One of the major recent conflicts in artistic spaces has been this sense that liberals are taking over. It’s much of the motivation behind the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and Zoe Quinn. It’s also the main motivation behind the Sad Puppy slate that very nearly swept the Hugo nominations. I want to talk about the general idea BEHIND these conflicts (that of “the liberals are taking over and conservatives are getting unfairly ragged on”), as I feel like the specifics have been well covered by a lot of people much smarter and better informed than I am.

I’m a huge fan of entertainment media. Books. TV shows. Movies. Web series. Video games. I’m all for consumable art that both entertains and makes me think. It’s a thing that I like a lot. I spend most of my free time reading or watching TV shows while crafting. I find it mind- and world-expanding. I also accept that any art I consume is inherently biased. Entertainment does not exist in a vacuum and there is no way to strip the biases of the creators away from a piece of art, nor my biases from my experience while consuming. Bias is part and parcel of the entertainment package.

As a base line: I’m a liberal who was raised in a conservative household (and I actively maintain good relationships with my conservative family and friends). I am NB trans and pansexual. I am white and middle class and Christian, specifically Mormon. So, I have a few things going for me culturally and socially, and a few things not so much.

I grew up consuming mostly conservative art: movies that reflected strict gender roles, TV shows that idealistically claimed intelligence/hard work were all that mattered, books that portrayed heterosexual romances, media with almost no sex/swearing. The only exception was books I got from the library. My parents attempted to control that, too, but I was such a prolific reader that they couldn’t keep up and they were loathe to prevent me access to the library. I am lucky that, when faced with the choice of denying me access to books since they couldn’t supervise my reading or giving me some reign while trying to encourage me  to choose what they perceived to be “appropriate” reading material, my parents chose the latter. Some parents wouldn’t. They knew I read books they didn’t like and expressed disappointment when they felt it was appropriate, but mostly they let me read what I would read. Only occasionally, when they could directly connect mental distress/a bad behavior to a book, would they intervene. Sometimes that intervention was to take the book away, sometimes it was to put limits on when I could read the book (during the day, under supervision), and sometimes it was to read the book with me. It was always done with some discussion between us. This is, to this day, one of the best things my parents could have done for me. I was an active participant in my own entertainment choices, but I was also watched over and cared for. It was responsible parenting at its finest.

And, of course, this meant that I read a lot of books they didn’t like or that expressed ideas they found repugnant. Some of these ideas I ALSO found repugnant. Some of them, quite frankly, were saving graces amidst the wash of conservative entertainment that I found at home, at school, and – often – in the library. I was taught a different perspective that spent years maturing. That perspective eventually lead to semi-liberal political leanings and extremely liberal social leanings.

These days, several years into my (now not-so-semi) liberal politics and social leanings, I am seeing a lot of my conservative friends, families, and artists I respect say that there’s a liberal-positive/anti-conservative bias in [name art here]. For some, it’s TV shows and movies. For some, it’s the news. Others may see it in video games. Yet others, it’s infected their book world.

Art has always been a place of progression and experimentation and examining social issues. You can do that from a liberal lens and a conservative lens, but that is the whole point of the convention that is art. So, in the case of those who are complaining about ANY art being too much in that line, I fully and completely believe that they are mourning a social construct (“Art that is, simply, Art”) that never existed. Rather, I believe they are mourning a time period in their individual lives in which they were too inexperienced (due to youth, a sheltered life, a lack of education) to see what was already there. I have always loved art for these reasons of experimentation and social comment. It was there to be seen by child!me and has only become more apparent as teen!me and college!me and adult!me have gained more experiences and education.

Often, things under the microscope in that realm of experimentation and examination are long-established structures: governments, religion, the class system, the social heirarchies of race and gender, sexual dynamics, colonialism. Many of these things are examined for flaws. Often, the determination is that power systems that have long gone unexamined have a MYRIAD of flaws that need to be addressed, perhaps even dismantled. Often, the result of trying to dismantle the errors of long-held traditions is painful.

