Still, she found fault with Clarkesworld because it failed to preempt the upset of readers who made erroneous assumptions about the identity and intentions of the story's author:
All I can say at this point is that a lot of people might have been spared a lot of mental anguish if that story had simply been accompanied by a sentence or two of context—an artist’s statement of the author’s identity and her intention for the work. There's a reason that the Artist Statement is so common in art galleries that showcase transgressive or challenging work.
I don’t think every story needs a content warning or a statement of author’s intent before you read it, but this one clearly did. It takes enormous trust for readers from a marginalized community to let a writer play literary games with their oppression, and most of us can’t give that trust to someone whose intentions are too opaque. There is a difference between letting a doctor or a sympathetic friend probe your wounds, and getting randomly jabbed by a faceless stranger.
I’m skeptical that content warnings or statements of authorial intent solve any problems. (Would critics ready to believe an author’s stated birth year was in fact a form of Nazi trolling trust a statement of authorial intent?) And many readers, trans and cis alike, were able to enjoy Fall’s story and discern the earnestness of its author without any extratextual statement.
The National Book Award finalist Carmen Maria Machado declared herself “crushed” and “angry” at “a trans sf/f writer being excoriated for writing a messy, gorgeous, interesting story,” and defended “stories that are dangerous, weird, jagged, ambitious,” because “art that bites off more than it can chew” can variously “change your temperature, provoke your heart, crack open your brain.” Sometimes, “what seems, to you, to be a failed experiment is actually not a failed experiment at all, and has provided someone else with brain-cracking or heart-provoking or temperature-changing,” she continued, and sometimes that value “only becomes clear in retrospect.”
Needless to say—or maybe not—short stories that are ahead of their time will be lost if their early critics succeed in creating an artistic landscape where ostensibly flawed work is quickly disappeared.
The science-fiction writer M. L. Clark urged better modes of engagement. “When a work *unsettles* you, & you have misgivings about whether the message is clear or ‘correct,’ absolutely, you should talk about it! Name how it falls short for you!” he wrote. “But also: allow it to be broken for you w/o asserting that its jagged edges can *only* be used as a blade, NOT because we shouldn't resist poor messaging, but because *effective* resistance doesn't just take the form of vehement public outcry & denunciation.”
The Vox critic Emily VanDerWerff opined, “This is a story with a lot––maybe too much––on its mind, and to see it written off as agitprop is sad. Art that only celebrates the bravery of trans people, or our fortitude in the face of all we must endure to be ourselves, is fine. But art should embrace our weakness, our shame, and our doubt, too. To insist otherwise is its own kind of prejudice.”