Representation in fiction

Sometimes I get questions like “why does representation in fiction matter,” and I don’t think it’s inherently a bad one. I’ve been told many times in writing workshops “write what you know,” because we pull a lot of our strongest story material from personal situations we’ve experienced. Reliability is a strong hook, and good writers can ground readers by showing off how well they know a topic in earnest. So we do tend to write what we currently know. We have comfort zones. We might write about characters that have the same genders, sexual orientation, and ethnicity as us, because we have a firm grasp on what it can be like to grow up as how the world views us and how we view ourselves, along with all of the weight we carry with it.

It’s perfectly okay to write about characters like yourself. If you’re in a minority group, you can feel especially pressured to write a character like yourself, considering the dearth of certain types of characters as main characters in certain types of genres. (An all-female cast of main characters in an action flick is almost unheard of, but if we see it in a romantic comedy we rarely bat an eye.)

Writing what we know can also extend to knowledge of a genre. If we expose ourselves to a lot of genre fiction, we can often see what kind of stories tends to have more men and what kind of stories have more women as main characters. We can be pressured by feelings of “what kind of character appeals to a wider audience for a genre, and should I be writing this kind of character if I want to make it as a writer?” We can become convinced that we can’t have our cake as professional writers and eat it too by writing about the characters we want to write about. I remember some insightful soul saying “what’s the point of baking a god-damned cake if you can’t eat your fucking cake?” I have to agree that much of the incentive of becoming a writer is to tell the stories that you want to tell.

But as much as I agree with writing what you know, and writing about the characters that you want to write about, there is an unspoken aspect of write what you know that is not touched upon as much as it should be. It’s become an elephant in the room that many young writers either ignore or dread, and it is idea that if you can’t write about something because you don’t know it, it is time to change that. It is the dreaded interview.

Writers need to interview people if they want to escape their comfort zones. Writers need to be taught how to interview people too, because it’s all about asking the right questions. I might be asked “why do I need to interview somebody if I want to write fiction?” and then the same person will ask me “why don’t my characters feel enough like real people?”

My best way to explain why your character doesn’t feel like a real person might be through explaining the game of telephone. For all of those unfamiliar with the game, you sit in a circle with a group of people. The more people you have, the more effective the game. One person comes up with a phrase, or a word, and then they turn to their left to whisper this thing into one ear. The recipient of the message tells it to the person on their left, and the message does not stop until it comes back to its original sender. The message tends to get utterly distorted. It often turns into something that feels off.

Character representation can be like this too. I’m going to create a hypothetical situation here: Johnny might want to be inclusive and write about a bisexual Asian woman super spy in his military drama. Let’s presume Johnny is none of the things mentioned. Let’s presume Johnny knows everything about Asians, Bisexuals, Spies and Women from Quentin Tarantino films, Tom Clancy Novels, Mass Effect and experiences interacting with women from school, his job, or his family. Depending on how self-aware Johnny is, he is now in major panic about not knowing very much about four facets of representation that he wants to cover, or he is going to immerse himself in more of the entertainment that he enjoys as an attempt to get more of a feel for this kind of character. He might watch a Lucy Liu action movie in an attempt to capture 3 out of 4 facets of representation, but what Johnny might not realize is that entertainment isn’t a primary source. Johnny will almost certainly end up with a character that looks like a mimicry of somebody else’s representation of Asian women in action flicks.

We have a lot of great entertainment that exists entirely because it’s derivative– films like Space Balls and love letters to genres like Pacific Rim. But while derivative stock characters exist as a self-nod to their own genre, they have their own limits, too. Let’s deconstruct Spy, Asian, Bisexual, Woman. It’s very likely that you don’t know a spy, because this would mean that they are bad at their job. We can look at biographies of people like Mata Hari and learn about them. Same goes for Julia Child, who was also a spy. Hausfrau with a cooking channel does not usually come to most people’s minds first when we think woman spy.

 Asian is a lot to break down. First you have to ask yourself “are most characters white by default in this story because I am pointing out this character is Asian?” Second, what does Asian mean? Ethnicity? Immigration? What country, countries, ethnicity or ethnicities is Johnny choosing? Johnny needs to know if this character’s cultural background is important to them– or, if this character is struggling against their cultural background.

Bisexual can be tricky, too, considering media portrayals are noted to be consistently villains (and there is a gay version of this too), or egregiously oversexed. As bisexual writer and actress Mara Wilson has said: “Are there any really boring bisexual characters out there? I feel like they all live such exciting, sexy lives.” Rebecca Sugar, another bisexual writer and musician, known for Stephen Universe and her contributions to Adventure Time, has shared: “It really makes a difference to hear stories about how someone like you can be loved. And if you don’t hear those stories, it will change who you are.” People like this in the public eye are excellent resources for people like Johnny who wants to sincerely write about characters unlike himself. While celebrities like Mara Wilson and Rebecca Sugar have only recently become more open about discussing facets of their bisexuality, certain geek communities have very strong queer representation. For furries, it is extremely likely that you have bisexual friends if you aren’t bisexual yourself. Same goes for trans, gay and straight friends. Try to approach them for an interview, and don’t try to just settle for one interview of one person. There’s no right or consistent way to grow up bi, gay or trans.

