To speak or not to speak?

I’ve dedicated myself to living a life that adds as much good to the world as an individual can. As a part of “doing good”, I’ve taught myself about social justice, and I’ve done what I could to help and champion other’s rights within the limitations of my situation. As many of my friends know, I’ve gotten very passionate about social justice, so much so that for the past few years I’ve been very vocal online about this issue. I’ve also challenged a number of friends on their bigotry, and some of them were unable to deal with the discomfort and left.

Recently, after a certain friend just walked away, another very dear friend of mine suggested that perhaps I’m a little too intense about social justice. The suggestion was that maybe sometimes my passion ends up unintentionally causing harm to others. My initial response to this criticism was “if someone’s being a bigot or being a bully themselves, they don’t get to complain about being bullied”. Which, while I still emotionally agree with, I also need to be fair intellectually and acknowledge that it’s a little bitchy of me to have that attitude. I am working on turning that concept around in my head, because I don’t actually want to harm others, whether they “deserve” it or not. I’d just very much like it if my friends could be mature enough to think about the consequences of their actions instead of just mouthing off and then not caring that they’re hurting people.

Now, because this particular person who gave me this criticism is very close to me and I trust them implicitly, I didn’t immediately dismiss the criticism. I was hurt, because it felt like my passions and morality were being minimised and silenced, but in trying to be a person of integrity and not one of those who blindly rejects anything that makes them uncomfortable, I sat on it for a little while. And it’s triggered quite an intense journey of self exploration in me.

I believe in the ideals of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights. I believe that if everyone in the world was given their rights equally and without discrimination (as well as being taught the related responsibilities of living in an equal and free society), so much of the suffering in this world would cease to exist.

The thing is, no one, least of all the world, changes out of comfort. Change always comes out of discomfort. This means that in order to help add to a shift in cultural thinking, in order to fight against bigotry, we have to stand against it and make people uncomfortable. The thing about standing against things is, generally, you have to actually stand up against it. This involves telling people when they’re being bigots, this involves labelling bigotry as bigotry and pointing out trolls. Fighting bigotry involves actually fighting it, whether verbally or legally or with protests, but generally with a voice. Fighting with silence only works in a protest context, saying nothing does nothing. And often keeping silent makes you an accomplice to the violence.

So should I speak out against it or should I let my friends spew hate and intolerance unchecked because they’re friends?

Hard question to answer. But while I was in the process of working through answering this question, I didn’t want to act in a way that I might later be embarrassed by, but couldn’t stand to see bigotry and not say anything to push back against it, so, I’ve had to withdraw from facebook and twitter and other social networks, and I have allowed myself to think and feel through this issue as much as I could (which is why a lot of people haven’t seen me online since my spinal surgery).

In this process, I’ve come to discover that the core of my turmoil is that I don’t want to ever be cruel to others, but for the purposes of changing my world for the better I also need to do something, anything, to push back against bigotry. There’s a number of popular quotes that outline my personal sentiment, such as:

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” and “silence in the face of evil, is itself evil; not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act”.

If we do not act or speak against hatred and abuse, we are implicitly agreeing with it. And I refuse to agree in any way with bigotry and the harm it brings on other people.

I’ve lived my entire life under different kinds of oppression. And many of the sorts of bigotry I come across and of which I’m on the receiving end could very well kill me. So these are not small issues. And all of this constant banging into bigotry often leaves me in a state of abject hopelessness. I’m told from all angles that I don’t even have the right to be alive because I’m not like them. And when that comes from every angle, every day, all day, a person can fight it off and do the fingers (“flip the bird”) and scream at it, and exist defiantly despite the hatred, but it still wearies the soul. Particularly in the contexts where the cost of non-compliance to the status quo is violence, and you have to physically fight or run just for the right to be alive.

