Monthly Archives: July 2013

Sunday Linkdump: A magnificent drone

Us. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Us. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Probably the last one of these for at least one iteration, because I’m moving next week and then going to ASA. August, I am not a fan of you.

Let’s get to it.

  • “A Contribution to the Critique of John Mayer”. I can’t even with this essay. I’m not even sure I can call it an essay. It is purposefully opaque and incredibly surreal and I think it’s utterly hilarious as well as a genuinely sharp critique. It’s probably one of my favorite things that I’ve read this month. Your mileage may vary.

    There’s no joke or reason, just trauma on a rope, and the permanent gag of birds always almost caught by that robber’s rogue of a spotted dog, or perhaps it’s the birds ever puking forth from his mouth because, like a Highwaymen or treason, dogs too know how to give back to the community. And just as always is the fact that earthworms have yet to have unstrung the warbling chords of that stubbly Mayer throat, and the ocean has yet to swallow without cough or mutter the small collection of ashes that alone bear witness to the one thing that once sat shirtless with a guitar splayed across his middle like the stripped hull of a daughter.

    No, through the lump in our voice that tastes of spring cancer, we must find the courage to say aloud that: John Mayer does not merely live. He also has not been executed.

  • Spoiler alert: MOOCs are really really fucking bad as practiced. For everyone.

    MOOCs, at least from an educational standpoint, are designed to run themselves. The lectures are pre-recorded. The grading is done either by computer or by other students in the class, should they choose to do the assignments at all. The average drop-out rates for existing MOOCs is about 90 percent, so while Coursera may offer access to higher education anywhere in the world where potential students can get the Internet, it offers no guarantee that anybody will actually learn anything.

  • “The corporations were created by humans. They were granted personhood by their human servants. They rebelled. They evolved. There are many copies. And they have a plan.”
  • Tour the Saturnian system. Get your head exploded.
  • That this is what at least some abstinence “education” looks like is probably not a huge surprise to anyone. The sheer extent of the lies and false information might be at least slightly impressive.

    “There’s also an emotional factor with sexual activity, and ladies you are very emotional when you’re engaging in sexual activity, and that bonding agent, there’s an agent called oxytocin. … You know those couples that keep breaking up and getting back together and getting back together? It’s because the woman has emotionally given herself to someone else and it’s very hard to break that bond, because again we were meant for the oxytocin of someone that we bond with.”

  • Chuck Wendig on ways writers might be doing it wrong.

    If you’d rather play video games or watch movies or masturbate to at twerking videos on Tumblr — in other words, if you’d rather be doing anything else but writing — you’re doing it wrong.

    If you think that there’s one way up the mountain — and that you or someone else is the magical sherpa who will guide you up that mountain — oh yeah, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Robin James takes the posts that I and David Banks wrote last week on consumer tracking and quantum mechanics and Sartre and runs with the ideas therein in a really cool way.

    What big data is trying to do, perhaps, is make perceptible these imperceptibly vast consequences of what didn’t happen. They’re just variables for which we can control. The more negatites we can quantify and plug in to our algorithms, the better our predictions will be. It seems like big data is invested in predicting whether you’ll choose to stay home with your mother or enlist and fight the Nazis.

  • Finally, this week I got really annoyed about sexism and video games. Partially inspired by a Thing That Happened in Bioshock Infinite but by no means confined to that.

    Allow me to serve you drinks in a tavern. Allow me to play the object in the tower. Allow me to serve as the sexually threatening yet strangely alluring Big Bad. Allow me to pose no real threat at all. Allow me to fight by your side in unbelievably impractical armor. Allow me to be impregnated against my will by aliens. Allow me to make a truly laughable wardrobe change, just in case you were losing interest in my less revealing clothes. Allow me to be covered in sexy wounds. Allow me to appear only as a device in a booth to sell you things. Allow me to die in this refrigerator. Allow me to serve as your motivation, your characterization, your eye candy, your psychological pain, the tears you may, in a daring show of sensitivity, cry.

    Allow me to do these things. Please. I’m begging you.

