Feminist AF/UF

Living with anxiety is real. At the end of the work day, I face a clamorous din of the moments, decisions, and interactions of the day, overlapping in instant-replay. It’s rarely one specific moment; more often it’s a grey noise unquiet of my mind that I have difficulty shaking off. Some days the only thing for it is to indulge in a good, old-fashioned binge watch of crime dramas. When I have a high-stress phase, I stop reading books almost altogether in favor of re-watching episodes of problematic but delicious and comforting media like Law & Order SVU. We can talk about my thoughts on that another time.

I recently received a Kindle as a birthday present, and on recommendation from two book-loving friends, I bought Ilona Andrews’s Burn For Me. Since then I have plunged head-first into the urban fantasy genre, where I had but gently waded before. Friends, I am so happy here! I have read more books in the past few months than in the past few years (3 this week!!) and I’m itching to try my hand at some writing. And maybe I will have to. Because I am having trouble finding my feminism reflected in the genre.

The picture is meant to look like a novel cover. In a dark black and white photo, confortable shoes in jeans climb up steps. The title and subtitle text reads "hard out here for a feminist," and small text at the bottom reads, "intersectional feminist, thank you very much."

Urban fantasy generally titillates the reader with a one true pairing (OTP) romance alongside the monster-fighting and world-building. Much to my spouse’s dismay, I am a primary shipper, rooting every time for exactly who the novelist, show-runner, or playwright is developing a romance around. The first time that I went with Love to the Dragon Con convention, we attended a panel about The X Files, where I learned that one of the most contentious arguments in modern sci-fi nerdery was whether you shipped (hoped for/believed in a relationship between) Mulder and Scully or did not. I shipped The X Files. I shipped Benson and Stabler on SVU and he was married. God help me, I shipped Veronica Mars and Logan. Talk about problematic.

So the ship gets me every time. But in Urban Fantasy (at least what I’ve been reading), the ship defaults to straight, defaults to whiteness, defaults to a strong, possessive man protecting a strong woman. I can’t seem to escape the trope (at least in the books I’m reading) of a powerful woman who vanquishes her enemies but secretly wants to be wrapped in the strong, hairy arms of a growling beast. He scowls at her enemies. He admonishes her for putting herself in harm’s way to get the job done while consistently doing the same. In the Ilona Andrews (a wife and husband writing team) novels, he also seems to consistently be “corded with muscle” and emits “male” sighs when resigned to his fate… or turned on… or both. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be as talented as this duo.

But I would also love a feminist, queer, fat, POC, nonbinary, trans, and/or disabled main character. I think we deserve it. I think there are some out there for me to find. I think this genre is perfectly suited for a feminist upheaval. And I think I’m going to write some.

The picture is meant to look like a novel cover. The silhouette of a man and a woman leans close together against a purple and pink sunset. The small words at the top read "this may sound like bullshit, but" and the larger title words read, "stay with me."

Urban fantasy loves an anti-hero. I am fascinated by the evolution of the anti-hero over time from gruff man with rage issues (bonus points if those rage issues have to do with not liking people who are cruel to poor, defenseless women—I’m looking at you, Stabler) to today’s tough-ass women who don’t trust easily. Urban fantasy keeps both, and tempers the overbearing man by shifting the focus onto a the defiant lady heroine. It’s a delightful push and pull, but I think with some intention we can rip this trope right into the 21st century. For starters, queerness would be a ding dang delight in this world, unseating many of the traditional plot lines of man-saves-day → woman-refuses-to-yield-to-man→ man-keeps-looking-at-woman-funny-while-woman-struggles-with-self-consciousness → SEX. And if you don’t think this one tiny twist of character identity would upset the whole patriarchy, I’m guessing you’ve never planned a gay wedding.

