Saturday, October 30, 2010

Historical Accuracy

Caution for loaded language - I apologize, and promise I only used it in context

As we know, this summer, I went on a Fantastic European Tour of Awesome. And among many firsts (first time traveling outside the UK, first time I didn’t fly direct home to Canada, first time in France, first time in Italy, first time sleeping on a train…), it was the first time I travelled with someone other than myself. I took a group tour with a really cool group called Contiki, which specializes in tours for the 18-35 age group. I really do need to check how accessible it is, because all anyone ever tells me is it’s hell flying when you have mobility issues, but I’m independently mobile, and travelled with my cousin, who also walks with some difficulty, and they didn’t even check for the handicap sign when we asked them to let us on the plane early, so we seemed to have dodged any major issues. Also, a surprising number of the places we visited were accessible, though I will say this does not include the hotel room in London, in which the elevator was so tiny that three people had difficulty getting in it at the same time. But if you can go, I would highly recommend it because, in the first place, Europe is awesome, and in the second place, they’re something like $300 a day for the trip, plus your airfare and insurance. Seriously, airfare is ridiculous.

Anyway, that’s just a heads up. What I wanted to talk about was that this was the first time I wasn’t travelling by myself, because in addition to being in a group, I was in the group with my cousin, who is just a couple years younger than I am. It was her first time away from home, and for the most part, it was pretty awesome (leaving aside the absolute weird of being home and having people calling me by my first name, which only my family and my job ever use, which was creepy and unsettling). My cousin and I have a lot in common. She desperately wanted to visit the statue of The Boy in Kensington Gardens, and we both had an amazing time at the Colosseum in Rome, and did lots of shopping. She is excellent with maps, I am okay with getting lost, so all in all, we were great travel companions. However, I don’t say this to sound snobby, but my cousin is not particularly cultured. So every once in a while, stuff like this happened:

“Hey! Let’s go to the Tower of London! It’s amazing, and you’ll see the scaffold where Anne Boleyn lost her head!”
“Wow! That’s awesome. Anne Boleyn was such a whore!”
“…uh. What?”
“Sorry. I’ve seen every episode of The Tudors.”

Full disclosure: I have never seen The Tudors. It’s one of those shows where I always wanted to see it, and I never quite got around to it. Like True Blood, and Glee. I know. I hate myself too. Only now, I’m really glad I haven’t, because that’s possibly the stupidest statement I’ve ever heard anyone make about Anne Boleyn. And yes, I am well aware she had a handful and a half of lovers, and she may have been in love with her brother, and yes, I do know that if a woman in the 21st century had seven lovers and a husband and was in love with her brother, we might call her all sorts of names, and possibly have her institutionalized for the brother thing, so yeah, maybe locking her up in the Tower makes some kind of sense. And that would be wrong, of course, but the major issue here is um, Anne Boleyn didn’t live in the 21st century. She lived in a time where a woman was called a whore for oh… liking sex. She also lived in a time where she was sold to a man who could not have sons. And how did he deal with not having sons? By killing any woman he couldn’t get pregnant. Might make a woman a little desperate to have a son, wouldn’t it?

I’m not here to talk about Anne Boleyn; there are many, many people far more educated than I am who will, if you want to learn. I’m not even going to talk about the crime of rampant historical inaccuracy present in any and all historical retellings of virtually any story with something resembling a real history. That would be the sort of redundant that borders on the ridiculous. What I want to talk about is this mistaken idea that in order to make history interesting or tangible, to make it ‘accessible’, we have to ‘modernize’ it. So let’s talk about modernizing, shall we? Writing the story of the Tudors for television, if we try to make people understand the cultural implications of the day, the struggle for power, which for men, meant wealth, property, and control of human life, and for women meant doing as you’re told, doing it well, and being sold to a powerful enough man that raping or killing you might not be in someone’s best interest. That might be too much to handle. If, however, the little whore deserved it? Oh, well, now it makes sense. If she was power-mad and would stop at nothing, including, the horrors, using her presence as a hot bod to manipulate people into getting what she wanted? If she was an ungrateful little snot with too much money and too little time on her hands? Oh my God! Those Tudors were just like us! Because don’t we all know women like that!

'Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under their restless skies’ - Inscribed on the memorial
 The problem isn’t that we sensationalize history, it’s what we consider understandable to the wider audience. It’s how we draw people in, and keep their attention. I talked about this in Mary Sue v1 and v2, but let me just repeat myself.(I do that, y’know.) Women in fiction have two roles to play. She’s either the perfect sweet girl next door who would never do anything to harm anyone (like have sex). Or a horrible conniving manipulate she-devil who uses every weapon in her arsenal (like sex) to hurt and destroy the world, and further her own agenda.* A woman looking out for her own interests has an agenda, you see. Good women don’t care about themselves! We see those archetypes in fiction, because somebody saw them in reality, but we don’t look too close at the context. We don't think about how somebody saw them in the days when women didn’t speak for themselves, and now that we do speak for ourselves, we can’t, because those archetypes are still there, and nobody’s listening to us, and seriously, how’s that for accessible context? Again, I've never seen The Tudors. For all I know, my cousin's comment was less about what went on in the show, and more about her own reaction to it. But, as I said before, nothing goes into a story without a reason, so I have doubts.

Of course, life imitates art imitates life. We are taught to believe the power we have to withhold or wield is sex, we believe that women, other women, who have power we don’t have, or use power we have and don’t use, are evil. We believe it because everybody says it’s true, because it’s right there, all through history, it’s true. We can understand it, because it has to be true, because everybody knows that it is. (And my professors thought I never paid attention in Critical Thinking!)

History’s written by the winners. But I’ll tell you something, if I’m on a losing team, I am going to lose with a thousand people cheering and promising, we’re gonna get ‘em next time!**

*seriously, why is sex evil? I mean, I’m a card-carrying asexual, but I gotta say, sexuals can be such prudes!
** In other words, I was born a Maple Leaf fan, I'll die a Maple Leaf fan.

Monday, October 25, 2010

This Is Your Brain On Writing

It's the end of October, a time when my body and brain settle in for lockdown, and begin to hibernate. And I feel so good. Holycrow, you guys, I'm all blissed out and bouncy and where I am not behaving as anything approaching normal, but I am too happy and excited and optimistic These are the ways I know the writing is going good.
1. I do not have time to blog (sorry!)
2. All my foodstuffs contain instant rice, or come in some sort of fingerfood varity.
3. When I mentioned to a friend that I have begun taking vitamin D capsules to help with the Seasonal Affective Disorder, her response was as follows: "Have you been eating food? Because you said the writing is going good, and, well..."
4. I am actually telling people the writing is going good.
5. Nothing else I say to anybody makes a whole lot of sense anymore. (I have become a writing cliche, wandering around the room going, "THERE IS AN ANSWER HERE, NOW TALK TO ME, DAMMIT!" etc.)
6. I no longer wish to go out for coffee. I keep a canister of instant flavoured coffee on my kitchen counter so I don't have to go out in order to fortify myself.
7. I have seriously considered canceling my cable, because I only watch TV online, when I have time. (I have been watching a lot of Doctor Who reruns online in between pages though. Apparently, I can forgo things like food and a social life but you do NOT want to take away my David Tennant. I did not know this about myself.
8. I would rather do this than cut video from Awesome EuroAdventure of Awesome.
9. I am so blissed out from writing, I went home for thanksgiving with the fam, and did not want to strangle a single member of my family.
10. Now, when I stay up past 1AM, it's because I'm busy doing something, instead of because I can't go to bed yet.
11. I am so blissed out from writing, I am afraid to leave the house, for fear of an outburst of "OMG WHY DID I NOT SEE THAT BEFORE?!"
13. I am so blissed out from writing my counselor doesn't know what to do with all the happy.
14. I received an exceptionally kind comment from a new reader, and only just noticed it. Fail. Thank you to Emily, if you didn't get my comment on your blog. I'm not kidding when I tell you you brought me to sniffles.
Also from the trenches:
- Azrael is officially my first asexual character. Strictly speaking, It is subhuman and doesn't HAVE a sex drive, but hell, if Disney can make you believe humans fall in love with fish people when they're good looking enough, and Aces consider The Doctor asexual, and we have proven the existence of Cabbits and Mules, I say, it totally counts. (I actually had a conversation with myself over Twitter on that one. I do a lot of that.)
- Today, one of my favorite characters made me very angry. There are motives at work here that I didn't realize, and someone is playing a more active and sinister role than I have been previously aware. Must to thinking...
- I have to write sexual desire and I'm terrified. You guys! I'm gonna mess it up! Seriously, I don't think you understand, I don't get you!
Other than a bunch more shop-talk, which I could do for pages and pages that would probably bore the living crap out of everyone else, and also just be a bunch of gibberish, nothing else is going on. Thanks for indulging! (In two weeks, when I crash out of this fantastic mood, someone redirect me here, okay?)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where I Write About (Not) Coming Out

