Tag Archives: feminism

Worldcon, moderating, and the #wedeservebetter panel

Posted on August 24, 2016 by

imageI want to give you all a spoiler-free version of the Midamericon description of the panel I moderated:

We Deserve Better: Lesbians and Bi Women for Change

In March 2016 some show killed spoilery spoiler of an spoilery spoiler spoilers. Fans launched a Twitter campaign that became mainstream news. They objected to the “Bury Your Gays” trope, referring to the disproportionately high number of lesbians and bisexual women killed on TV. Two weeks later, one of some other show‘s only lesbian couple was killed. We discuss this disturbing pattern and ask how audiences can help prevent it.

My partners in crime were Jaylee James, Nina Niskanen, and Jay Wolf.

I’m not much for freewheeling moderation. I always show up intending to listen and direct discussion, rather than talking myself, and with questions in hand. What’s more, the four of us did a certain amount of predigesting of the topic, checking out things like this (also-spoilery) list of 162 dead TV lesbians and talking about related topics like queerbaiting and fridging.

Like all good panels, we worked up more material than we actually got to discuss, circled ’round it in an order other than what follows, and we also didn’t get into one of my personal bugbears, the idea that the word “deserve” is actually quite a cruel concept. It’s an important and necessary word, but it has thorns: “You deserve this,” can be honestly intended or victim-blaming. “I deserve this” can be simple truth or blatant entitlement.

But I’m home now, and I’ve noticed that the list of questions I prepared for my panelists is interesting in its own right, a good orientation to the topic if anyone wants it. And so I decided I would post that here.

  1. Focusing first on TV, which lesbian deaths were most memorable and meaningful to you personally, both going way back and recently?
  2. Then there are deaths that aren’t necessarily canonical but that have lesbian freight around them. The fate of Ellen Ripley in the third Aliens movie comes after she’s been, to a great extent, masculinized–she’s not gay, but when she dies she has been made to look and act very butch.
  3. If a show queerbaits us and then kills one of the alleged lesbians involved, is that better or worse than if they hadn’t solicited queer viewers in the first place?
  4. Looking at the list of 150+ dead TV lesbians, I wondered: were any of those surprises, or did they trigger any Aha! or Uhoh! moments?
  5. How gender-skewed is this phenomenon? I mean, we all remember how Brokeback Mountain ends. Is it just a woman-on-woman version of fridging?
  6. I’ve mentioned fridging because it’s another common story development that we, as more sophisticated and politically savvy audiences, have become aware and critical of. All of these tropes have been the subject of discussion and debate within fandom and the writing community. What do you think of this?
  7. Now, since I’ve glided on to cinema, what about this phenom in comics and prose? In the past, there were the 1950’s bad girl lesbian dies books… does anyone know how this is playing out now?
  8. As writers, how do you balance the need to occasionally kill off characters with an awareness that every queer character is precious?
  9. If we add in characters with implied deaths, including incidental victims or even crazy killer lesbians who aren’t part of the main cast (guest star deaths, in other words) then I wonder if the question shouldn’t be: Who’s done it right? Who has survived? Who do we love who hasn’t been killed off?
I shall end off with a link offered by one of the above wonderful and lovely panelists, to Jo Chiang’s “Women who love women aren’t Tragic.”

She Edited It, But… an exciting announcement

Posted on May 24, 2016 by

A. M. Dellamonica, 2014, photo by Kelly Robson

A. M. Dellamonica, 2014, photo by Kelly Robson

Joanna Russ was one of those people you had to read, as a young feminist geek.  Not just How to Suppress Women’s Writing, (though obviously How to Suppress Women’s Writing). The Female Man, We Who Are About To…, and The Adventures of Alyx were all so intrinsic to my experience of growing up, coming out, and realizing who I was going to be as I moved through the world that I cannot imagine doing without them. One need only look at the way I tweaked the spelling of my first name to see how deep the influence  went.

So it will come to as no surprise to anyone that I am thrilled beyond words to announce that my first ever foray into the world of editing will be as the guest editor of the 2016 Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction series. I will be doing this for Lethe Press with the inimitable Steve Berman.

In case you haven’t heard of it before, this is a reprint anthology. I have already begun reading, albeit slowly, because I am under a mountain of grading so high it requires supplemental oxygen. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and so far it has been a delight.

Projects like this are labors of love. I have fond memories of shipping off manuscripts to Nicola Griffith and Steve Pagel for Bending the Landscape, as a dykey baby SF writer. It was a really different world, or so it seemed. Books like BtL were the Queers Destroy Science Fiction (and Fantasy and Horror) of their time, and it seems apparent to me that if people like Nicola and Steve hadn’t been bending things then, we might not be in a position to destroy anything now. Anyway, whenever I find myself despairing about the state of the world (as I think we all do) I count up our wins. For me the jewel in the queer rights crown is marriage equality, long a development I thought I would not live to see. And now my government is apparently tabling transgendered rights legislation. I suddenly have to wonder if I’m living in a magical world of Oz.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of broke in the world, so much still in need of fixing. And even wins don’t remain wins if you don’t keep an eye on them. Progress is like a newly shingled roof; time passes, the elements attack and something that seemed so very secure starts springing leaks and throwing shingles. We see this with every political gain… there’s always someone keen to try to roll it back.

