Monthly Archives: May 2014

Review: Roman (Saints and Sinners) by Kennedy Streath

My review from Amazon:

There are fragrances, aromas that speak to us deeply, that take us to another place, another time. This book is scented with menace. It’s a tart stinging fragrance with a whisper of rose, a hint of cinnamon. From the beginning, we know that TJ is in danger. And not just TJ, the teenage girl forced to return to her father’s home upon the death of her mother. The small mining town, perhaps a far greater area is also at risk. The menace-scent pervades.

Roman, with his dark past, and not too shining present, is cloaked in menace. He wants something from TJ, something beyond forbidden touch. She wants something from him, despite the promise to her deployed (and adored) brother. The threads binding the two of them thicken and tighten as strange events unfold. The boy who’s asked TJ out has an accident — or was it? The miners begin to experience otherworldliness while they work. TJ’s priest uncle and her father know that more is going on than meets even the imaginations of the residents. They have good reason to know.

As they put together the facts, the theories and the suppositions, menace looms, its scent more sting and less rose. Will Roman save TJ, or will he be her downfall?

Roman is a dark coming of age story, written for the older end of the YA spectrum, and is an excellent example of how threat and awakening desires can be treated without gloss and within the bounds of acceptability. Kennedy Streath does not write fluff; the reader should be prepared to face the grist of life. For those who want depth of character, compelling themes, intense emotion, and ever-increasing tension, Roman sets a mark few authors can surpass.

Five stars bring light to the darkness; this book is well-worth the check-under-the-bed shivers it generates.

Buy the book here: http://amzn.to/1wFE2m9

Sidewalk Cafe

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“We’ll always have Lyon” she said. I laughed and so did she, but I don’t think she got it. Such a ridiculous trite cliché, just like her. Always? There is no “always”. There is “now”. Maybe there’s “not-now.” Couldn’t prove that one by me, though. Now, that’s all I know.

It wasn’t a long affair in the first place. A week, snatched from the tedium I forgot as soon as I boarded the plane. There’s just “now”, remember?

Why Lyon, and not Paris? Paris is so romantic, so urbane, so continental, so …. Yeah. Exactly. Nobody goes to Lyon.

Except her.

She was at the rental car place at the airport in Geneva — I’d gotten a cut-rate flight to Geneva, had a car reserved for the drive through the mountains to Lyon. She was trying to use a phrasebook to explain to the clerk that she had to have a car, even though they’d lost her reservation. She was totally ignoring the fact that the clerk spoke excellent, though heavily accented English — doesn’t everyone these days? — and kept up the ‘oh dear’ and ‘wait, I’ll find it’ noises. American. Obviously.

People behind me were beginning to get restless, making those little huffing sounds people do just before they begin to complain loudly to the air, hoping someone else will agree, so they can storm the Bastille in tandem. Or the rental car counter anyway. I’d had enough.

“Pardon me, but perhaps I could help?” I offered, leaning just slightly in her direction.

“Oh! Oh, would you? Do you speak … oh dear, I don’t know if it’s French or German here!”

I heard the snorts of at least two people in the queue behind us.

“Yes, I can speak with the clerk for you. Now, what’s the problem?”

“Lyon. Oh, I don’t mean Lyon itself is the problem. But I’ve got to get there this afternoon, and somehow this … this person has lost the reservation for my car. The meeting was moved to Lyon, you see, after I was already in flight to Geneva and — ”

“Yes, yes, well, I’m going to Lyon, and would be happy to give you a lift, and I’m certain you can find a rental there.” I looked a question at the clerk.

Ah, oui, M’sieur, there are autos to be had in Lyon, assuredly.”

“Oh! He understood you!” She looked daggers at the clerk, who rolled his eyes in return. “He didn’t tell me he understood English!”

Neither of us bothered to point to the sign assuring travelers that the clerks spoke French, German, Swiss, and English.

“Be that as it may, if you’ll accept a lift from me …?” I turned back to the clerk and gave him my last name, hoping my reservation was in the system.

Certainement, M’sieur. Votre auto — your car, it is ready.”

Merci, Robert.

Before he could push the paperwork across the counter for my signature, she piped up, “You know him? Well, no wonder he can understand you then.”

God was she really that clueless? The man was wearing a name tag. I began to regret my offer. It could be a very long drive with a redhead who should have been a blonde. As I signed, she chewed her lip, then finally shrugged. “Thank you. Yes, I’ll accept your offer, but you must let me pay you.”