I’m disabled. I can’t go to rallies and protest. I’m poor so I can’t throw money at those who can protest. And I have severe PTSD which makes it impossible to be an offline advocate or get in people faces. But what I can do is fight by labelling and correcting bigots online. That method of fighting against the bigotry is how I tell the world that it’s wrong. It’s how I tell them that I do have the right to exist and to live my life as I see fit. Being online in this manner also helps me to step forward and speak for other people. As an educated writer I can identify and correct bigotry on behalf of others who are having a hard time or perhaps don’t have the right words to express themselves. They can borrow my words to help them defend themselves if they don’t have any of their own.

This one action that I can do empowers me, because I’m not only helping others and myself, I’m also resisting those assholes who think I should just kill myself already because I’m not worthy of life. So when someone tells me that I should stop being so intense about social justice, and perhaps let some “minor” bigotries pass by for “peace” because such and such a person is an otherwise nice human being, what I hear is that they think some of those voices are correct, that I don’t really belong in the world. And obviously that’s not what my friend would ever mean, but your emotions are complicated, they link to all sorts of parts of your psyche, so that’s what I hear whether it’s the real message or not. And that’s why this specific issue has impacted me so much, and why I’ve not been on facebook for almost four months.

Now, given all of these issues, I certainly haven’t come to a decision about whether labelling bigotry and joining in with the discourse is a “bad” thing. I still feel the need to stand up for what’s right and I still stand by the concept that silence and permissiveness in the face of bigotry is telling the bigot that their attitudes are acceptable. As such, I’ve returned to twitter because what friends I have on twitter are mostly mature enough to receive criticism without throwing a tantrum. I will always firmly believe that if we do not stand against bigotry that that minority of murderers and rapists and nazis will continue to try and kill us (both literally and spiritually), with their hate. But I still need time to think about when and where it is appropriate to label bigotry and challenge people (some say that there needs to be room for community or family peace, others say any permissiveness is enabling the bigot, so that there’s a lot of discourse for me to study), but I do know one thing.

The grim truth about bigots (and in particular the loud ones online), is that a majority of them don’t care about the impact they have on others. They don’t care that their words are murdering people and honestly, no amount of perfect words or long explanations are going to open minds as closed and hateful as that.

Hatred, like distorted thinking, does not respond to reason (one could argue that hatred actually is distorted thinking but that’s whole nother topic). So, given that understanding as to the nature of bigots, why should I waste so much time and energy on such people if it’s not going to make a difference? I don’t have an answer to that question, other than maybe I should pick my battles rather than rumbling with everyone who says something shitty. And perhaps also, that the argument may not be for the bigot but for those reasonable people who would see the argument and be encouraged, or learn new things from the discussion.

This issue is big and I’ll keep on with it… but why I’m writing it down for people to read is also that in this process of self exploration, I’ve also come to another conclusion, one which is perhaps more important than all of the above…

I know in my heart and spirit that hate is true weakness, it divides people, it takes something vibrant from those people who embrace it, and it always destroys, it does not ever create. In contrast, love is powerful and unites people, it builds communities and it builds lasting structures in our societies.

I don’t talk much about my faith because most of my faith is wordless, it’s like voices on the wind, not quite heard but the feeling is understood, but, I do believe utterly that “god” is love, and my “worship” is to embody that love as best I can, and let it flow through me into the world. And in this issue of how to respond to bigotry, when I’m quiet and listening properly, my faith calls me to resolve this problem with love.

How does one resolve the problem of hate with love? As a dear friend of mine says: We create.

We create something that unites and strengthens, and particularly strengthens and unites those who have been victims of hate. And that creation for me has always been the Time Speaker Universe. This internal conflict has shown me that perhaps instead of constructing TSU for everyone, as was my original intention, I should instead construct it only for all of my fellow freaks, for all of those who are bullied and beaten and hurt by hate. The bigots can find another fandom, the Time Speaker Universe is for all of us victims of hatred and oppression, and a place where we can unite, where we can support and protect each other… at least once enough people know about it anyway.

I think if I try to keep my focus primarily on the creation of love and community, and less on arguing with ignorance and hatred, at the very least my own mental health will be better. And certainly my digital footsteps might just be somewhat less angry and bitchy.

Transition vlog 06 7 August18

 

The new Queer Eye triggers some issues.

