. Your elves have women in positions of power and combat. I was thrilled to read about these strong female characters, even more thrilled that their strength seems to be a matter of course and not unusual in the setting of the books.

When Wolf Who Rules introduced the fact that elves are usually polyamorous, I was apprehensive to see how you'd handle that. But I think you did a great job of showing how that makes sense in their society and how it doesn't interfere with the love that married couples feel for each other.

After all this progressive, idealistic thinking, I was shocked when I realized the heteronormativity of the books. You made a specific point to say that sexual experimentation is normal and expected - but only the female bodyguards have slept with Wolf and only the male bodyguards want to sleep with Tinker. When Tinker asks who has slept with her husband, she only asks the women. It never even occurs to her to ask the men. It's as if homo- and bisexuality simply do not exist in your universe. After reading about this ideal society where there is no racist or sexist behavior, it's shocking to realize that the universe itself discriminates based on orientation, by refusing to allow LGBT characters to exist.

Wolf Who Rules cover
I've read novels where there are no LGBT characters in a cast of dozens. It saddens me that our society is still so prejudiced against people of alternate sexualities that it doesn't occur to these authors to show the full rainbow of human existence. I don't blame these authors for their ignorance.

But for you to explore one avenue of alternate sexuality and yet specifically keep people like me from living in your utopia? To make a point to say that elves are comfortable and open-minded in their sexuality and yet not allow them to consider bi- or homosexual behavior? That means LGBT characters are being excluded and that is far more hurtful than being ignored.

I know some people may think I'm overreacting, that this is just one book and one instance of heteronormativity. But it's a piece of the pattern of excluding people of alternate sexualities, another brick in the wall to keep us from living normal lives, and this pattern needs to be overturned one piece at a time.

Sincerely,
Sylvia

21 comments:

  1. Maybe just a marketing issue. Try Mercedes Lackey for more LGBT characters in a fantasy setting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, the polyamory wasn't mentioned in the marketing either, so I think the author should have been able to casually mention some queerness. :/

    Thanks for the recommendation; the Magic's Pawn trilogy is one of my favorites by her. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just to be clear, Wen Spencer really hasn't gotten into the underpinnings of sexual relations in elven culture.

    I would venture a guess (only based on my interpretation) that it wouldnt be unusually for an elf to be bisexual.

    Given the whole personal-guards-as-pseudo-harem, it seems likely that most of them are bi, especially given some of the interactions between Stormsong and Tinker.

    Anyways, hopefully more information on elven culture will be in book 3 (which was actually the info I was looking for when I came across this site).

    ReplyDelete
  4. She got into polyamory in elven culture in some detail, so some aspects of sexuality have been explored. And the polyamory was framed in very heteronormative terms.

    No, Ms. Spencer never came out and said, "Queers don't exist here." But she didn't have to because when she had situations where queer sexuality should exist, she just ignored it. Wolf has only slept with women despite specifically saying that he'd been experimenting. Only male guards want to sleep with Tinker.

    If she were to announce tomorrow that a certain character is queer, I'd be relieved. But I would see that as a change in her universe. It's not a situation she's set up all along. As her universe stands right now, there's a place where queerness should be and isn't.

    As for book 3, I have a link to the author's blog from last October saying book 3 is tentatively titled Elfhome and will be out in the end of 2011. Sorry, I don't have any more recent information.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Check out her other books, Brother's Price and the Ukiah Oregon Series. Don't know about Tinker's universe so far, but I can tell you in Ms. Spencers other universes there are no biases. Just a note.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I actually reviewed A Brother's Price on this blog, and there is discussion of female/female same sex attraction in it.

    My point in this letter isn't that Ms. Spencer is being deliberately biased. I don't think it was her intent to exclude queers. My point is that there was a space where we would expect to see same sex attraction, but didn't. And honestly, having same sex attraction in other novels just makes it sting a little more. It's like she can't have queers in her universes unless she remembers to specifically set aside a place for us.

    She didn't demonize QUILTBAGs; she erased us. Subconsciously, I'm sure, but she did it all the same.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A very late reply, but I just found this:

    Well, Mrs. Spencer does have a rarely updated LJ available here: http://wen-spencer.livejournal.com/

    You may be able to find contact information from there.

    Now, Yes, I do see your point to hetronormitivity, but I actually picked up on some homosexual...*blinks* you know I don't actually know what the proper term is for it?

