Category Archives: Fun with Isms

The Power of Whimsy and Magic in Queer Stories

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Before the rose was there, the garden was full of moss. I started as a seed under it, waiting for the right time to sprout. Clover waited, and waited, and tended the garden, and didn’t listen to anyone who said she should give up. Moss, my other mother, she waited too. But Clover was the one who came out every morning and told me about her night, what she was planning on cooking that day, how Moss was going. […]

When my first two leaves emerged, Moss and Clover knew I would be okay.

I didn’t mean to be a strange baby made of plants, but it hasn’t caused any problems.

So begins Alison Evans’ Euphoria Kids, with the narrator, Iris, matter-of-factly regaling us with the tale of the beginning of their life: intermingled wordlessly with magic and a kind of dream-logic bizarreness, and intermingled effortlessly with queer love and affection. This sets the tone for the whole book: a dreamy, whimsical tale of understated magic that is almost rebelliously committed to letting its protagonists be. Continue reading

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Save a Horse, (Do Not) Ride (This Particular) Cowboy: An Ace Reading of Arthur Morgan

A while ago, when I dug deep into the appeal of a certain fictional outlaw and a certain fictional assassin, I made a passing mention to the potential of reading Arthur as on the asexual spectrum. While this is a thought that’s been bouncing around my head like an old Windows screensaver for a long time, and something I’ve thrown around with friends and loved ones a bit, it’s not something I’ve ever put down in longform. And yet, I thought, what is a personal blog for if not the occasional slightly eccentric, semi-academic deep-dive character study that may be of interest to yourself and maybe three other people?

In this post we’ll look at a few things: the straightforward bits, like analysing interactions from the text itself (it is a game mechanic that this man does not bone), broader story beats (for example, the narrative’s deliberate emphasis on non-traditional relationships and found family, a very ace-resonant business), as well as some other paratextual framing stuff such as what reading him as ace adds to some of the narrative’s themes, and the all important qualifier of resonance that I discussed in this post: I’m ace and I vibe with him. Let’s dive in!

Metatextual evidence:

Cowboys are not for the heterosexuals Continue reading

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The Gloriously Goofy, Geeky Girls of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

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In a media climate with a lot of restrictive expectations for the behavior and beauty standards of young cisgender women, there’s always something gratifying and delightful about fiction that lets female characters be goofy, expressive, and a little bit weird. 

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, a series about three high school girls using a school club to start their own animation studio, inspires exactly this feeling (as well as a general, inescapable sense of creative joy). Through both the character design and characterization of its three protagonists, Eizouken challenges a lot of the tropes that often loom over portrayals of nerdy, passionate teenage girls… and, if we’re being honest, teenage girls in general.

Two Eizouken posts in a row? You betcha. Read this one in full at Anime Feminist!

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Stars Align, a Sincere “Underdog” Story

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[This post contains minor spoilers for Stars Align, and mentions of domestic abuse, bullying, and homophobia]

Earlier this year, Netflix released an original movie called Tall Girl. With the title describing the subject matter with almost light-novel-like precision, the film was about a girl who was tall, and how difficult her life was because of this. “You think your life is hard?” The Tall Girl asks the audience, in a scene now immortalised in meme form. “I’m a high school junior wearing size thirteen Nikes. Men’s size thirteen Nikes. Beat that.” Now, while there’s a valuable conversation to be had about how traditional beauty standards expect and demand that women be petite and delicate and thus a lot of taller ladies feel left out of the loop by this, a lot of people felt it was… perhaps a bit of a stretch to pass The Tall Girl off as oppressed for her height in the way the movie seemed to indicate.

After watching the trailer with my circle of friends, conversation immediately turned to the fact that she was still, as far as we could tell, cis (a movie about a trans girl who overcomes her insecurities about her height and finds love could make for a great inclusive cheesy rom-com!), straight (“why doesn’t she just date a girl? Sapphic girls love tall women!” – WB, paraphrased, but nonetheless spitting wisdom), white, and well-off enough to live in the American suburbs and attend a Hollywood-pretty high school (and of course afford those size thirteen shoes).

If they wanted to write a story about a young person dealing with the pressures and daily traumas of being a social Other… basically, they could have gone a million different ways, and having their hero be tall seemed like a bit of a cop-out. Again, while this isn’t to say that this character has no problems in life and should stop whining, the marketing material seemed to be working overtime to highlight a marginalised status for The Tall Girl that ended up feeling horribly insincere by the end of things. And, when you’re telling stories about young people struggling in the marginal place they’ve been pushed by societal norms, sincerity really is key. Continue reading

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‘Let’s Talk About Love’, ‘Tash Hearts Tolstoy’, and the Asexual Coming-of-Age Story

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Sex is considered an intrinsic part of being human, and the development of a relationship with sex and sexuality an intrinsic part of growing up. This societal narrative leaves people on the asexual spectrum—those who do not experience sexual attraction—on the margins and considered abnormal. This can have an especially negative effect on asexual adolescents who are not experiencing the ‘rite of passage’ that is sexual desire and experimentation with sexual relationships. This is why—as with all queer identities—it is important to represent and normalise asexuality within fiction, particularly fiction aimed at young people.

In this paper I examine two young adult novels with asexual protagonists—Kathryn Ormsbee’s Tash Hearts Tolstoy (2017) and Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love (2018)—and how their protagonists’ asexual identity is woven into their coming-of-age stories and romance arcs. I explore the tropes, stereotypes, and misconceptions that have traditionally informed media depictions of asexuality, and how these novels divert from them to provide a more accurate and nuanced representation of the asexual experience; and, in doing so, establish patterns and tropes of their own from which a uniquely ‘asexual narrative’ suggests itself.

This academic paper is now published, out in the world, and free to read in RoundTable!

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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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