Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back from Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up 2014

First off I have to say that I had a fantastic time at GRNW!

It was my first ever writing con and I was pretty nervous about it, because a) I'd never been to one and b) I was scheduled to do a reading, giving part of the keynote and sitting on a panel.

I flew out early Friday morning, transfered at Newark airport and then flew to Seattle. As always happens when I travel I was a ball of anxiety but everything went smoothly. I landed in Seattle to discover sunny weather significantly warmer than the freezing temperatures we were enjoying in New York.

I got checked into my hotel room fine after only getting lost once. I was staying at the Moore Hotel which was lovely in a kind of old, quirky, Art Deco way. I took a shower, checked my email, and got ready for the meet up that evening.

The meetup before the reading was a lot of fun. I met a lot of great people, authors, reviewers and readers that I'd known online and a bunch of people I didn't know. I also got to say hi to the Less Than Three crowd, all be it briefly.

About half way through the meetup my nerves kicked in big time.

I have multiple and severe information processing disabilities that affect (among other things) my ability to read out loud. I tend to stammer when I do, stumble over even words I know, stutter and slur words together. I've worked hard to filters some of this out, to get a more natural, smoother style. I've also gotten a lot of criticism about it over the years though, quite a bit of it harsh and mean spirited. Thus reading out loud is pretty anxiety inducing for me.

When I was asked to do the reading I'd hesitated but I do really feel like the fear around reading out loud in public is something I need to try and over come. I need to be more accepting with how I read and the fact that I'm never going to sound like other people and that's okay. 

I'd prepared a lot but I was still nervous when the time came. At least I went first, so I didn't have time to stew in the nerves. Once I started though I got into it.

courtesy of GRNW
I didn't do the smoothest reading that evening but I felt like I did well -- everyone laughed at the right parts -- and most of all I enjoyed it. I read Selume Proferre and felt really good about that choice and the whole experience. I definitely feel like given the opportunity I'd do a reading again. For me that's a big deal.

Also reading that night was Jordan Castillo Price, Rick Reed, and Radclyffe, all of whom were amazing and did some great readings. I hope I looked attentive at that point because I was really enjoying their readings but while it was only about 7:30pm in Seattle my body was telling me it was coming up on 11:00pm in New York and jetlag was setting in.   

The really great questions we had during the Q&A revived me somewhat and it was great meeting readers afterwards and signing books. I was told Selume Proferre sold out really quickly, and I want to say a big thank you to everyone who bought it.

There was a meetup (that I was told went great) after the reading but I skipped it in favor of going back to my hotel and passing out.

I slept late (in New York time at least) got up, had a huge Nutella mocha coffee and a bagel at the Moore Coffee Shop and headed off to the Seattle Central Library for the days programing.  

In the morning I went to two workshops: The Wonders of World Building and Writing Diversity.

Both were great. I enjoyed them and everything the authors on them had to say. It was so interesting to hear other people's takes on two topics I think a lot about, to hear what process they go through when addressing these two parts of being an author. Both workshops included authors I knew very well and authors I didn't know at all so that was cool too.

After the workshops I finally got to donate the author's copies of the books I'd managed to stuff in my carry-on.  One of the volunteers at the table recognized me from the night before and asked if the book I'd read from was in the pile and got excited when it was.

Then about fourteen of us went out for a HUGE lunch of dim sum. I sat on the end of the table with Alex Powell, Megan and Samantha Derr, and Isabella Carter. It was a nice relaxing time to chat and hang out before going back to the library for the afternoon.

Straight after lunch Jordan Castillo Price, Rick Reed, Radclyffe, Tracy Timmons-Gray (reading for Rose Christo who sadly couldn't make it) and I gave the keynote address, with a nice forward by Tracy which was based off of her article here.  

I was much more relaxed for my part of the keynote in which I read a letter I'd written to my future self, than I had been for the reading. I did realize right before I went up to the podium that the printed out copy I had was actually an older pre-revised copy but I think I winged it pretty well.You can watch a recording of it here and you can read it here.
 courtesy of MtSnow MtSnow

 After the keynote was the afternoon panels. The first panel was Writing the Rainbow-Exploring Queer Romance Writing, moderated by Anne Tenino with Jove Belle, Ginn Hale, Jordan Castillo Price, Rick R. Reed and Karis Walsh. Everyone one the panel was great, both funny and touching by turns. There were silly answers given and very serious ones. All together it was enjoyable. 

We had breaks between each panels and during one it occurred to me that I didn't know if there was any gender neutral bathrooms at the library and didn't really have time to go looking. It might be something to look into for future years that way GRNW staff can just let attendees know where the closest gender neutral/single person restroom is in case they need it. 

I also had a really interesting (if unfortunately brief) conversation Emmett Scout about how we wished there was a way to distinguish between trans romance/erotic romance/erotica that is basically fetish literature and the ones where the trans characters are actually people with agency. I've thought about this a lot and I've too noticed the problem especially (sadly but predictably) when it comes stories with trans women or trans feminine main characters. The use of trans women as fetish objects or scenarios like forced feminization/sissyfication/male submission portrayed as synonymous with trans female experience is so common that I now hesitation to read erotica/erotic romance/romance with trans women characters. And that is just sad. 