    Anyways, the women were comparing men to ice cream flavors, and explicitly put together two male flavors.

    While this could be viewed as an "Either Or" senario, it could also be seen as "Threesome" or "I want to watch them have homosexual sex."

    This is also her main series, and as such may be trying to wait to get more fans before she pushes things that may be considered more edgy.

    She may tackle it in a very disturbing way, which Mrs. Spencer tends not to flinch away from. Why would the Skin Clan want their slaves to not reproduce?

    *shudder* eugh.

    In short, there is something that may be considered a LGBT nod, and don't loose hope.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Much thanks for the LJ link. In the last year and a half I've moved the blog away from direct interactions with authors, but I certainly appreciate your effort. :)

    I believe subtext may be the word you're looking for.

    I think a woman desiring two men together (together with her or just with each other) might be considered kinky, but it's not homoerotic. She's not desiring another woman and the two men in her scenario aren't desiring each other. She might be imagining them desiring each other (which is not stated in the text, so you have to do a bit of guesswork to get even this far), but they aren't actually doing it so it's still just an expression of a woman desiring men. See what I mean?

    "Something that may be considered a LGBT nod" (if you squint) is a far cry from not erasing LGBT+ people. My original point still stands: Ms. Spencer repeatedly goes on about how elves are open and free and unrepressed with sexuality and yet never once do we see anyone, of any species or gender, showing attraction to a member of the same sex. That sounds pretty repressed as far as the characters go, and pretty insulting as far as the readers go.

    I'm glad that you're able to stay hopeful, truly I am. Myself, after two books, I'm a bit more cynical. *shrug*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's nice to be back, I just finished reading my ARC of the third book in the series.

      Homosexuality is addressed in an approving/welcoming manner in it. And interestingly in the unspoken aftermath.

      Stormsong, Tinker's female halfcaste sekasha was watching a race before the first book and saw Tinker. She had one of her bolts of foresight.

      She knew that she would love Tinker sometime in the future. She "couldn't imagine how [their] lives would intertwine," as she was still bound to Windwolf.

      "Even if I had taken you as a lover, I was only in Pittsburgh when Sparrow came to the city."

      This is significant because one, it shows both one kind of love Stormsong has for Tinker, or perhaps elves don't make as many distinctions as humans do. And two, Stormsong is Sekasha, she's HOLY. They are considered to have perfect morality. While it is possible that the culture might lag behind the Sekasha views, the culture, and the laws certainly wouldn't be against the view. It is more likely that it is embraced.

      Tinker then thought to herself she'd be totally freaked out if Stormsong had propositioned her for a date. Then she immediately corrects herself, she would have been curious enough to try it out. It couldn't have gone any worse than her date with Nathan. This of course takes her thoughts down a dark turn and the issue is basically dropped.

      Stormsong proceeds to dress Tinker up and share her clothing, (stripping down in front of her not bodyshy despite Stormsong's implied intrest.) including Wind Clan Blue Cheetah print underwear, and blue jean lowriders.

      Tinker: "You can see my panties"
      Stormsong: "That's the point."

      (Tinker proceeds to steal/borrow Stormsong's clothing whenever she can get away with it.)

      Anyways, The Main Character (tm) is comfortable with it Stormsong despite everything, the familiarity may mean that they will come together as a secondary or tertiary pairing.

      Which Ms. Spencer hasn't made a niche for LGBT peoples, hasn't shoehorned them into her world, neither has she excluded them. The more I look at it, the more it seems like she's modeling "normal," where LGBT issues, or people, don't occur to the heteronormitive majority unless it's right under their noses, thus Tinker's 'blindness.'

      Another reason why, despite the elves being hedonistic, that LGBT pairings seem absent is this: Elves are also intensely private.

      Not to say Ms. Spencer is perfect, I just think she's approaching things in steps.

      Delete
    2. I'm glad to hear the author is making progress away from hetero-normativity in the series. That's good news.

      Delete
  9. Well Sylvia, when you say that a book should reflect people of alternate sexualities I presume you are referring to homosexuality. Certanly I hope you are not trying to include bestiality and pedophelia because some people would claim those are alternate sexualities also and should be included. For the most part, homosexuals in America also lead normal lives. I say this because I have homosexual friends and I see how they live. They eat, work, have friends, garner fame, and generally live as their heterosexual neighbors. Certainly there are some things you might like to have changes in such as marriage laws but, you know, life isn't perfect. Remember, you could live in some other country where you would be put to death for an 'alternate sexual identity'.

