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Let me start with a geology story. I promise, there’s a point to this.

When I was a geologist at the research company, I had a core come in. There was a ten foot section of it that I didn’t know how to describe. It was fine-grained, filled with burrows. So far so good. But the mineralogy was… puzzling. Not enough dolomite to be described as a dolostone, not enough clay to be described as a mudrock, not enough quartz sand and silt to be described as some kind of sandstone or siltstone. It sat basically at the nexus of all possible rock types for that environment and was definitively none of them. In absolute frustration, I dubbed it “shit rock” and wrote all my reports and captions accordingly.

Of course, this is a business. I couldn’t actually turn in reports to the client with the term “shit rock” used. So I had a long talk with my boss. The problem with geology, he explained, is that everything we work on is a continuum. So there will always be something that falls in that liminal state where you’re not quite sure what it is, and even if you wanted to do battle with the rest of the community to coin a new term, you’d just be replacing one borderland with two. You can write definitions all day that will define 99.999% of all the rocks out there, but then some son of a bitch is going to come in with the 0.001% case because there are a lot of rocks on Earth, and one in a million things happen more often then any of us can grasp.

There will always be rocks that defy easy classification. You eventually just have to dip your toe into the art rather than science and describe it how you feel fits best – and then be ready to defend your decision.

Which comes to me. A little while ago on Twitter, I said:

And then while I was taking a shower, because all my most important thinking happens in the shower or when I’m supposed to be trying to fall asleep, I realized that it was an empty thing to say without the rest of this post.

I’ve been nibbling at the edges of this for a while, trying to figure things out. But maybe it’s the scientist in me, I don’t like committing to anything unless I’m absolutely certain – and the thing about life is that absolute certainty is in shorter supply than most people would like to believe. Because what if I’m wrong? How do I defend something that I’m still figuring out? But I don’t feel like I have the luxury of wibbling quietly into the night any more.

Because you see, in this way, gender’s got something in common with geology. Everything works on a continuum. You will always find cases that defy classification, and no matter how frustrating that is, they don’t go away. And that is part of the beauty of the world, trust me.

So how do I define myself? Queer, for certain. Sometimes it’s easier to tell people what a rock – or yourself – isn’t than what it is. I’m not female. I don’t quite think I’m male either, but I’d have to give it a good few years try out before I could say for certain. Fuck knows, it’s taken me something like 34 years to figure out the “not female” bit, but GOD it has been a relief since I reached that conclusion. So my big request here is to please use a gender-neutral pronoun (they) if possible. Or if you just can’t make that work in your brain, because I know the verb conjugation gives people mental cramp at times, masculine (he).

And please, call me Alex. It started out as… not a joke, precisely, when I came up with my pen name. But it’s grown on me, like a much more comfortable skin.

But there’s a point to this, and it’s not just me sitting at my keyboard and crying. I’ve been doing that too often in the last forty-eight hours.

When I was a baby queer growing up surrounded by kids and adults who thought “smear the queer” was a perfectly acceptable name for a game that involved throwing balls at other people so hard it gave them bruises (and I was one of those kids, because at the time I didn’t know better), it was invaluable to me when I started seeing LGBT people openly be themselves. It told me that there were more options that I knew, that maybe I didn’t have to keep trying to jam myself into a mold I didn’t fit, and I could be happy.

Since the election yesterday, there’s already been countless stories of racism, sexism, and homophobia being flung at people with renewed abandon. I live in a place where it’s relatively safe – swing state turned pretty reliably blue state Colorado, in the Denver-Boulder area – to be out. So I think that I need to be as out as possible even if I’m not entirely happy with my R-squared values, because now more than ever it’s important to make it known that we exist. That we will not go away. That people who are like me, who live in environments where they are not safe, are not alone even if they can only hold that truth silently in their heart.

Sometimes, merely living, existing, is an act of defiance, denying the narrative that we are fictional, or merely confused, or unhappy, or intrinsically broken.

Let this be my act of defiance. Let this be the first of many.

