Ursula K. Le Guin: Into the Space Ship, Granny

Because it’s January and my brain is currently soupy, when I made my list of literary ancestry I somehow missed Ursula K. Le Guin, which was a huge oversight on my part.

I don’t know how I could have missed her. Much like A Wrinkle in Time, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed left an indelible mark on me. I don’t think it was the first thing of hers I read, but it’s the first thing of hers I remember.

The Dispossessed

Like Wrinkle, it turned my world inside out. It fundamentally changed how I thought of the world, how governments and societies functioned and how they could function. I learned about anarcho-syndicalism here. The following year I would write an essay for the local Optimist Club on the topic, “Freedom, Our Most Precious Heritage.” I remember writing about three freedoms, and how limited they were depending on who you were (this was my attempt at a proto-feminist analysis). I concluded my essay with a statement about things ending in anarchy, which in my mind meant an egalitarian, non-hierarchical society. My father read it as chaos, which is the general reading. Somehow I got second or third place in the contest, which meant I had to read the essay out loud, to the Optimists. The only women/girls in the room were me, my teacher, and the mothers of the two other winners (both boys). After the event I think I had to shake the hands of the Optimists, and many of them told me I was brave. I couldn’t figure out why until I went home and re-read my essay. I had talked about economic inequity and women getting paid 73 cents to every dollar a man earned, among other things, to a room full of white men.

I would go on to read many of her books, including The Left Hand of Darkness, which did a similar thing to my worldview except for gender. I avoided the Earthsea books in my teens, because I thought I was too good for fantasy. It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally got around to reading them, and maybe it was better that I had waited, because I’m not sure I would have been open to them earlier. Also, the fourth book, Tehanu, didn’t get published until 1990, only a couple of years before I read them. Like the other literary ancestors, Le Guin’s girls and women have stayed with me, especially Tenar. I copied this out by hand when I read it:

“It seems to me we make up most the differences, and then complain about ‘em. I don’t see why the Art Magic, why power, should be different for a man with and a woman witch. Unless the power itself is different. Or the art.”
“A man gives out, dearie. A woman takes in.”
Tenar sat silent, but unsatisfied.
“Ours is only a little power, seems like, next to theirs,” Moss said. “But it goes down deep. It’s all roots. It’s like an old blackberry thicket. And a wizard’s power’s like a fir tree, maybe, great and tall and grand, but it’ll blow right down in a storm. Nothing kills a blackberry bramble.”

At a time when it felt like men had a lot of power, and honestly, still do, I found and find comfort in Le Guin’s visions. I also see her humor, which I had missed when I was younger. Only a resident of the Pacific Northwest could venerate the blackberry bramble in this manner.

Her nonfiction has been equally powerful, most notably the essays contained in Dancing at the Edge of the World. I want to make a short digression by noting that the image below contains a book of stories written by her mother, The Inland Whale. Additionally, she did her own translation of the Tao Te Ching, which I studied as part of my major in college. Her work runs like rivulets throughout my own life, as I meander and wander and time and again come across her work. Also not pictured, because I keep forgetting I have yet another book, is Steering the Craft. You can listen to her talk about it in the podcast Between the Covers. David Naimon interviews her, and it is wonderful. I kept wanting to stop and write things down. There are two other interviews he did with her that you can also find on his site.

Le Guin shelfie

“The Space Crone” was written in 1976. It’s in Dancing at the Edge of the World, and is another brick in my self-conception. I read it on the cusp of adulthood, in my early 20s. She addresses menopause in the piece. In reference to women experiencing a third stage of life, she says, “Why borrow poverty?” (as opposed to men, who once they go through puberty don’t get a second transition). She ends the essay with these words:

She knows, though she won’t admit it, that Dr. Kissinger has not gone and will never go where she has gone, that the scientists and the shamans have not done what she has done. Into the space ship, Granny.

She created space for women and gender minorities, and she did this work in so many ways throughout her life. I’ll end with this speech she gave upon receiving the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s six minutes. I will leave you with this line:

We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words”.

Share

Interview with Ada Hoffmann

I know Ada Hoffmann through a group of spec fic writers. I don’t know Ada super well, so I thought this could be an opportunity to get know her better AND introduce her to many of you.