I’m on some pretty heavy painkillers from the back surgery that I had early May and because the fibroids are getting more and more painful, so please excuse the blurry pauses in my words. Also, the new phone doesn’t seem to have as good a camera as the old one.

2nd Edition Edits: The Name

When I was young I wanted to be called David, but I knew that no one would call me that because I was assigned female at birth, and David is a “boy’s” name. As a consequence, when I was writing Time Speaker (which is actually the first book I wrote not the second despite the order it comes in the series), I gave a particular character the name of David. And he kept it right up until last week (March 18) when I was doing technical editing on the second edition manuscripts.

The second editions of Rise of Hawk and Time Speaker happened for a number of reasons, which I’ll outline in this blog series, but one of the two primary reasons was that I’m currently in the process of medically and socially transitioning to male (or NB). My new name is going to be David, as is my new Author Name, so a second edition of the currently published books makes sense.

One of the “rules” in writing is to desperately avoid any justifiable accusation of being a “Mary Sue”. For those that don’t know, or if perhaps the term has changed and some folks aren’t familiar, a “Mary Sue” is a character that is a copy of the author inside the story. It’s considered something that only unprofessional or teenage writers do, and it’s very certainly one of the few rules I follow and don’t screw with (which is saying something because I delight in learning writing rules and then learning how to break them gleefully but in a useful manner).

So, when I made the decision to change my Author Name to my future legal name, I had the dilemma that my character was also called David. There were only three options: don’t change anything and field questions and accusations of being a Mary Sue by those who in the future don’t know that I transitioned. Or, I had to change either his name or my name. Now, it was a difficult decision mostly because this character has been David since I was about 14, so that’s 25 years of a character having that as his core name. But, once I decided that I couldn’t stand to break that Mary Sue rule, even though he isn’t actually a Mary Sue, the decision was fairly obvious. He had alternative names and I did not. I couldn’t, now that I have opportunity to properly live as myself, surrender my name because of a character. Even him.

Originally, the character had a birth name, which, in defiance of his extremely abusive father, he changed to David when he got married. And as the character accumulated other names for his separate roles in the story, he used the name David to discern himself as his real self and not any of the roles he had to play. This was a thematic mirror of my own experiences. When I was twenty one, I changed my legal name, in fact my first AND last names were changed. I did this because my old name was used by people to pressure me to be something I wasn’t. The family name was used to insist that I had to get married and have kids, or as a reason why I’d never amount to anything. People in my life at the time who were abusive decided what they thought my birth name meant and used it as a weapon to try and force me into those roles. And I changed my name in defiance of that, showing legally and physically that I am who I am, and no one defines that but me. I was trying desperately to make space for the real me in the real world instead of having to play different roles for different people. And while, at the time it didn’t work as well as the character’s mirrored action, it was a very important transformative part of my life (still is, actually). So I deliberately kept this theme in the story, even beyond the time when I realised that it served no real purpose for the story other than adding to the character’s ever-increasing list of aliases.

There’s a famous guide about writing, which includes a phrase that’s something like “learn to kill your darlings”. Your “darlings” are the parts of your prose or your story that are self-indulgent, or that you love terribly but that don’t necessarily have a functional part in the story/prose, it’s just there because you like it. It’s said to basically say that the story is more important than your ego, that just because you like something or just because it means something to you personally, doesn’t actually mean it belongs in the prose. So that, an author should try to focus on the prose first and foremost, only keeping the things that further the story, no matter how pretty that piece is or how terribly fond you are of it. You must cut it out of the prose or “kill” it for the purpose of better prose.

His name being David despite not needing to be was probably a “darling”, but honestly the reason why I let it stay even years after I realised it wasn’t needed, was because I couldn’t have that name, but he could.

And last week, I joyously killed that darling because now that I can have my name, he doesn’t need it any more.

