Tag Archives: queer

Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson

sister-mine

  • Genre
    • Urban Fantasy, Afro-Caribbean Fantasy
  • Plot summary
    • Makeda deals with family drama, an ailing father, and growing up. It’s a little harder to do all that when your father is a disgraced nature spirit, your twin sister is a demi-goddess, and you’re the token mundane in an extremely magical family.
  • Character empathy rating
    • The characters in this are not only empathetic, but extremely likable. Makeda in particular has an individuality that I look for in all my favorite books. So often I’ll like every character in a book except the protagonist, who is just paper. Makeda is a snarky, impulsive, pig headed hot mess who reminds me of some of my best friends, and I want to go have a coffee and craft store friends date with her.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • Fun! Even though things get serious and you will worry for the characters (the last few chapters will fly by), this book feels like an extroverted childhood friend; wild and bouncy yet deeply comfortable.
    • It’s also completely original. There wasn’t a single page where I felt like I was following something that could appear in any other urban fantasy novel, which is such a relief. I love the genre in theory, but, like much of fantasy writing, it can get mired in cliche and formula, when it should showcase human imagination at it’s wildest. 
    • And while it’s light and fun, it’s not shallow. The characters have rich inner lives, and when the scenes turn towards ancient magic, it really does feel like you’re seeing something just beyond normal human ken. Makeda’s arc is well constructed, and the end of her story left me thinking, in the best way.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • Jimi Hendrix’s guitar is a character. He’s great
    • Also features Death as a favorite, if somewhat stiff uncle
    • A child medium scene where the kid was actually written. Half the time even kids in realistic fiction don’t feel at all like real kids, so I’ve come to peace with the fact that fantasy-novel magical kids are going to talk like tiny Yodas. Then Nalo Hopkinson comes along and completely nails a normal child who happens to channel the voices of the most eldrich gods.
    • A nursing home that has to deal with constant invasions of deer and raccoons because it’s the personification of the primal life force in there, and he kind of can’t help calling nature to his side.
    • Bisexual representation! Nalo Hopkinson is really good in general if you’re looking for some good queer fantasy
  • Content Warnings
    • There’s some consensual incest that isn’t nearly as off-putting as it sounds. Like, you know how, in classic myths, half the gods are technically married to their siblings and then cheat on them with sexy horses and stuff? This book… plays with how that would play out in a modern era. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it totally does.
  • Quotes
    • “Beauty and ingenuity beat perfection hands down, every time.”
    • “I’m going to check the world’s best source for spawning new urban legends, the Internet. What, you thought I couldn’t even type? The Web is just another threshold between one world and another.”
    • “When your elders are millennia-old demigods, you’d best take the injunction to respect your elders seriously.”
    • “Why? Because I played god with you? Baby girl, that’s what I do. And not lightly, either.” He thought about that for a second. “Well, yes, sometimes lightly. You know what they say about all work and no play.”

Book Review: Ash, by Malinda Lo

ash

What it’s about: Ash is born to a fairy-believing mother and a skeptical father, in a land where fairy tales are warnings. When her parents die and she is left with a cruel stepmother, Ash finds her broken heart pulling her to the fairies’ world. If she follows it, she might never come back.

A retelling of Cinderella, with a sapphic love interest.

Praise: This book was captivating. The fairies are constructed to have a genuinely otherworldly feel. Lots of authors try that, and most don’t succeed nearly as well as Malinda Lo does here. The worldbuilding worked very well, as did the characterization of all the characters, especially the main one. I loved the romance. I loved the suspense. I loved the way the story unfurled slowly, but didn’t drag for even a paragraph.

Criticism: It’s a fairly loose Cinderella adaptation. The conclusion departs from the fairy tale a lot, and I did find that a little disappointing when I realized there wouldn’t be a shoe scene. But I got over that fairly quickly. The ending was still beautiful and satisfying in its own right, and when I closed the book I was extremely happy.

Recommended? It’s Cinderella with lesbians. Of course I recommend it!