1 – Will you introduce yourself to us? What do you think we should know about you?

Hi! I’m Ada Hoffmann. I’m a writer of speculative fiction and poetry. My first collection, MONSTERS IN MY MIND, came out late last year from NeuroQueer books. I’m Canadian, queer, and autistic, and I like to review books with autistic characters or authors. In real life, I’m a graduate student, and I’m teaching computers to write their own poems.

Monsters In My Mind

2 – How do you feel your identities influence your writing?

That’s a complicated question. I feel like some of it is obvious, and some of it is so subtle that I might not even be aware of it myself.

The obvious part is that I write characters I can relate to. I write a lot of female protagonists, because I was assigned female at birth and I usually find women more relatable. I write a fair number of queer characters, especially lesbian characters, which is basically a sort of wish fulfillment, because I find women more attractive than men on average but in real life I seem to keep mostly dating men somehow. I often try to write autistic characters, which was actually the hardest one to figure out how to do, and I still struggle with aspects of it, but after all the reviewing I’ve done, I also know exactly why it’s so important. Of course, then I run off and write stories about sentient squid or centipede-people or women who are shacked up with anthropomorphic wolves, because whatever.

That brings us to the subtle part, which is that growing up with different experiences can make us interested in different emotional and social experiences in our writing. I often write characters who are different from most of the people around them. That’s the theme of MONSTERS IN MY MIND, and I doubt it’s a theme I’d be as attached to if not for my disability and my sexuality and who knows how many other things. It’s hard to say how I’d feel about almost any theme, in any story, if my identities were different; identity and privilege are so pervasive, and influence everything, whether you realize it or not.

3 – I know that you participate in LARP (live-action role playing). Can you tell us how you got started and how LARPing influences what you write?

I got dragged into LARPing by a former dating partner and then fell in love with it. I’m very shy, so I wasn’t sure how I would take to a hobby that involves a lot of interaction face to face in a big group. The social aspect – and the sheer exhaustion of keeping it up for a whole weekend – still presents challenges. But I love LARPing. I love how it’s basically a grown-up version of the pretend games we played as children. I love that it’s structured and based on rules. I love the costumes. I love the combination of social roleplay and very visceral, physical challenges (I get to hit people with fake foam swords!) Most of all, I love how everyone there, in one way or another, is about as weird as I am.

I’m not sure if LARPing influences my writing very much. I keep trying to think of a really good crossover (a story about LARPers! A thinly disguised story about someone’s LARP character! A story about post-apocalyptic LARPers who have turned their LARP into an entire functioning commune!!) but it never seems to work right. Mainly, I’m afraid that LARPing functions as a distraction from writing. But it’s a distraction that gives me a social support network and gets me out of the house, both of which are incredibly important for my mental health, so I’ll take it!

4 – In October I went to Sirens, and V.E. Schwab told us about her literary ancestry. Who are the people who influenced you and who do you find reaching for as you write?

I mean, I’ve been writing since I was five, and telling stories for longer than that. The earliest things I can remember writing were imitations of the children’s stories that I read and watched at the time. “Star Wars” and “The Lion King,” in particular, are childhood loves that remain etched on my psyche today. And for all its faults, I learned what plots were from a “Land Before Time” sequel. (I vividly remember acting out a part of the movie to myself, at the age of seven or eight, and then stopping in the middle of the hall, and thinking, “Wait – if they hadn’t done X then Y wouldn’t have happened, and without Y, Z wouldn’t have… It’s all connected!”)

In high school, I was consuming a lot of Terry Pratchett and Joss Whedon, which meant that most of what I wrote was very dryly silly and then I would horrifically kill everybody. I was also getting into tabletop roleplaying and wrote lengthy fanfiction about all my friends’ characters, much of which was never finished. That wasn’t wasted time: it taught me how to structure longer work and get deeply into characters’ minds, which I’d always struggled with. The decision to write for publication, in college, wasn’t inspired by a single influence, but was something that came organically out of my growing confidence at these silly roleplaying stories, and my growing sense that they were doing something wildly important for me.

