Silence = Death.
How that simple phrase molded my young queer life back in the 1980s when we were quite literally fighting for our lives. The thing is, when I think upon it now, the phrase has lost none of its meaning. It is still relevant today as it was back then. Maybe even more so since the community has achieved so much from the time those signs first hit the pavement lo those forty years ago.
Recently, Levi Strauss introduced a line of clothing that carries that phrase and queer folks everywhere started doing the bash syndrome (something that really started to gain momentum when Roland Emmerich tried to create a movie about Stonewall). The same can be said for how we bashed the production of Looking on HBO. It’s far easier to bash what we fear is coming our way before we’ve even seen it or experienced it for ourselves.
So when Levi Strauss did the sneak peek reveal, peeps started chiming in and calling them out on the carpet for marketing a phrase that carries a ton of weight with the community. Yet not everyone back then agreed with Act Up! who created the campaign to have our voices heard when no one wanted to talk about the “gay cancer” scare going on.
Silence = Death.
But then I saw what Levi Strauss was doing. My queer granddaughter doesn’t have the context for what that phrase meant to the community. She’s grown up in a world where queerdom has its place in the mainstream conversation now. Sure, as her gay grandfather, I spend a great deal of time educating her on our past. We watch countless documentaries about what our community has gone through. At fourteen, she’s becoming quite the activist. I couldn’t be prouder of her if I tried. I sit in awe of how powerful a woman she’s becoming. My only fear with that? She’s extremely empathetic. She feels what others go through strongly. I know that under the wrong circumstances it can be used against her. So I educate her in how to detect that and how to channel that sort of negativity into something greater that accomplishes her goals. But there are times when things bother her and she’s been tight lipped about it.
Silence = Death.
I can’t have that. Not with her. And not with myself either. You see, recently I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Being over 50 I am one of the “lucky” ones in that most men who get it are between 18 and 35. Only 2% of the male population can get it at my age. Gee, thanks for that. Couldn’t I have been the 2% of the population that wins the lottery instead? No, my win had to come in the form of a cancer that within three weeks knocked me on my ass so hard that even after surgery I am still feeling its effects.
The thing is, I think I knew something was up but didn’t say anything to my husband.
Silence = Death.
At first it started out innocently enough. I went to the ER because I’ve had bouts with kidney stones and my lower right back was aching something fierce and I thought a stone was on the move. I didn’t want to miss work so I went to the ER with the thought that I’d get some pain meds to get me through the night so I could sleep and still get to work the next day. Well, I had the great fortune that I got the Asian equivalent of NPH’s Dougie Howser – the guy was YOUNG … like teenager looking young. But he was aggressive in that he wanted a CT scan to see if a stone was truly on the move. It was then that they discovered my lymph nodes in that area were inflamed – one so large that it was quite alarming. That was my first clue something bad was on the horizon. The cat was out of the bag, but for some stupid reason I didn’t give it a ton of thought about it. So shit is inflamed. What of it?
Silence = Death.
Yeah, that coulda been me. If it weren’t for my husband noticing that something was off in a moment of intimacy and (being the retired physician he is) made me book an appointment with my urologist to get that looked at. Unfortunately, I didn’t say the right thing when booking the appointment – ya know, the magic phrase that I guess I missed the memo on that all the other guys got – so my appointment was three weeks away from when I called. They must’ve thought it was routine or something. Well, in those three weeks I lost 45 lbs, my balance was way off – there’s video somewhere of me walking down a long hall at work where I was literally leaning against the wall for support but was so out of it that I didn’t realize I was doing it at all. Say nothing of the countless times during those three weeks where I’d get up to go to my car to buy something for lunch and nearly fainting in the parking lot (it was a far more regular occurrence than I want to admit even now).
So the appointment finally arrived. I was weak. I was a bone by comparison to how overweight I was before. Everything started to hurt. My blood tests were way off. My body was shutting down. I know that now. But then the operation came and removed the cancer – which appears from the pathology report was completely contained. So that’s a relief.
But now comes the part every cancer patient dreads … the chemo.
And here’s where it gets weird. They do these blood tests for cancer markers within the blood makeup. All of my numbers are within normal ranges, except for one. And it is slightly above the line in the sand they have for whether you can do outpatient chemo or you have to stay in the hospital on a drip for five days and then recuperate at home for 3 1/2 weeks. Guess which side of that little line I am on. Yeah – in-patient care. Needless to say I am fucking freaking out. My husband has been nothing but supportive as have the few friends and author pals I’ve told. For that I am extremely grateful.
