Your Problematic Fave: BDSM and Non-con

From the title, I hope it is apparent that this is going to be a very NSFW post that is quite likely trigger inducing. Please avoid it if you do not want to see discussion of non-consensual themes or use of the f-slur.

 

 

A while back I had the idea for a series of blog posts talking about kinks that have not great social associations, or in some cases could be literal triggers for many people.

Against my better judgement, I’ve decided to do it.

I have to go back and say “well, why are some of these things kinks in the first place? Why do I see them so much?” And sometimes when you interview folks or do some deep self-assessing, you realize that indulgence in sexual interests can be a form of overcoming trauma and a form of comfort with a self-actualization fantasy.

We run into sex in a lot of online and offline spaces. When we encounter it, it’s rarely just people interacting in depictions of sexual release. Often we’ll hear people in more sexually positive areas describe themselves as “kinky.” Most of you know what a kink means but I’m gonna use an online dictionary’s definition for it anyway: a person’s unusual sexual preference. I think choice of the word “preference” might lead to some slippery slope semantic arguments(“if something isn’t a preference is it truly a kink???”) which I’m not interested in going into. For most intents and purposes of this blog, that definition is going to fit the topics I choose.

Being unusual is something that can makes a kink a social taboo to the macroculture it exists within, but that is not always the case. BDSM, for example, is almost a house hold term at this point considering the recent massive popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray to teen girls and middle aged moms across america and Europe. It’s trash, but I’m not here to dunk on it. That’s what youtube and the ninth circle of hell exists for. (I’m also aware that trash targeting teen and adult men is generally dunked on less and gets the nostalgia treatment way more often and Lindsay Ellis has made an entire video about this which is good and you should watch it.)

My point is, BDSM (Bondage, Domination, and Sadomasochism) is a common theme in depictions of sexuality in western culture and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. There are lots of flavors of BDSM: bondage, suspension, temperature stimulation, electrical stimulation, paddling, whipping, spanking, public humiliation, etc. There are usually three large themes at play in BDSM:

  1. Pain and or humiliation is experienced, causing pleasure
  2. There are Dom(inants) enacting the pain or humiliation and there are sub(missives) receiving the pain or humiliation.
  3. Both of the participants are enjoying their performed roles.

Non-con (and I am including “dub-con,” which some folks might say doesn’t exist),on the other hand, is the kink name for fictional or role-played scenarios where at least one character is subjected to sex without given consent.

These are very clearly different things. Sometimes it is common for both elements to appear in particular pieces of fiction but even when they are separated, they both have a dynamic in mind: human sexuality and how it responds to and interacts with external and internal pressures of power.

When kinks are expressed (be that through artistic creation, real time experiences, or discussion) I have to think about them in two contexts: what they do for the people who are involved in them (context), and what effect they have on the people who are bystanders, or participating second hand (impact).

In the case of BDSM (and as a person who has experienced both sides of the dom and sub role) I know that when I participate as a sub, it can be very cathartic for me. I didn’t have the funnest childhood, and I didn’t always have the highest self-esteem. I had internalized a lot of the negative things that were said about me, perceived them to be true, and had to carry that weight for a lot of my adolescent life. But sometimes, when I got into a particular mood or head space, I wanted to be called negative things or experience physical pain. Because, to my surprise, these experiences have caused me some of the hardest erections and strongest climaxes I’ve had in my life.

Yes, please choke me. Yes, please call me a faggot and wipe your sweaty cock all over my face. Remind me of who I am.”

When in the sub role, I experience utter pleasure in that context, but the onlooker is not going to have access to my internal experiences. They don’t know what’s going through my head. They just hear or see the words (depending on whether or not this is an online or offline scenario). Language like that, at its mildest, is going to be a mood killer to many. Feelings of hatred, betrayal, or revulsion will be provoked in extreme cases. There are nasty, unpleasant words and themes being expressed there.