These days, as I said in another interview recently, I would love to build worlds like China Miéville, develop characters like Lois McMaster Bujold, build up a sense of scale like Robert Charles Wilson, and tap into the depths of my id like Tanith Lee. I’m also inspired and challenged by other autistic writers, including friends of mine (particularly Rose Lemberg and A. Merc Rustad) and people I’ve never met except through their writing (Meda Kahn’s story “Difference of Opinion” completely blew my mind).

5 – In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Learning to look at personal situations carefully and make judgments about them by considering the available evidence. No one ever knows 100% of the things about everything, and it is possible my judgment could be revised if new evidence comes in – and that that’s okay. I am still allowed to analyze and act on the situation based on my current understanding.

That sounds very dry and scientific, but it’s been important to me. For a long time I would panic whenever anything seemed bad, and either push it away temporarily without any understanding of why I was doing so, or force myself to ignore the panic, tell myself it was just crazy brain stuff, stay happy, and do what was expected. This meant I stayed in bad situations because I couldn’t stay calm long enough to process what was bad about them and why. Working hard on this cognitive skill allowed me to sort out a lot of crap relatively fast. It’s related to the mindfulness skill where you work to view things as things that are, rather than leaping to judge them as good or bad.

6 – When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

First, I temporarily remove myself from the situation so I can calm down. If I’m very overwhelmed, this might involve needing to sit in a quiet place for a while with something safe and distracting, and maybe eat a snack. (Yes, I comfort eat. I never said this was going to be GOOD advice.)

When I’m good and calm, I try to assess where the problem came from. Sometimes it was a momentary thing and I can sail back in. Sometimes a task in my life just seems too big, in which case I can break it down into subtasks that are as small as possible. Sometimes I can ask for help. Occasionally, especially if I woke up with low spoons, none of this stuff helps and I am just done for the day. In that case, as annoying as it is, I try to listen to my body and rest up so I can try again tomorrow.

7 – What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

You know the thing where you’re talking to a dude? And he seems intelligent, well-read, funny, he’s into the same things you are. It’s going well. Then you ask about his favorite SFF authors, and he comes out with a list that’s 100% old white dudes.

When this happens, I don’t get mad. I just quietly hand them a copy of “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie. For some reason, I’ve found this book works well as a gateway drug to contemporary women’s and feminist SF. It’s a rollicking space opera with cool technology and it questions gender stereotypes very gently, but in a way that’s impossible to ignore.

For non-fiction, I’ve had good results lending out “Aspergirls” by Rudy Simone. It’s not a perfect book, but it packs a lot of useful information into a small space, especially for people who are newly questioning their neurotype or who don’t know anything about autism apart from the stereotypes. It’s accessible for a general audience and not too academic or technical, and it’s also not too political, which is good for beginners. You need to know what a thing IS before you can really engage with the politics around it, I figure.

8 – Finally, in the style of Cameron Esposito, at the end of her Queery podcast, she asks people to tell her a queero. Do you have a writing hero? Someone who you feel showed you it was possible for you to write?

For fiction, I never needed to be shown it was possible for me to write. I was already doing it long before I understood I was disabled or queer.

For poetry, though, I have one big queero. I had dabbled in poetry and song lyrics before reading Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects,” but that collection turned a light on in me that I hadn’t known was there. I put it down and said “I want to learn to do THIS, dammit.” I’ve discovered more speculative poets since then, but Valente still is one of my faves.

Ada, thanks for answering all my questions so thoughtfully. I really appreciate the time and care you gave in your responses.

Go check out Ada’s book, Monsters in My Mind:

Parallel universes, fantasy quests, leather-clad mantises, velociraptors, merfolk, and the occasional cephalopod: Ada Hoffmann’s literary anthology collects the author’s best works from 2010 to 2017, including ten never-before-seen pieces of fiction and poetry. This richly-textured speculative fiction collection explores deeply human experiences like loss, grief, love, and courage within multitudinous universes, making it essential reading for anyone with a love of weird literature, queer theory, or monster studies.

Share

Literary Ancestry

world book

Last October I attended Sirens, a conference about women in fantasy (and science fiction). Each day a different author talked to us. V.E. Schwab talked about her literary ancestry and it was something that resonated for me, so I thought I would share those who have influenced me.

