Thinking things through: process

I have recently been engaging more in the exploration of what narratives emerge as I make use of languages that are closer to my inner self than the English that I formally learned.

In these newer works, I am interested in exploring the traumas inflicted on the colonized body. What movements does the body go through in order to break free of those traumas? How does the colonized body find healing when it is constantly reprimanded, tokenized, devalued, objectified and still treated as a being of lesser worth?

I think of the narratives that have been attached to brown bodies and I think of how we rob these narratives of poison when we take them and make them our own. This to me, is the transformative power of story.

During the Amsterdam Sci Fi Salon, Adrienne Marie Brown reminded us of the power of the erotic and the power of desire, and I thought of narratives where the brown body’s sexuality is shamed. Where desire is labeled as sinful and unacceptable. I think of the power locked up in the shamed body. I think of what is released when we break free of those shackles and take full possession of our own skins.

It’s not that I am no longer writing in English, but that I have chosen to let the narrative take its forward motion from lines or words that I associate with home. It’s possible that this choice has no meaning to the reader, but to me who writes it, this choice reminds me that the narratives I’m writing are not of lesser worth. They are of equal value.

And if language is a thing that stands in the way, it also becomes a reminder of how the brown body is often viewed as an object that stands in the way.

Is it even science fiction anymore? I really don’t know and to be honest, I’ve stopped caring about labels as I find that labels are only useful for commercial purposes. Labels have a confining and limiting function, and more often than not they are exclusionary.

If we talk about science fiction that comes from the West, we already know what we are talking about. There are narratives that belong and there are narratives that are allowed.

But the choice to depart from what belongs and what is allowed is also a deliberate choice. It is a choice that says, what exists is not what defines me or my work. Rather it is the work that defines itself. It is a choice to embrace and move towards a different kind of envisioning the future.

What else can I write? What other things can I explore? What waits around the bend? Where is the true body of my story?

These are questions I ask as I continue on my journey.

On the question of speaking up

So, I have been told that my silence on a work that borrows another culture means that I am complicit in racism and transphobia.

I am writing today about a thing that I have wrestled with for days. Do I speak? How do I speak? Who do I speak for?

The more I thought about it, the more indecisive I became.

The truth is,  I can only ever speak for myself. No one person can speak for an entire culture or an entire race. (Also, if I have not read the finished work, how can I possibly criticque it?)

This is how I believe speaking out about appropriation works. It is not for me, the outsider to speak. My role is to listen and to support the voices of those raised in dissent. I can question it, that’s true, but I can only offer criticism from an outsider’s point of view.

The thing is,  if you believe that appropriation drowns out the voices of those from a particular culture, my speaking out rage when I am an outsider would drown out those voices that would speak from that culture. It is not on me to dictate how people in another culture should feel about a work that is written or set in their country, it is for those who read to form their own opinion of the work and speak out about it.

I wrote this in a letter. I said: “I may never be comfortable with appropriations by white writers, but I acknowledge how it is something some readers will be thankful for and which some readers will be angry about.”

If the writer has made a professional choice to publish, then I feel that the writer should also be professional enough to accept all criticism directed at the work.

It’s not that I don’t care about appropriation, but as a brown woman from a third world country, I know how it feels when outsiders speak out on my behalf. I may say, oh that’s good of you, but who are you to speak for me?

This is a thing white allies need to understand, you are still speaking from a position of privilege. For a white person dissent and rebuke and calling out holds lesser consequences than it does for a person of color. If you don’t think that’s true, then perhaps you don’t know how racism truly works. Experience has taught me that brown bodies are almost always expendable and the loss of the voices of people of color is not experienced as loss by the white majority.

I also want to remind white writers that no matter how mindfully they approach a work, when the work takes from others it is bound to be flawed.

I understand how we are angry about things like these, how we want to rage and make appropriative work disappear, but as a woman of color who has been working and looking at the field, I also know that it takes time before that happens. I can only hope for an increasing mindfulness in the way writers approach the work. (Plus controversy tends to increase sales of material we are making controversy about.)

Racism and sexism are structural problems and as long as the structure persists, we can keep calling out people. It is the structure that needs to change.

**It’s not because I don’t care to engage the work, but I am not in perfect health at the moment and I have to choose how to expend my energy.

