July 2020 Progress

A_grotto_containing_a_magic_circle,_books_and_mythical_creat_Wellcome_V0025853
Creative Commons/Wellcome Images. A grotto containing a magic circle, books and mythical creatures. Etching by J. Vezzani after G. Rocchetti.

I am back firmly in fantasy novelist mode! This past weekend I put some character and plot development changes in place and continued the final edit on Dire Deeds. I updated my lists of Elven (ala Tolkien) names and words; plus revised the list of 29 genders of the Elf world; and sorted and organized several files of character “faces” (a form of fantasy “casting” that helps my writing process). This is a series about “mid-life magic”–most of the human characters are in their forties or older and most are encountering magic for the first time.

The first book, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, is set in a fictitious “Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective” in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island, during a “not too distant future” when the U.S. occupation has ended and the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom is rapidly reorganizing. Unfortunately, the Hermits of “Hermitville” realize their own occupation has had unintended mystical and spiritual consequences, causing the Elves of the Realm to return and revive the Guild.

The second, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, is set in Lake County, CA. The Norse god, Loki Laufeyjarson, took over this plot with his search for his final missing child. But an evil Lake County cult leader teams up with a villain from the first book, to dump yet more challenges onto the newly reformed Guild (consisting of the “Hermits” and their teachers and guides, the Elves).

The third in the Series, The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, will blend a contemporary plot with the origin story of the Guild, created during the times of witch persecution in Europe.

I began writing The Dire Deeds in 2016, during my time in Pahoa. I was very lonely so I began creating characters I wish I knew and a community life I wish I had. And I was homesick for the SF Bay Area. So naturally, these books contain a majority of LBGTQIA+ and BIPOC characters–all of whom get to do magic and have adventures.

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From “A” to Ze

 

This is a coming out post. 

Even as a child I never liked my first name, preferring often to simply use the letter “A.” I used to think it was because “Amy” seemed too wimpy and I also resented being named after a character in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (yes, my parents did that). I began to feel better about the name just last year, after I discovered that Amy is also the name of a gender-fluid Goetic demon. (I mean, you can never call a demon “wimpy,” can you?)

Little_Women-Demon-_frontispiece-1

As a little kid, I was never an Amy in my imagination. I was Captain Nemo (20 Leagues Under the Sea), or Dr. Doolittle, or Sir Lancelot. I was also, often, a “Pirate Queen.” You see a pattern starting to emerge, right?

In my teens and early twenties, I went along with “being a girl” because I didn’t know there was an option. But I felt uncomfortable, never quite right. I’m artistic, intellectual–never athletic–so “tomboy” wouldn’t fit. I wanted love, so I became “a girlfriend” for a series of boyfriends, later “a wife” and “a mother.” I was and am other things too, but the stakes for success or failure in the gender roles were always the highest, the most precarious. As uncomfortable as I was in them–though I tried my best–I didn’t want to be “a man” or “a boyfriend” or “a husband” either. The concepts of gender neutrality, gender plurality, and gender non-binary, didn’t show up on my radar until I was in the middle of menopause. Yes, there was the old idea of “androgyny” in the 1960’s, and I was often attracted to androgynous people, but that didn’t seem like something I’d be able to do myself.

Anyway, there’s a long story behind all this and I’m not up to telling all of it now. It’s just that I only recently realized that the gift of being unpartnered for the last three years has given me the opportunity to discover an essential core truth. The truth is this: I have seldom felt like “a woman” (pregnancy and lactation the closest thing to experiencing that), though I’ve had to live as one. But I don’t feel like anything super nameable either.

I feel like…a creature…forced to wear an ill-fitting garment that hides zir true beauty. (And is the “garment” only made of ill-fitting concepts or is “the ill fit” more physical? Too soon to tell.) And so today I’ve claimed the pronouns of ze/zir, at last. I may not be able to do much about the ill-fitting garment, especially since the physical aspects are aging, but I can at least claim the right pronouns for myself.

On a literary note: Some readers of earlier chapters of The Dire Deeds have suggested to me that Babe Bump is my alter-ego. But though I’ve given Babe a number of characteristics and background details of my own, she’s not my alter-ego. My alter ego is Tomma Bedlam, if anyone is. Or perhaps ze is my teacher. 

That is all.

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Transphobia Not Tolerated at PantheaCon

[Note: This is similar to the original post at one of my other blogs.]