I know in the porn industry there has begun to be trans women led discussions about how to make T-word porn and porn in general healthier and safer for trans women. Including how to stop it from contributing to the narratives about trans feminine identity that are literally killing trans women. I think that conversation really needs to happen in erotica/erotic romance/romance sometimes soon.

Anyway back to GRNW, the second panel was A Discussion with LGBTQ Publishers, moderated by Tracy Timmons-Gray and including Len Barot (Bold Strokes Books), Laura Baumbach (MLR Press), Megan Derr (Less Than Three Press), Tina Haveman (eXtasy Books) and Anne Regan (Dreamspinner/Harmony Ink Press.) 

I feel like I could write a whole post just on things that were said on this panel and my feelings about them (I still might.) I'm going to touch on my first reactions to things that really stood out to me. 

First off kudos to Tracy for making so many of the questions about "diversity." Also I found Len Barot's comments about readership really interesting and would have loved the opportunity to talk more with her about lesbian romance readership and LGBT romance readership in general. I liked that Tina Haveman (I believe it was her) came right out and said that while the assumption was that her press' readership was mostly straight women they had no way of knowing this for sure. The implication being that might be changing. 
  
There was also some "back in the bad old days, m/m romance..." Which I understand came directly from the question Tracy asked but is a narrative I've heard A LOT in the m/m romance usually in response to questions of "diversity" or issues of homophobia/transphobia in the genre. At this point it tends to come off sounding to me like whenever the geek community gets called out over something shitty and someone crawls out of the woodwork to be like "But this one time in high school the football team laughed at me for wearing a Star Trek t-shirt so .... Shut-up!" So in general it's a narrative I don't love to hear unless it's a clever introduction to "and that's why I have chosen to work for the representation of a fuller spectrum of queer identity in romance!" That being said I do understand why it was brought up. 

Kudos to Megan Derr who brought up how the rest of the GLBT spectrum still struggles to find a place in romance even before Tracy asked the question about it. Megan spoke really directly about this and how far we still have left to go in the romance community in a way I really appreciated. She also pointed out that in order for things like trans romance or romance with asexual characters to succeed people need to buy them. Because having writers being willing to write is one thing, but unless readers buy the books we're not going to be able to keep on producing them. So if you like trans romance, romance with bisexual or asexual character or even support the idea of having these romances available than buy them. 

Also reviewers and review sites need to step up. Gone might be the days when m/m romance had to beg for reviews but I can still testify to the fact that those of us who write non-m/m, queer romance are still very much living that reality. 

Given all of this coupled with the fact that I am an author who has written m/m romance and routinely critiques it, I didn't really know how to take Laura Baumbach's "don't blame m/m romance" comment. I'm still not sure how to take it actually. 

Lastly I've noticed multiple people commenting that all of the publishers on the panel said that if authors wrote more "diverse" LGBT romances they would consider publishing them. This is not actually true, Bold Stroke Books, Less Than Three, eXtasy Books, and Harmony Ink Press said this. Dreamspinner Press and MLR Press did not, in fact they didn't address it at all. (please correctly if I'm remembering this wrong. Because I know Dreamspinner didn't speak to this but I don't think MLR did either)

Now Dreamspinner and MLR have historically been m/m only presses. That's fine, it's a decision they've made and as much as I would love to see all m/m only presses consider queer romance they don't have to. BUT I do wish they'd said that. 

When everyone was like "Yeah, if you sub queer romance and we'll look at it" they should have been like "actually we only accept m/m" and then defined what m/m to them means: does it include bisexual/pansexual men? Asexual men? Does it include trans men, trans masculine people, or nonbinary people? 

When I didn't hear any of that it made me feel like they weren't owning their decision to be a m/m only romance press, because they felt like it wouldn't have gone over well with that particular audience. At least that's how their silence read to me. Coming right out and saying they wouldn't accept a wider range of queer romance beyond m/m might not have been popular for that audience, but they should have addressed it anyway. 

I feel like if they had it would have allowed for much needed transparency because other people did walk way from that panel thinking that the only thing standing in the way of a fuller spectrum of queer romance was authors' lack of interest in writing it. Which is not entirely true.  

Like I said, I have lots of thoughts and feelings. 

courtesy of GRNW
The next panel was The Evolving LGBTQ Romance Genre, moderated by Nicole Kimberling, with David-Matthew Barnes, Lori L. Lake, Pearl Love, me and Alex Powell. I was tones of fun to be on this panel. I thought everyone had such interesting answers and I kind of loved how into talking with each other about the topics we got. It almost felt like the seven of us should have made time just to hangout and talk about "diversity" and the future of the romance genre. Maybe we should at some point. 

I was seated between Alex Powell and Pearl Love both of who were amazing, intelligent and classy. Pearl Love was a particularly hard act to follow and all in all it was just a really great panel to be on. 