So this brings me to the perceived liberal-positive/anti-conservative bias: Yeah. It’s there. I think it’s great that people are examining things that seemed to be given not too long ago and are asking, “Must it needs be this way?” and, when they realized it mustn’t, dismantle and discard. A LOT of things that have been long-held and unexamined are actually REALLY screwed up or have distinct areas of screwed-uppage. I also think it’s great that there are areas people find worth conserving. An example: Personally, I think religion is one thing that SHOULD fall under both categories (in the sense of “faith, if you have it, is an excellent thing to keep, however the power structures built into organized religion need to be examined”), but is often tossed out in the “dismantle and discard” pile. I don’t like that. I don’t like that there will be many people who will look at my religious bent and/or my particular religion and discount my words. (“Political” could be inserted for “religious” in that sentence as well.) However, all I can do about that is to make sure that that is not what am doing. I try to give a multitude of opinions a change to impress me and react accordingly.

However, this leads to why I claim a liberal-positive bias: experience shows I can trust liberal creators more. I rarely know the politics/social inclinations of an artist before I consume the art. But, in my experience, I have rarely been surprised at the political/social inclinations of an artist when I discover them AFTER the fact. And, I am generally more pleased by the work of those creators with a liberal leaning to their social and political views. Why? Because there is room for me there. You see, as a non-binary, pansexual individual who is culturally perceived as female, I rarely find characters like me or stories like mine in art. I rarely find art that reflects the racially diverse world I live in. I rarely find dynamic, fully characterized women like the women I know. When I do find it, it is most often (though not always) in the art created by liberal people. I know, for a fact, that I am not alone in this experience. This is where the wider bias comes in: many people have felt unwelcome or marginalized, many creators have seen the loneliness and gate-keeping in their friends and fans, many have made art that is more expansive and inclusive in response (whether due to experience or witnessing the experiences of others). For all those who have spent so much time looking desperately for those inclusive spaces, this is something worth buzzing about. Loudly. In many ways, that loud buzzing has built into a prevailing wind. I can’t claim to be disappointed for myself, though I understand why the members of previous prevailing winds would be.

Be that as it may, when it comes to my continued consumption of entertainment, my philosophy is simple. I have no desire to limit my imagination to a world that is less than my own: less diverse, less complex, less welcoming. I get enough unwelcoming, simplistic interactions every day. Everyone I meet assumes I am female – including people with a liberal bias. In the main, it’s people with liberal leanings that try to correct the assumption in their own head. Everyone assumes I’m straight. In the main, it’s people with liberal leanings who apologize and move on when I tell them otherwise. A great deal of people assume that I am less capable/less interested in X because I present as female. Generally, it is people with liberal social bent that encourage me to break through those assumptions, rather than remind me of the difficulties that come from challenging those assumptions. There are people with conservative bias who have made great efforts to call me by my preferred pronouns, who have responded with kindness and compassion to my sexuality, and who have not taken the time to inform me how hard my life will be if I choose to run up against the barriers of assumption every day, but rather offered a shoulder to cry on when those barriers bruise me. But, again, in my experience, it has been the socially and politically liberal individuals who have done these things quicker, with less hesitation, and with fewer missteps. This is how my bias developed. It is also how it will continue to be guided. There may well be a day when the pendulum shifts.

For now, I tend to trust liberal creators more. I tend to put them on a higher priority on my list of art to consume. I tend to forgive their missteps more readily if they have a body of work that proves to me they continue to try to improve in the areas I feel they’ve failed. I tend to listen to their opinions on recommended works, until they consistently recommend outside my preferences. I tend give more weight to their opinions because they consistently give me reason to. Until they don’t – and then the trust and respect for their opinion is retracted. I give this same trust and respect to conservative creators who have been as consistent. Some have been around me since I was a child. Some are recent discoveries. But there are less of them.

And until there is room for me in their stories, in their created worlds, there always will be.*

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*To be clear: this is not me asking or demanding that any creator make room for me in their work. It’s saying that their work will be less appealing to me until that day comes that I am welcome there. And you can’t just say I’m welcome. You have to act like it. Forgive me if I don’t accept an invitation to watch a show or read a book or see a movie that I KNOW has sexism and racism in it. Your words may say, “Come in!” but your actions say – very clearly – “There is no room for you here.”

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