Update: This article talks about what happened after the story was pulled.
I’m sitting here remembering a short story published before the pandemic this year, in 2020. My god, that seems so long ago, but the story is still in the back of my mind, even if it feels like I’m the only one that read it sometimes.
Let’s back up, though. Clarkesworld Magazine, a very tough market to break into, published a short story by a trans writer, Isabel Fall. It should still be available in the back issue, but, if not, read the archived version here. The Wikipedia article on it sums it up okay, but it’s definitely not the same as reading it.
It was nominated for a Hugo in 2021.
The title of the story was a direct quote reclaiming a very transphobic meme. The title was called, I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter. This is important to remember. People online refuse to understand gender and gender dysphoria. They still believe that sex and gender are the same thing, which is bogus. The author wanted to reclaim that transphobia and hold a mirror up for us cis people to see.
For what it’s worth, I thought the story was very transgressive and subversive. I was extremely interested in how the military weaponized the concept of gender in the story to meet some US militaristic motive. It felt very authentic to me. Then again, I’m not trans, so can’t really say anything that can accurately speak for trans people. I’m just an ally. An imperfect one, but an ally, nonetheless.
What drew my attention, though, was the fact the author pulled the story from the magazine because of bullying and harassment, with people, who most likely didn’t read the story, going as far to say her birth year, 1988, was proof that they were a Nazi signaling Hitler.
Let’s be clear, though. Many people had different reactions to the story. Some trans people loved the story. Some trans people hated the story. I’m not here to say who’s right and who’s wrong, as that’s not my place. I do, however, wish the story had not been taken down.
I guess what I mean to say is, I wish the author didn’t remove the story. It, in its own way, was very progressive art. It’s how art should be handled, with sensitivity readers, as Neal did with the story. The sensitivity care is just the icing on top of a very controversial but thought-provoking cake.
My problem with its removal is the fact that this story had a lot of care devoted to it. I’m well aware meticulous creations can be used as a weapon, as well. Even though I know craft can be used as a weapon to hurt fellow minorities, I’d still want the offensive art to remain up so we can point at it, articulate how it’s harmful, and then create something better. I want to learn from the conversation the art provokes, not necessarily the controversial art itself.
I do have my limits, though. I object to lazy art that aims to exploit. American Dirt comes to mind. Then again, the very concept of laziness is subjective. Just because I think American Dirt was a lazy cash grab, there are genuine people that liked the book.
I think a lot about learning and how people learn. How do I learn about trans people, as a cis person? I learn from beautiful art and ugly art. I learn about the trans experience from media that makes trans people angry. I’m not learning about trans people because of this poorly designed media, for example, but I’m learning from actual trans people responding to the trashy portrayals and from the better art they produce. I’m actively listening. Art makes us listen to each other, even if the art is too woke for the masses.
Critique of lazy art is the most valuable lesson anybody can give. Even though Fall’s particular story wasn’t lazy, it still sparked a, rightfully, furious discussion about Own voices work. The debates allowed me to learn about the complex world that trans people have to navigate on a daily basis.
The story didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. I do think there are things that shouldn’t be debated, period. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary people are valid, as well. Because the story was controversial, though, it allowed me to get a three-dimensional glimpse into the struggles and celebrations of trans people. It helped to solidify that there’s no one way to be a minority.
In the blindness community, by contrast, we love to point fingers at each other. Our community is so immature we believe a singular person speaks for the whole community. If a person doesn’t know Braille, for example, many others in the community lay in bed at night wishing this lazy blind person would just hurry up and die because, after their death, we can look better in the eyes of a society that wants us to stop existing. We don’t nearly have the political Strength as the PoC community has. We don’t treat each other like family like the LGBT+ community. In the blindness community, there’s only one way to be visually impaired and that’s a way that makes us look good. Or else. We haven’t learned there’s many ways to be a visually impaired person.
The reason why I continue to celebrate art, especially visually impaired creators, is because I know that, eventually, those brilliant visually impaired creators will show us how to be blind a different way. I consume art because I, like others, forget sometimes that there’s more than one way to be Black. There’s more than one way to be gay. There’s more than one way to be disabled. Like I said, I’m an imperfect ally.
Even though the story isn’t on the internet anymore, I’m happy I read it. I hope to continue learning, as, I believe education is the most powerful weapon to combat fascism and hatred.
Thank you, Isabel Fall. You’ve helped me continue to grow. I hope you write again, someday, so you can teach others to do the same.