Women are about half of the entire world population so Johnny is in luck here. We can take women characters for granted because we all know women (or we are women) and it is very likely that we talk to a woman every day. But be receptive to what women (or fellow women) say. You can ask things like “how do people treat you while you work” or “did you feel like anything was more difficult or more easy because of your experience as a woman, and would you like to talk about it?” We have centuries of novels, essays, and biographies for women and by women about women, so taking a trip to your local library can help too when you can’t grab a friend or a family member to interview.

So I do think character representation matters on the most basic level of honing your skill as a writer. You are expanding your ability to empathize, by not falling into the pitfall of derivation, but by utilizing a mix of primary and secondary sources to learn about your fellow humans.

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On doing the right thing

For those who know me well, I’ve had a really strange and dynamic life when it comes to my own ideology. I grew up in rural North Carolina in a southern Baptist family. My father is an ex-democrat from Ohio and my mother is a southern belle from Louisiana on her third marriage. I was the youngest in a group of four, and we were raised in an evangelical Baptist church on the outskirts of a small town called Pittsboro.

My mother took me on trips to public libraries, took me on strolls through the botanical gardens near UNC Chapel Hill, and we would often catch shows at the planetarium on weekends. My mother was, and still is, one of the kindest people I know, and she has sacrificed a lot for me. She told me that the most important thing in the world was to be kind to others and to accept Jesus into your heart. Because I respected her so much, I wanted to learn as much as I could about Christianity (which meant baptist interpretations of a NIV bible, but I didn’t even know what sects were at the time.) I considered myself very devout. I did not wish to desire sex before I even knew what the sensation of arousal meant. I thought abortion was evil. I was taught to be guarded against evolution before I knew what actual evolution meant. “People come from monkeys? How silly!” But at the same time, my dad has uncommonly secular splashes of thought, and he would explain things away with answers like “7 days maybe, but we don’t know what a day is to God.” Or… “God did say Adam came from the dirt, and we do know that there is bacteria in the earth.”Explanations that I accepted at the time, but which would make me shake my head in the present day.

I knew about hell, and I knew that it was a consequence for people who do the wrong thing. The wrong thing being: whatever the NIV bible said was the wrong thing. Since I very earnestly wanted to do the right thing, I’d fall into fits of depression, because I would find contradictory things in this manual about how to be a good person, and I wanted to be true to it fueled partly from the respect I have for my mom and partly from the fear of eternal torture.

But because my mom had taught me to read, and learning was a therapeutic process for me… I did not stop reading. I wanted to do well in all of my subjects in school. I would be disruptive, and get into loud arguments with teachers because I assumed that the books were lying to me any time that it contradicted something I read about in the NIV bible. I was a pretty awful child, and I continued these habits until early high school, when I was taught what real evolution meant (the change of the distribution of genes in a population over time) and that was when I started to lose my faith.

Another part of the catalyst for losing my faith was the undeniable attraction I had for men. In true christian ideology, just thinking about the lewd acts with another man counts the same as actually partaking in the sin. Thinking about giving somebody a blow job is the exact same crime as actually having him whip it out and playing the flute. Part of being human means that we sin constantly, and we wallow in the shame of sin eternally, but that we are only saved by the grace and goodness of Jesus’ Crucifixion. By accepting his grace we are saved, no matter our sins in thought or action. We enter the kingdom of heaven.

In this way, I do not think Christian is incompatible with gay, because the shame of sin is shared by all Christians– but even knowing this, I lost my faith, because the foundation of my morality had been shattered. I fell into nihilism. I did not think anything mattered for a while, because I had no proof for any divine authority, or any sense of virtue existing. But this was just a result of mental and spiritual shock. I had to heal, not even knowing that I was hurting. I had to recover from the truth that I no longer believed what my family believed on an ideological level. This is an entirely separate set of isolation that comes from being gay, but I had that too. Either way– the goal was “stay closeted and become financially independent” until I could get away, all the while dealing with the fact that I didn’t have a moral compass.

Morality was a placid ocean to me, endless and bland as far as the eye could see in every direction, with just a horizon line that met a white sky. My gut told me that “you want to be nice, but nice doesn’t matter,” and that when your soul is stripped bare, there is only a hollow void there.

But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I was seeing the world again as an infant. There were no manuals on how to be good. There was no way to discern immediately what was right or what was wrong anymore. I mistook not being able to see very far yet for the false truth that there was no such thing as virtue.

We all ride as sailors in this endless sea. Some of us have better boats, and some of us connect the boats into a floatilla of other boats so we can learn about how others see the sea. We find out where people came from, and where they are going. We hear about the fish they find, and tell them about how we fish for truth, unsure of what we’ll find, and what we’ll see with our own eyes for the first time. People will accept our stories or they will reject them. People will try to make us blind again, or try to make us accept their floatilla of boats as the one with the tallest mast, and as the only way to see the truth from the highest vantage point.

It is scary to think that virtue cannot be pre-established or defined by authority figures, but that is not the same thing as rejecting its existence. We are able to feel pain as others feel pain. We know that harsh words can make our souls hurt, and that we can make others hurt with our words just as well as any bludgeon. We know some people can make us laugh in ways that others cannot. We can connect in a way that makes us feel good. We can see somebody hurting, and not want that hurt. We can see somebody manipulating the truth, even though this is an incredibility difficult skill to master, and we can feel anger. Sometimes misplaced anger, if we weren’t smart enough or skilled enough to understand manipulation. But we know these things are all real, and that there is a human element to virtue that makes us exist as animals that place equivocal value into both thinking and feeling. Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, the modes of persuasion, which are used to connect us through the values of our thoughts, our reputations, and our feelings, work because they are part of our existence and part of our nature.