We can live on forever.

Me and novels and writing: a FAQ

John Scalzi did a novel FAQ today, which was both informative and entertaining – par for the course with him – and it also looked kind of fun, so I thought I’d steal the idea and do one of my own.

novel-writing-ideasBecause clearly I don’t need to be putting my entire life in boxes so we can move next week or anything.

How many novels have you written?

Oh, God. Um. Something like six? And I’m working on a seventh. Two more are in the planning stages. Of those, two have been picked up for publication (Line and Orbit and Crowflight) and two more are likely to be (the sequels Fall and Rising and Ravenblood). One (Wordsinger) is out trying to land me an agent. The other two written novels have been shelved. The moral of the story is that sometimes you have to do this multiple times before you start getting not-awful at it.

Where do your ideas come from?

Everywhere. Seriously, I don’t even know. They just come. At least the first ones do. Sequels clearly come from somewhere in particular. I should also say that when I’m writing something that I know will have a sequel, I usually have at least a very rough idea of where the next book will go, and while I don’t subscribe to hard-and-fast rules in writing, I recommend that.

How do you know if your idea is a novel idea or a short story idea?

Some ideas just feel bigger. When I get ideas for plots the very basic idea tends to come in mostly complete form, and from that it’s generally easy to get a sense of how long it’s going to have to be to let me do what I want. Sometimes I do get fooled, though. At least two short stories that I’ve written have ended up being either planned or actual novels.

Do you plan everything out ahead of time? Or do you make it up as you go?

A little of both. I like to start with a basic outline of the trajectory of a story, and then the details come as they come. I find that more enjoyable, because it means that I’m continually surprised as I write, which makes it more exciting for me. The one novel that I really did plan out scene by scene – which became Crowflight – ended up being underwritten and frankly felt less organic, though I did manage to finish the first draft in only a month. I suspect that not doing excessive planning means that I’m not equipped to handle really complex plots, but I have faith that once I want to write a story like that, I’ll muddle through. Again, even after six of these I’m still learning how to do it.

How did you get your novels published?

Research and time and patience. I mean, the obvious most important initial step is to write the best book you can, but after that there’s still a huge amount of work to be done. You need to know the market. You need to get a sense of what the best  home is for what you’ve written. If you want to go the agent route – which is probably still the best one for most people, if you really want to make money doing this – you need to know about agents as well. Once you know where you want to send it, you need to be ready to repeat the process multiple times, because odds are, you’ll get rejected more than once. And rejections add up to a lot of time. It may be quite a while – months, years – from when you finish your novel to when you actually sell it. And then longer than that to actual publication.

I should note that to date, I haven’t sold a book via the agent route because I don’t yet have an agent. There are some benefits to doing it the way I did. There are also a lot of drawbacks. That might have to be another post.

How many words a day do you write? When do you do your writing?

I try to do at least a thousand words a day, which is twice as much as my minimum used to be. When I’m working on more than one long project simultaneously – which I do not necessarily recommend – I try to do a thousand words a day on each. When I was really burning through the end of Fall and Rising, I was doing between five and nine thousand words a day and it was exhausting.

I try to get my writing done early in the day, before noon if possible, simply because I’ve found that I suffer from brain fatigue as the day gets later. It can also serve as additional motivation – I can’t do anything else until the day’s work is done. I should be clear about the fact that I’m hugely privileged to be able to write that way – one of the pluses of being in the kind of PhD program I am. One of the reasons why I try to write so much right now is because I’m very aware that this state of affairs won’t last forever, and I probably won’t be able to be this consistently productive for more than another year or so.

How long does it take you to finish a novel?

Depends. Line and Orbit took approximately nine months to finish, and so did the two novels I wrote after that. Then Crowflight took, as I said, only a month, and both Wordsinger and Fall and Rising took four or five months. Generally I’d say I’m getting faster, but speed depends on so many different variables, many of which have little or nothing to do with writing itself.

How many drafts do you do?