But there are things in my life that I do to help others within the queer arts community. Chief amongst them is the Wrote Podcast. Y’all have no idea just how much time and effort it takes to put a podcast together and to keep it going. And it’s not like we’re getting paid for it. This is out of our love to promote others who write, sing, act, perform, sculpt, paint, etc about our queer lives. We want to champion them. But with my current state, I am having to pull back, leaving my co-host and co-producer Vance Bastian (who I can not ever come up with the words to describe what his involvement – both with the podcast and in my life – has meant to me. He is truly our superhero, our godsend and such a brilliant and caring man with a golden voice that could melt just about anything) to handle the podcast on his own. I’ll try to stay connected, but I’ve been told that energy will be a thing with me over the next four months while I go through the chemo.
Good news (if you can call anything remotely related to cancer – good) is that the success rate for my cancer is 97%. I’m clinging to that. That’s my light at the end of a very long and arduous tunnel I am facing now.
Silence = Death.
So while not totally the dramatic cause of the AIDS scare back in the 80s, I do see how that phrase means so much more to our community. It’s a bell-weather, a marker, a flare in the sky to remind us that we must be forever vigilant in keeping our voices out there. So while I step back, while I regroup and try to get better and hammer cancer back to the 9th level of hell where it came from, I call upon all of the authors, singers, queer content creators to step up and keep things rolling for Vance and Jayne while I find my way back to you all. Sign up for eps, encourage your author pals to do the same. Or if you know of singers, musicians, poets (GODS above, I would love to have a show on queer poetry), screenplay and playwrights – please get them to sign up for an episode.
With the current administration, we are at the precipice of our voices being silenced once more. And we can’t have that. We must not remain silent and think things will maintain the status quo. Because as I’ve learned from personal experience, you can’t remain silent. That silence might just very well spell death.
Until next time (and there WILL be one) …
When Life Gives You a Bag of Sour Lemons …
To start with, this isn’t some sort of pity party. What this is can best be labeled is a quiet contemplation of where I am as both a (queer) man and author.
You see, life has handed me that bag of rotten, incredibly sour, lemons. Lemons that no kind of sugar (coating) can be made into anything remotely useable.
I just released not one but TWO massive books in my Angels of Mercy series. The two books took close to year and a half to germinate and blossom into what they are now.
I am incredibly proud of the work – the entire series thus far. It’s broad in scope. While it deals with an ensemble cast, it’s main protagonists are trying their damnedest to have a fucking romance in the middle of the epic shit storm I throw at them. It’s operatic in scope – I can’t help it as I come from that world. Mundane thrown into the mass hysteria of opera like tropes. To me that’s when queer fiction can be at its best.
But as I said, while the release of those two books is complete, they’re out there, LIFE kicked me square in the rubber parts (literally).
Tomorrow I am going to go through a potentially life saving operation. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I’m fucking scared beyond belief. This, despite how many tales I’ve heard from “people who went through it” or “I have a friend/family member who’s been fine for the past XX years.” It’s always double digits. Which is good. Medicine has progressed to where things are getting better. Hell, even the doctor said that, “We no longer throw the kitchen sink at a problem. It’s finely tailored so that the therapy addresses your particular problem. We’ve grown that much in the past ten years.”
But life … I dunno, man. It has a way of keeping you down when you least expect it. Mundane with operatic overtones is where I am at personally.
But again, this isn’t a pity party. This is a “Jesus, have you ever really looked at the people who dot your life and provide so much color to it? Have you? I mean, really?”
People do cross my mind. I’ve grown to admire and love several of them since I’ve started to publish my works. Running the Wrote Podcast has only increased getting to know amazing writers and artists exponentially. I’ve been all the richer for it. Don’t know that I can spend it on anything other than my heart, but it’s definitely something to be grateful for, that’s for sure.
So while this list isn’t complete, these are just the names that cross my mind as of late. People who have come to mean a tremendous amount to me.
Brad Vance – you were the very first author I plucked up the courage to email and get to know. Given the Circumstances will always be at the top of my TBR list because it is simply that great a work.
Brandon Witt – you took a chance on a fledgling podcast that probably had next to no one listening to it. You were our second guest and you were as warm and engaging as anyone we’ve ever had on the show. I cherish those conversations with you about life, artistry and “the biz” – you never fail to bring your witty comments and ponderings to the table.
Angel Martinez and J. Scott Coatsworth – You two are powerhouses in the SF/Fantasy realm for queer fic. Not to mention amazing people to know. I cherish our laughs as much as our debates on the industry and writing in general. When you’re on the podcast I know we’ve got a great ep in the can before I even press the big red button to record.
Tuffy and Angie (Angle) Stanley – Tuff, I’ve known you since my first days out in gay land – cruising the bars, the fruit loop, and just generally hanging out and shootin’ the shit (as my dad would say). You’ve both been champions of my works. I don’t see or talk to you both nearly enough, but you’re always on my mind.
