I’m so excited to welcome Rosiee Thor, author of one of my most anticipated 2019 reads, the forthcoming queer science fiction epic TARNISHED ARE THE STARS to the blog today to talk about writing ace characters, dealing with online aphobia, queer community and more! Rosiee Thor is also the founder of Be Your Own Mentor. You can find her on Twitter and at her website. You should definitely also pre-order TARNISHED ARE THE STARS on IndieBound, Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Taylor: 30 Days of Pride is all about creating a sense of queer community during Pride Month by giving writers, bloggers, etc. a platform to share their voices and identities. Can you talk a bit about what queer identity means to you and what pride means to you?
Rosiee: For me, identity is first and foremost a journey–of self-expression, understanding, and community. I’ve gone through many stages of awareness of my own identity, and I find it’s something of an exploration during which I can continue to discover new ways to identify myself and new ways to identify as queer. I remember someone once told me that coming out wasn’t usually an event so much as it was a process, and I’ve found that to be true in every way. I’m constantly encountering new people to come out to, but even more than that, I continue to come out to myself as a develop my understanding of queerness and what it means to me. The labels I used when I came out for the first time aren’t the same as ones I use today. Some days when I’m feeling unsure in between labels, it’s easy to slip into a feeling of isolation and question my own validity–especially when there are other more external voices in the mix invalidating my queerness. One of the most freeing and self-affirming things I’ve done lately is accept that my queerness is more journey than destination, and that’s something to be proud of.
Taylor: So first, I am sooooooooo excited for TARNISHED ARE THE STARS and welcome all the arospec rep in SFF YA fiction. Can you talk a little bit about your debut and how it came to have this representation in it?
Rosiee: The queerness in TARNISHED, much like my own sexuality, was a laborious journey. I like to think that as I grew braver about my own identity, so did the representation in my book. In the original draft of TATS, there was no romance at all. No one kissed, no one flirted, I don’t think anyone really even touched a whole lot. It was a safe draft, only for my eyes. I risked nothing by putting myself on the page, and there was no pressure to define or even acknowledge who I was and what it meant.
I wrote eleven drafts in total, and with each draft, I changed the representation and how I approached it. At first, I wrote a bisexual main character because that was how I was identifying myself, but the word I wore on the outside never really matched the inside. Eventually, I came to the identities reflected in the final pages now–which includes two sapphic ladies and an aro/ace boy. Each of these characters reflects a small piece of myself, and I’m happy with the representation I landed on both in how it manifests in the story and how it speaks to my own identities.
Something that impacted my writing of my own identity in a big way was the encouragement of both my agent and my editor. I think on some level I was waiting for permission to write myself onto the page… for some reason I didn’t think my experiences were interesting or relevant, and I worried that injecting too much of my aro/ace identity would make the book less appealing to publishers. My agent never pushed me to make the book anything I didn’t want it to be, and my editor actively encouraged me to be more overt about the characters’ sexualities and how they informed their personalities and actions beyond romance. I am so grateful to them for not only validating my own identity, but for giving me the space to show those identities as valid on the page and share them with readers.
Taylor: So next, building on my last question, you’re a debut and already doing so much for the writing community with Be Your Own Mentor (an amazing project y’all, my dear readers, can check out here). Can you talk a bit about your goals as a queer writer within this vibrant, YA community? Are there other genres and age groups you want to write for or types of representation you’re itching to write?
Rosiee: As a former mentee who benefitted greatly from my relationship with my mentor (hi Linsey!) mentorship is something that means a lot to me. The publishing industry can be lonely and demoralizing, and doubly so for those of us on the margins. If I can have an impact on another writer’s journey and making publishing even a little more tolerable, then I will consider myself lucky. Making connections with other writers–especially other queer writers–is a joy and a privilege, and as cheesy as it sounds, I cherish those relationships so much. I’m very proud of all my mentees and can’t wait to see them succeed in this industry and broaden the spectrum of queer representation on the shelves.
As for my own writing goals, I’d definitely like to try my hand at some other genres and age categories. Most of all, though, I’d like the opportunity to write more aro/ace spectrum rep. With my debut, I got to explore the emotional journey of discovering labels for the first time, which was deeply personal and raw at the time of writing it. I’ve had a couple years of identifying with aro/ace spectrum labels now and learning more about how those labels interact with my worldview, and I hope I get the chance to explore more of those in fiction. There’s so much great aro/ace spectrum rep out there, but there’s still not enough, and the spectrum of identities and experience that exist in the world should exist on the shelves in equal numbers.
Taylor: If you feel comfortable talking about this, from one ace to another, so many of my ace friends and I have experienced aphobia and utter nonsense from others, and often other queer peeps, during pride month. What do you wish people would do better in terms of communicating with ace folks on and offline?