“Nonsense. I’m going there anyway.”

“But you’ve been so kind.”

“Not at all. Just moving things along,” I countered, and grinned as the people behind us broke into applause as I touched her elbow and steered her away from the counter.

She glared at them, and I thought for a moment she was going to make a scene. “Is all of this your luggage?” I asked quickly, pointing to a distressingly large grouping. Silently I titled the faux still life. American Two-Day Business Trip.

The luggage was hers, of course. I managed, despite her ‘help’, to get most of it stowed in the boot, my own case in the back seat, tangled with her overnight bag, a carry-on, a leather full length coat, a sweater, and a messenger bag.

As we pulled away from the parking space, I said, “I’m Peter,” leaving it up to her if she told me her name.

“Oh! I”m sorry. I should have introduced myself. I’m Beth. Well, actually, I’m Sarabeth Eloise Duncan Brown.” She laughed.

I smiled. Instead of exasperating me, she was beginning to amuse me. “Well, Sarabeth Eloise Duncan Brown, I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Me, too, Peter. Where are you from?”

Great. Small talk, ice-breaking. My favorite thing. Sarcasm doesn’t suit me, my mother always said. I disagree.

We passed the trip doing the getting-to-know-you thing. And least I did. I don’t know that she learned much about me, since she chattered almost constantly. It wasn’t long before I knew that “her people” lived in “the Delta”, wherever that is — Americans assume that everyone knows their world — that she was married, had two dogs and no children, was thrilled to be in Europe at last, and couldn’t wait to see “old stuff, you know, a couple of hundred years old, just imagine.”

I refrained from pointing out that to Europeans, a couple of hundred years was yesterday. During one of the rare lulls in her stream of “everything about me”, I glanced at her and realized she was actually attractive when she wasn’t jabbering. A redhead with pale clear skin, large blue eyes, though I suspected those were contacts, a full mouth devoid of lipstick but glossed to a fine shine. Her hair was loose around her face, her neck long and graceful, her breasts — or her bra, since I’d had no opportunity to verify what I could see — round, high, not overly large. A bit of a tum, but I’m not obsessed with skin-and-bones, so that worked well also. Legs not too long — she wasn’t particularly tall, or short either, just average height — and again, a bit more to them than we’re told we should like. Just right for me.

My interest was becoming obvious as we neared Lyon, though I hoped not overly so. “Where can I take you, Beth? You should be able to arrange for a car from your hotel.”

She named it, and I smiled. “Very interesting. That’s where I’m staying, too.” It wasn’t, of course, but she’d no need to know I was changing plans to be able to try my luck with verifying the reality of those breasts. Besides, I knew the place, had stayed there before. Nice enough without being outrageously expensive, and there was a cafe around the corner I particularly appreciated for the coffee and pastries.

“Oh, that’s wonderful, Peter! I’m glad you’re not having to go out of your way for me.” She hesitated. “And … I hope you don’t think I’m being forward or anything, but I’d like to repay your kindness in some way. Could I take you to dinner this evening, after my meeting?”

I looked directly at her for a moment, then turned back to the traffic. “I’d like that. Yes, and I like women who aren’t afraid to ask a man out.”

“Oh, I’m not asking you out! I’m married, after all.” She laughed again. “Well, I suppose I am asking you out, but … you’re such a gentleman. I’m sure you won’t take advantage of me.”

Take advantage of her? Did people really still think that way? I supposed maybe in whatever place ‘the Delta’ was, they did. I shot her another glance and saw a hint of something there in her eyes, something that hardened me a bit. “Don’t be too sure, Beth,” I smiled. “A beautiful woman like you? What man wouldn’t want dinner at the same table, perhaps several glasses of wine and some hope?”

She laughed, and it happened, that moment when a woman believes she’s beautiful and even the least attractive become something special under that power. “Beautiful?”

“Oh, yes, beautiful.” It wasn’t a lie, though maybe another man wouldn’t see what I saw.

We spent a week together. She made up some excuse for the boss and the husband back in “the Delta” — I still don’t know where that is — and we spent the days exploring Lyon and the environs, and the nights exploring each other.

