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.”


 

“The Witching Work” Has Begun!

November 1st (my birthday) is also the start of each year’s National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo.

Best_Buffalmacco,_trionfo_della_morte,_eremiti_02 copyIn NaNoWriMo 2016, I launched my fantasy novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, and continued to write all year. In NaNoWriMo 2017, I continued work on Dire Deeds and then revised and completed it this last summer. Now in NaNoWriMo 2018, I have officially begun work on the second book in this proposed fantasy trilogy–The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

I’m off to a good start! By the end of November 3rd, I had over 8,000 words logged in to my NaNoWriMo author page.

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Lucky LaFey: Character Sketch

Lucky LaFey is a new main character who appears in the second volume of The Guild of Ornamental Hermits series, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. The second book takes place in Lake County, CA.


Lucky LaFey is a drifter. He wears his mileage lightly though he’s travelled the roughest of roads. However his vocabulary is excellent and his manners are often soft and deferential enough to mark him as having come from “a good home.” He can say “ma’am” and “sir” without a trace of hipster irony. He’s insatiably curious. You’re as likely to find him in a small town library as you are in a big city pool hall.

Tall enough, slender but muscled, green eyes, an age that’s hard to pin down… Lucky’s been known to dye his long red hair jet black. He’s the handsome devil who breezes through town, dances in clubs, picks up odd jobs and odder people. He may break a heart or two when he leaves (but he’s never broken a family).

“What did you see in him?” (Besides that voice, those eyes, the hair, those oddly scarred lips?)

“I don’t know exactly, but I felt like he ‘got me’, ya know? He really got me!”

And she/he/they/ze will remember him for the rest of their lives.

Lucky’s a natural actor. He’s toured with regional theater companies, garnering rave reviews of his almost “chameleon-like” ability to really become the character. And yet, acting was never his passion–just another way to meet people and pass the time. He’s picked up sleight of hand tricks with coins and cards and has a rapid-fire “patter” that’s both hilarious and beguiling. But that’s just a way to win a beer or whiskey on a bet.

Because he’s handsome and his hands are clean, some have mistaken him for a hustler or a gigolo, and tried to play him that way. Yet money never changes hands when it comes to Lucky and sex. Oh, but that’s not to say there’s not a transaction involved! It might be “that ring you’re wearing,” or “my friends and I could use another round” or even, for those “lucky few,” “tattoo my name on your ass so next time I see you, I’ll know you really love me.”

And then he’s off in the night, laughing. (Someone told me once there’s a secret Reddit group for people who’ve gotten those tattoos.)

His own tattoos are faded: a snake biting its own tail on his left bicep, a wolf on his right,  and over his heart, a small skull with half the face of a girl. If you could lift Lucky’s hair from the back of his neck, you’d find a tiny broken heart, but few people have ever been allowed that liberty. Lucky might let you get close, but not that close.

Sometimes you might find Lucky among the “Burners” or hopping trains with young nomads like “Sock Monkey” and “Crash.” He’s learned that people are friendlier when he sits on curbs with a kitten (he loves his animals and always finds them good homes). To hear him tell it, Lucky’s been “a ski bum, a surfer, a demolition derby racer, and a line cook at some top New York restaurants.” He claims to have been married (twice) but never talks about his wives or kids. He plays the guitar and sometimes you might find him sitting in with other musicians in some scruffy bar, or strumming it pensively, alone under a tree in a park.

Don’t offer him a cigarette when you sit down to listen. He gave it up years ago, after that trip to Tibet.