But what is contextually key is that the sub is using those words, subverting them, for their own sexual pleasure. In these scenarios, subs can recognize that their feelings are valid, and that there are real power structures that can control them and cause harm both internally and externally; but they can reclaim those feelings as their own in safe, controlled environments with somebody that they trust (or in the art that they create by themselves).

We get to recognize the external pressures of a patriarchal, rape-culture entrenched society (in this case, the theme that those who do not use their sexuality for power are meant to be used) and re-frame them on our own terms in a staged scenario. That is one way to cope with and to overcome trauma– drowning out our doubts or past experiences with orgasmic bliss and taking control of setting the tone and the mood.

The irony of this, however, comes with the observer participation. Somebody who watches BDSM porn with subs in it are subjected to performances that are often presented, on a shallow level, as exploiting imbalances of power. They do not have access to the head space of the sub. Of course, sometimes the viewer wants to be that sub in the pornography, but sometimes they want to be the dom. And in that case, it’s easy to confuse internally confronting the abuse of power with… abusing power. This may be why we have an entire BDSM subset dedicated to slave master lifestyles and using women as objects: Goreans.

I paired BDSM and Non-con because of this shared theme of power dynamics in sexuality. Although I must adamantly restate that they are not the same thing, societal dynamics of power play into both of them, and what counts as hegemonic power and privilege in the society and era of the time must be recognized in the art, story, live performance or video pornography. Most people reading this article live in a western culture that embraces casual rape, blames victims, and doles out permission from the highest levels of government to enact in sexual atrocities. It impossible to me, as a critic of media and as a producer of creative content, to say that non-con in fiction is innocent when it comes to how culture is shaped and what kind of atmosphere exists currently in a culture of consumerism. But I also cannot ignore that some of the biggest fans of non-con can be rape survivors or oppressed people who have to reset the stage of their trauma.

So when we come into contact with non-con content in an erotic context(because, frankly, it’s everywhere), we should ask:

  1. Who was it made by?
  2. Who was it meant for?
  3. Who is interacting with it and in what way?
  4. What is the role of power in the narrative (who is extorting it, who is extorted by it)?
  5. Is the explicit genre horror as well?
  6. How could this piece of media influence, or be a response to, other media before it?

We are culturally held responsible for what we do when creating, participating in, or cultivating an audience for taboo content. We must be aware of how it affects, or can affect, the people around us. If we seek out this content, especially if we intend to admonish its existence, we should be asking the questions posed above. Perhaps there is a good reason for why it exist. A marginalized person might have fantasies about being forced to do something they might be murdered for if they admitted wanting to do it willingly.  But alone, marginalization isn’t an excuse. Perhaps there was no reason, or there was little thought put into the art or expression at all, and it’s just adding to a festering pile of narratives celebrating exploitation. Context and impact both extremely matter.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in bdsm, kink, non-con, slurs, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Creepypasta: a tale as old as time?

Well, not exactly. The term creepypasta is relatively new and relatively unofficial term, spawned in the last few decades, usually applying to something specific. The term likely originates from SomethingAwful or one of the chan boards, but the gist of it was:

A small story you can copy and re-paste in a forum thread on the internet (sometimes with slight changes) designed to scare and entertain the people within.

Pasta was a cutesy way saying “pasted content” in a slightly different insider-joke way that those communities were fond of adopting so frequently, especially since earlier board members could say Pastasauce??? (meaning what is the source of this content). That loose definition doesn’t universally apply to all things we call creepypasta or scary stories on the internet. One of my favorite youtubers, Jenny Nicholson (who is hilarious), would probably argue that something shouldn’t be considered creepypasta if there isn’t the lingering doubt in the story itself that “this could have happened in real life,” because if it isn’t that then it’s just fantasy or horror, and if something is fantasy or horror then you may as well be reading a book or watching a scary movie. Her video is below and it’s a harsh but entertaining watch:

But I wouldn’t entirely agree with the idea that a creepypasta is literally always designed to be taken as true. I would agree that it does almost always want you to be in the head space to imagine that it could be true. Like the real kind of therapeutic hypnosis (not the fantasy mind-control kind), in order to be affected by creepy pasta, you have to willingly get into the head space to suspend your disbelief, which is easier said than done, and many people can’t do it.