Beth insisted we not exchange contact information, since she was certain her husband would discover our affair and “try to get custody of the dogs”. She fretted a bit over leaving, worrying that I’d be distressed at her return to her life in that Delta. I could have assured her nothing was further from the truth. A week was wonderful, but longer than that, and I’d be deep in my cups before noon. I took her back to Geneva — she never did get a rental of her own — and suffered through the unneeded attempts to cheer me up, the trite “always” statement, and smiled with relief as she finally boarded that plane.

I returned the car, walked out to the parking lot and when I was certain no one could see me, spread my wings and transported home. I stretched, feeling like myself again at last.

“Hey, Peter, glad you’re back. Your gig sucks, so don’t be asking me to relieve you again any time soon.”

“Yeah, well yours isn’t exactly shits and giggles either. Maybe in another couple millennia we’ll do this … what did you call it, “time-share” … thing again. Give me the keys and go home, Lucifer.”

 

The Mask

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The Mask

It had no eyes. Yet it tracked his every move. The no-eyes of the mask bored into his soul. The boy itched to leave this place.

The mask hung there on the north wall of the wattle and daub hut. It rested on the stubbed end of a length of willow that protruded from the daub, the dried earth that plastered the woven branches beneath. Around the curving walls, other stubs pierced into the room where Heart Father lived. Talismans dangled, sacred objects rested on those as well.

None of those others followed him, though. Only the mask.

It was blue, but he was quite accustomed to faces painted blue. Sometimes, on certain days he was only just learning to anticipate, the mask’s edges seemed to glow in the corners of his eyes, and whispered chants almost reached his ears. On those days, the itch to leave rose up and he tore at his skin, seeking to scratch deep in his belly, where the troubles lived.

On those days, Heart Father grew restless. He attempted to rise from his pallet there on the low bench near the fire. Heart Father’s lips moved, though he could no longer speak. His eyes were like the no-eyes on those days, reaching for him, wanting and maybe needing. No matter how often the boy asked Heart Father what it was, he could not say. No matter how firmly he pressed the old man back onto his pallet, still Heart Father struggled. He suffered, and the boy with him, while the mask watched. While the mask, like Heart Father, spoke in words he could not hear.

As the Turning approached, Heart Father spent more and more time flailing, sending dust flying as his limbs beat uselessly against the thin pallet. The itch inside the boy was like wildfire, overtaking him and filling him with hot anger. Did Heart Father not know that his trashing meant the boy would have to gather more broomstraw to fill his pallet? Did the old man want to make more work for him? Was he not busy enough? Did he not see to everything, the food and the fire and even the wastes the old man produced? Why should he be given more to do? Why did he have to care for Heart Father anyway? He was useless. Old and useless and it would be a good day when the boy woke to find him stiff and cold.

He said it all, there in the silence of his mouth, there where no one could hear.

Except the mask heard. How could it hear with no ears? But it must have, because from his eye’s edges, he could see it rock there on it stub. The boy looked at it full on, for the first time in days, hoping and fearing that it would move again.

What he saw instead made his knees turn to yesterday’s soup, weak and liquid beneath him. He sat on the dirt floor, suddenly and hard, unable to look away, even when he heard the rustling behind him that meant Heart Father was thrashing again, despite the brew the boy had managed to barter for, and poured between his lips to calm him.

The mask’s glow was no longer hidden. Blue fire outlined its shape, not simply the face, but the jutting prongs of the headdress put there to make it appear larger and fiercer. To scare the bad things away, the boy suddenly knew. And there, just between and above its no-eyes, colors, where no colors had ever been. As he stared, ignoring the impossible sounds behind him, the colors took shape. What was that? From the same place the mask’s purpose had come to him, this he knew as well: it was the sacred Turtle, turned this way and that, smaller and smaller until he could barely make out the legs and head. Head down, the largest shape, and within it, head up, head down, and in the center, where his belly itched — but how could that be his belly when it was the mask? — head up once more.

The boy stretched his hand toward the mask, pulled by the lodestone of the turtle.

“Yes, boy, take it. It’s yours. I’ve been trying to get you to take it for a year now.”

The boy’s head whipped around. It was Heart Father’s voice, and yet it couldn’t be. He couldn’t talk. And yet it was.

Another cannot-be twisted his vision. Had he eaten the wrong cactus? Was he going to die? Was he dead already?

There was Heart Father, lying on his pallet, like always, but beside him, moving toward him, was Heart Father, too. That one, the boy could see through, shimmering and shifting, like the edges of the mask. He was there-not-there.

The shimmering Heart Father laughed and said, “No, boy, you haven’t died. The shell of me is about to, though, so I need to tell you quickly. Get up and take the mask, Turtle Boy.”