To hear him tell it, Lucky’s been everywhere and done everything. He’ll talk of having one memorable night with Janis or that time in Paris when he posed in drag for Brassai. And then he’ll look you in the eye and laugh, daring you to challenge him (“You couldn’t have! You’re not that old!”). The funny thing is, you almost believe him! He makes you want to believe…

So perhaps it was inevitable that the lanky sweet-talking drifter known as Lucky LaFey would find his way to our new Hermitville Magic and Arts Collective. I found him one morning, comfortably asleep in the hammock that hangs on our wide front porch, with only a backpack and a paperback book for company. I stared at him. He was improbable. His bright red hair caught sunbeam light and threw it back like prism sparkles. And then he yawned, opened his emerald green eyes and grinned at me. It was a look from someone much bigger than a human soul. My heart pounded and all I could think was, “Here comes trouble…”

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NaNoWriMo 2018

Logo_of_National_Novel_Writing_Month

I’m gearing up for National Novel Writing Month 2018! It begins on my birthday, November 1st. I began my fantasy fiction novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, during NaNoWriMo 2016, wrote all year long, then continued it during NaNoWriMo 2017. Still working hard!

But this year, I am winding up another round of editing on The Dire Deeds and am getting ready to start my second volume in the series: The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. This second volume will take place in Lake County and the “wine country” of California as the Hermits of Hermitville attempt to regroup and establish a LGBTQIA etc. (pretty much everybody-friendly) school of magic.

I don’t want to tell you anything else! For me, the plot and character development flows as I write, with only a vague idea of what might happen next. I’ll be as surprised as you are when I get to my 50,000 word count at the end of November.

One thing I do know, however, a certain fabulous trickster god will make his/her/zir appearance in the book! And those Viking horns on top of the NaNoWriMo log will be so very, very appropriate!

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Mourning Ahalanui Warm Pond

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Yesterday, July 12, 2018, Tutu Pele covered the Ahalanui Warm Pond and park with lava, along with the neighboring Kua O Ka La Hawaiian language charter school. “Green Lake,” Kapoho Bay, the Wai’opae tide pools, and hundreds of homes have already been covered since early May. Ahalanui, warmed by volcanic steam, was a much loved place in Puna. Here’s a scene from the book that takes place at Ahalanui — based on a real incident.

Excerpt from Chapter 27

When I woke early next morning I felt the urge to swim. I took off by myself, fifteen miles an hour along a very narrow road that would eventually take me to the Ahalanui warm pond, a large brackish pool heated by volcanic steam. The road was deserted so I drove as slowly as I wanted. At times I drove under canopies of centenarian mangoes and the invasive albizia, while hala trees corkscrewed up through tangles of ferns. Large leafy vines and hanging tendrils were sometimes long enough to smack my windshield. I had Aryeh Frankfurter’s Harp Songs of the Midnight Sun on the CD player, and the music gave me the feeling of traveling through a faery land. At times the thick green landscape would open to an occasional glimpse of ocean breakers or sun-baked fields of the most recent lava flow. I was in no mood for conversation so I passed the hitchhiking couple (he in dreads and shorts, she in a light blue dress and a backpack). I felt a little guilty but I also knew what I needed. I needed to wash myself free of everything that had “stuck” from the last several days. And for that, I needed to be by myself.

Once in the pond, I swam past clusters of talking people. I wanted to escape their voices so I swam to the back edge of the pond where a narrow channel admits the waves. I clung to my favorite underwater rock and went limp, swaying like kelp in the current. I had no thoughts, just let my body move with the current. Sometimes I looked at the bottom of the pool as the water cleared, noticing the bleached coral fragments and rounded lava pebbles. But then a bearded man with a blotchy sunburn swam past me, positioned himself directly in the channel and began (for some unaccountable reason) to lift large rocks from the bottom of the pond and fling them aside. Each flung rock made a loud splash and a clunk as it knocked against the other rocks. I tried to maintain the feeling of serenity that I’d brought to the pond but it was impossible. Though he didn’t seem exactly angry, I experienced his actions as hostile and disturbing. I swam to another part of the pond but couldn’t recapture my serenity.

Away from “my” rock, I floated on my back for a few minutes more, looking at the clouds and palm fronds above. Then I decided I’d had enough. I like to be there early and when people start bringing styrofoam “noodles” and sunscreen (or start chucking rocks), it’s time to go.