Going back to my wee days, the stories I remember first have to be Beverly Cleary – especially her wild child, Ramona. I haven’t read any Ramona books in decades, but my memory of her is a very unruly child. No, not just child, GIRL. She was willful. She was smart. She was brave. From Ramona the Brave to Ramona the Pest, she was always moving forward and tackling what she wanted.

Next came Judy Blume – from Starring Sally J Friedman as Herself to Then Again Maybe I Won’t to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – all the messy girls who were smart and worried because they weren’t cool, they didn’t fit in, they were different in some way that set them apart, and they made ME feel less alone.

In between Cleary and Blume was Madeleine L’Engle, whose Time books shattered my worldview in the best possible way. I am BEYOND thrilled and can’t wait to see what Ava Duvernay is going to do with A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle was the first science fiction I read and it blew my little mind. It was so different from the fairy tales. Not to mention Meg, a smart, capable girl. I would read and re-read her books every few years, each time finding something I had forgotten or not noticed in the previous reading. As an adult, what really stands out is how she writes about family, loving families – parents and children who all love each other.

In my teens I read a lot of science fiction, but mostly what I remember is Anne McCaffrey’s dragon riders. She, like L’Engle, turned fantasy into something that felt rooted in reality (the distinction between fantasy and science fiction is for another time).

I don’t remember reading any queer characters until I got to Rubyfruit Jungle. So thank you, Rita Mae Brown, for sharing your happy gay ladies. It wasn’t until I discovered Nicola Griffith that I found queer women whose sexuality wasn’t driving the plot. (Aside: I discovered it on the shelf at my public library. THANK YOU PUBLIC LIBRARIES.) I have written about writing queer characters, so I’m not going to go into it here. Needless to say, Nicola turned my world upside down, much like L’Engle had two decades earlier. The idea that a queer character could BE without having their sexuality commented on in the text was revolutionary.

Where does that bring us? To me, currently flailing around and thwacking things as I try to wrap my mind around this system called story. I hold these girls and women tightly in my memory, and they help one another break down structures that no longer serve. They work to build more inclusive spaces. They go on adventures. They fall in love, they fall out of love, they try and fall down and get back up, or they fall down and ask for help, and they get help or they don’t get the help they think they need but they learn something. They fail. They hurt people. They learn and grow or they don’t. They are flawed like we are all flawed. We try and fail. We make mistakes. We learn and apologize (hopefully).

I don’t know how to write the stories I want to write, YET. I am learning and trying and stumbling around. In the meantime, I keep these characters and authors in my back pocket and in my heart. I am descended from them and hope to honor them as best I can.

Share

Collaboration

For the past several years I’ve chosen a word to be my focus for the year. They’ve all been variations on trying. Last year was iterate.

Riot of pink

This year I want to try something different. I find working on my own to be incredibly difficult. In some ways, all art is collaboration. There is a conversation that is happening, between the artist and the world. I am constantly having conversations in my mind, and when I can engage with someone else, there is a synergy that catalyzes the process. Collaboration gives me the structure I’m constantly seeking, something to push against and respond to.

In the spirit of this intent, I was also given the word LOUD by my friend Andrea. So I am considering what that means for me, and the irony that I don’t have much to say on it right now is not lost on me.

So in 2018, my challenge to myself and invitation to you is to collaborate with other artists. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please let me know. Likewise, I will challenge myself to reach out to artists I want to collaborate with!

What are your intentions for 2018?

Share

Writing and Fear

A week or so ago a twitter pal asked me how my writing was going. I had a hard time responding, given the limited space on Twitter. I promised I would give a longer answer when I had more time. I haven’t written a blog post for probably the same reason that I’m challenged in my writing.
selfie with dots and stripes

My quick answer was: fear. What fears surround me when I sit down to write?

My writer pals talk about brain weasels, or doubtroaches, depending on how strong these fears are. These critters roam around and collect loose worries. They bounce around and amplify them until they take up all the space in my head. It makes thinking about anything else hard. It’s hard not to take them seriously or believe them, but they aren’t solid, despite their volume. They don’t mean anything, unless I choose to give them weight.

A few choice weasels say things like: you don’t matter. Your voice doesn’t matter. No one cares about what you have to say. My worst fears are about being invisible, forgotten, unloved.

