He laughed again and hid his face under the blanket. “Why are you so nice to me?” “Because I’m an angel.” “You are.” He stretched out his arm and patted me on the head. “And I’m platonically in love with you.”
Alice Oseman, Radio Silence (2016) p.108
In 2017—somewhere on the stumbling journey to identifying myself proudly and loudly as asexual—I read Alice Oseman’s young adult (YA) novel Radio Silence. When I reached the passage quoted above, I stopped in my tracks. It was the first time I had seen those words put together to such an effect. Friends could say they loved each other, of course, in a fleeting and fluffy sort of way. But to imply that you could be in love with someone in a purely platonic way? That you could refer to something as a love story even if it was about characters who were “just” friends, who never even thought about dating one another? It was a little bit revolutionary.
But that, of course, is the revolutionary heart of aromanticism and asexuality—the quiet, but resonant, revolution inherent in the articulation of different kinds of love, in the deconstruction of the dominant social narratives of romance and sex. As I kept my eye on Oseman’s forthcoming novels, it transpired that this revolution sits at the heart of her writing, making them deeply resonant for aro/ace readers even when not featuring the identities directly. And when they do feature aro-ace identity directly, the quiet revolution is front and centre, and the results are incredible and incredibly important.
The portal fantasy subgenre and its themes of displacement, liminality, and “strange” children coming-of-age in even stranger otherworlds, has been read queerly by many readers across its history. From foundational academics like Alexander Doty to contemporary authors like A.J. Hackworth, many have noted the thematic and allegorical undercurrents in the portal fantasy that resonate with, and provide valuable escapism and catharsis to, young queer readers.
Seanan McGuire’s 2016 novella Every Heart a Doorway takes a playful, metatextual approach to the portal fantasy, not only by interrogating its tropes and history but by unambiguously portraying queer characters in the genre. By giving her fantasy narrative to a cast of explicitly queer characters, McGuire acknowledges the queer resonance that has long been present in the genre and brings it to the surface of her work, creating a dual-layer of queerness in the text that interweaves magical metaphor with textual LGBTQIA+ representation.
I’ve been thinking about Phos again, gang. And not just because I’ve been busy.
[Spoilers ahead for volumes 6 and 7 of Land of the Lustrous]
Non-binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities is a collection of essays—some poetic, some a bit more academic, all ruminating on the various, individual Ways of Being outside the ol’ male/female binary in the modern day and throughout history. One of my personal favourites was Karen Pollock’s chapter ‘Triremes and Battered Pineapple Rings’. As the title implies, there are two main metaphorical devices Pollock returns to throughout. The first is deep-fried pineapple, which was a favourite snack of theirs as a kid, but which they developed a horrible allergy to as they got older. This was heartbreaking news—Pollock had loved those darn things so much, they’d even made a pact of marriage with their best friend at age seven, with the eventual dreamy goal of running a fish and chip shop together and having unlimited access to battered pineapple.
The second is the trireme, an ancient Greek ship that features in a famous philosophical problem. Let’s say that over time, this ship breaks down, piece by piece, and needs to be replaced: a beam here, a sail there, et cetera. If every part of the ship has been replaced, is it still the same ship that left the port? With this in mind, Pollock asks:
I can feel a connection to the seven-year-old who dreamed of marrying her best friend, but when even my pronouns are not the same, when my much desired pineapple now poisons me, am I the same person? (p.148)
Never does the narrative, or any of the characters, bat an eye at the fact that girls and boys fall for Catarina (and that, even if she can’t quite put a name to her feelings, Catarina herself seems equally flustered by attention from both). In fact, the way characters interact, background details, and the general framing of the narrative all add up to make the world of Villainess itself seem oddly, and refreshingly, queer-friendly.
In speculative fiction, there is still an ongoing convention that fantasy worlds that take inspiration and aesthetics from history must include real-world prejudices or erase certain groups entirely in the name of a certain vision of “historical accuracy.” The truth is, fantasy world-building is a chance for writers to play with convention and provide escape from those prejudices, and imagine a world of their own making where they do not exist. At a glance, the setting of Villainess could be such a place.
Every now and then I come across a show I am just… compelled to write about, a series that strikes a chord somewhere deep in my brain that simply must be noted down. Something in the narrative rings oddly true about life, youth, relationships, or some combination of all three; sends a resonant note that I simply have to pick apart and answer, often with far too many words at a time to be reasonable.
I didn’t necessarily expect that show to be this one, but here we are, and I have some thoughts about relationships, the markers of Adulthood, and how all that crap’s 100% made up… and how I think there’s a message about this sneaking through the heart of this bawdy drama-comedy.
Early ventures in queer young adult (YA) fiction followed certain conventions: they tended to be set in the contemporary world and their narratives focused on coming out, bullying, heartbreak or fighting for acceptance. Most unfortunately, these stories also have a long history of ending in tragedy.
There is absolutely a place for stories that address the often harsh reality of being queer in a heteronormative world. However, this history has left many adolescents (and adults!) under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella calling out for stories that break this mould.
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 →
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!
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.
[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 →