Sunday, June 30, 2013

Watch This

My kid asked me a few weeks ago about violence, and about killing people -- whether it messed you up bad to kill people or not.

"Because in the animes I'm watching, and in the web comics some of my friends are drawing," she said, "they're acting like it's nothing, and I'm just wondering..."

"No, it's a big deal," I said.  "I mean, unless something's seriously wrong with the person already, killing does mess you up. It is a big deal."

And I told her a couple stories, about students I had who had returned from Iraq, stories they had told me.

But this video, which just showed up on my FB stream, I think does a better job than I did of communicated what I was trying to say.  Watch it.  Now. (It's only two and a half minutes long, and it's beautifully animated besides.)


This is a lovely term, and I will employ it henceforth.

Derp: when someone has a strong attachment to his prior conviction, such that exposure to evidence will not make him surrender that conviction: that person is said to be derpy, or a derp.

For instance!  Take Obama and his birth certificate.

Take your hardshell tea bagger.  He (or she) is convinced that Obama was born in Kenya.  That is her prior conviction.

Now many of us -- you and I, I dare say -- if we have prior convictions, if, for instance, we head into a given situation, thinking, for example, that O.J. is guilty, or that Dan Cathy is kind of a homophobe, well, if we got evidence to the contrary, we'd be willing to change our minds; with enough evidence to the contrary, we would hold a different conviction.

As an example of this, when I was twenty I thought libertarian philosophy made sense.  I hadn't actually read Ayn Rand, mind you, but I had read books that talked about her, and I had read other libertarian philosophers, and when you're twenty and don't know much, all that seems fairly cool.

However, as I got older, and encountered new ideas, and read further, and deeper, and got more evidence, I began to see flaws in the libertarian philosophy.  I began to hold different convictions.

With derps, this does not happen.  Instead, they simply reiterate their prior convictions, more and more strongly.  They shut out and even flat out deny the evidence when it is presented to them.  (See here for a wonderful shining example of this, which led me to the term derp.)

I love this word, and I love even more the concept, which explains a thing that I have seen happening all around the internet and the country for the past decade or more, and have not been able to pin down with any exactitude.

Derps.  Yes.

Friday, June 28, 2013

What You're Teaching Your Kids (Whether You Think You Are Or Not)

Although I try to avoid Wal-Mart, which is the Evil Empire, I was compelled to go there yesterday, since our local Harp's does not carry tabouli  (WTF, Harps?) and it is so hot here now and we have so many ripe tomatoes out of our garden that really I could fix nothing else for dinner that night.

So I park the car.  The AC is not working, by the way.  Well.  It works when the weather is cool -- say, no hotter than 90 degrees.  But once we get above 90 (it was 104 here yesterday) that's it.

I leave the windows open and trudge toward the giant Wall, as we call it here.  The heat is blistering.  About halfway across the giant parking lot, I cross paths with a family heading toward their car: A young father, surrounded by four young daughters, all as white blond as he is, all as skinny as he is. The oldest girl is maybe eleven. Trailing behind him, his equally skinny and equally tow-headed wife, with the two youngest children, both boys.  The youngest is perhaps two. Maybe three.

The wife, exasperated, obviously exhausted, is trying to pick up the youngest, who though he looks very unhappy, is not actually crying.  "Will you take him?" she calls to her husband, about ten yards ahead of her and walking fast.  "He wants you!"

"Nope," he says, without looking back.  "I don't want him.  He's a crybaby."  He snorts and adds, "I've seen girls cry less than him."

                                                                     ****    ****  ****

Why am I telling you this story?

I mean, besides how it made me sad, not just for those four beautiful girls walking around him, or for his wife -- what really broke my heart was that the little boy wasn't crying. At two years old, he's already learned to kill his emotions.

But I am sad for the father, too.  You have to know he learned to parent that way from his father, from the men in his life, and probably from the women too, who in turn learned it from their parents.  This is a direct and real-life example of How The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too.

And yet.

Though I understand why he is how he is, though I understand his circumstances, still they are the parents.  It is their job to parent.  And parenting is an actual job, one that you -- the parent -- need to put actual work into.  You can't say (as many people do) this is what my daddy did, here's how my mama handled it, it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.

It's true that some of the parenting practices of our parents were just fine.  But some of them were not. It's our job, as parents, to figure out which are worth using and which are not.

An analogy I like to use is buying a toaster.  This is because I once watched my father (the NASA Engineer -- he actually did work for NASA during the years we built those rockets that went to the moon) buy a toaster.  He did not just go out and pick out a toaster at TGX.  No, he did weeks of research, consulting Consumer Reports and reading up on various brands of toasters and consulting with everyone he knew about their experience with this toaster and that...I don't remember the toaster we bought, but it was the right toaster. Pretty much every purchase he made, he made that way.

