I did a meme on tumblr offering to do a video post on any requested subject (the other one is on maths so got posted to alias_sqbr) and was given the topic "being a queer, disabled, feminist writer". I didn't talk much about feminism in the end! I'm wearing a Kate Beaton "Brontes" shirt and key earrings (and pants. You can't see them, just letting you know they're there)
It's interesting seeing what assumptions and stuff show up when I can't go back and edit the first thing that pops out of my head eg the idea that queer fandom = femslash fanfic which is all written by women, which...no :) Also, as a kid I actually did like the idea of a husband/boyfriend being like a best friend but better. But I knew not all relationships were like that.
Transcript below the cut, there are also closed captions through the magic of Youtube. A few errors but I can't be bothered fixing them right now, sorry!
Hi. Howsoonismeow asked me...requesting a video meme of me talking about being a queer, disabled, feminist writer. Which is frankly quite a terrifying question. She also gave me the option of talking about cats, which was very nice of her, but I think there's enough videos about cats on the internet, I don't much to say beyond the fact that they're cuddly and loveable and I wish I could hug every one.
So what to say about being a queer, disabled, feminist writer? I wrote myself some little notes which are "truth, representation, and happiness" which made sense when I wrote it down.
Basically I guess what I try and do as a creator more than just a writer, because I write, I draw, I write comics, I write video games, it all sort of blurs together and I approach them all the same way. I make earrings, though there isn't a lot of queer theory going on in these earrings, they just look cool. I guess what I'm after is capturing truth. Thinking about the maths video I did I like to get at what's really going on, the beautiful system underneath everything. And the thing with queer people, disabled people, women, the feminist way of looking at things, POC or people of colour or nonwhite people, all different marginalised groups is that our truth isn't shown in fiction or art, it's missing. And I like to see what's missing, to show that. And the two reasons...one, because it's right, it's true and it's beautiful, and two because nobody else is doing it so I don't have much competition. I know that sounds really shallow but it's true.
When I create something I want to feel like that thing doesn't exist, that there's a hole in the universe that I'm going to fill. And if everyone else is telling the story of... teenage white straight boy, comes of age, meets a girl, she's kind of hard to understand and they have this heteronormative happy ending and he gets the girl...well that story's been told like fifty million times. But the story of the girl getting the girl, the disabled girl figuring out who she is and who she wants to be and maybe getting the girl. Maybe not getting the girl. Maybe just becoming a better person, maybe realising she's not into anything, you know? That story hasn't been told anywhere near as often. So even if I do a crappy job I'm still adding something to the world, giving representation to people.
And not just thinking about it from the point of view of what it does to other people, you have these holes in your soul when there's something about yourself that you just don't see in fiction. And if nobody else is going to make it then you have to do it, even if it's hard.
That's what I do with fanfiction, I know it sounds really silly but one of the reasons I write femslash is...sometimes I'll watch a show and I'll get attached to a pairing. And if it's a straight pairing and it's the two main characters, and they're a man and a woman somebody else is going to write that fix, somebody else is going to write those people getting together, and I don't need to write it I can just look it up on google or AO3 or whatever.
But if I want to read a story about the semi sex worker older sister from the Dragon Age: Origins dwarf commoner origin, who's from the slums of the dwarf city, and I want to write about her finding her place in the world as a...what does she become, the people who work for the government and talk on behalf of...ambassador! I'm not very good with words, that's why I'm a writer. Noone else is going to write that story, I have to write that story, and even if I do an ok job I'll get it out of my head and it's the only way I'm going to get it out of my head.
And if one other person wants that story the only way they're going to get it is if I make it. And that really helps me keep going, like a lot of people I have this sense that everything that I create is just terrible, and I'm wasting my time, and I'm oppressing the world with the terribleness that I create. And the way I stop myself from getting overwhelmed by that, is by making things where I know that at least one other person...if I don't make this thing nobody else, not many other people...noone's going to make it quite the way I'm going to make it, and I'm going to make somebody happy, there's going to be one other person who's going to go "That! That's what I want!"