Been meaning to write a post on National Coming Out Day that is now over, but the Damn Vampires have been running me ragged. (Yay!) And my house is full of, well…

Seriously, writing is its own kind of insanity. Most of my time is spent wandering around my apartment muttering dates and times and something happens here and I don’t know what it is… and oh my GOD IT’S RIGHT THERE! Etc. I love the cue card phase. The act of holding them in my hand, knowing that they’re all there, and all I have to do is get them down (ha, because you know, that’s nothing, is it?) and being able to move and shift things without the omg disaster how am I going to fit this in this with that thing? Yay cue cards.

So. Moving on. I wanted to write a post about National Coming Out Day. I don’t actually know anything about national coming out day, and I’m Canadian, so instead, I get to blather on about what I usually blather about, which is me, in the context of coming out, which, oddly, is not actually something I’m familiar with.
As part of my very unique presentation of Cerebral Palsy, there is a rather interesting side effect. So interesting, in fact, that I don’t actually think it has anything to do with my CP, but unfortunately, one of the side effects of having a disability is that a doctor will take anything out of the ordinary and attribute it to that. Which is why I never trust anything a doctor tells me, but that’s a whole other argument. Right now, all I need you to know is I can’t lie. Like seriously, I have actually gotten hives from being even a little bit dishonest. The doctor says that’s because the vision problems in my eyes cause a small amount of face blindness, which makes it impossible for me to read deception, which means I never learned how to mimic, ergo, I never learned how to deceive. Which does nothing but add to the mistaken perception that asexuals are adhering to some kind of moral code, and has the added bonus of meaning I never actually had to come out, because I was never in anywhere in the first place.

When people ask about how I know, about how long I have known, and about when I knew (usually followed up by a lot of questions about, am I sure, and don’t I think that maybe that could change, and what would I do if it did?) I think about being fifteen. I was fifteen when most of my friends got boyfriends. I was fifteen when I received a lot of male attention, mostly due to the fact that all my friends had boyfriends, and those boys didn’t want to share. (BFF 101, boys: We know you’re a jerk when your first act as New Boyfriend is to attempt to keep any single friends busy by setting them up with someone you know, even and especially if they don’t WANT to be set up.)  Fifteen was the year of sexual awakening for everyone who wasn’t me, and most of my peers noticed. It took a bit longer for me to notice, largely because nothing really has to change when you’re asexual, that’s the whole point. No rush of hormones, no tingling in your toes or anywhere else, no first blush, nothing. And I never wondered why until everyone else started asking me. Like I said, at fifteen, when I started writing Hannah with a boyfriend, there were audible sighs of relief, like I was offering some kind of comfort, reassurance for something. Meanwhile, as my best friend of the time spoke with nervous excitement about her first stirrings of sexual experience, I listened in horror, not because it sounded utterly unhygienic, not even because he was two years older and she hardly knew him, or because her mother could have walked in at any second, oh God. But because this, apparently, was the future. And one day, someone, somewhere, would expect it of me. And I understood that it was normal and natural, and apparently it felt pretty good, but all I could think was, “Why would anyone even do that?”
For early dissenters, it was easy. I would grow out of it, they said, and I believed them with horror. My mother would say, “Well, one day, I’m sure you’ll change your mind. I’m sure you’ll have a partner of some kind, some day.” And I would nod and say, “Yeah, well, I’m not saying I won’t.” Because it was easier, less argumentative, than saying, “If you know who that person will be, could you please send them far, far away because I don’t want them, please, please don’t let that happen to me.

