Queering words: a field guide (part 1)

Nothing in these posts is in any way new.

However, I’ve had a few interactions with well-intended cishet allies who have missed the finer details on queer, trans and non-binary language terms and their use, so these words aren’t being said loudly enough to penetrate even those who are open to hearing us. Also, as a queer, non-binary person with editing experience, there may be something I can bring to the dialogue, I hope, that explains why we use our words the way we do.

For once, I’m speaking directly to allies on this post. Most of the time you’re incidental to the dialogue, or I’m talking about you, not to you: I’m talking ‘to you’ in the same kind of rhetorical, laden-with-frustration way I go about much of my dialogue about my experiences. However, I seem to have amassed a collection of cishet ally readers, so this one is for you, because my words matter and because I believe – or hope – my words matter to you.

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The oppression of matching

I have a nine-letter legal first name.

It’s the kind of name that was once masculine but is now considered feminine in Western society. Even the abbreviated form, my use or preferred name (I don’t consider it an nickname because it is my name) is more feminine-leaning than masculine (‘Kim’ is technically gender-neutral but in practice a shade feminine-leaning). I have, in fact, been told by people (more than one) that I should change my name to something less feminine. While I’m all for people choosing whichever name makes them comfortable and happy, I’m morally opposed to the notion that a trans man must have a masculine name, a trans woman a feminine one, or a non-binary person a gender-neutral one. Names don’t have to match gender. We shouldn’t have to change our birth names to conform to some notion of what is and isn’t appropriately gendered if we’re happy with or have some connection to the name given us at birth. I don’t like my full name, but I do like its shortened form, and I don’t see why I should have to change it because it’s not gender-neutral enough.

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Show, don’t tell: allies and minorities in fiction

I happened across this article. On the surface, it looks positive, right? A man writing lead female characters of colour? Representation in a genre that still denies representation to people who are not cis/straight/white/able-bodied/neurotypical/thin/male? Isn’t that awesome?

Unfortunately, to me, the piece pretty much encapsulates one of the major problems with majority people writing minority characters: the ‘look at me I’m writing about minorities’ mode of self-promotion.

I can’t help but read this as ‘I look at WOC and see them as human!’ It’s not so pretty when phrased like that, right?

(Warning: very long post. I talk about queer genre fiction, who writes it, who reads it and my place in it as a queer writer of queer genre fiction.)

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Rec post: queer fantasy

I’ve been commenting on a friend’s posts, and every time I comment I find myself in rec mode because I have read a lot and have all the opinions on the things I read.

Luckily for you, she’s sensible enough to tell me that I should create a post.

I want to begin this by saying that their presence on this list doesn’t mean these works are free of problematic material. Not all of the writing is awesome, many of these books are not particularly intersectional in terms of inclusiveness and there will be things I missed given my own sphere of privilege. These are just the best books I’ve read (and I haven’t read everything: there’s plenty of queer-inclusive fantasy on my to-buy list for when I start my job) in terms of queer characters.

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The personal and the sensitive

This week I taught people how to sew handmade books, someone else a little on how to make ebooks, edited a ten-thousand-word transcript of a panel-type presentation, realised that I totally know how to style a Word doc for html, and had a friend offer me a job that sounds like fun and money. My harddrive is also dying, so I’m now working off a shitty Windows 8 netbook, and my floral-patterned trolley (it’s so awesome people stop me in the street to tell me how awesome it is) cracked a wheel. But it’s mostly good. It’s actually pretty damn nice to be in a position where people are starting to throw things in my direction so I can use my collection of professional skills to (nearly) pay the rent.

When I finished my BA with an anthropology major and an Honours thesis on genocide as a form of sacrifice, I had no community, no sense of connectedness to academia or the industry. It’s a strange and wondrous thing, this time around, to have friends and connections to the community and PWE staff, to have a tangible skillset that isn’t ‘writing essays’ or ‘able to tell you just why the UN failed in Rwanda’, to have people in my life who know I’m the resident ebook expert. I don’t regret my BA. I loved my sojourn into Shakespeare; I loved everything I learnt in anthropology. My novel is essentially a fantastic form of the themes in my thesis. It did not give me, though, what a less-prestigious TAFE course gave me; I am not the person that began the course two and half years ago in terms of the array of skills I now have, and I am so damn glad of that.

If you are in Australia and you are a literary creative, if you have even the slightest pretensions to a industry career that goes a little beyond just crafting words – Professional Writing and Editing TAFE is the best investment of your time and money, and the Victoria University staff and community are the most amazing people. I know I say it again and again, but I owe so much to this course. They have allowed me to transform myself from K. A. the warehouse flunkie to K. A. the emerging writing and publishing professional.*

(* This phrasing, which is something I wrote without thinking about it, is quite interesting in the sense that it squarely places the agency in my hands. I could have said that they transformed me, and not so long ago I would have. That’s not true, however, and that must be a truth I’m starting to grasp enough that I can phrase it in just that way – that I’m the agent of change in my own life. My teachers and psychologists and friends can support me, encourage me and teach me, but they can’t change me. I can.)

