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16 July 2017 @ 07:33 pm
I'm moving to Dreamwidth!


Since April was a haze of rushing to finish my law school requirements and stuff, I totally missed out on the changes to LJ's ToS, and since I often review queer fiction/talk about asexual issues, I was worried about my LJ getting deleted or something because of that. (Also, I'd wanted a name change for my journal forever, but didn't want to shell out the $$ to change it.)

I'll keep this LJ as a backup/record. I've imported all of my entries, though on DW I'm deleting a few (seriously only a few) entries that I regret writing.

EDIT: Forgot to add that I'll still be cross-posting here, for the time being.
08 November 2017 @ 07:59 pm
Captive Prince is, by itself, a problematic series, but I think it might be the behavior of its fans and its author that makes me even angrier about it than I already am.

I just find the author's defenses of her book incredibly disingenuous. It feels to me like she tries to deflect criticism of her books by talking about how #ownvoices they are (without specifically using that term, but still), which is incredibly subtle and yet that just makes it worse because it's, again, completely disingenuous.

Like, she simultaneously insists that Damen is dark-skinned but also insists that "because he's Mediterranean" there are no racial problems with having a brown-skinned character enslaved to and then in a romantic relationship with his white master. And she spends a lot of time talking about how Damen supposedly represents her own experience of being from a Mediterranean culture because Mediterranean people are supposedly discriminated against in Australia. I'm not going to comment on that part, not being Australian and all, but my question is: if she intended for Damen to be positive representation of a "minority" group, why did she write Damen as being enslaved, tortured, raped, and then made to fall in love with his rapist?

Because that's not exactly an empowering narrative of fighting against prejudice and oppression? At all?

I also hate this disingenuous deflecting of criticism, because I think it ignores a very important idea: You can write a story that is true to your own experiences and still have it framed in a way that is harmful toward another group, and THAT MAKES IT PROBLEMATIC.

If I wrote a story in which a dark-skinned Asian is enslaved to a pale-skinned Asian and make a romance out of it, and people criticize that story for having race problems, I'd be completely unjustified in trying to defend myself by saying "But they're Asians, so GTFO with your criticisms about race-based slavery." That's why Captive Prince can't escape race problems, so long as the author insists that Damen is dark-skinned.
25 October 2017 @ 10:00 am
Vampire x vampire hunter: 45k / 50k words

I still have 2 scenes left to write, so I'm feeling more optimistic about meeting my word target.

However, I recently realized that I have a plot hole, which may necessitate rewriting 3 chapters (about 1/6 of the story). I've been wrestling with the rewrites, but they sort of throw off the pacing, so...I'm still trying to figure things out.
23 October 2017 @ 11:31 am
Previously, I talked about "neurotypical savior"-type characters in the context in which being around the NT savior causes the mentally ill (MI) character's symptoms to improve. This time, I want to talk about "NT savior" characters in the sense that the NT savior, even without being told that the MI character is mentally ill, always knows exactly what to do to make the MI character feel comfortable, and this causes the MI character to fall in love with them.

First, some clarification: While I generally don't like this trope (for the reasons I'll explain below), it could work if the NT character happens to be a psychiatrist/psychologist, and/or has had prior personal experience with mental illness. But only in these circumstances.

Why do I not like this trope? Because it's unrealistic.

Part of a "savior" narrative—which you can see very clearly in a book like Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan, in the context of asexuality (the allosexual love interest literally has a voice in his head telling him how to act around his asexual love interest, even though the ace character has never brought up the idea that he might be ace to him)—is the idea that the "savior" is a perfect, gold-star ally. And, I don't think non-marginalized people understand why this idea makes marginalized people uncomfortable. Not only is it unrealistic, because there are some -phobias/-isms that are so deeply ingrained that not even the nicest ally will understand them intuitively, but to me, it also feels like a way for allies to not feel bad about themselves, by insinuating that a "real" ally will "intuitively" know these things and therefore doesn't have to do the hard work of messing up, getting called out, and learning from it.

To be clear: I'm NOT saying that I want to read a book that is mired in -phobic/-ist attitudes that the non-marginalized love interest bombards the marginalized love interest with before they learn better. That's also not the right way to go about it, because it treats the marginalized character as merely a learning opportunity for the non-marginalized character to "become a better person." But, there IS a middle ground that exists.

For example: Marginalized character tells non-marginalized love interest about their marginalization. Non-marginalized character listens and asks questions to better understand. There may be some misunderstandings as the non-marginalized character learns to live with their love interest's marginalization, but the characters can always talk things through and resolve the issues.

This is the best way to handle it, in my opinion. But, sadly, it's not that common. Partly because of the reasons I mentioned above, and partly because a lot (a LOT) of romance books thrive on drama due to lack of communication.