And I remember later, as an adult, looking back on my childhood and wondering why he didn't approach child-rearing with the same care: why he would put more thought and diligence into a buying a toaster than into caring for his children.

And, as with the guy in the Wal-Mart parking lot, I cut he and my mother some slack.  They were 19 and 21 when they married, 20 and 22 when they became parents.  That wasn't even old enough to vote (for one of them) at the time, so, well.

But on the other hand, it was their job.  When it's your job, you better learn to do it right.  When he was helping to build those rockets, he wouldn't have said, oh, I'm only 20, cut me some slack.  No, he took that job seriously.

And that's my main point, I guess.  Parenting is a job, as important as building bridges or rockets or ads that sell shoes to adolescents.  Take it seriously.

                                                                 ****  ****  *****

That's one of the main things Dr. Skull and I decided to do, when we decided to have a child.

And that is another thing we did -- we made the decision to have a child, and we made the decision to have one child. Becoming a parent probably should not be something you happen into, anymore than being an engineer or a teacher is something you happen into.  Although, to be fair, I did accidentally become a university professor.

We decided to make parenting decisions based not on how we had been raised, but on what were the best parenting practices available.  We did research, in other words.

(And we still do research, by the way, we continue to do research.  Whenever we have a problem or a parenting issue, we do research on what might be the best answer or the best approach.  I mean, we don't just take our very best shot, because what the hell, it's just a kid, after all, they're really hard to break!)

So -- for instance -- we decided early on that I would nurse the child, since research shows that children who are breastfed do better in any number of ways. This was actually my decision, obviously, since I was the one who would have to do it, and be inconvenienced the most by it.  But Dr. Skull was very much in favor of it.  And in fact I ended up breastfeeding for almost three years, despite a great deal of negative commentary, mostly from my family. ("Oh my God, haven't you weaned that child yet?" "I thought you quit doing that when they got teeth."  "Isn't it sort of freaky, doing that with a kid that talks?")

And we decided that we would never use violence in discipline -- this meant, obviously, no hitting.  But also no yelling, and in so far as possible, no punishing.

You won't believe the outrage this parenting decision caused among (again) mostly my family. Our discipline method, from the time the kid was very small, was basically the time-out*.  It's not a punishment, when done right, which is something which escapes most people.

[What?  But how can that be?  You have to punish children!  How will they learn not to run in the street or touch hot stoves or or or....

Yeah, no.  You don't have to punish children (or anyone) and research shows in fact that punishment does not work and in fact creates extremely negative effects -- that is, being punished can slow learning, can cause more mistakes to be made, can create an anxious or defiant child.  The brain under stress (punishment creates stress) has trouble learning.  There is also some evidence that the growing brain, under the stress of punishment (especially physical punishment) grows badly, failing to develop as many connections or as much grey matter as the unpunished child's brain.]

A time-out, done properly, take a child who is having some sort of issue, and removes her from the situation, giving her time to recover herself.  So let's say when the kid was three, and going through her terrible stage, where she had frequent melt-downs over everything -- because, well, that's what three year old do.  So when I said time to clear off the table**, we're having dinner, and she says she needs to finish drawing her dinosaur and I say, okay, five minute warning, and then we need to clear up -- and then five minutes later, she still wants to keep drawing, and begins to scream like she's been murdered because no, dinosaur! -- what do I do?

I say, "You need a time out, sweetness."  I say it firmly and politely.  If she doesn't go to the time-out chair on her own, I pick her up and take her there.  I don't make any kind of an issue over it.  There's no scolding, no guilting.  She just gets transported (as we used to call it).  If she's three, she's there for three minutes.  If she's five, she's there for five.

(But what if she won't stay?  Well, my kid always stayed.  IME, if you don't make your kid into your enemy, which you do by hitting them and yelling at them and treating them like they're little thieves, they mostly will want to please you and do what you say.  But if they don't stay, then you keep putting them back until they do stay, without yelling, without scolding, without making it into a fight.  Just put them back and keep putting them back.  It's not about punishment.  It's about letting them get their angst out of their system.)

Once her time was up, I would say, "Okay, babycakes, you can get up.  Come help me with this salad, will you?"  Or whatever.  We didn't talk about how wicked she was, or why she should be sorry, because she wasn't wicked, and it wasn't about punishment.  It was about letting her calm down.

Plus, she already knew it was unacceptable behavior -- it's why she was being removed from the kitchen.  No need to treat her a criminal.

"How is that punishment!" my relatives always said. "What does that teach her!"

It teaches your child that you love her, and you care about her, and you want to teach her to act right.  It teaches her that you think she's a fellow human being, not someone you're interested in humiliating and dominating.