AP English saved me from Nihilism in a way that religion could not, because it gave me tools to see and to feel while always trying to question myself, and always trying to question what influenced me. “When do emotions take importance over facts, and vice-versa?” Does it matter more that somebody is wrong, or if somebody is hurting? When is it okay to look away from somebody who is hurting, and when can you not turn a blind eye when you learn that they are hurting others?

It is our duty to try minimize the misery of ourselves and others. This is an impossible thing to do well, or perfectly, but it is our responsibility to try. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but considering how the bullet train to hell is funded with bad ones, I’d say it’s still important to try to do your best. Be open to criticism, but be wary of where that criticism is coming from. Focus on your head so that you can use your heart better. Don’t be afraid to think there exists a right thing to. Try to do it.

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Wisdom tooth fundraiser update and first winner

Progress on the fundraiser: I’m still stilling at 500/1000 of my goal, which is awesome news that I couldn’t have anticipated. To celebrate reaching the half way mark, I used a random number generator to discern the first winner.

Congratulations, @dantheanubis! You get a story commission.

To others who still want to donate to my goal, and get a chance to win a story, please do so through My Paypal. Everything helps!

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Comfy digital homes: “the living room feeling”

I wanted to make this post because almost everybody I know is dealing with the toxic effusion of this year’s US election. This is meant partially to be a survival guide, and partially to point out facets of how we as a people interact with our technological spaces in bizarre and domestic ways.

During my honors science fiction class that I took as am undergrad, we read an article about how the newest generation of children are, arguably, cyborgs, in the sense that technology has become a physical part of their person from a very young age. Tablets and cell phones become an extended part of their body from as early as age two, much like adults who need a cell phone to be an optimal member of modern society.

We can unplug from our devices with the caveat that we eventually must return to the digital world, be it to communicate with friends, keep up with current events, pay bills, manage our banking accounts and correspond with our jobs.

In this manner, the digital world is the real world too. Our online selves are our real selves, and we have made many habitats out of our digital spaces. How we type is very different depending on which medium we use and who we send it to. Discourse will be very different when it comes to dealing with a client through email on a laptop as opposed to typing to a friend through a phone on telegram.

Both consciously and subconsciously, we have established spaces on the internet as both private and public, formal and intimate. We have spaces like twitter and tumblr that can feel very much like our living room– places where we laugh, spar, appreciate and share with our friends. If an account is designated as personal, we’ll post what’s on our mind, try to keep to our own timelines (which gives users the option to mute us when they aren’t in the mood to listen) and converse with those who are close to us, all the while discovering new friends. We’ll post content at certain hours in the day, sometimes to relax, sometimes to find solidarity in a thing we find incredulous, and sometimes to share the things that we care about to foster our online community.

“The living room feeling,” which is what I’m calling it, has pros and cons. For starters, everybody’s digital living room is not the same. For some it might be twitter, for some it might be facebook. There is no explicit social contract for this feeling despite there being users who adhere to it  very strongly, myself included. This phenomenon, which widely exists, isn’t always recognized, even when a user uses it it selectively for their space but not for the space of another.

One recent example that comes to mind is a user feeling comfortable enough to write a drive-by-tweet but uncomfortable when the tweet was responded to, stating the time of day and their lack of interest in the subject. This person has simultaneously violated the social contract of the living room feeling while, paradoxically, trying to uphold it at the same time.

They stated the time of day (very late), which ignores that time zones as well as night shift schedules exist, and that twitter does not have a universal time zone. In the tweet, they suggest that their time zone is the standard time, and because they are tired, you are not warranted a response to a post that they engaged in. “It is okay for me to yell in your living room, but you are not allowed to whisper in mine. My eyelids are heavy, and this couch is too comfy.”

We use the idiom “staying in your lane,” which nods to a particular weird type of social dogma being undermined, here. It takes the form of the subtweet, or the ranting post, or the vague-tweet, where a twitter user expresses displeasure from a retweet or a post without using the @ key. Sometimes it’s to communicate with a person to not embarrass them. Sometimes it’s an attempt to attack a concept without attacking a person. Sometimes it is sheer passive aggression. But the point is– the person was not tagged, so their notifications aren’t spammed, and so the conflict isn’t being brought (at least directly) to their digital front door. Sometimes “staying in your lane” can instead pertain to posting these complaints to a separate, locked account, similar to that of a digital mental health journal, for only yourself and a small selection of friends to view.

“Staying in your lane” is all about avoiding the car crash. You can honk your horn, or put bumper stickers on your car, but you’re not going to be the one to create a traffic disaster. Or at least, you’re going to try your best not to. The overall efficacy of these practices are not bullet-proof, but they can be very effective tools for micromanaging stress in a digital world where everybody is guaranteed to not get along one hundred percent of the time.

There also comes a time where you see a post by a friend or a stranger that appears to be (or might very well be) factually, demonstrably wrong. I’ve received posts from people who are not following me commit to an argumentative post, receive my response, and then reply that they aren’t interested in following through… which meant that it was probably best for them not to post the comment in the first place.

A friend explained to me that sometimes, poking at a post and then not responding is simply how their brain works, and that they had no intention to be rude. They might post a disagreement so that they can understand a person’s position, just to poke at how that person thinks, and then use it to form a sound position in their own head, so that they could be more confident when approaching somebody else about that particular issue.

