Category Archives: Fun with Isms

Queer Allegory and Queer Actuality in Every Heart a Doorway

The novella Every Heart a Doorway asks “what happens to the kids who come back from those portal fantasy adventures we all know and love, but can’t quite adjust to life back in the so-called real world?” On a deeper, even more metatextual level, the story also asks “what if we took all that queerness bubbling away in the portal fantasy genre and brought it to the surface?”

Presented at the South Australian Gender, Sex, and Sexuality conference 2019, and now recorded and YouTube-ified for ease of access!

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O Maidens in Your Savage Season and “Not Like Other Girls” Syndrome

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As a general rule we tend to gravitate towards what we’d call “underdog stories”. In YA, or other tales about teens, this “underdog story” often—historically—takes a particular shape. For boys (that is, male protagonists), this tends to manifest as “nerds versus jocks” and the familiar imagery of tall dudes in sports uniforms shoving scrawny glasses-wearing lads into lockers, or guffawing at their interest in science, or knocking them over so their Dungeon Master’s Guide falls into a puddle. For girls, you see this most as “bookish versus bitchy”, with squads (often trios) of heavily made-up young women throwing catty remarks from lip-gloss-coated smirks, often while dressed in pink or a cheerleader uniform, in stark contrast to the plain appearance and conservative unfashionable clothing of the heroine hugging books to her chest.

There are variations on type, of course (and this is a very Hollywood set of images, though it extends beyond that too), but in both gendered cases, the villain of the piece is an image of what’s conventionally attractive and cool, versus underdog heroes who aren’t. In their shadow, our geeky, less-attractive less-cool protagonist looks like a pigeon next to a peacock. But don’t worry, underdog: you have something that these nasty people who conveniently hit their growth spurt in time to be hot during their high school years don’t. That’s right, they might seem to have it all, but they’re dumb as rocks. And they have sex. And we all know that’s gross!

Watching the character Sonezaki move through her high school life in O Maidens in Your Savage Season, it’s not hard to guess what kind of character she identifies with in those many novels she reads. She is, after all, a True Intellectual, a Tormented Outsider, and truly, deeply, much more mature than those silly girls in her class with their shortened skirts and eyeshadow and interest in boys. They are The Other Girls in the tropey teen movie that is Sonezaki’s life, and she is clearly the Bookish Heroine. Except, of course, it’s a little more complex than that—as the series has begun to dig into with her personal arc. Continue reading

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Assassins, Outlaws, and Narratives of Autonomy and Vulnerability

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Sometimes emotional impact comes at you from sources you don’t expect. For example, did I ever tell you about how that cowboy game by the people who made GTA came out of nowhere and made me cry, introducing me to a protagonist who swiftly became one of my favourite characters? No? Okay, well, let’s talk about that.

Late last year, my housemate brought home Red Dead Redemption 2 (winning the local trivia contest in the process, but that’s an extremely powerful story for another day), and the game–and its player-character, gunslinger Arthur Morgan–quickly stole the hearts of everyone in the house. A natural response to a new interest in this digital age was to peek into social media’s fandom spaces to see what was there, and when I did, I was met with a wave of adoration for Arthur as a character. This took some different forms for different people, of course, but spending enough time following discussions about the game I soon recognised a recurring pattern: a lot of people were drawn to him on a personal level, and not only enjoyed him as a protagonist/thought he was cool/thought he was a bit hunky, people empathised with him in ways that many of them (myself included) found pleasantly surprising. And I thought “hey, this feels… a little familiar.”

It wasn’t until conversations about Bucky Barnes—alias The Winter Soldier—began to resurface in the wake of Avengers: Endgame that the neurons connected. Bucky was, and is, an immensely popular character, particularly after his appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the heyday of the fandom interest in that movie, a whole string of posts, tags, and conversations popped up observing that maybe so many people, especially people who weren’t (cis) dudes, were latching onto this character because something about his narrative, his construction of identity, and the things that happen to him, felt familiar on a strangely personal level. So what exactly was at the heart of this?