The itch in his belly was gone. The boy almost cried out, but his mother’s words came back to him. “Do not shame me by crying,” she had said, and he never had. This was no time to shame the memory of his mother.

This solemn moment he would not shame, he might finally have a name. He’d had no name. He was simply “boy.” But now? Had Heart Father given him a name, a name like real people? Truly?

“Yes, you are Turtle Boy, and you may tell the rest of the People. But take the mask, and quickly. My shell is weak.”

“Your shell, Heart Father?” The boy pushed up to his feet, hoping his knees were trees again and not soup. He stood for a moment, feeling Mother Earth with his toes, and then reached for the mask.

“The body I have worn, Turtle Boy. The one you have cared for so well. It is dying, so I will leave it behind.”

Turtle Boy nodded and said, “I will miss it.”

“Yes, you will.” Heart Father gestured toward the mask and Turtle Boy’s fingers touched it.

He could not help but gasp. He felt a stirring through him, like he’d had when the fire from the sky had come down and split the tree he was standing under. His hand closed around the edge of the mask without his telling it to and before he could think long and slow about it, as he was supposed to do, he had the mask held up to his face, as close as the length of a knuckle.

He stopped and looked back at Heart Father. “Am I worthy, Heart Father?” Only those who were good could touch the sacred objects.

“Yes, Turtle Boy, you are more than worthy. The mask called you. Trust it. It will never lead you down the crooked path.”

For a moment, Turtle Boy wondered if Heart Father had heard the mask chanting for the feast days, but the mask nudged his heart and he pressed it to his face.

The instant it touched him, he grew up. His body — his shell — remained a boy, but his thoughts and knowings and feelings became a man. He could see everything, the seven directions, the four elements, the whole of the earth and its mysteries. He knew what lived in the holes of the creek bank. He knew how to tell which stones would make good spear heads. He knew how to choose a mate. He knew how to care for the shell Heart Father would leave behind.

“Yes, yes, Turtle Boy! You see? The mask is for you, and with it you will guide the People.”

“I? But— “

Heart Father took a step and held out his shimmering hand. Turtle Boy clasped his forearm, surprised that he could feel it as solid as the one dangling off the pallet. Heart Father’s hand closed around his own forearm. “You are a man now, and I must go.”

Turtle Boy wanted to be a little boy again, just for a moment, so he could beg Heart Father to stay. Instead, he nodded and the shimmering Heart Father was gone. He knew without checking that the shell on the pallet was empty. The mask allowed him a moment’s sadness, and then showed him that he must care for the body and then summon the People for the rituals.

Turtle Boy leaned over the pallet and whispered, “Goodbye, Heart Father. Thank you for my name.” He laid a hand to the old man’s rapidly cooling cheek and when he straightened, he heard the mask say, Now, let us begin.

 

[Image Credit: Rebecca Poole, Dreams2Media, used by permission]

Memorial Day

Military Honor Guard Folds United States Flag at Veteran Funeral

 

For every tucked-tight triangle
Held in glove-swathed hands
Stretching to bridge the vacuum-gap
From might-have-been to never
Worlds and wounds and wars apart,
For every creased and folded dream
Concealed and on parade
Sluicing must-be-brave-don’t-cry
Through aching empty hearts
Havens of dread desolation,
For every forlorn ball uncaught
Lamenting games unplayed
For every scented shirt unwashed
And clutched to mourning soul,
For every deep and fresh-dug grave
Swallowing vestiges of hope,
For those who gave and gave it all,
For those they left behind,
This hollow gratitude my only offering.

Petals

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They fall, solitary or clustered,
Sloughed off by life’s inexorable spiral breath.
In, out, expand, contract, live … die.
Festoons of come-hither signal the winged eunuchs.
“Here it is,” they promise, “oh, god, yes, like that, just like that.”
The fluttered fuck and go,
Impetus for their petaled existence,
Transports pollen-life to the whole,
And withering death to the succubus slivers.
Swirling skirts, once lifted, tatter.
Made use of, purpose served — rejected.
Only virgin flowers count.
We blame them, the men,
For following nature’s unnoticed pattern,
Scrived so boldly it blinds us,
And weeping, we wonder why, falling down to die.