I have that with say...a rare pairing, which is not a social justice thing, there's just one or two other people who want to see those people get together. But with stuff to do with gender and sexuality and all that stuff it isn't just wanting to see that thing it's fighting against the oppression we face.
I remember when I was a kid and I was figuring out that I was into girls, which took me thirty years [laughs] It's funny actually, howsoonismeow and I are sisters, I don't know if people know that, she's a few years younger than me, and we were both figuring this out at the same time and occasionally she's made posts about watching stuff as a kid and going "So girls can like other girls huh?" which we were both figuring out but we didn't talk to each other about it at all because we were both in our own heads, which is the way we do things in my family.
I would occasionally see this glimmers of what I'd wanted, I'd see a close friendship between women where they valued each other more than anyone else. I didn't really like boys at all, not even in a platonic sense, when I was a kid, and the idea of having to get married and be with a guy just seemed really horrible and I was like "this is my doom, I am doomed one day to get married how terrible". And I am married, and I actually do really like my husband, we relate as equals. Gender roles don't have to be everything we're told they are, which is why I identify as bisexual and not lesbian. But still, I still like the idea of relationships with women as well and the fact that it didn't have to be...you didn't have to be a "woman" where woman is this tiny role where you're defined by having kids, by who your husband is, by defining yourself by your man, who is manly and controlling and tells what to do and you go "Oh yes, dear" and all that stuff. You can have a relationship that's straight and doesn't fit those boxes but I didn't realise that then.
Every now and then I would see something that didn't fit those boxes and it was like this shining light of sunlight in the darkness and I would think "Wow, what is this?" but then it would vanish again because it wasn't really what the authors were going for. I remember seeing the relationship between Ivanova and Tali in Babylon 5. They're a lesbian couple but it's really subtextual because it's a 90s scifi show. And I remember watching that and thinking "No, no, I'm imagining things, there's no way they can be together." And when I realised...it didn't turn out fantastically, not to spoil the show...but there was genuinely something going on there, genuine feelings at least, it's sort of ambiguous, but they were probably having sex. Anyway, when it became clear that it wasn't just in my head, that the creator meant it that way, it was just this moment for me, I was like "Wow!". And I think one of the reasons it took me so long to realise my sexuality is because there weren't enough things like that.
One of the things that makes me enjoy doing femslash and original lesbian stories...at the moment I'm working on a visual novel/dating sim, it's very silly, it's about vampires and vampire hunters and stuff, but all the characters are women and all the relationships are between women. And I really like the idea of some teenage girl seeing my stuff and going "Wow, that's me."
Even though I've been identifying as disabled longer than I've been identifying as queer, though I guess I've been thinking about my sexuality a lot longer because I wasn't disabled until I was in my late twenties while I've been queer a lot longer than that...representations of disabled people are worse. Well, I guess it's not...it's just really really hard to find representations of disabled people, disabled people just being characters not defined by their disability, it's not like this tragic story of how difficult it is to be disabled, or how difficult it is to be the family member of a disabled person. I mean it is difficult, but we would like our own stories too.
But at the same time, there's so few representations of that that I find it really hard to figure out how to represent it. There's so few stories and things that I've looked at and gone "That's what I want, that's what I want to create, that's what I want to be" that it's hard to know how to do better. And I'm working on it slowly but I'm finding it really hard. Especially because...you know, the thing with femslash, it may be a subset of fanfic but there is a femslash community, there are women who get together and write stories about relationships between women but there isn't really a disability stories community. And...most of the people who write femslash are queer women. A majority of them, which is nice. It's actually really nice, it's a big change from most of fandom where queer women are a large minority but you still have a lot of straight people (nothing against straight people! Just saying)
But with disability there's a lot of non-disabled people writing stories about disabled people, and they often write them in a really fetishising way where disability and chronic illness is this horrible unimaginable thing that happens to a character and their life is destroyed because having a chronic illness is the worst possible thing that can happen and you can't bounce back from it, and they're just miserable and angsty and thinking "Oh my life is over" and then they get better and everything is wonderful and they go "Wow, I'm out of that terrible, terrible situation for which there is no silver lining unless you get better". Which as someone who is unlikely to get better that's not a moral I find very rewarding, that's not a depiction I'd like to see.