Once I can set aside those fears, put them in the corner in a rocking chair with a warm blanket and a cup of tea, there is another wall. This is the work of finding my voice, after so many years of suppressing it.

Learning how to carve out space for myself, giving myself permission to take up room, has been far harder. I sit down and look for the words. I feel the urge to tell a story, but it’s like I have to excavate layers of socialized shit to find what is mine. It’s the opposite of the oyster creating the pearl. It’s not even an archeological dig. It’s trying to undo almost five decades of programming. It’s pernicious.

Have you ever done that thing where you try to write using your left hand, but also only paying attention to the image in a mirror? So you literally have to force your hand to do everything upside down and in reverse? It feels like that.

I love the power of language. I love reading. I love exchanging ideas. There is nothing quite like putting down words where there was nothing before. I know how to quiet the weasels, but once they are taken care of, there is still the work. And every writer has to find her own way, because there is no one right way, no singular path.

Yesterday I was asked if I write for a specific audience. I literally laughed. Audience? Ha! What audience? IS there even an audience for anything I want to write? But seriously, the successful authors I know have said they either write for themselves, or they write with one specific person in mind. I have been trying this approach, because the idea of markets and audiences change.

When you don’t see yourself reflected in the world, it’s hard to believe in your own existence. Am I real? Am I a ghost? Maybe I’m a monster. We have stories about people who aren’t people. I want to flip that, and tell the stories of the people who have been told we aren’t people.

I feel the urge to apologize, to diminish, even in this post, and I will not do it.

In a world that feels extra determined to squash the voices of those who aren’t the “default” – straight, white, Christian, able-bodied, and cisgendered (not to mention male), I am reminded again and again that existence is resistance. I want to survive, but I want to do more than survive, I want to thrive. Part of that is finding my way through this thicket to the stories I need to tell, even if I am the only audience who needs them.

Share

Invisible Fences

I want to talk a little bit about going to SFF conventions and workshops. The first workshop I ever went to, my dear friend Camille told me, “There are a lot of people here who’ve known each other for a long time. They are excited to see each other and hang out. They aren’t exclusive, but it doesn’t occur to them to actively include or invite new people in. But if you go up to people and introduce yourself, they will welcome you.”

That is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

autumn leaves swirly fence

When I first started exploring the SFF communities, I knew no one. I felt like no one. I thought everyone knew each other and didn’t want to know me. It turned out I was wrong. I started by going to small, one-day writing workshops, where I connected with one or two people. Over time, they introduced me to more people. I got braver. I started to feel like MAYBE I belonged. I listened to the advice not to self-reject. I kept working on my writing, I kept applying to workshops, and then last year I got accepted to Viable Paradise.

Last weekend I was at a small convention in Minneapolis. The main draw for me was to reconnect with the friends I’d made last fall. Suddenly I had switched sides of the invisible fence. I didn’t realize it, until it was pointed out. There were people who were new to the community, new to going to conventions, and they were feeling like I used to feel.

I try to remember Camille’s advice, especially since I’m on the other side. I look for people hanging on the edges and try to invite them in. If you are new to cons, most people are there because they want to connect. If they don’t want to connect, they won’t be in public spaces.

Now that I’m further inside/know more people, I try to remember what it felt like to be new. I don’t feel like I have more wisdom or knowledge, even though on some level I do. I understand that the more visible a person is, the more they attract new people who are hungry to know how they got there.

So here’s my advice:

  • Feel free to approach people in public spaces
  • Listen and get a feel for the people or person
  • Do not chase them if they get up to leave. They probably have a reason. I know an editor who had a writer pass her a manuscript under a bathroom stall.
  • If you know people, and there are new folks, try to invite them to join you. Or introduce one new person to someone you know. Or introduce yourself to a new person.
  • I am an extrovert. I don’t have social anxiety. Even for me, it can be scary and intimidating to talk to someone new. I often feel awkward and am certain everyone can see my tentacles quivering. I think most people feel this way. Or at least, I tell myself that.
  • If you don’t have anything to say, THAT IS OKAY. Don’t feel like you have to talk if you aren’t ready.
  • The first workshop I went to, I made a goal to talk to ONE PERSON. Over a three-day period. I did it. Courage is rewarded.
  • If you don’t find the people you are looking for in one place, KEEP TRYING. It took me years to build the community I have now. I didn’t find them all in one place. I had to look in many places, and not the places I expected to.
  • You will get many chances. It’s not a one-and-done. If you are feeling discouraged, try again.
  • One thing that has helped me is finding other writers on Twitter. When I know someone I’ve met on Twitter is going to be somewhere in real life, I like to ask if I can say hi and chat with them in person.
  • There are lots of ways to do something, and you ultimately have to figure out the way that is best for you. If it’s a buddy system, do that! There are people you will find something in common with, and there are people who you won’t connect with.
  • If you are an old hat, or know more than three people at a con, try to remember what it felt like when you first started going.

