It goes without saying that an LGBTQ+ character being introduced into the Star Wars story group era canon is unequivocally a good thing. Any step to diversify one of the most prolific and powerful pieces of entertainment in the world is welcome. Despite this obvious good news, I can’t help but be wary. Not because I don’t doubt there are good intentions by the story group and the folks at Del Rey, but because the author who is introducing this character has a pretty dubious history when it comes to speaking about diversity.
I’m not going to hash out the issues Paul S. Kemp presents as far as diversity and treating a fanbase are concerned. If you’re genuinely curious, there are solid recaps here and here. You can also go to Kemp’s blog to read some of his more troubling takes on masculinity and women. Long story short, Kemp is (on his own accord, mind you) diversifying the Star Wars universe by adding an LGBTQ+ character to it while simultaneously working against diversity on his blog and social media by frequently alienating female fans.
“So what,” you’re saying. It’s possible to praise an action while condemning other things a person has done. And you’re absolutely right. Myself and plenty of others have already done just that with this bit of news. I applaud Kemp, Del Rey, and the story group for introducing an LGBTQ+ character into the canon. I condemn Kemp for some rather out-of-touch ideas and behavior. These things can be, and to an extent need to be, compartmentalized. Separate the artist and the art and whatnot.
In this case, I’m struggling because this character hits really close to home for me.
I’m the B part of the LGBTQ+ acronym. I don’t identify as a woman, so I don’t have all the filters and experiences to perhaps fully appreciate what the introduction of this character means. Still, as someone who falls squarely in the LGBTQ+ demo, this is important to me. That’s why I’ve felt so bad about feeling conflicted about this news. Representation is good, and this character added to the Star Wars lexicon is good. But Kemp’s involvement makes me wary, and that tempers my enthusiasm.
And that tempered enthusiasm makes me really, really sad.
It hurts a lot to want to be excited without any reservation, but have factors outside of your control prevent that. In this case, it’s Kemp, and his actively speaking against diversity. A part of me even feels guilty about not being as excited and happy as I otherwise could be if another author was handling this. On the one hand, I should be appreciative for representation of any sort. On the other, that’s not enough to ignore Kemp’s other issues–is it?
It pains me that I’ve got to do the Orson Scott Card thing here. Praise the work but not making excuses for the author. I’m going to have to do that with Moff Mors and Lords of the Sith, and it’s frustrating. That’s baggage I didn’t think we’d have to deal with and, frankly, I’m still trying to figure out how to do just that.
Right now I’ve got an ARC of Lords of the Sith waiting for me to read, and the only thing I can think right now is that I’m scared to open it up. What if the character isn’t handled well? What if I have to write a review saying that? What if Kemp punches down (as he frequently does when confronted with criticism of the diversity in his fiction, blog writing, and social media presence) at myself and others for that, or even for just writing this column? For me, it’s going to hurt and it’s going to hurt a lot. I’ve never been more nervous to read and review a book than I am for this one.
I do promise that I will read this book and review it just like I would any other: looking at the content of the work only. My feelings about Kemp’s stand on social issues and diversity won’t impact it. While I haven’t quite figured out how to fully compartmentalize things yet, I will before I write up my thoughts about the book and put it out there for public consumption.
For now, though? For now I’m torn, I’m sad, I’m confused, and scared. Maybe, selfishly, even a little angry. Mostly, I feel bad. Strike that, I feel awful. I wish I didn’t have to be so nervous and wary about what otherwise would be a wonderful development. Like I said, I’ll figure out how to compartmentalize this. It’ll just take time.
Hopefully once I can do that, I’ll be able to stop feeling guilty about being so torn.