Jeffrey Merrell Davis – The first gay boy I ever met and we haven’t stopped talking for the past 35 years. I love that we quote movie lines back and forth in our conversations. We pepper our x-rated version of The Sound of Music where people least expect it. I’ve loved the fact that you’ve been like a brother/sistah to me and I’ve cherished each time we’re together. Some day I’ll have to write about Josie and Willy so the world can know about those drag personas we created and embodied. “Girl, did we have some times …”
Daniel A. West – Cuz, you mean a great deal to me even though we haven’t seen one another since you were a teenager many moons ago. But you’re family. You’ve been a solid cousin and bringer of positivity in my life. I am glad I got to share my boys from Mercy High with you and that you embrace them. There is no price I can put on how much your continued love and support means to me. And Jeffery’s definitely a keeper. Love that guy!
Now for the hard(er) ones …
Tia, Carmel, Pablo and Mom – My immediate family. I’ve grown so many ways in this journey of life. Knowing my own brother, Pablo, has dealt with what I am going through and he’s been fine for close to 20 years, has given me tremendous support and encouragement. Tia, you’ve been there and been a complete supporter of me when I was coming out. You showed me what that world was like. It was an education that cannot be measured or have a price put upon it. I thank you for that. Mom, it’s your voice (and Dad’s) that I hear whenever I have a difficult choice to make in life. You’ve taught me well. Your support through my coming out to you both, to embracing my boyfriends and now husband means more than I can ever express – and words are my thing. Carmel – We grew closest during our years of having braces. It’s never let up since. I am so proud of your accomplishments in life. Every time you post a pic of your bakery work I am truly astounded and sit there in awe of your creations. “That’s my lil’ sis …” You are a powerhouse of creation. I cherish that. I am proud to be a big brother to you and Pablo.
Now, this one’s gonna burn … but in the best way possible.
Vance Bastian and Jayne Lockwoood – Two people who have become family. Words fail me every time I try to describe what you both mean to me. Look at what we’ve created together. Just look at it! That was us, bay-bee! And we continue to do it every week! All the offline (and online) conversations, learning about each other in such profound ways, leaves me breathless and completely humbled by what you do. Vance you are, in every way imaginable, my superhero. You swoop in when I am really struggling and like the comic heroes of old, you know exactly how to lift me out of whatever I am spinning out about. You are the keel for our podcast. You are a brilliant writer and editor, not to mention gifted with such a golden voice that I sometimes want to put a pad of butter on the desk because I know you’d melt it even from where you are. Jayne, you are a true Lady in every sense of the word. We didn’t know fuck all about what we were doing three years ago when we started. But together we worked it out. You’ve taught me perseverance and the ability to make lemonade when you really don’t think you can. You both have been amongst the greatest teachers in life. You both are on my short list of peeps I can’t do without. I’d never want to know that day was like. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in. I revel in who you are a human beings and compassionate people who just want a better world for all.
Freddie Feeley Jr., Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, Kate Aaron, and AJ Rose – Your incredible minds and passion to discuss world events has enriched me not only with your brilliant perspectives, but also because we’ve grown to know a bit more about each other along the way. While my current predicament has put the skids temporarily on our world talks, there is a part of me that clings desperately to continuing those conversations again.
Wendy Stone, Michael Rumsey, Matthew Gallien and Jimmy Thacker – Champions of my works and diligent beta readers. You keep me grounded and out there fighting the good fight just to get noticed in a field that is overwhelmed with daily releases. When I think I can’t go there, when I want to toss in the towel, I have you all to lift me up and keep me pressing forward. Your love of my boys from Mercy High won’t let me stop and wallow. That’s a very good thing. I count on it more than you’ll ever know. Don’t stop … I beg you.
J, Whitney and Keely (plus Katya and Zorro) – My daughter and granddaughter have taught me about family. Your immediate family. Whit, I’ve watched you grow and prosper into a brilliant and hard working woman (single mother’s need to take a course from you). And it was all on you to do that. You picked yourself up from impossible odds when you found out you were pregnant with Keely and you made something of yourself and provided for your daughter along the way. Womanhood is all the better for you playing for their team. Keely, if there is anyone I am most interested in watching blossom into womanhood, it’s you. At fourteen you possess a keen sense of self, of your sexual identity and your compassion and empathy for others who are less fortunate than you. Activists simply don’t know what’s coming down the pipe once you really get going. Your fearlessness, your sense of moral obligations and duty to help your fellow man and to “make things right” are truly astounding in one so young. You give me so much hope for our future. Your mother named you aptly – Keely Sloane – Beautiful and Graceful Warrior – I can’t think of a more prophetic name than that. J.L. – my husband of 22 years and fierce defender of what I do. YOU, more than anyone, sees me wrestle with that writing tiger in the room that constantly stalks me. You, more than anyone, pushes me to do better each time I put my fingers to the keyboard. And you gave me Katya and Zorro to give me cuddles and unconditional love when I need a booster. I know you’ll stand by me no matter what life throws my way. “We’ll deal with it, together.”
