#ThankAWriter Project: China Mieville

go read this book right now

go read this book right now

I saw the #ThankAWriter project over on Nathan Bransford’s blog. Writing letters like this to my favorite authors has actually been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’ve jumped right on the bandwagon. I’ll be double-posting these thank you letters here and on my gomighty blog.

Thank you, China Mieville, for validating my existence.

You don’t know me, and we’ll probably never meet, and you likely won’t even read this, but thank you anyway. I have been a fan of your work for some time, and when I heard you were writing a book referencing Moby Dick I nearly shat myself with excitement. Mieville! Melville! One of my favorite authors riffing on one of my other favorite others!! So, I pre-ordered Railsea and inhaled it as soon as it arrived on my doorstep.

I was expecting to love Railsea, but I wasn’t expecting to connect with it so deeply. I didn’t think aspects of myself I have spent so long grappling with, coming to terms with, would be mirrored so beautifully in this book. I’m genderqueer. I am a parent in a triad. Doc Fremlo’s effortless, almost unremarkable gender variance was a revelation. Fremlo was what I am, but utterly at peace with it in a world where what they were was perfectly acceptable. I can count on one hand the number of genderqueer or agender characters I’ve seen portrayed in books, and none of them have been written with such ease or such simple comfort in their own skins. Fremlo was living the life I want to live. Femlo was deeply resonant and deeply inspiring to me. So, thank you for Doc Fremlo. Thank you a million times.

That would have been enough to shoot Railsea up to the top of my list of most favorite books ever, and then I met the Shroakes, and Caldera and Caldero told me about their family. I have a kid — a wonderful, lively kid that I love more than anything in the world — and my kid has me, and her mom, and her dad. Inside our little family unit everything makes perfect sense, but to the rest of the world we don’t. Which one of us is the nanny? Which of the three of us are her ‘real’ parents? These are the questions we navigate everyday. To read about the configuration of the Shroake family (even after it’s been so irreparably broken) was like meeting Doc Fremlo all over again: an overwhelming sense of validation, and of being understood. So, thank you for the Shroakes, as well.

Again, I know we’ve never met and probably never will. I know I don’t know you. But I am immensely grateful for having brushed against you ever so slightly via your writing. I am glad you exist, and that you took the time to write these characters into your book, and I am glad I stumbled on your book and read it and felt less alone and bizarre for who and what I am.

Thank you.

B Sanders

ASSASSINS first draft is done!

I just finished a novella about satyrs assassins (the first chapter is up here)! It clocks in at 27,000 words and explores themes of essentialism and free will with a heavy dose of queerness in there because that just seems to happen in my writing. Looking for first readers, so let me know if you’re interested!

I am B, and I am a they (Not Melissa, and not a she)

Note: I don’t do these personal posts often as I try to keep this blog about my writing, but if you’re interested in my personal life/thoughts on things like gender check out my tumblr.

Some of you know this already, and some of you don’t, but just so we’re all on the same page, I am officially coming out as genderqueer. I am a trans* person. I’m also just plain queer (i.e. not straight) while I’m outing myself. If you end up bored and don’t read past this first paragraph what this means for you is that I prefer to be called B (not Melissa) and that I prefer singular ‘they’ pronouns to female pronouns (so don’t call me she). Also, please don’t call me a mother – Zadie calls me her baba.

For those of you remaining, know that I am about to vomit gender feelings all over the internet. First, I’m going to attempt to describe my current relationship to my body, how it’s gendered, how I experience gender, etc. And then, I’ll go into why I think of myself as a they and not a she.

Me, Myself & I: Gender Weirdness Extravaganza
Do you have any idea how often we are asked to disclose our gender? I have come to dread this. Buying plane tickets sucks. Signing up for websites sucks. Any form of intake sucks. They suck because I have to put down female, which is then taken to mean woman, which is increasingly uncomfortable to me.

Gender has always been complicated for me, but it’s grown much more so in the last few years. The other night while I was walking home from work I was struck by a realization that when I was kid, maybe like eleven or twelve, I used to think a lot about the directions my life could go. Maybe I’d be a courtoom lawyer (like Sam Waterston in Law & Order!!). Maybe I’d be a rabble-rousing politician. Or a scientist. Or a musician. And I remember imagining myself in these possible lives and invariably imagining myself as a man. A man, incidentally enough, who didn’t look all that different than I do these days. It was a simple thing, and it wasn’t the ache and yearning thing you see in a lot of culturally sanctioned trans* narratives. It was just…I knew I was going to grow up a woman, but I ended up with this vision of myself as a man anyway.

Note that I said in that first paragraph that I’m genderqueer, not a trans man. After years and years of grueling work coming to love my body, of living in it and being it, I am as much a woman as I am anything else. But that’s the kicker: womanhood is just part of it.

These days I have this instinct to get flippant when forms as my gender. Gender? Chimerical. In flux. Weird. Fuckery. Paradoxical. That’s what fits me.

The Reason For They
I know for a fact that some of the people who will read this are grammar nuts who are totally fine with gender variance, but not really that fine with the bastardly singular they. There are likely people reading this who could give a rat’s ass about pronouns because they will never respect the facts of my gender identity, but those people can go fuck themselves. This section is addressed to the grammar nuts (I love y’all!)

