“Like the pain of a bad wound, the effect of a deep shock takes some while to be felt. When a child is told, for the first time in his life, that a person he has known is dead, although he does not disbelieve it, he may well fail to comprehend it and later ask–perhaps more than once–where the dead person is and when he is coming back.”
― Richard Adams, Watership Down
When I was about twelve, I began role playing on the Internet in AOL chatrooms, especially those affiliated with Star Wars. My favorite scene, which I wished to play unto infinity, was the remarkably powerful young female Jedi, who the Sith would attempt to sway to the Dark Side. She would be tempted, but she’d always turn them down in a triumphant burst of inspired Force-usage.
I soon discovered more general purpose alternate world chat rooms, and among these, some of the best role players were involved in an elaborate game based on the world of Gor. In this world, all women were wanton slaves to the men. That is a very bland description. The actual experience was more vivid. Even in other roleplay interactions, if you played a woman, you could either be flirted with or ignored. Within a year, I stopped playing female characters, and I started roleplaying men.
Even after a good deal of therapy, situations that require me to be present in my own female skin often elicit an emotion that feels a lot like nausea, like I should be able to throw up something about myself.
If you want to undo shame, you have to find situations where you can feel proud.
I recently read Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, and I did not like it much. The levels of violence, death, and despair are all too high for my tastes, and yet I also love that book because in the main culture, the women are the badasses who are in charge of everything, each making their own mistakes in character, in human variation. Hurley stomps and stomps on the concept of patriarchy in every choice she makes, and even though she kills off characters (lots of characters), God’s War is a surprisingly safe read because sure, there’s death and pain, but there is not an intrinsic shaming of women, and there is the expectation of them having honor.
At FOGCon, someone asked Seanan McGuire about restraints she puts on her writing. Among other things, she said that she never makes a walk-on-to-die character a minority because the last thing she wanted was for someone to finally see themselves on the page, only to have them snatched away.
The thing about writing is that I can steer that narrative. I can make worlds and people who are set up to excel and to win. I can create and envision stories that let both me and the reader move into a space where we fit, where we are understood, and where we are appreciated and honored. I write for a lot of other reasons, too: cool shit, amusement, entertainment, an interest in viewpoints other than my own, and so on. But a desperately important thing to me about writing is that I can make and change the rules to whatever I need them to be.
The last few months have been long and strange. At Viable Paradise, when my critique group liked my novel, it felt like they handed me back my heart. I did not expect to also meet my girlfriend, Devin Singer. The result has been significantly less under my control than my writing, but it has thus far been a curious process of shared imagination, of both telling and negotiating a story–in particular, a story about two women, in a relationship we both take pride in.
As Lois McMaster Bujold said, “It’s a bizarre but wonderful feeling, to arrive dead center of a target you didn’t even know you were aiming for.”