Author Ramble: Inclusivity in Fiction

Or why these books are now so different.

On my other blog I have rambled, a little, about Port Carmila and its origin.

It’s not a new series, as I started writing in early 2010 and kept going until my hand injury and resulting chronic pain made creativity hard. I still wrote about Steve and Abe, though, even during my PWE course, even when I started to move away from writing men and toward writing ladies and non-binary people. When I started to get serious about publishing my older works I intended to publish other stories first, but I read Death and … well, a redraft happened. As one does. Over the last month or so I’ve fallen back in love with these characters and this weird, zany, ridiculous world that is simultaneously too absurd to take seriously, immeasurably fucked-up and the world as it could and should be.

The old stories I wrote are still online if anyone cares to go back and risk the horror of ridiculous speech tags, bad paragraphing and a horde of comma faults. I’m not saying I’m amazing now, but I’m better than I was. However, those differences might not even be ones many people notice. The mark of a novice writer, sure, but the writing world is full of not-quite professional writers and readers who just don’t care how the author fails on a technical level if the storytelling is good enough (or not even then). Those old stories, for all their faults, were liked well enough by people who were/are my friends, who read them and became my friends, and other readers who didn’t cross the line from reader to friend but left me positive feedback all the same … and that’s actually something I need to remember. For all their flaws, other people liked those stories, and other people were inspired by those stories, and it does me and them a misjustice to sit back and hark on about the horde of comma faults too often, even though as a perfectionist I feel obligated to point it out (before other people notice and hate me for it – it’s the same ‘I’ll laugh at myself before you laugh at me’ philosophy in humour common to bullying/abuse survivors). Yes, I am absolutely failing at not mentioning the horrors contained in my old writing, but I need to work on mentioning it less often. The old stories are what they are: the craft of a writer with some kick-arse ideas in want of psychological growth and some technical education (or an editor). They’re not bad. I’ve just gotten better, but even in their old state, those stories were and are deserving of being liked.

These new books are not those stories.

I’m not talking about the comma faults.

I’ve changed names. I’ve changed sexes and genders (not the same thing). I’ve taken the protagonist’s tendency to drag and self-confident, unconventional self-expression and am in the process of deepening it to create a non-binary genderfluid/genderfucking character. I’ve invented a whole heap of supporting characters. I’ve named Abe’s fucking cat (who is now undead). Some of this is just worldbuilding; some of it is knowing the world and characters better, having written about 50 000 words of their world. (And as of the rewriting process, I’ve added about another 50 000 words to that. Great-Aunty Lizzie has required many words.) I’ve got more of a grasp on how the hunters fit into the world, and that makes a huge, vital difference. The idea of being undead or queer in a small town wasn’t all that well explored; rewriting has given me the opportunity to gleefully create a town where it is totally okay for a DMAB person to wear kitten heels down the main drag, because shoes don’t fucking matter when a hunter volunteers their time and possibly their life to help others. I love the idea of a club meant to be a vamp club becoming the town gay bar because queer people exist and need somewhere to commune away from cishets, but in the first version Feeders was just a given – and lacking in ladies. Who knows where the queer ladies went; I don’t have the faintest idea!

(Oh, I know where they went: nowhere. That’s because they didn’t exist.)

The real changes, the changes that matter to me as a creative and a person, actually aren’t that extensive. It’s all about one little concept: inclusion.

The old stories, in the beginning, were books about two cis dudes dating and working their way up to banging. Slightly less of an old saw given the vampire-and-allergic breather thing, but an old saw nevertheless. They were two cis dudes with cis dude friends and cis dude companions and one token lesbian and her seldom-seen zombie girlfriend and more cis dude companions and, oh, did I say more cis dudes? Cis dude cousins and the cis dude boyfriends of said cis dude cousin. I don’t even know what Steve’s mum did for a living (she wasn’t as awesome as she is now but she also wasn’t as important to the narrative). Aggie Skipton is still a joke, but at least now she’s a character. Sophie was a joke. Sian MacGillycuddy was a joke. Steve’s grandmother was a joke. (Are you sensing something, here? Because I am. I want to shy away from the fact that I wrote most of the female characters in these stories as a joke, but shying away from it doesn’t help solve the problem.) There were no real girls; Steve and Johanna were assuredly not best friends. They just sort of hung around each other because the group needed a token girl. Izzy was even less a member of the group than Abe, rather than a hunter in her own right (this will be shown soon).