 

A handful of activists have ensured that Max Dashu, now known as someone who holds certain transphobic views, has been disinvited as a PantheaCon presenter. As a mother, as a sexologist, as a writer, as a neopagan, as a person–I’m glad.

As a mother–one of my adult kids is trans. And even if he wasn’t, I’d still be concerned for everyone else’s kids.

As a sexologist–as the ethics of sexual and gender inclusion are writ deep in this profession.

As a writer–my books are love songs to people who are sexually and/or gender diverse. I love them with all my heart.

As a neopagan–because my spirituality, and my patron deity, has no tolerance for hate.

As a person–because human beings can be better than this. Because our collective history as a species, barbaric as it is, also encompasses values of kindness, acceptance, and hospitality. Goodness is possible.


First a bit of the background.

From PantheaCon Website

“Theme for 2019: Unity, Respect for our Diversity, and Connecting Webs to Heal the Earth What are we doing to heal our mother, our selves? What are we Willing to do for the Earth and for our Community?

This year we especially want to emphasize that PantheaCon is a Safe Space for all. We tolerate no harassment of anyone by others. This is called Pax Templi where differences of opinion are set aside for the duration of the Sacred Space.”

Community/Activist Repsonse

When events and organizations make statements about safety and inclusion it is reasonable to take them at their word. So, when a few people spotted this problematic speaker on the program, they protested on behalf of their communities.

(By the way, “TERF” means “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” in case you don’t know. I’ll be using the term below.)

One of the activists who alerted the conference to the problematic speaker is Colin Davis, who blogs at Patheos. I have their permission to quote from their statement posted on Facebook.

“…a laurel: the PantheaCon staff with whom I’ve interacted around this issue have been absolutely spectacular, supportive, and committed to the kind of inclusion and acceptance that this community has every right to expect. They have been incredible allies for the trans community, and continue to do so. I am honored, humbled, and proud to be able to say I stand with them.

In closing, I want to point out that standing up for my trans and nonbinary siblings is not misogyny, no matter how often some say it is, and that stating safety concerns is not libel… especially given the outcome. If we are to have a truly safe and inclusive environment, we cannot give any platform or discursive space to the voices that call for exclusion and hatred based on identity.”

Davis’s last point about the importance of not giving a “platform or discursive space” to exclusionary speakers is another key point. Please hold onto it.


Regarding the Ousted Speaker

I mostly want to focus on actions and statements in this post, not personalities. Others have covered the qualifications, merits, and deficits of Max Dashu and have tracked her comments, positions, and noted her associations with others who take TERF-type positions. But in case anyone is wondering if her TERF reputation is deserved, here is a quote from Dashu, which I have lifted from the comments section attached to “So-Called Predators in the Bathroom… Again,” Lady Idos, May 3, 2016, Ms. Blog. There are many problems with her assertions below. Trigger warning… transphobic vitriol.


Max Dashu says:
May 6, 2016 at 10:11 am
When are people (feminists, yet!) going to get that the main issue for women is not that trans women are sexual predators, which the vast majority are not, but that the laws are being rewritten in an all-encompassing way that allows male predators into women’s spaces? As if no issue of female safety exists, as if only trans women face an issue of safety. When under these new rules, just by pretending to be women, dressing in female guise, saying they are women, *any* man can gain entry into bathrooms, locker rooms, saunas or whatever, and perv on the women in those spaces. When did feminists forget that straight men like to transgress and violate female boundaries, put cameras under stalls and up women’s skirts? that they do commit rapes in bathrooms? Yet all over the place, we see this reality being denied, by feminists! in the name of defending trans women. Looking fixedly past the reality of male violence, denying that any problem exists in the rush to make new laws: what kind of feminism is this? Safety in bathrooms is a female issue, not just an issue for trans women. (And sex and gender are not the same thing.) So incidents like the guy in Seattle who came into the women’s room and took off his shirt, and when challenged, told the pool officials, “The law has changed, and i have a right to be here.” He didn’t claim to be a woman, nor dress as one, he just wanted to intrude because he could. Male entitlement is bottomless, don’t think this won’t be a problem.


Please see this page on Transgender People and Bathroom Access if you are even half-tempted to consider Dashu’s position as reasonable. Plus, there are already laws to protect people from sexual assaults and other crimes. The Seattle guy? He’s an outlier and a kook (see section below). It would be just as ridiculous to base local, state, and federal public policy on the Seattle example as it would be to base policies on the fact that a man I dated once (sadly) followed me into a community college bathroom to scream at me for not wanting to date him a second time.