Angels of Mercy has taught me so much about life. It’s given me the means to explore what institutionalized homophobia in competitive sports is all about. Not all of it, mind you, but a good part of it because it’s built on my husband’s and my experiences discovering who we are as queer men.
I have a ton of characters sitting in the wings. I have a crap more to write. I have shit to do. That’s why this isn’t a pity party. It’s a take stock of what life has given you that allows you to put that damned bag of lemons down. That’s what this is. And these people, by no means a complete list (and please, forgive me if I’ve forgot to mention you and we’ve crossed paths. I’ve been enriched by every discussion, every Facebook posting, every story you’ve ever written or topic we’ve ever debated), but what it has done is given me a long look at the great things in my life. And for that, I am grateful.
Okay, LIFE, bring that shit tomorrow and let’s do this!
Until Next Time …
– SA Collins
BUY LINKS – (shameless plug)
The Game of Catfishing and the Terrible Devastation It Leaves Behind
Recently, I witnessed a good friend, someone who loves what I do get caught up in yet another terrible game of catfishing. The whole debacle was rather painful for her which only brought about pain on my part because you never want to see any of your friends go through something like that. What made this round particularly painful was that my friend only recently started writing herself. She is a champion of my works, something I still find astounding, so naturally I wanted to comfort and help in any way I could. You’d have to be living under a very large rock, and have been there since the early 2000s to not know what catfishing is. For those that don’t, I’ll give you a quick rundown – I looked it up.
Oxford’s online dictionary defines it as:
US informal [with object] Lure (someone) into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.
In the case of gay fiction writing, particularly in the MM Romance genre, it is generally a woman who professes to be a (gay) man in order to establish legitimacy within the genre. Catfishing should be a thing of the past – indeed, if there was any real reason for it to have existed at all – because I’d always assumed (yes, I know where that gets me) that the feminism cause was to have parity with their male counterparts in every way. Full equality, right?
Evidently, not so much.
I’ve come to think the real danger of Catfishing is that it sets the feminism cause back decades when someone does it. Sure the degree of that “resetting” is tempered by how prominent or prolific the catfishing author was at the time of exposure. But you see, that’s where I start to scratch my head. Why do it if you’ll run the risk of being caught? And you always get caught. I’ve not witnessed any catfishing author that wasn’t found out at some point in their career.
I get why authors use pen names. There are a great many good reasons to do so. Anonymity being just one of them. I use one. Not because I want to hide behind it – on the contrary, I’ve made it quite public via the Wrote Podcast how I came to use a nom de plume. It was a gimmick on my part. I used it because the book I was writing at the time was being told by the main character’s (MC) point of view. I thought, rather silly of me at the time, why not have him write his own novel? Thus, Sebastian Alexander Collins became SA Collins. That’s the only reason I did it. Which is now rather odd considering that I’d shelved that particular book’s development in favor of my current series.
So pen names, yeah. The reasons to use one are varied and have been used probably for as long as publishing has been around. I get that part of the game.
What I don’t get is the need to use one to purposefully to employ deceit in the name of legitimacy. That part escapes me. Why profess to be a gay man at all when you are a woman? I think that women who do this aren’t confident in their own work enough to let it stand on it’s own under your own (female) name or a pen name that doesn’t try to come across as a (gay) male. And that part is most puzzling to me.
I have a daughter and granddaughter that up until recently had lived with my husband and myself. A multi-generational home. I spend a great deal of my time worrying about their future. Fretting over what society will try and throw their way as they make their way though life. I’m a parent and grandparent – it’s part of the job. I want what’s best for them. I want them to have amazing lives that are (hopefully) better than mine. It’s how my parents reared (not raised, by the way – you raise corn, you rear children) to be. I want equality for them with as much passion and conviction as some of the staunchest feminists out there. The recent women’s march that consumed the globe a little over a week ago was so incredibly awe inspiring that I often misted up as I watched all the videos play from around the world. Truly breathtaking stuff.
Which brings me back to this whole catfishing thing.
So, why do it?
I mean, even JK Rowling (arguably the most successful female writer of all time) used a male nom de plume for her first book written after the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter. But she was quickly found out and when asked, she simply said that she did it because she wanted to see if the work could stand (it was her first adult oriented novel) on it’s own – separated from her fame. It was an experiment of sorts. Got it. And she quickly copped to it when it was discovered. I don’t consider that catfishing – and if some do, then I’d like to understand how this fits into that category. Rowling didn’t do it to deceive and establish legitimacy as an author. She already had decidedly established that. I think her use of a male pen name was only to push that association with her even further out to watch if her work really was as good as people kept telling her. Could she be equally successful in the adult fiction category? Would it stand up under that level of scrutiny? Maybe the male pen name didn’t hurt in that regard, I suppose.
