Avoiding Tokenism in Literature at CONvergence 2018


I mean to write and upload this last year. My most sincere apologies, everybody. That delay really got out of hand. Hopefully I will resume the punctuality that I once had. And I apologize for the audio quality - I’m still learning how to improve balancing and everything. It is a process, of course. But here we are.

At CONvergence 2018, I was on the panel “Avoiding Tokenism in Literature”. Jei Herald-Zamora referred to some books and I referenced some resources, which had its own follow-up post. You can also read a number of posts about or related to tokenism here, including these post that talk about my experiences being a token as it pertains to race and being polyamorous.

You can find the raw audio recording of the panel here.

Creating actual diversity requires a great effort to avoid unintentionally tokenizing your characters. Tokenism, even when unintentional, is what leads to adding "diversity" for the sake of diversity. How do we engender true diversity in our literature?
Tamora Pierce, Justin Grays, Kerry Peterson (mod), Jei Herald-Zamora

When introducing ourselves, we intentionally gave our pronouns. Part of the reason is so that people know what our pronouns are, and part of the reason was so that we can help people get out of the habit of assuming other people’s pronouns. Pronouns are words that we use to replace names (she/him/theirs), and it is important to use what most accurately represents the people whom we are referring to. Gender terms that get used:

  • I identify as graygender - that is, I identify outside the gender binary and feel generally ambivalent about my gender identity. I really am comfortable with any pronoun that is used for me (except for “it” [Note 1]) - however, I very much enjoy it when people change up what pronouns they use for me.

  • Tamora is cis - to be cisgender is to identify as the gender that one was assigned at birth.

  • Jai is Two-Spirit; in a western sense, Transmasculine and Genderqueer -

    • Two-Spirit is a culturally distinct gender identity, “an Aboriginal-specific term of resistance to colonization and non-transferable to other cultures” [Note 2], and is deserving of its own post that I do not feel that I am qualified to write by myself [Note 3].

    • Transmasculine is a term to describe persons who are AFAB [Note 4] and identify more strongly as masculine; it is a term that is is best described by the people who are transmasculine.

    • Genderqueer is an umbrella term similar to, but not meaning, non-binary.

Code-switching is when a speaker alternates communicating in multiple languages or dialects.

As persons of color and/or queer persons, we are often put in the position of being the representatives of our races. There is this constant feeling of being examined and evaluated by people in western society and having to maintain a higher standard to be seen as “equal”, which affects us both at home and at work. Indeed, other people do “pay a disproportionate amount of attention to people who feel like tokens and are hypervigilant concerning their actions and behaviors” [Note 5]; this is very taxing.

Emotional labor, as originally defined, refers to “the work of managing one’s own emotions that was required by certain professions” [Note 6]; it generally has been expanded to include “addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations” [Note 7]. This is work that is typically asked of from women and femmes, and to a degree persons of color. Get paid for your emotional labor.

Geordi LaForge deserved better. Though it is rumored that LaForge was initially supposed to be gay and that’s why he’s so terrible at love, I’ve yet to see any primary sources on that. At any rate, the character to whom I am referring is Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Aquiel Uhnari from the episode “Aquiel” (TNG 6x13). We do see him take Christy Henshaw’s arm in his after he gets a boost of confidence from John Doe in Transfigurations (TNG 3x25) but no follow-up. In the first episode that we see him ask Henshaw out, being Booby Trap (TNG 3x06), we see him kiss a hologram (as discussed in the video I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph).
The consultant hired to help write Chakotay’s character was Jamake Highwater; it was later revealed that he was of Eastern European Jewish descent. As we continued, Jai spoke of the Lakota Language Consortium; I believe that the linguist to whom he was referring is Dr. Jan Ullrich - I will attempt to confirm and update this.

Religions that get mentioned [Note 8]:

  • Hasidic Judaism, which arose in the 18th century as a spiritual revival movement.

  • Hinduism, a religion and way of life, which started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 CE.

  • Islam, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion, is believed to have originated in the early 7th century CE in Mecca.

  • Roman Catholicism, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion, was first called “the catholic church” in a letter written about 110 AD. There have been a number of schisms since.

  • Zoroastrianism, one of the world's oldest continuously practiced religions, having possible roots dating back to the second millennium BCE.

FDR & JFK riding together on horseback fighting Nazis that are robots” would have worked better if I had used Theodore Roosevelt instead of FDR, as FDR was president during WWII. Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and JFK were all American Presidents during the 20th century (1901-1909, 1933-1945, & 1961-1963), but their presidencies all took place during radically different points in history.
What I was getting at is that as time progresses, people’s understanding of history gets muddled and things that seem far apart actually happened at the same time or vice-versa. Modern examples include:

  • Cleopatra is actually closer to us than the Pyramids. Cleopatra died in 30 BCE, which is closer to today (CE 2019) than the building of the Giza Necropolis (c. 2580 – c. 2560 BCE) by about 500 years.

  • Betty White (born 1922) is older than sliced bread (commercially available 1928).

  • The last showing of the original samurai was in 1867. Other events that happened that year include: the first performance of “The Blue Danube”; Nebraska is admitted into the US as State #37; and the Dominion of Canada is formed. This is the same time period as the myth of the Wild West.

Firefly takes the mixing of cultures and pushes it (poorly) into the future, combining American & Chinese cultures with smatterings of various other cultures. But he tried - most science fiction that I’ve read/watched haven’t even put forth the effort, so that’s a plus. Do you grok my jive, me hearties?
The “Dwarves being lesser creatures” that I am referring to are the mythological ones from Norse Mythology; in the early Norse sources, there is no mention of them being short. Eitri, King of the Dwarves, is portrayed in this manner in Avengers: Infinity War.

The Zapp Brannigan quote I was going for was: “If we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate”.

Sir James George Frazer was a Scottish social anthropologist and folklorist. He was known for research in mythology and comparative religion.

The “Dakota Uprising” discussed here is the Dakota War of 1862. Treaty violations by the American Government and late or unfair annuity payments by Indian Agents caused increasing hunger and hardship, adding to the many brutal and/or underhanded acts perpetrated by the United States towards the many Indegineous Peoples here. The largest mass hanging in US History occurred during this War, in Fort Snelling, which is located at Bdote.

One of our audience members explained to us that the use of “Moslem” is offensive when one is trying to say “Muslim”. I was curious about this, as I had only really heard the former from older persons and from conservatives, and so I did some digging around. I found this Washington Post article, which lead me to the book “Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes: The Representation of Islam in the British Press” and this History News Network article. A little more digging also led me to a science blog (interesting method used here) and Merriam-Webster.

If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” - Stephen King
And if you are in a reading slump, here are some tools to help you get out of it.


  1. To me, “it” is for inanimate objects and works of art. If I’m ever doing a fashion show or am in a gallery as an exhibit, maybe I'll accept “it”, but only in that situation.

  2. Citation: Cameron, Michelle. “Two-Spirited Aboriginal People.” Canadian Woman Studies/Les Ccahers De Ka Femme, vol. 24, no. 2-3, 2005, p. 125., cws.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/cws/article/view/6129/5317.

  3. Because I’m not an indigenous person - I would prefer someone who is Two-Spirit to be the voice.

  4. Assigned Female At Birth. Also known as FAAB (Female Assigned At Birth).

  5. Citation: “Tokenism.” Psychology, psychology.iresearchnet.com/counseling-psychology/multicultural-counseling/tokenism/.

  6. Citation: Beck, Julie. “The Concept Creep of 'Emotional Labor'.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 26 Nov. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/11/arlie-hochschild-housework-isnt-emotional-labor/576637/.

  7. Citation: Weiss, Suzannah. “50 Ways People Expect Constant Emotional Labor from Women and Femmes.” Everyday Feminism, 23 Dec. 2016, everydayfeminism.com/2016/08/women-femmes-emotional-labor/.

  8. I am not well-versed in these religions (save for Roman Catholicism), nor do I feel qualified to write about them in any detail by myself.

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