I first learned of the PantheaCon’s issue yesterday, in an esoteric social media group. There was a vigorous conversation in the thread and I threw myself into it with my usual polite passion. I tend to include links and sources when in this mode. I was particularly keen to address points made in one person’s “I can see all sides of this” posts, which seemed to focus on click-bait about men “pretending” to be women to game the system for perks, as if these kinds of outlier incidents justified TERF attitudes about transgender and gender variant rights.

I added the following links to the thread: United Nations Foundation statement on trans rights, and the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. I also posted the Transgender Day of Remembrance website so that people could understand the kind of violence that many trans people face. I asked people reading and posting in the thread to educate themselves about trans issues using this material. (I think this request actually came before the other poster added click bait.)

I am Wondering About Knee-Jerk Reactions and Weaponized “Fears”

I woke up this morning with this thought. There’s something about the way that TERFs react that reminds me of how some racist white women (and a few men) have been captured on camera, weaponizing their “fears and discomfort” by calling 911 on people of color doing ordinary things. (Here is a good post about why we should not give the racist 911 callers cute nicknames.)

By broaching this subject, I am emphatically NOT comparing the experiences of POC in the U.S. with that of trans and gender diverse people in the U.S. (though many people are both). I DO  want to examine similarities between the knee-jerk responses of TERFs and the white 911 callers. I think there are some. And there are differences too, of course.

In the last year especially we’ve seen a lot of viral videos of white women calling police on black people and other POC for having barbecues, waiting for AAA, trying to get into their own apartment complex, babysitting, etc. We can easily see how distorted and ugly these actions are. We can see the racism. We can see the over-reactions. We can see that the automatic assumption of criminality is unfair and unwarranted.

We can also see how wrong and dangerous it is to call in authorities with guns–because “we” (meaning white people here–people of color have always known) now also have a greater awareness that police often shoot black people, often for no reason. For no damned reason. (Black people shot by police in 2018.) And there’s now some discussion on the internet of how white women (in particular) absolutely have to manage their own “discomfort” and fears instead of calling the cops. Read “White Women Weaponize Their Fears and Femininity to Assert Their Power Over POC,” Cameron Glover, May 18, 2018, Afropunk.

What’s less visible are the very real dangers to trans people when inflammatory public figures and scholars also “call 911” by whipping up public fears and resentments. Brutal people, criminals, and even everyday bullies use the inflammatory statements to justify their right to do very bad things to anyone who does not conform to their notions of “proper” gender presentation. The Transgender Day of Remembrance documents this very thing in stark terms that we should all be able to understand. But there are also other forms of violence, of micro-aggressions, and these do damage too.

(I want to note there that people with intersex variations are also at risk here.)

The most unreasonable of the TERFs persist in denying all reality of trans and other gender experiences. To them, a trans woman is always going to be an entitled man in disguise, a “perv” as Dashu says, someone presumed to be dangerous and/or criminal. I wish someone would write an article called “Radical Feminists Weaponize Their Fears and Femininity to Assert Their Power Over Trans People.” We must see that the automatic assumption of criminality–especially as it impacts trans women–is unfair and unwarranted.

TERFs seem to refuse the opportunity to examine their own “discomfort” and “fears” with regard to trans people and their own intersections of cis-privilege and female oppression (intersectionality is a term invented by black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw). The “privilege” of using one’s own discomfort and fears to affect public opinion, discourse, and policy must be examined. Academics have an even greater responsibility to do this, frankly, as they have educational privilege and supposedly also have critical thinking skills.

Some of what’s needed are facts, the ability to understand those facts, a dollop of empathy, a desire to become better educated about issues, some self-knowledge, and tools to manage our raging sympathetic nervous systems.

However, because TERF reactions to a trans presence are generally distorted, we can’t count on them doing much of the above. So to deny them platforms, then, is perfectly appropriate as they have not “done the work” IN THIS AREA to make them fit to speak to a wider public, like Panthea.Com. (I put that in caps because, yeah, some have done other kinds of work elsewhere.)

Please note similarities to our seemingly national “discomfort” with immigrants, Muslims, you name it–and to our dangerous, knee-jerk reactions to these “threats.” We ALL need to learn to manage feelings of “discomfort,” fear, and perceptions of threats where none exist. We really, really do. And when we’ve got histories of abuse ourselves, and are likely to be triggered, the necessity for self-awareness in this area even more crucial.