That's the other big thing we decided really early on: that we would always treat our child like a fellow human being, a full-fledged member of the family.  Not an object.  Not a pet.  Not a belonging.  Yes, we were in charge.  But no, that didn't mean her opinion and her feelings were worthless.  So we have always let her speak; we have always let her argue with us; she always knows she can object to our decisions and -- if she makes a good case -- have those decisions changed.

And we are her advocates.  When the school situation was not working out, we went to school and we were on her side.  This does not mean that we decided beforehand that the teachers were idiots and the teachers were wrong and that our special snowflake had to be right.  But it did mean we were on her side, and we were going to work to be certain she was not being mis-taught or mistreated (because that is also your job as a parent).

And when she came to us with questions about what she was being taught in school, particularly in the areas of science and history (as, this being Arkansas, she did), yeah, we were her advocates there, too. We made sure she got supplements to the miseducation she was getting at school. And -- eventually -- we decided homeschooling might be a better option, at least for awhile.  (An atheist Jewish child who won't stop arguing, because she's been taught that arguing is appropriate behavior, and who also is not afraid that her parents are going to punish her, because she knows they won't, is not an especially good fit for your Arkansas school, even if that school is the most liberal school we could find to put her in.)

My final bit of advice: Listen. Make yourself available. If you've done your job right, and there aren't any serious other issues -- because yes, there can be, and I know I'm lucky that there are not -- your child will want to talk to you, about everything, essentially. Be willing to hear, be willing to take what they have to tell you seriously.  Engage with them.  This is the most important thing in your life right now.  Act like it.

Oh -- also: I'm not one of those parents who holds with monitoring your child's FB account or reading her email or logging onto her Tumblr account.  In my opinion, if you have to do crap like that, it means you've already failed.  Why do you have to sneak around and spy on your child?  Why isn't she already telling you everything?  Or, well, everything that's your business.

(I hate to break this to you, but some things are not your business, and that's why you should not be reading your kid's FB or her email, or snooping around on any of her pages, unless she asks you to.  Would you read her diary?  And if you would, what kind of a horrible person are you?  Not a good role model, I'll tell you that much.)

That's all I got.  Feel free to add your advice in the comments!

**Occasionally we also used logical consequences.  Like if the kid climbed on something she shouldn't be climbing on, I'd let her do it -- if it wasn't really dangerous, obviously, but just stupid.  This drove Dr. Skull nuts.  "She's going to fall," he'd exclaim.

"Right," I said.  "That will teach her not to climb on things she shouldn't climb on.  She can't learn from experience if we don't let her have experience."

This also applies, by the way, to the hot stove question.  I mean, obviously, yes, don't let your toddler play by an open fire.  But if that toddler actually does touch a hot oven and burns her finger, that's much, much better than you beating that toddler to teach her not to touch a hot stove.  One is logical consequences, and actually teaches the toddler not to touch a stove -- and a burnt finger won't kill her.  The other is her mother, who is supposed to love her, beating her for no reason she actually understands: that teaches her nothing except that her mother, who is her sole source of safety and stability in the entire world, cannot be trusted.

OBVIOUSLY, don't leave hot stoves open, turn your pot handles around so toddlers can't grab them, keep toddlers from the kitchen when you're deep frying, and so on.  But really: once you've spanked your toddler for getting near the hot stove, would you then let her frolic near the pot of boiling grease?  If not, do you really believe beating your kid has taught her anything?

**This is also probably a key point, one of my best parenting tips: Have very few rules. Kids don't like being told what to do (who does, really?) so only make rules that absolutely have to be made.  We really only have a couple at House Delagar: Mom & Dad are in charge.  You have to brush your teeth.  You have to go to Aikido (up until she was 14 -- we let her quit then). Um...I'm pretty sure that's it. When she was little, I also had a rule about wearing socks with shoes in the winter, but how she dresses herself now is up to her.  It was mostly up to her then -- I mean, I made her wear clothes. And socks in winter.  But from the time she was about three, what she wore (out of the available clothing in her closet) was her decision.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Strange Horizons Reviews Menial: Skilled Labor in SF

...and gives us an amazing review.  Everything I could wish for.

Benjamin Gabriel has understood everything we were after perfectly: the kind of reader you hope and dream for. I want to drive to his house and hug him.  Or take him out for coffee. Whatever.

Key bit -- well, I mean, besides my absolute favorite, which is "Menial is the future of science fiction," because, yeah, hard to top that one -- is this:

[t}he a rejection, whether consciously on the parts of the writers and editors or not, of the narrative economy of science fiction. Once you start telling the story of the way systemic limits on access to capital affect groups for whom that oppression intersects with other, often more visible oppressions, the tall tale about the rugged individual begins to seem a little thin.

Go read the rest!

Oh, yeah, and you can get Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction here.