Urban fantasy is a brilliant derivative from the high fantasy (and even sci-fi) I loved in my youth. It evokes monsters, demons, and evolution in response an influx of magic/monsters/heroes. It can bring Austen’s subtext, rule-building, and hierarchy into the relationships between Weis and Hickman’s misfit magical heroes and then rip the whole thing out of Krynn and drop it into an Atlanta summer fighting the traffic on I-285. It’s gorgeous and supple and it knows no boundaries. It can conjure creatures with whatever traits we weave into it. So why is every character I read a cis man or cis woman? Why do I devour book after book that describes a character meeting a short man, a woman, and then a tall Black man?

To be plain, my point is that as a genre, urban fantasy tends to default to traditional beauty, whiteness, straightness, and cis and able-bodied characters while spinning worlds with brand new rules. We are singularly gifted with the opportunity to fade privilege, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy from the limelights of our stories, and I want in.

So I think I’m going to write some stories. I’m definitely going to keep seeking out work that pushes the genre further ahead. I acknowledge that I may be reading books and seeing tokenism in what may have been progressive representation at the time. I want to believe in these writers who have built this fun, friendly, approachable genre with depth and imagination. And I do. But I also believe they can be better. And I want in.

If you read this and you know of examples of good, compelling writing that features underrepresented voices in this genre (or neighboring genres, or maybe it’s only a little bit good), by all means, please leave a comment. I’m (un)dying to know.

Mirror Mirror

I admit it. I love external validation. Tell me I’m smart if you want to watch a grown woman blush.

Time and again, I have given too much power to someone’s bad opinion of me, distorting my self-image and warping my vision. I have watched with bated breath as people dissect my ideas, quietly gutting myself with every slice, and I have barely contained all too many squeals of delight when paid an authentic compliment. I often think of this as a single-direction dependency, but there is another angle that I rarely admit: I have the power to glitter up a room.

I could listen to Lizzo’s “Juice” a thousand times. She’s unapologetically the center of attention, the hottest badass in the room. I love the chorus, especially the line, “if I’m shinin’ everybody gonna shine.” There is something in me like leadership, and while it’s most often muted, pushed aside, or otherwise covered in the filth of my own self-disrespect, I can feel its potential glimmering from time to time.

“If I’m shinin’ everybody gonna shine.” – Lizzo (Juice)

My years of working in theatre taught me to read a room, and when all eyes are on me, the pinprick of excitement is at the base of my spine. I love inspiring happiness, and I love being messy. I laugh too loud and on the rare occasions that I dance, I dance with strange, sporadic, jiggly abandon. In my best moments, I give people permission to be as joyful as I am.

I’ve been down lately. I haven’t been engaging and I haven’t been creative. Sometimes I need to protect myself—I won’t apologize for that—but I’ll admit to being withdrawn for a few months. In the past week, I’ve been reminding myself of my own badassery. Big steps include: writing in this blog again / wearing lots of glitter / listening to “Juice” on repeat today / making new friends / getting good work done.

The best part, the very best part, is that when I’m feeling myself, I see my wife’s eyes light up with a thing like hope.

Intention is important, so here’s mine. If this is a superpower, I will use it for good. I will reflect the authentic joy I see around me back out into the world. I will bounce the wisdom and the kindness, but I will endeavor not to absorb the toxic bullshit. And when I’m not strong enough to be a mirror to the world, I will let my loved ones reflect what I am, so that maybe this time I can believe it.

Steps

Y’all, I stopped writing. I just stopped. I’ve also stopped doing much walking, stretching, or other activity for more months than I care to admit.

Rest is critical / stasis can be poisonous. Author’s note: If you’re getting nervous, you can relax. This is not a weight loss story.

I felt angry at my legs for not carrying me further, and at my lower back for aching me to a halt. I felt jealous toward the writing accomplishments of my friends, when I should have been so proud. But I’m feeling a bit new this morning. I made a new friend last night who teared up as she told me how much writing her instagram blog has changed her life, and talking with her reminded me that it’s not followers or success that make a writer, it’s work, practice, and feeling that calling.

I’m at a conference and walking around 15,000 steps a day (I revived my old, dead fitbit so I could see). I’m tired and sore and I have swollen feet, but I’m learning so much. I’ve been breathless, trying to keep up with others who are taller or more able than I am. I can feel these two ideas linking up in my mind, limping back up to my consciousness in lockstep. I can write, maybe even move more, and protect myself as well.

I think I have the chance to push myself and forgive myself today. That feels right.

Or maybe that’s just me

When you’ve been planning your wedding for a year and it’s happening in two days and there’s a massive storm bearing down on your loved ones. You pray, you cry, you still celebrate, and you keep busy. You pack exquisite little fruits for your partner to take to work and then eat Oreos for breakfast in your sweatpants. You make extensive spreadsheets and lists of everything that still needs to be accomplished. You pack boxes and binders, and if you’re really lucky, you have an amazing partner and two amazing best friends who see you, who know they have to stand near when the fear rattles you.

Every Day Forever

With morning breath

With misunderstandings

With ugly-crying

With short tempers

With full hearts

With empty pockets

With gas in the tank

With tentative steps

With leaps and bounds

With sand between our toes

With dirt under our fingernails

With conviction

With strength

I get to love you.

Every day.

Forever.

With my whole heart.

Bikinis in Winter

Back in July, I did something completely normal; I wore a two-piece bathing suit. I started this blog a few weeks earlier because I didn’t want to start with that post. I thought it would move mountains. I wanted to exist Before because I thought the experience would make me new After. I found what I started to write at the time:

Yesterday, I wore a bikini on the beach for the first time in my life. Yes, it was high-waisted enough to feel safe for me. Yes, I have been planning this for months. No, actually, it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t feel free for the first time in my life, I felt like me with 4-6 inches of belly showing. I’m glad I did it,
Now as 2017 shuffles off to good-fucking-riddance I find myself beset on all sides by weight loss schemes. The great all-seeing eye of retargeting knows that I’m getting married and is specifically showing me options to lose weight for my wedding. This insult cuts into me, excavating my most private fears, and pouring cold acid down my hopeful thoughts.
The worst part, though? The worst part is that I don’t know what I want. Yesterday I bravely lifted my double chin and told my co-workers, “joke’s on them. I’ve already bought my wedding dress and it’s a size 22.” I meant it, at least mostly. But there was a flicker of a moment after I said it when my armor fell. I saw them shift on their feet and avoid eye contact. It was infinitesimal, but it was there.
I left work at lunch and drove to the mountains with my love. A few of our favorite people joined us and last night, as the temperature dipped just into freezing, we sat in a hot tub under a misty, starry sky and I watched my big belly float to the surface in my bikini. I drank cold beer and slipped my neck under the water for warmth. I laughed to wake the moon.
So, I’m not perfect. I don’t always reject the subjugation of my body that is perpetrated upon me. But I wore a fucking bikini, and I know what it means.
I acknowledge that the consistent and brutal mental and physical attacks that fat bodies suffer are part of a larger system of oppression, which is only more cruel to people of color and gender-nonconforming people. I know that I am an imperfect warrior in this battle. I know that non-compliance is otherness with teeth.
Every moment that I let my love caress the roll of fat on my side, every red lipstick and too-tight dress. Every mini-skirt, every day without spanx, I am defiant. Sometimes I feel as if I’m slipping under the waves, but at least I’ll be wearing a bikini and a grin that says, “fuck you, I sure fucking am.”

Things I Probably Shouldn’t Say at Christmas, a Non-exhaustive List

“I think it’s best that we don’t talk about politics, because I consider your candidate to be a scourge on humanity.”

“I think I like my new boss’s intersectional style, but I am concerned about how solid he is on understanding that limiting abortion access is a human rights violation.”

“The wedding planning has been great. When we get stressed out, we just have to stop for a while and have hot lesbian sex to remind us what it’s all about.”

“The gender binary exists to make people like you feel comfortable. I like you, but let’s get over that, shall we?”

“If we were paying attention, we’d all be vegan.”

“Anyone who still thinks climate change isn’t real is an asshole.”

“We give the most money to Planned Parenthood, of course, but we also donate to ACLU, NPR, and local LGBTQ+ organizations. We’re donating to HRC, but considering a reduction because they’re just more aligned with the mainstream/ white/ cisgender/ male culture.”

“You know, I started watching Say Yes to the Dress, but it was reinforcing so many heteronormative and size-biased ideals that I had to stop.”

“Fat bodies can be just as healthy as smaller bodies, and doctor bias really needs to be addressed.”

“Don’t blame me. I voted for Hillary.”

Having Myself a Merry Little Heartache

A switch has flipped. I watched a clearly addictive made for Netflix holiday film, and before I could say feliz navidad, the very blood in my veins transformed to red and green glitter. I haven’t been able to stop watching romantic, mostly-made-for-television holiday movies. From this unexplored and eerily consistent genre, I have learned a few things about the meaning of Christmas, and I’ve also learned, quite frankly, that Hillary Duff has a sister named Haylie and she is the Beyonce of whatever this is. It seems that there are a LOT of these, and I can’t stop watching them; I just finished one. I’m watching one now.

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

This may be the most heteronormative type of movie that I know about. Christmas Romance, or Chrismance, as I’ve just decided to call it, leans heavily on gender roles to drive the plot forward. For example, a man will arrive on a snowmobile to rescue a figure skater without chains on her tires, or a woman will bake Christmas cookies to learn how to care for people (and yes, these are both examples from movies I’ve watched in the last 24 hours). There is also a stunning lack of ethnic diversity in most Chrismances, especially in the made-for-tv offerings.

Chrismanticism also hinges on a knows / doesn’t know what’s really important dichotomy. Someone is always out of touch, spoiled, hurt by a past love, afraid to live life to the fullest, etc. Maybe this is what grabs me by the jingle bells about this whole mess: I’m always both of those things, always afraid but with the best intentions. Always spreading cheer and trembling with hesitation.

Or perhaps it’s the colors. Chrismances shimmer with open doorways that lead into warm glowing holiday parties and jewel-bright green scarves and deep red wines. Every home is a mansion and every Christmas dinner has room for more around the table. Every trip out of town is bucolic and every sunset will open your heart. Every snowfall makes you stay longer in the beautiful inn, just long enough to fall in love.

My breath quivers like a bowl full of jelly as each (too-straight and too-white and too-wealthy) couple gets that sad, sweet glimmer of hope in their eyes when they realize that they’re standing in front of the person they love. Well, bury me with a stake of holly through my heart, because this is killing me with kindness, y’all. I want to savor the sweet fear of every missed opportunity, every moment before that final happy-ending kiss.

And when that kiss comes, tears prickle from my eyes as I feel my happiness overflowing. I am a glittering star atop the tree, a cup of spiced cider in my own belly. I commune with these goofy, underproduced and badly acted movies and I rise above the snowy rooftops like the final pan shot, becoming a twinkling star in a sky full of other twinkling stars. I’m a part of “real America,” and there is always room for one more at my table.

So anyway, that’s why I haven’t been going out much.

Fuck R*y M**re in Particular

In case you live under a rock, don’t have Twitter, or have been reading a book for the last few hours, there is news about R*y M**re today.

And fuck that guy. DEFINITELY FUCK THAT GUY. But he doesn’t get all four corners of my mind today.

I can’t imagine how brave his victims must have had to make themselves in order to come forward with these allegations. And it rips me up that we all keep expecting this, demanding this, and #metoo-ing as humans expose their darkest moments of victimhood so that we can finally FINALLY disavow monsters who have shown us for their entire careers that they are monsters.

I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but HEY PLANET EARTH, WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S OK TO SUPPORT THESE ASSHOLES IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Support candidates of color. Support women. Support queer, trans, and nonbinary folk. Support people who don’t support assholes, and my all means, give them your time, your vote, your money, and your mouthpiece.

Because we deserve better than this. Because we are in a vortex of totally fucked and the only way out is to stop and stand up and say, “wait a minute, fuck rape culture and ableism and racism and transphobia and homophobia and xenophobia, and fuck R*y M**re in particular.”

Unsex Me Here

Dimitri Tavadze; Year: 1963; Shakespeare – Macbeth

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty.”

-Lady MacBeth, as written by my favorite bard.

 

Gender is fucking complicated. And this post is not meant to be instructional, but I’m happy to provide a small sliver of a guiding principal for those seeking it: the least we all can do is take folx at their word when they tell us their gender.

Now, I shall proceed with the rant that is bubbling up from my gut. I have run into a fetid river of hate-filled sludge around gender this very week — and so have you, in case you weren’t looking.

My friend, long-since transitioned, told me he went to a psychiatrist to ask about a family history of mental illness, and all the (old, white) man wanted to talk about were his “gender problems.” This is a person in a very real, very dangerous position with his health. He needed help right at that very moment, and even if he didn’t, fuck you in particular, man.

Make thick my blood.

It’s been a year and a fucking half since North Carolina, one of my former home states, passed their insidious HB2 drivel, and advocates are still fighting to let trans folx JUST LITERALLY USE THE FUCKING BATHROOM. Every time a news story tells me they’re making progress, I click with bated breath and read hungrily for the resolution that just won’t seem to come. Halfway down the page, we always arrive at a but-it-still-has-to-pass-the-House-of-Representatives situation.

Come, thick night, and pall these assholes in the dunnest smoke of hell.

Call me basic if you will, but the microaggression that actually got my blood boiling this morning was the wedding planning app I downloaded on my phone. Despite asking upfront if I was marrying a “bride” or a “groom,” (person was not an option), it auto-created a budget for me complete with gendered EVERYTHING. Groom’s suit, groomsmen, and nothing on there about the rehearsal dinner because I’m supposed to understand via the great mysteries of the oral tradition, inherited instinct, and Emily Post that the bride’s parents pay for the wedding and the groom’s parents pay for the rehearsal dinner. Well, butter my biscuits, y’all, I just cannot even with this shit. It doesn’t feel like any of this should still be a problem in 2017. All it takes is a bit of intention and a willingness to trust people who are not cishet white dudes.

Lady MacBeth’s unsex me speech is one of my favorites, because she (well, Shakespeare) believes that she has to unwoman herself in order to do dark deeds. In this passage, she asks for her blood to run thick and her menstrual cycle to stop, so that she *cannot* *access* *compassion* *through* *her* *vagina* folks. Also, please could some demons turn her milk into bitter acid? They’re just hanging around anyway.

Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief.

Is it my menstrual cycle that’s been preventing me from violently attacking my enemies for all of this time? What a delicate little surprise. We’ve all had to screw our courage to the sticking place at one time or another, but it takes really quite someone to beg for our gender to be ripped away by demons so that we won’t turn back.

Now that I’ve dropped briefly into my comfort zone by explaining Shakespeare passages, it’s important at this point to admit that I am also angry with myself. My person is ok with she/her or they/them pronouns. I switch back and forth. Sometimes, I switch because I know the person I’m speaking with won’t understand they/them. I often find that I revert to she/her in crowds. What kind of cowardly bullshit is that? I know that it’s a good and necessary part of the process to teach people, especially as an ally, yet I auto-conform to the perceived comfort of the masses. I’m one step away from acting like this dastardly wedding planning app, and I don’t even help you make your china registry, so.

I want to do better for my trans and nonbinary friends. I want to do better for me, because gender is a part of me, but it’s not all of me. When I chose not to have a child, for example, I thought of it as one of multiple paths before me. To many, I am missing out on the most important part of womanhood.

Take my milk for gall.

Well, I say that womanhood is what I make of it, and so is being a person. Maybe you could do better with me, too, dear reader. Maybe together, we can let go of some of the more toxic and less useful parts of gender conditioning and learn to see the people around us a complex, beautiful, and worthy of respect. I’d like that.