We must realize that the automatic assumption of criminality is unfair and unwarranted, no matter what our nervous systems are screaming. React to real dangers, yes, but not to imaginary ones.

Outliers, Con-Artists, and Kooks

Finally, here is my response to the person (sadly, an academic) who posted the three “click bait” news articles in the thread (for reasons which remained largely murky for most of the duration). One had to do with a trans woman who assaulted fellow inmates; one was a screenshot of some fool who wanted to know if he could qualify for a STEM scholarship by pretending to be female; and the third had to do with someone who changed the gender of his driver’s license to get a cheaper car insurance rate.

I said:

“Hey, are there jerks, con artists, and abusers in every subgroup imaginable? You betcha. White cis female imposters like Rachel Dolezal pretended to be black in order to game the system. White cis female Andrea Smith pretended to be Cherokee and boosted her academic career until exposed. But no one who is reasonable uses these examples to argue against affirmative action in universities, or against welfare. TERFs, however, inflate stories like the above to justify their ‘fears’ and ‘discomfort’ and then promote and inflame these fears in others. The result is violence and social and economic injustice against trans and gender variant people. However I’ll take your sparse selection of outlier examples and raise you with all the names of all the dead on the TDOR site–people who have been shot, stabbed, mutilated, you name it–often for being in the ‘wrong’ place. I do not believe that posting what is essentially click bait advances this discussion. A much more robustly insightful examination of prejudice and entrenched systems of oppression is in order.”

There is so much more to say on this topic. But at the moment, I’m spent.


Disclosure: I am a 64-year old white, cis-het woman with a hidden disability. I am the mother of two adult children. One is trans. As a sexologist and writer I have been vocal in support for trans and intersex rights. My pronouns are “she/her” but gender neutral would be fine as well. To borrow a phrase from a friend and colleague, “I am reluctantly gendered” as female. I’ve also experienced sexual assault and coercion as well as physical violence, and have sometimes been afraid as a result. For most of my life I’ve identified as a feminist (of sorts) but certainly NOT a “radical feminist.”


 

You Need a Scorecard to Keep Track…

Here is a list of some of the relationship configurations involving the characters in The Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy series. Check out our characters showing their pride on the LGBTQIA Gallery page. Kink and nonmonogamy are represented as well. (I’m not even including most of the Elves in this list.) There are a couple of spoilers here:
 
1) There are twelve human characters who are residents of Hermitville. Each one has an Elf mentor (most of these mentor relationships are nonsexual).
 
2) Spoiler: Babe Bump (pansexual, intersex woman) and Oyster Olson (asexual, pan-romantic trans man) become fond of each other. Tomma Bedlam (pansexual, trans, non-binary person) makes three.
 
3) Tomma is also involved with a butch lesbian (former) lover and there may be a surprise Elf/Human triad in zir future.
 
4) Divorced couple Massive Max and Sybil are kinky and still sometimes get together when their lover Maxine can make it a trio.
 
5) Joe Hillstrom and Sidley Croom are an on-again, off-again gay couple with a long, complicated past.
 
6) Hermitville’s founder, Ginger Croom, may have had a Fey lover in her youth.
 
7) Spoiler: Aarrf, a gender non-binary human puppy, finds an Elven master.
 
8) Glysandra, a tantrika, is Ginger Croom’s tantra partner, even though they claim to be “not lovers.”
 
9) Are Nar and Nen lovers, or just good colleagues?
 
10) Sidley Croom also hooks up with at least one “bad guy” and has had hopes for several other liaisons.
 
11) A few characters have human/fey parentage (backstories in the second book!).
 
12) Parsifal and Maud (Elves) are a dyad but also part of a larger group marriage.
 
13) A giant salamander that really loves buildings.
 
14) The Elves are all pansexual. Also, there are twenty-nine possible Elven genders.
 
And yet, with all this, I haven’t written one single explicit sex scene, nor do I intend to do so! It’s kind of more fun this way.

Oyster Olson – Humble Bluesman Turns Wizard

Oyster Olson is a resident of the fictitious Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective near Pahoa, Hawai’i Island. He is one of twelve “hermits” (musicians, artists, and oddballs) invited to live at the intentional community by the founder, winery heiress Ginger Croom. At the beginning of the book, Oyster has been a resident at the farm for about six years. And he’s probably the most introverted member of the community at that point.