    From the tome of your letter, I expect you live in one of America's large urban areas or an academic environment. But, in case you haven't noticed, heterosexuality is the norm here in America. So, I find it arrogant that you feel it unacceptable when an author does not deal with those things you consider important, such as your sexual orientation. This is a fictional book - a story. Just as there are many outlooks here so there are many authors and it is unrealistic to expect them all to beat your drum. And, many authors do deal with your particular sexual orientation. Many of us just don't give a damn about your "alternate sexualities" as long as you don't try to imress us with them. They are your business and we could care less. We just want to read a good story.

    ReplyDelete
  10. As far as arrogance goes, "Anonymous", the comment policy is directly above the comment box. It would have taken you two seconds to realize your comment was breaking it. I am allowing your comment to stand only because I am about to change the site's commenting platform.

    When I said "alternate sexualities", I was referring to homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, queer, etc. The LGBT acronym that I used several times in the post stands for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender. People who confuse pedophilia and homosexuality are called "bigots".

    It's true, I might live in another country where I could be murdered by the state for my orientation. I might also live in another country where I could have full civil rights. The "what if" game goes both ways. But the reality is that I live in the USA, where I pay just as many taxes as everyone else but only have a fraction of their civil rights.

    If you reread the post carefully, Anonymous, you will notice that I specifically said that the problem is not that the author ignored the LGBT+ rainbow. Frankly, most authors do, and if I got up in arms every time I read a book with 100% heterosexuality, I'd never come down. No, the problem is that the author made a point of saying that her elves were exploratory with their sexuality - hedonistic, if you will. She made their openness about sex a defining part of their character. Yet she never allowed them to explore sex with members of the same sex.

    This annoys me as a bisexual woman, of course, but it also annoys me as a reader who wants to read a good story - the same thing you want, Anonymous. The author's plot hole in regards to sexuality is just as irritating as if a character proclaimed, "I've searched every room in the castle!" when you can see from the dust on the door right behind them that it hasn't been opened in years.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well if you want to read about LBGT sex all the time, write your own books and publish them. Don't climb on the back of a crab and charge others with failing to abide by your silly little requirements.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have completely missed my point, Earl, and I suspect you did so on purpose. For the benefit of others who may read this:

      1) I never said I wanted to read about LGBT sex, just that the author had a giant plot hole when she discussed sex exclusively in terms of different-sex pairings.

      2) I certainly never said every book had to have LGBT sex, or that I wanted to read it "all the time". I have no problem with different-sex pairings - in fact, some of my best friends are straight! I'm just tired of people pretending LGBT+ people don't exist, because it's a) factually inaccurate and b) morally wrong.

      3) It's a logical fallacy to say I'm not allowed to criticize unless/until I can do the same better. Pretty sure the people who get paid to write movie reviews aren't all directors and producers. Also pretty sure that talking about these issues is a way of showing authors and publishers that there is a market for books addressing these issues, so in fact I am helping books about LGBT+ people to exist.

      4) I fail to see how acknowledging the existence of LGBT-ness is "silly" or "little". Then again, I think LGBT+ people are people, so that might be my problem right there.

      Honestly, Earl, I'm genuinely curious: what do you think you are adding to the conversation here? All you are doing is trying to shut the conversation down.

      Delete
  12. It's frankly astonishing to me that this post, written 18 months ago when my audience was still very small, has the most comments of any post of mine despite its relatively low hit count.

    This suggests to me that a significant number of people are coming to my blog looking for information about Tinker or Elfhome and being so inspired by what they read that they simply must comment. Interesting.

    For the record, I stand by what I said, though if I were to write this today I think I would do a better job of it. My point remains: the Elfhome series by Wen Spencer is heteronormative when it says that the only sex in existence is sex between people of different genders. That's hurtful to LGBT+ people and it's just plain bad writing.

    ReplyDelete
  13. The main character of the last Ukiah Oregon series is gay and in a long-term relationship with his partner. While both characters are gay, they are not defined by their sexuality. It's one of the few good books that lets the character who is also gay, rather than be the gay character. While this fact doesn't change that LGBT individuals aren't seen on screen in the Tinker-verse, it does show that Spencer is more insightful than most authors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While I'm glad to know that, Amy, see my response to Vgimlet above. It's not just that there are no LGBT+ individuals on screen - it's that the author says the characters are very sexually open and adventurous, yet everyone assumes everyone else is straight. It's hypocritical for Spencer to simultaneously claim that her elves are sexually liberated, yet show all of them as very hetero-normative.

