gay fine by me

I can’t deny that I’m desperate to know what runs through your mind, when I come up.
—  Nicole Torres // excerpt; what do you think of me?

I’m going to seriously die if the major conflict between Bitty and his parents this year isn’t him coming out, but if Bitty and Suzanne legit fall out over him using Aunt Judy’s jam recipe. 

Imagine Bitty and Suzanne, in true Southern fashion, the subtle and not-so-subtle passive-aggressive snipes and asides:

“Oh, Dicky, I was planning to send you a care package, but I’ve seen how much you enjoy getting things from your Aunt Judy–” 

“Mother, please–” 

“She shared some of those pictures from Mr. Alexei, showing off all that jam you sent to the Falconers! They must’ve loved that recipe so much, Dicky!” 

“Well, yes, but–” 

“And you couldn’t’ve gotten all those berries up north, so I figured she must’ve sent some up already. Me sending any, they’d’ve just gone to waste! What. a. shame. that would’ve been.” 

And of course it escalates, to where they’re gritting their teeth through every conversation and furiously complain to their partners after every time they speak. 

Coach, of course, doesn’t care, and wants to stay out of it, but Bitty interprets his silence for taking his mother side. And Bitty probably was already thinking about staying part of the summer in Providence with Jack…. 

Mentioning that to Suzanne, however, opens up a whole new can of worms:

“You’re neglecting your family!” 

“It’s just one summer!”

“It was just one batch of Judy’s jam, at first! Now you’re making it like you’re fixin’ to feed an army, and when’s the last time you made our recipe, hm?”

“That’s not the same thing and you know it, Mother–”

“But it’s tradition. You always come down for the 4th of July!”

“I can do to skip one year. They’re’ll be plenty more to come.”

“Do they even celebrate the 4th up there?” 

“Oh for–Yes, Mother. If I stay with Jack we’ll celebrate Canada Day, too. That’s twice the celebrating! Twice the tradition.” 

“Don’t take that tone with me, young man.” 

“Mother–” 

“–I just don’t know what’s got into you, Dicky! It’s like I don’t even know you anymore!” 

At that point the fight gets real.  Tempers flare, Words are spoken, and tears are shed, and in the end, Bitty snaps: 

“You know what’s got into me? Fine. I’m gay. I’m dating Jack. and I’m staying with my boyfriend over the summer. Deal with it, Mother!”

At which point Suzanne snaps back: 

“Well fine! That still doesn’t excuse your sorry excuse for preserves!” 

and hangs up on him. 

She calls him back immediately: 

“And just so you know, Jack Zimmermann is a wonderful young man who is welcome in my house any time. You are free to come home as soon as you come off that high horse’ve yours and re-learn some manners!”

She hangs up again. 

And that is my happy head canon of how Bitty comes out to his mother and doesn’t speak to her again for two months, not because he’s gay, but because of jam. 

Jack Zimmermann, on the other hand, receives a congratulatory call, a warm welcome into the family, and weekly care packages with rainbow-themed note cards saying “To Jack, my favorite son.” (You didn’t think Bitty got his saltiness from Coach, did you?) 

(For his part, Coach calls Bitty for an awkward but warm “So your mother says you’re gay, that right? Dating Zimmermann, too? Well. Guess you got some good taste there, Junior.”)

You don’t deserve to hold her after you broke her.
—  Nicole Torres //
prejudice in fantasy lit and the use of metaphor

reallybigshadowhunterstvfan said:

what can you say about making Simon a shadowhunter, Mrs Clare? it seemed odd to me that after a whole series of battling for equality between species/races, the downworlder had to become a shadowhunter. not only he basically ceased being a minority, he also became a part of a privileged community, and it just didn’t sit well with me.

Just for the record — I’m not Mrs. Clare; there is no Mr. Clare. I am married, but my pen name is not my husband’s property. :-) 

I think this is a very interesting question that brings up a ton of issues, but there are some aspects of it I’d love to clarify — for instance, I am puzzled at calling Simon “the Downworlder.” Is he more a Downworlder than Magnus? Things like that actually are really important when discussing stories — if he were the only Downworlder in the story, that would be one discussion, but he isn’t, and therefore his story does not speak for the experience of all Downworlders or even a small fraction. 

I am sorry you were surprised negatively by Simon’s story in TMI. Simon never wanted to be a vampire — he always hated it, and unlike Raphael and Lily, he never joined the community of vampires but instead spent all his time with Shadowhunters. Being a Daylighter had already changed him from being any kind of regular Downworlder, as did bearing the Mark of Cain: both made him even less “the Downworlder” and more of an anomaly. It also separated him from the other Downworlders, who treated him with distrust. In my experience, very few readers expected Simon to remain a vampire, given that it was something he never wanted or got used to, and that it was not his dream. More on that in a bit.