My response was that such a practice asks something personal of a friend, and the recipient contributes no engagement in return. When somebody is asked in their living room to explain their positions, they are less guarded than when they express themselves in front of a classroom or a meeting. In their own perceived space, they lay themselves bare, because it is something that you have asked of them, and it is also something they could have ignored to do altogether. This does not mean that you have to pamper them when they respond. At the very least, you can refute bad points, or counter-argue, or add to the discussion in a way that you find meaningful. But it is also possible that a person does not want to argue at all, because they are on the couch in their digital living room, and they are tired in spite of making a good point or a bad one– although, that does not clear them from the consequences of their initial statements.

While I think tweets that storm into your digital living room are rude, they can’t necessarily be condemned as always intentionally or overtly malicious. Not all users should be expected to anticipate, or even accept, the living room feeling, even if they experience it in a certain place without realizing that they do. It can also be difficult if the living room space is temporal, and changes depending on the user’s schedule (such an example being accounts that approve of NSFW tweets during one time and then abhor them during work hours).

In lieu of the living room feeling, It can’t be forgotten that Twitter is a public forum. But Twitter is also a very strange one, because it doesn’t act functionally in the same manner for every user: some use the base interface, others use tweet deck to view less curated faves and replies, and some scour the internet for buzz words using third party software to engage in arguments with strangers. Examples of the latter being: Gamer Gate, sad puppies, or the loudest of the Bernie/Hillary/Trump supporters, all of which caption and re-tweet the posts of people they don’t know for shaming or argumentative purposes. These people use twitter less like a living room and more like an aggressive downtown street rally. They assemble angry mobs so that they can flood into people’s digital living rooms and tear everything to pieces before lighting it on fire, relying upon the sheer amount of noise and damage that they can cause.
Due the chaotic nature of twitter itself, it is very difficult to keep your digital living room cozy all of the time. But we can try to tidy up as much as we can, and we can try to keep the homes of our friends as comfy, even if we occasionally forget to take off our shoes and track mud through the front door.

I don’t think the digital living rooms are sacred spaces. But consider the effect of the living room feeling before you correct somebody’s typo, or tell somebody that they are enjoying a thing in the wrong way, or that their negative feelings expressed without context are frivolous. You might appreciate having your own digital living room the next time you want to earnestly share yourself with friends who you can’t see in person.

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Poems, progress and writing fundraiser updates.

So, as I mentioned before on my previous blog post, I’m holding a writing fundraiser to pay for my wisdom teeth procedure. I’m already one fourth of the way to the goal, having received nearly $250. Four people so far have been entered into a raffle for a short story.

I’ve written two poems for for donors last night. One is a comedy (and slightly nsfw) piece for a friend, and another is about children chasing a marten through the woods.

For Kefen (@lazy_stripes):

You may see a log as opposed to a tiger,

But do I care a whit?

Don’t lionize me.

Wrong cat, just a bit?

 

“Lazy” is a word, but so is fate,

For this bean bag chair

Had no magistrate,

But certainly a cool spot to spare?

 

You say I don’t hunt, but that isn’t true!

My palate is quality,

So spot me a brew.

Hope you chose wisely, else I’m keen to spew!

 

Invite me to parties if they are next door,

Feed me petit fours.

I’m not keeping score!

Then funnel me coffee. Your guest implores!

 

Jungles can be concrete,

I read it in a book!

So I’m glorious in nature

When I sprawl in my nook.

 

Why stalk for beef when it comes in fine tubes?
So slender and lengthy and—

Wait, let’s talk boobs!

Of course there are other fine topics at hand!

 

I could play with my prey,

But Steam games are finer.

Don’t give me that look, nay,

Some make this a job from their recliner!

 

Why roll out of bed when rolling’s such strife?

Just get me a remote

For a massive putty knife

That flips me into bath where I float.

 

If I’m wading through laundry that’s

just my daily swim.

Amphibious and deadly! Cat’s

intimidating to the strong as well as the dim!

 

I lope through the hills when I run out of beer,

And trot through the aisles

With a wine cart to steer,

And trudge when a few steps feel like miles.

 

Clearly I’m great at being a tiger,

But jealousy still rears its ugly head

With radioactivity off the charts of a Geiger,

“Get busy!” they cry, but I’m napping instead.

 

What good is a king,

When the kingdom is dizzy?

I restore people’s wifi,

That’s enough of a tizzy!

 

Give me your wine and your cheese and your meat.

Who needs to be king when there’s plenty a good seat?

 

For Obonic (@obonic):

We saw a dragon in the trees,

But he had fur, not scales,

And past the hay bales did we see

the smoky mountain trails.

 

We followed, under oaken boughs

That bent like clerics weeping,

And through the saw dust, past the ploughs

Where pine tree sap was seeping.

 

Tree dragon snaked past limb and leaf,

Stabbing through the bark,

Showing off its down-white belly,

Perking bat ears in dark.

 

It lunged for yet another branch,

Arcing as its long tail fluffed,

And slithered past a valley crag,

Where the starry night clouds puffed.

 

We followed it all the way to to the peak,

At its lofty lair,

Where twigs and grasses nested neat

In hollow revealed by moonlight betrayer.

 

From below we saw its sparkling brood,

Azure eggshells far from touch,

But imagine how we found it crude,

When tree dragon snapped into its clutch.

 

Incensed and outraged, faces red,

we took up pine tree cones,

and chucked them hard into the sky,

aiming at tree dragon’s bones.