I am, in many practical senses, an atheist (I’m actually an animist, but that’s not entirely relevant at the moment) who doesn’t believe in most-to-all supernatural things. When it comes to genuine fear, my darkest fears go into the direction of natural disaster, epidemics, or social anxiety. I don’t believe in ghosts, unicorns, bigfoot, wendigos or the moth man. And that didn’t make sense to me, because I love pretending to believe in these things and temporarily convincing myself that they could be real. My question to myself sometimes is: “why do I do that though if, arguably, there is more earnest fear to explore in stories about sickness, natural disaster, or betrayal? What’s the point of engaging with a fear of supernatural forces that you know likely aren’t true, but that fear somehow still manages to give you an adrenaline rush?”

I am going to take a short break from my train of thought to apologize to those who actively are spiritual or do genuinely believe in the paranormal and the divine. Although I do not (for the most part), I don’t want to say that you are engaging with creepypasta wrong because your engagement with media is different from mine. I am trying to explore a broader reason for why I think people might be drawn to creepypasta on a large international scale– even the (mostly) faithless like me. I want to ask the sorts of questions like “why do most isolated cultures around the world believe in ghosts” and “why do religions even exist in the first place if they all look different and all tend to different emotional human needs?” which are questions that anthropologists can spend their entire lives thinking about.

We could take the most obvious avenue and say that creepypasta is just the newest version of the folk tale (hence the subtitle of this informal essay). We’ve modernized town gossip about things that go bump in the night through digital means of mass communication, and often use that technology as a conduit for interjecting the supernatural into the new ways we experience life through tech.  Many rigorous scholars throughout the timeline of human history like Joseph Campbell, Seamus Heaney and Tolkien have written that there are repetitive supernatural archetypes that show up in epics where the line between reality was blurred for their original audiences at the time: ghosts, ghouls, goblins, witches, demons, fairies, and dragons more broadly. More specifically, the yeti, the bigfoot, and the Sasquatch have made story appearances in different places all over the world as a newer kind of boogie man.

Ironically, the character Slender Man was created on Something Awful forums by the user Victor Surge in a comedy thread (Comedy Gold Mine section of the website) called Create Paranormal Images and was explicitly designed to be fake, but people were so compelled by the creativity of the character that they rolled with it (some of it creative and clever, some of it going beyond too far, ending in an actual teenage homicide). My point is that in the face of knowing these stories aren’t true, there is something in human nature that compels people to want to perpetuate them for some reason or another.

I started reflecting on why I read these stories. Not for just why they made me feel things, but also for what those feelings felt like compared to my past experiences. I wrote a list of similar scenarios on my life where I felt those same feelings I had in life when approaching certain kinds of creepy pasta:

  • A sense of reverence for something older and more powerful than me which I have also felt at:
    • Sitting in silent country church with nothing inside of it
    • A Japanese tea garden
    • The inside of an abandoned, falling apart house on one of my old neighbor’s property
    • The collection of all of the shoes of the victims of the holocaust in the museum at DC
    • The top of a rock scramble in Shenandoah natural park where there is a 360 degree view of all of the mountain valley below us
  • The fear of walking down an alleyway in downtown Savannah at night near the actual Graveyard from In the Night Garden
  • Camping by myself for the first time as a Boy Scout while coming down with a fever

It’s a strange combination of fear, sadness, and in some but not all cases, frightful beauty, as well as a reminder of your own mortality. Humans don’t live very long, but our stories can outlive and outgrow us. There is a sort of spiritualism I sometimes feel in stories that I had felt confused about for a long time. For the longest time, I never understood what the experience of the Judeo-Christian holy ghost was supposed to mean, but I think I’m starting to understand that sensation: a strong feeling of that god being everywhere, tied to everything, and feeling it strongest in his oldest places of worship, as well as within the sublime natural beauty of the earth that’s talked about frequently by the transcendentalists like Thoreau and Fuller.

