In my novel Mail Order Bride, the three main characters are a lesbian and two agendered aliens. In my novel Scatter, the main character is a lesbian, the love interest is a pansexual alien, and the major side characters include a half Cuban, half black Dominican lesbian, a Chinese Dragon, a New York born Jewish Dragon, and a Transgender Welsh Dragon. In my novel The Master of Puppets, the Main Characters are a lesbian shapeshifting reptilian alien cyborg and a half black, half Japanese lesbian. The major side characters include three gender fluid shapeshifting reptilian alien cyborgs, and a pansexual human. In my novel Transistor, the main character is a Trans Lesbian, the love interest is a Half human/Half Angel non-observant Ethiopian Jew, and the major side characters include a Transgender Welsh Dragon (the same one from Scatter), a Transgender woman, a Latino Lesbian, an autistic man, three Middle Eastern Arch Angels, and a hive mind AI with literally hundreds of genders. In my novel The Inevitable singularity, one of the main characters is a lesbian, another has a less clearly defined sexuality but she is definitely in love with the lesbian, and the third is functionally asexual due to a vow of chastity she takes very seriously. The major side characters include a straight guy from a social class similar to the Dalit (commonly known as untouchables) in India, a bisexual woman, a man who is from a race of genetically modified human/frog hybrids, and a woman from a race of genetically modified humans who are bred and sold as indentured sex workers.
Why am I bringing all of this up? Well, first, because it’s kind of cool to look at the list of different characters I’ve created, but mostly because it connects to what I want to talk about today, which should be obvious from the title of the essay. The concepts of ‘forced diversity’ and ‘virtue signaling’.
For those who aren’t familiar with these terms, they’re very closely related concepts. ‘Forced Diversity’ is the idea that characters who aren’t neurotypical cisgendered heterosexual white males are only ever included in a story because of outside pressure from some group (usually called Social Justice Warriors, or The Woke Brigade or something similar) to meet some nebulous political agenda. The caveat to this is, of course, that you can have a women/women present as long as they are hot, don’t make any major contributions to the resolution of the plot, and the hero/heroes get to fuck them before the end of the story. ‘Virtue Signaling’, according to Wikipedia, is a pejorative neologism for the expression of a disingenuous moral viewpoint with the intent of communicating good character.
The basic argument is that Forced Diversity is a form of virtue signaling. That no one would ever write characters who aren’t neurotypical cisgendered heterosexual white males because they want to. They only do it to please the evil SJW’s who are somehow both so powerful that they force everybody to conform to their desires, yet so irrelevant that catering to them dooms any creative project to financial failure via the infamous ‘go woke, go broke’ rule.
What the people who push this idea of Forced Diversity tend to forget is that we exist at a point in time when creators actually have more creative freedom than at any other point in history. Comic writers can throw up a website and publish their work as a webcomic without having to go through Marvel, DC or one of the other big names, or get a place in the dying realm of the news paper comics page. Novelists can self-publish with fairly little upfront costs, musicians can use places like YouTube and Soundcloud to get their work out without having to worry about music publishers. Artists can hock their work on twitter and tumblr and a dozen other places. Podcasts are relatively cheap to make, which has opened up a resurgence in audio dramas. Even the barrier to entry for live action drama is ridiculously low.
So, in a world where creators have more freedom than ever before, why would they choose to people their stories with characters they don’t want there? The answer, of course, is that they wouldn’t. Authors, comic creators, indie film creators and so on aren’t putting diverse characters into their stories because they are being forced to. They’re putting diverse characters into their stories because they want to. Creators want to tell stories about someone other than the generically handsome hypermasculine cisgendered heterosexual white males that have been the protagonists of so many stories over the years that we’ve choking on it. A lot of times, creators want to tell stories about people like themselves. Black creators want to tell stories about the black experience. Queer creators want to tell stories about the queer experience.