After the panels GRNW Meet-up was technically over but we all headed over to the Hotel Monaco for the GRNW Book Fest. I was seated next to Alex Powell again which was great because we got to chat a lot and hang out. I was giving away postcards of the cover art for some of my trans titles: A Matter of Disagreement, Song of the Spring Moon Waning and Selume Proferre, all by the talented Aisha Akeju
courtesy of Alex Powell

It was pretty amazing how many people stopped by to talk with me and take postcards. I loved that authors and other industry people took the time to touch bases with me. I also got to hear from some amazing readers. So many trans and queer readers or loved ones of LGBTQ people came up to me over the course of the weekend to tell me how happy they were that I do what I do. It was truly wonderful and touching. 

Finally we all headed over to the Rendezvuous Bar for drinks and 5 Minutes in Heaven readings which ranged from hot to hilarious. Kudos to Heidi Belleau by the way for stepping in last minute and knocking it out of the park. 

After the readings I headed back to my hotel and caught a couple hours sleep before getting up at 3:30am (thank God my body was telling me it was 6:30am) to pack and catch my 6:00am flight back to New York. 

Then I was stuck in Newark NJ for about four hours, but that's another story.

Overall I loved going to GRNW. I loved the readings and penal I did, I loved meeting readers, authors, reviewers, cover artists and activists. I am definitely planning on going next year. 

I guess my only criticism of the event was that Flowers Bar and Rendezvous didn't seem to have the staff to deal with our sheer numbers. The young woman at Flowers was extremely over-whelmed trying to take all of the orders for the table I was sitting at and people had to ask over and over where they're drinks and food were before any of it was brought out. On Saturday by the time we got to Rendezvous the place was so swamped by authors and readers of queer romance that me and Alex Powell never even got the food we ordered. I understand why both venues were chosen. At the same time I'm kind of hoping next year has us meeting at places with bigger dinner menus and more staff. 

Also as fun and hilarious and thoughtful as it was, the first penal, Exploring Queer Romance Writing, felt kind of generic. I would like to see something a little more out of the box and maybe more LGBTQ specific next year.            

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up 2014 and Other Events

In in a little over a week I will be flying to Seattle WA to take part in Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up 2014 and several other romance writing events.

This is every exciting for me since it will be the first writing con I've attended as a professional author, and boy I am starting out with a bang.

I chose to attend GRNW even though I am an East Coast author because I had heard amazing things about the con from people who attended in 2013. Also because I was/am impressed by how proactive the organizers of the con were in seeking out authors who wrote a wide spectrum of queer romance. Unsurprisingly romance novels about white, cis, gay men and the authors who specialize in them tend to dominate these kinds of events. GRNW though has worked very hard, and I hope been very successful, making sure their events including a wider range of GLBT romance.

So the events themselves, where will I be?:

On September 19th I will be taking part in Queerly Yours: A Celebration of LGBTQ Fiction

7:00pm – University Book Store (University District Location)
Sept_19_2014_Authors_Image
Gearing up for the Sept. 20 conference “2014 Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up” at the Seattle Central Library, GRNW presents a special reading event at the University Book Store with five authors attending the Meet-Up—Rose Christo, E.E. Ottoman, Jordan Castillo Price, Radclyffe, and Rick R. Reed. From coming-of-age stories to paranormal mysteries to contemporary romances, each writer shines a spotlight on LGBTQ lives, loves and relationships, and promotes the theme that there’s Happily Ever After for everyone.

RSVP on Facebook.

I will be reading from my lesbian, trans, paranormal romance novel Selume Proferre. I will also be mingling and chatting with folks after the reading. Selume Proferre will be available for purchase as a gorgeous paperback through the University Book Store.

 On Saturday September 20th the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up itself will be held.

1:00pm I will be giving part of the Keynote Address: Write with Pride.

Coming off of the successful June 2014 event “Write with Pride” at Gay City, we’ll be doing a similar format for this year’s keynote where five writers will be sharing letters to their past and future selves. and celebrating looking back and looking forward with love, respect, hope, strength, and pride.

The participating writers are Rose Christo, E.E. Ottoman, Jordan Castillo Price, Radclyffe, and Rick R. Reed.

I will be reading an open letter to my future self about my hopes for my future as an author but also for the future of the genres I write in.

4:00pm I will be on The Evolving LGBTQ Romance Genre Penal. 

Otherwise known as the return of the popular Diversity Panel! This panel explores special topics such as diversity (or lack thereof) in LGBTQ romance, and how the genre is evolving.

Moderator

Nicole Kimberling (Author, Turnskin, Primal Red)

Panelists
  • David-Matthew Barnes (Author, The Jetsetters, Swimming to Chicago)
  • Rose Christo (Author, Gives Light, The Place Where They Cried)
  • Lori L. Lake (Author, Gun Shy, Under the Gun)
  • Pearl Love (Author, The Uncertain Customer, ‘Til Darkness Falls)
  • E.E. Ottoman (Author, Selume Proferre, The Memory of Blood and Lotuses)
I think this will be a great panel with lots of interesting things to say. The topics we've kicked around so far focus on where the romance industry will be going over the next couple of years with regards to diversity and I think this is a great group ot talk about that.

5:00pm-ish the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up Book Festival will start. 

I will have an author's table at the book festival where you can come talk to me, buy a book or pick up some cool free swag. I'm super excited about the swag I ordered and I'll have plenty to give away. I will also be signing books during this time if you are interested.