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The price of being out: emotional authenticity and storytelling

This is a story, I think, that every queer person will know.

I’m telling it because I met a man who bought my book, started reading it and told me at the following day’s Rotunda that I’d used a lot of words he hadn’t seen before, but I’d given him a lot of new things to think about.

That comment has made me think about how I do what I do in a new light (which will become a post to follow).

But first I want to tell a story, just in case there’s someone in the world who hasn’t heard it.

It goes like this. You meet someone new. Because I’m doing more and more things with Rotunda and Vic Uni, this is happening to me more and more often: I’m having to develop actual social skills (ye gods). I’m having to talk to strangers. I’m having to put myself out there and be vulnerable as a person, as a part of a group, as a creative, as a writer. I’m starting to be connected in small ways to a larger community of people, and as a person who survived the monster dimensions through regarding any social connection as a potential threat and consequently best avoided, this is both amazing, challenging and a credit to two psychologists and the new-found amazing people in my life who are so encouraging, supportive, kind and engaged.

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Humanity: a tale of hats beyond counting

Guess what? I’m going to write some more about hero narratives, representation and the intersectionality I wish to see in narrative! Strap in: this one also involves many words.

Because I am evil, I’m going to link you to TV Tropes: Planet of Hats. (Please note that this is not necessarily a recommendation of TV Tropes, as I have major issues with many things on that site, but this is a good starting point for the concept.) In this post, I’m generally using ‘hat’ to mean ‘queer’ or ‘disability’ or ‘race’ or ‘mental illness’ or ‘trans’ or … anything a person can be on an axis of oppression, as opposed to traits or objects.

Now that I’ve introduced that, I’m going somewhere else entirely.

My novella, as mentioned last time, has become a novel. New characters came alive in my head, I had an idea, I added new chapters, and ended up with a complete novel-length first draft. It’s a hot mess right now – with my writing style, that’s what a first draft should be – but I’ve got pages of notes for redrafting, the ideas are still bubbling away, and it feels like a novel that has the potential to be solid. I can see, in my head, what this messy draft can be, and while there’s a need for so much adding of detail and description, so much cutting of dialogue, so much fine-tuning, the plot and character arc – the structure – are stable enough to support the rest of the novel. The characters end up nowhere close to where they were at the beginning, the motivations of protagonists and antagonists alike are clear and vivid, the conclusion is firm for a first book, I know what I want to say with the story, and I adore the cast. It is really fucking exciting to be working on a character-driven novel that’s got enough plot to hold it up as a narrative and involves two active, decisive characters who keep it ticking along. It’s just as exciting to see how I’ve grown as a writer between this and Asylum.

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Not Vogler: the nature of a hero

(And other assorted ramblings on narrative, storytelling, and representation!)

Note: Assume that ‘hero’ is a gender-neutral/non-specific word: I use it throughout in this sense. Unfortunately, it still carries the connotation of masculinity, but I don’t have another word for non-binary heroes (who are heroes, not protagonists). Also, this is long even by my standards.


In the last ten days I’ve written 48 000 words, almost a complete novella first draft (one chapter to go). It’s really a story about two characters, one who is a bitter, fragile trans man with the gift of snark and a willingness to stab first and ask questions later; and one who is an anxious non-binary person with sensory processing difficulties and a desperate yearning to believe that hir culture’s treatment of hir doesn’t constitute abuse (in the form of ableism). They team up and kick off a series that’s about the beautiful friendship of two people who’ll save each other time and time again on a quest to save the world.

(I am fascinated by the desperate lengths to which abused people will go to deny abuse is abuse – to protect and validate the attitudes and behaviours of the abuser, especially a parental-type abuser, out of love and the need to belong. Looking back, the thought of how long I spent doing this, how much I still do it, kills me. I love writing about characters who cannot simply walk away from abuse, where the walking away is complicated and tangled and messy, where it is impossible to hate a parental-abuser even though rationality says you should, because we are all children at heart who want to measure up. I endured too much because I wanted my parents to love me. I still endure too much because I want my parents to love me. It’s pathetic, it’s heartbreaking and it makes no fucking sense from the outside. It’s also real and human. It is, in fact, a sacrifice of heroic proportions – the surrender of safety, happiness and sanity in order to enable someone else’s (distorted view of) happiness. This sacrifice is all the more heroic when we consider that it is made by a child or child-figure.)

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