An Open Letter to Mattea: Love and Truth and the Survivor’s Bias

Hello again Mattea,

As promised, here’s a full post’s worth of a response to your comment on my Screwtape Letters review. Sorry for the delay; I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the political situation. In my post I took apart Lewis’ explanation of why sex outside of marriage is condemned, and I noted that I’ve never heard another good reason for why sex is bad, or bad outside of that specific context. You gave your explanation, and it makes sense from your perspective, but it doesn’t really contain anything that’s convincing to somebody who doesn’t already believe in, not only Jesus, but your specific interpretation of Jesus, love, and purity.

Hopefully you can see that yourself, and I don’t have to spell out why; if you’d like a fuller explanation let me know in the comments. That doesn’t really bother me because you also said you won’t tell somebody else how to live their life. As I said in that chapter, if you have made a person decision to remain a virgin until marriage, based on your understanding of your own religion, I have no problem whatsoever with that. I don’t think you’re a loser or missing out, as you seemed to think I might. Props to you for living life your own way; my only issue is with people who let their religion dictate somebody else’s sex life. Since that’s not you, we have no problem.

The part I really want to respond to starts here.

“But as a Christian, I have a deep desire to see the lives around me experience the same joy and love and peace that I have in Jesus.”

You were homeschooled, I was homeschooled, you mentioned you’re twenty-one and you have been a Christian your whole life (or at least you’ve been Christian 21 years and you are a college student, correct me if I jumped to the wrong conclusion there). I can relate to that. I was only a little younger than you when I left the faith. So much of what you said resonated with my memories of how I used to think, and particularly with my ideas of what the world outside was like. Because my access to that world was very limited, I had a lot of misconceptions about life from somebody else’s perspective.

You were willing to be very personal about your experiences and perspectives, so what I really want to do isn’t argue, so much as share what life has been like for me, growing up the way you did and then seeing another side.

For example, you said, “whenever I hear people’s stories about how they left the church, they [didn’t] believe God exists, or [they] ‘fell away.'” I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the survivor’s bias. The classic example is WWII planes, where they tried to determine structural weaknesses in bombers by analyzing the bullet holes in aircraft that returned from missions. But however much they reinforced those areas, the number of planes shot down never changed, until they realized their mistake. They were looking at the bullet holes in the planes that survived. This gave them no information about why planes fell down.

In the church, you hear conversion stories, or stories about falling away and returning to the fold. Ministers and evangelists often assume these stories are typical of people’s experiences in the secular world, but they aren’t representative at all. And, for the record, atheist activists also make this mistake. They hear stories of former believers who had traumatic, toxic experiences, and assume that is representative of all believers. Again, it’s not that simple. This is why I don’t proselytize anymore. I want everyone in the world to be happy, loved and fulfilled; I don’t presume the journey there will look the same for everyone.

So here’s my deconversion story, which I share not to convince you to leave Christianity, but just so you’ll know something of the data that you aren’t being exposed to.

My faith was built on three things. First was a model of how the world worked. It was extremely self-referential, but it still had its own internal logic. Everything held up, but every piece was dependent on every other piece. Second was a community of people who all lived according to the same framework. Third was a handful of experiences that seemed to confirm a few of those pieces, and, by extension, the entire framework.

Yes, I too had experiences that, at one point, I thought made my beliefs unassailable.  There was a time when I was walking to an acting class, and I felt extremely anxious. I prayed, and felt a presence standing beside me. There was a time when I was confirmed, and I felt like I was about to step out of my body and soar. I thought this must be the Holy Spirit alighting on me. There were many times when I spoke in tongues during church services, and there were times when someone came and delivered a message to me from God.

So, if I had experiences like this, why would I ever doubt? Well, for one thing, I learned about how people from other religions, ones I considered absolutely false or even inspired by demons, had similar experiences. I read scientific explanations for them; states of self-hypnosis, group mentalities, cold reading, altered consciousness inspired by social pressure, etc. Learning this was positively creepy, because once I knew it, I had three choices.

Number one; I could believe that, of all the religions and denominations out there, one was divine and the rest were inspired by Satan, who was mimicking God’s work. This was comforting as long as I assumed I was in the right one, but the more I thought about the mathematics of that, the more terrifying this idea was. After all, the false, Satan-inspired religions outnumbered the one true faith, and most people blindly follow whatever religion they were raised in. Statistically, what were the real odds that I had happened to be born into the one true religion? If I assumed Satan could mimic God, I could never be sure I was following good and not evil.

