A few months ago, four POC novelists held a round table discussion which tackled the challenges that authors of color have to face in both the publishing industry as well as the media in general in terms of race, gender and orientation.
With diversity in media, in particularly in terms of queer content, an LGBTQ-themed round table was recently conducted. This time it was opened up to playwrights, comic book creators and artists of various storytelling mediums.
Participants submitted questions and topics they wanted to address. What was interesting reading the responses while composing this round table. The participants only saw their own responses, so the answers often made for fascinating reads. With an eclectic mix of writers from very different backgrounds, sometimes there would be seven vastly different answers and in certain instances, the answers were unanimous and almost verbatim.
One thing was certain, this was definitely a conversation that has been long overdue, and certainly one that needs to continue.
Seven storytellers, one powerful discussion.
Introduction: The Players
Sarah Diemer is a queer young adult author and storyteller. She writes about courageous young ladies who love other ladies and drinks a lot of coffee (It gives her the power of Sparkle). Sarah wrote the YA, lesbian retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone, THE DARK WIFE.
She also writes under Elora Bishop (where she puts out books about magical lesbians and unicorns and all of the fantastical fantasy novels she always wished existed, involving ladies who love ladies). She is a staunch GLBTQ youth advocate and writes about gay YA and other awesome things at her blog,
, and at her web site, where you can find out about her ten million books (only SLIGHTLY exaggerated):
Jude McLaughlin is a 40-something New England writer of science fiction & fantasy. She writes software user documentation and medical training for a living. Her web series Wonder City Stories can be found at at
Xakara is an openly Bisexual author of erotic-poly-paranormal fiction, with an emphasis on bisexual and sexually fluid characters and cultures within her work. Her stories include GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST (PsiCorps #1) and DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT (PsiCorps #2) out with Liquid Silver Books. SHIFTING PASSIONS (A Therian World Novella) out with Samhain Publishing. A WAY TO A DRAGON’S HEART (A Therian World Novel) out with Liquid Silver Books. BLOODSPRITE (A Therian World Novel/Dante Book 1) coming Summer 2012. LOVE IN PLAIN SIGHT (Love Notes Anthology) coming February 2012 from Musa Publishing.
She always loves to talk to fans and new friends and can be found several places, waiting to catch up.
Kyell Gold has published seven novels and numerous shorter works, predominantly stories of gay anthropomorphic animal (“furry”) characters. He has won ten Anthropomorphic Literature and Arts awards for his novels and short stories, two Rainbow Awards for his novel “Out of Position” (Best Gay Fantasy Novel and Best Gay Novel, 2009), and has been nominated for a WSFA Small Press Short Fiction award (2010). He is honored to have been asked to be a Guest at Gaylaxicon 2012 in Minneapolis, MN, but he considers the greatest measure of his success to be the appearance of illegal scanned copies of his books on Russian websites over the last few years.
When not traveling around the country, he lives in northern California with his husband Kit Silver and records a podcast on writing called “Unsheathed” with his colleague K.M. Hirosaki. You can find more about him and his work at www.kyellgold.com, and his podcast on iTunes.
Tom S. Johnson co-wrote Orb: The Shine (originally a teleplay and now a comic book script) and has written the scripts for Orb: Protest Too Much, Orb: Convergence, Orb: Sleeping with the Enemy and Orb: The Opposite of an Oxymoron.
His plays have been produced in New York City and regionally. Madonna and Child and Other Divas was produced in the New York International Fringe Festival on the Cherry Lane Theatre main stage. Trailways or The Yankee, the Homo and the Greyhound was produced as part of the Where Eagles Dare Short Play Lab in Midtown Manhattan. Just the Red Parts was produced at Tony Award winning Actors Theatre of Louisville. Tom has also worked as a producer, director, choreographer, theatre manager, teaching artist and actor.
Shawn C. Harris is a New York playwright, producer, activist and many other titles. In 2011 she released the critically acclaimed play, Tulpa, or Anne&Me. She is the founder of the Crossroads Theater Project and the creator and managing editor of Ars Marginal.
She can be found at the following haunts:
Dennis R. Upkins was born and raised in Nashville, TN. A voracious reader, a lifelong geek and a hopeless comic book addict, he knew at an early age that storytelling was his calling. Receiving an academic scholarship, Upkins graduated from the University of TN at Chattanooga with a BA in English. After working as a reporter for a local newspaper for a few years, he moved from Tennessee and relocated to Atlanta, GA where he procured a BFA in media arts & animation from the Art Institute of Atlanta.
In 2011, his debut novel, Hollowstone, was released by Parker Publishing. In addition to writing, Upkins is also a freelance artist and a digital photographer. His artwork and short stories have appeared in a number of publications, most notably Drops of Crimson. And his audio short, Stranger Than Fiction, can be found at Sniplits.
He can be found at his official website:
The Round Table
-Please introduce yourselves to those reading along.
Diemer: Hey guys! I’m Sarah Diemer, a queer author lady. I write sparkly, lesbian things, and am married to the most amazing woman in the known universe. I’m the chick behind the YA, lesbian retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, THE DARK WIFE. I’m happy to be here!
McLaughlin: Jude McLaughlin, a 40-something geek butch dyke, happily (and legally) wed in New England, living in a big old house with wife and cats. I am a technical and medical writer to pay the mortgage, and I write science fiction and fantasy in my copious free time, currently focusing on my web serial Wonder City Stories. In the past, I’ve also written for both tabletop roleplaying games and videogames.
Gold: Hi! I’m Kyell. I have been writing for a while now and mostly I write gay fiction with “furry” characters—that’s anthropomorphic animal characters, like in Disney’s “Robin Hood,” if you’re not familiar with the term. I’ve had several novels published by a small press and short stories published in a scattering of ‘zines and anthologies.
Xakara: Greetings, Kittens! I’m Xakara. I write bisexual, polyamorous paranormal fiction. And I’m a Bi-visibility and sex-positive activist. Nice to meet you!
Johnson: I’m Tom Johnson. My plays have been produced in New York City and regionally. I’m currently writing Orb, an LGBT comic series.
Harris: I’m a playwright and founder of Crossroads Theatre Project and the managing editor of Ars Marginal.
Upkins: My name is Dennis R. Upkins. I’m a blogger, author, photographer, digital artist. Novelist by day and nerd seraph by night.
-How did you get into writing?
McLaughlin: I started shedding words onto a page when my fourth-grade teacher first taught us to write short stories. Ever since, words have continued to pour through my head (words are a liquid, not a solid or a gas), demanding an outlet at all times. I wrote terrible prose steadily through my adolescence, had a torrid and angsty fling with poetry in college, turned my words to running tabletop roleplaying games in graduate school, and have slowly been relearning to aim words at a page since fleeing school for more profitable environs.
Diemer: I have been writing since I was VERY SMALL. My first book was about a unicorn with a rainbow horn–I think I was six. I ask you, HAS MUCH CHANGED? (Answer: NO.) Writing is my passion and my life, and putting out novels for queer girls with heroines they can relate to is a driving force for me.
Harris: I’ve always had a knack for words, but it was a creative writing course I took in my sophomore year in college that got me interested in dramatic writing. At first, I thought I wanted to do screenwriting, but when I started drafting a play for a group of friends in my hometown (Richmond, Virginia), I realized that I really liked the process of writing for the stage a lot more.
Upkins: Even as a child, I loved stories: traveling to amazing places, meeting extraordinary characters and having these fantastical adventures. Whether it was classic Greek mythology, He-Man & She-Ra, or comic books, I love stories. Writing allows me to travel to those amazing places, meet extraordinary people and have those fantastical adventures.
Johnson: When I was a little kid, my best friend at that time and I started a comic book business the way other kids start lemonade stands. He drew the comic books, and I wrote them. After that, I didn’t really write very much until I started writing plays as an adult. Now I’ve gotten back to my roots, so to speak.
Xakara: I started telling stories to younger cousins at four or five years old, to keep them amused. By nine years old, I was telling an ongoing saga on the playground. A sick classmate missed an installment and asked me to write them down. I bought a journal and never looked back.
Gold: It feels like I was always telling stories of one sort or another. Growing up, I had plastic animals and robots and I gave them all wonderful adventures. In college, a friend of mine asked me to make up a world and I wrote a short story in that world. It was not very good, but the college science fiction club, which I had just joined, published it in their magazine, and I would write a few more stories for them over the years.
-What genre(s) do you primarily write in?
McLaughlin: Science fiction and fantasy, though mostly in the interstices of these genres. For instance, my main project, Wonder City Stories, is set in a superhero universe. SF? Or fantasy? Or a little of both?
Gold: Primarily fantasy, but in a broad range: contemporary fantasy, superhero, supernatural, medieval. Often the “furry” element is the most fantastical thing about my books.
Upkins: Young adult, paranormal, urban fantasy, noir, superhero/comic book.
Johnson: Most of my plays were a response to my being gay and raised fundamentalist, evangelical Southern Baptist. Orb is a science fiction series about a group of LGBT individuals with superhuman abilities.
Diemer: It depends–I’m primarily a young adult author, which means my genre is YA. But I write in a lot of genres WITHIN that genre (IT IS LIKE NESTING DOLLS)–primarily dark fantasy and speculative fiction. In my adult stuff, published under Elora Bishop, I write primarily fantasy, paranormal and fairy-tale-esque stuff.