My books that will be avaliable in paperback form are:
Selume Proferre
Like Fire Through Bone
The Memory of Blood and Lotuses
Private Dicks: Undercover anthology

Other than these specific events I will be wandering around, attending panels and workshops. Come track me down and say hi. All of the crazy things I talk about online I am more than happy to also talk about in person.

Particularly if you are a author/reader/editor/publisher with an interest in non-binary/trans romance I would love to talk to you. What would you like to see in the future? What are you hopes/fears concerning this tiny subgenre? I am especially interested in talk to you if you are an author/publisher with no prior experience with nonbinary/trans romance but is looking to branch out.

All in all I am definitely looking forward to this trip.

 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Writing Update: Coming Soon and Cover Reveals!

So I have a bunch of stories and books out over the next few months. Here is some about them and their covers.

Duende is out on September 10th!!! You can preorder it here!
Famed opera singer Aimé has a lot in common with Badri, the Royal Ballet Company's most popular male lead. They have both dedicated their entire lives to their art, and struggle to be taken seriously among the Empire's elite. And both harbor a secret admiration and desire for the other.

This year for his birthday Aimé treats himself to a night at the ballet seeing Badri perform, and after the show decides to meet Badri and confess his admiration for Badri's skill. But when that first awkward meeting turns to more, they are left wondering if there is room in their lives for both career and romance...


Duende is a 15,000 word m/m novella and the second in the Mechanical Universe Series. It's sweet and fluffy with a kind of kinky, dirty sex scene that I very much enjoyed writing.

Business Makes Strange Bedfellows is coming out on October 29th. You can preorder it here as well.

Dr. Gert Bower's day goes bad fast when she accidentally releases an abominable monster of the abyss on the streets of New York City. Desperate to stop it, she turns to the only person who can help her track the monster down. Vi De Luca is a private detective and creature of the night, a vampire more than willing to help Gert—for a price.

In exchange for catching the monster, Gert must spend one night with Vi, and let Vi have her way with Gert's blood and body. Though she does not remotely trust Vi, for the good of the city Gert agrees. Yet tracking the monster turns out to be more than either of them had bargained for. When Gert embarks on an experiment to try and reanimate a human corpse things just keep getting worse.   


Right now the website has Business Makes Strange Bedfellows listed as a 15,000 word short, but don't be fooled it is in reality a solid 25,000+ novella. This is a lesbian, gothic romance, replete with monsters, mad scientists, vampires, two very dapper butch women and lots of hot slightly kinky, very dirty sex.

A Touch of Mistletoe will be Less Than Three Press' Holiday anthology. I am happy to say it will include my short story Ad Meliora. Ad Meliora is exciting because it is a An-An/M.C. short.

It is Christmas Eve and An-An and M.C. had planned on spending Christmas in Texas with An-An's family. Their plans on cut short however when M.C. takes on a last minute case, a case that should be an easy exorcism, or so they think.

But that's before they arrive at the Morgan family's lodge in the woods and come face to face with a demon wolf the likes of which neither have ever encountered before. 


Ad Meliora is a 14,000 word, trans/lesbian short about An-An and M.C.'s first Christmas together. It's very sweet, with a creepy demon and all the smoking hot, raunchy, kinky sex fans of Selume Proferre have been wanting.

And if you have yet to read about An-An Li-Johnson and M.C. Anderson's exploits pick up Selume Proferre and then check out A Touch of Mistletoe come December. 

Winter's Bees is scheduled to come out in February 2015.  It is the third story in the Mechanical Universe Series. 

Lord Marcel de la Mont de Anges, the Marquis de Montespan is a brilliant mathematician, member of the mechanical animation movement and all around dandy. He's been in love with Gilbert, shy entomologist and youngest member of the royal family, since they were children. So the Emperor's plans to arrange a marriage between Marcel and Gilbert seems like the answer to all his secret fantasies.

Prince Gilbert André XVI is still reeling from a nasty breakup, on top of that he thinks of Marcel as a brother and has never even considered the possibility of them being lovers. So when the Emperor arranges their marriage to each other as far as Gilbert is concerned the entire scheme is bound to end up being a nightmare. 

Indeed from the moment their engagement is finalized everything between Marcel and Gilbert changes. Soon their marriage is threatening the one thing both Gilbert and Marcel hold most dear; their friendship. And they must ask themselves what they willing to sacrifice in order to save it.
 
Winter's Bees is 33,000 word, m/m steampunk fantasy romance. Where A Matter of Disagreement was enemies to lovers, Winter's Bees is friends to lovers with an awkward arranged marriage thrown in to make things even more complicated.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On the Presumed Heterosexual Cisgender Audience and Writing LGBT Romance

This whole argument that only straight cisgender women write and read LGBT romance needs to stop.

First of all there is no evidence that this is true, there has never been any widespread surveys done on either the readership or writers of LGBT romance. The largest statistical survey of romance readers was done by Romance Writers of America, and did not include data on sexual orientation or gender identity. Small survey attempts have been limited and inconclusive. While anecdotal evidence would call a cishet majority into question.

Therefore the assumption that any branch of LGBT romance is prominently written/read by straight cisgender women is questionable at best.