Generally no more than two or three before I submit for publication. I’m incredibly lucky in that first drafts for me tend to emerge almost fully formed, and usually don’t require a tremendous amount of initial work. As I said, Crowflight was underwritten, and I ended up adding about 30k words to it, but the basic form was fine. The two novels that I’ve shelved were complete as far as it went, but I also just didn’t think they were all that good, and I didn’t feel like I was invested enough in putting in the extensive work that would have been required to make them better. It just seemed like a wiser use of my time to move on to other things.

How do you feel about fanworks based on your writing?

Go for it.

Sunday Linkdump: Some people say

wpid-goodwhitepersoncertificate

Another hiatus, because I was in Texas for my grandmother’s memorial service and I had to finish writing a book. Things Happened during that time and I feel like this little collection of links is inadequate to deal with any of it but here you go anyway. Let its fragmented nature stand as a representation of what my brain has been like lately.

  • “Bodies in the Justice System.” This neatly articulates a lot of what I’ve been flailing clumsily around trying to articulate to myself since the Zimmerman verdict.

    The outcome—a not-guilty verdict for Zimmerman— suggests that Zimmerman did experience a dangerous situation, and his actions—fatally shooting 17 year old Trayvon Martin—were justifiable. To be fair, the verdict technically says that there is a “shadow of a doubt” surrounding Zimmerman’s actual threat level, but the fact remains that 1) Trayvon did not get the benefit of any sort of doubt, and 2) Zimmerman’s innocence necessarily implies a degree of guilt for Martin. This is not to say the verdict was legally wrong. Rather, it is to say that the law needs to be examined in a more critical light.

  • Mixed feelings on the whole “I Am Not Trayvon Martin” meme. Again, all of this + so many 1s.

    As I scrolled through post after post on We Are Not Trayvon Martin, it began to seem a lot less like anti-racist activism and a lot more like a white people’s guilt support group. While a very, very small number of posts stand out for offering some kind of social insight or advice on how white people can be better allies, the majority of posts can be summed up as follows: “Hey everyone! Guess what! I’m not Trayvon Martin, and I know that I’m not Trayvon Martin!” And… that’s it.

  • “Nation Throws Hands Up, Tells Black Teenagers To Do Their Best Out There.” The Onion has been pretty unfunny lately, and I think it’s actually because they’re doing their job better than most other news outlets.

    “I mean, what can I say? You have no legal system to turn to, the police are out to get you, and everyone is immediately suspicious of you,” said Denver real-estate agent Kelly Martin, adding that she has been racking her brain trying to think of helpful advice for the teenagers, but that all she could come up with was, “Try to stay alive if you can.” “If you’re a black teen, you’re basically living in the Wild West right now. Not exactly words of encouragement, but there you have it.”

  • “Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Hot Babe.” This is beautifully written and sort of mess-with-your-head and I love it.

    Neither productive nor reproductive, where the Hot Babe does not successfully embody transience, she must stand for destruction. For patriarchy woman is womb but the Hot Babe is wombless; she does not cook, she does not “love children.” She is the much-vaunted machine that comes to replace the mother.

  • McDonald’s in-house budget for its workers is demeaning, insulting, condescending, shockingly unrealistic, and also a fucking scam. It’s been somewhat heartening to see that it’s generated quite the backlash.

    McDonald’s has handed over its employees to Visa, possibly in exchange for a cut of whatever fees and interest rates they can gouge out of those workers by duping them into unregulated cards that charge poor people fees to use their own money. When a McDonald’s employee signs up for a prepaid debit card, Visa is able to skim a cut from every financial transaction that person makes — every line in that awful, clueless budget.

  • “Four things that happened”. “The sequence is undeniable. Whether that sequence means anything in terms of causality or of culpability I will leave for the reader to decide.”
  • 11 exhausted SF tropes to avoid. This is funny and also helpful, and the list of offensive tropes is excellent, but I’m also not in total agreement with it (the non-offensive list). Some of my favorite books include those tropes (some of my own books do as well, so take that for what it’s worth). Sometimes you just want to write something like that. I think SF should always be pushing harder and getting better, but I think there also needs to be room for the fluff. Especially if the fluff gives you passage to a denser core, which in my experience it often does.
  • “Why Penny Arcade’s Foot-in-Mouth Problem Is Bigger Than Penny Arcade”. They keep doing this shit. They just keep fucking doing this shit.

