16 October, 2010

self-centered fiction fun

(I had some ideas about "minority experience writing" but I just got excited and started describing everything I'm writing now. Sorry. I like writing because you don't have to feel bad because people can just ignore the parts that are boring.)

I think writing that sets out to "make a point" is bad. however, I generally write with the intention of feeling less alone or, yeah, let's be honest, sometimes making a point. But when I am making a point I develop love for the characters, or else I might as well just be writing on my blog.

I generally write about queer and/or disabled characters. I actually was thinking about stuff I wrote in high school and I realized that even during periods when I buried my disabled identity (11th-12th grade and some of my first year of college) almost everything I wrote had characters who could be read as having disabilities (a limp, an eating disorder, intense anxiety, kleptomania, and of course ocular albinism). I sometimes don't like to identify characters as having autism and other fairly newly recognized disabilities, because I write stuff that is somewhat stylized and I think it breaks the style--but at this point I certainly am personally aware of my characters' disabilities.

I've been kind of distractedly working on a novel for almost two years (hoping to work much more consistently on it next term, as an independent project) that is kind of a parody of 19th- and 20th-century fiction about "inverted," traumatized ssa people. The main character is a female-assigned teenager who's attracted to girls and had a very gory, gothic childhood. She starts going to boarding school after being homeschooled and isolated for years, and has a sense of passing as female, and heterosexual, but really just passing for everything because she's so nonstandard. She has a frame for thinking about her difference which is constructed out of basically every possible ssa and gender-variant horror/gothic trope, which isn't exactly overturned in the story, but isn't really supported as being anything more than a coping mechanism.

The secondary characters are a twin brother and sister and the main character is torn between her intense friendship with the brother, the only person to whom she doesn't pass, and her crush on the sister (who for most of the story she doesn't relate to as a whole person because her idea of romance is literary to the point of being medieval). Anyway, I originally had the brother being in love with his sister because that's a trope too, but then I didn't want that anymore but I wanted a different kind of attachment that would function in the same awkward/possessive way.

So, then I made up a whole backstory for them, which is basically that the brother is disabled and was stigmatized for it in their family, and that even though he's not obviously disabled by the time he is a teenager, he has an almost crushlike distance from his sister--he loves her and wants to be close to her, but he also feels extremely inferior to her. He resents his "invert" best friend's crush on his sister, because he thinks anyone he can relate to isn't good enough for his sister to be with. I liked this backstory so much that I got off track and have spent the past year writing completely non-gothic stories about this kid at the age of ten or twelve, growing up with an "invisible" disability and a non-disabled twin.

Last week I wrote my favorite version of this story so far, which I liked because it was the first version that was funny and angry instead of emo. It was just a story about this kid with a lot of weird obsessions and a feeling that he isn't human. I turned this story in to my fiction workshop and got like...surprisingly devastated by the results. For one thing I really liked the story and no one in my class seemed to like it. For another, everyone seemed to be talking about his thought processes and his obsessions and his anger in this really pathologizing way, which was kind of stressful...I don't know.

I didn't want the story to have an "agenda" exactly but I did feel political about it. Basically, I just wanted the reader to be on the character's side and see his meltdowns as not just a symptom of his disability, but a reaction to the way he's pathologized/othered at home and at school. The story was very restrained in a way because it mostly just described the character's interests and ideas, and didn't really explain why he had meltdowns--but I guess I was surprised it wasn't obvious to most of the people in my class. I guess I shouldn't turn in disability-heavy stories to workshops, because I'm a senior creative writing major and this was the only time I've ever cried and not been able to sleep because of a fucking workshop. So weird. I feel like a loser.

I was complaining to Noah about it, almost a full week later, and I said something like, "I want to normalize the experience of oppression." What I mean by that is that I don't want to write stories that are like "LOOK AT THIS OPPRESSION SOMEONE IS DOING TO SOMEONE ELSE." No one experiences life that way. I want to write stories that are good stories, with good characters, and when the characters are queer/disabled sometimes they are affected by that. And sometimes it's funny and sometimes it's annoying and sometimes it's sad and sometimes it's all of those things, but is not explicit and obvious or the "main idea" of the story, because oppression is the main idea of no one's life (except this guy).

It kind of reminds me of True Blood. It always annoys me when people are like "Alan Ball is trying to make vampires an analogy for gay people." Fucking no! (As Clayton put it, "Apparently gay people can only eat one kind of food, and as soon as we synthesized it they all appeared.") The aspects of True Blood that are references to a particular kind of gay American experience--having to go to another state to get married, "God hates fangs"--are actually the sign of Alan Ball's refusal to a)produce some really basic second-grade narrative of gay rights, or b)produce fiction that is exactly like the fiction produced by straight people. He just kind of throws it in there because it's a part of our life and it's kind of funny to apply it to vampires. People who try to interpret the gay=vampire analogy literally are just people who think that any reference to minority experience has to be super heavy and super sincere. That's not true, and it's othering; and more importantly, it's just boring.


  1. Your novel sounds like it could be really good. Forgive me if this is a dumb question, but what do you mean by "inverted?"

  2. sorry. the inversion model of homosexuality (portrayed in books like The Well of Loneliness) is just an idea that was popular in the early 20th century and earlier, that same-sex-attraction is related to "having the soul of the opposite sex," or having become confused as a child into thinking that one is the opposite sex. so an invert is a person who is gender-inverted and therefore has the wrong soul/identity and is same-sex-attracted as a result.

    this is pretty confusing in light of the fact that being ssa, being trans, and expressing gender in an unconventional way are now seen (at least in America) as 3 different things. obviously I think this is correct, but I find some of the old stuff really appealing because it sets up being an "invert" as a kind of disability.

    Also, I think that a lot of ssa people who aren't trans do experience some kind of feeling of wanting to be the opposite sex, or being detached from their assigned sex. In some cases this may just be a result of heteronormativity, but it's nonetheless a real feeling and I feel like now there's a tendency to say that someone either feels completely okay with their assigned sex, or is trans or genderqueer, which is kind of a flat way of looking at it in my opinion.