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.)
Or: queer genre fiction that is not fantasy!
Can I just say thanks to whoever has been promoting my last rec post on Twitter? Someone’s responsible for a major boost in blog traffic. I hope my thoughts on queer genre fiction are useful to readers in want of good reads.
As you may know, I’m primarily – at least in long-form prose writing – a fantasy/spec fic writer. I’ll write all kinds of things in short form, as I hope Crooked Words attests to, and I have been accused by Ian Irvine Hobbson of writing grungy realist literature. (I know, right?) I’m giving feature-length contemporary screenplays a shot, but when it comes to long-form prose, I write fantasy, and I can’t see that changing. My literary references are all fantastic: I grew up on Narnia, was given The Lord of the Rings by my mother at fifteen (I own vintage 1970s Allen and Unwin editions of the trilogy and The Silmarillion, the latter of which I have read as many times as the former) and spent the next seven or eight years throwing myself headlong into anything speculative I could get my hands on. These days I read all sorts of things both from a need of representation and having refined my palate due to being quite widely read in the genre, which might explain the side trips into realist grunge, but I am always going to be coming back to fantasy as both a creative and a reader.
(Actually, I write grungy realist fantasy, too. When I say that I wrote my novel about leads with mental illness, I mean leads with mental illness and not the usual light touch that passes for it. Oscar, anyone?)
However, in the quest for representation, I will read anything, and this post is about the anything.
Today I’m going to talk about sex.
Or, sex in fiction and why, in fiction, we need to discuss sex.
Trigger warnings because sex, but also because I discuss rape culture with examples.
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.
I think you know, now, that I’ve been writing creatively for the best part of the last fifteen years. I’ve written and completed about eight novels (first drafts, trust me) and who knows how many incomplete novels and stories. The vast majority of this is never going to see the light of day, as is right: it takes millions of words to get really good, and while I still have plenty to learn, I have my current skill level because of the millions of words I’ve left in my wake.
Over that time my style and creative focus have changed such that I look at the person who wrote my earlier stories and don’t quite recognise them.
Some of the more recent stories, though – some of the things I’ve written in the last five years – are not terrible. They need work, yes; I’ve learnt a great deal in PWE. They are also, topically, not what I’d write today, which usually involves trans and non-binary identities alongside a collection of female characters with feminist leanings. They belong to the period of my life where I wrote about men because I was forced to live the life of a girl, a life that chafed me to the bone, and there was a great deal of liberation in being able to pick up the keyboard and step into an imaginary world where I could live, via proxy, the life I wanted. I read them today and shake my head at the absolute lack of women, at the overwhelming majority of cis male characters (writing a cis male majority means writing everyone gay/bi/pan, because I wasn’t interested in writing about straights even then) and the lack of understanding with regards to social issues.
I also read them today and realise something else: they’re still pretty damn funny.
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.)
(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.)