Cover art for MENIAL: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Looks Like You Got Yourself A Feminist There

Scenes in the delagar household:

(I am slouched in the big white chair, which is where you can usually find me, craptop propped on my knees, writing on my latest short story, which concerns a gender-fluid alien and a xenobiologist on a far-future far-off space station; it is very late at night; despite this, I am drinking coffee mixed with too much sugar and just a bit of rum. The kid emerges, flung like a popped cork, from her room. She rages to the kitchen.  She rages back into the living room.)

Me: What?

The kid:  My friends!  My friends!

Me: (I know she means her online friends.) What?  What?

The kid: They keep making horrible rape jokes.

Me: ---

The kid: I know I should tell them it isn't funny.  They're just messing, but.

Me: But rape's not something to joke around with.

The kid: I feel bad that I didn't tell them to stop.

Me: Well.

The kid: I know I should have told them to stop.

Me: Next time you should.  They'll be mad at you, but you do have to tell people to stop when they're doing something wrong.  The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

(She flings herself back into her room.  I return to writing. Several minutes later she emerges again, bouncing.)

The kid: I told them to quit.  Maybe more harshly that I should have.

Me: Ah?

The kid:  I said cut out the rape jokes you jerks, rape isn't funny.

Me: (Grinning) That sounds appropriate to me.  What happened.

The kid:  They were like oh we were just playing around.  But they apologized and they quit.  And I said rape is a horrible thing and no one should joke about it.  And they quit. And now I want to go yell at someone else on the internet somewhere.

                                                     *****      ******    ******

(The kid and I are doing her Latin lesson.  We're using the iPad to look up words we don't know.  Which is plenty of them, by the way.  Latin Is Hard.)

Me: (putting a word into the search box, which iPad autocorrects into something idiotic) Oh, stop that, you bitch.

The kid: Hey.

: Well, it's just...

The kid (even more sternly): HEY.

: Okay, okay.  Stop that, you asshat.

The kid: Don't use gendered insults, MOM.

                                                   ****** ******* ********

(Another evening.  I am in the white chair again, prepping for class this time.  The kid comes into the room and slouches on the sofa.)

Me: What?

The kid: Nothing.

Me: ---

The kid: I'm just sad about *Lily.  I was thinking about how her mother calls her fat all the time.  That's just terrible.

Me: It is.  You're right.

The kid: I mean, the school* doesn't allow bullying. But then she's bullying her own kid.  Plus, that's just telling her -- that's saying she's worthless if she's not skinny.

Me: You're absolutely right.

                                                ******  ********  ************

(We are riding in the car, on our way somewhere -- Harp's, maybe?  Maybe the library.  It is right after I have compelled the kid to read Ender's Game as part of her homeschooling.  She has hated the book so much she can't shut up about it.)

The kid: And plus -- and plus -- this part, do you remember this part?  How girls don't make it to battle school because hundreds of years of evolution are working against them?

Me: ---

The kid: (shouting) Hundreds of years of evolution, Mom!

Me: Well, maybe that's what your paper should be about, then. (She writes papers on the books she reads.) The anti-feminist implications of --

The kid: (grumpily) You're not taking me to that stupid movie, I'm telling you that much.

*Lily's mom works at a local school.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pride In Arkansas

It was 95 degrees here Wednesday afternoon, a clear and brilliant sunny day. The coffee house is right next to Creekmore Park, which is right across Rogers Avenue from the main branch of the Fort Smith Public Library.  Sitting on the terrace of the coffee shop, sweltering in the heat, we watched the breeze ripple through the ash trees in the rock garden outside and listened to the speakers in between the frequent squalling ambulances or the intermittent rolling grind and whistle of the miniature railroad running past in the park.

Most of my life in Fort Smith is tied up in this little patch of real estate.  When we first arrived in Fort Smith, we lived a few blocks from that park, and would bring the kid (then five and six) to its playground, and to the library).  The main branch of the Public Library was what convinced Dr. Skull he could bear to live here. The university where I teach is only a mile or so northeast of here.  Rogers Avenue is the highway I hate worst of all roads in Fort Smith -- I'll drive miles to avoid it.  "Any road but Rogers" is my motto.

We were there for a Pride Event -- "Presenters and Poets" -- a kind of eclectic scheduling, poets mixed in with informative speakers. A local lawyer talked about what rights LGBT people had in Arkansas (some, but not many) and what you might do to protect yourself in spite of your lack of protection under the law; also, how to gain more legal rights; the Chair of our department (whom, as I have said, we love to bits) spoke about what straight allies might do to be more supportive; various local poets (all of whom are my ex-students, by the way, though I did not teach them to be poets, since I teach fiction writing, so their skills there  do not come from me!) read their amazing poetry.