But back to the MM romance genre (which is where most of this catfishing seems to come from as of late). I struggle with their reasoning of why do it at all. MM Romance (as a recent genre) was started by straight women writing for other straight women – something that when pressed up into my grill I often fire back that while they can write what they want, they need to understand they are writing about a very oppressed community and with that comes great responsibility. I am all for women writing about we gay men. But if they cross that line and try to tell me how gay men are I’m gonna step up right into their grill and push back … HARD.
But maybe that’s where this catfishing thing stems from. I don’t have any answers here, just pondering the whole thing as I watched the recent events concerning a woman who not only professed to be a gay man writing MM romance, but a veteran, a staunch Trump supporter (which I think was the beginning of her undoing – that one is a real red flag for queers though there are some who actually do support him which is beyond all reason), and always tried to come across as if the IQ level in the room rose significantly the moment they arrived. She kept telling my friend that her male catfish persona was the smartest person around.
To which I replied to my friend, “Yeah, people who feel the need to profess their intelligence, often aren’t that intelligent at all. If you’re intelligent, people will glean that for themselves. You don’t have to go charging into a room like the proverbial bull and bellow I’m the smart one in the room. People will perceive that for themselves.” In reality, that was probably the biggest red flag of all. The audacity to presume they were the smartest at anything. This was revealed to great effect when the catfisher’s author persona “had a heart attack” but was released the following day. As someone who has gone through FOUR such situations as I have with my husband I can tell you that NO hospital would do such a thing. The catfish was unwittingly revealing herself. It was the biggest stupid move she could’ve made, thereby proving my earlier statement. Not the brightest crayon in the box by any stretch of the imagination.
This is something that my husband has always maintained – “Just keep giving those type of people rope. Eventually, they will hang themselves with it. You won’t have to lift a finger.”
But it was still painful to watch someone I cared about go through the reveal. Practically everyone in the writing community that writes MM Romance chimed in. I was just as angry as my other gay brothers. It bordered on nothing less than queer culture appropriation. And again, that brings me back to why not just be who you are (as a sex – not the name being used)? Some of these women don’t seem to get that on the social totem pole Queerdom is at the bottom and not likely to move any time soon – especially with Tyrant Trump and his ilk in office.
Some female authors have said to me on the topic (and we’ve interviewed several on the podcast) that females struggle to “make it” in the business. So let’s look at that, shall we? I think you’ll find the answer to that question rather telling at dispelling (to a degree) that myth.
The first interesting article I read came from the Guardian in the UK. This pretty much has been the established argument. But what I find particularly telling is that while women find it extremely hard to get their works reviewed and taken seriously, a number of those reviewers are women. Why would women not value or press to review other women’s work – if anything, just to give rise to it’s legitimacy? That particular point I find very troubling. I realize there could be extenuating circumstances that preclude them from doing just that. I don’t presume to “have the inside scoop” on the goings on of the reviewing side of the industry.
But it was this little ditty that really was an eye opener … while it doesn’t remove the stigma women face to get noticed, it does however show that in terms of moving vast numbers of book units, women are the dominating factor here. The headline alone explains it –
Female authors whip the men’s asses after writing 18 OUT OF TOP 20 bestsellers in 2015.
So while there are more male writers and reviews for their works, it seems that if you’re a woman who cracks the top and becomes a major player, you sell big. BIG TIME sort of big.
Admittedly, this was published nearly two years ago. But I don’t doubt it’s validity. So maybe it’s just getting the work noticed? Because once you do, female writers are extremely successful.
As I said before, I don’t have answers. I am only pondering this as I help my friend pick up the pieces of her burgeoning writing career (she was doing PA work for said catfishing author who insisted that she (my friend) personally endorse this author and recommend them to others). My friend’s personal and professional integrity were called into question because she had unwittingly put herself in the cross hairs of this recent catfisher.
So here’s my takeaway – ladies, write from who you are. I’d rather have truthfulness and authenticity in picking up a book and knowing who the author is to whatever degree they make their lives public. I don’t crave to know everything about them, but a little goes a long way to forming an opinion of their work. I’ve stopped reading other catfishers work simply because I can’t stomach it. That deceit clouds everything. And that probably is the hardest part to swallow. I know what goes into writing a novel. I do it myself. It’s lonely and (at times) grueling work. Literally your blood, sweat and tears go into it. So why run the risk of having all that hard work tarnished by publishing it under a lie? It’s a waste, that’s what it is.
Maybe that only points out the lack of confidence in the work or some form of self-loathing that is just convinced that the work won’t be taken seriously unless it is written by a man. But if women never push at that with author names that proudly proclaim it was written by a woman, will we ever see parity? JK Rowling did it. EL James, Toni Morrison, the list goes on. Women can be extremely successful in the industry. You just have to find some inner Rosa Parks and sit further up in the bus and demand that parity. I know it’s always easy to say, “but I’m not big enough to take this on.”
