Posted in Blog Series

A Love Letter to Fanfiction” by Lee Blauersouth

I am so excited to welcome Lee Blauersouth to the blog today to talk about the transformative and queer power of fanfiction. They are the author of the Secondhand Origin stories. You can find them on Twitter or their website.

I was born in 1983. I realized I was bisexual in 7th grade, which, if I have my math right, means I was out to myself and a small, select group of friends in 1995. My coming of age was during what I’m horrified to find people have started calling “the turn of the century”.

In one teensy, tiny way, things were easier then. I knew never to pin my hopes on any movie or TV show to give me the stories I really and truly wanted. I knew implicitly that they could only whisper to me under their breath.  Xena could only kiss Gabrielle if there was body swapping or mind control involved. Jadzia Dax could only be in love with a woman if it was her ex wife from when her alien symbiote was in a man’s body.  There always had to be a laying of plausible deniability, and scifi and fantasy were great for that. I treasured my impression that some of the stories I loved would have spoken to me more directly, if they could have. But it was as if the adults were watching, and we all knew it was better to pass notes under the table. But there would be a sly smile, a knowing wink to tell me that, in some little way, I was seen.

Now, I can’t honestly say that I had no queer rep in my formative years. But there was little enough that I can remember it all. In fact, I had little enough that to this day, even with a very gap-y memory, I can recite most of it. First, I had The Birdcage, then later RENT came out, and then I found The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey–which had come out in the 80s but which I didn’t discover till my small band of emerging queers started furtively passing it around between us. Later still I found But I’m a Cheerleader–the first and only openly rep that I had that focused predominantly on queer women.

I still love each and every one of these, the way you can reminisce about an unexceptional meal, eaten while you were ravenous. They say “hunger is the best spice”, and it applies to stories, too. I shut my eyes to the racism, the transphobia, the buried gays, the humorous take on the trauma of conversion therapy the same way you might ignore mold spots on the first meal you’d eaten in days. My meal tasted good to me in that moment, and I believed that I was content.

Until I stumbled, through the same passed notes and whispers, into a land of plenty I hadn’t imagined.

Because at 15, I found fanfiction for the very first time.

It was harder to find, in those days. We didn’t have google, let alone AO3 or Dreamwidth or Tumblr. But oh, I dedicated myself to finding it. I printed out huge binders full of it. In fanfiction, I was being spoken to directly–there was no need to pass notes. Even more than those few books and movies I had, fanfiction spoke to me. My parents were laissez faire about my internet usage and indulged my epic need for printer ink. My dad was a trekie from the way back and understood the idea of fanfic from the old zines, and he never bothered me about specifics. I joined mailing lists with other young queer people from all over the world, I emailed my favorite fanfic authors and found a community of people who could boldly tell the stories the TV would rarely do more than hint at.

I will state plainly that a lot of it was at LEAST as problematic as what the TV offered. Fandom had and has all of the issues larger society has and every phobia and ism you can find on the news, you can find in fanfiction. Besides which, my sex education needed significant correction after I gleaned too much of it from Gundam Wing fanfic written by other pre-google teens with no more idea how anything worked than I had.

But by God, there was was LOT of the stuff–endless pages of proof that other people were out these feeling these feelings and craving these stories and that meant as much to me as the content of any one story. No more moldy meals for me, there was a feast waiting for me whenever I wanted, all I had to do was open one of my massive 3 ring binders or search the nearest webring till I found what I needed.

I saw that we could fix the broken narratives we were given. We could un-erase ourselves. We could make stories for ourselves and for each other, with no censors or TV executives to stop us.

And there were so many of us.

What power.

I didn’t start writing then. I didn’t feel the need–I had my stories and again told myself that I was content.

But, once the constant availability of queer stories became normal to me, I completely lost my patience with stories that whispered under their breath to me, but wouldn’t really look me in the eye. Much as the world was full of queer fanfic, it was still also full of stories that pretended I needed to whisper, pass furtive notes, and the thankful for a wink or a sly smile. Once I’d been seen and spoken to, I couldn’t go back to being somebody’s dirty little secret.

I was told that the world wasn’t ready for openly queer stories, but I knew they were there. I was told there wasn’t a market, but I’d seen the dedication and passion and sheer volume of queer content screaming its contradiction. I knew damn well we were being silenced and lied to.

