Thursday, October 27, 2011

Look, Ma, I'm in a Category, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 3 of 5

This is the third part of a sprawling, 5-part reflection started by what I found at this link.  Last time I thought a bit about about Religion and Diversity.  I challenged the integrity of people and the fiction they're willing to accept.

Speaking of acceptance, I have this other blog where I talk about my cheerful acceptance of my lack of desire to have sex with anyone.  I jokingly refer to myself as pretty much asexual.  I had no idea I was part of an actual acronym.
Nurul says: September 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

"Ooh, is that A in your QUILTBAG stands for asexual? Because if yes then thank goodness, someone remembers us! It seems like the world refuses to acknowledge that we exist."
Simple as that, apparently I have been categorized.  Now that I know the category exists, I cannot unknow it, so maybe I should find out about it. 
S.O. says: September 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm

there’s a few discussion communities on this topic:
There's even a Facebook group.  Hmmmm.  Is this a sign of the Apocalypse?

As amazing as it is that I am suddenly in a category with a Facebook group, I was more amazed when one of the commenters said there was actually a YA book or two with a prominent asexual character (Kevin from Guardian of the Dead and the protagonist of Elizabeth Bear’s Dust).  Honestly, I never thought there would be a YA book with a prominent asexual character if I didn't write it.

Who would have thought it?!  Aren't YA books (and our culture) so driven by the idea that sex is a biological necessity (and that hormones rule all when one is a teenager) that one might wonder what teen would want to read a book where there was no possibility of sex at all?  I mean, what would be the point?  I think I'll have to read these books to find out whether the other characters provide the requisite sexual lust.  I promise I'm not really this cynical; I'm exaggerating a bit.

It's true there are plenty of fictional examples of teens making good and bad lust-related choices.  What was missing were fictional examples of people who didn't even play that game as teenagers.  I sort of assumed they didn't exist except as the "broken" characters this commenter below described.
T. Arkenberg says: September 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

"As an asexual reader I’d feel most recognized if a character specifically identifies as not having sexual attraction to anyone, or as not intending to have any relationships and as being satisfied with that. Sometimes you’ll get a character who doesn’t want romance, but they’re often portrayed as ‘broken’ or coming down from a bad relationship, and they’ll be turned around by the right potential lover. An asexual character doesn’t need to be ‘healed’."
You know, that would have been kind of nice for me to read about when I was younger.  I never really had any role models of contented celibacy, real or fictional.  All the single people I knew considered themselves to be in (the sometimes long) transition to a state of non-singlehood.  (Or else they considered themselves utter failures as human beings despite the fact that they were wonderfully amazing people.)  I watched some of those people and wondered if they were just going through the motions of what was expected by their various cultures, like, maybe they didn't really want to have a boyfriend/girlfriend, but the culture had conditioned them to think that they were broken if they were not half of a whole, that if they did not feel this need, it was because of something they lacked that they needed to seek out, which created a false sense of longing.  I still wonder that.

I personally spent too much time combating those sad, sympathetic looks from otherwise intelligent folks who pitied me the brokenness they perceived even as I rejoiced in the freedom I had from certain kinds of drama they endured.  The idea of someone else being contentedly celibate never crossed our radars.

I wonder what (if any) difference if would have made for me if I had encountered anyone like me in the fictionverses.  I wonder if it really would have made any difference to be given permission to exist as I did.  I mean, I never really asked for permission.  (Or forgiveness, for that matter.)  But teens who aren't quite as self-assured/self-contained as I was, maybe they need a fictional trailblazer to lead the way.  Maybe they need to know that they actually have options other than the one they've been given in order for them to consider their situations and decide for themselves what option to choose . . .

What do you think?  Do you know any other folks who are in my category?  Do you know any who might have been if not for peer and societal pressure?  Do you think the existence of an asexual fictional character would have given them some sort of permission?

Stay tuned for Part 4 Who's Giving Your Kid Permission next week . . .

Monday, October 24, 2011

Religion and Diversity, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 2 of 5

This is part 2 of a 5-part series kicked off by this post.  Please pardon the draft-yness.