– Alex

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’m not that tuned in to YA because I live under a rock, so this was the first I heard about Bergstrom poking YA authors as a whole in the eye. Went and read the interview linked in that post. Have some serious fucking problems beyond the general feeling of dude have you just managed to sleep through the existence of Katniss Everdeen?

A couple quotes from the interview:

As the father of two daughters, I became pretty appalled at the image of women they received from the culture. It was all princess-this, Barbie-that. It was almost a satire of femininity. My wife—a very strong, highly-motivated attorney—was appalled too. What century were we living in if the feminine ideal little girls learned about was still a woman in a pink dress and a nineteen inch waist? I decided to create a female heroine who was the opposite of all that—a young, strong female who discovers real heroism within herself.

And

I knew I wanted to create a strong heroine for The Cruelty, the opposite of the cheerleader-prom queen. She starts as a lonely, introverted girl, bullied by her prettier, richer classmates. After her father is kidnapped she transforms herself into a cunning, strong warrior.

As the auntie of two fantastic little girls, one of whom has already gone through a princess phase that left me feeling like I was going to be vomiting pink rainbows for the rest of my life, I have serious fucking problems with this. Because you want to talk about the shit society does to young women that leaves us fucked up forever?

It’s telling us that pink and the trappings of stereotypical femininity are signs of weakness while simultaneously punishing us if we eschew those trappings.

It’s convincing those of us that develop an allergy to pink that we’re “different from other girls” and therefore better, and encourages us to shit all over the women who should be our allies in the struggle because obviously if they’re feminine, they’re losers.

It’s conflating the feminine with the misogynistic bullshit view of the feminine. There is nothing wrong with liking princesses and makeup if you derive personal strength from them. The problem isn’t the makeup. The problem is the societal narrative that says you deserve to be dismissed because of it. The problem is the poisonous bullshit that says women are lesser and attacks the outward appearance of womanhood as if that’s the root of the problem. Because you know what? Not wearing pink and not wearing makeup isn’t going to save you from the pay gap.

It’s telling us that the only heroism that counts is the sort that girly girls can never exercise. It’s telling us that heroism is connected only with violence when some of the most impressive heroes in the history of our species have been those who exercised radical non-violence. It’s telling us that the lone wolf is the real hero when the greatest movers of our societies have been the organizers.

Oh, and you know what else? Some of the most fantastic fucking people I’ve known in my life were cheerleaders in high school, and I’m ashamed I started out believing the stereotype of them as queen bitches. And the cheerleaders I once knew who were jerks? How much of that was because they, like every other woman in this fucking society, got fed the bullshit notion that being female is a zero-sum game that someone has to lose?

So yeah. Problems. Major fucking problems.

I spent years getting told I “wasn’t like other girls” because I didn’t like the feminine stuff. And I spent years thinking that made me better, which is such bullshit I’ll carry that shame until my dying day. And this is how fucked up that narrative has left me. I have to constantly question myself and my own gender presentation because of it. Do I not like dresses because of internalized misogyny, or because I really don’t like dresses? Do I hate being called miss and ma’am because there’s still part of me that believes to be female is to be lesser, or is it really because I feel more like a goddamn sir? Is my knee jerk, emotional reaction of I’m not a girl because I’m really not a girl or because I’ve been taught to hate girliness and still haven’t expunged that cancer from my brain? Is the queerness of my gender an internalization of the shit that’s been fed to me my entire life, or because I’m just bent this way? I don’t fucking know. I’ll never fucking know. At least now I’ve finally figured out that it doesn’t make me better. It just makes me different and that’s okay.

But I resent the promulgation of these poisonous narratives. I resent that in 35 years there’s probably going to be another person like me who’ll be asking these same questions and having these same conflicts because people can’t figure out the problem isn’t pink, the problem is that we’ve all been taught to hate women.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve realized that one of the reasons I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the whole you can tell she’s a strong female character because she spends all of her time rolling her eyes and threatening to punch the boys (as seen in The Maze Runner, for example) is that as a teenager I basically was that character. I spent a lot of my time threatening to punch people and hanging with the guys by being pretty aggressive.