(Only one has poetry you can get online, sadly, as far as I can tell.  Here. She's also a brilliant fiction writer, which I also did not teach her.  She came that way.)

I was there to talk about teaching queer lit in the Bible Belt.

As our Chair said, it was kind of the wrong audience for the speech -- preaching to the choir in a big way.  The terrace was full, every seat taken despite the heat (by the time I got up to speak it was late, nearly eight o'clock, the sun finally on the horizon, the worst of the heat broken, the train stopped running, the traffic on Rogers slowed), but they were mostly all members of RVEC, or friends & family of members of RVEC -- so they needed very little convincing.

Nevertheless, I talked about my history of teaching LGBT literature in Arkansas, which I've been doing since 2005, how it's changed/changing, what I teach, what good it might do, how I do it, my theory of doing it, what happens in the classroom when I do it.

I told them how when I first taught this class, back in 2005, one of my best students had believed (had refused to stop believing) that gayness was caused by childhood sexual abuse. I told them how when we showed Hedwig & the Angry Inch in the class, many of the students didn't even know what transgender was -- that it was a thing that existed, I mean -- much less that any controversy about it existed. I told them how, previous to taking the class, most of the students had not known that being homosexual had until recently been a crime, that committing homosexual acts -- in private, in your own home -- had until recently been something people could be jailed for, sent to mental asylums for, submitted to medical and physical tortured for, castrated and sterilized for; that they had not realized how severe gender policing in America had been, only a few decades earlier (I showed my students a documentary, Before Stonewall, and one on the Stonewall riots themselves, Stonewall Uprising, which utterly shocked them).

And I talked about how important it was to let students direct the class to some extent. "They'll tell you what they need to know," I said.  "I give them the texts -- although I also let students make suggestions, let them tell me if they want to add something to the reading list -- but then I leave a lot of room in class discussion for them to tell me what they need to know about those texts.  It's like with kids.

(Here I told one of my favorite stories about my kid, how when she was five and her charming little friends on the playground had been using lesbian as an insult, how she came home from school and asked, "Mama, what is a lesbian?" and after I explained well it was like how Mama and Daddy loved each other, right?  Except sometimes two women loved each other like that, and that was lesbians, or two men did, and that was gay. After which she said, "Oh, well, I think I'm a lesbian then.  Because I love Emma, she's my best friend.")

As with kids, you listen to what they want to know, you answer the questions they ask, you listen to what they say after that, and clarify if necessary.

And I explained why I thought it was so important to teach LGBT literature on the university level: many of my students in that class were, themselves, going to be teachers in the local school system.  Very few of them had known anything about LGBT history or LGBT culture or LGBT rights or LGBT literature before they took this class.  Now they know something. Now, when they're in the local high schools and middle schools, when they encounter a transgender kid or a lesbian kid or a gay or bi kid; or when it comes time to choose a reading list; now they have options.

Oh -- and I also distributed a reading list.  Here it is.

This is by no means exhaustive, by the way.  It was all I could fit on two printed pages, and as you will see it leans heavily toward SF, because so do I.  Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!

QUILTBAG* Lit: A Reading List
Kids under 10
Eileen Keirnan-Johnson.  Ronald Humphery Is Wearing a WHAT?  A book for ages 3-7 about a boy who likes to wear sparkles, pretty colors, and “girly” clothes. A child-level look at gender policing (with a happy ending!).  Available on Amazon.  ISBN 0615666558

Leslea Newman.  Daddy, Papa, and Me.  A board book about a same-sex couple and their baby. Rhyming, adorable, and challenges gender stereotypes (Dads are shown doing all sorts of jobs.)  Available on Amazon. ISBN 1582462623

Vanita Oelschlanger.  A Tale of Two Mommies.  A book for ages 3-7, about a family of two women and their adopted son (a multicultural family, in other words). Rhyming, examines gender stereotypes.  Available on Amazon. ISBN 0982636660

Jennifer Bryan. A Different Dragon.  Ages 4-10.  This one I like because it just has characters who are lesbians – that’s not the focus of the book, but part of the normal background of our character, Noah, who meets a dragon who doesn’t want to be fierce anymore.  Also, wonderful illustrations. (Kids older than 10 will like this one too, probably!) Available on Amazon.  ISBN 0967446864

Kid 10-14
James Howe, Totally Joe.  Joe is a character from Howe’s popular series The Misfits.  Here, he writes his autobiography for a school assignment, and we get an inside look at what being gay is like for a 13 year old.  If you know Howe’s books, you know how good this is. Available at Amazon. ISBN: 0689839588

Alex Sanchez, So Hard to Say. “Will & Grace for the middle-school set.” Available at Amazon. ISBN 1416911898

Young Adult:
M.E. Kerr, Deliver us from Evie. Told through her brother, the story of Evie, who comes out to her conservative rural Missouri farm community. You’ll have to buy this one via Alibris or some other used bookstore, sadly.  Worth it, though.