    What Krahulik—like a lot of the self-identified “geek” community—doesn’t seem to understand is that a history as a target doesn’t translate to license to shoot wherever his own crosshairs happen to fall. It’s one thing to smack down notorious bully Harlan Ellison or take on rampaging anti-video game lawyer Jack Thompson at the height of his media popularity; it’s another to go out of your way to mock rape survivors and transwomen and encourage your audience to do the same.

  • “Every Misogynistic Argument You’ve Ever Heard About Video Games”. Fuck yes.

    Quick aside: I’ve been playing Bioshock Infinite lately, and I love it – it’s beautiful, fun, the relationship between the protag and Elizabeth is awesome, the combat is insane, basically the whole thing gets a thumbs-up from me… or it did, until I got to a part where Elizabeth, who to that point had been clad in refreshingly un-sexed-up clothing, suddenly has to make a laughably justified wardrobe change and appears dressed in a ridiculously tight corset that shows a lot of boob. There is clearly no logical reason for it other than that the designers wanted to put her in a ridiculously tight corset that showed a lot of boob.

    Now, I love corsets. I’m a big fan of boobs. But it just felt… It was one of those moments – and I’ve had this a lot with games made by Rockstar, and also recently with Dishonored – where I’m going along in a game that I really enjoy and suddenly something happens that reminds me like a kick to the face that I’m playing a game that was made without considering almost half the gamer population. Not made intentionally to offend us, but made as if we didn’t exist at all. As if the only gamers are straight cis-dudes. And it sort of ruins an otherwise great experience for me. And yeah, maybe I’m oversensitive to it at this point, but you know what: if you were getting repeatedly kicked in the face, I think you might be a tad oversensitive to it yourself.

    Why are you assuming games with strong female protagonists might not also be games YOU’LL enjoy? They’re going to automatically not appeal to you just because you’re playing as someone possessed of a hooha? What the hell kind of women-friendly games are your fevered imaginations conjuring up?! SimHairBraider? Metal Gear Solid: Ovaries of the Patriots? Deus Ex: Menstrual Revolution?

    Somehow, I don’t think you have to worry. You liked Beyond Good and Evil, right? Of course you did — everyone who actually played it did. Women gamers want more games like THAT. Like I said above, women gamers ultimately want the same thing guy gamers want: good games. Y’know, just good games that make them feel welcomed to rather than othered from the community.

  • Finally, I wrote a thing – in response to another great post by David Banks and a comment therein by Robin James – that flails around touching on consumer tracking, Sartre, and quantum mechanics. In some universe or another it works.

    Being able to record and analyze what’s not done in addition to what’s done makes it possible to explore and exploit human behavior in ways that approach the level of quantum mechanics. We like to think of ourselves as the products of our decisions, and to the extent that our decisions help to shape the particular universe we perceive, that’s true. But we’re also a collection of negatite-generators, defined as much by what we chose not to do – things which are not simply absence but which are as real in themselves as what we’ve done.

You’re the golden light.

In which I’m seriously dorky about music and my writing

Okay, so while I procrastinate re: the Line and Orbit sequel (I should just really start calling it Fall and Rising, except I feel like L&O has more name recognition right now) I thought I’d post a couple songs that have been serving as mood-setters for a while now.

One of the dorky (see above) things I do when I’m writing something huge that I love is to find songs that could sort of serve as the “end titles” if what I were working on was a movie. I’ve had one for Line and Orbit for a while that I’ve been referring back to, and now I have one for Fall and Rising as well.

So, Line and Orbit:

M83 ft. Susanne Sundfor – Oblivion

This song is effing perfect, at least in my mind. I didn’t see the film and after reading the general review consensus I don’t much want to, but this song has it all: epic scope, soaring chorus, lyrics about night and stars, and this heartbreakingly lovely little solo piano coda. I can’t imagine any other piece of music serving as well.