You know what that got me told? You’re not like other girls. You’re cool.

And in a sort of chicken and egg feedback loop, that made me willing to laugh at and tacitly encourage some incredibly misogynist joking and “pranks.” Which also, by the way, apparently later fed into the idea that I was a butch lesbian and it was totally cool for guys to engage in some pretty sexist banter about various other women with me.

I’m ashamed of a lot of that in retrospect.

I obviously don’t think there’s anything wrong with being butch or having a masculine presentation. (Duh.) But the more I think about how that so often translates out into buying in to the most toxic aspects of masculinity:

  1. Casual violence
  2. Casual misogyny
  3. Belief that the masculine is on its face superior to the feminine
  4. Being not like the other girls or cool means abandoning other women and considering them inferior

…the more it really upsets me.

I’d like kids who were like me, struggling with being a girl while finding the feminine an ill-fitting societal construct, to be able to read about characters like them. I pretty much stopped reading books about girls/women at that age because I was reading adult SF/F and there weren’t a whole lot of female main characters to begin with, but also because in all honesty, reading about female characters putting on makeup and dresses and carrying their vampire killing guns in their purses—all of which are perfectly okay things, please don’t get me wrong here—made me feel inadequate and like an outsider. Like my books were telling me I was doing the whole being a girl thing wrong. And at that point, I generally defaulted to reading about men, because at least men got to wear trousers and sensible shoes.

(Nowadays, I do not have a problem with this any more. Probably because I’m no longer an adolescent, self-hating hot mess, and I’ve also developed a lot more empathy as a reader; I like reading about people who are very different from me.)

So basically what I’m saying is that I want to see female characters who are strong in a lot of different ways. And I want to see female characters who get to be “masculine” without doing it in a toxic, hurtful way. I want to see “masculinity” used as a character trait, not the marker that a character is different and better and strong.

Because as I’ve pointed out before, not threatening to punch people actually takes a hell of a lot more strength.

(Was going to tweet these thoughts. Realized I had way too much to say. Apparently 500 words of way too much to say.)

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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THIS IS SO HILARIOUSLY PRECIOUS THAT I CANNOT HELP BUT SHARE IT. Like a video of a kitten angrily batting at an enormous piece of exercise equipment, but with 300% more fedora.

(By the way? Andrew’s fault. Because he finds hilarious and terrible things and tells me. Left to my own devices, I’d just kind of… pick up heavy things and put them back down until I got tired, then have a glass of milk fortified with whey protein. I know how to party.)

Because you see, John C Wright has suffered a bout of severe why is the world no longer catering to my demographic in every way apoplexy. And written a brief post about it. Titled (I shit you not) “Dungeons and Perverts.” (Link has been do-not-linkified.)

The whole thing stands on its own as a matter for total hilarity. Because at this point, he’s become a complete, unselfconscious parody of conservatism, and it’s comedy gold. But I do have a few points to call out.

And what could possibly be more authentically faux medieval than that?

It has long been known, of course, that homosexual, trans, and genderqueer people were not even invented until the late 20th century, for the express purpose of dragging the world into the bowels of Hell by their stubborn insistence on existing and performing controversial and harmful activities like breathing oxygen. In public.

No doubt you are wondering ‘Didn’t John C. Wright, famed international author and curmudgeon, just use that picture yesterday to underscore some point about Leftist crazies forcing Catholics to pay for abortifacient contraceptives and calling their unwillingness to do so a war on women?’

I can’t honestly decide if his blatant third-person ego stroking or his total (and proud) ignorance of how biology actually works is more hilarisad. Maybe both?

Yes, well the picture is appropriate today as well, now that gamer crazies are trying to manipulate kiddie ideas about decency and perversion in sex in a game otherwise concerned with spelunking robbers who slay monsters.

…has this guy actually ever even played D&D? And what did that sentence ever do to him to deserve being tortured?