What strategies have worked for you? What would you wish there was more of?

Share

Coming out: in your own time

A couple months ago I wrote about coming out as a lifelong experience. Since June is Pride month, I went on a little thing about coming out on Twitter. I thought I would put it all in one place, so I could refer back to it and folks could share it more easily if they wanted.

Try a free week

I think everyone should come out WHEN THEY ARE READY.

There is no requirement that once you figure things out, you need to tell anyone at a particular pace. If you are in that place, now, where you know and maybe you have told one person or two people or no one, just know that you are loved, just as you are. You only owe YOURSELF right now.

It might be hard to figure out who is safe to talk to. It is OKAY to take your time. There is NO RUSH. No one has it all figured out. I try to allow for space for my friends, because I know they are wise about themselves.

It can be tempting to rush, to fill that void because we as a culture are uncomfortable with things being undefined, the in between spaces. Let it be okay. YOU ARE OKAY.

Also, once you figure one thing out, it may shift your understanding of other things. You need not commit to any one thing. I’m talking about sexuality and gender, but there may be other aspects of yourself, too. These things don’t need to define you, but they do inform you, and how others will and do relate to you. Understanding this took me years.

YOU ARE LOVED. You are enough, wherever you are in your journey.

If someone doesn’t accept you, move on. There are people who will accept you. Take your time. Trust yourself. Find your people.

Fin!

Share

Bobbleheads and Giveaways

A year and a half ago I wrote about why I loved baseball.

When I enter a baseball stadium, it’s a form of time travel. The air holds all of the space-time continuum, and I sit there with the crowds and my family, connected throughout history to the present. And that is why I love baseball.

Baseball

My team at work has gone to a baseball game the last two summers, and I was talking to my girlfriend about it on Monday, wondering when we would go again. On Tuesday I learned that we were going to a game the NEXT DAY. When I got home, my girlfriend mentioned that there would be a bobblehead giveaway. I thought there was no way I would get a bobblehead.

So imagine my surprise when we got to the ballpark and they were still giving them away! I didn’t realize at the time, but it turned out there were two figures, or twin figures if you will. I think of all the baseball giveaways I’ve received (this brings the grand total to two as far as I can recall), twin Ichiros beats out the Minnesota Twins rain ponchos.

Double Ichiro!

Ichiro played for Seattle for 12 years, and Seattle fans STILL love him. He plays right field, and we got to sit behind him. Just like the days when Edgar Martinez played, the fans call out his name, the three syllables stretched out in a haunting chant.

I love to watch him at bat, when he extends his bat and swings it in a circle, then points it directly at the pitcher before shouldering it. Unfortunately I have no pictures of him at bat, because I only had my phone. So have this horrible picture of him in right field instead.

Baseball

My brother reports that he keeps his bobbleheads on the dash of his car. I have no car, so I’m trying to find a place in my apartment. And just like the no-hitter game I attended, I shared my bobblehead joy with my dad and brother.

Share

Coming out: or mountains beyond mountains

Last week Barry Manilow publicly acknowledged that he was gay. I saw a lot of responses along the lines of “oh, that’s last weeks news” to “what is the big deal?”. There was a nice piece on the Boston Globe that addressed some of the issues around this response. And then I went on a twitter rant, and then I posted it on Facebook. But I wanted to put this some place that would be easier to find – and share – because this is part of a larger and ongoing conversation, just like coming out.