[Image credit: morguefile.com]

On Writing and Identity, Part 2

Jon Gomez by Joan Crisol
Jon Gomez by Joan Crisol (full credit below)

This post is a continuation of On Writing and Identity, Part 1 (pretty obvious, that).  If you haven’t read that, you might want to. [Note: in this post, when speaking in generalities, I use the pronoun “he” or “him” to avoid the awkward “she/he/it/they” construction that is more inclusive. It’s a matter of semantics and style. I have no wish to exclude anyone.]

Bringing this back around to writing, as promised. I made it clear in the last post that I’m female. I also made it clear that I write a lot of first person from inside the heads (so to speak) of gay men. How can I do that?

Let’s take a look, a good look, at the photo (which I think is amazing, BTW, as is much of Joan Crisol’s work, and yes indeed, I received permission to do so before using it). That’s pretty obviously a guy on the stool, yes? And a danged attractive one at that. Very masculine, lots of brio contained in that leather.

OK, now look at the shadow. See that? The shadow is ambiguous. Could be a man, could be a woman. If the camera had been placed so that all we see is the shadow, it would be hard to know, wouldn’t it?

And that’s what writing outside of one’s gender is like. The model — the writer — isn’t ambiguous as far as gender goes. (We’ll leave aside orientation.) The shadow he casts — the story told by the writer — is so ambiguous as to gender as to make it impossible to be certain.

Some examples from my own work. These are all the openings of the longer pieces they’re excerpts from.

The first is from a short short (under 1000 words) titled “Sharisa”. Can you determine the gender of the speaker, the “I”, just from reading this?

It’s all in her eyes, those molasses-covered-coal eyes. The wisdom of the ages, the freshness of tomorrow; the madonna gentleness, the succubus fire. And what her eyes don’t say, her lips behold, full, kiss-slicked as they wait for more. Her cheeks are velvet heaven for trembling fingers, cheekbones angel-winging toward the meandering curves of her delicate ears. Sunlight glints from the hoop of dangling gold that would swing and bobble if she moved. Amber and myrrh take their fragrance from the bliss held willing captive by the hollow of her neck. The ranked rows of her wrap, marching wisps of cream floating atop her mocha skin, almost cloak the slopes of her breasts, the dip of her back, the rise of her rump. She stands, just so, that perfect cheek resting against the tree limb she caresses. 

It’s impossible not to want her.

I don’t even pretend anymore. It’s been months since I stopped telling myself little lies about beauty’s siren call to the artist in us all. I didn’t believe me anyway.

From a flash fiction (under 300 words), titled “Del”.

He was the boundary. Demarcations seemed to aggregate around him, iron filings to the magnet of his being. Sky on one side, land on the other. This to his left, that to his right. “On” nestled beneath his head, “off” snuggled to his feet. Cold dry air from the Plains meeting hot wet air from the Gulf, and where they did, the storm of him.

God, he was magnificent! Long lean line of muscle draped carelessly over discarded bones, but then he moved and careless drape and discarded bone became polished consummation of design. The splotches of reflected color across his arm, chest and face were a swift museum exhibition of modern abstract art.

“Come here,” he demanded and I, suddenly witless, obeyed. “I want it.”

Another, this time from a flash fiction (right at 500 words) titled, “Hellway”.

For the gateway to hell, it didn’t look like much. I’d have expected such a thing to look more … I dunno, impressive, I guess. Demons and gargoyles and flames. I kept looking for them, glancing back to check for a sneaked-up imp with a stiletto yearning for my kidneys. Or more likely, his elder brother, sharpened eyes wide as he snicked out his claws to slash a tic-tac-toe board on my soul. I would have laughed at myself for thinking such things, except I know better than to laugh at death-dealers and soul-stealers. What was that saying years back? Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it.

The closer I got to that door, that door for a toothpick giant, the more attention I paid to the curling smell of damp that I knew had set up housekeeping somewhere along my olfactory nerves, determined to leave only when I threatened it with scrubbing the bathroom down with straight bleach. Damp. My grandmother’s cellar, full of jars of pickled peaches and crabapple jelly. There would be no shelves filled with gleaming glass through this door. Or if there were, the glass would hold pickled freedom and blood-gut jelly.

OK, what did you think about “I”‘s gender (geez, that’s hard to punctuate!)? The voices are different in each. In “Sharisa”, the speaker is female, which is hinted at later, through snippets about her occupation. Yes, she’s attracted sexually to Sharisa (she’s looking at a framed print, which also is more apparent later). OK, I’m a woman, so that’s not a stretch.