I would say, “Remember this: the history makers are those who put themselves out there, taking the risks; they don’t play it safe. They don’t go with the status quo. They lean into the hardness that come their way. You, my brilliant sisters, can do this. On your own terms. But it has to start somewhere. Why can’t it be you?”
I once asked an author on our show why she wrote MM romance and not MF romance with a strong female character. The response was rather telling – they claimed that they just couldn’t envision that type of strong female character within the confines of a MF romance trope. I was flabbergasted by that. My immediate thought (I just know the ghost of John Adams rages inside me) was, why not upend the trope then? Why can’t it be you? And maybe that’s the critical difference between male and female writers. Men take risks. They are not adverse to them because from our youth we are conditioned to be that way. Maybe that’s the cue women need to take then in order to bring their cause forward? I’ve always been a supporter of women moving into fields dominated by men. I think it benefits both when there is parity. The world would certainly be a better place if we did.
There is a brilliant book I think all women should read – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, ISBN 006223062X ASIN: B00DB368AY. It is written by two women I admire greatly. I think they’ve nailed it when it comes to women seeing the value in themselves and believing it. I highly recommend it to anyone. Men would find it fascinating.
But as I’ve said, I don’t claim to have answers, just musings on this recent catfishing scheme within our gay fiction writing community. One thing is abundantly clear: when it happens no one wins. That much is certain. I just wish that women wouldn’t feel the need to do it. Believe me, there is nothing lower on the totem pole than a gay man. Our lesbian sisters are oppressed, too. But in a male dominated society, gay men are still seen as the most perverted, the most reviled. To be honest, writing as us in the MM Romance genre is probably not going to win you any points as an author anyway. So why not be the “you” you’re willing to put out there (nom de plume or not)? I’d love to hear some thoughts on this topic.
Until next time …
– SA C
Social Media in a Trump-enabled Age
New Year’s didn’t go so well for me. A few hours before the chiming of the new year I succumbed to a 101.9 degree fever and came to the quick realization I was down for several days ahead with the flu that I’d watched warily as my fellow co-workers and friends drop like flies around me.
But one thing all that bed-ridden time gave me was enormous time to contemplate what I had been doing up to this point. Sure, I’d been writing quite a bit. My current published works number in the 746K words range between four published works (approximately 1,913 printed pages of text), with another 718K words (or 1,836 printed pages) wrapping itself up for publication this year.
I’m sort of the James Mitchner of Gay Lit Fic … well, as far as massively sized books go.
They’re the stories I feel I need to tell. So, I write what I want to write, almost to the point of it being irrespective on how they’ll be publicly perceived. I am very much a different writer in that sort of way. I don’t require the adulation. I spent a number of years in professional theater and had my fill of what “people think” about your art. I’m no longer concerned with that – just the creation process of an evolving story. Sort of in the same vein as one of my artistic heroes: Alfred Hitchcock. For Hitch, the creative process of coming up with the plot – and more importantly sequences of events he new would stimulate the crowds visually, he was in his element. The actual casting, directing and filming bored him to tears. I get that. I truly do. If people like what I do, the stories I tell, great. I’m happy with that.
But it’s not why I write.
I am also not one of those bloggers who feel the incessant need for people to read their shit daily so they feel the need to blab about shit that 99.9% of the time they have no business blabbing about, but since no one else is doing it – if they’re lucky – then they have the table for about five precious minutes and a little fame (or sometimes infamy) can come out of it. I mean, I wish Tyler Oakley all the success he can handle, but really, what does a cis-gendered, queer white gay boy have to truly say when a great majority of his audience are straight white teeny-bopper (yeah, I know that just dated the fuck outta me) girls. From what I can tell, he doesn’t have a massive gay male following. So he’s capitalizing on queer life to the straight young female crowd. The very same crowd who often make it into our queer spaces once they reach adulthood and feel through their long audience following have some special status in our queer spaces.
Put bluntly, they don’t.
Millennial queers like to say that when queer men resent women moving into our spaces that it’s a form of misogyny – no, we’ll let lesbians and our trans brothers and sisters and any bisexuals into our queer spaces just fine, thank you very much. I have many lesbian friends that I adore the crap out of. I am not a misogynist. I just want queer spaces to be our own. But a straight woman needs to fucking understand that our spaces (and yes, our goddamned fiction and queer literature) are sacred to us. We have precious little as it is. And here’s the rub: Those night clubs and bars everyone has been ditching all of a sudden are probably going to be needed in a big way. Why? Well, a little thing called The Trump Administration.