But in all seriousness, I am incredibly concerned to learn that neckbearded liberal cryptofascist feminazi gamers are busting down the doors of innocent families, confiscating their dice, and then holding the children—won’t someone think of the children?!?!—at Lord of the Rings museum quality replica sword-point and forcing them to create queer characte

Oh wait. That’s not what’s happening?

There’s just a note in the character creation chapter that states genderqueer characters are possible and encourages players to—NO ANYTHING BUT THAT—use their imaginations to the fullest extent?

There is a saying of my people I feel is appropriate to share here. It goes something like this:

Crai moar.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 7.20.14 PM

 

(Related: a criticism of the D&D section in question. Not conservawank self-parody.)

 

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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So, Larry Correia wrote a fantastically dickish blog post about Alex Dally MacFarlane’s post on Tor.com in regards to the default gender binary represented in mainstream SF literature. The post in question involved Alex making the incredibly revolutionary1 observation that transwomen and transmen, you know, exist. As well as other people who do not conform to the strict, aggressively Leave It To Beaver-ish gender binary that’s still presented as the default. And it’s time to get away from that being the default. And hey, there have already been works written that touch on the issue, so let’s discuss those and then move forward. (Alex, if you ever happen to read this, I hope I have not misrepresented your position overmuch in my rather flippant summary.)

Jim Hines, bless him from his shiny head to his sofa-marrying heart2, possesses such intestinal fortitude and abundance of spare time that he’s done a point by point take down of Correia’s post.

My normal inclination here is to have the same response as I had to John C. Wright and his wall of misogy-text, namely: would you get a load of this fuckin’ guy. But there are a few things that are bothering me particularly, though. In short:

  1. Correia spends the whole time calling Alex “he” in his original post. (Alex isn’t a man. It takes exactly one google search or two clicks to double check that.[ETA] Her bio is literally at the bottom of her post. What kind of fucking laziness does this take?) I actually went and looked at Correia’s blog to see if he corrected himself, and he did… kinda? Somewhere in the word salad of this long response to Jim he corrects himself on Alex being “she,” airily dismisses it as a mistake and says he further doesn’t care anyway BECAUSE IDEAS NOT PEOPLE. Perhaps at this point misrepresenting someone’s gender feels like a drop in the ocean of douchery, and that’s the excuse for not taking two seconds to type out the word ‘sorry.’ But it’s a damn pathetic excuse.
  2. Seriously, what is with the dog whistle liberal versus conservative culture war bullshit framing? Perhaps this is bothering me more than normal because in my offline life, I just had a strong reminder that being conscious of gender identification isn’t a default liberal versus conservative issue, it’s a not being a douchebag issue.
  3. Correia’s thesis as written seems to be that (a) straw Alex wants all books to be nothing but non-standard characters and there will be checklists nothing but checklists forever, (b) this would make everything a preachy issue book (presumably because straw Alex does not care about story?), therefore (c) that would destroy the genre of science fiction.
  4. The ”I don’t like thing X, therefore if you write thing X IT WILL DESTROY THE GENRE,” line has gotten so common that I believe it deserves its own name. It’s like an appeal to consequences and appeal to tradition got together and had an ugly, whiny baby. Any suggestions? The best I’ve got is Appeal to Destruction, and that’s admittedly tepid.
  5. Correia keeps coming back to story being the most important thing. I don’t think there’s any halfway decent writer who would argue the point that story is where it’s at. So where the fuck is this disconnect? How does what Alex actually said in any way preclude the primacy of story? How does even making a conscious effort to write non-default characters equal preachy issue book? Is there some kind of mathematical proof I’m missing out on here that shows the number of transgender or genderqueer characters is inversely proportional to the amount of story and/or fun?
  6. Geeze, dude, leave some straw men for the rest of us. Seriously. Worldwide shortage.
  7. Cisgender hetero guy with enormous biceps kills vampires and then must face their sire in a world-shattering showdown versus Transwoman with slightly less enormous biceps kills vampires then must face their sire in a world-shattering showdown would both be driven by the same basic story. Each would be distinct because, say, for option B you’d have to consider how the heroine’s status as trans would effect her interactions with other characters and all of their choices–yet in the end it’s still about some badass killing a shitload of vampires and saving the world.
  8. I do not tend to buy books that promise to preach at me. But you know what I will go out of my way to buy? Books with female protagonists. Books with explicitly bisexual protagonists. Because like all human beings, I’m an egocentric jerk and I enjoy being able to see people like me in stories, saving the world and doing other badass shit. [ETA: I would hope this goes without saying, but you never know. I want good and interesting books with the aforementioned and following. Books with excellent story, which very much do exist when combined with "non-default" main characters. Yeesh.] But you know what else I’ll go out of my way to buy? Books with genderqueer protagonists. Books with non-white protagonists. Books with protagonists from cultures other than my own. Why? Because I want to imagine things outside of myself as well. And imagining ye olde heterosexual white dude? We all basically know how to put those shoes on mentally before we can tie our literal shoelaces in the real world.