Driving home, I felt some of my earlier peace. Again the road was untravelled, except for a single bicyclist. I could fall under the spell of greenery and birdsong. I remembered the professor’s words, “a green and pleasant land” and wondered if anywhere else could be as green and pleasant as this road? It was so beautiful and remote, no longer “mine.” I realized I was saying good-bye.

Kapoho_Tide_Pools,_Waiopae,_Pahoa_(503828)_(21295081641)
Kapoho Tidepools, Robert Linsdell from St. Andrews, Canada, 29 October 2014, 11:33. Creative Commons.

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Announcing the Sequels

A_Fairy_Under_Starry_Skies,_by_Luis_Ricardo_Falero

This weekend (which was a particularly awful one, I must say!), I was inspired with the titles of the next two books in the Guild of Ornamental Hermits series. I always knew I’d be writing a trilogy of “mid-life magic”–and have had a general idea of theme and location–but titles were elusive.

So, the second book in the series takes place in California (and that’s all the spoiler you’re going to get). It will be called The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits and I’ll be starting it on November 1st, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

The third book will bring a deeper look into the history of the guild, and some of it will take place in England during the witchcraft persecution of the 17th and 18th centuries. This third book will be called The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

Just thought you’d all like to know what’s up with my works of fantasy fiction.

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You Need a Scorecard to Keep Track…

Fk-040
Here is a list of some of the relationship configurations involving the characters in The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, a work of fantasy fiction. Many involve characters in LGBTQIA categories. 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 are nonsexual relationships).
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) Aarrf, a multi-gendered 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) Archie and George (Elves) are still on their honeymoon after 350 years.
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) Most of the Elves have not yet divulged their sexual preferences. However, there are twenty-nine possible Elven genders…
15) Several of the humans have not yet divulged either.
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.
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Elf and Human Magical Intersectionality

This is an excerpt from Chapter Twenty, Stalking the Wild. Elves and the human “hermits” try to parse magical intersectionality and magical identities…

So Indigo did her best to explain. We did our best to understand. Scrying wasn’t so hard. It’s just fortune telling with a crystal ball or a mirror or a plate of water. Trying to see things. The rest of it was more complicated. Finally Indigo shrugged and said, “We’ll walk you through it when the time comes. Don’t worry about it.”

tom-obedlam-illustration-3

Jennifer sighed, “I thought magic adventures were supposed to happen to you when you’re a kid, not when you’re a post-menopausal rock ’n’ roller!”

“Yeah,” Massive agreed. “Hermitville ain’t no Hogwarts!”

“Yep, Hashtag Muggles No More.” Tomma giggled, while the Wubbies began to squeal for food crumbs.

The funny thing was, the Fey Folk were totally digging this exchange. They were apparently all avid fans of human movies. Archie said Elven academia was obsessed with critiquing movies and literature which depicted human encounters with magical beings and powers. There were even sub-disciplines which dealt with questions of magical intersectionality—various types of oppression and privilege involving magical and non-magical beings—as depicted in human media.

Aarrf was saying things like, “So, now that I’ve learned I’m only half-human, how do I present my authentic self in a culture based on werewolves and furry jokes? A culture that doesn’t even acknowledge that people like me exist? And I don’t exactly feel comfortable with the Otherkin community either, because I tend to see them as emotionally othered, not genetically othered. What do I do with my lived experience as an actual part-phouka? And does my phouka blood enable me to know the true phouka experience, as I wasn’t raised as a phouka?”

And Tomma was saying things like, “Maybe that’s just internalized self-hatred, Aarrf, that you can’t see that many Otherkin folk might also be genetically othered? I mean, look how our culture treats animals! How would you expect it to treat people who are part supernatural animal? Denial, that’s what!”

Breadcrumb was expounding on examples of sexism in Harry Potter movies, “People make fun of Hermoine for actually working hard to get better at magic. What’s up with that?”

