On Chip Delany and Exploration

During the recent Puppy Wars, I have found it useful, more than once, to cite Chip Delany, who I believe to be one of the great critics and thinkers to come out of the field of SF — whether that was “5,750 Words”, Nova as space opera, the famous NYRSF article about his predicted backlash against PoC SF writers as they became a larger percentage of the field, etc., etc., and so forth.

Over and over again, I get responses along the lines of “You’re citing a pedophile, you have no credibility” or “I don’t care about anything he says, he’s a pedophile supporter.”

Chip doesn’t need my defending; he’s quite capable of “defending” himself if he needed to. Nonetheless, I am going to, especially because I think the very attacks on him are attacks, in an odd way, upon what makes SF/F a great field.

Much of the complaint has come from a published conversation Chip Delany had with Will Shetterly, which can be found here.  In it, among many other topics, Delany talks about how he felt no bad effects from having sexual experiences with an adult when he was 6, NAMBLA as a voice of dissent and exploration in the gay movement, etc.

He also says: “One size fits all is never the way to handle any situation with a human dimension.” — A statement which, taken in isolation, almost anyone would find largely unobjectionable.  He just said it about something that people do find objectionable.

(I am not even sure I agree with it, except that when I try to provide counterexamples — using, say, rape — I find myself having to use far more words than I would like to explain my terms*, which I find proving Chip’s point.)

These remarks have gotten him labeled a pedophile, despite statements like: “Adults hurting children is my notion of a bad thing, whether it is through corporal punishment or in any other way.”

The crux of the matter comes in this statement from the interview: I am perfectly ready to start by saying that consent between a child an adult cant mean the same thing as two adults consenting. But to say that any such consent is without meaning, especially legal, is to outline a situation where children will be regularly abused by the courts and by adults who believe thator who feel justified in acting as though childrens words and feelings and ideas are without meaning.”

If you are looking for pedophiles, you can find that in the quotation. What I see is a concern for children, and for their rights. That is, to Chip’s lights, what’s under discussion — and it’s a discussion that is almost impossible to have without touching on these subjects.

And if we can’t talk about them, we can’t go anywhere that they are.

To Chip, who grew up pre-Stonewall, this is a familiar place; when the only discussions you can have about some aspect of people’s lives starts from the presumption that someone is a criminal, is disordered.

Chip is raising questions, and presenting challenges. To quote from his exchange:

In Through the Valley, I give what I think is a very strong argument against having sex with children, although the main character who comes to this conclusion lives with and knows people who disagree with him. What interests me is the number of readers who get to that point and tell me, I realized that’s what you were going be writing about, so I just closed the book and stopped reading. I didn’t want to read about it at that point.” Thats a good ten or twelve readers whom Ive talked to personally. Even the reviewers who like the book dont want to talk about that part of it, because they are afraid (at least I think so) of having to discuss it, even though it comes out on the side of the angels,” though it puts the onus on society rather than on the individuals involved. “

Chip is taking us to an uncomfortable place — which is what, I think, we want him to do, especially if he can do it in a fashion that does not come across as pitching one side or another** as “correct”.

That, to my lights, is what SF/F is in large part all about — asking questions, especially difficult ones, in a semi-controlled, contained framework.

With that in mind, let’s look at a particular case of this anti-Delany vitriol, used as cover for other rhetoric: Vox Mustela*** (a.k.a. Vox Day, a.k.a. Ted Beale.)

He begins by saying the following about one of the quotes above:

“That last quote is particularly problematic, as contra his self-appointed public defenders’ claims, Delany is clearly referring to physical pain, not sexual contact, when he says “hurting children” is his “notion of a bad thing”. Most people assume that sexual contact is intrinsically harmful to children. Delany actively denies this.”

Apparently Mr. Beale either cannot read “or in any other way”, or doesn’t think the word “any” means what he thinks it does.

Delany denies that it is intrinsically harmful; this is an arguable question, especially given the number of people who have said it was not harmful to them. Blanket denial of people’s experiences is a dangerous road to go down.