(Oh, and there was no real plot, because writing a string of vignettes online did not teach me how to plot.)

The later stories started to verge on what I write now: Steve started taking every available opportunity for crossdressing, we met the trans guy Dave, and Johanna and Izzy poked their heads in every so often. Fast forward a few years, though, and everything I write has trans and non-binary (mostly non-binary) lead characters and as many kick-arse women (all kinds of women) I can pack into the one book.

I believe that is absolutely possible to write gay or m/m fiction, even gay or m/m romance, without such a horrible dearth of ladies, trans people and queer folk who are not sexual cis dudes. That is not, however, what an awful lot of gay or m/m fiction shows, and the fact that I wrote my own works that way says a great deal about the genre as of four years ago (and even, to an extent, today). I’m masculine and my sexuality does encompass some men, but I’m not a gay cis dude. There aren’t many books about people like me with trans and non-binary, non-monosexual folk even as the supporting cast, and while I’m not asking that those who write what they love pack in the representation just to meet a quota, I can’t in good conscience put my name to a work that doesn’t include the kinds of characters I need to see in the world – Steve, Johanna and Izzy for now, the sexiest trans man extant in Valentine to come, later Dave and Henry (who is a girl, thank you very much).

I wrote Steve, four years ago, because I could step into a man’s shoes and enjoy all the liberation of not being a girl. He was queer because I don’t write straight folk, and he was pan because I was tired of the gay-for-you thing and because bi and pan people are still vastly underrepresented in queer media. (Something else I wish to do something about.) Now I write him* because he transcends gender binaries, because he moves with such wonderful, amazing fluidity between male and female, because he is loved and accepted by the people around him, because he has the confidence and courage I wish I had – and because when I wear a skirt or a waistcoat, I am not a girl wearing a skirt or a boy wearing a waistcoat, but a genderfierce soul genderfucking your notions of what is and isn’t gendered. Steve does it without a great deal of struggle or angst, and while the world is not always a great place for him to live, by and large his sexuality and his gender are not reasons for difficulty.

(* Pronouns haven’t been discussed, but as of Whatever Great-Aunty Lizzie Says Abe uses gender-neutral words like ‘person’ over ‘man’. Everyone knows that the pronouns are binary – nominal, truly – but the person who owns them is decidedly not. Bets have been taken as to when Steve gets around to asking. I’m looking forward to finishing Shoes Fit for a Queen so I can explore Steve’s concept of his gender in his own words.)

I’m going to quote myself in a post I made on my other blog:

Sometimes I write the world as it is. Sometimes I write the world as it should be. Most often I do varying degrees of both, because nothing shines so brightly as the world as it should be when set against a backdrop of the world as it is. Nothing.

The casual acceptance of Steve (and Johanna, Izzy, Valentine) by his friends and coworkers and family is what makes these books, for me, so amazing to re-write. It’s not something I have in real life. It’s something I want. It’s something I should have. It’s something I can bring into being with my words. Jack and Phil, for all their absurdity and mishandling, are exactly the kinds of friends queer people need – the kind of people cishets should and must aspire to be. The world isn’t necessarily a good place, but what is right does shine, and while I didn’t always know how to bring it to the surface four years ago, nothing struck me more, in my redrafting, than the simple ease of understanding in the Port Carmila universe. That’s a profoundly awesome thing.

I’ve said that these books aren’t quite what I’d write today, and that’s true – there’d be even more female characters, trans people and queer ladies. Far fewer cishet dudes. There’d be intersex people! Asexual people! I’m still not quite satisfied with the amount of men, and I’d like to do something about it. I’d like to include more female, trans, non-monosexual, asexual and non-binary characters so that every reader has a hero alongside the sight of cishet dudes being the kinds of accepting people they must and should be.

I don’t know if my readers of four years ago are going to like more ladies, Valentine as a trans man, Henry as a trans lady and Steve as someone who defies the gender binary, but I do know that they are the heroes I need as a writer and a reader.

As a gay or even pan cis dude, Steve is just another character.

As a non-binary genderfucking person who moves through the world with confidence and acceptance, Steve is a character in desperate need of existence.

The new versions may or may not be better.

I refuse to believe, though, that inclusivity is not, by definition, better.

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