In “Del” the speaker is male. His name is Vic. He’s Del’s bedmate. I wish I could say “lover” but that’s not the relationship they have. Is there anything in that excerpt that makes you think “I” has to be a woman, or that the writer has to be?

“Hellway” is a bit different. In the other full stories, the gender of “I” becomes apparent at some point. “Hellway” is ambiguous. There’s no way to tell anywhere in the story whether the speaker is male or female. Frankly, I don’t even know myself. I kept thinking, as the story unfolded, that I’d get a feel for one or the other, but it never happened. And it doesn’t matter. The story works even though we don’t know the speaker’s gender.

If I’ve done my job well, the position of the writerly camera, if you’ll indulge the metaphor a bit longer, emphasizes not the writer-model, but the shadow-story in each case.

But how do I know what it feels like to be a gay man? You might call it research; I call it life. I’ve watched a fair amount of gay porn, for one thing. More importantly and much more helpfully, I’ve spent a lot of hours in the company of gay men, hanging out, working, discussing philosophy, religion and politics, watching craziness on YouTube — living in the company of gay men (and women). I’ve gone on road trips, hung out in bars, gotten tipsy (OK, more than tipsy), laughed, cried, shouted, argued with, and yes, even been held close by gay men. (It’s a complete misconception that gay men don’t like women. The ones I know like women just fine; they just don’t get aroused by them.) I’ve developed relationships, in other words.

Relationships that are so comfortable that I can actually ask what sex is like for them, how they experience it. Why they’re tops, or bottoms, or versatile. If they could tell the difference in being with a man and being with a woman if the only sensory input they had was through their genitals. Exactly how one learns to deep throat.

Let me make two things perfectly clear: 1) my friends all know I’m a writer and what I write, and 2) I did not cultivate these relationships in order to do research. The friendships came first. Always. As I allowed myself the freedom to live more fully in the LGBTQQIA community, the dynamics of MM relationships began to be a topic I wanted to write about. I did not become part of the community in order to write MM. I write MM because I am part of the community. (If that raises the question for you about my own orientation, I’ll ask you why it matters. It’s not that I don’t want to answer; I’ll tell you. But I want to know why you want to know.)

If you write MM and aren’t willing to identity with the community (as an ally, if you’re straight), then perhaps the red flags and klaxons I talked about in the first part of this post should get your attention. There’s some us/them going on, probably on a subconscious level. Perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at your own motivations for writing MM. If you write MM because it sells or it’s trending, that, my friend, is exploitation. If that’s your motivation, great. I’m not going to judge you. But we all should be aware of why we write what we write. Otherwise, we’re not living the writing life. We’re reading it, one step removed from who and what we are. I love reading. But I want to write my life, not read it. I hope you feel the same way.

[Image credit: Joan Crisol, used by kind permission. Further work can be found at https://www.facebook.com/joancrisolphoto Many thanks, Joan!]

 

 

On Writing and Identity, Part 1

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This started as a FB comment on a article in McVoices by Jim Murdoch, about gender and assumptions and identity, “An Honorary Woman”. It’s here http://mcvoices.weebly.com/jim-murdochs-blog/an-honorary-woman if you want to read it.

Many people are surprised that I write gay male erotica, ’cause I’m a like, girl, y’know? They ask, “How could you know what that’s like?” My comeback is always, “So Thomas Harris [the guy who wrote Silence of the Lambs] is a cannibal serial killer then?” “Oh,” they say, “yeah, I guess that’s right.”

Get that? They, that ubiquitous they, can understand that one needn’t be a murderer in order to write books about murderers, and even in some cases from the point of view of the murderer. It’s not a problem, to the point of not ever having even thought about it, for a writer to get inside the head of an psychopath. No white-coated doctor put Edgar Allen Poe under observation. (OK, maybe they did, but not because they thought he was walling people up in his cellar or had a collection of dead-but-beating hearts stashed under the floorboards.) I’m going to belabor the point: it never even occurs to people to question whether the writer of horror/thrillers is a killer in disguise.

And yet, let a woman write from a male point of view, or a man from a female, and suddenly people are all, “Wait, how can they do that?” like a gender that one is not truly is from another planet, or some weird creature that lives in the deeps of the ocean. Even in the excellent article Murdoch wrote, he’s careful to identify himself as a straight man, and stresses that fact. Stressing that he’s male, or as he puts it “a man”, in this context makes sense, since he’s talking about gender identity, people’s perceptions, and writing. Murdoch writes from both male and female points of view, and in the examples given in the article, in first person. (Meaning he writes as “I”, for those who may not be familiar with the terms used in writing.) So do I, but predominantly from the male point of view.