“Intrinsically harmful” and “harmful” are not, however, the same thing at all. Delany is clearly referring to any kind of pain.  Yet, again, for raising the issue and citing his own lived experience, he is treated as if his motives could only be the worst.

And yet this is only the beginning from Mr. Beale:

“If one can reasonably declare John W. Campbell a racist on the basis of his essays and reported words, then one can absolutely, and with utter certainty, declare Samuel R. Delany to be a child-raping pedophile on the basis of his own stated beliefs and published fantasies. “

Do note: Campbell wrote things that are undeniably racist. The action of writing is unquestionable.  And yet, here, Mr. Beale effectively accuses Chip Delany of a felony on the basis of what he’s written. By that standard, Tom Kratman is guilty of mass murder and genocide, John C. Wright is a theocratic Inquisitor, and Vox Day is a censor, and a burner of books.

Indeed, even relative moderates have been arguing that SFWA was wrong for making Chip Delany a Grand Master, on the grounds of his “pedophilia”.

For asking questions, and writing stories.  For stating unpopular opinions which do not address his own personal desires and behaviors.

And yet they accuse others of being “thought police”? I believe this is the pot calling, at best, the zebra black.

Chip is raising issues,  asking questions, and providing perspective — and that’s what Chip does, and has done for many years, in the field of SF and the larger fields of politics and literary criticism writ large.

He’s the man who pointed out in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue that the adult movie theaters in Times Square provided one of the most diverse environments in all of New York City — because, while everyone there was male, they were of every color, every class — even every orientation.  He’s the man who challenged Ursula K. LeGuin by analyzing one of her books not against an abstract notion of what books should be — but rather against what he thought (and hoped she’d agree) was its own ideal form.  He’s the man who taught me that what we think of as “how theatre works and is placed in culture” was a creation of less than 150 years ago, and existed in that form for at most 60 years — and we’re living in the aftermath.  He’s the man who first informed me  of the research that states that most people see a picture with 30% women as evenly split.

Everything I have looked at through Chip’s writing, I have seen differently than when I went in, and I can think of no greater gift an author can give me.

Presenting challenges to how things are, how we want to see them, how we see them without knowing what filters we have — that’s what Chip Delany has done for many years, and, I submit, what speculative fiction, at its best and brightest, has done for even longer.

To turn away from Chip here, because we don’t like where he’s going now, is to turn away from the SFnal project because we don’t like where it’s led us. And that is not something I am prepared to do, nor do I think anyone who loves the field — even if they do not want to read at the fringes — should want or ask of it.

Chip is raising issues, and because many of the people accusing him and hounding him are nowhere near as smart or insightful as he is, they’re missing what those issues are, such as “What does it mean to say a percentage of the population has no ability to make any meaningful consent” and “What do legal bright lines do to people, and can we adjust for the problems” in addition to “What do my own sexual experiences, and those of people like me, teach us?”

All they see is “kids” and “sex” in the same paragraph, or scare-words like “NAMBLA”, and they deprive themselves, and attempt to deprive the rest of us, of conversations very much worth having — conversations that are, in many ways, at the core of SF/F that engages with us beyond the level of “cool physics problem” or “wow, big magic sword****”.

And I am not prepared to let go of those conversations, that SF/F, or Chip Delany.

* For example, I do honestly believe that while rape is universally a bad thing, I cannot subscribe to a statement like “All rapists should be (x)” — because, for example, there are human beings who can commit rape who are not, by the standards I used, capable of discerning right from wrong — whether due to mental illness, incapacity, etc. And there we go — one size no longer fits all.

** Because it’s not “one side or the other” so, so much of the time — indeed, so much of what I think is currently wrong (as I touched on very lightly in the Culture War post) comes from that bitter, but accurate, joke: “Binary Thinking: Threat or Menace”.

*** Mustela, as far as I have been able to determine, is the appropriate way to say “Weasel”, as Mr. Beale is an expert at using what most people would consider weasel words and constructions. If someone can give me more appropriate construction, I’d appreciate it.

**** And if you think that Elric was just about the cool big sword, I suggest you go and reread it.

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