To bring things back to the context of mental illness: It's not realistic to me to read a book in which an NT character, without knowing their love interest has a MI, somehow still acts and behaves to perfectly accommodate the MI character. Again, unless they have a background in psychology, most people are quite bad at recognizing the symptoms of mental illness/past trauma. (This isn't necessarily even a criticism; it's just a fact.) Also, most NT people, including many self-identified nice people, do not like being around people they deem to be "weird" or "unstable" if they have no idea there is a context for that behavior, and mental illness definitely often makes MI people seem "weird" or "unstable"; plus, because of ableism, MI people are often extremely reluctant to disclose their mental illness.

These are not things that an author can reasonably ignore if they want to convince me of a deep love between a NT and MI character without making me think "NT savior!" Especially if the two characters come to a mutual agreement to just not talk about things they don't want to talk about—in that case, there should be a LOT of misunderstandings and abrasive conflicts. No one has an intuitive understanding of mental illness (not even MI people themselves, oftentimes).

Just...I really need realism in this context.
22 October 2017 @ 09:17 am
(Mild spoilers below)

This book was dull and boring until the 80% mark or so. It was one of those books in which one of the love interest's PTSD/past trauma was the "Big Reveal" that everything else builds up to, except the buildup was flimsy and the romance unconvincing.

[*As a side note, I'm ambivalent about "mental illness/trauma as Big Reveal" plots. I feel like, there are probably contexts in which it could be done in an okay way, but it runs the risk of treating mental illness as something Totally Shocking instead of, you know, normalizing it.]

Half of the book was in Ash's POV and half in Pete's. I don't know why there was a split. The first half, in Ash's POV, gave off weird "neurotypical savior" vibes because Ash kept having PTSD symptoms, without seeming to realize what they were, and Pete responded to them with such perfect acceptance that Ash fell for him. I don't know, the romance came off as Pete being attracted to Ash's "vulnerability" (and he more or less says so later on in the book), so it felt weird and not very romantic at all to me. I have no idea why else Pete and Ash liked each other.

The second half featured Ash's mental breakdown, except it was filtered through Pete's POV and so therefore it felt extremely detached. Also, Pete arbitrarily became a jerk and kicked Ash out because he didn't realize Ash was having a mental health breakdown, which led to Ash nearly dying just so Pete can feel sorry and guilty later.

I'm really tired of the idea of marginalized characters being subjected to violence/tragedy just so their non-marginalized love interest can feel bad and "grow" as a character. It's especially egregious here because the fact that Ash forgives Pete SO EASILY for accusing him of relapsing on drugs (when that wasn't the case) and kicking him out and not even checking to make sure Ash had somewhere else to stay was incredibly gross.

(Honestly, the book would've probably been better if the perspectives had been flipped—if it had been Pete's POV for the first half and Ash's POV for the second.)

Also, this book was incredibly sexist. Every female character other than Ellie, Ash's friend, was portrayed in a negative light in some way, and Pete and Ash kept saying things like it was "too easy" to hook up with women because *women are so shallow dontcha know* and "women can fake orgasms but men can't" (wtf???????). I had a really hard time believing the author went by she/her pronouns and still wrote this crap.

Oh, and biphobia. This book won an award for its bisexual representation and I have no idea how. This book contains, BAR NONE, the MOST grossly biphobic statement I've ever seen in my life, which is really saying something because I read a lot of trashy books with offensive content:

“Just don’t call me bisexual. I hate that damn word; it sounds like a fucking disease.”

Also, Ash and Pete kept saying things like bisexuality was an "undefined" sexual orientation, which strikes me as Not A Good Statement. Bisexuality has a definition; it's the definition of being attracted to multiple genders. The end. And while I don't feel confident commenting on this, Pete and Ash also kept saying things like they'd get super jealous if the other person was around another guy, but wouldn't mind if the other person hooked up with a woman, and I was like ???????????
Tags: ,
(Part 1 of 2)

Here's a thing: If there's a Problematic trope, something that very closely resembles that trope will also often be problematic.

I haven't read overt "love cures mental illness" books recently, but I've read books that come really close to conveying that message. Books in which the mentally ill character never thinks about treatment until the neurotypical (NT) love interest brings it up; books in which being in the NT's presence ameliorates the symptoms of mental illness, somehow.

And like...just because it's not exactly the "love cures mental illness" trope doesn't mean it's not still problematic.

Because, in the end, it's still saying that the NT love interest becomes some kind of "neurotypical savior" who ameliorates the mental illness's symptoms through *the power of love* or *the power of being "special" by virtue of being the love interest*. Even to a small extent. It's still the same message, just on a smaller scale. And that's the part that's not okay.