And so, in this remarkable year when women swept the Nebula Awards, I want to just open up a can of nostalgia and smell a few of those chapter headings Joanna Russ used to splatter my worldview across a student newspaper office one day in 1985:

She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.

She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have.

She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art.

Remember that? Screw that. Write what you shouldn’t, people! Projects like Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction are just one way to nail down the shingles, to keep the the rain off as we figure out how to build out the house, to widen the circle to an ever more wonderful and diverse group of writers.

Because womanpower, that’s why! The Desert and the Blade

Posted on September 1, 2015 by

LozowithTheChangeS.M. Stirling’s The Desert and the Blade launches today. It’s the latest in the Emberverse series, and the sequel to The Golden Princess. (Which is, in turn, the sequel to many other novels.)

The Emberverse is the setting for Stirling’s anthology The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth, which contains my story “Rate of Exchange,” about Finch, a Scout of many Badges of the Morrowland Pack.

What follows is not going to be an unbiased review, is what I’m saying.

This is the latest book in a lengthy multigenerational saga, and my point in bringing it up is, no surprise, that I’m hoping you all might rush out right now, lay your hands on the novel, and read the living shit out of it. If you’ve already read The Golden Princess and its predecessors, you’re doing so already, and don’t need a sales pitch.

For everyone else: why should you jump into a well-established series?

The serious answer is because it’s about a friendship between two women, both barely adults and both grieving for their fathers. Orlaith is crown princess of the kingdom of Montival, while Reiko has become, in the wake of her father’s slaying, Empress of Japan.

They are a pair who have been isolated, their whole lives, by social rank. Though there are people who sincerely love them, neither has ever really had an equal. Royalty is a strange family business: their parents have always had to serve as their bosses as well as loving caregivers. Meanwhile, everyone else in their entire world is essentially an underling. But in The Desert and the Blade the princesses have run away from at least some of their responsibilities, not on a lark but to pursue an important task. They are on a Quest (capital Q definitely applies here) whose purpose is deadly serious. Conveniently, it also takes them away from the formalities of court life, and the restrictions of their day-to-day existence.

As they travel, fight and endure hardship together, they bond.

This seems like a situation quite removed from ordinary life, right? I mean, I dunno about all of you, but I can’t remember the last time I took my favorite vassals on a Quest. But who among us cannot relate to the other side of this experience–that discovery of a kindred spirit, and the early blossoming of a friendship where both parties discover not only that they share common ground… but that it’s ground that is terra incognita to everyone else they know?

What I’m saying is that books whose point is female friendship aren’t exactly thick on the ground. There’s a whole lot of “how she fell in love,” to be had in literature, but vanishingly little attention is paid to the platonic, sustaining, supportive–and, yes, sometimes problematic–ties that form between women. It’s also worthy of note that in Nicola Griffith’s examination of literary awards based on the gender of both authors and principal subjects, books by men about women and girls are virtually non-existent.

Steve should be encouraged, folks. He’s apparently doing something very anomalous.

Hovering in the back of my mind as I read The Desert and the Blade was another rarely-acknowledged and quite uncomfortable element of friendship: few, if any, are truly unconditional. Though they become close, for Orlaith and Reiko, “blood is thicker than water” can never merely be a saying. Their families are, to some extent, their entire respective nations. And though things go swimmingly between them in this novel, their saga isn’t over. The two of them owe a duty to their own that, by its very definition, cannot be put aside in favor of personal preferences. They can only be friends for as long as Montival and Japan have interests that align.

Whew! That’s all rather serious. Here’s the cover, and then I’ll offer up a few lighter reasons to get into The Desert and the Blade.

Here’s one: This book plays against type in a rather delightful way. I can accurately describe it as a book where two princesses get on their horsies, assemble some loyal followers, and go on a quest to find a magic sword! Whee! This makes it sound like anime, doesn’t it? C’mon. It’s princesses!

Yeah.

What we have here is pretty much the polar opposite of a rainbows and ponies marketing fantagasm like… oh, say Sailor Moon. Orlaith and Reiko are real heads of state, hefting heavy armor and making choices that affect thousands of people’s lives. It is not whimsy that drives them into the cannibal-infested realms of the city formerly known as Los Angeles. It’s deadly necessity.

In the unlikely imaginary situation where you’re thrown back to high school and someone sees you with this novel, and asks if you’re, like, really reading a princess book, you can look them in the eye and say “The euthanasia scene will rip your guts out, dude.”

Cannibal stand off! When the going gets tough, the tough stand a good chance of getting marinated, or at least slow-roasted. The stakes are high, because the steaks are people. Or soylent green.

Stirling’s Dunedain Rangers–did I mention these books have Dunedain Rangers, and it’s not a cheat, and it’s awesome?–are starting to forget that their not-too-distant ancestors were Tolkien fans. They are starting to believe the Elvish histories are, you know, history. This would totally happen.

Finally, there’s a thing with the post-Change inheritors of Topanga Canyon that makes me scream with joy. I can’t think of any way to tell you about it, though, without spoilers. Come back after you’ve read it and squee with me.

Steve will be here on Thursday with one of my whimsical interviews… not the Heroine Question, but a new thing called Buddy Buddy. I hope you’ll join us!