Heroes, also, RIP Stephen Hawking

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When I was a kid a lot of adults in my life decreed that something about me meant I couldn’t do certain things. My dad wouldn’t hang out and do the same things as he did with my bother, with me, because “girls don’t do that stuff” (e.g. girls don’t play on quad bikes apparently). My nana told me my function and purpose in life had to revolve around a man and my sole purpose was to have kids. She told me repeatedly that all of my dreams were useless and I was simply wasting my time indulging in them, because “nature” would call and I would have to abandon those dreams to fulfil my “purpose” as a wife and mother (vomit). And that was just some of the shitty things my Dad’s family tried to enforce upon me. Though, school wasn’t any better. I had a teacher in form two (age twelve), who decided that my learning difficulty with spelling and grammar, and my poor handwriting meant that I was utterly stupid, that any dreams I had beyond working in low-income low-skilled jobs were useless because I was so stupid I couldn’t possibly even finish high school, let alone qualify to go to university. He even laughed at me once when I made the mistake of telling him I wanted to be an author, because stupid people can’t write books, right? He was very cruel.

In school sports I wasn’t allowed to play soccer because girls weren’t allowed to join in with the boys team (because girl’s bodies are so terribly delicate, don’t you know). The music teacher hated me, although I found out much later that in fact she didn’t hate me, she hated my step dad who was also a teacher there. She wouldn’t let me do anything I wanted to do in music. She forced me to stop piano lessons, even though I was pretty good, because she decided that you could only go past a certain level with piano if you were going to be a concert pianist, and I wasn’t ever going to be one because my hands were too small (which is a crock). So I tried other instruments, but drums were for boys only, flute and violin were only for rich people, and according to her you couldn’t have any future in music if you didn’t master music history (which I did not enjoy). She was also responsible for destroying my love of singing in public because I wasn’t naturally pitch-perfect (and apparently if you’re not perfect from your first breath you’ll never be a good singer even with training, so why bother teaching?). I still can’t sing in public because of her shitty attitude. In the end, I had to either quit music or surrender and learn to play the recorder, which I found mindbogglingly boring. I’m sure you can imagine what ten year old me decided to do given those options… and thus ended a potential career in music just because the teacher hated my step dad…

When I was older, the technical drawing teacher saw that there were no boys in his class who wanted to continue in tech drawing in the next year (which was our first certification level), so he switched the following year to Graphic Design (because he insisted that’s what girls do despite it not being a precursor for higher education). He said if there’d been one boy who wanted to become an architect then he would have kept the tech drawing class, and I said I wanted to become an architect, but because architects were only ever men (he insisted), I wasn’t worth his time teaching me.

Over and over and over again, grown ups kept telling me that the things I wanted to study, or be or do with my adult life weren’t right, because I was poor or a girl or not pretty enough or not strong enough, and almost always, I was never ever smart enough. It got so bad that it felt as if everything I wanted to be and everything I loved wasn’t allowed to exist. That everyone insisted I become that ditzy blond girl, giggling in the corner, whose only focus in life is boys, make up and clothes.

But I never wanted to be that kind of person. Ever. The shallow pretty worlds had never ever attracted me. What I wanted was to change or make a difference in the world. I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to smuggle on board the Greenpeace boats going off to Mururoa to protest the nuclear tests in the pacific. As a twelve year old kid, I wanted to go to university to do a degree in the kind of physics that you used in space, and I wanted to be a part of creating a space program in New Zealand, and be the first kiwi to orbit Earth, or help to build the first off-world colony on the moon or Mars. As I got older my dreams shifted. I wanted to get rich and go to poor countries and make houses and dig wells and give people solar panels, and university grants to get free of their poverty trap. As a teen I wanted to write books that mattered, that would never be forgotten.

I wanted to make a positive impact on the world, but most of the adults in my life at the time kept telling me I wasn’t capable of such things. They kept telling me I was too stupid, or girls can’t do that, or you’re poor so you’ll never amount to anything.

My dreams were always too big for my “station”, and many teachers and family members punished and ridiculed me for it. Except for my mum and two teachers, Bill Mannens and Barbara Handley. They told me to go for it, fuck what the other people thought, just to be who and what I am and keep trying. But everyone else in my world told me I couldn’t, told me I had to become what they wanted me to be or suffer the consequences.