In the early responses to this kerfuffle, I came across the following comment, which made me happy.

"MM says:
September 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm

"What’s really needed is more authors willing to tackle gay-related viewpoints that don’t conform to the mainstream. The views and struggles of those who leave the lifestyle/choose to go on with their lives from a Christian standpoint and not give into gay urges and who are ex-gays should not be avoided or ignored. I can’t blame the libraries on that one, because I have a strong feeling that not many authors are willing to go there. But these viewpoints do exist and they need to be tackled. Libraries shouldn’t be afraid to get the ones that do come out, though, if they really want to be unbiased and cover all viewpoints. The same actually goes for nonfiction as well…there aren’t nearly enough.. . ."

And then this comment (and the subsequent slightly hysterical one bashing the post, which I will not repeat) made me so very sad.

"Editor’s note: I’m allowing this comment through because I think it’s honestly meant and not a troll. I request that commenters who disagree refrain from responding directly. Please keep this comments section a space for people to support diversity–even diversity of viewpoints you may find objectionable–and discuss the topic at hand."  MM 9/12

The problem being addressed included a lack of religious leanings in a typical YA protagonist, and now those who agreed that this was a problem were branding what seemed to me to be a respectful, enthusiastic, and in-tune-with-the-spirit-of-the-post comment as trolling because it expressed a religious viewpoint they didn't even want to give the time of day.  This kind of hypocrisy makes me tired.  If you're going to embrace diversity, you can't make exceptions like that, especially in a knee-jerk reflex fashion, or people can't take your "commitment to diversity" seriously.

The original authors and the blog owner who posted their statements were trying to raise awareness about how they perceive that certain viewpoints/opinions (that have to do with religion and other things) aren't permitted in mainstream YA fiction.  This commenter was agreeing and pointing out one that was missing.  For doing so, she got slapped by the blog owner in an indirect manner and by another commenter in a rather ugly and direct manner.  To give the blog owner credit, she was apparently right about how other people might take the post.  It's just sad that she had to step in to keep this discussion about why we need to be more open to discussions about religion in YA books from degenerating into incivility because someone brought up religion.

I agree with the original commenter: Christian teens wrestling with homosexuality and their faith and deciding on a course of action that leads to celibacy in order to exercise discipline and bring their lives into conformity with their beliefs and faith have nowhere to turn in YA fiction.  That perspective is not represented anywhere.  "Christian" publishers won't touch it in a meaningful and realistic way because it's too "liberal."  "Secular" publishers won't touch it in a meaningful and realistic way because it's too "conservative." 

No one will touch it.  No one will embrace it and publish something beautiful that will give Christian teens struggling with this issue validation that they are not alone in their struggles.  No voice will give an affirmation that these teens struggling with sexuality as they become adults need to contend with the issues thoughtfully and not just hide themselves away because people (and especially the church) don't want to talk about it because it's hard and divisive and painful.  No fictional character will help them realize the fact that they are part of a greater story.

I would read that book in a heartbeat.  I would recommend that book to lots of people, especially to people who went through that struggle alone when they were teens.  I believe there is value in reading about that kind of struggle written well even if you share none of the beliefs the protagonist has.  I thought that's what those who claim to believe in the need for increased diversity in YA fiction were saying.  I didn't realize they meant "except for conservative Christians who choose to buck the mainstream and choose to abstain from sex they believe is wrong."  I would like to believe that's not what they meant.  I would like to believe that they would give this book a fair shake, especially if they talk the talk of diversity.

Would you?


Stay tuned for part 3 coming later this week . . .

What Started It All, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 1 of 5

I came across this keruffle and found myself giving it a lot of thought.  The gist is that some authors believe that there is a thing that needs to be addressed in YA publishing: 

"The usual protagonist of a YA sf/fantasy novel is a heterosexual white girl or boy with no disabilities or mental/neurological issues, no stated religion, and no specific ethnicity. Reading and reviewing novels whose characters break that mold in other ways would also be a step forward."