It was around that time when the lesbian rumors began to circulate, and the jerks who were angry I wasn’t as easy as they would have liked became concerned friends and family, pulling me aside and asking if I wanted to ‘talk’ about something. And I would have lied, if I could have, would have told them I was straight, would have pretended crushes and learned the lingo. Even would have pretended I was gay, because aside from the aforementioned boys, most people were really nice about it, like they expected it, somehow. It would have been an easy excuse. I didn’t matter enough in high school for it to hurt me, and even if I had, our high school, for a small town, was pretty gay-friendly. I could have lied. But I couldn’t lie. I didn’t know asexual was anything, then, so I just said no, and then was forced to sit through all the speculation. They didn’t know, and I didn’t know enough to argue with them. People assumed I was undesirable, because of the CP, and I didn’t argue with them, though I wanted to because the assumption hurt, but the hurt was hard to explain, under the circumstances. People assumed I was too brain damaged to understand sex, and I couldn’t explain otherwise, because simply having no desire was enough to tell sexuals I didn’t understand. People assumed I was gay, which never made any sense to me, because if I had been gay, I could have come out, and that would be that.
It doesn’t get easier. The assumptions never really stop, people just eventually know me for too long to justify voicing them. I have a friend who has known me for more than ten years, and insists she understands my sexuality, but when we meet new people, she defends me, or sexualizes me, depending on the situation. For instance, if we are out somewhere and she is flirted with, she makes it a point to flirt with me, or encourage others to flirt with me, or introduces me as her ‘friend who doesn’t date but could have anyone she wanted if she did so…’  Another friend is very understanding to the point where if she gets a boyfriend who tries to set me up, she warns him, “She doesn’t do that, seriously, don’t ask.” But if I don’t like said boyfriend, it’s because I have issues with men.

I’ve never faced the dilemma of coming out, the way many others do, because fear of getting caught in a lie has always trumped fear of being persecuted for the truth. Probably because, well, I’ve always been persecuted one way or another (though in defense of those still in the closet, for some, it may be more dangerous than others to come out.) I can only know what it is to always be out, and still, always be coming out. When the whole Prop 8 mess was going on in the states, I began to draw the parallels between being gay and being A, and while the gay and lesbian community has visibility on their side (People know bi exists, but it’s not often considered a legitimate orientation. And pansexual? Forget it.) and the aces of the world are considerably LESS likely to be murdered or tortured, unless they’re mistaken for gay, which is a whole gray area I won’t get into here, one of the main problem points, one of the things I realized during the marriage debate doesn’t so much lie in the fact that marriage is a misogynist tactic, and the patriarchy needs to clearly underline who’s male (powerful) and who’s female (dominated) in a relationship, though that is a factor. I’ve come to realize that a huge part of both the invisibility of asexuals and the oppression of homosexuals lie in the same sort of reasoning that is present in the oppression of the disabled community: Plain and simple, we are not supposed to be happy this way.

We have reached a point in society where we must acknowledge that we are biologically different from each other. Sexuality has become so important to modern society, we are forced to recognize physiological differences that we didn’t have to, before. So we do. And what happens is a whole lot of, “I can accept that you are different, and understand that. But the truth is, everyone in the whole world is aspiring to be me. So it’s okay that you’re different if you can’t help it. But if you could help it, you would be more like me.” And some people really don’t like the possibility of that not being true. So there are those of us, like me, who are out, who have been out for longer than I remember, who don’t have the horror stories to scare you about when and how and why it happened, or how I knew, or what convinced me, and still, I have to come out, every day. And I have to hope that people will believe me, and understand me, when I do, in addition to having to hope that no one will hurt me for it.