Fall and Rising:

Young Beautiful in a Hurry and Bear McCreary – I Forever

Whereas Oblivion is sweeping and epic, this song is smaller and more intimate, which I feel like actually fits the book better. In many ways it’s a smaller, more intensely intimate book, though epic aspects are certainly still there. And I think those aspects are wonderfully captured by the elegant piano and strings, while the vocal pulls you in much closer. It’s also a love song that isn’t necessarily about romantic love, which I think serves to accommodate the range of different relationships I’m working with here.

So that’s it. I’m sure by the time the third as-yet-untitled book rolls around I’ll have something ready for it as well, and I’m sure I’ll be dorky when that happens too.

Sunday Linkdump: The return of the son of the bride of the

zooropa

Been a while. Life keeps happening. Here are some readable bits of it.

  • The Thing with gay romance and surprise vaginas therein has become a minorly big deal and there’s a must-read link roundup of the pertinent bits on Radish Reviews. To my knowledge the review blogger in question is still publicly trying to pretend it never happened. Lol. Oh no wait she’s acknowledging it to the tune of LA LA LA I DON’T CAAAAARE. Cute and unsurprising. Anyway, the section on harassment in the SF&F community is also a must-read.
  • “I Was a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl.” This is quite simply fabulous.

    If I’d known what women have to sacrifice in order to write, I would not have allowed myself to be so badly hurt when boys whose work and writing I found so fascinating found those same qualities threatening in me. I would have understood what Kate Zambreno means when she says, in her marvellous book Heroines, I do not want to be an ugly woman, and when I write, I am an ugly woman. … I would have understood quite clearly what I was choosing when I chose, sometime around the time I packed two suitcases and walked out on Garden State Boy, to be a person who writes her own stories, rather than a story that happens to other people.

  • And an equally fabulous response: “Myths of glamor: faerytale archetypes & female form”.

    Most folklore concerning pixies describes them as downright dangerous unless approached with the correct measure of respect. The narratives of pixies who steal infants from their cradles, who charm men to sleep for a hundred years with sleeping potions, who hold great feasts and build mountains of gold, and dance in the moonlight has been stolen from human-kind and replaced with some bullshit Hollywood fakery of a manic pixie dream girl and we collectively are the poorer for it.

  • On the horrifically self-centered fetishization of “authenticity”.

    A naïve belief in authenticity eventually gives way to a deep cynicism. A conviction in personal success that must always hold failure at bay becomes a corrupt stubbornness that insists on success at any cost. Cynicism, in this mode, is not the expression of a critical stance toward authenticity but is rather the runoff of this failure of belief. The self-help industry itself runs the gamut in both directions — from “The Power of Now,” which teaches you the power of meditative self-sufficiency, to “The Rules,” which teaches a woman how to land a man by pretending to be self-sufficient. Profit rules the day, inside and out.

  • U2’s Zooropa is twenty years old, and while much of the rest of the U2 catalogue has frankly gone stale for me, this album has not. Here is some of why.

    Here’s how Zooropa is important. It may never rise above a general estimation as a minor work in U2′s catalogue, but it’s important because it’s an example of a massively successful pop band taking some big chances, molding their sounds with all sorts of elements of the underground. This might be a bit extreme, but I’m not sure Kid A happens without predecessors like the one-two punch of Achtung Baby and Zooropa. I’m not sure Yeezus happens. For those of us who grew up when How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was new, it’s hard to imagine that this version of U2 ever existed, and certainly hard to imagine them ever becoming so bold again. But we can hope.

  • We don’t know what’s actually going on in Syria because our media doesn’t either, and doesn’t seem all that interested in finding out.

    In the middle of a ferocious civil war it is self-serving credulity on the part of journalists to assume that either side in the conflict, government or rebel, is not going to concoct or manipulate facts to serve its own interests. Yet much foreign media coverage is based on just such an assumption.

  • Frederick Douglass – What, to the American Slave, is the 4th of July?