And here is the thing, the vast majority of the time when this assumption is brought up it is in the context of shutting down conversations about diversity, GLBT politics, representation, fetishization, sexism and racism within romance.

Usually this argument goes "well this is what sells because this is what these cisgender heterosexual women want to read. I wish it were different but if you want to sell books you just have to put your ideals aside and get back to writing bare-chested firefighters."  This is a problem because it supports the status quo and shuts down important conversations that need to happen. It also paints cisgender, heterosexual writers and readers in the worst possible light, as more interested in getting off than being allies.

Over the last three years that I have been actively writing in the romance genre I've come to the conclusion that this argument and assumption just needs to end. Whether or not it is based in any kind of statistical reality, we need to stop relying on it.

Not only does it shut down important conversations that need to happen but it also automatically assumes LGBT people are outsiders in a genre that deals primarily with representing them. It also assumes that the most important voices in the LGBT romance community are cisgender heterosexual ones.

For instance a lot of m/m romance publishers assume their readers and authors will mostly be cisgender heterosexual women with some gay cisgender men thrown in and the language they use reflects this. A lot of presses that started out as het romance publisher and have since branched into GLBT romance also use language that presumes cisgender heterosexuality. As does some presses that started out as m/m romance presses and became GLBT romance presses. Review blogs that started out or focus on m/m romance also often uses language rooted in this assumption. As does a lot of general romance, m/m romance or LGBT romance blogs.

Language is important. Inclusive language is something I look for when trying to tell if a publisher, blog or community will be welcoming and safe for me as a queer author and queer person. It doesn't really matter how many rainbows you plaster onto your website, if you participate in homophobia awareness events, or post lots of pictures of gay men kissing. If the language used is homophobic, transphobic or reads like this is a cishet only clubhouse it's going to give me pause. Or it may make me back off and not want to be part of that space all together.  

For instance when I first came into the m/m romance community the phrase "chicks with dicks" was used a lot. Publishers used it, reviewers used it, authors used it. Now I've been in fandom, I've written fanfiction, I know that's where it comes from. On the other hand the phrase itself is incredibly sexist, marginalizes both cis and trans effeminate men and vilifies trans women.

Right from the beginning it's common use make me, as a effeminate trans dude, extremely uncomfortable, and made the space of m/m romance seem unwelcoming and unsafe for someone like me. Luckily people began to voice concerns with it's use, as did I once I was no longer a newbie, and it has since widely stopped being used. But these kinds of language choices that actively marginalize LGBT authors and readers should not be a part of the LGBT romance community at all.

What would cut down on these kinds of language issues I think is if publishers, reviewers, bloggers and authors would stop assuming a cisgender heterosexual majority.
I truly don't think right now the majority of publishers expect all or even the bulk of their authors to be GLBT identified. I think their language reflects this and because for most LGBT people being cautious is a matter of safety, it becomes self-fulfilling. On the other hand I've watched publishers who changed their language to become more inclusive and emphasized a full spectrum of LGBT romance gain dozens of GLBT identified authors.

This doesn't just go for publishers but for writers too. Take that whole narrative of straight cis women liking sexy men and two sexy men being better than one, put it in a box and bury it in the backyard. Because when we write romance novels about queer people assuming our audience is completely or mostly cisgender heterosexual we run the risk of doing several things that are kind of a problem.

First Othering and alienating actual queer people and queer experiences. By assume your readership is straight than you can more easily end up having a large part of your romance being about explaining what it's like to be queer to people who have never had that experience. Which says to those of us who live with those experiences everyday 'this book isn't meant for you.'

In fact there is an unfortunate tendency within contemporary gay romance to 'explain' to the readers that not all gay men are music theater loving hairdressers. It is not something any queer person needs to be told and quite frankly shouldn't be something straight people need to hear either.  Yet it is so common multiple queer romance authors, completely independent of each other, have come up with special terms to refer to it. Laylah Hunter calls it the "Broadway musical moment."

Reading something like this pulls me out of the story and tells me I am reading something that isn't for me despite the fact that it is supposed to be about me. It feels like I've just walked into some straight fantasy of what my life should be like instead of representing any kind of reality I inhabit.

Which brings me to the second risk of writing LGBT romance for a presumed straight heterosexual audience, you become much more likely to fetishize queer people. Because queer people in stories aimed at cishet people are often not reflective of queer experiences or exploring queerness, they become much more of an exotic subject for people to live out their fantasies through. They become objects usually only defined by their sexuality and physical attractiveness.

Consider these very common statements:
The only thing better than one hot men is two hot men having sex with each other.
Why would I want to read a gay romance about men who aren't hot?
Why would I want to read a sex scene if there's no dick?
The reason straight women like gay romance is because straight women like dick.

The accusation of fetishization gets thrown around the m/m romance community a lot, and often in pretty sexist, and even transphobic/homophobic ways. BUT it is important I think for straight cisgender readers and writers to think very critically about the way they talk about queer bodies and queer sexualities within this community.

I am not saying this always happens when gay romance or any other kind of LGBT romance is written for a cisgender heterosexual audience. But it is a lot easier to reduce a gay couple down to the fantasy of two hots guys, a lesbian couple to two hot chicks, and trans people into sexual fetishes when you assume the actual people represented will not be the primary audience for these books.  

