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It is only a story.

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on March 24, 2016

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In those corners of the internet where white supremacists, homophobes and misogynists blend together there is an ancient rallying cry that goes up each and every time criticism is levelled at a piece of fiction. “It is only a story.”

In my country there is a legend, a fairy tale, of a creature known as a Kelpie. It appears near to water in the form of an attractive horse but if it is ridden it drags the rider down into the depths and drowns them. After considerable exploration of the local fauna and historical records it is easy to discover that these creatures most likely didn’t exist. The stories about them were “only a story.” Without the context of history it would appear just like so many folk tales, as an oddity used to frighten children. But fear has a purpose in society. If one of the peasants that this story circulated through were to find a lone horse by a body of water they would not feel inclined to steal it and incur the inevitable lethal wrath of its wealthy owner. If children were told not to touch a horse because it would make a rich man angry they would likely do it out of pure spite. The legend of the Kelpie saved their lives while allowing them to save face. The story was a powerful tool to impart not just morality and values but also survival tips. This is one of the purposes of a story.

So when a modern television series has a lesbian character appear, romantically involve themselves with a woman and then die almost immediately a message is being conveyed. Do not do this or there will be swift retribution. Gay characters are slaughtered with abandon throughout popular culture to the degree that it is now considered a trope of storytelling “bury your gays.” In the time before gay rights were advanced the moral message could be considered a warning to people in the closet to stay there for their own protection. Now, just like the Kelpie, the threat still looms over us when there should be no danger.

In the same way, when a popular film franchise brings out a new instalment with an all female cast it is to be applauded for its moral that women are just as capable of fulfilling the heroic roles as men while simultaneously being condemned for the second message that was woven in by casting the only black woman as an uneducated glorified chauffeur.

It is only a story, but there is no such thing as a story that is not trying to impart its values on you. It is only a story, the most powerful tool that humans have to communicate with each other. 

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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