As to the question, to me the suggestion that Shadowhunters are “the privileged” and Dowworlders are as a block “the marginalized” — instead of being a complicated metaphor in which they sometimes but not always stand in for people who have had their rights curtailed —  overly simplifies the situation. It is an argument seems to ignore the fact that in fact, humans exist along axes of privilege and marginalization: that people can be privileged in one way and marginalized in another and that when Simon becomes first a Downworlder and then a mundane and then a Shadowhunter, he is not moving clearly from marginalization to privilege, but rather exchanging some types of privilege for others (he remains white as a Downworlder, and is a Daylighter), and exchanging some types of marginalization for others (the marginalization of being a Downworlder for the marginalization of being a mundane-born Shadowhunter and a Jew in a world where Shadowhunters are meant to have one religion). 

Because the argument disclaims spectrums of privilege and marginalization, it also suggests that the world of the Shadowhunter Chronicles is one in which there are no gay or POC or trans people in existence; one in which there is no racism, homophobia, ableism, cis privilege, or bigotry against the neuroatypical. But that is both problematic erasure, and also not true of these books. Downworlders don’t stand in for people of color or LGBTQ+ people because people of color and LGBTQ+ people are in the books; they have not been subsumed into metaphor. (I know the showrunners said there was no homophobia in the Shadowhunter world, only warlock-phobia, but that’s the show, not the books, and it has a different world and world-building. I notice this is a question I get since the show came out, and I sometimes wonder if it’s a question of confusion between the two different universes? It’s easy for that to happen.)

Fantasy prejudice metaphors are complex and confusing and they rarely work as a one to one comparison (in other words, there is a difference between saying that this fantasy situation is reminiscent of this real world thing and saying this fantasy situation is exactly the same as this real world thing. For instance, one of the really interesting things about True Blood is that it made many deliberate parallels between “vampire rights” and GLBT+ rights — referring to vampires “coming out of the coffin” and “God Hates Fangs” on church signs. However, its vampires were also often violent predators who killed and ate people. The argument that Simon “basically ceased being a minority” (while, somehow, remaining Jewish) is similar to making an argument that True Blood was saying that gay people kill and eat their neighbors; I’m fairly sure in fact, they weren’t. They were reaching for a resonance — the echo of a real world situation that would give a layer of relatability and meaning to their points about difference. But they were not creating a literal “these things are the same” comparison or they wouldn’t have had vampires chewing off people’s heads.

So: are Downworlders discriminated against? Yes, sometimes, by Shadowhunters, who are a small specific group. Do they “stand in” for a specific minority group? No, they cannot, because they are accessible as a metaphor to any marginalized group or groups whose rights have been abridged. Also: the world at large does not discriminate against Downworlders because they do not know they exist, nor do they privilege Shadowhunters because they don’t know they exist either. It would be one thing if this was a high fantasy and Shadowhunters and Downworlders were all there was, but these books are set in our world, and the characters experience real-world bigotry, racism, homophobia etc. because of it.

Alec sighed. “Sorry to wreck your vision of our happy family. I know you want to think Dad’s fine with me being gay, but he’s not.” 

“But if you don’t tell  me when people say things like that to you, or do things to hurt you, then how can I help you?” Simon could feel Isabelle’s agitation vibrating through her body. “How can I—” 

“Iz,” Alec said tiredly. “It’s not like it’s one big bad thing. It’s a lot of little invisible things. When Magnus and I were traveling, and I’d call from the road, Dad never asked how he was. When I get up to talk in Clave meetings, no one listens, and I don’t know if that’s because I’m young or if it’s because of something else. I saw Mom talking to a friend about her grandchildren and the second I walked into the room they shut up. Irina Cartwright told me it was a pity no one would ever inherit my blue eyes now.” He shrugged and looked toward Magnus, who took a hand off the wheel for a moment to place it on Alec’s. “It’s not like a stab wound you can protect me from. It’s a million little paper cuts every day.”

 *** 

“He hurt you. It was a long time ago, and I know he tried to make up for it, but—” Bat shrugged. “Maybe I’m not so forgiving.” 

Maia exhaled. “Maybe I’m not either,” she said. “The town I grew up in, all these spoiled thin rich white girls, they made me feel like crap because I didn’t look like them. When I was six, my mom tried to throw me a Barbie-themed birthday party. They make a black Barbie, you know, but they don’t make any of the stuff that goes with her—party supplies and cake toppers and all that. So we had a party for me with a blonde doll as the theme, and all these blonde girls came, and they all giggled at me behind their hands.”