I'm drawn to reading books about characters who are mentally ill and/or have been through trauma, but I absolutely hate it when it feels to me like their NT love interest is presented as their "savior." That the mentally ill character is just existing and coping, but their NT love interest comes along and suddenly they're much better at coping and healing from their mental illness/trauma.

I'm sure I've ranted about this before. (I literally wrote a book deconstructing this trope because I hate it that much.) There's so much that is damaging about this trope: inaccurate understanding of how mental illness works, fostering codependent relationships, placing romantic love on even more of a pedestal than it's already on. The idea that an NT person's love can "fix" a mentally ill person is damaging. The idea that a mentally ill person "needs" an NT person's love in order to get better is damaging. The idea that if you're mentally ill and single, there is no hope for you, is seriously damaging.

This is how to tackle a romance between an NT person & person with mental illness and/or trauma:
  • Do not write an "NT savior" narrative. The NT love interest can provide emotional support, but they do not exist to "save" the mentally ill character. I repeat: the NT love interest does not exist to "save" the mentally ill character.
  • Do an AU (alternate universe) experiment in your head: If the mentally ill character had never met the NT character, what would happen? If your only answer is that they would be miserable for the rest of their life, you're doing it wrong.
  • If the story gives off the feeling that the NT character is caring for the MI character the way one might care for a stray animal that keeps showing up injured on one's doorstep, you're doing it wrong.
  • It's fine if the MI character struggles to get help for their illness, as long as you explain why. Do not write a story in which the MI character never thinks or never agrees to treatment until the NT character suggests it and there is no logical justification.
20 October 2017 @ 07:14 pm
Vampire x vampire hunter: 43k words / 50k words

I've got about 3 scenes left to write, and I've also been making edits due to my own read-through / what my first beta reader said. I think I still need about 5k words' worth of more material to hit my target, and I'm trying to think about how to expand the mystery part to hopefully meet that wordcount.

I can't decide whether I don't have to rush, or whether I should rush to try to write what I know is left by the end of the month—since I'm traveling for all of November, then starting a new job in December, then doubling down on studying for the bar exam (urk) while working in January and February. And I'll also be working on edits on my first novel, for publication, after I return from traveling. Ideally I'd like to hit the 50k word target before I pitch this novel to my publisher.

We'll see.
16 October 2017 @ 01:06 pm
Sort of a sequel to my previous post, since the same book I was talking about there provoked this post as well.

(Content warning: discussion of sexual assault in a fictional context)

Read more...Collapse )
Disclaimer before I start: I'm asexual but not demisexual. If any demis want to chime in with their experiences, please feel free.

So I started thinking about this topic after reading a review for a book with a demisexual character. This is a book I've wanted to get my hands on, but haven't been able to as of yet, so unfortunately I can't speak about my own take on the book. Anyway, this is a book about a demisexual character—however, the character is never explicitly stated to be demisexual in the text (only on the publisher's website), which is a problem we'll get back to soon. The reviewer (who thought the protagonist was ace-spec but didn't know he was demisexual) basically said they were uncomfortable with how the demisexual character progressed from total sex repulsion to interest in sex as soon as his love interest showed up, linking it to harmful messages about how ace people are often pressured with regards to "just wait until the right person comes along, and then you'll be interested in having sex/sexually attracted to them."

There's a lot to unpack here, and I'll do my best to cover all my bases.

First thing I want to get out of the way is that I'm not sure whether this is an #ownvoices story about demisexuality or not. Normally, I am 100% not a fan of asking authors to out themselves with regard to sexual orientation, but whether this is an #ownvoices story or not could change the optics of it. If the author is ace-spec, I'd be more hesitant about criticizing the portrayal of demisexuality, as I'm not demisexual (even though #ownvoices isn't a shield against producing problematic content). If the author isn't, then I'd be a lot more openly critical of the rep. I am extremely wary of when allosexual (non-asexual) authors write about asexuals who begin as sex-repulsed and then progress to "Oh, but I'm okay with sex if it's with you, Designated Love Interest." There is an element of—to me—almost fetishization of ace-spectrum identities, positing their sex-repulsion as an obstacle to a romantic relationship to be overcome, in a way that is very loaded coming from an allosexual author.

Another issue with if the book isn't #ownvoices goes to accuracy. Again, I can't speak to the demisexual experience. But, based on my own cursory research, many demisexuals seem to report that it can take quite a long time for them to develop sexual attraction to someone they have a close relationship with. Whereas, in the book, reviewers report that the sexual attraction seems to happen quite quickly. Again, not saying that that's completely impossible, but the optics of it are different if written by an allosexual writer vs. a demisexual author.

The next thing is, clearly, the book suffers from not explicitly identifying the protagonist as demisexual in the text. Given that that kind of narrative could be less problematic with a demisexual character than with a not-demi ace character, it becomes critical to make that clear in the book, which this book failed to do.

