Heterosexuality So Fragile

I’ve been on-line a long time.  Like, more-than-sixty-percent-of-my-life long, and – surprise, surprise – there’s always been gross stuff on the internet.

Not gross blood-and-guts gross, or pervy-sex-stuff gross, or scatological gross – I mean, all that stuff is out there, for sure, but it’s mostly there for the seeking, and I have neither sought it out, nor have I had any friends who’d think it was funny to send any of it in my direction (I probably live a charmed life, in that regard).

I mean gross in more subtle ways, in more “socially acceptable” ways – things that, when put under a critical lens, just leave me feeling like I need a shower.

Having already weeded my Facebook feed so that I don’t get my blood pressure up every time I get online, I’m no longer exposed to blatant racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, or queer-phobia.  I am however, left with these ubiquitous and gross memes:

 I can’t see an alternative timeline where I’d find these funny, exactly, but maybe I’d be less grossed out if I didn’t know people for whom this level of suspicion and attempted control in a relationship was, like, an actual part of their lives.

Shortly after becoming a mom, I joined the obligatory “mommy board” (really a mommy app) in an attempt to find my “tribe” (their lingo, not mine).

What I found instead was a slew of women – primarily heterosexual – who, when talking about relationships, always talked in terms of what they or their partners were “allowed” to do: he wasn’t allowed to have female friends, she wasn’t allowed to like guy’s pics on Instagram, etc.  

“Once you are married,” one of them actually wrote, “your man should not have any females number in his phone that isn’t family.  After you’re married, that’s when all the trust goes out the window.”

I just…

“Once you are married, that’s when all trust goes out the window.”

Let’s ignore the fact that this implies that either 1.) men won’t cheat prior to being married, or 2.) that it’s okay if he does, suggesting that a relationship not somehow “validated” by marriage is lesser, but it also (apparently) suggests that, as a (married) bisexual, I should basically not own a phone.  Or have friends.

But leaving that behind, I just… if you can’t trust them… why would you marry them in the first place?

I see a lot of media-savvy women, both feminist identified and not, wondering why we don’t see a lot of platonic friendships between men and women in the media, or wondering why Hollywood keeps insisting on asking the question of whether or not hetero men and women can be “just friends.”  I don’t know if this is a case of life imitating art, or art mirroring life, but the answer is apparently, “because we have talked ourselves into the mindset that we honestly apparently can’t.”  

Again, I don’t know if Hollywood is to blame for this idea, or if TV and movies are just holding up a mirror to our possessive and unhealthy ideas of what constitutes normalcy, but the fact remains – if you are in a relationship, you are not allowed friends of the opposite gender, because they become regarded as competition… which sort of sends the message that the only valid relationship between people of the opposite sex is a romantic/sexual relationship.

This is completely unfair, gross, and totally undermines the agency of all parties involved.  And it’s doubly gross that I even have to say that.

Women-loving-women have all manner of deep, platonic relationships with other women.  Men-loving-men do the same, and as a bisexual, I can assure you that while my circle of friends is small, it contains wonderful people of every gender with whom I have never even considered romantic entanglements.  I’m not saying this level of petty mistrust exists only in the heterosexual community – of course not – but I feel like it’s not only the most predominant there (likely because it’s the social majority), but also that it’s the most socially acceptable there.  Like, ok, there might be petty and possessive LGBT people, but they are being “catty,” or “aggressive,” whereas between the het couple?  Well, that level of mistrust is only to be expected.

How are we socializing our kids to look at gender, and to look at the interplay and interpersonal relationships between genders?  We are invalidating the importance of having varied people and relationships in our lives, and sending the signal that the only valid relationship is a romantic one between two people of the opposite sex – but that it’s also a relationship frought with mistrust and imposed limitations.  Normally I’d talk about how dangerously heteronormative this idea is, and how harmful it is to LGBT kids, but honestly, in this scenario, I think het kids are getting the shorter end of the stick.  If you’re straight, your best friend is a dude, and you’re not, kiss him goodbye, is essentially what we’re saying.  If you ever want to experience “love,” you’re going to have to give up half of the people who’ve meant the most to you in your life.  And answer for any interactions you have with anyone of the opposite sex ever again.  Sorry, that’s just how love works.

Except, Jesus Christ, it isn’t.  It so isn’t.

Look, cheating happens.  There are valid reasons to mistrust people, I’m not saying there aren’t.  If you are in a relationship with someone and they have cheated on you, of course I expect you to be wary.  Of course I expect you to be guarded, and more than a little on edge.  But it’s also not you to whom I am speaking right now.  Your trust has been violated, and that’s not okay, and you are entitled to your pain and anger; but it’s not that you had an innate lack of trust to begin with.

But that is the risk we have to take when we enter into any relationship – whether or not to trust the person.  And it’s not easy, and it’s not always comfortable, and you know what?  They aren’t always worthy of that trust.

But if you can’t trust them – or if that trust has been violated and you aren’t willing/able to work to gain that trust back (which is valid) – then you shouldn’t be with them.  The energy expended living in constant fear of them cheating, or in feeling that you have to “reel them in” is so unhealthy, for both parties involved.

Guys, it’s 2017.  Can we have a more nuanced view of gender and gender relationships this year?  Can we just… stop flooding my Facebook feed with gross memes about how “hilariously” unhealthy het relationships are?  Please?



Back from Arisia

Admittedly, I’m not super active on social media to begin with (something that I should probably aim to change), but I feel like I’ve been especially conspicuously absent the last few days.  In the last week or so, there’s actually been a legitimate reason for that.

For the fourth year in a row, I spent the long weekend at (and the subsequent time, recovering from) Arisia, a Boston-based sci-fi/fantasy/general nerd convention.  Arisia is my favorite of the admittedly limited selection of conventions I’ve gone to in my life – it falls at a wonderful crossroads of cerebral and silly – as a celebration of media, of reading and writing, of performance and creation, of science and social issues.  I’ve yet to attend in a year where most of my core passions or interests weren’t represented, even though I am not, primarily, a genre fan (though I do enjoy sci-fi/fantasy).

For me, though, Arisia is all about the celebration of creativity, enthusiasm, and fandom.  Every year I leave Arisia having created something new (this year it was a hand-sewn plushie and a steampunk-style hat), having learned something new (this year, flow arts and leviwand techniques) and thinking about writing – and fandom – in a fresh, new way.  

For someone who doesn’t really have a “tribe” in real life (I have very few friends, and even fewer friends who are creators), being in an environment of people who thrive on creating things is refreshing and inspirational, and for someone who’s earliest (and most often forgotten) passion was in writing fan fiction, it’s a rare and unspeakable joy to be around people who consume, create, and appreciate transformative works.

I started writing fanfic when I was eight years old, though at the the time I had no name for what I was doing; I liked certain books and shows and movies, and I liked exploring what those characters I loved did when their “official” stories ended (or before they began, or of the story had gone slightly differently, etc.)  The first time I knowingly wrote fanfic (and could name it as such) I was fourteen, writing stories in the Les Miserables musical fandom (a fandom that I was thrilled to see had a fandom/fanfic revival when the film came out a decade and a half later).  While it remains my most prolific fandom – two completed novella length fics, plus a dozen fan poems – I have since dabbled in writing in a number of fandoms, from small works of literature, to massive media franchises.

Post-high school, and especially post-college, my devotion to writing fanfic has fallen by the wayside.  While my experience has proven otherwise – and while I will adamantly defend the act and product of fan creations, there remains a shameful and stubborn part of me that, over time, came to regard my transformative fiction as somehow lesser.

That inclination, which I steadfastly stand by as being entirely false, is nonetheless insidious, and hasn’t exactly come into existence within a vacuum.  For every supportive creator/observer/casual fan, there have been dozens of people, both within academia/the creative community and looking in from the outskirts ready to deride it as garbage.

And some of it is.  Maybe even a lot of it is.  But so is some original writing.