**If people choose to speak up, then I will listen. This is how it works.

Some relevant links: 

When Defending your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses ( in particular The Burden of Speaking Up)

10  Quotes that Perfectly Explain Racism to People who Claim to be Colorblind 

Jim Hines has collated links to excellent posts about Diversity, Appropriation and Writing the Other read those links. If you’ve read them before, read them again.

Because all work is the result of a collective

The work that I do would not be the work it is without the influence of those working and writing in my community. One of those whose work never fails to move me profoundly is the Filipino-American poet, Barbara Jane Reyes.

It feels very serendipitous to be featuring an interview with her right at this moment when I am thinking about language, decolonisation and what it means to be working in a field where we are a minority.

I hope that this interview will be an inspiration for all who read it. May we all continue to produce thought-provoking, challenging and mindful work.

An Interview with Barbara Jane Reyes is now up at the bookblog.

For the bright stars in my sky

I am in this space/ and I am looking at your face/ and I am looking at your face/ and I am looking at your face/ and yours/ and yours/ and yours too.

And I am loving this space where we are dreaming up a new sky together/

I am loving your face.

Your words/ our words/ your world/ our world/

You bright/ you beautiful/ you brilliant stars in the firmament of sky I’m looking at.

I want to look at you forever/ listen to your voices forever/

I carry your words in my dreams/

I dream of worlds you bring into being.

We are changing our sky/ We are shaping our sky/ We are putting our stars in our sky

I am looking at the sky

My sky is filled with you.

( After of the first ever Amsterdam Sci Fi Salon: For Adrienne Marie Brown, Hodan Warsame, Simone Zeefuik, the wonderful writers at the Amsterdam Sci Fi Salon, for all who dream of a wider sky. Beloved friends and treasured dreamers, you know who you are.)

Thinking things through: On acts of resistance and our own SF

Since the publication of the first part of Translations, Mother Tongue and Acts of Resistance, I continue to think of resistance and what it means. I am also thinking of it in terms of how it applies to decolonial work and the process of decolonization, to science fiction and how I position myself in relation to genre as well as the work that I do outside of genre.

I am grateful for the conversations that I am able to have with thinkers and doers and also thankful for the access that I am given to work that is being produced by mindful writers inside and outside of genre.

I find myself thinking of acts of resistance and how the history of my country is one that is filled with these acts. Because we have been colonized and occupied time and again. Because our language, our culture, our ways have been devalued, erased and overwritten time and again. Because we were subjected to a Martial rule where dissenting voices were suppressed or eradicated. Because we have known there is always a cost to speaking out.

Even in this field that we love, even in this genre that we like to think is so progressive and free, there is a price to pay. But while I am not the bravest person in the world, I find it an act of cowardice to allow other people to engage in the struggle on my behalf. Even if the only thing I can do is raise my voice, it is the thing I will do. If by doing so, other people see and take heart from it, then it is enough. (If it angers people, well, that’s a given.)

At this moment, there are so many conversations going on around science fiction. We are dissatisfied with the state of genre. We want something better. We want to destroy it. We want to change it. We want diversity. We want more visibility. We want many things and a lot of these things are good and wonderful and worthy things.

These are worthy and good conversations. These are essential and necessary conversations.

But I do wonder how we see science fiction. Is it a walled-in garden of paradise where only approved members can enter? Is it a place where we must walk carefully because “god forbid we step on the toes of sleeping deities”? (And who are these deities anyway?) Is it a place where you need membership in SFWA, BSFA, or whatever other organization in order for your voice to count? Are the important writers only those who appear on awards lists? Are the important stories only those included in Year’s Bests?

I ask these questions, because if this is how we look at science fiction, then it seems to me that it’s narrower and more confined than the science fiction in my mind.

When I wrestle with questions like these, I go back to the work of people whose work I’ve chosen to take with me in this journey. I go back and remember what it is that I love about this genre and why I wanted to write in it.

I think of Octavia Butler writing about how science fiction called to her because it was so wide open, and I think of the limitless sky that has no margins but simply changes its aspect depending on where we are situated. And I think: yes, that’s the science fiction I want to be part of. A sky that’s filled with many different stars, with constellations and galaxies, a view that changes depending on where I’m situated. A sky where everyone has the freedom to tell their own story and where there are no margins because how do you put margins on the sky?

I want that sky that is brilliant and filled with the light that comes from everywhere.

