Tag Archives: Alex yells at their thesis

Pride Month Book Recs: Non-fiction, Memoirs, and Resources

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.

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Genderless Gemstones: The Pros and Cons of Land of the Lustrous as Non-binary Representation

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.

Read the full article on AniFem!

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Something Like Euphoria

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)

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Why Do We Love Coming-of-Age Stories So Much?

I read—and watch—a lot of stories about people growing up. Late in 2019, I officially narrowed the focus of my PhD to specifically zero in on YA fiction, which I was reading and analysing an awful lot of anyway. I also write a lot about anime, and I can’t help but notice that the series that really seem to carve out a special place in my heart—and jog my thinking brain—are the ones that deal with coming-of-age stories, or other examinations of the weird pocket of time between “youth” and “adulthood”. And gosh, it’s a weird pocket of time, huh?

As I write lecture material, and find myself going off on tangents enthusiastically explaining the literary and entertainment value of YA to my students, I also find myself wondering… well, how did I get here? Why YA? That’s a tongue-twister, Alex, why’d you even make me read that? But more to the point, why do we—as writers, readers, audiences, and a massive publishing industry—return consistently to the coming-of-age story, to examinations of youth, to high schools and final-summers-before-graduations and that weird transitional space between childhood and adulthood?

Well, I could get all Joseph Campbell on you and suggest something about how stories of “leaving the nest”, experiencing a ritual quest of rites of passage, and coming out the other side a grown human, are embedded in prehistoric tradition and are some of the tales closest to our hearts culturally speaking. And you know I have my beef with Campbell (affectionately so), but I reckon there’s something to his suggestion that this is an archetype fundamental to storytelling as a form, and I reckon there’s also something to his fondness for patterns.

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Queer Allegory and Queer Actuality in Every Heart a Doorway

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. 

Read the full paper (open access, babey!) on Writing From Below!

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Queer young adult fiction isn’t all gloomy realism. Here are 5 uplifting books to get you started

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.

Read the whole article on The Conversation!

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The Trickster in Popular Culture – Presentation Edition!

Hey, guess who finally recorded and uploaded her presentation from last year’s writing conference? It’s a dive into the various shapes and forms the Trickster can take in popular culture, starring all manner of con artists, child geniuses, and… geese!

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Creativity, Discipline, and Eizouken (or: Everyone Needs a Kanamori in Their Life)

Eizouken (14)

There is a pervasive myth of The Creative Genius: the great writers, or artists, or musicians, or filmmakers must receive divine inspiration, or perhaps are simply born with a unique knack for Making Art that mere mortals are not. Creators are still asked things like “where do you get your ideas?” as if a muse descends from the heavens and bestows them to a select chosen few. The idea of creation as work is, while more widely understood in today’s capitalist hellscape, still something a lot of people are wrapping their heads around. And yet, creative work is exactly that: work. That creative lightning strike is still part of the process, but you need to put in certain efforts to bottle that lightning and actually make it into something viewable by others.

In my last blog post about Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! I talked a lot about the sense of creative wonder, and I talked mostly about the characters Midori and Tsubame. This time, I want to talk about Kanamori Sayaka—the invaluable team member who actually wrangles that wonder and forces it to take shape, providing representation of an oft-understated aspect of the creative process: discipline. Continue reading

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The Trickster Archetype in Pop Culture, Part Four: The Trickster is YOU!

goose_screenshot-14

When I talk about “the Trickster archetype” here, I’ve been using it to refer to fictional characters, with “archetype” being essentially a synonym for “really old codified trope”. But this phrase has also been used in more psychological contexts, specifically those drawing from the work of Carl Jung, who played with the idea that we each have our own inner Trickster, a manifestation of our playful, childlike, perhaps even animalistic subconscious. Creativity can be considered a “trickster impulse”, as can the urge for rebellion (a combo of the two is perhaps the most powerful modern Trickery there is—Helena Bassil-Morozow talks about this a fair bit in The Trickster and the System). I keep saying that we come back to this character type again and again because it means something to us, and whether I intend to or not I’m being pretty Jungian with that statement: maybe Trickster characters have such a strong appeal because they scratch a deep subconscious itch, call to us on a fundamental psychological level, and are ultimately “fantasy figures who do what we cannot or dare not” (to quote Lori Landay), fulfilling an ancient and intrinsic yearning for power and playfulness, and, well, to be a bit of a shit now and then. Continue reading

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Headcanons, Queer Readings, and the Art of “Reading Too Much Into Things”

this cat

The nature of media is that we will all look at it a little bit differently—we all have different brains in our heads, after all, and we’ve all had different life experiences that will frame and shape the way we perceive things. A result of this may be that you’re watching a TV show with your pal and you spot what you see as the blossoming of a beautiful queer romance, but when you mention it to your friend they blink in surprise and say they hadn’t noticed that at all. “Are you sure?” they ask, sincerely but bemused. “They just seem like good friends to me.” Maybe they’ll suppress a sigh, maybe they’ll laugh it off. “Not everything has to be gay all the time. You’re overthinking it.”

Damn, you think, suddenly unsure. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I am reading too much into this—maybe in my hunger for queer representation, for stories and relationships I could genuinely see myself reflected in, I’ve developed a habit of digging too deep and seeing things that aren’t there. Not everything has to be gay all the time, you think, even though you’d actually been headcanon-ing both characters as bi, though that feels like a technicality that will take too long to explain to your already-sceptical buddy.

You settle back on the couch, feeling kind of dumb. But then you hear another voice: there is a flash in the corner of your eye, and though you can’t quite see it, you get the sense that there’s a little human figure sitting on your shoulder, like an angel in a cartoon: a voice of reason.

The figure speaks, and he says:

Queer readings aren’t ‘alternative’ readings, wishful or wilful misreadings, or ‘reading too much into things’ readings. They result from the recognition and articulation of the complex range of queerness that has been in popular culture texts and their audiences all along.

“Wow, you’re right,” you say, smiling. “Thanks, influential queer pop culture scholar Alexander Doty!

Your friend says “What?” and you say “What?” and you get back to watching the show. Continue reading

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