And therein lies the problem. (Not for me, but for some people.) How could I, a presumably straight woman, have any clue what goes on in the male head?

Why is it always issues of sex and gender that confuse us? Nobody asks me how I could write, in first person, from the perspective of a psycho killer (and I have, in more than a few short stories), or a child, or a person who’s had a stroke, or the multitude of other characters whose identities I’ve assumed in order to write. But write in first person as two gay vampires and boy-howdy, I get questions and raised eyebrows.

Why? What is it about gender, sexual identity, and sexual orientation that scrambles our neurons to the point we ask questions we didn’t even think of asking about other issues? Are we so rigidly nailed (you’ll excuse the expression) to our own concept of what it means to be born male or female, gay or straight, that we can’t imagine shaking that loose in order to write?

When I see that kind of rigidity, in myself or in others, little red flags pop up and there’s a hint of a klaxon in the air. That kind of rigidity usually signals a bit of prejudice, recognized or not. Please understand, I’m not pointing at Murdoch. I suspect from what I’ve read, that he harbors not an ounce of conscious prejudice. I applaud his use of the distinction between gender and sexual identity, in fact. I’m generalizing, because it’s an excellent and well-written article and as such, has made me think. (Dangerous stuff, that thinking.)

Prejudice, and its derivative, homophobia, can be conscious or unconscious. Those of us of a certain age will remember in the times surrounding the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and 70s, some “liberals” (code for those who opposed segregation, among which number, I was) could at times be heard to say, “Some of my best friends are Negroes/black/African Americans.” Whenever that was said, some of us raised eyebrows. If that’s true, the friends statement, why is it necessary to stress that fact? If they’re your “best friends”, why do you pay attention to their skin color? Unconscious prejudice. Deep-seated, unrecognized prejudice, a feeling that those of another race were somehow different in fundamental ways. Many of the people who made the statement were honestly working very hard to overcome the codified discrimination and prejudice that ruled in that time. They had no conscious prejudice at all. Many of them, again among which number I was, even recognized inculcated unconscious prejudice within ourselves and worked very hard to overcome that as well.

Today, there’s the statement, “Some of my best friends are gay.” Really? Why is it important to stress that fact? Why does someone even notice the sexual orientation of someone unless they’re considering bedding them? What does it matter?

It’s a sign of one of two things, one laudable, and one not so much. First, and laudable, is the deliberate identification with the LGBT, or more accurately, LGBTQQIA, community, the deliberate placing of one’s straight self on the side of the community. It is a statement of solidarity, and perhaps a bit of defiance: “Look, these people are just like me, which means they’re just like you, too, so take that, you ignorant….”

Laudable indeed, for it was through the alignment of the white community with the African American community that codified racial bigotry was eliminated in this country. (I am not so foolish as to believe that racial bigotry itself was eliminated.) Today, it is the alignment of the straight community with the LGBTQQIA community, that bold statement that we are indeed fundamentally the same, that will bring an end to codified gender/orientation based bigotry in this country. It is absolutely necessary, and for that reason, when someone who is visibly working hard to overcome bigotry and inequality makes that “best friend” statement, I silence that hint of a klaxon. From those allies, that statement is much needed.

From the others, the ones who seek the acceptance of those around them, those klaxons and red flags are well-founded. They are banners proclaiming, “Prejudice lives here.” It may well be unconscious inculcated prejudice, though that’s more likely the case among allies than among others. That statement says “I mark the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’.” It is by its very nature, divisive. Lines are drawn in the sand with that statement, and the non-allies who make it bear watching. Perhaps they see injustice and disagree with it. If so, watching them will make that obvious, and gentle tutoring should be effective in eliminating the offense that statement can be to the community. If that statement is simply picking up a costume to wear, if they are social chameleons, poseurs, that, too, will become obvious over time, and different tactics can be brought into play.

I’ll bring this back around to writing in a subsequent post.

[Note: “Inculcated” means a belief or viewpoint that has been subtly and persistently imposed by society (culture) upon us. We are all inculcated. It is impossible to be human living with other humans and not be.]

[Image credit: Bigstock Photos, original by kmitu, used under license]