I like they. I am a they. I like the expansiveness of it; I like its encompassing nature. My gender contains fucking multitudes. It is an ensemble film. It is a moving target. ‘They’ captures that. ‘They’ articulates this dual and tripled and quadrupled sense of gender I have: that I am sometimes a woman and sometimes a man and always both and always neither.

‘They’ plays with and breaks the binary. A singular they, to me and in reference to me, is politicized: a rejection of the contraints of a language that has been influenced by binarism, coercive gender assignments, and cis privilege.

There is, to me, a sense of potential when one uses they to describe a person whose gender is not known. Could be either. Could be neither. I like this protean quality it has; in the morning when I wake I could be either, could be neither. They is an umbrella term for all the possibilities and iterations of me, grammar be damned.

So, call me B, and call me they. Call me Zadie’s Baba. I’m asking nicely once. I’m reminding you that it’s only decent to do this, and also stating for the record that I don’t much care how confusing this is for you or how hard it is for you. I am always willing to answer questions, but I reserve the right to ignore those questions if they bother me.

This is a huge scary thing for me, and I’m telling you all this because it’s important to me.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Pros and Cons of Their Use in Fantasy

I have a ethnic group in the Aerdhish universe that has little sense of gender. Certainly, they have an understanding of biological sex, but even that is substantially more murky that how we construe sex in modern Western society. Contact with heavily gendered societies has left them with an awareness of gender as a categorical identity, but it’s not something they understand particularly well. It makes sense, then, that their language (Droma) would lack gendered pronouns. Right? Right.

The last section of Ariah takes place in the Droma grasslands. Ariah is on their turf, lives with them at their mercy, and he understands them through their own eyes. It’s important, then, that the gender neutrality of their language (and culture) is made crystal clear in the text. But how, exactly, to do this is giving me pause. Given that this book is written in English, where gender-neutral pronouns are odd, to say the least, technical aspects of this are growing hard for me to navigate:

Pros:

  • Use of gender-neutral pronouns will make the meaninglessness of gender as a social category very clear to the reader.
  • This culture is a ethnic grouping of elves, who have social and biological differences from humans (both humans as represented in the writing and actual real-life humans like you and me). Use of gender-neutral pronouns can serve to highlight the otherness of elves.
  • I, personally, think gender-neutral pronouns are important to get out there.*

Cons:

  • Good writing, to some extent, is invisible. That is, the story should flow without the reader having to struggle to parse the way that story is written. To this point, the use of gender-neutral pronouns is awkward and stilted in English since we don’t use them. It will take the reader some getting used to for them to be able to easily and effortlessly parse the gender-neutral pronouns, which can turn readers off and break up the text.
  • Related to that, consistency is sometimes hard to keep straight with gender-neutral pronouns. I, as the writer, can’t always remember what one form vs. another is, so how can I expect the reader to remember?

For Ariah, I’m going to risk it. For this piece, for me where I am as a writer and worldbuilder, I think the pros outweigh the cons. I have to trust my readers to navigate the thorny issue of pronouns. Readers are smart people; they can handle it. But it is something I bear in mind while writing this section of the book. When I am reading through recent parts I’ve written, the gender-neutral pronouns are jarring. They stick out. Pronouns are a part of speech which are not supposed to stick out.

The hardest part, honestly, has been figuring out which set of gender-neutral pronouns to use. I’ve gone back and forth, adopting one, then abandoning it in favor of another. Right now, I’m using a set I invented. We’ll see how long that lasts.

As for the rest of you out there, I would LOVE LOVE to hear any thoughts you have on this!

*As I state in my bio, I’m genderqueer and prefer the use of singular they to refer to me, so this topic and all the knotty little intricacies of it is something I think a lot about on a day-to-day basis.

Queering Thanksgiving

Holidays have always been a sort of mystery to me. It’s hard to understand what the point of returning to your natal home is when you don’t get along with your family and you hate your hometown. It never made sense to me to spend the few days I had to myself, away from the day-to-day grind of school or work or what have you with people where there is more bad blood than good. A visit home is exhausting.

People from less than ideal families and queer people – and let’s be clear here that these two categories are anything but mutually exclusive – seek each other out. Sometimes this phenomenon is deliberate, and sometimes it isn’t, but in my experience it’s generally pretty useful. It can be hard to explain that dread when Christmas rolls around and you know you have to drag yourself back. It’s a simple comfort to have someone in the same boat read your expression and just get it.

What I’m saying is that when your natal family is not supportive, is not safe, that many of us build a family that provides us with these things from the ground up. I am lucky enough that for years I have been able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my created family. This year, I had my partners Jon and Hunter here with me, a dear friend Van, and the kiddo. These are people with whom I can be totally, unapologetically myself: genderqueer, sexually fluid, poly, brash, foul-mouthed, an enthusiastic eater. They call me B instead of my given name without having to be asked to do it. Reconnecting with them, soaking up the easiness of our relationships to each other, that is what I need from a holiday.

This is exactly the kind of holiday atmosphere I want my kid to have growing up. I want to model an expectation that you get to choose who you share your life with. I want her to know she’s not obligated to spend her days with me if it means she needs a week to prepare to see me and two weeks after to recover. I want her to know she’s not obligated to be with anyone she does not choose to be with, and that she’s allowed to set high expectations for those people.