Speaking directly to a queer audience will limit the amount of time a writer will spend describing queer identity and queer bodies as strange, exotic or Other. It also becomes a lot harder to fall into the trap of dehumanizing a gay, lesbian or otherwise queer couple, if you write with the intention that the majority of readers will be themselves queer.

I also think speaking directly to a presumed queer audience will encourage cisgender, heterosexual authors to police themselves, and think critically about their internalizing homophobia, transphobia and their privilege. 

Another issue with a presumed heterosexual cisgender audience is that it puts pressure on out queer authors to write about queerness in certain ways that might not feel authentic or only write about say, gay men, rather than queer women or nonbinary people. It also teaches a heterosexual readership that they can demand certain things from queer authors and are entitled to get them. That if there is queer romance authors writing LBGT romance our experiences and our voices must always come second to heterosexual cisgender voices and experiences.  

I can't count how many times I've been told or watched queer author friends be told "all gay romance is written by straight cisgender women for straight cisgender women." Thus denying the identities and very existence of all queer authors, privileging straight authors over queer ones, books written for straight readers or queer ones, and stopping conversations about queer voices within LGBT romance from even happening.

I don't know how many times I've voiced my opinion as a queer trans person only to be told "Yes, but most readers are ..." the heterosexual cisgender majority myth again. The assumption is this is the voice with the buying power, thus this is the voice we should be listening to. The reality being cishet comfort or personal taste is privileged over queer experiences and opinions.

This is how I ended up being lectured by a cishet man who was mad that I chose to write lesbian sex in a way different from what he found most appealing. Or how I get told that because cishet women don't like vagina I can't write about trans men and call it m/m romance. This is how the queer identities of a huge number of authors get erased every time the whole 'women can't write gay men' argument gets brought up.This is how we end up with situations where trans authors are forced to 'prove' they are not really 'women pretending to be men.'

In fact the whole controversy around trans men as characters gay romance does not stem from all straight cisgender women (or cisgender gay men) being against trans inclusion. But because the ones that are know that their voices will be privileged because they are automatically assumed to speak for the majority.
read from the bottom up
Because this is the thing, queer people are actively oppressed by cisgender heterosexual society. Trans women are murdered, queer kids are forced to live on the streets, queer women are raped, people loose their jobs, their homes and their families because of homophobia and transphobia. That is the reality of the world we live in.

LGBT people don't have adequate representation, they don't get to see themselves heroes, don't get to see themselves has being deserving of happy healthy relationships, or non-judgmental partners, they don't get happy endings.

That's what romance brings, a chance for LGBT people to see themselves reflected in narratives that aren't solely tragic.

What kind of an industry are we to turn around and cynically say "but you don't matter. It isn't about you, or your happiness, or your pleasure." Because that what is really being said when someone says  "our readership is cisgender heterosexual so this is the way things need to be" instead of talking about issues of diversity, fetishization, and language. 

It says, we know these books are supposed to be about your but your not as important as the presumed cishet readership.
 LGBT romance needs to first and foremost be about LGBT people. Even if we were to one day do a wide spread comprehensive survey and find that the majority of LGBT romance readers are indeed cisgender heterosexual people that shouldn't matter.

We cannot continue to write, publish, market and form communities under the assumption of a heterosexual cisgender majority. Because when we do we assume heterosexual cisgender needs and opinions come first, they carry the most power, they count for more. We should never ask or expect queer authors to cater their narratives to a cishet audience.

We can no longer continue this behavior where we hold the specter of a heterosexual cisgender readership over the heads of authors who want to write alternative kinds of queer bodies, transgender characters, non-penetrative sex or even female characters.

We can not privilege cisgender heterosexual voices, desires and tastes over queer authors, readers and politics.

We cannot say "all LGBT romance authors and readers are straight cisgender" and erase the queer identities of the authors (especially female authors) already working in these communities, the readers already buying our books. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why I Use 'Non-Binary'

I have been involved with several discussions about trans vs. trans*, genderqueer, non-binary as terms to refer to people who do not identify with gender normative maleness or femaleness.

Some people who do identify this way feel strongly that trans should be the only term used. That by using different words like trans*, genderqueer, non-binary we a) reinforce a gender binary and b) buying into the term trans only being for binary transgender folks.

Mostly recently I was told off for using 'trans/non-binary' because, according to that person, making a distinction between trans and non-binary assumed there was a gender binary.

The thing is, as much as I wish it were otherwise, that assumption has already been made. Our society functions on an assumed gender binary. The very concept of heteronormativity and assigning someone a gender at birth depends on it.

Refusing to acknowledge something -- even a wrong something -- does not make it go away. In fact in the case of the gender binary we've seen the very opposite to be true. Not talking about, acknowledging or questioning it is the very thing that allows society's concept of a gender binary to hold so much sway. By taking away language for talking about the people outside of it, we take away some of our power to address and critique it.

I also know how it feels when a transgender person says that trans can only be used by transgender people who understand their identity in a very specific way. I know the feeling of having your identity denied by the entire world, only to have it denied again by the community that should support you. I know how it feels to have other trans people tell you that you are not trans enough or even that your identity is somehow transphobic. I totally support those people who's response to that is to grab hold of 'trans' and refuse to let go. I may in fact at this point count myself among those people. But I know that's not everyone's reaction and there are still people who need/want other words.