I tell people it started at fifteen, for the same reason I didn’t say anything then. Because it’s easier than having to tell the truth, and say I just knew, that I have always known. For some reason, it’s easy to understand how a twelve year old girl gets a crush on her first male teacher, and grows up to be hetero, or a ten year old boy who plays with dolls grows up to be gay*, but no one believes me when I talk about my first sex ed class. One of the things we did was role-playing. I played at being a girl who was being talked into going ‘upstairs’ with a boy. I said no. No matter what he did or said, I said no, until the boy, in frustration, put up his hand, and said, to the teacher, “She’s not even doing it right.” So the teacher came over and asked what the problem was, and I explained that I didn’t want to, that the point of the exercise was to learn to say no, and I was saying no, and what was wrong with that? Teacher responded with,
          “Well, try to be realistic. Try to be honest. How would you say no?”
          “I would say no.”
          “Well, what if he got angry.”
          “Then I would ask him to leave. I would get upset.” Teacher nodded.
          “What if it was someone you really liked, and you didn’t want him to leave, or you didn’t want him to get upset with you?” You can picture the blank look on my face. If you’ve ever seen me with a crush, if you’ve ever seen someone trying to encourage a crush, you’ve probably seen that blank look before.
          “I wouldn’t care. I would still say no.”
          “Okay, but what if you didn’t want him to leave, but you knew it was wrong.”
          “No. No, I would want him to leave.” The teacher smiled, and pulled what I’m sure she assumed was her trump card.
          “What if it was insert name of famous person who I had a huge crush on at this point in my life?” Where I blinked, stammered for a bit, then tried to pass it off as a joke, saying, “Oh, well that changes everything, doesn’t it?” Everyone laughed, and I sat there awkwardly, with the growing nervousness that I tended to associate with another missed step on the social ladder, and I realized I had no idea what these people wanted from me.

I still don’t know, is the truth. People who are scared to come out have every right to be, because you know what? It never ends. You won’t understand them any better, and most of them probably won’t understand you, though they will make it an excuse for any behavior they don’t understand. For some people, you will remain, as you are, a blip in their personal data, an uncomfortable acknowledgement that their world makes less sense to them than they want to admit, awareness that everything they do to ‘normalize’ themselves in a million different ways essentially does nothing but make them miserable, and is thankfully losing its value in the world. It’s not a nice thing to learn. They will take that out on you.

But, there is this: My mother, who spent most of my teenage years into my early twenties comforting me (herself) with the fact that I would find someone, in some way, maybe not sexually, maybe not marriage material, but someone to spend the rest of my life with, while I nodded and smiled in abject horror, was on the phone with me the other day. She mentioned someone’s wedding, and how, at this wedding, she was, of course, questioned about her own daughter’s impending dooms-marriages. My sister, who has been in a relationship for five years and no sign of marriage, and myself, terminally single. She laughed and said, “I know nothing about her. I don’t know what to do with her. She’s in love with a boy. He’s gay.” (Mother refers to the love of my life. He is actually pan.) “Other than that, who knows? Maybe his boyfriend will share.” (He does, actually, and very generously. Thank you!) Same conversation, different vein, mother says casually, “You know, before you, I never knew any of this stuff. I never understood it. But your Aunt never had interest in sex. We thought she was gay, and her marriage was just a cover. But she never seemed gay, and nothing ever happened. So now, with you, I sort of wonder. I mean, I think maybe she could be more like you. It’s funny, the things you start noticing, isn’t it?”

People won’t always see the you that you want to be, and some people can’t even see the you that is there. And it’s hard and it sucks. But even when you think it only matters to you, and you don’t matter, you still matter. You don’t owe it to anyone but yourself to be honest, but just being honest matters more than your fear lets you understand. People are always amazed at how honest I am about it, and some of them write it off as it being ‘easy’ for me. Fuck you, I say, but don’t give me rewards either. It’s easy because the alternative was harder, and that’s never a choice I want to make, that’s never something that gives me pride in who I am, that I did the easy thing. Sometimes, it’s easier to keep silent, and stay in the closet, and I’m not going to suggest that those people are weaker or less than I am. I’m just going to hope for you, that you’re okay with yourself and your world some day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some cue cards to get back to, some vampires and a very snarky teenager clamoring for attention, and I think someone has to die today. Have to gear up for these things, you know.

*not to say either of those things lead to people being gay, or hetero, just saying people can make those assumptions, and therefore,'understand'