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Some time ago, I posted this status update on Facebook:

Fully engaging in war against evil and malice, while fully engaging in healing and protecting the vulnerable spirit. This is what it means to be someone living fully in the spirit of my culture. And always, always to see and acknowledge the other person as being human, to embrace them in their humanity and to love them nevertheless. This is how we upset the status quo, this is how we reject systems that seek to dehumanize and devalue us and the work that we do.


It’s been on my mind a lot these days.

I’ve been thinking of how working in the field of science fiction allows us to challenge existing structures and explore alternatives to what exists today. I like how science fiction’s “what ifs” allow us to speculate about ideal worlds. “What if” allows us to examine different kinds of scenarios. From post-apocalyptic worlds to dystopias to what happens when things fall apart even in the most ideal spaces—we explore and keep on looking to the answer to the question, “What if?”

I continue to believe that if there’s a genre that allows us to challenge existing structures, it’s this genre. Because of the nature of this genre, because of the hearts of those who occupy this genre, I also believe that it’s possible to create practical change and to put into practice ideas that may feel revolutionary but which hark back to the time before colonialism and imperialism erased intuitive structures that are more conducive to lasting diversity and inclusivity.

If we can imagine it, it is possible. Science fiction has proven this to us, over and over and over again. If we can think it, we can know it, and we can move the impossible into the realm of possibility.


I think of connectedness and connections—of how if we are to thrive inside an existing oppressive structure, we need systems of support. This need means moving away from the narratives that have been fed to us and narratives that feel safe because we recognize their boundaries.

For many of us, the idea of leaving behind the familiar landscape can be scary. If we are entrenched in our ways, adjustment is difficult and challenging. Challenging our own assumptions, questioning our biases, learning to look with a different set of eyes and changing the way we think about people is hard work. Indeed, it’s much easier to carry on down the familiar and beaten track rather than to launch out into the unknown.

On the beaten track, we know how to speak and how to walk and how to be. Walking the unknown means opening ourselves up again and making ourselves vulnerable to possible hurt and misunderstanding.

Context is so important, and there are those whose ability to trust has been so damaged that asking for that trust is experienced as violence. I don’t know how to restore faith or how to restore another person’s trust; I only know how to walk as I have chosen to walk and to believe as I have chosen to believe. I also think that we all must embrace our own journey and find our way to a place where we can live and carry out the kind of change that we want to see.

Change to me, has come to mean these things. It means daring to embrace a different way of approaching conflict and relationships. It means looking at issues we keep talking about from a different perspective.

It means making room for failure and forgiving ourselves when we fail. It means embracing a principle focused on community and shouldering the burden together, regardless of race and gender—it’s accepting that we will not always see eye to eye on many things. We are individuals with individual ideas; disagreement is inevitable, and while we may occupy the same margins, we are not a monolith. It means respecting the fact that what may be right for one may not be right for another.

It means facing our fears and our complex emotions head on. Exposing ourselves and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable feels counterintuitive. It is terrifying, but that’s how change is. Change can’t happen if we’re only concerned with keeping ourselves safe, and change can’t take place if we are afraid to launch out into the unknown. And yet, I would much rather embrace my fear and take that step forward into the unknown, hoping and believing that good things can and will come to pass.

The system is as it is. Are we reinforcing the system or are we changing it?

There is a kind of system where the principle is one of dog eats dog. There is no mercy or kindness and no room for human error.

In this kind of system, there is only one true way of being. We must live according to the numbers if we want acceptance. We must conform to expected narratives. It is a system in which the marginalized and the vulnerable are made even more marginalized and vulnerable than we already are. It is a system in which the weakest links are considered disposable. They’re to be used and when their use is at an end, to be discarded.

An oppressive system encourages hostility and breeds isolation. Hatred and anger poison the discourse and in doing so perpetuate harm and hurt. Voices are suppressed, voices are silenced, pain is left unacknowledged and untended to, and wounds are allowed to fester and fester deep.

This is the system that we live in. It’s the narrative we recognize and it’s a narrative that makes us believe that the only way to end these oppressions lies in wresting away power or gaining power in every space that we occupy.

This kind of system robs all of us of our humanity. In my eyes, it is a system that hinders rather than propagates change. Because inside this kind of system the marginalized grown even more marginalized, and because of a perceived threat those who have a hold on power keep an even tighter grasp on it. There is fear from both ends—and history tells us that it’s a fear that is justified.

Looking at this deadlock, I found myself thinking that the way forward is not by wrestling power away by force or by shouting the loudest. The way forward requires a change that means going back to a time when we affirm each other in our own humanity.

I see you as you see me. My affirmation of you is an affirmation of myself.

As I write this, I am reminded of Shylock’s memorable speech from The Merchant of Venice where we are reminded that regardless of who we are, we all share things in common. We all bleed, we all know what pain is like, we all feel the same passions and experience the whole range of human emotion. We all occupy the same world and live under the same sky.

Rather than returning oppression for oppression, rather than returning hatred for hatred, rather than taking hold of power and ruling over others, I would welcome a change that acknowledges and sees the other as someone who also struggles under the weight of an oppressive system. For good or for ill, we all struggle against it. In our small and fumbling ways, we all want to move forward—we reach for change, we long for better, we want to do better.

I do recognize that issues that seem so straightforward to me, are not as straightforward for others. The history we carry influences the way we perceive events. History makes what seems simple complicated. There are layers and layers that need to be unpacked, and I don’t know if I am equipped to unpack them or if I am even the right person to unpack them.

My longing, though, is to see change take place, and I can only share change as I have come to experience it in my own journey.

The journey towards sustainable diversity and inclusivity isn’t one that can be taken alone. We need an entire community. We need as many on board as are willing to share and work together on this vision. In addressing inequalities and oppression, we cannot allow ourselves to be divided. I am fully aware that it is an idealistic notion, but I choose not to pass judgment for the humanity that others exhibit. I too am human. I try, I fail, I try again. Sometimes I stumble, sometimes I fall, I am always grateful for the hands that lift me up, for the voices that remind me that I can continue forward and for the knowledge that I am not alone in this journey.


It calls to us. Are we ready and willing to take a leap into the unknown? Are we ready to embrace change?

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in the Netherlands. She attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2009 and was a recipient of the Octavia Butler Scholarship. Her work has been published in various online and print publications in the Philippines as well as outside of the Philippines. You can visit her website at or follow her on Twitter.
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20 Mar 2023

Strange Horizons will be open to fiction submissions on April 26th, 2023, at 9 a.m. UTC! To keep our response times manageable and submission windows more frequent, there will be a 1,000-story cap on submissions.
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