Thursday, September 14, 2017

Complaint 5: Using Labels Deterministically

The RISD professor is the dark-haired character; the blond is
the stockbroker. I may have been thinking "Alex P. Keaton."
--Honami illustrations from Stolen Heart
One storyline I came up with a number of years ago concerned two characters who meet in an Eyre-Affair type world (no virtual reality for me--like Fforde, I prefer to have characters actually enter a novel).

In my case, the book wasn't Jane Eyre but rather a compilation novel of romance tropes. A couple of teenage girls in pursuit of their teachers override safeguards to set the compilation novel in motion; fifty or more people from the general community are dragged into the novel and stuck there; engineers have to figure a way to get them out, which takes several months. The underlying romance plot is a variation on a-couple-stuck-on-an-island.

It turned into a saga involving at least a dozen relationships of different types and ages. And one was between a male art professor at RISD and a male stockbroker. They seemingly had little in common until they started talking (everything always comes down to dialog in my stories) and discovered that as teens, they had both rolled their eyes at the well-meaning adults who were establishing LGBT--now LGBTQ--groups in their schools.

Vivian Vande Velde tackles
the classic MMORPG idea.
I couldn't write my saga partly because okay, yes, this idea has been done before. (Out of sheer love of the form, I think every writer/video game player invents the idea of a "real" fictional world at some point.) And partly because I got worried about making assumptions based on my limited experience. In the world of labels, I am straight. Who was I to determine that LGBTQ groups are the equivalent of every single group I encountered as a teen that was supposed to make me feel "special"?

The same worry haunted me when I wrote Aubrey, which centers around a type of abuse I have never experienced myself (my life is far less dark than my fiction).

However, one of the positives of aging is that one runs up against more people from more backgrounds and ways of thinking. I have reason now to believe that my original supposition was not entirely out of bounds.

Take metrosexuals. Take E.M. Forster who clearly indicates in Maurice that gay men do not come as a package, producing Maurice who ignores the obvious, then accepts his orientation; Clive who seems to take a Hoover-like attitude towards his sexuality; and Alec who seems to be bi- though inclined more towards men than women. Take contemporary reports of "coming out" which dovetail more closely with Forster's own experience/observations than the Orwellians would like to acknowledge (see below). Take research into the animal kingdom, which presents sexual experimentation as a norm across the species. Take recent survey information that indicates that few Americans label themselves as anything but heterosexual (self-labeled homosexuals constitute approximately 5% of the population) yet a surprising proportion of the heterosexual population reports greater flexibility in terms of attraction. And the list goes on.
Waru is quite frank--and funny--about its
"straight then gay" character, Joe.

In other words, labels often ignore the complexity of human nature.

My complaint has to do with those reviewers who criticize supposedly "straight" male characters in yaoi who end up falling in love with men. I understand the confusion and address it, to a degree, here.

What I don't get is the wrath some of these reviewers feel. They seem furious that the LABEL isn't being adhered to. How dare people not stay in their designated spots! How dare anyone imply that sexuality isn't a GIVEN! (Apparently, within the LGBTQ community, "bi" receives some of the same fury.)

Considering that even apart from labels, people age, experience an increase in hormones, a decrease in hormones, alter their patterns, undergo new experiences, change their habits within a relationship, outside of a relationship . . . the insistence that even within a label, people will go on behaving the same is flawed in the extreme.

And don't get me started on the Orwellian tendency to try to use language to dictate morality--as if a label can create a biological response--such as the coy substitution of the vernacular self-label gay with the prescriptive same-sex-attraction.

All this "why don't people stay put" angst underscores my belief that the offended left and the religious right are similar in nature as well as rhetoric.

As P.J. O'Rourke once wrote, "Why not call people by their names?" Or, at least, by what they wish to be called.