Xakara: I write paranormal fiction in the subgenres of futurist, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.
Harris: I don’t really see my work that way. I suppose you could say that my work incorporates many elements of the fantastic, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it outright fantasy.
-Do you share the same gender/race/orientations as your lead protagonists?
Xakara: I’m dual-gendered, so I share the genders of my protagonists, whatever they may be. I tend to write bisexual, polysexual, pansexual or sexually fluid characters, so I also share their orientation. I tend to write mixed-ethnic backgrounds for my characters, but I rarely name what exactly they are. I describe the characters, I give significant surnames, but I don’t go into human concepts of ethnicity if I don’t have to.
Harris: In the past, no, but now I can see it happening more often.
Diemer: I share gender and orientation (lady and queer), but sometimes I don’t share the same race.
Upkins: Not usually. In fact that’s one of the wonderful things about writing is that it allows me to see life through the eyes of people who aren’t like me and in walking another (albeit fictional) person’s shoes, I’m given the opportunity to grow not only as a writer but as a human being as well.
Johnson: In my plays, yes. In the first chapter of Orb, I share the gender and orientation but not the heritage. In subsequent chapters, they’re all over the map.
Gold: Ha. Well, um. Yes, usually, in that I most often have gay male protagonists. With furry characters the race doesn’t really apply, but culturally, yes, I would say my characters are similar to me. (Special to furry books: My avatar is a fox, and foxes tend to appear in most all my books, though not always as the protagonists. I have been accused of speciesism within the fandom for this reason.
McLaughlin: Since I generally write what I really want to read more of, yes: I almost always write female lead protagonists, almost always queer. Granted, not all my lead females are lesbians; I try to get bisexual characters in there as well, since I know how invisible they can be. I haven’t yet written a lead character who is transgender, though I have prominent secondary trans characters. Working on this now.
I have also been actively trying to break out of the box of writing white women. For instance, in Wonder City, two of my five leads are women of color. I’m also experimenting with writing protagonists of different ages and the various perspectives that provides.
-Are your protagonists usually LGBTQ?
Harris: They are now.
McLaughlin: Yes. I have exceptions in my serial, but those are really the exceptions that prove the rule, at least in my own head. In my single-protagonist work, the lead is always LGBTQ.
Upkins: For the longest time, that wasn’t a requirement but based on how LGBTQs have been denigrated in the media, I plan on changing that.
Johnson: The majority of my protagonists have been gay men. However, it has been argued that the protagonist of at least one of my plays is actually a straight character.
Diemer: Always. I don’t have any desire to write about a straight main character in any of my novels. Not that straight stories aren’t worth telling, but there are SO FEW lesbian stories out there, and I have a deep passion for telling them…so it doesn’t make sense for me to tell straight stories when it’s not something I feel I need to do.
Xakara: So far, yes. Even if they don’t know it until the second book.
-Being a minority and writing about a minority who shares your marginalization, have you ever been accused of author insert?
Xakara: I’ve had a single instance so far where I was accused of writing my ideal relationship as a woman with several males. The general “Mary Sue” accusation. The commenter assumed I was a straight, gendernormative woman, failing to realize the character I most identified with was the male protagonist the story is centered around. It just goes to show, even when they’re way off base, people will find something critical to say.
Gold: Not often, actually. Sometimes people will ask which of my characters is most like me, but rarely do they come out and say I’m just putting myself into the books.
Johnson: Writing plays, a mantra of mine was, “Write what you know.” If that’s meant there’s been some autobiographical content, so be it.
Diemer: I haven’t, that I’ve seen.
Upkins: Writing a white gay character? No. Writing a black woman? No. Let me write about a black male character (no matter the orientation), and all of a sudden I have people lining up to tell me that the character is supposed to be me. Because obviously black men are a monolith. Obviously!
McLaughlin: I’ve accused myself plenty, but I’ve never had someone actually accuse me of this, even in my fanfic writing.
Harris: Not to my face. And even if they did, I can point to loads of straight White guys who do the same shit without anyone calling them out on it.
-Have you ever received pushback as a queer writer and/or for having queer characters?
Upkins: I’ve been accused of pushing an agenda more than once.
Johnson: When asking some illustrators if they’re interested in drawing an LGBT comic book, their response has been, “That’s fine” or “I don’t have a problem with that.” Those are inadequate answers in order for me to want to collaborate with someone, especially when payment is involved.
McLaughlin: Only in fanfic, where the community is much more outspoken about their opinions on their favorite characters. No one has ever given me grief over it in my own fiction.
Xakara: I’ve faced being the only queer writer in several groups and endured the quiet grumbles that come with steering a conversation towards inclusion. I haven’t been directly addressed for having queer characters, but I have found myself in conversations where insecurities and confusion on the place of gay characters in fiction outside of “gay stories”.
Gold: Sort of, though not probably in the way this question was intended. Because a lot of the fandom I write for is gay, people have accused me of pandering by writing gay characters and gay romances.
Harris: Surprisingly, no. Then again, I do live in NYC, and I do spend a lot of time around LGBTQ people and those who feel at home around us. I’m sure that if I put up a production of “Tulpa, or Anne&Me” in my hometown, people would have a lot more to say about it.
Diemer: Many, many, many book bloggers have refused to read/review my book because it’s gay. Which is frustrating beyond belief, but I’ve tried to concentrate on the really wonderful people who are supportive of my work, of which there are MANY. <3 I’ve also gotten a lot of pushback for DARING to take a straight story and retell it, enough that I wrote this blog post explaining that “These are Not Your Stories.”
-For that matter have you ever gotten flack for making your main characters straight (i.e. you’re queer and you’re under obligation to only write queer characters)?
McLaughlin: Nope. Probably since I don’t, generally.
Xakara: No one has made me feel obligated, that’s something I put on myself. I’d rather exclusively write fluid characters than write straight characters.
Johnson: In my plays, I wrote what I knew. Sometimes those were gay voices, sometimes they were straight voices and sometimes they were closeted voices. In Orb, there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, straight and nebulous characters.
Diemer: The only main characters that I’ve ever made straight were the MCs in my two little Halloween fairy tales, written several years ago. And yes, surprisingly, I’ve gotten people who asked me: “why the heck did you make them straight?” To which I responded: I wrote them years ago, they’re short stories and simmer down now for heaven’s sake they are SHORT STORIES.
Upkins: For Hollowstone, I caught a little flack from some m/m slashers because I dared to make the two main male leads both heterosexual. I missed the memo that states as a queer male novelist giving cis straight women their slash fix is my top priority. Don’t even get me started.
Gold: I occasionally get pushback from a few fans when I write a straight main character, but I rarely do it, so they are usually patient with me.
-Do you feel that you need to justify writing about LGBTQ characters by making the stories about LGBTQ themes, or themes of discrimination and difference? Or do you feel comfortable saying ‘I like writing about those characters and I want my LGBTQ readers to be able to identify with them’ even if it’s a story that isn’t about “issues” at all?”
McLaughlin: I don’t feel a need to justify my writing by writing specifically about LGBTQ issues. If LGBTQ issues come up in the course of telling the story, that’s a different thing entirely. As I said, I write what I want to read, and I want to read SF&F stories that happen to have characters like me in them, all issues aside.
Gold: When I started out, I wanted to write about gay characters in a story that wasn’t about them being gay, because I was visualizing a world in which it wasn’t a big deal to be gay, so I wanted to write about that world. The more I wrote, the more I realized that while those stories do have a place–and I still feel that they are important to tell, that we have to show that we have lives and loves and challenges and hopes and dreams that have nothing to do with our orientation and everything to do with being people–I also realized that in the time we are living, LGBTQ people *are* facing those issues, and the best responses I’ve gotten from books have been when I addressed them.
Xakara: I don’t write LGBTQ specific themes at all. The worlds I write in have long moved past sexuality as a social issue or part of the culture wars. I do deal with themes of identity, but always within the paranormal idea of having a voice and having a place as a preternatural individual.
I think there are beautiful, moving and educational executions of queer literature. I don’t need to rewrite those stories. I wanted the fiction I love, to show the characters I identified with, and to give a glimpse of what it means to move through the world with sexuality as a positive and rewarding expression. That’s what science fiction has offered in the past, and I believe what urban fantasy and paranormal romance offers us now.
Representation means everything as a minority. I think it’s incredibly powerful to see yourself in mainstream fiction as a natural part of the story, whether you’re as a Person of Color, a part of the LGBTQ community, or an overlooked minority like the Sex-Positive community. Imagine what it would have done for queer youth and the sex positive community, if Harry Potter had ended with a loving, polyfidelity relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione. Or if Twilight, had ended with Edward, Jacob and Bella as a bisexual ménage.
Diemer: I actually feel that there are enough issue stories out in the world. Obviously, there is a place for them, and for people to continue writing them–kids are always going to need coming out stories, for example. But those aren’t the stories I want to tell. Growing up, I was desperate for stories that involved girls and women like me (a girl who loved other girls) going out and being a heroine, doing amazing things…a character I could look up to. Those are the stories I write, fantasy stories, original fairy tales, speculative fiction, all fantastical, all with a girl who loves other girls as the main character. No issues, a girl completely comfortable in her own skin, loving the lady she loves. Period.
Johnson: I write stories that I’m interested in. Some of them involve these kinds of issues, and some don’t. Since I have experienced a great deal of discrimination personally, that has been a theme.