It would be easy enough to say this is another case of “fangirls like handsome gun man” (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with liking the handsome gun man, we’re all out here just trying to drag some enjoyment out of the media hellscape), but that feels in this case like a superficial take that misses a core part of the appeal of these characters. Women (and fans raised, socialised, and/or otherwise socially perceived as women/girls; a distinction I want to make because I know a lot of NB and trans folks who like these characters too) don’t just like these fictional men, they connected with them, on a level that I feel has a few similarities worth talking about. Again, “handsome gun man” is a superficial take: both Arthur and Bucky are presented on surface level as traditionally masculine images of cool-factor, but have personal narratives (and sometimes place in the narrative) about autonomy and vulnerability, themes that are usually associated with the feminine.

[There will be spoilers for both stories within, and, as a content warning, some discussion of abuse and violence] Continue reading

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Not “Just a Phase”: How Bloom Into You challenges common yuri tropes

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Trying to figure out how romance works when you’re a teenager—especially a teenager who isn’t heterosexual—can be a befuddling mess, and few shows I’ve seen capture that like last year’s Bloom Into You. The yuri series captures the ups and downs of self-exploration, relationships, and identity, but it also has a lot of metatextual commentary about romance as a genre woven into its coming-of-age story.

Media—be it novels, manga, love songs, or movies—presents a certain set of common tropes that informs much of our idea about love and what it should look like. Bloom Into You interrogates these tropes and their potentially harmful influence, especially on young people, making it a story that provides important queer representation in fiction as well as talking aboutrepresentation in fiction within the story itself.

The narrative (and this thematic undercurrent) mostly focuses on main couple Yuu and Touko, and there is plenty to talk about there, but today I want to explore the character of Sayaka.

Read the full piece on AniFem!

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Bloom Into You (and Me), a Story About How Representation is Important

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I talk a lot about how “representation in fiction is important”—it’s kind of the backbone of most of my writing, from my blog posts to my PhD, where it factors into both the creative element and the theoretical part behind it. It didn’t start out as a project about LGBTQIA+ rep, necessarily, but through everything I’ve done it’s leaned more and more in that direction, as a result of me following tangents I’m interested in and passionate about.

Early last year, my supervisor asked me why exactly this area was so important to me, trying to get to the heart of the matter. I think she asked me this for her benefit and mine—after all, you want to understand what makes your own project tick, and have a grip on exactly what your priorities are and why they are your priorities. The answer I ended up coming up with was a personal one that sort of surprised even me: I sidestepped the traditional “everyone deserves to see themselves represented in the media they consume” and instead said something like “queer rep is important to me because I think, had I seen more of it, my life might have gone quite differently.”

Oof! Wow! That’s baring my soul a little, hey? Let’s shrink back behind the comfortable shield of media analysis for a bit, and talk about Bloom Into You. Continue reading

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Rewriting the Script: Revue Starlight’s rejection of tragic queer tropes

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Fittingly for a series so inspired by theatre, Revue Starlight has quite a spectacular finale. Across its twelve-episode run, the musical, magical, swashbuckling school story explores themes of competition and rivalry, unfair systems, and love and friendship. It brings these all together in an ending that packs a wonderfully metatextual and rebellious punch, with its main characters Karen and Hikari (and the relationship between them) taking the lead.

You knew I wasn’t finished writing about this show. Read the full piece on AniFem!

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The Butterfly Effect: Player Agency and Trope Subversion in Life is Strange and Until Dawn

Well, I went and did it–after years of unshakable love-hate fascination with Life is Strange and Until Dawn, I’ve taken the leap into the fire and brought discussion of them into my work life. This video is a recorded version of the conference paper I presented last week in Perth, preserved for the ages and intended to be accessible to those who couldn’t be there to see it in person (which includes folks outside the academic field). I explore how branching, interactive stories give us the opportunity to mess around with tropes and genre conventions, and the weird Schrodinger’s Cat conundrum that these games can both play into historically harmful cliches and subvert them, and neither result is more “canon” than the other. Check it out if you’re interested!

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