An Open Letter to Gareth Roberts

Dear Gareth,

I wanted to reach out because I noticed that you tweeted this:

I can look past your use of what you should know by now has become a slur against transgender people. As a gay man, you probably know that some trans people are fine with it too, but that's not why I'm writing.

I'm writing because you've written for Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures and The Librarians, so I'm surprised by how unimaginative those tweets were. Maybe the only Munroe you're familiar with is Ororo. Fair enough. But there are well known cisgender women whose assigned names are Paris (for example, Hilton) and Chelsea (for example, Clinton). So are you mocking the practice of trans women choosing our own names, or attacking us in a circuitous way for our socio-philosophical views in an attempt to preemptively discredit anything we might say by diminishing one of the core components of our identities? Because Munroe Bergdorf was fired by L'Oréal for acknowledging that all White people benefit from systemic racism, Paris Lees is a writer whose insight should make you jealous, and Chelsea Manning was incarcerated for exposing crimes against humanity committed by the US military-industrial complex.

I sincerely want to know what you're struggling with. I know there are trans women out there with weird names like Wendy, Kate, Janet, Jen, Monica, Angela, Laura, Laverne, Lana, Jamie, Amanda, Sharon. There was once a trans woman in an episode of Doctor Who whose name was Bethany, which sounds made-up. So maybe the trouble you're having is that some of these names are simply too exotic for you to pronounce.

Because seriously, Bethany?

I know trans women who perform drag—literal showgirls who parody femininity even as they revel in their own femme queerness—whose names are practically unheard of in their strangeness: Kelly, Mimi, Sara. So I think I see your point. Some of us have unfathomably bizarre names conjured from surreal dreamscapes, like Shadi and Hari and Aria. If it helps clarify anything for you, though, Shadi is an Arabic name that means singer, Hari means brown, yellow, or tawny in Sanskrit, and Aria is the Italian word for air.

But what if some of us choose to name ourselves Beauty or Jupiter or Jazz? Are these real-life names too otherworldly for a science fiction writer to handle? Keep in mind that you wrote a script for Doctor Who that included a murderous robot named Skovox Blitze, and another for The Sarah Jane Adventures that included a fucking Raxacoricofallapatorian.

The genre you work in is relevant because your full-time job (which many trans women are not able to acquire precisely because they are so often perceived as "clueless gayboys" trying to be glamorous ladies) is to imagine alternate histories and possible futures. Are your imaginative abilities so limited that you can't conceive of a world where anyone would want to present themselves in a way that is unapologetically unique? And that makes me curious about what other marginalized people you might mock for having names not immediately recognizable as Anglo-Saxon in origin. I'm not going ask you for your hot take on cis women whose given names are Mathangi, Afua, Zadie, or Ming because I already have some sense of the way you see the world outside your experience. But I am going to suggest that the cognitive narrowing you've been showing us on Twitter might affect your ability to write meaningful and memorable science fiction.

Some of us regret going through our entire childhoods not being able to find our names on customized license plates for our bicycles. Some of us don't care at all about never being able to find coffee mugs with our names printed on them. Neither of those experiences are yours, or yours to speak about with any authority. So take a seat. At your desk. And practice being a better thinker, because it will make you a better writer.

I understand that you think that your sexual orientation somehow exempts you from sensitivity toward other members of the queer community. But it most certainly does not. It's one thing for most of the world to try to make us to feel like we're not viable partners (at least not during daylight hours), like we're not trustworthy enough to hire, like no matter how much success we achieve, we'll always be viewed with paternalistic suspicion. It's another thing for us to be mocked by other members of our own community, other people with whom we share a Pride flag. Because when that happens, where else can we go?

Keep in mind that we don't have a TARDIS.

Trans women can't travel back to a time before you tweeted this nonsense, or before John Barrowman mocked our bodies at SDCC, or forward in time to whatever year it will be when we'll have libraries of thoughtful stories to read, stories told from a perspective other than the cis White male perspective that ultimately can't envision an experience other than its own. We might not be able to travel through time, but we are making our own history, right now, writing our own stories (cancelled by Netflix though some of them might be), and writing more every day. So do keep an eye out. The names on those book covers and in those credit sequences might seem strange to you, because they might be Julia or Indya or Lilith.

I don't think this is really about our names, though. I think what bothers you is that we are a disruptive people. By simply being ourselves, we challenge your notions of the way things should be. But we are as we should be. And we have reasons to be disruptive, one of which is that people like you won't listen to us or believe we are who we say we are. Disrupting the status quo is the only thing that's going to make this world any better than it is, for trans people and cis people, for readers and audiences. And that process has already begun, whether you respect it or not.

Good luck to you, whatever you decide,
Aria

Aria Baci's picture
on September 6, 2017

EDITOR IN CHIEF