Things have changed since Octavia Butler’s time. The internet has made it so that we see bigger portions of the sky–and yet for all that, we are still limited.

We’re hindered not only by our inability to read work written in original languages, but we’re also hindered by how establishment already exists and its narratives and its traditions are rooted in a colonialist and imperialist past.

I find myself wondering: How can we possibly dream within a structure that has historically viewed us as being less than human?

Audre Lorde once said that the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house. We like that quote. We like saying it to each other but do we truly understand what that means in the context of what we are trying to do?

I think that if we want to produce a science fiction that is as wide and as broad as the sky, if we want the freedom to spread our wings and dream in those skies, then perhaps it’s time to look into ways of building a new kind of science fiction–one that doesn’t rely on the Master’s tools–one that doesn’t look to establishment for validation or recognition.

I don’t know what that science fiction would look like, but it excites me to think of that freedom. I want to embrace it and I want to be part of it.

As Afrofuturist author, editor and publisher Bill Campbell says: We don’t need to sit at their tables because we got our own.

#

*(I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t feel any particular need or any strong desire to belong to any kind of hegemony. I do value this community that has welcomed me. I value the friendships I have made and the truth I have seen in people who encourage and surround me. The passion to bring change about–that moves me. For all its flaws, Science Fiction still has my heart.)

**Nin Harris has written a brilliant and ferocious post which I highly recommend. Do take the time to read it. The link is here.

Sci Fi Writing Salon

(Copied from the FB page where you can register for this workshop.)

“If we want to see women of color safe, happy, healthy and in power in the future, we must write/create worlds that are worthy of us.” – adrienne maree brown.

On Saturday July 12 poetry platform RE:Definition, feminist collective Redmond and Amsterdam’s American Book Center are hosting a sci fi writing salon with adrienne maree brown (co-editor of “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements) and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Octavia Butler scholar).

— Event info —
Doors open: 14.45h
Writing salon: From 15.00h until 18.00h.
Location: ABC Treehouse* (address: Voetboogstraat 11, 1012 XK A’dam)
Entrance: Free!
Reservations: Due to limited seating, reservations are required. To do so, please go to the Facebook Event page mention the number of seats (max. 3) you’d like to reserve.
What to bring: Something to write on and something to write with.

* ABC Treehouse is around the corner from sushi spot Tokyo Café at Spuiplein. When facing Tokyo Café, walk to the right; Voetboogstraat is the first street to your left.

— Links —
adrienne maree brown – http://adriennemareebrown.net/
Octavia’s Brood – http://www.octaviasbrood.com/
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz – http://rcloenenruiz.com/
Redmond – http://www.redmondamsterdam.com/
RE:Definition – http://www.wedefineus.wordpress.com
American Book Center – http://www.abc.nl

Links and things to read

Movements: Translations, the Mother Tongue and Acts of Resistance is now live on Strange Horizons. Elisabeth Vonarburg’s The Chambered Nautilus also appears in this issue. It’s my first time to read her and I’m so glad Aliette de Bodard chose her story for this curated issue. You can read Aliette’s introduction here.

In the same issue is an essay by Jaymee Goh: Once More with Feeling: A Belated Response.

Fellow Filipino writer, Victor Ocampo has a new story up at Apex Magazine. Blessed are the Hungry is an interesting work which also breaks language hegemony and demonstrates code written into story. I like how it references a famous Filipino movie by Ismael Bernal.

Apex Magazine’s July issue is filled with interesting reading provides the reader with an interesting and diverse line-up. I quite enjoyed Rose Lemberg’s Baba Yaga Tries to Donate Money.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s novelette, Courtship in the Country of the Machine Gods, also appears in this issue as a reprint. The Apex Book of World SF 3 edited by Lavie Tidhar features this novelette and is now available.

(I’m thrilled to see that this volume also includes a reprint from Swedish writer, Karin Tidbeck whose work I adore.)

Of the stories published in Clarkesworld Magazine, I’ve only read N.K. Jemisin’s Stone Hunger. I like how the story makes use of the fairytale frame, the familiar becoming unfamiliar, it’s a story I want to read again at more leisure.

I’m working slowly through a post on the Decolonization process and Science Fiction. At the moment I have so many words on the page and I need to group them together so they form a cohesive whole.

Lately, I’ve been reading Leny M. Strobel, Virgil Mayor Apostol and Barbara Jane Reyes. Artists, writers, culture bearers.