And Roz was saying, “Yeah, and what about all that ‘sexy witches on Halloween’ stuff? As if we can only be valuable, magically, if we’re also sexy according to the false standards of beauty foisted on us by a sexist capitalist economy! As if our only real magic is between our well-shaved legs!”

“And our well-shaved armpits,” yelled Maxine.

“Or in our well-shaved…uh, nevermind,” Tomma pretended to look embarrasssed.

The professor was giving Parsifal an earful about human perceptions of class conflicts between so-called high Elves and “lower” magical beings like brownies and gnomes. “For example, in War for the Oaks, the queens of both faery courts are consistantly overdressed, which is supposed to indicate their high status among the fey folk, however the humans equate this with snobbery and despise it.” (Parsifal just fondled his puffy buttons and didn’t say much.)

“Like Miz P?” Tomma asked.

Meanwhile Septimus was muttering, “Well, we do like to dress up you know! The magic garment industry is one of the most important in the Realm.”

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And Breadcrumb Makes Three…Elf Character Spotlight.

Breadcrumb (also known as “The Wee One” or “T.W.O.” for short) is an Elf smitten with human clowning and clown fashion. Physically I see her very much as an Angela Mae type. Angela Mae being an immensely talented bellydancer and clown who has performed with the band, Gooferman. Angela Mae is definitely a major muse for this character!

In this book, some Elves are quite taken with human subcultures, as immortality can get a little stale without interdimensional novelty. They go in for human fads, artifacts, and “spill-over phrases” (cliches and memes). Breadcrumb is certainly one of these Elves, with a ruby-rouged nose, striped tights, and a light tunic of spider silk.

Her father, Parsifal, is another. Puddles, the Sad Clown with the Golden Voice, is the primary muse for the character of Parsifal. You can get a sense of Parsifal in action in the excerpt, Elven Glamour Run Amok.

Breadcrumb’s mother, however, is the formidable, no-nonsense Maud o’ Bedlam, an experienced interdimensional operative. (I see Eva Green as the ideal Maud!)

Breadcrumb may be a classic Manic-Pixie (Elf) Girl, capable of shimmies, pouts, and nonsequiturs, but when the forces of evil descend on Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective, Maud and Parsifal have good reason to be proud of their daughter as she transforms into “Head Elf in Charge.”

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Disaster Prep in “Hermitville,” Puna District

The opening scene of The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is a light-hearted disaster prep drill performed by some of the “hermits” of my fictitious Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective, an intentional community located in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island. The scene mentions a triage method to assess injuries, used by CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) during a disaster.

CERT members are ordinary people who want to assist their neighbors and communities during times when the resources of governmental first responders are likely to be overwhelmed. And so they take a practical course in first aid, using a fire extinquisher, and just generally understanding something about what to do when all hell breaks loose. The national CERT program is managed by FEMA, and is now also affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security (this last link is a little weird for me, I’ll admit). Many communities have CERT training throughout the year. FEMA also has online materials that can be helpful.

Why did I choose to start a fantasy novel with something as prosaic as a disaster prep drill? There are a lot of reasons. For one thing, I’ve taken the CERT course myself, twice. And for another, I knew when I moved that life in rural Hawai’i could be rough. My “hermits” are “transplants” to the island as I once was, and are determined to be able to help themselves, each other, and their neighbors during a disaster. This willingness to help–in my opinion–is an expression of aloha.

When I lived in the Hawaiian Shores subdivision in Pahoa, a town in the Puna district (2016-2017), I took the CERT training in Kea’au, along with other community-minded folks. I still have my inch-thick training manual, though I did have to return my badge when I moved. I’d done the same training a few years earlier, in Albany CA, and we were mostly focused on earthquake prep. But in the Hawaiian Islands, the likely disaster menu includes earthquakes as well as tropical storms and hurricanes such as Iselle (slammed Puna in 2014), floods (Kauai has been recently devastated), and yes, flowing lava and eruptions, like the flow that threatened Puna (also in 2014) and the “curtain of fire” lava eruptions happening right now (May 3 & 4) in the Leilani Estates subdivision, causing mandatory evacuations. (Leilani is not far from where I used to live).