Number two; believe that God existed, but was not the exclusively Protestant Christian God I had been raised with. He was in, if not all religions, than most of them, and if you got some details about his life wrong he wouldn’t hold it against you, so long as your heart was in the right place. This seemed sensible, comforting, and deeply blasphemous. If I chose to believe this, I could never admit it to the Christians around me. They were the sort of people who genuinely believed Catholics and Mormons were going to hell; to propose that God might speak through Islam or Hinduism or even Wiccan was as good as abandoning our religion altogether.

Number three; believe the materialistic scientists were right. All of this was a consequence of a brain that was easily deceived by social pressure and my own expectations.

As I read more about the way these feelings of mine could be simulated by stage magicians and fake psychics, the last seemed more and more likely. Also, I noticed disturbing patterns in the way all my churches talked about evidence for the supernatural. If a story was hard to confirm, it was by far more compelling and fantastic than any that I could confirm. People had stories of a friend of a friend of a friend who was healed of cancer, or prayed a man back to live. But nobody I knew was ever healed. Oh, but that was fine! God and mysterious ways and plans and all that. Meanwhile, I had the evidence of the divinely inspired outbursts people had in church; prophecies and messages from God and speaking in tongues. Of course, a stranger walking in might say that these people were just improvising and believing they were inspired by God because of social pressure…

It was all right to have evidence for God, but nobody was allowed to talk about evidence against. If evidence lined up, it was repeated and celebrated. If it didn’t, it was dismissed on any excuse at all. This was problematic, because in my own personal life, I felt like God was letting me down.

Take that anxiety attack outside the acting class, for example. It was far from the worst I ever experienced. There were jobs I had to quit, events I had to miss, and days I spent unable to stop crying. Once I had an anxiety attack so bad I couldn’t move. I don’t remember how long, because I couldn’t even turn my head to look at a clock. I just lay on a couch, feeling like I was encased in a cement mold, crying in terror. None of those resulted in a comforting presence.

The explanation most consistent with Christianity was that God had sent me aid when I needed it but also gave me opportunities to grow on my own. But the truth is, I didn’t really need that acting class. I wanted it, but it didn’t change my life or create lasting friendships. The opportunities I missed because of anxiety attacks were more important than the one where God “saved” me.

Besides, what I really needed wasn’t a sense of an angel. I had a mental health problem, and I needed to see a doctor. I couldn’t drive because of my anxiety, and my parents were willfully blind to my condition. When I told my parents about the paralyzing attack, they said it was because I hadn’t eaten enough. They were obsessed with healthy diets, and that was their go-to explanation for any anxiety attack of mine. But I knew for a fact that I had eaten enough that day. I had been keeping track, and diet wasn’t helping. The experience taught me that my mind and my body could betray me, and my parents would not take it seriously. If God was there when I needed him most, why didn’t he tell my parents to take me to a doctor?

The explanation a scientist would give for all that, on the other hand, was that the anxiety outside the acting class was relatively mild because the circumstances weren’t overly triggering, and my disorder was less severe at that point. Because it was mild, I could fight it by envisioning a comforting image, which, because of my religious upbringing, I gave spiritual significance. Later, as my mental health deteriorated, I lost the ability to comfort myself. This makes more sense to me.

As I said, three things upheld my belief; models, experience and community. By now you have some understanding of how the experiences that once seemed ironclad evidence became flimsy excuses. Research also meant that I could see how other people understood the world differently. I could see other models that people had, and how in many ways they explained the world better than mine. What remained was community, and that scared me. Because the truth was, my place in the community was entirely dependent on my faith. I could not exist among my old friends and family as an unbeliever, as a person with an adjusted model.

Remember how I described that model? How circular and self-referential it was, and how it stood on its own but moving or removing a single piece would send the whole thing crashing down? I envied those with other models, because they were malleable. They could be shifted around, repainted, parts replaced, replacement parts replaced again, and the whole thing still stood. They could learn that a certain part didn’t work, and make it into something better. I loved truth. I was afraid of going to hell if I happened to be wrong. So I decided to let my beliefs fall apart, and see if I could build up something better.