So is a lot of original writing.

There is so much that is wonderful about fanfic, both as a consumer and as a creator, and both as someone just starting out in the world of writing as well as someone who has been writing for years.  It has allowed me to explore gender, sexuality, and story in ways that no other form of writing has been able to do – it gives me a cast of character that I am already emotionally invested in, who I already know and understand, and allows me to explore my own stories, themes, and ideas through them.  The fact that other people are writing stories using the same characters means we can converse through the narrative – we can talk motivation, if it rang true for the characters, because we are – all of us, creators and consumers – have a shared history and mutual understanding of said characters.  

And I am fascinated by the way one person’s idea becomes another person’s headcanon, becomes the general fandom’s accepted belief, becomes fanon.  How did the WTNV fandom collective decide that Cecil was covered with tattoos, despite never being given a physical description?  I’m fascinated by the way fandom borrows from itself, how we create not just augmentative, but parallel worlds, drawing from, building on, but ultimately deviating from the source material.

And as a result, we are freer; we are more diverse (in gender, race, ability, neurodiversity, sexuality); and, hell yeah, we are kinkier.  We have touched on tropes and plot lines that the canon would never even come close to, especially those in more mainstream media fandoms.

So I’m thinking of diving straight back into fanfic for a bit, especially while the seeds of my other creative projects germinate and I wait for them to break ground.  There are certain sandboxes that I have definitely missed playing in.

Do you write fanfic?  What fandoms do you dabble in?

Pretty Little Guy


Gender is messy, language is messy, but my son is abso-freaking-loutely beautiful.

Quiet moments with my son are a rarity; at two years old, he’s reveling in the developing mastery of mobility, and spends hours running, climbing, spinning, and generally wearing me out.  While he loves being close to me, he mostly satisfies that need through roughhousing – wrestling matches, tickle fights, piggyback rides.  Snuggling, though it does happens, is reserved for sleep time and those bittersweet sick/”owwie” moments.

A few weeks ago, I was granted a rare moment of stillness at my mother’s house sitting on the floor, my son in my lap, as I brushed his hair.  This was a doubly special experience, because my son, like his father, does not generally enjoy certain kinds of physical contact, and touching his face or hair is usually a no-go.  Of course, faces need to be washed and hair needs to be brushed, so usually I just put on my metaphorical battle gear and brace myself.  But this calm moment, with my son singing along with the TV, his warm weight in my lap, and with his soft hair bundled in my hand as I brushed and stroked it – this moment was precious in it’s scarcity, and I was enjoying it.

My mother passed by us, in her usual course of puttering about the house.

“Oo,” she cooed, “Oh, how pretty you are.”  She brushed his bangs back fro his eyes as he pulled away distractedly clearly she was blocking his view of whatever had mesmerized him on the television.  She pulled back.

“No,” she quickly corrected herself, “No, you’re a little boy, you’re handsome.  I can’t call you pretty.”

“Yes, you can,” I assured her.  The end of his long hair poked through the ball of my fist like the petals of a silk flower.  “You can definitely call him pretty.  He’s my pretty little guy.”

I don’t think I would have had any problem with her calling him “handsome” had she not made the switch after calling him “pretty” – I don’t even think I would have minded if she’d used both interchangeably, had she not prefaced it with that self-admonition: I can’t call you pretty – you’re a boy.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my gender all my life; that’s really a topic for another time, but it’s warrants mentioning.  I’ve always been frustrated by the constraints placed on people based on (perceived) gender – behavioral expectations codes of presentation, and, yes, language.

It’s not that I don’t understand the dictates of common usage – “pretty” has been primarily associated with femininity, just as handsome has been associated with masculinity for so long, it’s nearly instinctual for many to pay someone a compliment with what they perceive to be the “correctly gendered” word.  But remove the presumption of gender from the words; there are a lot of things that we, in the course of normal conversation, call pretty or handsome.

A flower, most would agree, is pretty, and we often refer to certain animals – eagles, perhaps, or wild cats – as handsome.  