So let's go to the next issue, which is: assuming the portrayal of the demisexual character is authentic to at least some demis' experiences, does this nevertheless create a problem with making sure we don't convey the message that asexuals can be "cured" by meeting the right person?

Again, there's a confounding factor at play here, and that's that demisexuality tends to be represented only in one very specific way, by usually allosexual writers (so far), and that's: demisexual is sex-repulsed and/or uninterested in sex, until they meet the "right person," and now suddenly they are down for sex with Mr./Ms./Mx. Right 24/7.

Right now, we don't have portrayals of demisexuals who have a low libido even once they experience sexual attraction to someone, and/or demisexuals who may still experience sex repulsion after meeting Mr./Ms./Mx. Right. And that becomes a problem, again, when allosexual writers are dominating the portrayal of demisexual characters right now. (A cynical view could be that some of said writers want to write "cured asexual" narratives but know enough to know that that's offensive, so they go, "Okay, let me just make the character demisexual instead!")

My point is: Everyone deserves to have their experiences represented, of course. But, while I'm not arguing for this portrayal of demisexuality to be banned, I think authors have to be very careful with this narrative, because it does lead to splash damage for non-demi asexuals.

Asexuals are very, very vulnerable to sexual coercion. Many aces, too, spend years questioning themselves, wondering, "But what if I *do* experience sexual attraction at some later point? Maybe I'm not really asexual?" Rates of sexual assault against asexuals are not well studied, but some evidence suggests that asexuals experience higher rates of assault than most other sexual orientations (excepting bisexuals). You can draw your own conclusions about how allosexual sexual predators view asexuals from that data.

So I get nervous whenever I see a narrative about a sex-repulsed asexual who "learns" to like sex because of Mr./Ms./Mx. Right. I just can't be certain that an allosexual reader won't read that narrative and take away the idea that "don't worry, sex-repulsed asexuals can still learn to like sex after meeting the 'right' person."

If you're an allosexual author, there's an easy way out: Just don't make your ace-spec character sex-repulsed! Problem solved! Don't use sex-repulsion as an obstacle to be overcome in your romance, because all that does is throw sex-repulsed aces who will never "learn" to like sex or experience sexual attraction to the wolves.

And, again, even if it's a demisexual author writing about their own demisexual experiences? If you frame it that way, you have to be aware of the possibility of splash damage to other aces.

This is not, by the way, something unique to this situation. Writers can write about gay characters feeling pressured by heteronormativity to date the opposite binary gender but, if they're not careful, can end up throwing bisexuals under the bus, for example. Lateral oppression between different axes of marginalization happens all the damn time. And it's never okay.

Don't throw other marginalized groups under the bus. Just don't do it. No matter how strongly you feel about your own experiences as a marginalized person, there's always a way to frame it to be inclusive instead of harmful to some other group.

**EDITED TO ADD: I found these relevant twitter threads from gray-aces/demis:



So it sounds like I was right to be intuitively wary of "character is gray-ace/demisexual, meets Right Person, BAM basically allosexual" narratives.
1. If the marginalized character reveals their marginalization during the story, DON'T have the ally character get upset at the marginalized character for not revealing their marginalized identity earlier.

Just...don't do this. Don't.

This applies to "invisible" marginalizations, such as some sexual orientations and certain disabilities/neurodivergence. People who are "invisibly" marginalized often have to hide their marginalizations in order to survive, and that instinct often isn't easy to overcome, even for people they want to be close to. Also, throwing that kind of temper tantrum is making it all about the *ally's* feelings, which, way to not prioritize how the marginalized character feels at all.

In a similar vein:

2. If the marginalized character reveals their marginalization during the story, RECONSIDER having the ally character say, "You should've told me because of course it makes no difference to me whether you have x marginalization or not."

There's often a misconception around allies that saying "Your identity makes no difference to me" is a positive thing when, sometimes, it's not. For example, a disabled person who informs an ally about their disability may be doing so because they want their difference to be acknowledged, because they're really saying that they can't be held up to abled standards, "so don't treat me the same as an abled person."

Obviously, this is a more context-dependent point, and also no group is a monolith so I'm sure some people would feel differently. But this is how I feel, at least, as a neurodivergent person.

But also, this kind of reaction feeds into the idea that the story is really prioritizing the ally character, not the marginalized character, and the focus is on how "progressive" and "accepting" the ally is. Marginalized people have to deal with -ism/-phobia that range from outright oppression to microaggressions, some of which can be extremely subtle, so please don't insult our intelligence by having the ally character say "Of *course* you should've known you can trust me." No, prejudice comes from many, many corners. We know this.