Harris: I like writing about LGBTQ people because that’s who I share my world with.
Upkins: When I pen LGBTQ characters or stories with LGBTQ themes, I take the same approach that I take when I’m writing about characters of color or white protagonists. I write a story and characters who are universally relatable. Even if the themes are black culture, being queer or what have you, I write with the objective that anyone from any demographic can relate to these characters and their issues. I think I owe it my LGBTQ brothers and sisters to represent them as more than “a gay issue” but as three dimensional human beings. I think I owe it to them to portray them as extraordinary heroes and heroines who saves the day and gets the girl or boy. I think in the process of doing that cis straight readers will have their minds broaden in seeing us as…well….complex complicated human beings.
At least that’s what’s been effective for me.
-Do you ever feel pressured or boxed in or feel that society attempts to box you in as both a queer storyteller and a person?
Johnson: I feel, and many have agreed, that my straight characters have had some of the clearest voices. This is probably because I was raised almost exclusively among straight people.
Harris: Not really. Then again, I tend to resist attempts to do so.
Xakara: I think that there are several points where society attempts to box in queer storytellers and people of color, I’m rather under the radar, so I haven’t yet caught enough attention to inspire boxdom of my own.
Upkins: Does society attempt to box me in as a person? As a double minority, that goes without saying.
Which is why I personally don’t like being labeled a gay writer or a black writer. Part of that is people think I’m only qualified and obligated to only write about black people (and then tell me why I’m wrong). No, I write about characters of various genders, ethnicities, orientations, and walks of life, just like straight white writers do. Let me be clear, I’m not passing judgment on anyone else and the next person’s mileage may vary for equally legitimate and valid reasons. So if the next author rocks the gay and/or black writer label with pride, more power to them.
For me personally, I’ve had to deal with people trying to apply labels to me whether I wanted one or not or attempting to box me in so they can feel superior.
So for me, I’m a writer. I a spec fic writer. I’m a spec fic writer who happens to be MSM and a POC. I may change my mind one day and rock the labels myself. But if and when I do it’ll be because it’s my choice.
McLaughlin: No, but I suspect I’m lucky that way.
Gold: Not often. I feel most confident telling queer stories because I feel I have authority in that area. Having developed a reputation there, though, I do see people who aren’t interested in gay stories dismiss my work because they do think that’s all they are: stories for gay people.
Diemer: Not when queer people read my books, but when straight people do, yes. They don’t expect it to be good, or they expect it to make them uncomfortable, and when they get done reading it and really enjoyed it, they’re surprised by that. I’ve always felt that I have to put out the best possible books I can, not just because I want to put out a good book (which I do), but because I have a lot to “prove” as a queer storyteller. Which is ridiculous, but in all actuality, I really do according to a lot of straight readers.
-Being an LGBTQ or for that matter a woman, a POC, etc., do you feel obligated to tackle certain issues/themes/topics in your narratives?
Gold: Sometimes I will feel that I want to talk about a certain issue because I have something to say about it. Most of my books have to do with love in one way or another, whether it’s falling in love or remaining in love, and for LGBTQ people, the particular issue with love is that it is as true as any love between any people. So I feel obliged to present love as truthfully as I can to make that point. But it turns out, y’know, that’s a good thing to do in your writing anyway.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about people’s struggles with their families over their orientation, and I wanted to say something about that, too. It might have risen to the level of an obligation, but it was a welcome one. In general, though, I don’t feel that I’m expected to write on any particular issues I don’t want to just due to my orientation.
Johnson: In my playwriting, I did not feel obligated to portray anyone responsibly. It was more about expression. With Orb, I feel much more of that responsibility because it will presumably reach a larger audience/demographic, and comic books tend to have younger audiences than dramatic theatre does.
Xakara: Being dual-gendered and sex positive, I do feel the need to show women in a place of strength and men in a place of vulnerability, to highlight the validation in those non-normative expressions. I write female characters with the exact same freedoms as males, without removing feminine specifics like pregnancy, because I don’t believe it’s a trade off. I tend to write men who are strong and confident, but who aren’t less in their own eyes or the eyes of those around them for expressing vulnerability and deep emotion. We’ve narrowed the gender spectrum for so long, that we’re overdue to see it in a broader light where femininity and masculinity ebb and flow in all of us.
Harris: Only insofar as I feel obligated to tell the truth about an experience I’m writing about. For me, it’s not so much tackling certain issues but what I’m expected to say about those issues. When I talk about the experience of being a woman, a person of color, or queer, I’m supposed to do it in this “let’s just get along” sort of way that lets people feel comfortable by not directly confronting things that they do right now.
Diemer: I feel very obligated to have strong heroines, but I think that’s because there are so many NOT strong heroines in YA, so I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a feminist, or because I’m just frustrated by the lack of ladies I’d love to read about! *laughing*
Upkins: Because marginalized characters have so little exposure or representation I feel that it is my responsibility to do my best to show marginalized characters as three-dimensional people and to debunk stereotypes, tropes and caricatures whenever possible.
McLaughlin: I feel obligated to tackle things as they come up in the story. My feminism informs everything I write, as does my queerness, my age, my class, my race… etc, so if I have an opportunity in the course of a story to tackle something — like, say, coming out — and it will help further the story, I will. Sometimes, my stories take off on their own. Some of the themes in Wonder City have taken me by surprise, like the overwhelming theme around violence against women in the current storyline. I knew where the story was going to go, but as I worked out the details, and even as I wrote along (one reason I love doing a serial), the theme kept coming up again and again, and I ended up looking at it from all sorts of angles.
-Have you ever caught heat for creating three-dimensional characters who defied queer stereotypes, tropes and caricatures?
Harris: Nope. The people who would be upset by this are not people I care to have in my audience.
McLaughlin: Not yet.
Diemer: *laughing* Yes. A lot. Because my book, THE DARK WIFE, includes a main character who is very strong, a feminist, do you KNOW how many times I’ve been called a man hater? Oh good gods…it’s frustrating to me, but I’ve gotten to be able to laugh about it. THE DARK WIFE is a queer retelling of the myth of Persephone and Hades. If you read the Greek myths, Zeus is a complete and total asshole–even people who don’t know anything about myth know that. But, because I make him the villain of my novel, I hate guys. Because I’m a lesbian, OBVIOUSLY I hate guys. UM, ACTUALLY, I LOVE GUYS JUST NOT IN THAT WAY, THANKS SO MUCH. ;D
Johnson: I am garnering increasing pressure to portray the principal characters in Orb responsibly.
Xakara: Sadly, I’ve had to deal with people wanting to erase the bisexuality of my characters, because they’re male. They want to consider them gay and making an exception for the female, or straight and making an exception for each other. The idea that a male who is more masculine or more feminine, can be completely in love with two people without regard for their gender and without sacrificing or compromising on genitalia, seems to throw people off in the queer and straight communities equally.
I’m curious if I’ll face the same thing with upcoming female-identified bisexual characters…
I allow my characters to express as they organically develop on the page, as real people. I don’t make gender expression fit gender expectation and I’ve faced backlash, but I accept that. Bisexuality exist, gender fluidity exist, and I refuse to portray them under the stereotype that each is just a midpoint to “changing sides”.
Gold: Just the opposite! People have complimented me on how real my characters feel because they can relate to them.
Upkins: Let’s see. I got my blog flamed a few years back when I posted on how I wanted to create a gay action hero that wasn’t a fashion accessory/gay caricature from a bunch of privileged fauxgressive whites. Because according to them, I’m a self-loathing homophobe.
And then most recently I’ve had mofos show their biphobic asses in regards to my character Neely from Hollowstone. Because she’s competent and one of the main characters, she got accused of being a Mary Sue. And some braintrust stated that she fails as a bisexual because she hooks up with a guy. Yeah I was making that same face you’re making now.
Now that I think about it, it’s interesting that I get more of this type of garbage from the liberal “fauxgressives” who are supposed to know better than conservative bigots. Say what you will for the latter, at least they aren’t propping themselves up as allies when they’re engaging in homophobia.
-We’ve had a couple of incidents this year that have involved discrimination against queer stories, particularly in the young adult genre. What was going through your heads at the time when you heard about these incidents?
Johnson: We haven’t overcome yet.
Harris: Same shit, different day. I don’t really get invested in particular events so much as I pay attention to patterns and trends. This is one of those decisions I had to make as someone passionate about social justice. It’s not so much about picking your battles carefully (although that’s part of it), but about the best way to use my interests and abilities to dig up and expose the roots of systemic oppression.
Xakara: The first thing that came to mind was admiration for the authors, followed by indignation over their treatment. I admire any author introducing queer themes to a young audience. It’s a minefield with no map of the emotions you have to navigate. To stand in that truth and hold up that mirror to reflect the confusion, excitement, exploration and angst of queer youth–it’s brave and more than necessary. The idea that someone would feel as if those young people don’t have the right to see themselves reflected in the media they read…I won’t repeat the words that came to mind.
The second thing that took me was the idea of writing a queer YA myself. Let me say, I have absolutely no interest in writing YA as a career, but I wanted to stand with those authors in that moment, in that field. I wanted to be able to explain the mindset of writing for a young queer audience that may be encountering images of themselves for the very first time. Fortunately, the reality of being an erotic author snapped back into place and I realized it’s better being able to show a broad spectrum of everyone impacted by these attitudes.