One day, I saw Stephen Hawking on TV. And here was this guy talking about the kinds of physics I wanted to learn. He couldn’t use his body, but instead of surrendering to the difficulties he faced, he just kept working towards his dreams, and by just doing it he’d become the next Einstein. And I realised that if he could do it, if he, in a wheelchair, unable to use his body, and needing a machine to talk for him, could be the modern version of Einstein, then I could be anything I wanted to be, because in comparison my limitations, if you took away the chorus of shitty people, were fairly small. I was smart, I just had trouble learning like other people, and I had severe panic attacks which often looked like the blank expression of a lack of smarts to the outside world. Those weren’t insurmountable problems.

I knew I could do it, I just needed to figure out how to get around my problems and make them work for me.

Now, they were right about a few things. Being poor and assigned female at birth, and growing up in the ninteen-ninties, meant that a lot of things just weren’t accessible to me. If I’d grown up even ten years later, my learning difficulties would have been identified, and I would have been awarded a tutor to help me study. If I’d been rich, the school I went to might have had counsellors or teachers familiar with trauma, and they would have picked up on my PTSD troubles and given me access to regular trauma therapy to help manage my ridiculous panic attacks. But none of that happened because back then they didn’t know about stuff like that, and what the education system did know about learning difficulties and PTSD, was only acted upon in rich schools, not the little country area school that I went to. And those disadvantages unfortunately had consequences that rippled through my life, and are partially responsible for the poverty in which I now live.

But the point is, that I took strength from Stephen Hawking’s story and a few others, and I decided what I wanted to do, figured out how to do it and did it. I learned tricks on how to memorise the correct spellings of things. I practised for five years to change my hand writing so it was “pretty”. I kept writing stories, regardless of what else was happening in my life (and in fact the writing saved me a lot of the time).

I never dropped my dream of being an author. I still haven’t dropped my dream of living off my writing, and I’m still, despite the poverty and health and mobility issues, working towards living off my writing and making a difference in the world. All of this hope because of people like Stephen Hawking and Helen Keller taught me that if they could do it with their challenges, I certainly can do it too. People like Maya Angelou told me that despite feeling broken by my childhood trauma, I could rise again, I could have a life that was mine, and not controlled entirely by the horrible things that happened to me or my difficult body.

Heroes are important for dreams, particularly when you have a lot of disadvantages. My heroes kept me going as a kid, and keep me going now as an adult. My heroes have even given me the courage to live as much as myself as I can, despite the risks of violence or oppression that still happen today against trans and rainbow people.

My ultimate dream has always been to impact the world in a positive way, and I try to live my life like that… and while that’s all about the kind of person I wish to be in the world (and therefore is a testament to MY persistence), that hope, that strength wouldn’t have happened without me being introduced to the people like Stephen Hawking, who lived their lives as they chose without letting their limitations or the actions of others stop them. And even as our heroes pass on to the next life, we can still look up to them… and maybe one day have people looking up to us.

Why do I have so many characters?

Seemingly, the norm for most forms of storytelling is of one main character who travels through the story learning and doing what they need to get to the end of the story (aka the Hero’s Journey). At least, that seems to be the default because those who deviate from the one main character story motif are “outliers” rather than just writing. The one person story follows just the one main viewpoint, where the main character is the sole hero, or the “good guy” and most of the time the other characters in the story only have an identity in relation to the main character, like “love interest”, “best friend”, “mentor”, without any or much independent motivations or characterisation of their own other than their “function” in relation to the hero.

So, given this abundant cultural backdrop, I was never surprised that one of the common criticisms of my writing was that I have too many main characters and too many points of view. In fact I have a friend who constantly tells me that I should build my writing career on the short stories I do for bonus content, because the multiple viewpoints are too complicated for people. The irony is that I actually write this way deliberately. I’m not just writing how I want because it’s at my whim, I have designed most aspects of TSU very deliberately, and the multiple viewpoint has been a part of the story since I was 14.

I truly believe that our fictional, cultural, and media stories mimic and inform our beliefs about ourselves and life, and if we choose to change our stories (and the method by which they’re told), we also change our culture. But people under-estimate the power of our stories to affect and mold our culture and perceptions. Writers also tend to under-estimate the impact of their fiction and the responsibility for that impact to society at large. Writers just want to tell their story, and the potential impact isn’t usually a thing they think about very much because it’s just fiction, right? I disagree.