I’m an autistic, mentally ill trans feminine abuse survivor. Every day, I get up and I struggle with PTSD, with an eating disorder, with severe body dysmorphia, with anxiety and depression and just the reality of being autistic and transgender. I deal with the fact that the religious community I grew up in views me as an abomination, and genuinely believes I’m going to spend eternity burning in hell. I deal with the fact that people I’ve known for decades, even members of my own family, regularly vote for politician who publicly state that they want to strip me of my civil rights because I’m queer. I’m part of a community that experiences a disproportionately high murder and suicide rate. I’ve spent multiple years of my life deep in suicidal depression, and to this day, I still don’t trust myself around guns.
As a creator, I want to talk about those issues. I want to deal with my life experiences. I want to create characters that embody and express aspects of my lived experience and my day-to-day reality. No one is forcing me to put diversity into my books. I try to include Jewish characters as often as I can because there have been a number of important Jewish people in my life. I include queer people because I’m queer and the vast majority of friends I interact with on a regular basis are queer. I include people with mental illnesses and trauma because I am mentally ill and have trauma, and I know a lot of people with mental illnesses and trauma. My work may be full of fantastical elements, aliens and dragons and angels and superheroes and magic and ultra-high technology and AI’s and talking cats and robot dogs and shape shifters and telepaths and all sorts of other things, but at the core of the stories is my own lived experience, and neurotypical cisgendered heterosexual white males are vanishingly rare in that experience.
Now, I can hear the comments already. The ‘okay, maybe that’s true for individual creators, but what about corporate artwork?’. Maybe not in those exact words, but you get the idea.
The thought here is that corporations are bowing to social pressure to include characters who aren’t neurotypical cisgendered heterosexual white males, and that is somehow bad. But here’s the thing. Corporations are going to chase the dollars. They aren’t bowing to social pressure. There’s no one holding a gun to some executive’s head saying, “You must have this many diversity tokens in every script.” What is happening is that corporations are starting to clue into the fact that people who aren’t neurotypical cisgendered heterosexual white males have money. They are putting black characters in their shows and movies because black people watch shows and spend money on movies. They are putting queer people in shows and movies because queer people watch shows and spend money on movies. They are putting women in shows and movies because women watch shows and spend money on movies.
No one is forcing these companies to do this. They are choosing to do it, the same way individual creators are choosing to do it. In the companies’ cases the choices are made for different reasons. It’s not because they are necessarily passionate about telling stories about a particular experience, but because they want to create art to be consumed by the largest audience possible, which means that they have to expand their audience beyond the neurotypical cisgendered heterosexual white male by including characters from outside of that demographic.
And the reality is, the cries of ‘forced diversity’ and ‘virtue signaling’ almost always come from within that demographic. Note the almost. There are a scattering of individuals from outside that demographic which do subscribe to the ‘forced diversity’ and ‘virtue signaling’ myths, but that is a whole other essay. However, within that demographic, lot of the people who cry about ‘forced diversity’ see media and content as a Zero-Sum game. The more that’s created for other people, the less that is created for them.
In a way, they’re right. There are only so many slots for TV shows each week, there are only so many theaters, only so much space on comic bookshelves and so on. But at the end of the day, its literally impossible for them to consume all the content that’s being produced anyway. So, while there is, theoretically less content for them to consume, as a practical matter it’s a bit like someone who is a meat eater going to a buffet with two hundred items, and then throwing a tantrum because five of the items happen to be vegan.
The worst part is, if they could let go of how wound up they are about the ‘forced diversity’ and ‘virtue signaling’ they could probably enjoy the content that’s produced for people other than them. I mean, I’m a pasty ass white girl, and I loved Black Panther.
So, to wrap out, creators, make what you want to make, and ignore anyone who cries about forced diversity or virtue signaling. And to people who are complaining about forced diversity and virtue signaling, I want to go back to the buffet metaphor. You need to relax. Even if there are a few vegan options on the buffet, you can still get your medium rare steak, or your chicken teriyaki or whatever it is you want. Or, maybe, just maybe, you could give the falafel a try. That shit is delicious.