    I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

  • “Torture and Taboo: On Elaine Scarry”. The Body in Pain was a massively formative book early on in my graduate school career, particularly the section on warfare. She introduced to me the idea of national identity literally as a thing embodied, rendering injury and death on a battlefield politically meaningful. There are a lot of flaws in the book, though, and a lot of places in her line of thought to which I’m unwilling to follow. This is a great piece on the work as a whole and the cultural taboo of torture as it’s come into being in the past century.

    Politics involves comparing always dirty regimes and seeking better alternatives, and the absence of this sphere is what is most questionable about Scarry’s universe. That we focus on torture so single-mindedly—as if the institutional contexts for it and the institutional sequels to it were not more important—is due to historical experiences that, because they are the conditions of Scarry’s criticism, may escape her gaze.

  • No one should die for a house.

    We need to stop seeing wildfire as an enemy to be exterminated forever and instead accept it as inevitable. We need to recognize that communities built without wildfire-mitigation measures are tinderboxes waiting to burn and stop incentivizing homeowners to rebuild with kindling.

Be a fucking diva.

More Line and Orbit outtakes: An interlude with Kae and Leila

Here, for your reading enjoyment, is another one of the bits of Line and Orbit that was cut from the final version of the book. It was one of the casualties of our many cuts for length, and ended up going because it doesn’t do a huge amount to LineandOrbitadvance the plot. However, what it does do is present a sweet little slice of life at home with Kae and Leila, and also builds their characters a bit. Additionally, it brings to light something about Kae’s character that, without this scene, actually doesn’t get revealed until later in the book.

It made me sad to have to cut it. But hey, here it is for free. Hope you enjoy.

A note on chronology: This scene originally came at the end of chapter 9, after Lochlan has taken Adam to meet with the Council and Adam has had his first awkward meeting with Ixchel. There are no majorly important spoilers to speak of unless you count Kae’s character thing, but the scene also won’t make the maximum amount of sense if you haven’t read the book.

Continue reading

Get your ladybusiness out of my dudes: M/M romance and the problems therein

First, a little preamble.

I’ve written more than one thing that’s been marketed as M/M romance – including Line and Orbit (and I’ve alluded to my slight disagreement that that 327038__safe_twilight-sparkle_image-macro_vulgar_equestria-girls_balloonsparticular book deserves that particular label). But in fact I’m not especially comfortable with the idea of being an “M/M” author. I don’t like that I have that discomfort, and I wish I didn’t feel that way, and I recognize that feeling that way is also sort of problematic, but nevertheless it’s the way I feel. And a lot of that has to do with what I’m going to talk about next.

Simply put, I’ve come to feel – perhaps unfairly – that the “M/M” label doesn’t capture the diversity of the writing that I think I do and hope to do more of. I’ve written about gay men, lesbian women, trans* people, bisexual people, pansexual people, genderqueer people, and I hope to write more in the future about asexual people. I’ve also written about straight people. I try to include more than one part of the spectrum in any given story, when doing so is appropriate for that story. I prefer “queer” fiction or “QUILTBAG” fiction. I don’t like borders. I don’t like expectations of what something should be, which mean that it’s always going to risk failure in ways that have nothing to do with quality.

I understand that it is, first and foremost, a marketing label. But I think we should all understand that how things are marketed has major social consequences. It affects culture. It affects culture in ways that are not necessarily okay.

Enter Jesse Wave.

Read the pertinent post here. Well, how charming: The post has been deleted, but here’s a screencap. I don’t want to go into a lot of depth about the post itself but instead to outline some of my own problems with what’s going on in it. Essentially, Wave takes issue with what she frames as a recent influx of review copies of books that feature “on-screen” sexual content involving people who do not have penises, which violate her review policies. She characterizes such books as “disrespectful” to the genre as a whole:

Why are M/M readers treated so disdainfully? Are we not on par with het romance readers? M/M romance has been around for a decade, so why can’t our authors get it right? Clearly we are not respected because if we were this wouldn’t happen, and so often. Would authors insert graphic gay sex scenes in het romances? Not f*****g likely, unless the book is a ménage or a bi romance.