John Green, David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  The story of two Will Graysons, and Tiny Cooper, best friend to one of the Will’s, and all their friends. Tiny’s gay, and this is presented as just a one of the things your friend might be – just normal background for the story, not a major plot point, in other words.  Also, a great YA story for other reasons. Available on Amazon. ISBN 0142418471

David Levithan.  Every Day. Reviewed here.  This…being, which calls itself A, wakes up in a different body each day…and stuff happens.  Inevitably some of the stuff is gender related.  And a cracking good plot. (Adults will like this one too!)  Available on Amazon. ISBN 0307931889

Benjamin Alire Saenez. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Two Latino kids in the 80s, one openly gay, one in denial, meet and develop a friendship.  Deals with issues of Mexican identity, gives an authentic look at Latino culture. Available on Amazon. Isbn 1442408928

Tony Kushner, Angels in America.  It’s a play, so you should really see it; but if you can’t, reading it is better than nothing. ISBN: 1559362316

Ethan Mordden, The Buddies Cycle.  Starts with I’ve A Feeling We’re Not In Kansas Anymore: Tales From Gay Manhattan. A bit twee, but some good stories. Available on Amazon. ISBN 0312141122

Jeffery Eugenides, Middlesex.  About an intersexed person growing up in a Greek household in the 1960s. Wonderful writing, an amazing book.  Available everywhere, I believe.

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home. All of Bechdel’s works are worth reading.  But you can start with this one. It covers her childhood and young adult life, and her father’s life. (It’s a graphic novel.)  See also Dykes To Watch Out For, which I also highly recommend.  ISBN for Fun Home: 0618871713

Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang.  SF. A near-future/alt.history.  LG characters and lovely writing. Reviewed here, kind of.

Dorothy Allison.  Bastard out of Carolina.  A rough read, but wonderful.

Joanna Russ, The Female Man.  SF.  Also a tough read, but also essential. I talk about it here.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Ethan of Athos. SF with a main character who is from a culture where everyone is gay.  This is just a fun read, by the way.  Bujold’s other books contain bisexual, lesbian, and transsexual characters.

Eleanor Arnason, Ring of Swords.  Also, Women of the Iron People. Both excellent SF novels with gay/lesbian characters in each (alien and human). (I review Arnason here; an interview with her is here.)

Suzy McKee Charnas, The Holdfast Chronicles. Post-Apocalyptic SF. Major characters who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual.

Mark Merlis, The Arrow’s Flight.  A modern retelling of the Philoctetes myth.

Geoff Ryman, Was. Ryman is one of the best writers working in SF today.  This is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz – sort of.  It’s won a billion awards and is considered by many as “the” book for gay men to read.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Well, If *I* Was A Lady Writer...

If you've been in the SF/F blogosphere lately, or anywhere near it, you know we're having yet another round of the ever-amusing guy-SF-writer says something stupid about women SF writers & gets called on it & doubles down & everyone explodes / takes sides...

Sometimes, as a variation, this is played out as White-SF-Writer says something stupid about SF writers of color (continue as before).

What's really ironic (or sickening, choose your own adjective) about these very nearly annual events is, well, that they're taking place in the science fiction world.  What attracted most of us to the genre of science fiction was the fact that it looked to the future -- that it promised us progress.  That hope of a progressive mindset was a bait many of us could not resist.  I know it was (among other novels) Joanna Russ's The Female Man and Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed that made me a lifelong addict.

So this -- and again, this is only the latest iteration of shit like this -- it's rough.  Over and over, when I'm teach feminism to my students, especially my male students, at the university, I explain very carefully to them how feminism is not about hating men.  But sometimes, yeah, wow.  Guys like this make it hard.

Here's a post from Athena Andreadis, over at her blog, Astrogator's Logs, saying it more clearly and more dispassionately than I am managing to:    "So Where Are The Outstanding Women of X?"

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Athena Andreadis On The Other Half Of The Sky

Over here at her blog, Astrogator's Logs, Athena has a post on the attention The Other Half of the Sky is garnering, along with a round-up of the links.

other half  web

Plus our very lovely cover again.

I never get tired of looking at that cover.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Spin State, Spin Control: A Review

I can't remember when I first read Chris Moriarty's Spin State, the first book in her three book series which is finished by this year's Ghost Spin; I do know that the minute I finished the book I turned over heaven and earth to get the sequel, Spin Control (since we were living in Fuck Smith by then, this meant driving up the hill to a real bookstore, and then -- thwarted -- ordering it from Amazon).