***

If we carry the theory through (Shadowhunters are THE privileged, Downworlders are THE marginalized) that means that Alec, as a gay Shadowhunter, is more privileged than Simon, a straight vampire. That Ty, who would be locked in a mental institution if the Clave discovered his autism, is privileged beyond white, rich, immortal and powerful Malcolm Fade. It’s saying that when Cristina encounters a wealthy, white, straight, misogynist male werewolf in Lady Midnight who tries to force sexual attention on her, she, a Latina woman, is the one who is the privileged character because she is a Shadowhunter and he is a Downworlder (though Sterling has arguably, given that he lives outside the supernatural world, never experienced a whit of prejudice because of it.) So I’m sure you can see where the problem lies.

It also erases Simon’s Judaism entirely. Stating without caveat that Simon has become “part of a privileged community” means ignoring the fact that Simon is Jewish; that he decides in Tales that he will continue to practice, and that he was the only Jewish protag written by two Jewish authors that I’m aware of having been on the bestseller lists last year. He didn’t think about being a vampire as he was preparing to transform — he never wanted to be one or consented to be one, nor was he part of the community, as Raphael constantly pointed out — though he does later think of having previously been a Downworlder when interacting with vampires and Shadowhunter prejudices. He thought of the important thing to him: his Judaism, which he both couldn’t and wouldn’t give up. To me it is personally painful to think that for any reader, Simon’s status as a vampire is more significant than his status as a practicing Jew.

I think sometimes it is possible to invest yourself so heavily in a metaphor that you forget the real world that surrounds the metaphor and the flexibility of metaphors in general. The Shadowhunter/Downworlder situation could stand in for the systemically privileged and marginalized of our world: sometimes it does. However it also can stand in for the way totalitarian governments abuse their own people: there are echoes in Shadowhunter history and current events of the Cambodian genocide, of Stalinist violence against intellectuals and resistors. There are also echoes of police brutality — what Shadowhunters have is the privilege of the Law, specifically: the Law is what allows them to enact bigotry in the name of justice, and when they abuse their jobs, it has resonances of the way police can abuse their jobs and use the privilege conferred on them by their authority to murder and abuse the helpless and marginalized. There are also echoes of the way soldiers carry out immoral orders given by superiors: the Shadowhunters are taught to be obedient to the Clave, and one of the ways we know who our Team Good is in any TSC series that they question that obedience. All of these are echoes and resonances: they are not saying that the Shadowhunters are the police, or the US military, or the Khmer Rouge; the resonances provide context and hopefully add a sense of realism to a situation that is fantastical in its nature.

 (It’s also a wise idea not to so totally buy what the Shadowhunters are selling about themselves. They think they’re special and better and awesome, but the books constantly question and problematize that. Shadowhunters also pay a high high price for their runes and their sense of superiority: they die young and often and experience brutal constant violence and the pressures of a repressive society that allows for little divergence from an idealized norm.)

There are reasons that the Downworlders were never constructed to be a specific marginalized group and their situation was never meant to be limited in its relatability to one situation— for instance, it’s very hard to not look askance at the argument that Downworlders are meant to be specific “race” when you can become a Downworlder and then stop being one: when you can, as Simon does, change what kind of magical creature you are, because there is absolutely no correlation between that and what race or ethnicity means in our world. 

 So yes, Simon becomes a Shadowhunter: however, what I don’t see acknowledged here is not just his ethnicity and religion, but the fact that he becomes a Shadowhunter partly because he is aware of the prejudice of Shadowhunters, and fights against the bigotry they show not just to Downworlders but also to their own. He is part of Magnus and Alec’s Shadowhunter-Downworlder Alliance. He continues to work for change from within the system, arguably something almost no one else could do, because there are almost no other Downworlders who have become Shadowhunters. It is odd to me to consider Simon as simply ascending to a height of blithe privilege when he is fact much more like someone who has become a police officer in order to root out corruption and racism in the police, and brings his own knowledge of marginalization (which he still experiences) with him.

That is why Simon in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is constantly fighting and bending the rules in the name of his evolving social conscience, though I understand if you haven’t read TfTSA. One of the things about having had a flood of new readers enter fandom because of the TV show is that I’ve seen a lot of arguments based on the idea that TMI is the entire story of Downworlders and Shadowhunters, or the entire story of these characters. I see people talking about characters getting a happy or sad ending in TMI even when those characters go on to feature heavily in the sequel books and could by no reasonable account be considered to have any ending, happy or sad — unless you thought TMI were the only Shadowhunters books that existed rather than a chunk of a larger ongoing mythology. In no sense has Simon’s story ended: you have no idea if he will remain a Shadowhunter or not. Perhaps if you consider the fact that TMI is not a story that has ended for Simon, but rather one that continues, the fact that he has now been two magical species and might well move on to become another will sit less poorly with you? After all, this is not “after a whole series of battling for equality between species/races” this is “in the middle of a whole series of battling for equality between species/races.” Usually the middle of a story isn’t the place it’s best to draw all your conclusions from. :-)