4 Things the Queer Folks in My Life Taught Me About Resisting Toxic Masculinity — Let’s Queer Things Up!

This community taught me not only what toxic masculinity demands of men and masculine people, but also the possibilities that exist outside of it.

via 4 Things the Queer Folks in My Life Taught Me About Resisting Toxic Masculinity — Let’s Queer Things Up!


A couple days ago I wrote a short story in which a young character is bombarded with toxic masculinity “life lessons” by his father. It occurred to me today, while I was reading this, that if I continue his story some of these same points will have to be addressed. And any explicit discussion of toxic masculinity will mostly come to him through members of the queer community as he grows up and begins to explore his sexuality.

He’s going to have to figure out…

  1. That it’s okay for men to hug and make other physical gestures of affection, platonic or otherwise.
  2. That he’s allowed to cry and be vulnerable when he needs to be, instead of constantly suppressing.
  3. That it’s totally unnecessary to feel uncomfortable when his boyfriend wears makeup. And/or offers to put some eyeliner on him.

As Sam points out in his post, “An essential part of dismantling toxic masculinity is men taking ownership over their own education around systemic inequality, and taking on the labor of educating other men about it as well.” And so considering this character learned most of this toxic stuff from his father, it seems fitting that he should unlearn it mostly from the guys in his life.

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IWSG Post #10

OCTOBER QUESTION: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

AHAHAHAHAHAHA— Yes. Both. I’m not sure it’s possible not to.

You know the stupid advice of “write what you know”? It’s trite, but stick with me here. The only thing you’re capable of writing is what you know. This includes everything you’ve experienced, everything you’ve read, everyone you’ve ever met.

It includes every emotion you’ve ever experienced, and everything you can extrapolate, based on those feelings, about situations you’ve never personally been in. That’s always there.

Then there are the things that define your experiences. The things which, maybe you’re not entirely sure you can escape enough to convincingly write outside of your own context. This is why young writers are often asked to write things like, if you’re a girl write about a guy experiencing XYZ, and vice versa — to challenge your personal context. And you have to do that if you write fiction. That’s what fiction is.

But sometimes it helps to keep some of the same building blocks. Start with what’s familiar and extrapolate from there. If your character has parents who closely resemble your own parents, you don’t have to stretch as much to figure out the dynamic your character has with them, the quirks your character might have inherited from them, the books and tv shows your character was exposed to growing up.

For example, my parents are huge nerds. I grew up watching Star Trek TNG and Voyager, the Star Trek and Star Wars movies, 2001: Space Odyssey, anything with George Clooney (because my mom has a thing for George Clooney), and the History Channel (because my dad has a thing for the History Channel). On the other hand, my partner grew up with a dad who loved watching Westerns. You know how many Westerns I’ve watched in my life? Almost zero. We both think the other had kind of a weird childhood.

I can write a character whose parents both had 9 to 5+ jobs in computers, easy. Many of my characters are huge Star Trek fans. Many of my characters are blonde and 5’5″. Many of my characters have only one, younger sibling. And many of them don’t have any of those qualities, but those are some of my defaults because, hey, it has to be something. I can build other details on top of what I know that don’t necessarily have anything to do with me, and as long as it feels organic that’s the important thing.

And… I will admit to a few self-inserts. Sort of. Some details were significantly changed and that character had her own thoughts and feelings. But the similarities did make her a hell of a lot easier to write.

Gender & Writing

When I was in high school, there was this one creative writing assignment that drove me up the wall because the responses were all pretty much the same. The idea was to write from the perspective of someone of the opposite gender seeing your bedroom for the first time. Long story short, it was always either about a boy being surprised a girl’s room could be so messy or a girl being surprised that a boy’s room could be so neat.

Gag me with a spoon. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but it probably fell into the same category. Of course, back then I was in a bubble of gender non-discussion where my creative writing teacher made lame jokes like”words have gender, people have sex.” (This was in 2004-2006. Like, a million years ago.) By now I’m aware that:

  • Gender is either some sort of continuum, 3D puzzle shape, or asymmetrical puddle of self-definition.
  • Man and woman is a separate thing from masculine and feminine, which is a separate thing from male and female. (There might be better words for that. Let me know if I should adjust the phrasing anywhere in the post.)
  • These are all social constructs anyway, and you do you.

It helps that I went to a very liberal college and met all kinds of interesting people. Lots of new thoughts happened. Sexuality was questioned. You know, young adult growing up stuff. As a writer, it introduced all sorts of new thoughts about my writing, as well.

In retrospect there was a writing phase I went through for a while that was actually pretty interesting. I wrote a lot of short romance stories with ambiguously named characters and without using pronouns, then asked readers to describe what they’d assumed about those characters and their relationship. My original reason for doing this was to question assumptions about sexuality, but it works for gender too.

I don’t feel that men and women are all that different, or that much different to write. Not on their own, anyway, and anyone who falls outside of those two (very broad) categories seems to be an indicator of that. We’re just very socialized to fit into two (pretty narrow) classifications, right down to the separate toy aisles that are color coded blue or pink.

Recently I read a blog post that raised the question of how to write characters from the opposite gender, which is a pretty timely question for me. The main character in the novel I’m working on now is a guy, and his actions are mainly determined by how he was raised, the expectations placed on him by everyone in his life and particularly his father. I’ve found that being a guy is not what makes him difficult to write… If I can brainstorm the conditions and expectations the character was raised with, that helps. Having his head up his ass is what makes him difficult to write.

However, I do like to have my partner read over things and do socialization checks for me to see if my characters seem realistic. It always helps to get a second opinion, one that isn’t quite so wrapped up in the story.

Where I do stumble over writerly gender-ish problems tends to fall closer to my side of the fence but with personalities that are different from mine in particular ways. I find it hard to write women who, for example, consider makeup important because I never really “got” makeup. Mostly it’s a texture thing, I hate the way it feels on my face. Also I have a thing about touching or poking my eyeballs that makes me extremely bad at mascara, even if someone else tries to do it for me. My mother just didn’t get why I refused to wear any except when I had my arm twisted to look nice for prom. If I had to write a character who wears makeup regularly and considers it a source of confidence and empowerment, that would be a major struggle regardless of pronouns or their gender identification.

So I’m curious. What are your stumbling blocks when writing your characters, and do they fall along or against stereotypically gendered lines?

A to Z Challenge #15 — Omnipotence

Do you know what it feels like to be aware of every star, every blade of grass? Yes. You do. You call it ‘opening your eyes again.’ But you do it for a moment. We have done it for eternity. No sleep, no rest, just endless… endless experience, endless awareness. Of everything. All the time. How we envy you, envy you! Lucky humans, who can close your minds to the endless deeps of space! You have this thing you call… boredom? That is the rarest talent in the universe! We heard a song — it went ‘Twinkle twinkle little star….’ What power! What wondrous power! You can take a billion trillion tons of flaming matter, a furnace of unimaginable strength, and turn it into a little song for children! You build little worlds, little stories, little shells around your minds, and that keeps infinity at bay and allows you to wake up in the morning without screaming!Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32; Tiffany Aching, #2)

I think it would be terrible to be omnipotent. The quote above is not about omnipotence, exactly, but it suggests an interesting question. How could any human, given that we are so good at tuning out the world around us not only it will but sometimes even without making a conscious decision to do so, understand omnipotence? How could we understand or begin to contemplate infinity?

Because we are so far from omnipotence we create stories to explain the things we don’t understand. As it says in another Terry Pratchett book, the sun doesn’t come up, a big ball of burning gas rises in the sky. We write what we know, and when we don’t know we fill it in with something that. Because what is a single fantasy novel if not one author’s answer to a self-posed “what if” question?

total-perspective-vortex

One of my characters in Growing Magic is omnipotent on his own ground, meaning he is omnipotent but with limits. So he’s not really omnipotent. He doesn’t know everything. And that puts writing this character right back in my wheelhouse, because I am an expert at not knowing everything! He no longer usually has a corporeal form, so when he appears in the story that way it’s difficult for him to be so limited by that form. I’m drawing on ideas from Hitchhiker’s Guide, Discworld, and even a little bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey to help frame my ideas for this character concept. (Is it weird that two out of three of these examples aren’t fantasy?) To be aware of so many things all at once, 360° in 3D, and to only focus on one spot and one conversation, one or two threads of sound amongst a massive symphony of the world around you must be very difficult indeed. And yet this is a character who would never be able to tell a story, or write a song, or distill any of the beautiful things that he knows into a painting.

Writing Soundtrack #1 – Narcisse

This post was inspired by this post on Writing And Musing. It made me think of all the times I’ve heard a song that totally fit with whatever I was working on, so today I want to share some of the songs that I associate with one of my characters.

Her name is Narcisse, from my in-progress  fantasy novel Growing Magic. She’s twenty-seven, raised in a relatively privileged environment by superficial parents who didn’t really pay her much attention. Her skill as a manipulator gets her their blessing to attend her choice of school in her study program of choice, and she graduates a talented Sorcerer in a particular and specialized field — one most would consider unnecessary philosophy on the origins of magic. Then, since she has nothing in particular to do with herself, she carves out a niche for herself in the research department, where she eventually gets herself into trouble because she’s a smartass and sticks her nosey nose into places she shouldn’t.

The first song I have for Narcisse is Extraordinary Machine, by Fiona Apple. Continue reading “Writing Soundtrack #1 – Narcisse”

Wednesday Words of Wisdom #2 — Character Development

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves.” ~ Laura Esquivel

“I barely knew I had skin before I met you.” ~ Sarah Waters

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” ~ The Sound of Music

~

I love making characters. For a few years I was pretty heavily involved in a tumblr RP (role playing) community that was populated mostly with OCs (original characters), which was fun and unusual. Fandoms often don’t tolerate additions to the casts of canon characters with all that much grace – and having seen Mary Sues, Gary Stus, and poorly thought out self-inserts aplenty in every fandom I’ve participated in, I can understand why. But in this more flexible environment the setting had more canonic establishment than anything else and we were free to populate it with whoever (or whatever, even) we wanted.

There were at least four upsides to the way this worked. Continue reading “Wednesday Words of Wisdom #2 — Character Development”