When we’re taught by story and myth that there is always a hero, a person who’s more important than others because of destiny (or whatever), we’re laying the foundation for oppression because the “hero” is more important than the side characters. Until recently, most of our stories had the same kind of person as the “hero”: a thin or muscular white cis het male. This informs our cultural subconscious that only this type of person is important, and everyone else is a side character, a “love interest” or the “fat/black best friend” or the “old mentor”. Our very stories tell us that some people are superior to others, so it’s no wonder we have an unrelenting racism and bigotry in our western society.

By focusing on one “main” character, we’re not only adding to the narrative that some people are heroes/important and others are not, we’re also adding to the viewpoint that the individual is the most important thing in the world.

We live in a world where we expect our needs and wants to be met, without much thought for those who help supply those needs. Your place in the social strata can of course vary how many of your needs are met (and how oppressed you are), but over all our society focuses on the single individual, on single dreams, on the pursuit of individual happiness and perfection, and often of being better or more fulfilled than our neighbours. There’s also very often the underlying belief that your greatness must always come at the cost of others well-being or greatness. That the poor deserve to be poor so that the worthy rich can get richer. We are all the hero in our “hero’s journey of life”, and everyone else gets relegated to the plucky side-kick or the romantic love interest or the asshole antagonist. Our individual humanity is the only one that matters, not because it’s true but because we’ve convinced ourselves that the pursuit of individual happiness is the only way to live one’s life. And one of the reasons we believe this is because the only stories we’ve been given to describe our own journeys through life, mirror this mindset.

Our stories have told us a lie, that humans are individualist creatures. We’re not. We are literally pack/herd animals. We’re emotionally, mentally and physically wired to exist in relation to others, and because our stories (and the messages from capitalism) have been based around a single character and their needs and their wants as an individual, we’ve collectively forgotten our connections, our community-based nature. We’ve forgotten how to connect to others, how to work together, how to trust. It’s almost as if our very culture has developed PTSD, and we’re curled up in the corner with a weapon expecting every other person to be a threat, and then wondering why we’re so terribly lonely and miserable.

The healthy, empowered human is one who functions in relation to their community. For evidence of this you only have to look at the native peoples around the world and how their social structures existed before colonial invasion, and perhaps how our ancestors might have lived before invasion as well.

We’ve been so focused on the individual, on dominance and conformity, that we’ve forgotten our base, core nature of community and connectedness. You cannot be connected while looking down your nose at someone who’s different. But we don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t understand something that has no stories with which we can tell and explain a concept. I only understand what I do because I’m a member of a number of oppressed minority groups, so I have a different perspective. For those who fit in the mainstream, they have been taught by our stories to be prejudiced, to be separatist, and entirely individual-focused. And in order to change that in a meaningful and effective way, we must change how we tell our stories, and what stories we tell. People have already cottoned onto this concept (also called diverse representation), which is why we have far more movies and tv series with diverse stories and characters, but we all add to this shift towards a kinder world with our own stories.

So, with intention to help bring about a better future for our society, I choose to write my stories in a format that is as the world really is. There is no one main character because the troubles and problems that come to the characters cannot be solved by one hero, they can only be solved by many, many people coming together and fighting together to survive. In reality, as a species we are stronger together, we are wiser as well, particularly if we share our wisdom and actually listen to each other. And like the fiction world of TSU, the real world cannot be saved by one person, only by a large group of us coming together cooperatively, and saving the world together.

So, I choose to break a number of writing “rules” by deliberately having many main characters and many points of view in my stories, not because I’m trying to be a smart ass or because I’m following a whim. I’m choosing very deliberately to make sure (where possible) that my stories will help to improve the world, to help build a better world without bigotry through my choices of story and perspective.

In summary, I view us all as threads, and together we weave a tapestry of story and experience which becomes history and, hopefully, a better world.

And that’s the perspective from which I write my books.