I grew up. I came out again and again and again and I wasn’t furtively passing notes to anybody anymore. The idea that I should pissed me off.

And when eventually I’d had enough and I decided a story NEEDED correcting, 900 pages of furious, queer fanficiton poured out of me.

There was no censor to stop me. There was no studio or publisher to beg approval from. I didn’t have to wait for some mythical future date when society would be more accepting. I made the story I wanted and found that, far from trying to stop me, an awful lot of people wanted to help me.

Without fanfiction, I would not be a published author today. I would not be writing unapologetically queer books because I wouldn’t ever have trusted that they were wanted, or needed. I might never have heard the vast cacophony of voices shouting that queer stories have value. I couldn’t have stopped being queer, but I wonder if I might have given up on stories. 

I’m writing this essay still giddy on the contact high of being at a writers conference dedicated to the voices that gatekeepers try to silence. I spent hours talking to my peers–other authors who also came of age nurtured by the assurances of “turn of the century” fanfiction. Many of them are still writing fic in their spare time today, and virtually all of us were still reading it. I shared a meal with my favorite Gundam Wing fanfic author, now published with multiple titles to his name. I reminisced about geocities webrings with award winning storytellers, and I showed people my own book, born out of the confidence and community that fanfiction gave me, and received smiles when I discussed it’s queer cast.

For this feature, I was encouraged to think about stories that had moved me, that had given me something. I have a glorious library full of those, now, but when it came down to it, I had to take this moment to thank fanfiction for everything it’s given me as an author, as a queer person, and as a reader. I wanted to thank fanfic for all the queer authors it’d given us.

I hope that I can take the power fanfiction has given me, and help the next generation feel a little less desperate, and lot less likely to settle for less than what they deserve. 

Nobody should settle for whispers.

Posted in Blog Series

On a Case Bi Case Basis: Taylor Lien

Taylor Lien is a writer, nerd, Good Place fan and total snacc. You can find her on Twitter or her blog. She aspires to be an EGOT one day.

It was really only in the last year or so I was even able to say the words, “I’m bisexual” out loud to myself or anyone close to me. When I finally put myself in the same sentence as those words, it felt as if a light turned on. Being bisexual means that I say things like, “THIS WAS MADE FOR THE BISEXUALS” when there are attractive actors of all genders on television. When watching things like Rosa Diaz come out as bisexual on Brooklyn Nine Nine I found the courage to come out to my friends and be honest about who I was and who I am attracted to. Or when Eleanor Shellstrop has a male soulmate, but also could “legit be into Tahani” I was able to identify with her as a character in ways I had never been able to previously.  

Being bisexual means moving through the world having love for all sorts of people, and never letting the social construct of gender limit who I may fall in love with.

My bisexuality also helped me to contextualize all of the times that I ‘really really looked up’ to a female celebrity in middle school or high school. It helped me to understand why I liked watching Julie Andrews so much in Mary Poppins, or Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. I’ve also realized that I’m not attracted to women and men in the same ways, and that’s okay. I can also someday find myself in a heterosexual relationship but still identify as bisexual. My hope in that situation is that my significant other and I can talk about the female celebrities whom we both find to be attractive. It means that the characters that I write will love both Eleanor and Chidi on The Good Place, and kiss girls while explaining to those who may doubt them that, “no this is not a phase.” It means that I will never choose to love people of just one gender identity, but to fall in love with a person regardless of their gender.

Being bisexual meant that until I was in high school I had never seriously considered that I could like girls. Something about being entirely heterosexual never sat right with me even from the time I was twelve or thirteen, but the language to describe my attractions came later. When I first heard the word “bisexual,” it felt as if something made sense in a way it never had before. The dimension of the word and what it meant epitomized for me was entirely enlightening.

Being bisexual means moving through the world having love for all sorts of people, and never letting the social construct of gender limit who I may fall in love with.

I haven’t figured out all the ways in which my bisexuality expresses itself in my life, but I look forward to being able to spend the rest of my life finding out.

Posted in Blog Tour

Blog Tour: I Do Not Trust You by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz (Review and Q&A)

I am so thrilled and grateful to be a part of the blog tour for I Do Not Trust You, the latest thrilling and adventurous YA book from duo Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz.