 

1 - Mmm, sarcasm italics. How I have missed you.

2 – Some of the comments on Jim’s post are gold.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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When I was thinking about the awesomeness of wearing ties, something else struck me: I’m really lucky.

I’m lucky that I’ve got a couple of stores I can go to that have “masculine” clothing that’s cut to fit my proportions. (Thank you, Brooks Brothers and Saint Harridan.) And other stores I can go to for men’s suiting that have always welcomed me. (Thank you, Men’s Warehouse.) Brooks Brothers and Men’s Warehouse are just mainstream retail stores; they aren’t specialty stores that cater to women who basically like to cross dress. (And here I mean cross dress in the sense of simply wearing clothing considered to be for the “opposite” apparent gender rather than the performative sense of drag.)

But that’s because it’s still way more acceptable for women to cross dress in the US. It’s more acceptable for us to adopt “masculine” fashions. Sure, here and there you might get called a dyke or get some weird looks. But I have a lot of male friends who cross dress and transwomen friends, and it’s so much more difficult and even dangerous for them. It sucks, and it’s total bullshit.

I guess we’re all supposed to want to be manly men, and it’s cute when women want to try but hey it’s harmless we’re just trying to hit the pinnacle of humanity or something. I don’t know. It’s all artificially drawn lines that ultimately serve no purpose except to try to control other people. The more people I know, the more I’ve seen that sexuality and gender are sliding scales, and very few of us actually fit inside those harshly delineated boxes.

What harm does it do to anyone, if my male friend wants to rock that super sexy dress? But think of the children! Maybe one of those kids would like to wear that dress some day and not have a fucking complex about it. I have yet to hear a justification for censure on this regard that didn’t amount to “Because reasons!”

Fuck your bullshit, controlling reasons.

This utter societal stupidity was a major source of personal misery for me from high school on, because I never felt like I fit in the “girl” mold. It’s a sad statement that it took me thirty years to realize that I don’t have to. It’s okay that I don’t like dresses and skirts and makeup. I don’t have to. It’s okay if I’d rather walk barefoot over nails than wear cute women’s shoes. I don’t have to. If anyone else doesn’t like that, they can fuck off, because it’s my life and none of their business.

And if someone’s daughter sees me and gets it in her head that it’s okay to be a dapper sir, I will be happy to give her advice on how to properly do a half Windsor (because women normally have such narrow collars we can’t do a full) and be overjoyed she doesn’t have to waste decades hating herself in the mirror.

I know how amazing it feels to me, when I get to wear something that makes me feel truly like myself. I finally feel like I’m wearing my clothes, instead of like my clothes are wearing me. It upsets me in a deep way that my male and trans friends sometimes face a lot of nastiness because they want that same, simple thing.

Life is short. You should be able to wear whatever the fuck makes you happy. Wear what makes you feel like you and you know what? You will look amazing in it.

And for anyone else, they should be asking themselves what goddamn right they have to try to suck even one drop of happiness out of the world. And then they should shut the fuck up.

Originally published at The sound and nerdery of Rachael Acks. You can comment here or there.

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In case you hadn’t noticed, I like ties.

IMG_20130831_180740_749really like ties.