I think part of it is that people who aren't disabled can imagine what it's like to become disabled. When I became disabled I was filled with despair, I was miserable, I was like "Wow, my life is over, everything is terrible." For a bit. And then I got used to it. It still sucks, but...you get over it, you move on, you create a new life for yourself. That process is really hard to imagine unless you've experienced it, and that process doesn't get shown in fiction. Just the moment of "I'm miserable". And the "I'm miserable" sticks. Because that's the only thing able-bodied people can imagine accurately, they can't imagine the next step because they haven't experienced it, because it takes being ill for a really long time to reach that step. It took me two or three years to really get the point where I'd come to terms with being ill. Ablebodied people may get sick for a bit, they may break their leg, they may have a nasty flu, they don't get sick for two or three years. Or if they do, they're not an able-bodied person any more, at least not for that two or three year period.
And that is something I really really want to explore more. I don't want to create stories about being disabled, or art about being disabled. I want to be able to come up with a story, which is a good story, whose characters are disabled who are being shown in a thoughtful way but that's not what the story's about. And that is really hard. Because you come up with a story idea and think "Well, maybe I'll make the characters disabled" and you can't, because we have this really rigid idea of what a story is. So that's something I'm working on at the moment.
"Truth, representation, happiness" So I guess...I want to get at the truth of the world, I want to represent people...and I try and write stories about characters who aren't white as well, even though I'm obviously as pale as you can possibly be, pretty much (not that that's the same as ethnicity but you know what I mean. Hopefully) I've been trying to write about intersex characters recently and I think trying to write that kind of story is good from a representation point of view but it also really challenges you, trying to think about what you mean by a female character and a male character. I've defined myself by writing female characters, and I've written a couple of male characters, but writing a genderqueer or otherwise non binary gendered...what does it mean to write a character of one gender or another? And I like writing about robots and AIs which also makes you explore that stuff.
But I think it's very easy to think of disabled people, whatever, as a metaphor for telling a story about "ordinary" people. You can write a trans character as a metaphor for the gender experiences of cis people. You can write a disabled person as a metaphor for the sense of limitedness that able bodied people feel. And that's kind of crap. So I want to avoid doing that.
And happiness...art and writing and stuff makes me happy. When I became disabled when I had to quit my job, I became really miserable. It really really sucked. There's this thing in our society that if you aren't producing, if you can't earn money, if you can't create stuff for the...let's not get into a rant about capitalism. Anyway, if you're not a worker then you're useless, you're nothing. And so I had to stop working, and I wasn't a housewife either because I wasn't able to clean and so how did I define myself? What was my worth? And I began to produce art, and produce art that made people happy...and one of the nice things about fandom is that the standards are relatively low. Producing things that made people happy made me feel like I was achieving something. Getting stuff out of my head and being good at something again, because I got really crap at the things I used to define myself by. I used to define myself by being good at my job, by being good at maths, by being good at science. All of which I had real trouble with. I had real trouble concentrating, I had real trouble writing. I used to write these long...essay long...essays. See: words. Words I have trouble with more than past had I. I can write kind of essays now, obviously I can talk at length on a subject I say fourteen minutes thirty two seconds into this rant. But I'm not as good as I used to be at constructing a nice logical argument with a conclusion and stuff. And that depressed me as well. But my art ability is the same as it ever was. So I practiced and I got better and that was really good for me and it made me happy. Just it makes me happy, and I try and do it in a way that make other people happy, and hopefully makes the world a better place more than it makes the world a bad place. I try not to be complicit with all the crap in the world squishing us all down into these stupid little boxes that make us all miserable. Some of us more miserable than others.
So I guess that is my approach to being a queer disabled feminist writer! And also cats are great and adorable, but you already knew that didn't you howsoonismeow so you didn't need me to tell you that. Ok, I'm done.