      Again, if this was just a universe where there were no queer people, I probably wouldn't have said anything because frankly, most spec-fic universes have no queer people. It was the erasure of claiming sexual enlightenment while not showing queer people or same-sex attraction that bothered me.

      Delete
  14. I thought about this some more and have come to agree with you even more. I just read this blog post by Seanan McGuire about this very same issue and immediately agreed with her, too. I think you'll like her discussion, as it parallels yours in many ways. It looks like McGuire realized that she never had any on-screen same-sex relationships, even though *she* knew they were there. So I'm looking forward to seeing more of that in her upcoming books, as she says she will make them more present and clear.


    http://seanan-mcguire.livejournal.com/435156.html

    PS: I also remembered that the "character who is gay" is in several of the other Ukiah Oregon books - as a supporting character. He becomes the main character in the third book. I'd still recommend you reading it. I'd love to hear your perspective on him, if nothing else.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooo, love the link, thanks! Short excerpt for anyone else reading:

      Because saying they were there wasn't enough. It's never enough. We need to see those people, in part because for every kid like me, combing the margins for hidden people I could relate to, there are ten kids who just calmly accepted than yes, they were always going to be the protagonist.
      ---
      I actually own the first book of the Ukiah Oregon series, and plan to read it as I get my TBR whittled down. So I'm not sure when I'll get to it, but I will eventually. :)

      Delete
  15. I like the points you brought up in this blog, because they echo some of my own thoughts, but I have to ask, have you read the third book yet? it deals a bit more with it. There's hints at LGBT throughout the whole series, but Spencer does address it directly in a conversation between Stormsong and Tinker (which I think is quoted up above in one of the comments).

    I think the reason behind not showing alternate sexualities is because Tinker is always so caught up in the next dangerous thing that she never has time to actually figure half this out. Taking into account that we only see elves from Tinker's (or another human's) point of view most of the time, elves are private creatures, and Tinker is rather blind when it comes to all things sexual (Take Nathan or Pony for example, both of which had to be explained to her point blank), so too is the reader's knowledge of the world and the elves limited. Wen Spencer probably wanted to focus on the plot and not go too into detail on things that while extremely interesting are really not necessary to the plot.

    As for only male elves wanting to have sex with Tinker and only female elves having slept with Windwolf, the latter could only be attracted to/attempted to sleep with females so far (Seeing as he's the equivalent of twenty-five or so, I think?) and the female elves could refrain from propositioning Tinker yet because a) she's not interested/obviously still monogamous, b) they have forever to get her to change her mind and c) she's still reeling from being turned into an elf (not to mention all the other shit she's had to put up with). Just food for thought.

    That being said, I agree with you and would like to see the elves and their culture explored a lot more than the spells they can do. I wouldn't mind a few LGBT relationships thrown in for good measure, either, even just to change things up a bit.

    ~Brandi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, and would add that being, what, 18(?), the elves still think of her as being a child, so even the propositions are only coming from the elves that are closest to her. Those being Pony and Stormsong, sine the other 3 members of her hand are named, but even then I only remember Rainlily. I think that this means that she isn't as close to the other members of the Sekhasha caste, yet, and won't receive 'invitations' until that time. Sometimes, all you need is opportunity, and maybe someone who isn't intimidated by her.

      Of course. I'm more concerned that the story is there, and not a lot of wandering around like some other authors I could name.

      By the way, she has written 4 short stories that haven't been mentioned. Wyvern, Pittsburgh Backyard and Garden, Blue Sky, and Peace Offering. Mostly, they are filler that cover the blank spots, and she might very well write a short story that will address this issue. Or address it in the next book, Wood Sprites.

      ~Thinking about wayyy to many things

      Delete

You can use some HTML tags, such as < b>, < i>, and < a>.

Anonymous comments will be deleted. Selecting the "Name/URL" option does not require a URL and you may enter whatever name you please as long as it isn't "Anonymous".

Due to a recent influx of spam, all comments will be held until approved by a moderator.

For everything else, the golden rule is Don't be an asshole. I hope I don't have to elaborate on this; it should be common sense.