I am pro people using trans with or without the asterisk as an umbrella terms for all none cis people.  I am also for people who do not identify with a binary gender identifying as trans. I just think we make more problems than we solve by erasing all other possible words. We also run the risk of erasing words people might identify with just because we, ourselves do not identify with them.

I personally have a long and complex history with using the term 'trans' as applied to myself. Although I am becoming increasingly more prone to using it I usually do making the distinction that I am a trans, non-binary individual. And there has also been long stretches of my life where I've been far, far more comfortable self-identifying as genderqueer, non-binary or trans*. Not because I want to enforce the idea that trans can only be used by binary transgender people, say that there is only one way of being transgender, or enforce society's, very harmful, notion of a gender binary. Instead my use of these words comes from my own (and ever changing) relationship to my body, my gender and language in general.

Bottom line is I do tend to use trans/non-binary when referring to the full spectrum of none cisgender people and will probably continue to do so. Because I think trans as a term is important but I want to be sensitive to the large portion of the population who are not cisgender but do not identify themselves as trans either.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

List of Differently Able and Trans/Non-Binary Characters in My Books

So just out of curiosity yesterday I sat down and made a list of all the differently able characters I've written in all my finished works thus far.

Then because I thought it might be useful I made the same sort of list but with trans/non-binary characters.

Hopefully this will be interesting/helpful for some folks.

Differently Able Characters:
Note: I have only included characters who identify/would identify as having a disability
Jamie (mobility impairments: wheelchair user) Regarding the Detectives Companion
Ronnan (heavy burn scarring and limited mobility to both hands) Heart of Water and Stone
Vasilios (castration) Like Fire Through Bone
*Arite (double amputation) Like Fire Through Bone
Lawrence (limited mobility due to hip injury: cane user, chronic pain, PTSD) The Possession of Lawrence Eugene Davis (to be released: date unknown)
Marcel (limited mobility and muscle atrophy in one leg: cane user, congenital amputation of one arm: uses prosthetic ) Winter's Bees (to be released February 2015)
Austin (double amputation: wheelchair user) Not Ourselves Alone (finished not yet published)

Trans/Non-Binary Characters:
Note: I have included characters who identify/would identify as being trans/non-binary with the modern day terminology for reference.
MC (genderqueer: masculine of center) Selume Poferre
Jun (genderqueer: transfeminine) Your Happy End
Wen Yu (DFAB trans man) Song of the Spring Moon Waning
Lui Yi ( androgynous, third gender)  Song of the Spring Moon Waning
Gregory (DFAB trans man) A Matter of Disagreement 
*Itet (DMAB trans woman) the Memory of Blood and Lotuses 
Austin (non-binary femme) Not Ourselves Alone (finished not yet published)
Ian (DFAB trans man) Not Ourselves Alone (finished not yet published)

* denotes secondary character. Everyone listed without a asterisk is a main character and part of the main romantic pairing. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NSFW: Queer and Sexy Resources for Authors of Romance and Erotica

There is generally two layers of the research I do for sex scenes, some factual sex ed kind of research and than some research into what other arts/writers have done with this particular act/kink/toy or whatnot.

The trick for me is that most sex ed, and most artist representations of sex acts focus on cishet people. Sometimes, especially when it comes to sexual education books or articles, there will be a little nod to the information being applicable to same sex couples but in general the information is delivered with cisgender bodies and heterosexual couples in mind.

In a lot of ways this is a problem for me because the number of cishet people I've written about is exactly zero. Sometimes though I can just tweak the information a little bit and let my imagination do the rest. Still it's nice to have some research to use that at least acknowledges the existence of people like me and the characters I write about.

Here is a, in no way comprehensive, list of some of the resources I use that don't assume that the people having sex with nessisarily be cishet.

SEX ED: 

The Sex Advice/Tips section of Early To Bed, Good Vibrations, and Babeland:

 
These three women owned, queer positive sex toy stores are great places not just to find interesting toys but also sex advice.

A lot of these articles will still assume that the sex is happening between one cisgender woman and one cisgender man. BUT there is a lot more awareness that not every couple that fit into the cisgender man+ woman mold is heterosexual. Plus there are just a lot more articles about same sex couples and/or non-cisgender people.

Early to Bed Sex Advice 
Good Vibrations Sexual Education Resources 
Babeland Sex Info

Here you can find some great sex tips for trans women and their partners, articles on pegging or female ejaculation, strap-ons and packing, tips for choosing and using cock rings or dental dams, and lots more. These are some great research tools.

What I've also found helpful are sex blogs and sex toy reviewers, with my very favorite being ...

Oh Joy Sex Toy by Erika Moen: 

http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/
Oh Joy Sex Toy is probably the cutest sex toy/sex ed blog ever not just because it is smart and well written but because it is also completely in comic form. For people like me who love comics and sex it's a dream come true.

Erika has a lot of sex toy reviews on Oh Joy Sex Toy but also some great comics on things like sexting, internal condoms, oral sex tips, hooking up online/dirty chatting and much more. On top of that she's had some great guest comics on rope bondage, DIY BDSM gear, strap-ons, the history of vibrators along with other great stuff.

One of the things I particularly love about Oh Joy Sex Toy is that Erika illustrates each comic with models that are very much NOT all thin, able, cisgender people, and a diverse range of couples. Although both she and her husband are cisgender Oh Joy Sex Toy does indeed focus on a wide variety of people enjoying a wide variety of sexual activities which I think is how it should be.


PORN:
Porn is one of those things I see a lot of people giggling about using as research or 'research' for sex scene but not actually discussing as a serious research tool for romance and erotica writers.

I personal think there are some benefits and drawbacks to using porn as part of research for romance and erotica sex. The most obvious drawback being that porn is pretty much the visual version of what at lot of us write. That means it depicts a fantasy with characters that often do not accurately represent the ways sex goes down in my or (probably) your bedroom.

On the other hand I do think there are benefits to using porn as a research tool. Much like I read other people's romance and erotica so I can write better romance and erotica I think it can be helpful to see how other artists and performers incorporate certain acts or scenarios into their sexual fantasy scenes.

Often I'll find myself finishing up an sex ed article and thinking to myself "I understand how this physically works and how to do it safely, but what would it be like to actually incorporate it into a night of dirty fucking?"  Which is where I think porn (or erotica or hands-on experimentation) can be helpful.

Yet again though the porn world is full of cishet people and light on everyone else. Also mainstream gay porn isn't going to help you write that strap-on scene starring a cisgender lady, trans man and their non-binary partner. Need to see two butch lesbians fist each other, rope bondage starring fat and plus sized queer women, three hot trans dykes make out, cute trans guys do some incest themed role play, two bears cuddle, a trans guy fuck his hot cisgender roommate on the couch?

Well I have the recs for you.

Pink & White Productions: 

Pink & White Productions is best known for the groundbreaking, award-winning The Crash Pad Series. The Crash Pad Series is first and formost porn made by and for queer women. With 176 episodes and counting though the Crash Pad Series has long since branched out to cover all different aspects of queer identity and sexuality. It's gorgeous, it's indie, it's fair trade, you can watch clips of performers talking in really honest and open ways about making each and every episode. Safer sex supplies are used, consent is taken seriously and often on screen. More than that though Crash Pad is hot, hot, hot. I have never once regretted my membership.
 
I would especially recommend The Crash Pad's Guide to Fisting which is part sex ed on the finer details of fisting and part hot, steamy porn between two gorgeous women. 

The Crash Pad Series is far from the only great porn Pink & White has to offer.

Along with a variety of great full length films Pink & White also have another series, Heavenly Spire, that focuses on alternative representations of masculinity.

Every episode of Heavenly Spire is gorgeous and lush. There is a diverse of mix of ages, races, body types, sexualities (although it is primarily gay porn) and both cis and trans performers. The performers are asked question at the begin of the episodes about their sexual fantasies or what parts of their body they thing are the most attractive. Instead of saying "my big cock" or "tight ass" most men choose to answer in ways that are more thoughtful and much more vulnerable. It has made me for one think much more critically about the relationships men have with their bodies and sexualities.

Also check out  PinkLabel.tv, a porn streaming site set up by the folks behind Pink & White specifically to get indie, fair-trade, queer and feminist porn out there. It carries everything from full length films, to episodes, to short clips, gay porn, lesbian porn, queer porn, and even some alternative cishet.


FTM Fucker: 

FTM Fucker is fair-trade, queer porn all the about trans guys fucking male partners, female partners and non-binary partners.

There is kinky scenes, hot masturbation scenes, a unicorn themed gangbang, and a gorgeous episode about magic and fae that includes themes of ambiguous consent, dream space, and knife play.

FTM Fucker is all about celebrating all different kinds of trans men, their sexualities and bodies, and it includes some incredibly hot porn.


Doing It Online:

Doing It Online is a queer, fair-trade porn site focusing on trans women. Founded by the incredible Tobi Hill-Meyer Doing It Online focuses on a wide array of queer trans women having incredible sex with each other. Doing It Online is specifically porn by trans women for trans women and works hard to portray trans female sexualities without fetishizing them.

Doing It Online is a new site but I have high hopes for it since Tobi Hill-Meyer's earlier queer trans women porn film, Doing It Ourselves, is one of the hottest porn films I've ever seen, bar none. Seriously, if you love lesbian porn get your hands on this film, you will not be sorry.

TroubleFilms and Indie Porn Revolution: 
non-binary, genderqueer, femme Courtney Trouble is a legend in the queer porn industry both a producer and performer. TroubleFilms is their independent queer porn company, also partnered with both FTM Fuckers and Doing It Online.

TroubleFilms has produced a huge selection of lesbian and queer full length porn films including the highly acclaimed Trans Grrrls. Courtney Trouble also founded and runs Indie Porn Revolution online streaming, clips and photographs of some of the biggest names in indie and queer porn. Indie Porn Revolution has been up and running since 2002, making it one of the longest running oldest queer porn sites around.  

 So these are some of my recommendations for writing sex as a queer romance or erotica author. What sites/books/videos/resources do you recommend?