While I was on my tie binge during Worldcon, I had several men (including Jim Fiscus–love ya, Jim) ask me the same question: I’ve been trying to escape wearing ties all my life, so why are you willingly wearing one?

Because I like ties.

I guess you could see some of the lure of the forbidden in there. There are some fairly masculine cuts for women’s clothing these days, but you generally still don’t see women in ties unless they’re upscale waitstaff. And men, on the other hand, are required to wear ties at certain times… which if you don’t like them or don’t like the level of formality that denotes, makes them a miserable experience.

I don’t know why I like ties. I don’t think it’s just a desire to thumb my nose at gender expectations, but I can’t really sit down and write you a list of reasons why I like them. But why does anyone like the clothes they enjoy wearing? It’s all in the murky depths of our psyches, preferences and aesthetics we’ve formed that I think aren’t entirely conscious.

Why does anyone like wearing what they do? Because they like how it looks on them. I’ve been told time and again that a dress or a skirt or a blouse looks good on me, but when I look in the mirror I just feel awkward. I feel silly, like I don’t look like myself. I look like someone else’s idea of what Rachael Acks is supposed to look like, because hey that’s what girls wear, amiright?

I know it always sounds kind of funny when I talk about Project Runway, because let’s be serious. Fashion and I have never been friends. And the fashion on PR? Very not my kind of fashion, since it’s all skirts and purses and heels and the few times they attempt mens fashion it’s always a hilarious disaster.

But the one thing that show has done for me, season after season, is send the message that clothing isn’t supposed to be a punishment. Clothing is supposed to be something that makes you happy. Clothing should allow you to express yourself. Ideally, clothing should make you more you or more who you want to be.

So I guess the thing with the ties is that I’ve finally figured out how I want to express myself and who I want to be. For the first time in my life, clothing makes me feel good. For the first time in my life, I care about styling and colors and actually playing with my clothes, coming up with combinations and outfits. They make me feel bigger than myself (but in a good, standing tall way) and not like I want to shrink away and not be noticed. I actually want to be noticed now, because I feel damn good, I feel happy, and I want to share it.

I put on a button shirt and a tie, and I feel powerful. I feel like me.

Originally published at The sound and nerdery of Rachael Acks. You can comment here or there.

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I found this story very cute: Why I Bought Boys’ Underwear For My Daughter. Of course, the point is kind of that once again, gendered marketing strikes. Little girls only get appropriately feminine underoo options, little boys get Star Wars and the like, and there seems a total disconnect over the fact that little girls can appreciate “boy” things and enjoy them. No! You will wear pink! Nothing but pink! If you want a telescope it will be pink! Girls are only allowed to like girl characters! Etc!

So yeah, good on the dad.

This is the other thing that struck me. All of the comments on the article are positive. Pretty much along the lines of what I said – go dad! Woohoo! Now, the internet’s only had a day to blemish the comments so maybe people will be frothing in them soon about how boy underwear will turn that girl into a butch lesbian or something. But I would almost bet not.

Whereas, say, when you get an article about a little boy wearing awesome pink shoes – shoes! Not even something as intimate as underpants – there was definitely a lot of negative reaction in the comments. Plenty of “go, mom!” as well, but it wasn’t so unilaterally positive. Maybe it’s more okay for a little girl to like “boy” things than it is for a little boy to like “girl” things. I don’t know. I do get the impression that it’s much more okay for a little girl to be a “tomboy” when she’s young, so long as she straightens up and hews to the gender norm by the time she hits puberty (or risk getting picked apart by her peers). That was certainly close to my personal experience – no one really gave two shits about what I wore until suddenly there were boobs and makeup became a thing.

Though I also do wonder if the baggage is in there where it’s more acceptable for women to like “man” things than vice versa, because there’s still the idea of masculinity being superior.

Anyway. Awesome dad. Enjoy your Star Wars undies, little girl. If they made decent Avengers underwear for women of my size and shape, you can bet I’d be all over that shit too.

Originally published at katsudon.net. You can comment here or there.

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