This was not when I lost my faith. This was when I remained in the church, but debated people, questioned my ideas, and tried to reform myself. It was also when I made new friends, and it was then that I discovered something. I had been miserable all along.

This is another statement of yours that got me.

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ – Philippians 3:8

I’m only “preaching” to you because I want you to have what I have. He really is everything.

I remember feeling that way. I remember believing that nothing in my life was good except the love of Christ, and I’m not even talking about my anxiety disorder. I’m talking about something I had been raised with since birth; the understanding the only thing of any worth was the love of Jesus Christ. In prayer and worship I meditated on this and believed. In those moments of worship I felt an overwhelming love that I lived on.

That love was like candy. It was an intense, blissful sensation that produced energetic highs, and then let me crash down. It did not build me up into a strong, resilient person, because to believe myself worthy of God’s love I had to degrade myself as sinful (the irony of that worldview; I was filth, and only by acknowledging it wholeheartedly could I allow myself to feel the high of a God who loved me despite my worthlessness). My soul, for lack of a better word, was emaciated, an anorexic surviving on tic-tacs and glue. When I left the church for the company of unbelievers, the love they offered me was not the empty, worldly thing that had been described to me. It was a rough, flawed love, not an idealized one, but it had the nourishing qualities of crusty bread, crunchy apples and thick stew. The ideas and love I was encountering were soup and bread and apples and milk. Being seen as the weird, curious, queer boy I was, and loved for it, put meat back on my bones.

After years of questioning, I realized that atheism made more sense to me than any of the religions out there. It was a pragmatic decision. I am perfectly comfortable sharing the world with people who have religious beliefs. I am also comfortable with the idea that I might one day encounter new evidence that might change my mind. In the meantime, I am growing, I am learning, and I am loved.

And that’s what I, in turn, want for you. I don’t care whether you find it in Christianity or Buddhism or some other religion or abandoning religion altogether. If you have it now, I am happy to hear it. If you don’t, don’t be afraid to go looking for it.

Sincerely,

Lane William Brown

Book Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

the-devourers

What it’s about: A professor meets a strange man who claims to be half werewolf, and learns the terrible story of his family.

Praise: Full disclosure – I’m a sucker for werewolves. They are by far my favorite of the classic monsters. Unfortunately, I don’t think the average movie or book uses them well. Werewolves don’t just scare. They explore nature, civilization, shifting identities and humanity itself. Unfortunately, ninety percent of werewolf stories feel more like the author wrote a vampire story, decided it wasn’t original enough, then hastily changed it. Still, when an author tries to do something properly werewolfy, the result is some of the best stories horror has to offer.

This book firmly belongs in that latter category. It makes you equal parts terrified, fascinated and in love with its subject. It is philosophical, but not the measured philosophy of lecture halls. It’s the trembling, awestruck philosophy of the mad hermit in the woods. It is gory, but not the sickening splatter of modern slasher. It’s the strangely elegant gore of Gothic horror.

On a less pretentious note, I loved the plot and the characters. The viewpoint characters all had beautifully distinct voices. It drives me mad when a story shifts between multiple first person POVs and I lose track of who is talking. I never had that problem with this book.

Also, on one more personal note, there are multiple non-stereotypical queer characters. I can’t say any more without spoilers, but I was happy and I think other LGBTQ readers will be too.

Criticism: For the first few chapters, when I wasn’t sure where this was going, it was a little slow. It was well worth pushing through, though. Once things came together, I didn’t want to put it down.

Also, content warning, this books contains violence, anthropophagy (I feel wrong calling it cannibalism given how the shapeshifters insist they aren’t human) and a rape scene. Even the latter, though, avoids the common pitfalls. In a book full of sexual imagery, it’s one of the few scenes devoid of eroticism. There’s no “well, it wasn’t really proper rape because….” Instead, the book insists that, despite how the attacker frames it, it was rape, because he did not give the victim the opportunity to consent. The victim is actually characterized as an interesting and sympathetic human being, not just a tool of the story. The scene is necessary to the plot, not just there to add drama or titillation. All other writers, take note.

Recommended? If intense, brutal and beautiful is up your alley, then yes, very much recommended.