From a writer’s standpoint, using a CERT drill to open the book enabled me to introduce some of the characters in relation to each other, to show their interactions and focus. But I also wanted people who don’t live in Hawai’i to understand something that’s not often addressed in the blithe (and incorrect) assumption of “paradise,” to understand what it takes to actually live there, especially in the rural areas.

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Over 1,500 people have evacuated from Leilani Estates already, and no one knows how long the eruptions and flow will last, or how much land will be affected, the resources and resilience of Puna residents are going to be taxed once again. The lives of thousands of residents, not just the evacuees, are going to be affected for maybe months, possibly even years. If the flow is extensive, housing will be a problem–Puna already has too many vacation homes and not enough affordable housing for its residents. Fresh water will be a problem, as a majority of people in Puna rely on catchment tanks. If the loss of housing is widespread, this also means loss of catchment water. Lava is already covering part of Mohala Street in Leilani. If it covers or crosses more streets, and even the main highway in and out of the area (as it almost did in 2014), transportation and the delivery of food and medical services will be impeded. Electric power will be affected, not to mention the internet… Schooling will be disrupted–there’s a Hawaiian language charter school that might be endangered if the flow continues east. Elderly people, the kupuna, will be particularly hardpressed, as will any families who are living paycheck to paycheck, or no paycheck to no paycheck. There’s an almost endless list of difficulties ahead. How will people manage?

And that’s just people! Animals (including pets and livestock) are also profoundly affected. Many dogs and cats made homeless in 2014’s disasters have contributed to the burgeoning feral population, which in turn affects wildlife…

Could CERT volunteers help in a situation like this? To some extent, yes. Using chainsaws to cut through fallen trees, giving help an elderly neighbor, operating HAM radio, handling triage at shelters… I’m not sure of the specific opportunities, but trained, willing people will always do some good in situations like these.

And so including a CERT training at the start of my book injects a truly necessary realism before I introduce the fantastical elements of the story. Because you’ve been good enough to read this far, here are the opening paragraphs of the book (and don’t miss the CERT info below them):


 

Chapter One

Babe: You Know the Drill in Hermitville

“One… two… no, no, support zir head and neck, please! … three! Lift!”

Even with six of us, it wasn’t easy transferring Tomma’s limp, lanky body from the floor to the makeshift stretcher (a repurposed surfboard with straps), let alone lifting the stretcher and carrying zir to the designated medical treatment tarp.

“I forget, is ze green or what?” Oyster still wasn’t quite clear on the concept of triage, but after all, he’d only been with us six years. Give him time.

“C.E.R.T. for dummies,” Aarrf muttered and Oyster looked hurt. Aarrf took our monthly community emergency response training drills very seriously and had little patience with anyone who wasn’t as geeky about it as they were.

Joe took pity on Oyster. “No, green is for ‘walking wounded,’” he said. “Red, ze’s red. Immediate. Got that?” Oyster nodded.

 


Find Your Nearest CERT Training

Here are two excerpts from the Ready.gov website. I hope this blog encourages you to get some training yourself, no matter where you live. One day you and your community might be glad you did.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. CERT offers a consistent, nationwide approach to volunteer training and organization that professional responders can rely on during disaster situations, which allows them to focus on more complex tasks. Through CERT, the capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters is built and enhanced…

…FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team Program trains volunteers to prepare for the types of disasters that their community may face. Through hands-on practice and realistic exercises, CERT members:

  • Learn how to safely respond to manmade and natural hazards
  • Help organize basic disaster response
  • Promote preparedness by hosting and participating in community events
  • To learn how you can register for CERT or find a program near you, please contact your local emergency manager or FEMA at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov