Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's Only Us

One thing I really hate is when some minority group acts as if the particular kind of discrimination their group experiences is unique, and no other group experiences that particular kind of dynamic. Recently, I found a pretty extreme example of this at a website called TVTropes, which describes patterns found in TV and other media (such as the bad guy turning good). The particular page that I'm talking about is called Have You Tried Not Being A Monster, and since it's a wiki and therefore subject to change at any moment, I will quote the bit I'm referring to here:

"There's a certain group of people. They have a normal childhood, to an extent, but somewhere along they way, they discover they're different. Not like the other children. Not like their parents. They're something unusual. Something that means they can never fit in. They hide their differences deep away from themselves, but it eats away at them.
Then they find others like them - also living in secret and ostracized from society. A subculture, upholding a masquerade of being normal by day, but living out a secret lifestyle in seedy bars and locations. They might
ask their family if they would still love them, chances are if they ever tell their parents, acceptance will be hard, and they'll inevitably be asked, 'Have you tried... not being a monster?'
You thought we were talking about gay people? Don't be silly! We're talking about mutants! Er, no. Wait, we're talking about vampires. And werewolves. And
fairies . . .
There's a subculture of supernatural beings who basically have the same exact culture and society as gay people, and go through the same experiences. Basically, this culture appears to be normal, lives in human society, but is in some way supernatural. They have to participate in
The Masquerade, but if they come out as monsters or wizards or vampires or aliens, they face prejudice. To drive the point home even more, they may have Muggle parents who reject their freakish children.
Much like Fantastic Racism allows writers to feel like they dealt with themes of racism and discrimination without actually including characters of colour into their work, this trope allow writers to introduce gay themes into a plot when they're too cowardly to introduce actual gay characters or when they feel that allegory or metaphor will be less likely to be censored. Some writers go farther and do have gay characters, sometimes making the metaphor explicit in the text."

Whoever wrote this seems to be suggesting that the typical life experiences of gay people are so unique that even fantasy minority groups who have the same kind of life experiences are clearly a reference to gay people. (Never mind that anyone who writes good fantasy will echo real life in many different ways, especially in the emotional experiences of the characters.) As many autistics know, it's not just gays who gradually realize they're different from everyone they know, hide their differences for fear of being rejected, and finally find a subculture that accepts them. If you read pretty much any autobiography of an autistic person first diagnosed (or told about their diagnosis) in adulthood or late adolescence, you'll find the same basic story.
Pretty much anyone who is raised by typical people but has some kind of difference that isn't readily apparent and is taught that difference (or their difference in particular) is a bad thing will have this experience - and that's a large and very diverse group of people. People with a wide variety of cognitive differences, including gifted people, autistic people, ADHD people, highly creative people, etc etc. Gay people and other sexual minorities. Many transgender people. The list goes on and on.
People seem especially prone to saying this about gay people, because among the groups most widely viewed as discriminated against, gays are somewhat unique. Women and ethnic minorities both typically grow up with adult role models and are readily recognized as belonging in the discriminated-against category. (Although there are interracial adoptees and mixed-race people who can pass, both of those people have some experiences in common with gay people.) But I've seen the same thing said by other minorities. For example, one Deaf woman whose blog I read (unfortunately I can't find the link, it was in one of the disability blog carnivals) said that while most disabled people are pitied, they don't experience the same kind of intense push to eliminate the disability that deaf people experience. I commented on her blog saying that, in fact, that was pretty much the classic reaction to autism and many other disabilities.
What all those people don't seem to realize is that although there are differences in experiences of discrimination, there is no form of discrimination that is exclusively applied to one group. It seems to me that instead, there are broad categories of discrimination, such as the 'you and your ancesters are discriminated against' pattern seen in racism, classism and so on, or the 'you're different from everyone you know and they don't realize it' pattern experienced by gays, invisibly disabled people, and so on. (Or the one where someone who obviously belongs to a certain minority group grows up with no contact with that minority group, such as many visibly disabled people.)
And when you see the parallels, it's much easier to figure out exactly what causes a certain experience. For example, from talking with a lesbian who thought crushes on girls were simple liking and simple liking of boys was actually crushes helped clarify exactly why I so often misperceive my own way of thinking and feeling - because the possibility of being different was never presented to me, since I a) lacked any role models of people like me, and b) did not get any feedback from others that suggested that they thought I would be different from them. (I did get punishment for being different, but the punishment implied that I really could be the same as them.)


Blogger codeman38 said...

I've actually been thinking for a while now of rewriting the intro to that TV Tropes entry to make it more inclusive. Or at least adding something to the discussion page to see that other tropers agree (there's quite a good-sized Aspie population on the site, from what I've seen!).

10:25 AM  

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