When I was looking into animism (which is just a broad umbrella term for spiritualities and religions that believe that animals and things can have powerful spirits or souls) I stumbled into the Shinto concept of Kami which are spirits or phenomena that are worshiped in the religion of Shinto: landscapes, forces of nature, and deceased ancestors. Most interesting to me there is landscapes: that a very environment or sense of place can have divinity or elicit feelings in people that give them that uneasy sense of reverence. Humans apply meaning to places, things and forces which give those things definitive meaning, and sometimes that meaning can be manifested through human activity like the erection of shrines, the maintenance (or lack of maintenance) of physical spaces and the passage of objects from person to person.  The Tsukumogomi in Japanese mythology are said to be tools which have acquired a spirit or a life force of their own after their usage and existence for a long period of time (the cursed swords, Muramasa and Masamune are perhaps the most referenced of these types of supernatural objects most likely due to their popularity in Japanese RPG’s). Their literal age and usage changes the very existence of their being, similar to the concept of historicity that Philip K. Dick talked about in his alternate history science fiction novel The Man in the High Castle. If a person knows a thing is old, many of them will interact with it differently, and they will interact with it even more differently as that age increases.

I think that same behavior and idea can be transferred to stories, and that’s what we’re seeing in the creepypasta phenomenon. The familiarity of running from the predator in the night is primal and ancient, as is facing the reality that humans aren’t as significant or long-lasting as they want to be in the grand scheme of universal existence. While I don’t think that the idea of creepypasta being a new form of age-old storytelling is unique or even a hot take to many, I do think that we are engaging with a type of spiritualism, or a feeling of spiritualism, when we engage in creepypasta that can go unnoticed in unexamined. I see it as an active celebration, reverence and cherishment of our mortalities, and I think there is a great beauty in that, which is why I would like to perpetuate this kind of media as well as any kind of folk tale revival.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Homophobia in one of the most queer fandoms

So, this is not really a happy or low-stress post, and that comes with the subject matter, so I want to address that immediately. Some of this stuff is triggering, especially if you’ve had a history of abuse or trauma growing up as gay or any other variety of queer.

Homophobia is kind of a buzz word, much like racism right now. When we say words like homophobia and racism, a lot of different images might come to mind, especially if you are a person hearing those terms who isn’t subjected to them so often. For racism we might think about somebody using a specific word with the intent to harm, or an act of violence, or the active torment of said parties. We think of individual acts of harm that come packaged with the intent to harm.

But what we don’t think about is the institutions of racism. We we don’t think of the systems in which racism exists, are institutionalized, and made to seem logical: because racism isn’t based on logic. (For instance, we can think of dress codes targeting racial subcultures based on the premise that they are “stratifying gang culture,” and by eliminating head wear we get the side consequence of discriminating against a Muslim woman’s right to practice wearing a hijab). Racism can be subtle, and framed in a way that appears very logical.

We don’t recognize the real threat and harm that racism and homophobia can do to people when we only ascribe these qualities to people who appear to be cartoon villains. Homophobic and racist ways of thinking can be extremely subtle and normalized to the point where we aren’t even cognizant of it. Sometimes it looks like “an efficient business model,” sometimes it looks like “I have high standards for individuals,” sometimes it looks like “I don’t see color,” and sometimes it looks like humor.

For an example, let’s take a look at this joke:

Untitled

One of my friends posted this, and he definitely had good intentions. At first glance it’s really funny, right? A bigot’s own words were turned against him, ridiculing him in a way that makes him appear to be the own object of his derision: gay men. Goofiness in sex and botched eroticism is a hilarious image. He’s just choking on knob because he’s bad at it! Slapstick gold!

But there’s an underlying problem with this kind of joke.

We have a tendency to assume that bigots are always bigots because they fear their own desires and urges. We invest in a slippery slope narrative that the loudest and most virulent homophobes are men with gay urges themselves. Partially because, well, it’s not uncommon to hear about anti-lgbt government officials in the states getting arrested for rubbing shoes against other men in airport bathrooms. But that narrative has become the go-to for every narrative. And let’s face it: it’s easier to destroy a public enemy with mockery, and there are few things easier to mock in the social American climate than a gay man– even more so if that gay man has culturally effeminate qualities or can be coded as less masculine.