Diemer: Frustration, but this burning addition to my desire to change shit. I’m sick and tired of there being so few gay YA books, and so STUPIDLY few lesbian ones. I’m changing that one day at a time, and when I get tired and frustrated by the uphill struggle to do this, I remember my reasons why, remember that it’s important, and I keep going.
Gold: Sadness. I know that homophobia still exists, but I’m getting to the point where I’m surprised when it is boldly presented out loud, even if behind closed business doors. But I was encouraged not only by the publicity around those incidents, but by the response to the publicity. The anti-gay parties were put immediately on the defensive, and the reaction to the incidents by the mainstream that I saw–granted, I’m part of a biased group–slanted heavily in favor of the queer stories. So from that angle, I felt heartened. It seems like the discriminators were surprised to find their discrimination exposed and unpopular, and I hope that gives people in a similar position second thoughts in the future.
Upkins: Another homophobic episode. Must be a day that ends in ‘Y.’ Actually, I was impressed that at least the culprits were upfront about their bigotry and flat out said it. Usually bigoted editors and publishers will cover their tracks with the standard, “it’s just not a good fit for us” or “we don’t want to over-saturate the market” or some other coded ish.
-What were your thoughts regarding people who were shocked that homophobia still exists and is still so pervasive?
Harris: Business as usual.
Upkins: Honestly? My first thought, “REALLY? REALLY? REALLY? REALLY? REALLY? WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?”
All these queer young people who have been driven to suicide, all these trans people who have been murdered, all of the dearth of queer content and people are STILL shocked that homophobia still exists.
Honestly, these people’s “shock” pissed me off more than the actual homophobia, that and the grandstanding where people jumped at the chance to score points and look good touting how they are soooooooo inclusive and they just luuuuuuuuuuuv their gays.
I should probably note I’m not a fan of humanity in general.
McLaughlin: Eyerolling. Shrugs. People who aren’t in the middle of it don’t realize that ANYTHING still happens, especially if they have no reason to have interest in thinking about anyone else (*cough cough* most straight white middle-class Protestant USians *cough cough*).
Gold: I’m glad they live in a world where it isn’t a problem. For me, living in the Bay Area and writing for a queer audience in a fandom where it’s accepted, I don’t have to deal with it very often, but I’m always aware of it and I sort of assume it exists in the world outside the one I work in. I actually hope that more and more, we have people shocked at discovering homophobia. I want it to be something we talk about in incredulous tones, something that most people don’t encounter in their lives.
Xakara: We seem to have an out of sight/out of mind approach to all forms of discrimination. Once something ceases to be blatant, we, as a society, want to declare it cured. It’s naive at best and willfully ignorant at worst. I also think it’s a form of societal self-soothing. If an injustice can be declared past tense, then no one has to put in the work to correct it.
As for that mentality within the LGBTQ community, I think that the privilege you enjoy as an individual, (male, white, class, etc), can cause someone to lose sight of the “isms” they experience, once that discrimination becomes subtle. I don’t have that luxury, so I don’t understand the shock personally. I go through my day as a Woman of Color who is openly bisexual and who deals with chronic illness, I don’t have a privilege that balances that enough to ever make me forget how people are actively fighting against acceptance of me on several levels.
Diemer: If you’re not a queer person, you aren’t able to fully understand what we go through every single day. Since I’m an out lesbian, married to the most amazing woman of ever, EVERY single day I have to face the world’s perceptions of me. I see it every day, but if you’re not queer, you’re not there every day, you don’t know. So I think it’s important, as a queer person, to point out the struggles and the victories, so that straight people are kept aware that things still happen, it’s still hard.
Johnson: While we have clearly made great strides in recent years, try walking down the streets of downtown Birmingham or Jackson holding hands with your partner, and see how that goes.
-Why isn’t there more LGBTQ representation in the media? What’s the REAL reason?
Harris: I think we already know that.
Johnson: Fear of emasculation.
Gold: I’m actually pleased that ESPN has an openly gay reporter on its staff, and that he reports on things other than gay issues. I will confess that the left-leaning media I usually read seems to have a decent representation of LGBTQ staff and stories, so I don’t feel qualified to answer that question. But the sports thing is, I think, a huge hurdle, because that and the army are the last places in this country where it’s still not okay to be out.
McLaughlin: Because straight folks are terrified that LGBTQ people are having more fun than they could possibly have. (It’s like gay marriage is terrifying to straight people because it demonstrates a different dynamic of marriage.)
Diemer: Because people are not calling for it loudly enough. I believe that completely. Why aren’t there more gay YA books being published? Because people aren’t calling for them, and people aren’t writing them, because they believe they won’t be published…it’s this terrible cycle. We need to loudly state, and constantly: WE WANT THESE THINGS, THANKS.
Xakara: The fear of losing advertisers to the complaints of right wing conservatives. No matter how progressive entertainment is supposed to be, it can only get as far as the money behind it. We have the writers putting LGBTQ characters on the page, and actors ready to do the roles, but very few executives willing to accept full, rounded three-dimensional LGBTQ characters on their shows. It’s the same with seeing Characters of Color represented in realistic numbers and positive depictions, it just doesn’t happen. And forget about Queer Characters of Color…
Upkins: The same reason why we have a dearth of POC representation. For the same reason why minority representation in general was arguably better in the 80s and 90s (and that’s sobering to say) than it is today. We live in a very bigoted society that would sooner see us erased from existence.
The real question you should be asking is if there are so many people in Hollywood, the publishing industry, the entertainment industry who just loves and support the LGBTQ community and claim to be allies, then why are things still the way they are now?
-Is the queer community doing enough to support its own and if not what should the queer community be doing?
Diemer: Hm…being so embedded in the lesbian community under my pen name, Elora Bishop, the same people are incredibly supportive, but there aren’t ENOUGH lesbians out there buying lesbian books. If you’re a lesbian and you love books, keep trying lesbian books. I know there are some not great ones out there, but I PROMISE there are good ones, too, and more are coming out every day. You want more lesbian stories? You have to support the ones that are currently out there.
Xakara: I think the community is trying, but no, we aren’t doing enough. We aren’t searching out the material. We aren’t creating vibrant fandom around books, movies and shows that represent us. We aren’t creating our own content on a large enough scale. Worst, those outlets that have grown large and vibrant, don’t always reach back for the smaller communities to bring them forward.
I appreciate what we’ve done, but like every community, we could do more. We could be as loud a voice and as supportive a community effort, as is found in fandom for het entertainment. We’re certainly an economic force that is recognized and catered to on some level, but it’s very isolated to stations like LOGO and BRAVO. Once we show greater economic force for specific entertainment, we’ll get more of it and we’ll get it in mainstream timeslots on mainstream television as the norm, rather than the exception.
McLaughlin: I’m not sure whether there could ever be “enough” done. I think that having queer-focused publishers and queer-focused awards are great starts (though clearly the queer-focused awards need some work, given the trans issues that the Lammies have, for instance). I’m not sure what else the queer community could do except expand the market offerings and recognition and things like that.
Johnson: Removing internal prejudices would be extremely helpful. I never want to hear another gay man tell me why he hates lesbians or why transgendered people aren’t really part of our community.
Upkins: No. Absolutely not. And in fact there’s a reason why so many of us steer clear of the queer community altogether but I could type forever on that issue. I think the main thing the queer community needs to remember that communities don’t throw it’s own under the bus and it needs to make it’s non-white and non-cis members a priority. That could start by diversifying its leadership, being inclusive of trans projects, supporting queer poc efforts, for starters.
Gold: I think that a lot of the queer community pushes back when told they have to support an author just because they’re LGBTQ. But the community I know is also very supportive of queer creators, and if there was one thing I wish they did more of, it would be to recommend LGBTQ work outside of the LGBTQ community (where it merits recommendation, of course). A lot of the community, I think, is hesitant to recommend our books to straight/cis friends and colleagues, and I really think that’s something we could stand to see more of.
Harris: If by “support its own” you mean supporting the most privileged members of the LGBTQ community, then sure, they are doing enough. As for what the LGBTQ community should be doing, I’d venture that more energy should be expended on supporting the most vulnerable and least privileged LGBTQ people – those who are too old, too young, too of color, too poor, too trans, too woman, too disabled, etc. to provide glamorous photo ops for the “leaders” of the community.
-What has the treatment from cis straight readers/colleagues been like?
Johnson: Actually I’ve felt more pressure from them to portray the characters in Orb responsibly.
Xakara: I find that I’m a go-to resource for many questions on gender and sexuality. Beyond that, I haven’t been writing long enough to attract any of the negative encounters I’ve heard of from others. That, or I’ve just been lucky.
Diemer: Most people have been incredibly supportive. Some have not, because I’m doing a “radical” thing, to them…publishing lesbian YA books. I firmly concentrate on the ones that are supportive, because that’s the most important thing.
Gold: I’ve only just this year started talking about my work to some of my straight friends and colleagues. In the past, I’ve had a couple letters from straight readers who thought they wouldn’t like my work because of the gay content but became fans. So this year, talking to straight friends (largely other authors), I’ve been very happy with the support I’ve gotten. They have generally been of the opinion that if I’m writing good stories about a subject I’m passionate about, that’s awesome and they’re supportive. Some of them have picked up the books to read, too.
Harris: Pretty good.
McLaughlin: I seem to be getting a good response from cis straight readers in general. I’ve upset a couple of readers with some of my fanfic because they don’t like the lesbian relationships that show up (and I have been accused of bait-and-switch by showing a popular het relationship and then disassembling it and reexamining it resolving it into a lesbian relationship).
Upkins: The occasional creepy m/m fetishist notwithstanding, it’s been pretty cool so far. Many of them have been very supportive in what I’m working towards.
-What specific things should cis straight allies be doing to improve matters?
Upkins: They can start by putting their money where their mouth is. They can help by spending dollars on queer works by queer artists. How about financially supporting queer projects? Crowdfunding projects like the Judas Kiss film or the web series In Between Men or the projects of my fellow patrons at this round table.
Allies can proactively support LGBTQ campaigns to boost the signal of queer spec fic projects or start their own campaigns to promote LGBTQ endeavors. You have no idea how such little efforts can go a long way.
Johnson: I actually wrote a ten-minute play about this that was produced at Actors Theatre of Louisville. In the play, I was getting ready to be in my straight brother’s wedding, which actually occurred a few years later. What the thesis of the play ended up being was that, in the U.S., if straight allies will fully get on board with the Human Rights Campaign, etc., and add their knowledge and experience to the mix, marriage equality could be achieved exponentially faster. Also, if straight people who aren’t allies yet will rethink the dogma that they’ve always assumed is correct and will actually examine their sacred texts themselves instead of just allowing themselves to be told how to interpret them, they might see LGBTQs as equal, which was a reported response to that play of at least one such person. My personal experience is that simply being out, and often being the only out person some straight people know, can be a quietly effective way to contribute to the civil rights movement.
Gold: Again: recommending good books to anyone regardless of orientation. Don’t characterize a book as “queer” if it’s just a good story; I’d rather hear people say, “this is a great story about a queer woman,” for example, than “this is a great queer story about…” In the end, I think we’re all trying to write great stories, and if we succeed, then it shouldn’t matter what the subject’s or author’s orientation is.
Harris: Let people know that you’re tired of the same old shit being peddled to you. Go out of your way to look for the stuff you want to see. Tell people you know about something you came across that’s interesting, unique, and nothing like the usual crap. Don’t wait for Hollywood and other institutions to tell you which LGBTQ stories to go see. Show them by looking for it and spending money on it.
Diemer: Talk about gay and lesbian books, and talk about them a LOT. Your voices are heard, even if you think you’re just one of many. Every person who talks about marginalized books gets the books further out there.
McLaughlin: More recs and reviews and reasons for their cis straight friends to come read our stuff!
Xakara: Allies need to actively seek out knowledge whenever they can. I don’t mean that they need to turn everyone in the LGBTQ community into a teacher. Some folks are tired of teaching, so don’t assume that simply identifying as LGBTQ means wanting to put on the activist mantle and educate the masses. Ask if someone is willing to talk about their experiences and understanding. Seek out the essays and documentaries of those who obviously do wish to share. Self-educate and bring that knowledge to the LGBTQ people who have shared with you. Sometimes the most valuable insight can only come from the outside, spotting the hypocrisy we’re too close to see.
Take that education and share it will oher cis straight individuals, whether they’re allies or not. Like all forms of oppression, the burden is not on the oppressed but on the oppressor and the privileged to end it. Educate your peers, because you know they are more likely to listen to you than those they see as other.
-Cis straight people telling our stories vs. LGBTQ storytellers sharing their voices. What comes to mind when you think of this?
McLaughlin: Cliches and stereotypes. I don’t mind cis straight people who have some awareness of LGBTQ characters as just plain human beings rather than some sort of mythological beast.
Johnson: As long as LGBTQ characters are portrayed richly and accurately, I honestly don’t care who is writing them.
Xakara: As long as the intention is pure and the representation is fair, I don’t care who’s telling the story. I just want the stories out there. Exploitation concerns me, but I don’t feel it’s inevitable and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
Harris: My preference is for LGBTQ storytellers sharing our voices, “quality” be damned. A lot of people would ask, “Who cares as long as the message got across?” or “Who cares as long as the story is good?” I care. Because when you prop up a straight person telling queer stories, there are loads of queer voices being muted in the process. When we no longer have the problem of being silenced and hoping straight people speak up for us, then I may adjust my stance on this.
Upkins: I don’t mind non-queer writers portraying us (in a positive and respectful manner), in fact there are quite a few cis straight writers who I’m rabid fans of. They do it right. However, when I can’t find a gay novel written by an actual gay writer, because the market has been overrun by offensive heterosexist homophobic tripe penned (and often praised) by non queer men (for non queer men), we’ve got a huge problem.
Again, I’m not even saying don’t support cis straight writers who are doing it right (because I do and will continue to do so) but I think more emphasis needs to be placed on supporting and uplifting LGBTQ stories.
Gold: It really depends on the direction of the story. I think it’s a lot more difficult for a cis straight person to write a story that is fundamental to the gay experience–something like the struggle to reconcile feelings versus societal taboos–though not, of course, impossible. If they want to do the research that any author does when writing a story, listen to gay people and gain insight into their experience, then I think it could be a valuable journey for them, and illuminating for us to see our lives as viewed from an outside perspective. Of course, there are also cases where the cis straight author brings his or her own agenda–as with one of the incidents that blew up this year–and that has to come to mind as well.
Diemer: I will always, always, always support queer storytellers over straight writers writing about gay characters. I will also support the latter, but I think that it is very, VERY important to support the people who are doing their darndest, putting out their best, their hearts on fire with their stories and the passion they have to keep telling them. People need to be aware that for a queer author telling a queer story, it is an uphill battle to get it into people’s hands. Please, please, please support our queer storytellers.
-What would you ask cis straight writers to keep in mind when portraying us?
Gold: That we are not stereotypes, nor archetypes, that being LGBTQ is a defining part of who we are but not the only part of who we are.
Xakara: That queer people are people. Who we have sex with doesn’t define every moment of our lives. We do not start and end at our genitalia. We are fully realized human beings and need to be captured as such.
McLaughlin: See above, human beings. Humans first.
Diemer: For the love of the gods, give us a happy ending. If you keep telling our stories and ending them tragically, it’s insulting and frustrating to us. So many gay stories by straight authors end terribly. Please stop this.
Johnson: Just make sure you know a few of us personally before you write us.
Harris: Aside from being respectful, I’d like straight cis writers to be mindful of the fact that LGBTQ people are not just straight people who have gay sex (if that makes sense). Of course, our whole lives don’t revolve around being gay, but there are a thousand little details that go into how we maneuver in the world we live in. There are many things we do just to be safe without thinking about it that many straight people take for granted.
Upkins: For starters…. I’m just gonna leave these two links riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight here:
-What tropes would you like to see die a painful death?
Johnson: I plead the fifth.
Diemer: That gay characters in a relationship never stay together. This is bullshit, and it needs to stop being written–specifically, in stories where the straight couple stays together, and the gay couple break up…why? Because they’re gay? Terrible. Please don’t do this!
Gold: From gay fiction, the “they had sex for the first time and it was awesome and they fell in love” trope.
Xakara: Gay for you. I can’t stand the straight individual who is suddenly “gay for” a similar-gendered character. The phrase itself completely erases bisexuality from the equation. The characterization further erases it by having the formerly straight character declare their gayness. I’m a very laidback and zen person, but “gay for you” makes me want to kick someone in the face.
McLaughlin: The dead, crazy, evil lesbian, which was done to death in both Buffy and Babylon 5 (both of them managing to do it all in one stroke, though Bab 5 managed it with the very same character).
The “which one of you is the boy/girl” trope. This goes back to cis straight people being afraid of a different power dynamic from what the cultural narrative prescribes for relationships.
Harris: Let’s see. I think TV Tropes calls it Bury Your Gays. I’d like to see that one sealed into an unmarked crypt for all eternity.
Upkins: Again….I’m just gonna leave these two links riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight here:
-What are the double standards that queer storytellers have to contend with?
Diemer: I’m not sure…it’s often expected that my books are going to be issue books because I’m a lesbian, and straight people ask me why I haven’t put more issues into my books (It should be HARDER for the MC because she is a LESBIAN).
Harris: The main one, I think, is how we portray sexuality. Straight people are allowed to be as frank and raunchy as humanly possible, but LGBTQ people can’t even talk about ourselves as sexual beings. Especially for women who love women, since by and large mainstream society doesn’t take women’s desire and women’s pleasure very seriously at all, except insofar as it reflects what men want and need.
Gold: You know, I can’t think of any I’ve had to deal with. The closest thing would be people saying they’re tired of me writing about gay characters. I mean–what do you think the reaction would be if I told some of my favorite authors that I was tired of them writing straight characters? But I have a lot of fans who want more gay protagonists, so it’s not like this is across the board, just an occasional thing that I feel is much more prevalent in the people who don’t talk to me about it.
Johnson: If you don’t have enough diversity, then you’re accused of being too tunnel visioned or specific. If you have an abundance of diversity, you’re accused of having diversity for diversity’s sake.
Upkins: The mere inclusion of a gay character in a story = accusations of pushing an EEEVILLE HOMO AGENDA!
Having to battle the notion that queer characters =/= wholesome family friendly.
Cis straight characters, be it in films, television shows, etc. can be single and hook up and have indiscriminate sex and they are praised for living their life to the fullest and making the most of being single. Gay characters do that and suddenly their moral character is called into question.
On a personal note, it’s having to fight tooth and nail for my identity and my voice. And again, I’m not even talking about conservative bigots, I’m talking about the liberal fauxgressive ones. I can pen a piece on queer POCs and said piece is often dismissed as simply a POC story or a racism issue and not a queer piece. If I’m writing a story about a gay male as the protagonist, it’s like there’s some law somewhere that it must be a gay romance and that’s the only genre that such a character can exist in. We’re not allowed to branch out in other genres or debunk stereotypes.
McLaughlin: Whhyyyyyyy do your characters HAVE to be queer? Couldn’t they just be straight if you’re not dealing with queer issues?
Xakara: Straight storytellers can have straight characters, but if you’re queer and write queer characters, it’s automatically autobiographical. I mean, really? So, that makes me a shapeshifter, vampire and psychic too, right? It’s just ridiculous.
-How often do you all find yourselves as the only LGBTQ artist in a group and the sense of responsibility it gives to educate?
Xakara: Too often. But that’s a choice and I go forward with it.
Harris: Not often.
Upkins: Way too often. In some cases it’s cool because you have people who listen and genuinely want to do better and it’s awesome to see that light go off in their head and you see their expressions when they have that enlightened moment.
It should be noted this is usually with people who aren’t affiliated with social justice circles and genuinely want to do good and aren’t looking for speshul ally cookies. Because that often leads to goalpost shifting, gaslighting and getting punch drunk banging your head against a brick wall, rise in blood pressure……Red Lantern rage, I did mention I’m not a fan of humanity, right?
Johnson: Since theatre obviously caters to LGBT people and the comic book industry doesn’t as much, I’ve found myself in that situation much more often since starting to write comic books. I’m still new to the latter industry, but I hope that Orb will be able to contribute to LGBT awareness within it.
Diemer: *laughing* Almost always! I’m pretty approachable (read: sparkly), and I always have that sense of responsibility. I think that people ask me all of the questions that they’re afraid to ask other people, because I’m gentle in my responses (yes, that’s homophobic, but here’s why, and where did you get that perception, let’s talk about it), and then learning happens. So I don’t mind.
Gold: Not often, but it did happen earlier this year, and there was only one time when I felt the need to speak up. In the discussion of one story, one of the others in the group used the phrase “turning gay,” and so I pointed out that while I understood what they meant and that I knew they didn’t think that people turned gay, it was still not a good phrase to use. That was the only time I can really remember, though.
McLaughlin: Not often, thank heavens, but when I do, I’m also sometimes the only woman, also sometimes the only person who can speak out on racism. I feel that educational responsibility, and I feel awkward because I’m not verbally eloquent. I try to take a leaf from people who are more eloquent, but it doesn’t always work out.
-On the flipside have you ever been in a position where you realize you haven’t spoken to someone outside of the LGBTQ community for days or weeks? What is the downside of creating that bubble of comfort?
McLaughlin: I haven’t, because I will always be working a job among cis straight people.
Johnson: The majority of my friends have always been straight women, so I’ve never actually experienced that.
Harris: I would say no for now, since I have a straight roommate and it’s kinda hard to say, “Could you pick up some toilet paper?” without interacting with them. But there have been periods where I cocooned myself away from people who do not share experiences I have, and to be honest I enjoy that “bubble” a great deal. I spent most of my life being forced outside that bubble, so having something like that to retreat into when the world gets to be too much is rather nice.
Xakara: I don’t get to spend enough time in the bubble. I want more time in the bubble. You have to leave every now and again, because without an outside view, you can’t see when you’ve veered off course. But bubble time, is good time. I’m pro-bubble.
Gold: Well, the downside is that you start to lose touch with society at large. You can forget about homophobia or conversely over-compensate for it. I know I’d been worried about showing some of my more explicit work to non-LGBTQ friends, and as it turns out, a lot of them are cool with it. They may not want to read those particular parts closely, but they understand what I write and the appeal of it and they don’t look down on it.
Diemer: I think that I’m sometimes surprised by the close-mindedness of society. I’m surrounded by supportive people almost constantly, so when I encounter homophobia, I think it’s sharper because it’s so incongruous to my daily life of awesome, awesome friends and family.
Upkins: I can honestly say that’s never happened. Being a queer POC, the LGBTQ community is so racist that I can only take it in small doses. The “community” is often so toxic, it could give a Captain Planet villain priapism (oh yes, I went there). So yeah, never been an issue.
-What is the link between misogyny and homophobia?
Gold: Phew. I’m gonna have to pass on this one.
Upkins: I saw this quote on Twitter a few weeks back that had me in tears, “Homophobia: the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women.”
I think ultimately the link between misogyny, homophobia, racism or any other oppression is people in power fearing, despising and oppressing those who aren’t simply because they’re different. Human nature at its worst.
Johnson: It could not be stronger or clearer. “What do all men with power want? More power.” – The Matrix Reloaded
McLaughlin: They both depend on the policing of people to take an maintain strict gender roles.
Xakara: We ultimately live in a society that values masculinity over femininity, to the degree that femininity is hated for not being masculine. Every trait we consider feminine has been denoted as weak and negative, even evil when it comes to sexual temptation. I think women remind men of the depth of interaction and emotion that they are denied and therefore don’t understand. We tend to hate what we don’t understand.
Being a gay man is considered embracing femininity and rejecting masculinity–a complete affront to what it means to be a man in the western world. How could you possible be born with the privilege and divine endowment we give masculinity, and not want it? To in fact, imply it is inferior in some way. No one is supposed to want to be a girl, society isn’t set up that way.
This extends to lesbians. How dare a women reject masculinity as the ultimate desire to possess? How could a women not wish to submit and embrace masculinity in the only way afforded her?
At the same time, the privilege of being male is reserved for those born with a penis. It’s is not to be shared, given away or stolen. Butch women and transmen suffer from the fear and hatred for anything that threatens the privilege and power being enjoyed. If power can be taken, is it real?
Harris: It’s pretty big, insofar as LGBTQ people don’t adhere to the prescribed gender norms, which often serve to dominate and objectify women. When women* feel desire and pleasure with other women, or when men* have no vested interest in dominating or objectifying women whatsoever, those gender norms, and the sexism upheld by them, are completely thrown out of whack. Queerness is a real threat to the misogyny because queer people by and large either love or are indifferent to women.
*I include trans women, trans men, and genderqueer people when I say this.
Diemer: That any minority is worthy of being looked down on or relegated as “less.” It’s so patently untrue–we’re all human, and we all have worth, but I think the two can be linked because people don’t believe this is true.
-POCs, what has been your experience in regards to LGBTQ circles and promoting LGBTQ media?
Upkins: With the a few noted exceptions (and those souls, I can never thank enough), I almost don’t even bother because many still believe that LGBTQ = Whites Only Club, so anyone who isn’t white is often SOL. You’re already fighting an uphill battle being the member of a marginalized group but to be a further-marginalized member of a marginalized group is often disheartening.
Xakara: I haven’t run into many issues being POC in LGBTQ circles. I do find that when those circles are predominately female identified individuals, they are less likely to bring up my ethnicity and are more likely to be ethnically diverse. But whether writing colleagues or fellow activist, or just other folks in a queer space, I haven’t run into issues, even when I’m the only POC present.
Now, when it comes to promoting, that’s an entirely different situation. It’s still a non-POC issue, but rather an orientation issue. It’s difficult to promote bisexual content where the character is truly bisexual and that bisexuality is explored without stereotype. It’s especially difficult with male bisexuality. You have to fight to keep the character Bi, rather than gay and making an exception, or straight and exploring. Dealing with the bisexual aspect and the polyamorous aspect can quickly leave you with nowhere to turn.
Harris: Zilch. I support and promote LGBTQ media on Ars Marginal because I seek out better representation of LGBTQ people. But that’s about as far as it goes. Unfortunately, my focus is on queer women, so that sort of puts me on the fringes from the get-go.
-Do queer POC artists find themselves defending their POCness and their queerness against both non-POC members of the queer community, and straight colleagues, or is the conflict one-sided?
Xakara: It’s few and far between, but every now and again the conversation comes up from all sides. Queer, straight, POC, non-POC, everyone feels the need to weigh in and ask why I don’t write “queer themes” or “Black themes.”
My first issue is the presumption that I should. I’m not required to write a damn thing. My characters are culturally, ethnically, sexually and identity diverse, but the stories aren’t about that diversity. Every day of my life isn’t about the color of my skin, the culture of my family or the genitalia between my legs. I get up, the day happens and I go to sleep. My ethnicity and orientation are the facts, not the focal points, so that’s what I write.
My characters are who they are and don’t need to bleed those differences. I don’t think I speak for everyone of a particular group, I’m not trying to tell them “their stories”. I’m showing that any story can be their story.
Harris: I have both conflicts, but they take on different forms. The mainstream LGBTQ community tends to present queerness and Blackness as mutually exclusive, despite the fact that Black communities have included and supported LGBTQ people since before the Stonewall riots. Countee Cullen, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Barbara Jordan, the list goes on and on.
With the Black community, there is nowhere near this amount of blatant erasure, but it’s still there, particularly when somebody decides that Black women need to be studied and analyzed to figure out why we can’t find and marry Good Black Men (TM).
Upkins: Far too many believe that white is the default for LGBTQ. Honestly if I have to choose between the two, I’ll take black homophobes over racist gays any day. Whenever I share my experiences about being queer, the microaggressions (queer and straight alike) often come in the coded phrases such as, “He doesn’t speak for this community.” “Is he really gay?” And that’s if I don’t get called the n-word flat out.
However in general broader black discourses, the homophobia is still prevalent and we often get treated as deficient or broken. Which by the by, I’m gonna need black folks to stop acting like the rare mythical “Good Black Man” is only exclusive to cis straight brothers, thank you.
That said, when it comes to black and POC social justice circles, I’ve found them to be generally welcoming of me as both a fellow POC and a queer person and they’ve been very supportive and nurturing.
-Is progress being made in regards to diversity in the media or is it simply business as usual?
Diemer: Sloooooooooooooooooooooowly, I think so. There are a lot of “o’s” in that “slowly,” though.
McLaughlin: There is progress. Not nearly enough. Not nearly fast enough.
Johnson: The promise of progress during the Queer as Folk/Will and Grace era was so bright, but for the most part, it has not maintained any kind of the momentum I expected, and I am extremely disappointed by that. Milk is a very notable exception.
Upkins: Honestly I think it’s a little bit of both. I think media as a whole has regressed and we were making more progress in the 70s and 80s (my God is that a sobering thought) than we are now. However, I think the internet has been a game changer in many respects. Many marginalized people are now more vocal about the continual erasure and are pooling resources to fight back. And while we still have a long way to go, there have been a few victories here and there.
Gold: I do believe there is progress being made. It’s slow, but change on a national scale is always slow.
Harris: Personally, I find it’s business as usual, but they are getting better at lying to themselves.
Xakara: There’s been a great deal of progress. The problem is that it ebbs and flows, rather than moving steadily forward. We’ll have a year where POCs are on over 50% of primetime shows, where women are interacting on page and screen without the focus being on getting a man, and where queer characters are seemingly everywhere.
The next year, everyone is still patting themselves on the back over the accolades they received, and no one pays attention to how many of those shows were canceled, or how many new shows are just a field of white, thin, heterosexual, gendernormative, twentysomethings. No one looks at the movie stereotypes that follow the breakthrough roles. No one looks to see how many book covers are changed to whitewash or closet the characters within.
We get distracted by the crumbs of success. We’re like children handed a cookie or slice of cake, we get happy, and forget that we asked to build an entire bakery.
-What specific steps does the industry and fandom need to take?
Johnson: Less formulaic, more realistic yet still experimental. More work like Angels in America, please.
Harris: In short, put their money where their mouth is. The problem is not a lack of good stuff, but a lack of awareness that comes from shoddy promotion and shitty marketing.
Xakara: I find that fandom is very loyal once it forms around a work. In publishing specifically, the problem is getting the material to the fans to create that supportive voice, especially with lesbian and woman-to-woman fiction. I hear all the time that it doesn’t sell in book form, so more mainstream publishers don’t want to carry it. Those publishers that do contract and sell it, find that they don’t have an audience big enough to justify taking on a good deal of it. There are artist creating the material, there are readers eager for the material, but there’s a disconnect in getting awareness of the material to the masses. Small communities do support those within the community, but that mass movement just doesn’t seem to be there.
The publishing industry needs to step up its marketing efforts when it comes to targeting the queer community. In turn, the community needs to broadens the search grid beyond the tried and true LGBTQ publishers to see what else is being offered.
In terms of visual media, the industry seems to be getting better when it comes to queer characters and queer content, but there are large gaps when it comes to positive bisexual representation or bisexual and lesbian main characters. Fandom is certainly there, ready and waiting. Shows with just the merest queer subtext gather incredible followings, especially among bisexual and gay women. We’re here, just waiting for something of substance and for that substance to be the default, rather than the exception.
And that wasn’t as specific as you wanted, was it?
Diemer: Support queer authors/storytellers/creators/makers! Support them to the moon and back, and be vocal in your support, tell others about them, spread the word. It is SO important, spreading the word about a project that you think more people would love to know about!
McLaughlin: I think the industry in particular needs to have zero tolerance for racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and much more awareness and education within the industry on these subjects so the Power That Be (editors, etc) aren’t propagating entrenched intolerances. Also, industry and fandom BOTH need to learn to quit reacting defensively to criticism. The proper response is, “I’m very sorry that this happened. I will educate myself based on your criticisms and try to do better.” NOT, “I didn’t mean to do that so I didn’t!”
Gold: Again, I go back to what I said before. Don’t be shy about sharing queer stories that you think merit the attention, and don’t characterize them as “queer.” Tell people, “these are good stories,” and let them discover the queer element for themselves.
Upkins: What they said.
-Who have been your inspirations in regards to LGBTQ storytellers?
Xakara: Alice Walker was the biggest influence on me without a doubt. Seeing female sexuality and the power of women through a POC lens, touching on themes that are both intrinsic to the community and yet common to every community, was the most beautiful and inspiring thing I could have been exposed to.
Octavia E. Butler was another author to lift me up. Yes, I know there’s some debate on her sexuality, but I’m claiming her in the context of inspiring me through representation and the theme of multiple partners as built into a culture, that must then be accepted by human culture. She’s also the author that let me know there were no genre boundaries to being POC and that made all the difference in moving forward in my own career.
Harris: I don’t look at particular individuals so much as works that I like. And to be honest, it’s all very fleeting. There are moments or characters in a film or in a book where the lightbulb comes on and I’m like, “This is more of what I want.” Currently, one of those individuals is Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salandar (“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”).
McLaughlin: My two favorite lesbian writers and the people I often say I would like to be should I ever grow up are Joanna Russ and Melissa Scott, because I lean most heavily toward science fiction and both of them have turned out amazing, thought-provoking, life-changing work. I admire Nalo Hopkinson’s works, and also love Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic fantasy novels.
Gold: Stephen Pagel, who assembled the “Bending the Landscape” books, was my first exposure to exclusively queer fiction. And Clive Barker incorporated gay elements into his books, one of the first time I’d seen them in the mainstream.
Diemer: Chris Anne Wolfe was a goddess among women, as was Isabel Miller. <3
Johnson: Margaret Cho, Michael Patrick King, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner, Jonathan Larson, Madonna, Terrence McNally, John Cameron Mitchell, Eugene O’Neill, Paul Rudnick, RuPaul, Jane Shepard, Del Shores, Stephen Sondheim, Tennessee Williams
Upkins: Bryan Singer, Russell T. Davies and my good friend, the late Perry Moore.
-Please share with us some of the awesome projects that you’re currently working on.
Diemer: *laughing* I create often and quite a bit, so I have some new exciting things to share!
RAGGED: A Post-Apocalyptic Fairy Tale is being released January 24th. It’s my YA, lesbian dystopia involving fairies and a quest and the end of the world, and I’m super excited about it. You can find out more at Oceanid.org (
Also, I shall announce here for the VERY FIRST TIME that a short story collection is coming that I’m tickled pink about, and think you will LOVE. It is entitled: SPARKLE PRINCESS WERE-UNICORN (And Other Gay Girl Stories). IT IS AS SPARKLY AS IT SOUNDS.
Also, my collection of lesbian monster stories, LOVE DEVOURS, is coming soon!
Under Elora Bishop, there are a few novels coming soon but I can’t talk about them yet! <3
Gold: have one novel in pre-publication which I am calling “a gay non-love story, with ghosts and absinthe.” It’s about a gay teen struggling to come to terms with his identity who finds a book written in 1901 in Paris (in my world’s analog of Paris, anyway), by a banker’s son who falls in love with a male dancer. The hero begins to have dreams in that world and finds himself confronting both his own problems and those of a hundred years ago. Of course, in the process of solving them, he learns something about himself.
I have another novel in revisions in which the queer element is buried in analogy: in this magical alternate history, a British magician created a race of animal creatures who are useful to the sorcerers (because they are magical) but are looked down on by the rest of society. The story follows one of these animal-people in his quest to learn magic and to be recognized as a full person.
Xakara: My TherianWorld is expanding. I have two bi-poly paranormal romances in the world out right now, with a third one releasing for Valentine’s Day, and a fourth and fifth due later in the year. My first Therian urban fantasy, BLOODSPRITE, is coming out in 2012 and it is the first of at least seven books.
I’m excited about them, because the world is built on the premise of social acceptance for sexual fluidity, gender fluidity, polyamory and D/s. The shifter culture the Therians represent see it as normal, so I can explore the themes in the context of what it would look like to be able to live our lives without defending our inclinations and preferences.
Harris: I’m currently working on a grant to start the Sojourner Truth Theatre Project, which is my way of using theatre to identify, analyze, and challenge racism in the 21st century.
McLaughlin: My big project, Wonder City Stories, is a web serial about postmodern superheroes who leave their spandex at the gym. Think Armistead Maupin’s _Tales of the City_ supercolliding with George R.R. Martin’s _Wild Cards_, full of queer, POC, elderly, and female characters.
I have a couple of novels-in-progress, one of which is feminist space opera and one of which is steampunk-kissed science fantasy.
Upkins: My novel Hollowstone is out in print, Kindle and ebook. If you haven’t snagged a copy, you should definitely check it out. I’m in the final revisions of my second novel Empyrea which I plan to start shopping around very soon. And I’ve gotten some invites to pen some short stories featuring a gay action hero.
Johnson: Orb is a comic book series about a diverse group of LGBT individuals who must band together in order to usher in the next phase of evolution. Only Eli and Mira are aware of the purpose for which their special abilities are intended, and it is up to them to unite and train the others with powers for the impending challenge. In The Shine, the first chapter of Orb, Eli and Mira send Tory, a young gay New Yorker juggling a challenging career and a difficult relationship, to retrieve his troubled brother Aren from London. There, Tory meets Saj, and the three of them discover that they have superpowers.
-What are you most proud of about your latest project?
Xakara: The main character is female bodied, but openly gender fluid or genderqueer. She’s the kind of character traditionally written as male and yet she also has strong female qualities, and doesn’t feel less of one or more of another. She just is and that’s a wonderful thing to see on the page for those of us in the middle when it comes to being transgender or genderqueer.
Upkins: I’m getting to tell the stories that I want to read and I know I’m doing something positive in the process. Toni Morrison said it best, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
McLaughlin: I’m extremely proud of how involved my readers have become with my Wonder City characters and how much they care about what happens to them.
Diemer: My novel as Elora Bishop, CAGE THE DARLINGS, is everything I ever wanted in a lesbian novel, and I’m so, so happy that I was able to bring it into the world. <3 It’s an original fairy tale about an unlucky thief girl who falls in love with a blackbird girl…the response I’ve gotten for it has been so stellar and supportive. It makes me so happy! <3
Gold: In my gay non-love story, I am most proud that I have written three different voices in the book: the hero, the book he discovers, and the world of his dreams. It was so much fun to put those pieces together, where each narrative affects and reveals one of the others, and I’m quite proud of that.
About the other book, I’m proud of the world I created and the way it addresses discrimination issues without being so specific as to say “hey, this is about gay rights or racial discrimination.”
Harris: That I did it and that it touched people.
Johnson: The diversity of the characters- both in orientation and heritage.
-Why should people check out these projects?
Diemer: No one is doing what I’m doing in this space–putting out lesbian fantasy books and lesbian fantasy YA and so frequently. This is my passion and my heart’s drive in life, to put out lesbian stories that ANYONE can read and enjoy. If this sounds like something that you think “Fuck YES!” to, please support my work and buy a novel or novella or two. I want to make this a full time thing, and think I can with the community’s support. <3
Upkins: Because I’m really pretty. And you want to give me money. In fact you want to give me money because I’m really pretty.
Xakara: Because there’s too little sex-positive, bi-positive, poly-positive, gender fluid, multicultural, paranormal fiction out there to be enjoyed!
McLaughlin: If you’re a comic book fan and you’re tired of the straight cis white boys running the superhero world, check out Wonder City Stories for major characters who are queer, trans, POC, and/or women. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, come check it out for compelling characters and great plots and a metric ton of geek references.
Gold: Because they are unlike anything else you’ve read–but in a good way. I have found that some people have a perceived barrier to reading stories that feature non-human protagonists–”I’m not into that, so I wouldn’t like it”–which strikes me as similar to the “I’m straight, so I wouldn’t like gay fiction” refrain we often hear. And it turns out to be just as false. I have heard from many people who have said that once they picked up a furry story, they found themselves engaged in it. And one of my books won the top award for gay romance in 2009 in a field of human-protagonist competition.
Johnson: This is one of the first, if not the first, comic book series about a team of LGBTs that is rooted in naturalism. I think the overarcing question of the series is, akin to The Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, “What if real LGBT people had superpowers?” The driving force behind Orb is that it provides LGBT role models that I didn’t have when I was growing up. I truly believe that this is vital to the fostering of healthier generations.
Harris: Because we need them. Too much of what we see is meant to distract us and keep us asleep. We need more things to wake us up.
-What do you want to see more of in the media?
McLaughlin: Butch lesbians. Bisexual men and women who don’t end up “fixed” by the correct heterosexual relationship. Transgender characters played by transgender actors. SF&F stories that involve queer characters who stay queer and alive and sane.
Harris: I want to see lesbian sexuality taken seriously. I also want more trans women who are not a punchline or a prop.
Johnson: Diversity- more variations of and more realistic gays and lesbians i.e. characters with the issues we experience in real life, and most definitely more transgendered characters.
Xakara: I want to see more instances of fluidity treated as “normal”. The stories of struggle are important and should never disappear. I just want a greater representation that mainstreams the concept of non-normative sexuality, so that those outside of the community can see it’s not this frightening thing which will crumble society.
I’d also like to see more queer POC representations in books, movies and on television. I don’t want them as themed shows, but as part of primetime cast where viewers can benefit from the representation across the board.
Upkins: Better visibility and representation of my trans brothers and sisters. More stories featuring queer POCs. More action queer male leads like a Jack Harkness and Midnighter. More positive role models like Kevin Keller.
Diemer: Lesbians not ashamed of being lesbian. Please. For the love of the gods, we exist, I promise.
Gold: Coverage of LGBTQ works, obviously. It takes so much to get any book noticed these days that when you have a handicap like a bias against your book just because of the orientation of its protagonist, your book is much more easily buried. And I think if we saw more worthy books with LGBTQ main characters celebrated in the media, a lot of that behind-closed-doors bias would go away. Once people realize they can make money off it, it becomes largely a non-issue. Nobody wanted to publish science fiction, either, until the fans came out in force and showed that they would buy it.
-To young people reading this, what words would you impart?
Diemer: You are fucking perfect exactly as you are–don’t let anyone EVER tell you differently. There are queer people out there who care about you, who care about your stories, who want to give you hope and a drive to make the most of this life. We love you and are so proud of you. Keep strong, find the good in people, if you can. Do your best to change the world, because I have every belief that you can. <3
Harris: I don’t give advice that isn’t asked for. Learn from your own damn mistakes.
McLaughlin: Keep writing your truth. If there’s something you want to read and you can’t find it, write it and get it out in the world.
Xakara: You have a mark to make on the world. Whether you’re queer, POC or an ally, your words, beliefs and visions will make the difference that settles the culture wars once and for all. The intolerant and unyielding are aging out and dying off. When you tell your stories, you will influence the generation after you, a generation that has known considerably less strife and discrimination. Telling your stories will teach them that things can be different and it’s merely a decision away.
Pay attention, tell your stories in the medium that suits you and give it to the world. And while you’re telling your story, remember that it’s not the only story, and no one has to be wrong, for you to be right for you.
Gold: Be proud of who you are. Be creative and let your works speak about all of you. Don’t write what you think other people want you to write. If you’re LGBTQ and you want to write about rocketship battles in space with not a drop of romantic complications, do it. And if you want to write about a bisexual rocketship pilot, do it. And be proud of the stories you love to read, too. Don’t hide them from your cis straight friends.
Johnson: Never be afraid or ashamed of being LGBTQ. Organized religion was meant to comfort, not condemn. If someone is condemning you for being who you are, that is their problem, not yours. Sometimes you can’t see how many options are available to you when you’re immersed in a subculture. Perhaps finding a way out of that culture, or at least a break from it, is not a bad idea. Since condemnation always originates externally not internally, it’s important to remember that self-loathing does not have to equal self-destruction. The LGBTQ community, particulary the gay community, can often be centered around different means of self-destruction. Participation is not a prerequisite, particularly when exiting the culture you grew up in. In modern society, there are plenty of places to meet other gay people other than gay bars.
Upkins: You’re as God intended you to be. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different. Stay strong and keep flying.
-Where can fans find you?
McLaughlin: Folks can find Wonder City Stories at
Diemer: *laughing* I sparkle many places. ;D
Facebook: Search for Sarah Diemer, Indie Author
As Elora Bishop:
Facebook: Search for Elora Bishop
Harris: I’m on LiveJournal as afro_dyte, on Tumblr as eshusplayground, on Twitter as RVCBard, and at my blog Love’s Labors Lost.
Upkins: My official website:
I’m also a contributor for Ars Marginal and Prism Comics.
-Any final words or parting shots?
Diemer: Thank you so much for having me, Denny! <3 To all of the queer and straight readers, thank you for continuing to support and be so vocal for your wish for GLBTQ stories. If you think that you can’t change things, I promise you, you can. Please continue to be vocal with your support, tell others about your favorite queer books. Each mention makes us more visible, and we need that so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you. <3
Xakara: It is only when we discuss the things that need to change, that we ever create the possibility they someone day will.
Johnson: There aren’t enough LGBTQ characters in the media!
McLaughlin: HOLLYWOOD: MAKE MORE GOOD QUEER CHARACTERS AND STORIES. EDITORS: BUY MORE GOOD QUEER CHARACTERS AND STORIES.
Gold: Thanks so much, Denny, for the opportunity to participate in this forum, and thanks to the other participants whose insightful, brilliant comments I have yet to read.
Upkins: First and foremost I want to thank everyone who has participated in these round table discussions, both the previous one and this one. Speaking out and sharing your truth is rarely easy and in fact it can often be a dangerous thing to do. I know this all too well from first hand experience.
It’s been both an honor and a privilege getting the opportunity to meet and converse with these extraordinary men and women. I’ve certainly learned a lot from each and every one of them.
I also hope dialogues like this continue. And that they lead to introspection and action. So for those of you reading, your move.
What happens now? I guess we’ll find out won’t we.