Where the presumption of gender is removed, we see the words rooted in the qualities that they describe – pretty connotes something graceful, or delicate; handsome, something austere or distinguished.  My son has honey-colored hair that stick out every which way in flowing wisps and curls, blue eyes you could drown in, and lashes that would make a pageant contestant green with envy.  

By that standard, my son is not handsome.  Maybe he’ll grow to be handsome; maybe his features will fill in, and the soft curves of babyhood will give way to more severe edges and angles – or maybe they won’t. The delicateness of youth may fade to something rougher and more rugged – but then again, maybe not.  The future will tell, and honestly, either way, it’s fine.  But that’s not his current reality.  My son is pretty.  My son is pretty, and that’s fine.

The thing I find interesting is, while it’s not common per se, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll hear a woman described as “handsome” than a man described as “pretty.”  There’s a sense that the qualities associated with the word “handsome” – and by proxy, with masculinity – are things to strive for;desirous traits that anyone, regardless of gender should feel proud to be named as.  I can go to any family gathering and hear someone refer to a woman – usually an actress, usually of a certain age – as “handsome,” the intention obviously complimentary.  Meanwhile, when my son was young (he was still nursing, so fourteen months or younger), it was at a family gathering that a cousin’s husband told me (not in an unkind tone) not to call my son pretty because it would “mess him up.”

So, why one way and not the other?  Why is it okay to call a woman “handsome,” but not call a man, or even a boy, “pretty?”  Even when the nuances of the word match his physique, even when he is soft skin and chubby cheeks and tiny, translucent fingers, when he is wild curls and long lashes?  The only answer I can think of is, because it’s coded as a feminine word, and femininity is inherently devalued in our culture.

(And honestly, this is something I could turn into an essay all it’s own.  It’s hard to write about this, and harder to still to write succinctly about this, following one clear narrative thread, without veering into talking about misogyny, or the expectations of gender roles, or gender presentation versus gender identity, but for the sake of my readership – this time – I’ll refrain).

I am not delicate.  I am closer to 200 lbs than I am not, I have a shaved head and a pseudo-mohawk, and short, blunt fingernails.  Nothing about me is delicate – my body isn’t delicate, my gait and mannerisms aren’t delicate, my laughter isn’t delicate, my language (when I’m not writing/speaking formally for an audience) sure as hell isn’t delicate.  “Pretty” is not the descriptor that comes to mind when I think about myself – maybe I look good, I look nice, I look well put-together; hell, I look cute.  Cute has a quirky, sort of youthful, gender ambiguous feel to it.  I aspire to “cute.”  But people jump to pretty as a means of complimenting me, and honestly – I am an adult, and I will take an honest compliment in the spirit in which it is intended, but – I think it’s the wrong word.  

But… language is hard, and language is powerful; I learned that as a writer and as an undergrad in English.

And gender is, if anything, way harder, and way more powerful; I learned that as a genderqueer person growing up female.

I can’t deny there are gendered connotations to certain words or certain uses of language – they’ve evolved into the language, for better or for worse, and they are real.  I also can’t tell people that they “have to” feel comfortable being addressed or described a certain way – if you don’t want to be called “pretty,” I will not call you “pretty.”  What I am saying, though, is that calling a boy “pretty” should not be looked at as something that will inherently “mess him up.”  It will not “confuse” him.  It does not determine or detract from his identity as a boy, if he identifies as a boy; it will not determine or detract from his identity as a man, if he identifies as a man.  It is, in fact, okay for him to accept “pretty” as a compliment.

It’s okay for a boy to be pretty, without it being a punchline or a joke.  It’s okay for a woman to be handsome, or a non-binary person to be gorgeous, or any other combination of identities and adjectives.  You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to be, or that makes you feel uncomfortable – but you shouldn’t be told you can’t be, either.

When my son gets more language, he can better tell him how he feels about these words, and I will respect his wishes, whatever they may be.  But for now, I can only call it as I see fit – he’s my pretty little dude, and that is totally okay.