In C.J. Pascoe’s book, Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, she talks about “Fag Discourse,” which you can read about in detail here. The basic gist is that fag is the antithesis of male identity. To be a fag is to be nothing, and you cannot achieve any masculine identity without lobbing the ridicule of the fag to other men as a way of practicing and exercising a masculine identity of control, which can be lost and stolen from you at any moment. Women were also shown to craft masculine identities of aggression to distance themselves from feminine identities when they wanted to take on leadership roles and would, too, occasionally lob the specter of the fag in the direction of men. (Interesting enough, the abject feminine identity was identified by Pascoe as the slut, and not as the lesbian or the dyke, and they would more commonly use those as power play identity crafting when controlling other women. Fag is used to control men.) 

So how on earth does this all come back to furry?

Well… I have heard the phrase “gay mecca” applied to furry-dom more than a few times. I absolutely do not think that gay media has more of a presence than straight media in furry (especially because that also discounts a great deal of queer media that appears in furry, too, which doesn’t fit under the strict category of cis m/m) and especially not outside of it, but there is no doubt that there is a bounty of options for gay men to pursue when it comes to media in furry that acknowledges gay men as an audience and enriches their lives. Novels both textual and visual, flash games, role play hubs, illustrations, costumes, think pieces (hey look, it’s me!), clothing, dakimakuras, and even novelty computer mouse pads. Gay is very visible in furry. It is perhaps the most visible in furry as far as fandoms go, although I might be wrong and there is another massive homo-friendly subculture that I’m not aware of. The second most-gay fandom I can think of is anime (much of which is very, very gay-unfriendly), and the third is the nebulous amalgam that is speculative fiction, some of which is gay friendly and much of which is very not.

So when people look at furry and see so much homoeroticism and homo-romance, usually the takeaway is “wow, this is very gay” colored with the lens that it appears so very gay because so very few things are. Living as a gay man, our very existence is gay, but we so seldom get to express it with the same ease and relaxation that our fellow straight friends could. Being fired for being gay is still a legal thing to do in the united states, and that’s just one of the worst case scenarios that affects how safe we feel to express ourselves. Sure, we can technically be vocally gay at work and might not face consequences for it in purportedly progressive areas, but there’s always that lingering anxiety of “what if my powerful coworkers are homophobes and they want to sabotage my attempts to be happy and successful?” That same fear applies to internships, applies to work, applies to school, and haunts us usually most of our lives. So most of us are guarded, in a respect, especially if we are gay in a way that challenges accepted norms of the current hegemony: monoamory, closed relationships, and a closed look at sexuality and nudity underscored with a tinge of disgust. If we break this mold, we become targets, and some of us are more willing to fight that battle than others. (Some gay men even approve of and share ideas of sexual oppression.)

Furry is very much one of the places we get to breath and be who we truly are– or at least try to be. More on how that isn’t “living up to the dream” on that later. But as furry identities and identities as citizens continue to merge, and when technological spaces become more and more intrusive into our private lives, and when cultural attitudes about what we should keep hidden change, we are seeing the conventions of the many scenes within furry clash with the lived hegemony of the western world.

I’ve talked to talented artists and writers who don’t want their rich gay lives as furries to be discovered. “I’ll never be employed anywhere because of my status as a queer furry artist,” and “I don’t want to be thought of as a porn artist” are concerns I’ve heard from two different friends on this matter. And it’s hard to tell them “you’re not wrong.” Most creative jobs would not allow them to thrive unless they hid their identities or sanitized their works. It’s true that there are some gay friendly workplaces, but “lacking homophobia” and “enriches and enables the livelihood of gay artists” are not the same thing. And even then, a few very good companies enabling and enriching gay men cannot solve the problem at large, because dignity and the ability to grow should not only be allowed to our most talented and most bright citizens. I want the lives of as many gay men to be as good as possible.