 

But it safely supped on yellow yoke,

And clucked with tilted head,

Upon which tree dragons from the hollow

Peeked, perplexed by youthful dread.

 

From the mountain peak we fled,

With summer fires in our hearts,

And floating on the river east,

Our imaginations played more parts.

 

If you like what I do and want your own poem or a chance to enter the writing raffle, please donate to https://www.paypal.me/GSquares. Anything helps, and I will be extremely appreciative of anything I can get.

 

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Wisdom Tooth Writing Fundraiser

I have posted on twitter recently and have told some close personal friends about trying to get my wisdom teeth removed. At first I thought I had lucked out, because my wisdom teeth emerged correctly and it didn’t seem like I’d need to get them removed. However, I’ve had several gum infections since, and they crowd my teeth, making it almost impossible to floss.

While I thought these were minor issues, last year I had a very bad gum infection that made me go on antibiotics for a few weeks. The dentist told me that these issues are not a matter of “if” but “when” they return so long as my wisdom teeth stay in my mouth, so getting them out is an urgent preventative care priority.

At a recent consultation, I learned that the pulling will cost a thousand dollars (and this is with my dental insurance covering half of it) since I’m not getting surgery to have the teeth pulled. Since I couldn’t afford it, the procedure was pushed back to September.

So I’d like to ask for help from the community, but I also want to give back something for any of that help I might receive. I set up a paypal account at https://www.paypal.me/GSquares where you can donate money for my medical expenses. If you donate $50 or more, I’ll write you a 50-100 line poem. If you donate $20 or more, I’ll put your name into a raffle for a full length short story for up to two to three people who donated. I can write genre fiction, essays, erotica or a collection of poems. I’ve also done comic book scripting, so working with artists is something I’m experienced with.

If you’re willing enough to donate more than $100, drop me an email at wsquir20@gmail.com and we can talk about something a little more special.

Anything helps, and it would be extremely humbling to get assistance from the community. You can read some of my work at http://www.furaffinity.net/user/georgesquares/ and you can get a gauge for where I come from as a writer in my furry writer’s guild member spotlight.

Thank you for your time, readers and friends.

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The “adolescent gay fantasy” and the damage of “vaginas are gross” (NSFW)

How many times have you been in a sex positive space, whether online or in a group of friends, when a gay boy says, for one reason or another, “vaginas are gross?” In the best case scenario it can be awkward, and in the worst case, it can be exclusionary and hurtful. I remember how horrible I felt when a group of lesbians brought up, unprompted, that penises were disgusting at the LGBT resource center at my university and I didn’t feel like stepping foot in it since.

I remember how this made me feel truly alone on a campus populated mostly by stuffy, upper class students who all wore essentially the same outfits: men had polos, seersucker shorts and Rainbows sandals and the women had dyed blond hair, uggs, jeans and blouses. The homogeneity was fierce, and your expected orientation was implicitly supposed to match how you look. “Passing” is a gay code word most people know about today, recently spoofed in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, for “looking, sounding and acting like a straight cis person,” which is in itself a polite and indirect nod to the societal hegemony of white anglo-saxon protestants in America. This was part of the traditional idea that if you were a man, you had a wife, a few kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence, which is severely criticized concept in films like Edward Scissorhands and Pleasantville.

Boys and girls are taught early in American schools to give opposite gendered students candy as a sign of affection on Valentines day before we get to experience our first signs of sexual attraction. Women are taught that they are supposed to have babies. Boys are swaddled in blue from birth, girls in pink (even though this used to be the opposite before the beginning of the 20th century). There is a point in many a man or woman’s life when they first recognize that not only is the hegemony real, but that they had been trained by advertising, school, their parents, and interactions with other children to reinforce this structure themselves without even realizing it.

Most people have extreme reactions to this discovery after they experience their innate desires and sexuality, because it is a shocking revelation, and for some it can be emotionally tantamount to taking the correct pill in The Matrix which reveals the true world below the surface, resulting in feelings of confusion and betrayal. A bisexual person can experience attraction to both genders on a varied scale, but get sighs of relief from peers and figures of authority when they express interest in their purportedly correct attraction, resulting in stations of simultaneous privilege and erasure. Sexuality can be fluid. Sexuality can change. Sexuality can also be very rigid for some.

Those of us inclined to such rigidity, mostly straight people and mostly gay people, tend to have something interesting in common: when it comes to our sexual fantasies, they can be incredibly exclusive.

The straight example is easy enough to point out in media. Almost every romance, especially big budget films, are going to star straight protagonists. Queer people might exist as side characters, and have their own love interests if we’re lucky, but we aren’t going to see them naked together in bed, or see them in a titillating make-out scene unless the queers in question are bi and making out with the opposite sex. (This is where bi people can still say “yay, content I might be be able to enjoy” and gay people go “well… maybe I can put my thumb over one of them and pretend….” We have a scarcity of gay romance in film (most where the central conflict is being gay as opposed to something more nuanced) but straight people have a treasure trove of films flourishing with different genres, time eras and complicated plots to explore.

Video games, strangely enough, have more gay representation and chances to explore a gay fantasy than films do at the moment.  Some games (particularly furry) offer content solely aimed at gay men, such as the dating sim Morenatsu and the bejewled-esque Kemono Colosseum (which is still in development and probably will be for years to come.) Lesbians can explore games with fantasy immersion like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Stardew Valley and Long Live the Queen along with representation in games such as Gone Home and Life is Strange just to mention a few.

