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Category Archives: Fun with Isms
Someone will remember usSappho fragment
Even in another time
She lets Jane’s memories transpose over here, now, like double-exposed film, two different generations of messy, loud, brave and scared and brave again people stomping their feet and waving hands with bitten nails, all the things they share and all the things they don’t, the things she has that people like Jane smashed windows and spat blood for.
[…] August can’t stop thinking how much Jane would love to be here. Jane deserves to be here. She deserves to see it, to feel the bass in her chest and know it’s the result of her work, to have a beer in her hand and a twenty between her teeth. She’d be free, lit up by stage lights, dug up from underground and dancing until she can’t breathe, loving it. Living.McQuiston 2021, p. 267 – 268
It’s very easy to become detached from a sense of queer history. 98% of my knowledge about queer theory and history is self-taught, following recommendations from supervisors and reading lists and otherwise diving down research rabbit holes. I know there are holes in my knowledge base, and I frequently think how impossibly cool and helpful it would have been to have been able to take a class on this. But even if we’re not talking strictly academically, I think it’s easy to feel like you’re scrambling to “catch up on the homework”, so to speak.
There are gaps in the mainstream understanding of queer history, of queer writing, of queer activism, of queer life. From censorship, of course, and from the tragic loss of an entire generation of people who might have carried that information into the twenty-first century. But also from it being cluttered away in the margins, posed only as something hypothetical and weird and over there and not for you. As many benefits as the Internet has, experiencing queer community entirely online (and through uniquely online Community Discourse, good heavens) can leave you without a tangible, humanised sense of what’s come before, and its significance. A lot is rendered invisible and intangible, falls through the cracks. It can all feel a bit… nebulous. Abstract. Ghostly.
Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a novel about history and memory. August, a cynical and practical twenty-three-year-old, moves to New York looking for a fresh start, and quickly develops a crush on Jane, the handsome and charismatic woman August shares a commute with. But Jane doesn’t just look like a cool butch punk-rocker from the ‘70s, she is a cool butch punk-rocker from the ‘70s: somehow unstuck in time, and trapped on the Q trainline for eternity. Jane doesn’t remember how she got stuck here, August doesn’t know how Jane is possible, yet here they both are in a metal tube speeding along electrified rails, their weird little liminal space where the past and the present collide.Continue reading
Queer stuff can sometimes be hard to get your head around—take it from me, a person who has been on a deeply befuddling identity journey and been swimming in the deep pool that is queer theory for nearly four years. Academia on queer and gender issues is notoriously difficult for the everyperson to get into, often associated with stuffy and complex language and galaxy-brain concepts that may or may not resonate with one’s own day-to-day experience.
This is not universally true, and I promise not all academics are trying actively to make their work inaccessible as some sort of wicked ploy. Still, trying to Do Your Research and hitting a mental roadblock can be alienating and demoralising. Not everyone can pick up Judith Butler and immediately absorb that stuff into their brain (seriously, don’t feel bad—I have senior supervisors who admit to needing to read her work a couple times to “get it”!).
The good news is, you don’t have to! There are more accessible, beginner-friendly resource books on queer identity than ever before, and I’ve compiled a little list of some of the texts I’ve found most helpful, both for research and for fun.Continue reading
Land of the Lustrous has captured the hearts and minds of many viewers and readers over the years, for its stunning visuals, emotional character arcs, and being a rare example of a series with an entirely non-binary cast. The titular Lustrous are humanoid gem-people who present a potentially interesting space to philosophize about constructions of gender in a post-human future. However, they also potentially perpetuate harmful stereotypes about non-binary gender only being possible in alien creatures and otherworldly settings. This is an old and pervasive cliché that many non-binary viewers find tired and uncomfortable. Yet, at the same time, the story of Phos and the gems resonated deeply with many trans (binary and non) people, and many fans (myself included) find Phos to be a meaningful and exciting example of a non-binary hero.
These may seem like contradicting statements, but they can co-exist. In the discussion surrounding queer representation in fiction, things are not always so simple as stamping a work with “good rep” or “bad rep”. There are many tricky nuances, particularly when it comes to attempting to “represent” an identity that contains as many ways of being as non-binary gender. While the series is not perfect—or perhaps because the series is not perfect—Land of the Lustrous makes a useful case study for reading and critiquing through a queer lens. It’s a multi-faceted dilemma, and in this article I hope to hold the issues at the heart of it up to the light.
As a yuri adaptation starring college-aged characters and located squarely in the realm of genre fiction, Otherside Picnic is a rare beastie: while more and more are cropping up, yuri anime remain relatively thin on the ground, and the majority of titles are romances set in high school. The Otherside Picnic novels merely existing, and doing well enough to get a TV adaptation, is an exciting proof of concept, spotlighting that these stories are out there and there’s a definite place for them. With all this riding on it, there was a bubbling need for Otherside Picnic to be exemplary. As well as, of course, fans of the novels waiting eagerly to see the stories they loved come to life, there was an undercurrent of tension, a field of crossed fingers. A chorus of hushed voices saying “please let this be good.”
And you know what? Otherside Picnic is good. But maybe not in the way I expected nor “needed” it to be at first.Continue reading
There is a scene in Alison Evans’ Euphoria Kids where one of the protagonists faces a conundrum I’m sure is familiar to a lot of trans people, especially those caught in between “still figuring it out” and “coming out”. The boy—as he is called throughout the novel, as he has not found his true name yet—has to fill out a medical form. This requires, of course, his legal name. But his friend, Iris, suggests that maybe he can make a note for the doctor to only call him by his surname—he’s keeping that, after all, no matter what he discovers his first name to be. It’s a small thing, but it’s a revelation for the boy and in the moment it eases his mind.
On the train home, they have this little exchange, from Iris’ perspective:
I ask the boy, “Do you know about gender euphoria?”
He shakes his head.
“I think, when you smiled after realising you could just use your last name, that might’ve been it.”
“It’s just like, good feelings? About gender?”
“It’s like… the opposite of dysphoria.”
He stares out the window, watching the shops go past. “I’ve only heard of gender dysphoria before.”
“I found out about it a while ago, but yeah. I thought I should let you know.”
He smiles, lost in thought.
(Evans 2020, p. 200 – 201)
He laughed again and hid his face under the blanket. “Why are you so nice to me?”Alice Oseman, Radio Silence (2016) p.108
“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.”
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)
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! has quickly become renowned as something of a bisexual power fantasy. Its protagonist, Catarina Claes, is transported to a fantasy world in which she finds herself at the centre of a multi-gender love triangle—or perhaps love octagon is the better term—and the series treats this perfectly matter-of-factly.
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.