Here’s a brief history lesson from someone who lived through our toughest and darkest times, lost so many friends that it is hard to recall them all, and survived to do our best to never forget the fight we had to get to where we are now. So those queer youth who think a social app or a hook up app will satisfy a real life gathering watering hole environment are about to learn a valuable history lesson. We’re going to need those spaces again. I’m just sayin’…
Okay, queer youth, prove me wrong. We’ll see how history will write this next chapter once Trump and crew have their way. They just tried to gut the independent ethics committee from any external oversight. They walked it back once word got out, but make no mistake, it remains one of their goals. They’ll just do it quietly … as slow methodical dismantling. Why? So there is no way to see behind the curtain of their next dastardly deed. These are truly horrific people in power now. Even George Takei sees it coming. If George can see it, that’s good enough for me. He lived through it already. He knows the warning signs. The same signs I’d been noticing since the 1980’s – yeah, kids, it’s been that long in coming. Anyone try to tell you different is a fucking fool and I am probably safe in saying they weren’t alive and of an age to understand what was going on way back then. But the GOP plan started when they successfully ousted Carter from office. That was the turning point.
My husband, who is sixteen years my senior, argues it was even started earlier when his own father (who was a superintendent of schools in Ohio) said that the GOP had started to make inroads in dismantling public education. This was in the 1950’s. I wasn’t around then, so I have to take his word for it. And I do.
And this brings me to the crux of this post. You see, I only post when I truly have something to say. I’m not one of those writers or bloggers who just have to post about those fab new sandals they just bought or some brilliantly amazing food they ate. Or even about craft. I sort of laugh when authors try to give advice about what’s correct or not.
Darlin’ everyone’s journey to get there is just that – their own. Your yellow brick road to mid-level fame and dwindling fortune may turn out to be just a piss stained sidewalk – not a yellow brick road at all. I mean, sure, share your perspective if you think something is interesting. I’m not saying you can’t (I’d never tell a writer not to write – ever). But just keep it tucked into the back of your mind that what you went through may not, in any way, come close to another writer’s journey or perspective on writing. Short cuts, learned lessons, yeah they’re helpful to a point. But really, how many wheels do you think your reinventing? I mean, honestly. Hasn’t it just become babble? That whole “pressure of speech” but with writing.
Which is what I’d been contemplating all along. And I realized what came back to me with the incoming administration was: I don’t want social media to link my shit together. I don’t want people at LinkedIn to know what I am posting in Facebook. It only provides an easy path to collect all my data. Not in a Trump age. It’s not a perfect plan and I am still working on it.
Also, as a writer it was always incumbent for us to be public figures, right? Yeah, for me, not so much. I mean from the time I grew up I didn’t have social media and I got along with people just fine. I didn’t need it. It’s a nice convenience to know what some of my beloved friends from my school days or from other venues are up to … but do I need to know EVERY facet of what’s going on? It’s a bit much. I think most peeps probably think the same of others. We spend far too much time yapping and posting to one another when we should be actively writing and using our quills to do some damage to the oppressors coming our way.
Another point I needed to consider – I recently had an email exchange with a young man living in queer hell in Indonesia. He told me the story of finding my Angels of Mercy series and how reading it gave him something to hold onto. That man, and my queer brothers and sisters like him, are the very people I write for. I don’t require adulation or praise from people whose lives are not effected by what it’s like to actually live the queer life. Allies are great, but they often forget that salient difference – you are NOT one of us. We may share a thread of humanity between us, but you will never know our pain. You may empathize until hell freezes over but it does not give you a special voice within our community. You do not know what it is like to live in our world – even if you write about us. You still have no idea what it means to live the life. This young man in that oppressed country, where their burgeoning queer activism was on the rise until their prominent leader (and their growing rights) was literally hacked by machete wielding Islamic thugs in a very public manner that completely killed any hope of freedom they had from that horrible assassination. That man, that precious soul trying to find some hope in all of his oppressed world, and his emails to me, changed everything. I know what I am meant to do.
My New Year’s resolution: (it’s two-fold) I’ve scaled my social media presence way back. Twitter, LinkedIn and other accounts can’t troll or post for me. I don’t want the connection. I want to know when something hits a certain service. I’ve also let my author page be my public presence. My personal timeline is now just that – personal, for friends and family only. I’m good with that. I’ve even disabled public presence in other social media apps or completely killed them outright and removed them. The second part of my New Year’s resolution is that I plan on writing more in both my blogs. But only when I have something to say. It’ll probably be limited to queer rights activism for my author blog, and my own queer childhood through adulthood on VioletQuillRedux. Maybe one or two postings over at WrotePodcast, too.
This is also a call to my queer brothers and sisters to take up their quills and prove the pen is far mightier than any sword pointed in our direction.
I think my efforts would be better spent using that certain John Quincy Adams passion within me to be a true pot stirrer. 1776 is one of my all-time favorite musicals. Not because of the music or the production, but because as a young lad, John Adam’s character made absolute sense to me. I got him. I got his passion and his unwavering voice in the face of adversity. Now, that I can and will be vocal about.
I’ll continue to write fiction, but I’m not going to go all out with marketing. As I said, the creation is the fun part for me. Whatever happens after, happens. It’ll get little prompting from me. Not when I have bigger battles to wage.