You can find the book on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble & IndieBound.

Check out the summary here:

37638243Memphis “M” Engle is stubborn to a fault, graced with an almost absurd knowledge of long lost languages and cultures, and a heck of an opponent in a fight. In short: she’s awesome.

Ashwin Sood is a little too posh for her tastes, a member of an ancient cult (which she’s pretty sure counts for more than one strike against him), and has just informed Memphis that her father who she thought was dead isn’t and needs her help.

From the catacombs of Paris to lost temples in the sacred forests, together they crisscross the globe, searching for the pieces of the one thing that might save her father. But the closer they come to saving him—and the more they fall for one another—the closer they get to destroying the world.

I got the chance to ask Laura and Melinda some of my burning questions about the world-building and writing process for I Do Not Trust You:

Tay: In I DO NOT TRUST YOU, M and Ash visit a variety of significant cultural locations around the globe, bringing them to almost every continent on a high-stakes hunt for pieces of a mysterious ancient statue. What was the research process like for choosing these sites? Did you work together? Were there any big surprises or Aha! moments?

Laura and Melinda: We did try to hit most of the continents! Antarctica and Australia didn’t make the cut, unfortunately. We knew the basic requirements for the locations we needed–they had to have been built a certain number of years ago, they had to be religious sites–and that helped narrow down our research. We initially made a long list of possible locations, and then narrowed them down in such a way that we’d have a variety of mythologies and cultures.

The best Aha! moment came at the very beginning, when we were plotting out the story in broad strokes. We knew we wanted an adventurous search for something, but we didn’t know what. We thought of an Egyptian artifact right away because we love Ancient Egypt, but we weren’t sure what it should be. One of our favorite Egyptian myths is the story of Osiris and Isis, which also involves Set, who is a dark god. Set kills Osiris and chops his body into pieces, which he scatters throughout Egypt. Isis, Osiris’s wife, searches for all the pieces and reunites them, reincarnating Osiris. And as we discussed this myth, we thought (Aha!) Isis searched for scattered pieces, and that’s what our heroine is doing as well. So we could use that myth as the basis for our (fictional) Egyptian artifact–it’s chopped into pieces and scattered around the world. It worked perfectly.

 

Tay: Along the same lines of my previous question, were there any sites or locations that you wanted to include, but ended up not fitting into the story?

Laura and Melinda: It was hard to pick only one spot in Egypt. We had a list of several, as you can imagine given our obsession with it! But it wouldn’t have worked for the plot to spend too much time there, so we had to choose the one that fit our story best. We also have an intense attraction to Druids, and we really wanted to use a location that might’ve been sacred to the Druids. Alas, we couldn’t quite find a way to work that in either.

 

Tay: A big part of what I love about I DO NOT TRUST YOU is that it offers a nuanced discussion of religion and what is sacred. Is that something that you two initially set out to write or did it develop over time? How did the weaving of different belief systems from Egyptian cult beliefs to Catholicism to local indigenous pagan beliefs develop as you wrote and then revised the book?

Laura and Melinda: We love anything involving complex mythology or the occult, and we love to create our own mythologies. The different belief systems are fascinating to us, and it’s impossible to separate those systems from the cultures that gave rise to them. One thing that we think gets forgotten when learning about the gods of ancient cultures is that, while we view the myths as merely stories, the people who lived then viewed them as a religion. It’s a mistake to assume that priests in Ancient Egypt weren’t just as devout as priests in our current religions, for instance. One of the best ways to learn about a modern culture is to study the religious beliefs of its people, and that’s true of ancient cultures as well. We like to think about what the lives of those believers were like, rather than only thinking about the gods and what they might symbolize.

With our main male character, Ash, we tried to figure out how it would feel to believe so completely in your religion that it crowds out all other considerations. And with our protagonist, M, we went the other way–she knows so much about so many different belief systems that she doesn’t have one particular belief of her own. Eventually, the theme that we settled on was one of respect for all the different faiths. If an act is done in service of the greater good, then it is sacred. That was something both of our characters could agree on.

Thank you so much Laura and Melinda for answering my questions!

Interested in learning more about I Do Not Trust You and my thoughts on this lovely imaginative book? Keep reading for my review!

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