Door to education

This piece addresses coming out as a lifelong process. Often when people ask “when did you come out?” they are referring to the moment when a person acknowledged or affirmed their identity to themselves. Because once we admit it to ourselves, telling other people happens for the rest of our lives – particularly if we do not visually fit into a stereotype. If you aren’t familiar with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work The Epistemology of the Closet I highly recommend learning more. She challenges the notion of the binary, especially the idea of in and out when it comes to the “closet” (there’s also the phenomenon of bringing people IN to your closet …).

There are various calculations we make every time we reveal that we are LGBTQIA. Here are the questions I ask myself, before I decide whether I will say something: Is my personal safety at stake? Is my reputation? What about my livelihood, my housing, my access to health care? How much power does this person have? Now imagine doing that times 325 million. If you are fairly well known, there is the added onus of the pressure to be a spokesperson or representative once you come out. I consider these things every time I meet someone new. Do you?

I’m lucky I live in a state with protections against discrimination for LGBTQIA people. I’m white (or white-passing), cisgendered, femme, female and educated. I have a lot of advantages. I don’t worry about losing my job or housing. Even with protections, like any form of discrimination, it’s easy to cover homophobia/bigotry if an employer wants to. I live in a big city with a lot of openly LGBTQIA people. I have access to resources. My family accepts and loves me – and my partner. I have a huge buffer and safety net. That’s not the case for many people.

I’ve said this before: my sexuality doesn’t DEFINE me, but it informs me, my experiences, and how people respond/interact. So does yours. I was watching a silly movie and one of the characters comes out to his friend. The friend’s response, “How do you know you are gay?” It’s stuff like this – the microagressions, that wear a person down. Constantly being questioned, having to defend, or be prepared to defend, that exhausts someone. Trust that we know. Coming out to strangers also opens you up to all kinds of personally invasive questions. I’ve had at least two men ask me how I have sex. WTF? Why do people think that kind of question is acceptable? If I didn’t share that information with you, you can trust that you don’t need to know.

I could talk about erasure, absence of representation, and bystander effect, all of which contribute to isolation and confusion. And people wonder why mental health and substance abuse issues are higher in LGBTQIA populations. So the next time a celebrity comes out, look around and see what you can do to make the world safer – not just for the celebrity, but for everyone, including the people in your life, because we are there. And we are here.

Share

Why I March

I’ve seen people asking with true curiosity why people were marching yesterday. I marched in Seattle.

Here are a few reasons why I marched: Because my feminism is intersectional. Because Black Lives Matter. Because police need to be accountable to the communities they serve. Because too many people are still disenfranchised from voting. Because treaties between sovereign nations need to be respected. Because women should have control over our bodies. Because access to healthcare saves lives. Because ADA and DARE and DACA. Because I’m mad as hell. Because I voted with the majority.

#

My friend Brigid made this hat for me. She wasn’t able to march, but she was with us! I have so many friends who weren’t able to march, for a variety of reasons – from health to access to family obligations to work. I marched for them, too.

Pussy hat

#

Over 130K people marched in Seattle. I heard an estimate as high as 175K. They were expecting 30-50K. This was true of every march around the country. The turnout was phenomenal. The day was peaceful and friendly. Saw a lot of signs, but these lined up so beautifully. The future is female.

The future is female

As we waited to leave the park, a pair of bald eagles soared overhead in a benediction. I thought how the bald eagle is the symbol of America, how it was brought to the brink of extinction, of the legacy of grassroots movements and the formation of the EPA (which I will note, was under Nixon who was hostile to environmental protections).

#

Because I know that when people get together and push for change, change happens. Because I want to control my story, not live a script someone else has written for me. Because in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, love is love is love.

Women's march collage

The puppet at the bottom is Wangari Maathai, who won a Nobel peace prize for teaching women how to plant trees in Kenya.

#

There are many ways to make our voices heard. Marching is one, but if you didn’t march yesterday, there are other ways to participate. I encourage you to contact your elected officials. Calling is the most effective, but if that’s too scary, email or write letters. If you can, donate money to local organizations. Yesterday was just the beginning. I will leave you with some resources. Find a way to engage. Here is a list I’ve compiled. I encourage you to find at least one weekly action you can do. Several of the resources have suggestions for concrete actions you can take. Collectively, we will make a difference.

And as a final reminder, always take care.

Share