But since the reality is that “outside of furry” isn’t on the whole enabling for gay men, we create some of those spaces to our best ability within. Sometimes this is unintentional, sometimes this is created with organized intention. But a gay community comes with all of our past experiences, all of our trauma, all of our internalized homophobia, all of our misogyny, all of our anguish, all of our fear. The life of a gay man is not appletinis, sass, and sequins. It is trying to exist as a male identity when the cultural idea of masculinity tries to reject you as a person who deserves to exist at every turn. This is why you will run into harmful and hurtful statements from gay men like, “ew, vaginas are gross,” which is exclusive of all sorts of varieties of trans people and women. Men are used to being told that their bodies are ugly, undesirable, unwanted and expendable. It is a rejection of the norm that in modern western society, true beauty and sex appeal looks like this:

31K7-7k7rvL._SL500_AC_SS350_.jpg

Not so much this:
'David'_by_Michelangelo_JBU0001.jpg

Which is fairly ironic if you know anything at all about the desires of Michelangelo. But David is more often seen as a figure of strength or intellectual gamut (classicism=smart?) as opposed to erotic desire, which says a lot about our standards today of even the most idealized male bodies. I don’t think “vaginas are gross” is good or acceptable or should even be tolerated, but I know why it exists and where it comes from.

Some furry art in a lot of ways has a neoclassical streak in its art movement, particularly when it comes to a lot of the ways in which male bodies are depicted: sculpted abs, choice lighting, poses that direct your eye to the groin, the feet, the buttocks or the face. These choices seem more present in the male pinups than the comic styles or toony art you see in furry too, but they often tend to be the most discussed when it comes to “gay presence in furry art.”

So we get to hear fun things too like:
“why is furry so gay?”

“I’m soooo tired of gay furry art!”

“Where are all the curvy women at? This is a sausage fest!”

“Can’t make any progress in furry without being a gay porn artist SMH.”

I have even talked to a bisexual friend about his works. He refuses to write any M/M stories because “I am known as the straight furry writer,” which puzzles me because he is not straight and he has already decided to not approach an entire group of people because the current perception is that furry is too gay. I think this is a valid branding choice on his part, but it does make me sad that I will probably never see a work by him that is about a person like me.

Furry is not too gay. It is one of the few places with opportunities for m/m narratives to thrive, and there is still not enough of a variety to cater to the tastes of many gay men. Even if we made a collection of all the gay furry work that every furry has made, it would be a drop in the ocean of just one year of humanity’s created content that caters to heterocentric norms and conventions. And this is just treating all m/m content as if it were made under the same conditions and for the same audience. It isn’t. For instance, most Yaoi is not actually made for the consumption of gay men. It is usually a market for the consumption of women by straight women. There is m/m furry content that falls under this exact kind of marketing, too.

But this all comes back to “what does homophobia look like?” My answer is that “it is inconsideration to the institutions that have influenced and inhibited the existences of gay men, whether overt in nature or consequentially harmful.”

Stop asking “why is furry so gay?” and ask “why doesn’t the rest of lived existence look more like furry?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

George Squares: MFF panel schedule

I mentioned this a few times on twitter, but I will be at MFF and also speaking on two writing panels:

Tools and Technology: 10 am Saturday

This panel is mostly about keeping your writing organized and what programs can help. We’re going to discuss some things like drop box, microsoft word, scrivener, and syncing to the cloud.

Transformation: 11 am Sunday

Transformation is one of my favorite subjects. While transformation in furry art almost always entails a physical one, as a theme it often overlaps with mental and spiritual transformation as well, which touches upon elements of the human condition. From moments of lunacy to liberation, transformation often acts as unshackling repressed emotions, feelings or  states of being in the natural world that we long to return to, or wish to marry with our human constructs. Furry owes much to this theme.

 

Other than these times, I’m free, and excited to explore the con and meet people. I’m bringing several board games, too, and I might be trawling the bar for people I know. Happy to see everybody there!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in essay, My Writing | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in essay, Writing | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment