What I want to see

You know what kind of story I want to see?

I want to see stories about a woman of color enacting theatrical, operatic vengeance on anybody who fucks with her or stands in her way. I want a woman of color with such a lust for power that she makes Frank Underwood look like a slacker. I want a women of color who’s such a slippery, duplicitous, self-serving, magnificent bitch that David Xanatos would be impressed.

And I want the narrative to not punish her for it. That’s right. I want her to get away with doing horrible shit in the name of vengeance, ambition, or some other shit we act like we disapprove of but actually enjoy. I want her life to not be some Aesop about how good always wins or some other trite bullshit we know to be a flat-out fucking lie.

I am so tired of women of color, especially Black women, having to be and noble and selfless. I am so done with stories where women of color are not allowed to have grand flaws and epic passions.

If the Bride from Kill Bill can slice and dice her way through Tokyo to get back at five people who did her wrong and still have people root for her and call her an awesome character (without any of the justifications or qualifications that one would have to do with, say, Regina Mills or Marie Laveau), I want women of color to be able to do the exact same type of shit without the story or the audience constantly reminding us of how badwrongevilhorrible she is.

We throw the term “goddess” around so much when it comes to women of color. So let’s give them the same freedom as true goddesses. Let’s allow them to be everything they can be: kind and cruel, beautiful and horrible, wonderful and terrible.

Straightwashing over GBLT characters

Well, there are certain genres of media that automatically assume that GBLT people couldn’t possibly have existed, especially if it’s set in the future (especially in dystopians. I tell you guys, us GBLT folks are super freaking tasty – the zombies and aliens go right for us!) and especially if it’s set in the past. Because we all arrived in 1960, don’tchaknow.

This erasure annoys me, it truly does. But do you know what annoys me even more?

When they remove already existing gay characters to sanitise a work for television. To have those few tiny crumbs we’ve actually managed to achieve removed lest it hurt the delicate fee-fees of the poor straight world.

So when Tanya Huff’s Blood Ties series of books became a TV show, bisexual Henry became straight and gay man Tony was replaced by a straight woman. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a big fan for the portrayal in the books – but that doesn’t excuse cutting them out entirely.

Or did you know that in the Walking Dead comics, there were actually gay characters in the prison? Again, I actually hated how they were portrayed because they were a mess of homophobic tropes – but they were there. TV show? 3 series now and not one damn GBLT character.

Even Troy crosses the line with a very straight retelling of the Illiad.

To rub some more salt in the wound, we get an extra straight washing when it comes to historical portrayals

Some are “subtle”, like Enigma which is pretty-damn-obviously-based on Alan Turing, only without all that icky gay.

Or Shakespeare in Love with a very straight Shakespeare. Yes, he was one of ours, deal with it – no it’s not controversial, he wrote love sonnets to men for crying out loud.

Now we’re getting Da Vinci’s Demons, that would be Leonardo Da Vinci, he was repeatedly accused of sodomy, never married, was never connected to a female lover, but repeatedly with men, drew erotic pictures of them and left his most valuable painting in his will to one of his live-in “apprentices” Da Vinci. It’s an act of wilful ignorance to not realise Da Vinci played for our team. In fact, if you don’t want to include us icky gay people then you probably need to stay away from Renaissance painters – especially Florentine Renaissance painters! But Da Vinci’s Demons? Well his love interest has been cast (a woman) and the trailer shows lots of naked sexy times between them. But, fear not, the writer has assured us that there may, sorta, kinda be some male flirting. FLIRTING!

I’m not nearly drunk enough for this.

Then let’s throw in some historical settings. Ancient Greece? Straightest of straightopias that ever declared the overwhelming joy of vaginas and penises being united! Really. Or so 300 tells me and Troy and so many more – I’ve actually read over 5 series using the Ancient Greek gods that are entirely straight. One actually has a homophobic Apollo. Apollo, homophobic. It makes me want to beat someone round the head and shoulders with a mythology text.

It’s not like these examples are one offs, straightening history has been a major habit of the media’s for a very long time. In fact, straightening us in general seems to be a massive requirement and reason #866 why I don’t watch these dancing reality shows is I’m sick of seeing gay celebrities shoved automatically into opposite sex pairs for dancing.

For that matter, straightening history has been a major part of society and academia for a long time. References to GBLT people throughout history have long been buried by academia and that’s on top of the forces of homophobia and transphobia that forced our predecessors to hide and closet themselves when they were alive.

Our past is often hidden from us. Those who come before have been removed from history or been forced into a closet that has lasted decades or centuries after death – perhaps even forever. Our heroes, our past, our foreparents have been lost, taken from us, and that is a terrible loss. It becomes hard to almost impossible to find those who came before us as not only has the closet forced individuals to hide their sexuality, but for much of history denied the existence of the identity itself and denied us a coherent language with which to define that identity and personhood (which is why I really really have no patience with anyone saying “but they wouldn’t have called themselves gay” excuse people love to trot out. For so much of history the only mainstream words for people like us were insults or euphemisms).

And once we’ve found those of us who were rendered invisible it becomes extra impossible to reclaim them from under the tide of heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia and transphobia. So much of the world resists any indication that GBLT people existed in the past (or exists today for that matter). Society also continues to consider being GBLT to be some kind of terrible, shameful thing meaning any attempt to try and find our forbearers is regarded as an attack or attempt to corrupt previous figures. Just look at the Greek lawyers threatening lawsuits on anyone who dared to suggest that Alexander the Great may have loved men.

Most tellingly, they will often say “this person is dead, they can’t defend themselves” because, y’know, being GBLT is an accusation you need to defend yourself against. Or it’s considered “demeaning” because whatever the figure did is suddenly rendered moot by us spilling the icky gay on them! Whatever achievements or brilliant reputation they managed to maintain can only possibly be preserved if they are straight.

It’s hard enough to try and dig up historical GBLT people in the first place with our prejudiced society, harder still to hold them out of the closet and present them as they were with the constant forces deciding to bury us or hold that we’re too obscene and need to be hidden from, well, everyone.

I am British. I went to a British school. I went to a British school during section 28. I didn’t know who Alan Turing was, imagine that for a second. Never mind Shakespeare, Marlowe and Da Vinci, I thought Oscar Wilde was straight. I was taught Oscar Wilde was straight. I didn’t know GBLT people were holocaust victims. There has been a movement for GBLT equality in the UK since even before the Mollies of the Victorian period. I still don’t know enough about it, I can’t find enough about it or the brave heroes involved, I certainly was never taught their names. I never knew Polari existed. I never heard of Edward Carpenter, John Symonds, Labi Siffre, Magnus Hirschfeld, Mother Clap, Roberta Cowell, Jeremy Bentham, the Lily Pond and so many others whose names and places are lost to history.

So this is my context. Our history is not only lost but actively removed and vehemently silenced. And then I turn on the television and find not only erasure, not only straightwashed characters who dared to be gay in books but was a step too far on the screen, but actual historical figures, one of the precious few we’ve managed to reclaim, being straightened for public consumption.

Is it only empowerment when a White girl picks up a sword? (Revised and reposted from Tumblr)

Here’s something I wanted to talk about every time a movie comes out that shows us an “empowered” White girl and says how she’s some sort of role model for all women because she shows that women don’t have to be fragile or delicate.

As much as I loved Brave and despised Snow White and the Huntsman, people saying this sort of thing really, really irritates me.

Know why it irritates me? Because so many women don’t get to be seen as fragile, delicate, or vulnerable. Most of these women are women who look like me.

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21 Lessons Learned As A Debut Novelist

So a little over a year ago, something very special happened. My novel Hollowstone was released. To say it changed my life forever would be a vast understatement. From traveling across the country to promote the book, to connecting with extraordinary people all over the globe, I’ve had so many wonderful experiences thanks to one little book.

That being said, I’ve learned a lot in the last year. Some has been self discovery, some was advice from experts. And then there was “advice” from “experts.”

Being a published novelist has been a wild ride and at times a very crazy one, as you’ll see from this list. So below are 21 Lessons I’ve learned since publishing my debut novel.

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Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Disappoint

And white folks flip their shit because a black girl is in a movie.

Over on Twitter the fine folks at Tu Books made the best point:

“The comments about race in the casting of The Hunger Games just proves how much we need more diversity in science fiction/fantasy.”

I especially love the other point they made:

“And if you’re offended by people who want to whitewash The Hunger Games, here’s what to do: read a diverse dystopia.”

Brain Food – Episode 13

Hello everyone and welcome to episode 13 of Brain Food, where I discuss After The Golden Age, by Carrie Vaughn, which is nowhere near as good as all the critics qho are quoted in the book say it is, believe you me.

I hope to do more positive reviews next time, because I like being positive, even though it is easier to make jokes during a negative review.

Brain Food – Episode 12

Hello everyone, and welcome to another first for me as I discuss the anthology, Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories!

This is more than simply titilation, but a collection of short stories that revolve around steampunk while also having a plethoral of interesting, fascinating characters in various stories that range from political intrigue and espionage to plain old, lovely romance, all while being seen through the lens of people that steampunk normally would not include. It was a fantastic read and the editor has, in recent months, released a second volume that I highly recommend you all seek out and buy.

Round Table: LGBTQ Edition

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.

http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/round-table/

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.

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Why Fangs for the Fantasy?

It’s vaguely possibly you’ve noticed I’m involved in the running of Fangs for the Fantasy by my oh-so-subtle plugging. But yes I’m one of the ones behind it and I likes it I does. But there’s always the question of why, especially given how little time I have and how much time it takes.

Well, let me count the ways. I like Fangs, I like the reviews, I like an opportunity to snark, I like the new series its exposed me to and because it’s fun, lots of fun.

But also because I think it’s important. Especially analysing books from a social justice perspective. Yes, analysing fluffy, trashy, frequently silly Urban fantasy is important. Especially since it’s popular and, if anything, becoming more so and establishing itself very firmly as its own genre.

Our society is shaped by the media. In fact I think the media is one of the grand pillars of our culture. The media we consume reflects the stereotypes and tropes of society, reinforces them, encourages them and spreads them. We as a society, as a culture, as people are shaped by the books we read, the television we watch, the films we see and the games we play.

When we see the same type of people showcased front and centre, the same stereotypes paraded, the same groups erased, the same insults given, the same bad behaviour showcased, excused or justified and generally the same prejudiced, and –ism scented problems repeated again and again then yes it shapes us.

And I know there are people out there saying “but why urban fantasy? Who cares about sexist werewolves or homophobic vampires or racist witches?” there are many reasons – I can talk about how we tend NOT to analyse these types of books so the genre is even more unchallenged and just accepted. I can tell you it’s because I love the genre – I really do – and as such I want to be able to consume it without sporks and with more joy; as something I love, I want it to do better. But most of all, it’s because if we’re going to challenge any media, it has to be popular fiction that is consumed broadly for entertainment.

What do you think shapes culture more? A verbose, dense literary fiction artistic epic read by English literature professors in a university congratulating each other on how wonderfully dense and nigh incomprehensible it is, so full of metaphor and depth? Or Twilight? Or True Blood? A series that is read by thousands if not millions, turned into a TV series or a film and watched by yet more? Personally, I think it’s the latter that will have the greatest effect on our culture.

I also don’t think that you can truly change culture without addressing the media. Ultimately, no matter how many laws we pass saying that misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, ableism et al are Not OK, no matter how much we fight, no matter how many bigots we vanquish, if everyone goes back home to books and TV full of hate speech and stereotypes and tropes and marginalised servants and villains or – and most commonly – to fictional worlds where we don’t even exist – then how much can you change? “Hearts and Minds” are the key here – and it’s in the pages of books and the light of the TV screen where we will reach them.

Yet if you turn round and say you’re going to analyse the dusty book of pretention everyone will nod and smile. Say you’re going to analyse True Blood and we get “it’s only fantasy! Don’t take it so seriously!” It’s a genre that seems to actively resist and deny analysis even more than most.

Do I claim I’m doing some massive cultural changing thing? Gods no. I snark too much for that :P. But it matters, it does matter.

Also, of course, I need to say the inevitable – we have yet to read/watch a perfect book/TV programme. We have always found something to criticise. That’s not because we’re joyless curmudgeons who hate everything – it’s because our society is so well and truly messed up that it’s nearly impossible to produce something lacking in problematic issues in a society that has saturated us with them. I say again, criticism does not mean “I loathe this book and all it stands for!” it means there are problematic elements that could be – need to be – better. For our opinion on the book, check the fang rating (and if it’s 0.5 fangs? Yes, I did loathe that book and all it stands for!). I will say that we’ll never just say “I hate it.” There’ll always be a why – so even on a negative review you can be a recommend – since you can see “oh Sparky hated this book because he loathes X, Y and Z. I actually quite like them so this book is worth reading”.

So, yes, Fangs. I like it.