But outside of video games and chat rooms, life for gay and lesbian youth can be pretty bleak. Finding a group that not only has people like you, but shares sexual content that you like, seems extraordinary. It’s the same breath of fresh air a young straight boy has when he finds his brother’s playboy magazine, feels funny, and then discusses it with his friends who can empathize with the new sensations he’s developing as he transitions from child, to teenager, and eventually into a young man.

A straight boy has this opportunity when he’s around 13 usually. Sometimes a gay boy has to wait until he’s 20 to have his first experience like this, especially if they’re in the religious south, or a rural, Christian area. That’s a vast difference. That’s about seven years of keeping desires and fantasies to yourself, which not only makes you guarded, but it makes you paranoid about when somebody is going to find out. That’s changing some, which is good, but it’s not changing for everybody in every part of the world.

So in America, while straight boys get locker rooms and boy scout camping trips to come to terms with their developing sexuality with friends (and yes, I know these are stereotypical scenes in gay porn) gay men in the real world have things like chat rooms and grindr. Some of them share their mutual attraction to boys with bi and straight women, but a lot of them don’t have other boys to talk to, and so they get their first real opportunities to do this in college or a gay bar. Except, not everybody gets to go to college, and most towns don’t have gay bars. So, to reiterate, we have chat rooms where gay men and lesbian women can explore their sexualities. They can do this through erotic role play, sharing pictures of themselves, or just talking about their experiences and forming friendships.

When young gay people have a good time in these chat rooms, they can treat it like an idealized paradise without thinking about the real people they’re interacting with as much as they should be. These spaces, through the magic of character creation and anonymity on the internet, can be treated much like the aforementioned immersion based video games where the sexuality of anything other than gay can be ignored by the player, which is a problem, because you’re interacting with real people as opposed to characters in a story tailored for you.

The adolescent gay fantasy comes from a habit of fantasizing about idealized gay spaces for years without a chance to interact with gay spaces in the messy realm of the real world, where gays coexist with lesbians, bisexuals, straight, trans, genderfluid and nonbinary folk, and people who fluctuate between these sexualities and more.

When a chat room is made up of primarily young gay men, if a woman posts images of herself (or, if the reverse is true: a man posts a penis in a chat room of mostly lesbians) this can set off mental sirens to panic. To a young gay man, a picture of a vagina or boobs can trigger painful thoughts, all of which include everything from “look, here is the thing that all of the popular movies and music and acceptable culture says is supposed to make your penis hard” to  “are you broken because you don’t react to this?”  This is going to be more upsetting to a young gay person than a bisexual person, or an older gay person, because the gay fantasy is broken, and is subverted by a paranoid nightmare: “There is a world outside of your safe space, and it wants to come in so it can eat your world up, destroying the only place where you feel like you can be yourself, and replace it with the real world, where there is only one night club in town, and it only serves normal people.”

That suspicion of “gay space sabotage” is, of course, ludicrous. The person “invading” the gay fantasy, who is sharing a bit of themselves, is looking to join in on the fun, and to explore their desires in a friendly place. They could be (and usually are) some type of queer person looking to find a place to be themselves, too. But a gay male can feel even more threatened when a person starts saying things like “this place sure is a sausage fest” and “wow, sure is super gay in here,” which is sometimes exactly the point of the safe space. I consider that extremely rude, and it’s not a nice thing to do. But what’s worse behavior is when a gay man responds “vaginas are gross.” Sometimes this is an honest sentiment, spoken out of ignorance or a lack of a filter, but often it’s a way of implicitly excommunicating the woman. It’s a way of saying “we aren’t buying your hot wings, hooters girl, no matter how much the commercials imply we’re naturally inclined to succumb to your wiles.”

But in reality, not only does such a statement alienate the women, but it alienates the bisexuals, too, who feel invisible as-is. Women are already bombarded by society with images designed to whittle away their self-esteem and self-worth for the heinous purposes of marketing gendered products. This marketing is often tied to pressures of societal expectations of women such as dating, dieting, modeling, securing a family, or dressing severely to look less soft in positions of power within business or government.

Women in society are seen as “other” to an American hegemony that recognizes straight white protestant men as default primary authorities, which thankfully seems to be changing, so there’s no reason to ostracize women in sex-positive spaces meant to be fun, to be exploratory. In gay male spaces, women and trans men can feel bodily dysphoria when told that a body part they have no control over owning is disgusting. I think a gay man should be able to relate to this insecurity if they’ve crushed on a straight guy, or on another man who solely wanted a particular body type.

When “vaginas are gross” arises (and I do see it enough for it to be a problem, hence my decision to write this post), I think there’s a crucial misunderstanding  that occurs during the public shaming of a gay boy. I’ve seen “gay boys are the worst” (sometimes coming from gay and bi folks!) and “why is this community so gay? It sucks.” I believe these statements are, despite their good intention, homophobic, even if I think they come from a place of righteous indignation that isn’t necessarily wrong in condemning a very hurtful statement. I don’t think bad behavior should be excused, and this blog post is in no way attempting to excuse toxic behavior. But mass shaming a member of a minority over social media does feel a lot like revealing a person’s ignorance, inexperience and insecurity to the world purely as a means to embarrass and laugh at them. I find this to be cruel. A public shaming from a gay boy’s own community could be a harsh master for the stubborn, but it could also trigger a suicide, or harden them emotionally, and I can’t consider that wager a moral or ethical one.

I think young gay men and lesbians are more prone to “your penis/vagina is gross” than more experienced adults who had the time and opportunities to mingle with other sex positive adults. If you see this behavior, try telling them that is isn’t a very nice thing to say. If they’re told enough, they might listen, and they’ll almost certainly grow out of it with age and experience. We all have ugly aspects of adolescence that we’re ashamed about, and I believe this to be just one of the many.

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Review: The Latte Segment

When Zoe Landon sent me her first book, The Latte Segment, she described it as a literary approach to furry writing, and that really excited me. Furry works usually fall into the broad realm of genre and speculative fiction, so I had high hopes for something new.

The Latte Segment stars Sarah, a tense and apprehensive ra41ULLNtj4SL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_bbit juggling the consequences of gentrification in twenty-first century Portland with corralling the chaotic people in her life. These people include, but aren’t limited to: a dorky film buff raccoon, a grumpy hyena who crafts metal sculptures, a gender-queer otter painter living in squalor, a power mom wolf, and a blunt male ferret with a boyfriend.

Many chapters begin with “A rabbit sat in a coffee shop,” which reveals new locales of Portland coffee shops in lurid detail where Sarah’s neurosis and introspection take charge. The segments parallel how she copes (or struggles to cope) with the change in her life with the places she chooses to go and think about them.

Although the book puts Sarah’s discoveries about herself front and center, lightening the heavy thematic content with comedy and charmful wit, it dallies with being critical of gentrification while also attempting sympathy to those who carry out and enforce the system as a means of survival, people including Sarah herself. I think there are many parts in this novel that will strike a chord with millennials in the current era. The job market is terrible for the middle and lower classes of american families in big cities, and for those not employed in a six figure tech job, tension and anxiety melds into daily life as dependable as a Starbucks on every street corner. You become tethered to Sarah’s brooding stream of conscious as it drags you slowly through her impressions of the inner-circle of a broken society. Many parts of the novel are comparable to The Great Gatsby in that the tedium of office politics and the bureaucracy of the housing market drains one’s spirit like a psychic vampire just as much as the vapid conversations of golden age white supremacists and socialites.

However, I was caught off guard when Sarah would say “well, maybe it isn’t so bad” every so often. Carl the hyena tells her at one point in the novel that life will go on, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. I appreciate that the novel doesn’t attempt to solve the problems of gentrification, favoring coping mechanisms above revolution, but at the same time, I do wish there were harsher condemnations of the system as the costs of the housing market ascend unchecked without rental caps.

While The Latte Segment has very satisfying character conflicts, I would have enjoyed less of Sarah’s introspection at the forefront of the novel, because the story picks up much more in the second half of the book than the first when we get to see her interact with the people around her– especially those with lower incomes. Pacing issues aside, the emotional moments are worth it, and many of the characters unforgettable.

You can buy The Latte Segment here to read it yourself.

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Con, ghosts, and spooky kids

So if anybody’s been following my blog or twitter feed, they’ll know that I spent this weekend at Fur The ‘More ’16 as a writing panelist. I’m still a little bit drowsy from getting home, but I couldn’t stop thinking about a few things while I was at the con, so of course I’m compelled to write about them.

For starters, I had never been to Fur the ‘More, but it’s the closest thing I have to a local con. I live two hours south, and my first con was Rainfurrest. So if I bought a plane to visit a con on the other side of the country, I felt like I had no excuse not going to a local con. I was also personally asked by a friend to sign up for panels (and was blessed again with “ask for two, receive four” thing that happens when I sign up for panels.)

I had a job interview earlier in the day that I absolutely couldn’t move, so I had to drive for two hours after this interview dressed in business casual to ensure that we made it on time. We got to Tyson’s Corner around 6:00 pm, and were at the registration desk around 6:15. The directions weren’t very clear where registration was, but when we did find it, there was a closed door that said “registration is on call from 6:00-10:00” and there didn’t seem to be any staff on site. Well, this was no good. Luckily there was an info desk in the adjacent room and I thought, hey, couldn’t hurt to ask, right?

I asked a woman there “Hi, I’m trying to get to a panel that I’m on at 7 and I’m not sure what room it’s going to be in.” My husband had asked her previously about there being no staff at registration, which she apparently knew nothing about.

The woman raised her eyebrows at me and said: “You’re on a panel at 7? And you’re not registered?”

Which was odd, because we had just told her that there was nobody at registration. I could tell by the tone of her voice that she seemed to think I was being irresponsible, but, I had to rush to be here at the right time due to my schedule, and I also thought that surely registration would be open on a week day at 6 pm considering for most cons people are just arriving Friday night after work.

We were sent to the front desk at the hotel lobby, and they sent us back to the desk next to registration. The optimist in me thought “well, at least it was a very short run-around.” The pessimist in me thought “well…  at least they were on-point with the con theme being ‘Office Space’ because this sure did feel like bureaucracy.” At one point we heard another staff member in passing curse loudly, likely frustrated from the lack of organization, and I was bordering on having a panic attack because it was ten minutes until my panel and i still wasn’t registered.

Luckily, one of our friends, Sparf, who was in charge of programming ran into us, and he got us into the registration room on time. Nick almost didn’t get registered because he had his license recently revoked and didn’t have a government issued ID, but when another of our friends, who was apparently close to the staff, vouched for Nick, we saw a change of attitude immediately, and we finally got registered. I shudder to think what would have happened had we not known people on staff, but there we are. One praise I can sing of Rainfurrest was that they were on top of registration and all of the staff members were kind and helpful. I can’t say the same thing about Fur the ‘More.

So Fur the ‘More didn’t leave me with the best first impression. But I didn’t want this to ruin the con for me, and I knew that bad experiences plus sleep deprivation can leave judgment unfair.

And then a fursuiter I didn’t know started giving me the middle finger.

He did this three times. From what people surmise, this appeared to be part of the fursuiter’s character, but after an initial stressful con registration experience, I wasn’t exactly in the “I can just brush this off and it’s fine” mood. I found this fursuiter on twitter, but I also know people switch tags and suits, and I can’t say for sure who was in that suit giving people the middle finger. Plus, I don’t really feel like doing a call-out when “don’t say ‘fuck you’ to strangers” seems to be advice that all of us can take. At least, one would hope.

All of my panels were on the first day, so it was nice to get them out of the way. But I did feel like Rainfurrest had spoiled me, remembering that there were at least thirty writing-oriented panels whereas Fur the ‘More had about six. That’s fine, considering I knew it was a smaller local con, but it did leave me a little hungry for what I like to get out of discussions about furry.

We had some productive discussions aside from a fellow panelist calling me ‘gay and bitchy’ in front of the audience, which was a little bit embarrassing and perhaps not the most professional, although I know he meant it in a lighthearted manner. There was more I’d like to have covered, but I think it’s an important skill as a panelist to work with the people you have and let the panel grow organically into what it can become without force.

So even though the first day was packed and I was glad that I took on the responsibilities that I did, I don’t think I was having the best of time. I was in a con full of strangers and the only meaningful interactions I had aside from panel discussions seemed to be thoroughly negative.

At this point I decided that I was being fair to the con. I had not been treated very nicely. Between my husband and myself, we had spent 100 dollars on registration and possibly would not be eating dinner for one night because we wanted to support our local con, especially after buzz surrounding FWA’s recent ghosting issues, where purportedly near 42 thousand dollars was lost to ghosting.

I don’t know the specifics of that measurement, but I define ghosting as the act of taking a con’s discounted blocked hotel room and then not registering for the con itself. This probably isn’t the best term, because I think ghosting itself can get complicated fast. But I do consider it not a very nice thing to receive a discount for a con and then refuse to pay for registration.

“Spooky kids” are what I’m calling anybody that might be considered close to a con ghost. This includes people who visit friends at a con but aren’t staying at the hotel. Everything from room partiers to locals who visit traveling friends to people who want to meet friends but don’t have anything for them that they could enjoy or relate to at a con.

Spooky kids are very interesting to me, because I have a lot of furry and furry adjacent friends who tell me “I would go to a furry con but I don’t think I’d enjoy it because there doesn’t seem like there’s anything for me to do.” I think there is a point to be made that furcons become known for doing particular activities very well. FWA is known for its dancing contest. Rainfurrest was known for its writing track. MFF and Anthrocon are known for being massive. Camp Feral is known for being a camping adventure for adults.

Cons usually offer a lot of the same content in the lightest degree, but there’s a big difference between what is available at a con and what becomes the heart and soul of a con that develops slowly over a long time period.

Spooky kids are interesting because they tend to be people without much income who often feel alienated by the main con, but will come along for the ride if you give them something to do. One spooky kid at Fur the ‘More writes for Adjective Species. He lives in the DC area and was willing to have lunch with me and some friends and later take us to the Smithsonian. This was the best time I had at Fur the ‘More, and it was not at Fur the ‘More’s location. That night, I was very much wanting my 50 dollars back from registration, because that would mean I could afford a pizza. I would have not been berated at registration, and I would not have been called “bitchy and gay” at the event that I had driven 2 hours straight from a job interview and paid my own money to contribute to.

I was feeling a huge internal struggle, because I think funding your local con is totally a good thing; it brings people from all across the country to your location, and it’s indirectly supporting a facet of the subculture that you care about and love. But on the other hand, if you really don’t have the money to spend on traveling, registering, and feeding yourself, which is a real problem that spooky kids face (and I felt) then one could argue that a spooky kid staying home and a spooky kid coming to a con are the same thing from a con’s financial perspective. I think if we are going to pressure people to register for our cons, we should focus more on the people who can afford hotel rooms and aren’t paying registration than the poor drifters who aren’t really sure a specific con is meant for a person like them.  Sometimes incompatibility isn’t the fault of the con’s weaknesses or the spook– sometimes it is just the mere presence of open unhelpfulness and hostility.

If somebody were to ask me if I plan on going to Fur the ‘More again, I’d say possibly, especially if there is a serious effort to make writing as a thing happen there and I’m wanted back on panels. But if I’m going to a fur con to support it with my money, I’d rather it be something that had the same soul that RF did. Considering that the Coyotles are moving to Rocky Mountain Fur Con, that’s going to be my biggest target in the future. That being said– Tyson’s Corner is a really beautiful location, and the Smithsonian museums are close and free.

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Fur the ‘More Panel Schedule

Howdy folks! This is going to be a short post.

I’m on three panels for Fur the ‘More. I haven’t been to this con before but I’m pretty excited about it and being close to DC. All of my writing panels are Friday.

7:00 PM How to write furry fiction

11: AM: After Dark: writing erotica (and role play)

Midnight: After Dark: Writing about kink

Hope to see people there and possible chat with ’em after panels.

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