Last night I hit a major career milestone for any writer: My first college visit. To discuss my work, which is being taught to English Lit students at a small community college in Connecticut.
Not every writer cares about being taught, but for somebody who’s best work is typically at shorter lengths, it is a milestone. (I also want to show this to my old high school English teacher, who thought science fiction was brain rotting crap. Ahem).
But this led to one of those moments that reminds me that yes, representation really matters
That Pronoun Thing
The story being taught was my latest Analog story, “Song of Starlight.” Which is a science fiction “problem story.” It’s also about the queer, polyamorous crew of the Song of Starlight, who are all married to each other. This includes the ship’s AI, Mavra.
Mavra’s gender is “AI.” They use they/them pronouns. (The feminine name was the one given to them when they were created…or more accurate in this world bred…and they keep it because they like it, but they are not a girl Some AIs are girls, because they want to be ;)).
The class was mostly kids getting their first two years of college done for cheap…a smart move in today’s environment. Right at the back, though, was an older gentleman who was presumably retired and felt like taking an English lit class, and more power to him!
He was the one who spoke up. “I didn’t understand this pronoun thing all the young people are doing. Now I do.”
Mavra’s not meant to represent anyone. They are, in truth, part of my ongoing exploration of what gender might mean to an intelligent, self aware being who does not have an organic body.
But their existence in the story taught an old straight guy how to handle non-binary pronouns.
We tend to focus on the side of representation that is “Seeing characters like us,” but we mustn’t forget that just as important is “Showing people like us to others.”
And I realized too that one of the most important groups of people to do this is, in fact…community college professors.
Because it’s also possible that somebody else in that class got the same message…and that person was a nursing student (the college concerned has a strong nursing program) who will now not misgender a non-binary person they treat.
This is how fiction changes the world. One life, one moment at a time. And I am incredibly proud to be part of it, even once, even in a very small way.