An Open Letter to Gary Johnson, on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, the GOP and LGBT Rights

Dear Gary Johnson,

Google, in it’s infinite algorithmic wisdom, has decided to throw an ad of yours my way, several times over the last few weeks. It can be summarized as, “vote for me, I supported gay marriage before Hillary Clinton did.” Initially I treated the way I treat most sidebar ads; I glanced then ignored. Then I found myself mildly irritated by it, and every time I saw it, I thought a little more about that irritation. And now here we are, with me ranting on the internet.

First of all, I looked up the date you came out to publically support gay marriage. I got December 1, 2011. Hillary Clinton supported civil unions but opposed marriage back in 2003, but changed to fully supporting equal marriage rights in March of 2013 (references in same link). So congratulations; you beat her by a full fifteen months. A baby went from lying in a crib to kind-of walking in the time it took for Hillary to catch up to your courageous public support of my love life.

Second, it doesn’t really bother me that Hillary Clinton played it safe back in the day. She’s been politically active for a long time, and her stances on numerous issues have evolved with the times. I’m okay with that, because I’m not naive. In her case, I’m especially inclined to forgive, because while she’ll bow and pander and obfuscate to get power, she then uses that power to do awesome stuff. She has fought hard for healthcare, environmentalism and women’s rights.

And no, it doesn’t bother me that you weren’t always openly pro-gay either.

That brings me to my third point. Your accomplishments, as far as LGBTQ rights go, consist of, well, saying you aren’t against them. The tide of public opinion on gay marriage turned quickly. You jumped into the water a year before Hillary Clinton did. But while you paddled in the shallows, she struck out swimming.

She even started working for us ever unpopular transgender people. As Secretary of State, she pushed through legislation that enabled trans people to get passports that affirmed their gender without jumping through medical hoops. Imagine life with an ID that can out you, that can expose you to violence. Imagine needing a surgery to get that ID changed, and needing a job to pay for the surgery, and being denied the job because your ID outs you as transgender. Long before I knew who was responsible, I knew a trans woman who carried her passport with her all the time. She carried it because she didn’t “pass” well, because she sometimes did get attacked, because the security of a gender affirming government-issued ID was something she needed daily. The passport bill is the kind of work Hillary is best at; small, not too glamorous, but with significant practical benefits for real human beings.

To this day, if you go to her plan on her website, you see trans issues explicitly spelled out. She will fight for our rights in bathrooms, as she will also fight gender conversion therapy, appoint Supreme Court Justices who will uphold our newly won marriage rights, and continue to vocally, openly support us.

I couldn’t find any evidence of your support for trans rights, or that you’ve even mentioned them. I don’t see what you say about conversion therapy. You are socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. When you pick the new Supreme Court Justice, which will be your priority? Do you already have a list of highly qualified judges who are your fellow libertarians? If you can’t get one, would you appoint someone who is socially and fiscally liberal? Or will your primary concern be appointing someone in favor of “small government” even when that means making the government too small to protect people like me?

Those are the questions that concern me, a person who has to live in this country while being queer. Not “who liked us before we were cool?”

Fourth, why the hell are you criticizing Hillary Clinton at all? She’s not the person I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of the party who, this year, reached new lows in their vehement opposition of LGBTQ rights. I’m scared of the people who are actively anti-gay marriage, not the one whose support of it is only three years old. I’m scared of the party that grins approvingly at conversion therapy and would refuse to let me adopt a child.

I’m scared of the fucking Republicans.

It’s possible you’ve got ads targeting the GOP and appealing to young, gay-friendly Republicans, and I just haven’t seen them because Google knows I’m not a Republican. It’s possible.

Although I do see an awful lot of pro-Trump ads these days though. So Google is letting Trump, Clinton and you being anti-Clinton through, but not you calling out Republicans on the most anti-LGBTQ platform yet? Yeah, that’s definitely more likely than you calling out the kettle and ignoring the pot.

What the hell, man?

All this together makes me think that, honestly, you don’t give a shit about people like me. You don’t see our rights as worthy of real time and action. But you’re happy to take credit for liking us, even if that means stealing votes for somebody who will actually make us a priority.

I think you can see why I’m a bit pissed.