Now Ghost Spin is finally out.  I'm only 40 pages into it and I can tell already I'm going to love this one as deeply as I loved the other two and that -- like the other two -- it will be an entirely new experience.

Queering SFF Ghost Spin Chris Moriarty

I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here, while giving you a review nonetheless.

First, these are cyberpunk the way cyberpunk should be done; and SF the way SF should be done.  By which I mean to say Moriarty uses the technology and the science to power the story, rather than to just say Look at Me, I Know Science. The science feels coherent and real, and as if this science has, in fact, changed the future in these coherent ways.

All these changes seem believable, too.  One of my favorite bits in Spin Control come when our main character, Arkady, who's a biologist, is being interrogated (by someone who is not a scientist) and gets asked about the terraforming mission they were on.

"Synthetic biospheres are tricky," [Arkady says.] "If something killed off the original colonists, there's always the chance it could still be around to kill you."

"What do you mean, killed off?" Moshe interrupted.  "Like...predators?"

""  Was that a joke?"  "More like mold."

All through Moriarty's novel's, we get little shocky bits of realism like that -- bits that, frankly, show the "realism" of the grimdark up for sham it is.

Second, changes in technology are reflected, in Moriarty's novels, in changed cultures.  On Earth itself, the world has changed markedly; it has changed very markedly out in the colonies. (Here, I see Moriarty in a dialogue with C. J. Cherryh: Arkady and the other clones of Moriarty's colonies are a response, and an interesting one, to Cherry's Azis.)

Cohen and Catherine Li are Moriarty's most interesting characters, though I do have a soft spot for Arkady.  (Who could help it?  He's adorable!)

Cohen is an Emergent AI.  This means he's an artificial intelligence composed of about 30 other artificial intelligences who have grouped together (like a school of fish, I think?) to make a single intelligence that calls itself Cohen, which is dominated by a controlling entity who used to be a human intelligence named Hy Cohen.

I think I have that right.  And other intelligences add and leave the group from time to time, but the AI Cohen is still Cohen.  It's been alive for about four centuries and it's a political and economic powerhouse, with ties to Mossad.  Also, its original programming (written by Hy Cohen-the-human) make it loyal to certain humans, known as inscribed players.  (Shades of Asimov's Laws of Robotics here, except the rules make sense.)

Catherine Li is a soldier -- was a soldier -- who fought in the Syndicate Wars.  (Arkady comes from the Syndicates.)  She fought on the wrong side.  It's (probably) not her fault.  She's the Butcher of Gilead -- she thinks -- and when we meet her she's being controlled by (probably) some bad people, including her boss, Helen Nguyen.  Though she's not sure she's right about this, because in the future the wrong people can fuck with your brain.  And do.  She's also a construct, which has to do with genetic engineering. (Arkady too is genetically engineered.)  Li and Cohen end up -- well, spoilers.

All of these books also deal with sexuality in various interesting ways.  Cohen, being an AI, puts on and takes off human bodies (shunts) of various genders at will.  Li is bisexual.  Arkady comes from a culture which has a taboo against heterosexuality. In future Earth, sterility is used as a weapon.  And so on.

And -- which you have probably noticed by now -- this is not a future in which everyone is a nice white American from Iowa, or a future in which we all travel to the stars and build Iowa farms there. Though Ghost Spin does start on a planet named after an American city, these books are (1) nicely cosmopolitan and (2) have women in them.  And not just one woman.  Lots of women.  Women who are people, who have functions, who act, who aren't one-dimensional, who matter to the plot.  Moriarty gives us worlds, in other words, like the real world -- it's half women.

That's nice.

Also, she writes like a demon.

Just saying.

Highly recommended.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Texas Tells Women They Can't Say No

Just so y'all don't get confused, this isn't another one of those blog posts where I'm getting all shrill and hysterical over women not being allowed to control their fertility -- like Texas cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood, or Texas's ridiculously archaic attitudes toward sex-ed in the schools.

No, this is, if you can picture such a thing, even worse.

In 2009, on Christmas Eve, Ezekiel Gilbert searched Craig's List.  He found a woman there he liked, an "escort" who would come to his house for $150 dollars.  Understandably, he figured he'd get hot sex for that $150 dollars.

Well, she showed up, he gave her the money, but then she left without putting out.

So -- being a Texan and an asshat -- he followed her out of his house and shot her.

She died seven months later.

Two days ago, a Texas jury acquitted him of him of murder.

It's not a crime to shoot a whore if she won't give up what you paid for, see.

Also, you  have to understand, Gilbert is the real victim here:

“I sincerely regret the loss of the life of Ms. Frago,” Gilbert said Wednesday. “I've been in a mental prison the past four years of my life. I have nightmares. If I see guns on TV where people are getting killed, I change the channel.”