Quite interesting, I thought, and right on.  I have nothing wrong with the usual protagonists; I just think that when I read non-standard protagonists, I really like them.  Stoner & Spaz by Koertge comes to mind and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Farmer.  Don't forget Paterson's Sign of the Chrysanthemum or even Libba Bray's Going Bovine.  Different times, different places, different mental spaces: these are things I can only experience in books.  I love me some usual, but I also love me some unusual.

So there was that kerfuffle and rebuttals and comments and more rebuttals.  There are some great lists, too.  Feel free to get lost in it if you'd like, but be sure to come back for part 2 of this meditation where I think about religion and diversity and integrity.

Friday, October 21, 2011

a trade off

a trade off

Sometimes I think it's a good thing
I don't get enough sleep to remember

my nightmares, if I even have them,
but I miss remembering my dreams.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

normal 30-something woman concerns (not)

A little conversation I had with myself after the online course I teach distressingly lost all data on its sad little course site:

"Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I could just have normal 30-something woman concerns.  Y'know, not like wasp infestations or being crippled and unable to write what I want or not being able to get my grading done because of a conspiracy against me."

"What, exactly, are normal 30-something woman concerns?"

"Well, I dunno.  Clothes, interior design, children, and spouse/significant other/lack of significant other?  Or something."

"Have you ever been the least bit concerned about any of those things?"


"In the absence of the weird things, would you be any more likely to care about the normal things?"

"Not at all."

"Then you'd be really bored."

"No, just really well-read.  I think I could handle that."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ditching the Slacker Voice, an odyssey

In the immortal words of Relient K, "I so hate consequences."

Once upon a time, I adopted a more, shall we say, relaxed speaking voice. You see, I was a graduate school student in a choir full of undergraduates, and I was working a retail job, and my height and confidence, coupled with a somewhat precise speaking voice, large vocabulary, and decent diction seemed, shall we say, threatening at most and not very friendly at least to people I had to interact with every day.

My sister puts it this way, "You make people feel stupid sometimes."

I decided that since a lifetime of slouching hadn't really helped my height be less intimidating, maybe I should try to change my speaking voice, so I did. I adopted a lazy sort of tone, reduced my vocabulary outside the graduate program, and tried to sound more relaxed. Now I'm paying for it.

My voice has been getting more gravelly, and it takes an inordinate amount of time to warm it up for speaking or singing, and I thought it was because of being allergic to the Midwest. I went to see an ENT, and he prescribed some additional thankfully cheap things for the allergies. During the exam, he asked me five times, "Do you strain when you talk?"

Five times I answered, "No?"

After the fifth time, he said, "You strain when you talk. Want to go see a voice therapist?"

"Sure, " I said. It took a while, but I finally saw one. It turns out that I strain when I talk (shocker). After some discussion, it turned out that the main culprit is my slacker voice.

Sigh. You try to be less threatening to others and only hurt yourself. What a strange life lesson.

Because I'm a singer, the therapist told me I might be able to straighten out some of the damage on my own, especially since I knew what was causing it and since I don't need it for those reasons anymore (working a professional job and thus not able to participate in that choir anymore).

I can go back to sounding like an intelligent, professional person again. Hooray! So now, my goal is to ditch the slacker voice before it does any irreparable damage to my vocal cords and my singing voice. Welcome back, diction.

The thing is, after 8 years of the slacker voice, my vocal cords don't really know what the correct way to work feels like, so my throat is tired and still hoarse most of the time.  I don't really know if I'm actually making progress.  Also, I don't always think before I talk (a problem since birth, I think), so I'm not sure how long it will take to reprogram my speech patterns. (I pray not as long as it took to make them a habit.) Wish me luck!

Maybe I'll get an essay out of this someday . . .

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What's your score on NPRs top 100 sf/f books?

Neil Gaiman says it's not the best flowchart ever, but it is so very, very close.

What's your score out of 100?  What are your favorites that made it on the list?  Any you were surprised to see there?  Any you want to read but haven't gotten to yet?