I may be old now, well beyond years where I would be accepted in my own queer spaces (ageism is something we are still dealing with in the community) but I still have some fight left in me. That same boy who at twelve years of age took on his local school board and challenged their decision to change my district school to a traditional school from a year-round program I’d grown up with. Yeah, I’m still very much that same twelve year old activist. It served me then (my side won), it’ll serve me now (crossed fingers).
Some might say why post about this at all if you don’t want people to “like” what you do. I’ll simply smirk and think to myself, because these postings aren’t about liking anything. They’re just my queer POV as a man who lived through one of the most hellish times in our community’s history only to find himself near the end of his days and realizing that that battle was merely the rehearsal of what is to come. We have rights now. But there is no guarantee we’ll get to keep them. Any administration that wants to remove oversight has clearly put the writing on the wall. The backlash is coming, Winter is Coming. That’s what I choose to write about.
I’ll just will have to do all the individual postings in each of my social media points of presence – or not at all. But it’ll be my choice.
I’ve never been about the sales. But I’ve always have been about the activism. With the incoming administration, that’s where my passions lie.
It’s time to pick up that John Adams hat, give it a good dusting, and get back to work.
Until next time …
When the World Stops Being What You Thought It Was …
Those who cannot remember the past, are doomed to repeat it.
I can’t seem to shake those words right now. I sit here, watching the cursor blinking at me, demanding that I put something down. But what do you write about when you’ve just witnessed the rise of something that portends your undoing? What words can defend against that?
History repeating itself.
Has no one here watched the signs of what was in play? I keep seeing people who I thought were friends and colleagues all contribute to the demise of the world I thought I knew and doing it almost with a gleeful fervor that God was on their side.
God – if you’re out there … deliver us from your followers. Being an atheist, I am not sure I put much stock in that request. Just thought I’d throw it out there just in case someone is listening. Somehow, it rings hollow. God, or whatever imaginary being you might cling to, has little to do with this mess we find ourselves in now. This was man’s work. For only man’s work could give rise to this sort of malicious evil that colors the horizon now. The world trembles with what’s to come – and with good reason.
Being old, and believe me, nothing has aged me quite so much as witnessing the demise of what I hold dear to me slip from my grasp, I do not fret for what’s to come for me or my husband. Our lives are in their “golden years.” Why no one told me that the gold in those years was fake sort of rattles the soul. But my husband and I will weather this somehow. Our years are numbered, the conclusion to our lives now appearing murky at the end of a not so long tunnel.
It’s not our lives that I worry about. It’s my granddaughter. It’s her world I fear for.
My husband and I share a love of history. It’s something we’ve tried to impart to our granddaughter, Keely. We’ve shown her both the wondrous things in our collective past, and the horrors of what can happen when no one is vigilant, when we aren’t taking what freedoms we have for granted, when we don’t tend to those freedoms and keep a careful eye to what might threaten them. She’s witnessed how that has happened before. So with tearful eyes she came to us last night, begging for some nugget of hope. We gave her what we could. I know it fell far short of the mark. I’ve never felt so helpless.
For some reason TL;DR keeps coming back to me. For those not in the know, TL;DR means – “Too Long; Didn’t Read” – if there were any more inane and insipidly pairing of words put together I can’t think of them now. Why? Because that phrase explains the general apathy we have to nearly everything. We’re simply too busy with our mundane lives to bother. Deductive reasoning, analytical thinking, philosophical contemplation are nearly all gone. An elitist construct that the GOP has systematically worked out of what makes a decent human being think and reason for themselves.
The dumbing down of society benefits those in power. Cattle to the slaughter, that’s what it is. We’ve become a populace that wants to be told what to think and feel. Well, we’re about to get our wish.
I tried to write my current novel. I tried to add to my NaNoWriMo project and thought: what’s the point? When put up against where we’re headed, it all seems quite pointless.
And make no mistake, the words I write now, and anything akin to them might very soon be considered prohibited text in the not too distant future. The threat is very real. I write Queer Lit Fic. Do you think in a Trump/Pence world that those texts will survive? That they’ll still be permitted? I’m not kidding myself. Not only have we just handed him the presidency, we’ve given him nothing less than a mandate to do with what he wishes with a fully stocked “yes” vote on whatever they think is necessary for their America.
But America, the America I knew? She’s gone.
So with apologies to W. H. Auden for a gentle turn of phrase to suit the occasion, I wanted to pen my goodbye to what could’ve been, albeit, with a gentle and tearful hope that somehow, in some way, the world will find its way back to a more gentle, accepting and inclusive America. Not for me. Not for my husband. But for those generations like my granddaughter and those still yet to come. I wish it for them.
So, with extremely heartfelt emotions, a sort of requiem for what will never be now:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message the America that I knew Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Be kind to one another – it’s quite probably all we have left.
Until next time,
– SA C