OH NO.  He has to change the CHANNEL.

All kidding aside, I have to say, this one astounds even me, and I grew up in the patriarchy.  I know in my bones that this world sees women as nothing but objects to be used as men see fit. I know we are not allowed to object or to change our minds when men want to fuck us.  I know they are allowed to punish us however they like and as much as they like if we dare to think we can control our own bodies.

 But -- seriously?  Because look what happened here.  Gilbert was in the middle of committing a crime.  In the middle of committing that crime, he shot and murdered someone.  If he was robbing a liquor store and he had shot and murdered someone, he would be on death row now.  How is it that because the crime is prostitution he is acquitted?

Oh -- right.  I forgot.

Because he shot a woman and because she is a black woman and because she is just a whore.

And because she told him no.

Bitch had it coming.

(Feministe has more.)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Other Half of the Sky: Book Smugglers Essays Part Two

Now with more powerful goodness!

The second part of the essay series -- where we writers tell all about how we came to write our stories -- is running on Book Smugglers today.

You'll find my essay among these!

The Other Half of the Sky

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Other Half Of The Sky: Book Smugglers Essays Up

A few months ago, Athena Andreadis (our wonderful editor and the driving and creative force behind The Other Half of the Sky) asked us if we'd be interested in writing short essays about how we came to write the stories in the anthology.

Over at Book Smugglers, those essays have begun to run.

First half of the series is up today.

Next half on Thursday!

(Edited to fix ridiculous typo -- TNX Athena!)

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Cooking With Delagar: The Poverty Years

Many of my students are (like me) broke as shit at the moment.

Okay, well, not at the moment.  We've been broke for years.  I've been broke since 1989, when I got cancer without insurance, and became a serf for the medical industry.  At this point, I've essentially given up hope that my finances will ever recover.  It is true that I do have a decent job (okay, kind of a decent job) and insurance (a kind of insurance) now; but it's crap insurance, and keeps springing lovely little surprises on me* and since I spent the entirety of my 20s and 30s and much of my 40s trying to pay off my medical debt, before finally giving in and declaring bankruptcy, I have no savings and no credit, and likely never will have either.

Most of my students aren't even as well off as this -- that is, they don't have a decent job, and don't have insurance; and also have no savings and no credit.  The stories I hear from them, and have been hearing from them, for year now, would break your heart.

These are men and women with children, with parents they are trying to help support, with parents who are trying to help support them, men and women who are fighting as hard as they can to make their lives better -- they're in college, right?  Doing what our culture tells them is the right thing to do to make their lives better?

And they stand in my office shivering with shame and grief telling me they're not sure they can make it to class on Monday because they have to choose between buying gas for their car to make it to class or buying food for their kids and what should they do?

Or they say they're sorry they can't make it to the exam because their kid needs a dentist and that's the only day the Indian clinic in Oklahoma can give them an appointment, they've been trying for months now.

Or they say they don't know what to do, their ex-husband broke into the house they're sharing with their mama and took their checkbook and wrote two thousand dollars worth of bad checks and now they can't buy food and the bank says too bad, he's still legally their husband, even if his name isn't on the account.

Or they say they can't get food stamps and it's the end of the month and their kids are hungry and they need gas to get to the food bank but maybe the church will give them food, they've heard that's true, they're going to try that, they'll try to get to class, though, they're just letting me know in case.

And here's the thing, here's the part that really does break your heart: they do make it to class.  They do turn their papers in on time.  They do put the gas in the car and make it to class.

I don't know how they do it, but they do it.

I asked one of them this once.  Grinning a little shyly, she said, "I moved in with my neighbor.  Her power got turned off too, you know, she couldn't pay the power bill either, but she's got oil lamps.  We're using those until next month when we get paid.  We're doing our homework by those, and then we come up here and use the school computers, type it up and print it here. It's okay," she added, maybe seeing the look on my face.  "Our kids love each other, they love living together, they're having the best time."

Anyway.  Anyway.

I'm restarting my cooking blog, Cooking With Delagar, to start adding some of the low-cost recipes I used when I was really, really broke, as a graduate student, because a few of my students have expressed an interest in these recipes.

It's not much, but it's what I can do.

The first one I've put up is called Sludge.  I'll be adding more over the next few weeks.

*For instance, when I went in to have my GI last week, the financial officer at the hospital told me, half an hour before I was scheduled to have the procedure, that I had to pay $570 up front: a $500 deductible and then the $70 that my insurance wouldn't cover.  And essentially every time I go in to pick up one of the five different medications I am on from my pharmacy I find my insurance company has changed its mind about how much my co-pay is going to be -- right now I'm paying $133 a month out of pocket for my meds, and $60 a month for Dr. Skull's meds, and that doesn't count what I'm paying for the health insurance itself.