Oyster didn’t start out in my mind as a main character in my work of fantasy fiction, but he, along with Tomma Bedlam and Babe Bump, have grown to become the three main human protagonists. Babe does most of the first person narration, but Oyster and Tomma also narrate chapters, and the friendship between the three is one of my major pleasures in writing this story.

At the start of the book, Oyster is shy, reserved, and somewhat unfocused–unless he’s playing music! In the second chapter, during the farm’s monthly “Community Emergency Response Training” (CERT) drill, Oyster has trouble remembering the meaning of the triage colors* (red, yellow, green) as Tomma, participating as a mock “disaster victim,” is carried to the medical tarp on a repurposed surfboard. Babe notices his distraction, but also takes note of his “swoony” brown eyes.

Oyster is a talented multi-instrumentalist. He plays blues harp (harmonica), synthesizer, keyboards, and even harpsichord, with The Incredible Unstrung Band (the farm band). While skilled on keyboards, his real joy is playing the blues on his harp. At one point in the book he’s delighted to find that Babe recognizes a Charlie Musselwhite tune that he’s playing (Sorcerer’s Dream). Babe, a neo-burlesque artiste, tells Oyster that she’s been a fan of Musselwhite since her teens, and that blues and burlesque go together like “poke and poi.”

Oyster is a transgender man. He’s been keeping this private at Hermitville for personal reasons, but eventually confides in Babe, who is very out as an intersex rights activist. (Tomma, a gender variant person with ze/zir pronouns, figured out Oyster’s secret on zir own, but discreetly never mentioned it.) One wonders why Oyster didn’t confide in Babe and Tomma before, but as I said earlier, the guy is shy!

A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1

Oyster’s growth in the book is a result of his growing friendship and intimacy with Babe and Tomma, along with his training in magical arts, and through the magical, multi-dimensional challenges and dangers they all face together.

If I were to cast Oyster’s part in a movie version of the book, I know exactly which trans male actor would get the part. He’s a little younger than Oyster (who is in his mid-40s), but could definitely carry the role. He’s got the right look and “vibe.” Just add a few gray hairs…

*Red-Immmediate Care, Yellow – Delayed Care. Green – Minimal Care. When I lived in Pahoa, HI, I took the CERT training. I had also taken it in Albany, CA.

Intersex Characters in Hermitville

Babe Bump, the book’s primary narrator, and Frank Talk, one of Hermitville’s fine musicans, live in bodies that have intersex variations. However, Babe and Frank each deal with a different set of circumstances, as the intersex variation of each character is different.

Babe was born with partial androgen insensitivity. Fortunately for Babe, her parents resisted medical and social pressure to force genital surgery on her. She self-identified as female at an early age and so did not want androgen therapy at puberty. If you want a simple label, you can think of her as a woman with XY chromosomes. Babe is generally “out” as an intersex person as she is an activist for intersex and trans rights (as well as a well-known neo-burlesque performer).

Frank keeps his condition relatively private, but confided in Babe during the first few months of their residency at Hermitville. Frank has 47 XXY chromosomes, which is known as Klinefelter Syndrome. Most of the other Hermits don’t know, mostly because Frank doesn’t think it is any of their business. He is a performer and he focuses primarily on his music.

Though I am not intersex myself, I included intersex characters in this book, as well as other gender variant and sexually diverse characters, for several reasons – including my background as a sexologist and commitment to sexual and gender rights, and just a general sense of fairness. In the interest of greater visibility, more such characters need to be included in a majority of written and filmed materials. However, characters with such variations do not necessarily need writers to be hyper-focused on the variations, either. This is just be a part of who they are, not the totality of their identities or the totality of how we view or understand them.

So, even though this is fantasy fiction (I’m not an Elf either, but I’m writing about them), I am hoping to do my part to help heighten visibility and awareness for a number of different types of people who are marginalized, including many people in the LGBTQIA etc. categories. The struggles that Intersex people face are almost beyond imagining (including forced surgical mutilation) and yet are very little known to the general public.

I encourage readers to check out these links:

United Nations Intersex Factsheet

Organization Intersex International USA and the Intersex Campaign for Equality

Mx. Annunaki Ray is an intersex activist with many incredible links and blog posts. Check out the page on links for intersex allies, including this printable PDF from OII.

Below is the symbol for Intersex Awareness Day (Oct. 26) and Intersex Day of Solidarity.

flag

Finally, if a movie is ever made from this book, I would want intersex actors to play the intersex characters, trans actors to play trans characters, and so on – so all these folks could get more work!

An infographic created May 29, 2022.