Rosiee: Oof. Where to even start with this? There are so many microaggressions out there… I’m finding new ways people can be aphobic every day, honestly.
This might be a bit of wishful thinking, but I’d really like to see a deconstruction of compulsory coupling in… all respects. I see this in my day-to-day life where I’m expected to either be in a romantic relationship or single, and no other relationships I might have (strong platonic friendships) are considered relevant. The biggest way this manifests is when invited to weddings, I’m expected not to bring +1 unless they’re a romantic partner which is, to put it bluntly, a big bummer when going to a wedding where I don’t know anyone. Online and in the bookish community, I see this most often in headcanons of couples or even in canon couplings where everyone has to get paired up by the end. I’d like to see more allo folks embrace singledom as an acceptable happily ever after. I know people really love shipping and I wouldn’t want to put a stop to that, but it’s nice when people make space for aro and ace people in their headcanons or even just acknowledge their existance. This can really help to decentralize allonormativity and reduce compulsory allocentric pressures. At the very least, it would be a start in helping us to feel welcome.
One other thing I’d really love to see allies do is challenge preconceived notions about what makes media queer. There’s a general sense that queer media must feature a prominent queer couple in order to count as queer, but queer people–not just aros and aces–experience the world as queer people whether they’re in a relationship or not. Before you label a book as queer or not queer, think beyond the pairings in the book and think about the characters’ identities… A book about two bisexual people in a m/f romance is still queer. A book about two bisexual people not in a romantic partnership is still queer. A book about an aromantic or asexual spectrum character is still queer. Just because a book doesn’t feature a m/m or f/f romance doesn’t mean it’s not queer, and when you leave aro/ace spec books off of queer book lists or recommendations, it tells aro/ace spec readers and writers and people that we don’t belong.
Taylor: Now let’s talk about books! What are some of your favorite queer YA recommendations (and specifically aro and ace books) that you really love?
Rosiee: There are so many but I’ll try to keep this short… As far as queer YA goes, I’ve recently really enjoyed WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power, WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE by Tehlor Kay Mejia, and THE FEVER KING by Victoria Lee. Aro and Ace spec books are a little harder to come by in YA, although traditional publishing is definitely picking up speed and there are so many more than there used to be. I will say that Mackenzi Lee’s LADY’S GUIDE TO PETTICOATS AND PIRACY made me personally feel exceptionally seen, and the ace representation there resonated a lot for me. I also want to mention–though it’s not YA–Lynn E O’Connacht’s THE ICE PRINCESS’S FAIR ILLUSION which is an adult novel in verse retelling the Thrushbeard fairytale as a queer platonic partnership between an aro and ace princess. This is the aro/ace spec book of my heart. It’s weird and wonderful and truly gets it. It’s an aro/ace book for aro/ace people, and I’ve truly never felt so fully represented as I did by that story.
Taylor: What other pieces of media (so books, movies, TV, theater, music, etc.) have been fundamental to your experience as a queer person or are your favorite examples of queer representation?
Rosiee: I feel like it’s impossible to have this conversation and not mention The Legend of Korra. There’s a lot of queer media out there that has impacted me over the years (shoutout to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the bisexual witch of our hearts, Willow) but Legend of Korra came at the right time and in the right way for me. That final season was a sort of sneak attack, and after being queer baited by so many shows (although at the time I didn’t know what queer baiting was and was barely aware that I was queer myself) seeing a queer relationship actualized in such a casual but meaningful way was a truly glass shattering, eye opening moment for me. I don’t think I could have anticipated what that kind of representation could mean for me until I saw it.
The other piece of media that impacted me queerly to the same degree was THE HUNGER GAMES. Though it’s never explicitly stated in the text, there’s substantial textual evidence (and in this essay I will prove…) that Katniss is aro, if not ace as well. Her relationship to romance and sex is primarily as a tool to manipulate an alloromantic audience and to conform to their allormantic expectations. Before reading THG, I’d never recognized this piece of myself in media before. It was, perhaps, the first time I truly understood my identity, even before I knew what to call it. Say what you will about the series, but Katniss is an aro queen… and also an arrow queen. I’ll happily die on this hill defending her, not that she needs it.
Taylor: If you could give advice or a message to the LGBTQPIA+ identifying folks who maybe don’t have a sense of community, feel alone, aren’t out, etc. this month, what would you say?
Rosiee: There’s no one single way to be queer, and wherever you’re at in your journey, you matter and you are as much a part of the queer umbrella as you’re comfortable being. Labels are sometimes weird, and coming out isn’t always safe, but know that when or if you’re ready to reach out, there’s a whole community ready to welcome you. You’re one of us, whether you say it out loud or not, and you don’t need anyone’s permission to be yourself. I already adore you, and I hope you adore yourself too.