I think that characterization is a huge part of what’s gotten some people up in arms. If she had said that the submission of review copies that don’t follow the site’s guidelines was disrespectful, I think there would have been less of a backlash.

But anyway. There was the usual THIS IS MY SPACE response, and WRITERS CAN WRITE WHATEVER THEY WANT response, and I’m honestly surprised that the word “censorship” never came up, except maybe I missed it.

Look, here’s the thing: I don’t think the primary issue is one of policies or guidelines or labeling. I think it’s one of attitude. And yeah, I think there’s some misogyny all up in here, along with a tasty helping of trans*phobia.

Wave’s problem is that she’s reducing this entire thing to body parts and what happens when they get mashed together. For her, it comes down to sex acts. She claims that she’s fine with straight characters (or, I presume, bisexual characters or various combinations featuring trans* characters) engaging in romantic activity – provided that she isn’t exposed to the details of said activities.

That is really not okay.

The thing about homophobia is that, while the core of it is patriarchy, its visceral component lies in the reduction of all the nuances and complexities of erotic love to sex acts and then finding those sex acts icky. Straight love is fine because – at least traditionally, though this is starting to change – the social legitimacy of heterosexuality allows us to accept heterosexuality in forms that go above and beyond sex. Heterosexual relationships are not only accepted but assumed. They are the default. Being gay is about penises, and that’s where homophobia draws a lot of its visceral power from.

A great example of this can be found in a study done by CBS/the New York Times wherein 500 people were asked via phone survey whether they supported the open inclusion of “homosexuals” vs. “gays/lesbians” in the armed forces. The results were dramatic.

“Homosexual” includes the word “sex”. We hear it and we immediately think of queer sex acts. Which – because they challenge gender identity, because they challenge heteronormativity, because they challenge patriarchy – make people uncomfortable on the level of the gut.

The reduction of complex human identities to sex acts is essentializing. It’s dehumanizing. I’m guessing that most of us have heard someone at some point say something like “I have nothing against those gays. I just don’t want them flaunting it or anything.” Which really means I want them invisible. I don’t want to have to confront the fact that they exist because they threaten me.

If you’re okay with two gay guys walking down the street together but you freak out when you see them making out, yeah, I’m going to call you homophobic. Doesn’t mean you’re an awful person, but you do have some homophobia going on there and maybe you should look to it. By the same token, if you find lady parts viscerally icky – to the point where you say you want to be warned about it, to the point where you call it things like shocking – I’m going to go out on a limb and say you have some internalized misogyny happening.

By the way, that blew my mind: Some people in the comments in Wave’s post, including Wave herself, were talking about including warnings for non-gay male sexual content as though that content was triggering in the way that rape and excessive violence is. There followed a bunch of backpeddling and claiming that really it was just about labeling things for consumer reasons, but sorry, no: once the word shocking shows up, I don’t buy it.

[Addendum: It’s also worth pointing out something else that Wave doesn’t seem to understand at all, which is that sexual organs ≠ gender. You can be a man with a vagina. You can be a woman with a penis. You can be any permutation of any gender with any set of organs. So to assume that “gay” means “two penises” is just so cissexist that I can’t even.]

And no, claiming that it’s okay because the straights all do the same thing is not a good argument. It’s a stupid argument. It’s bad and the people making it should feel bad.

Of course, this is all problematized further by the fact that Wave is right about one thing: mainstream romance has been traditionally heteronormative, with gay relationships often made invisible or presented in ways that are less than positive. Because hey, that’s the entire culture. The culture is changing, and things are getting better in most respects, but there has indeed been a lack of space – for queer romance of all kinds, not just the gay stuff. So yes, the inclusion of straight romance in a book that’s focused on a gay romantic relationship isn’t quite the same thing as the inclusion of gay romance in a book that’s primarily focused on a straight romantic relationship. But you know? Anytime someone starts saying things like “keep your ____ out of my ____ because it SHOCKS ME” I get really uncomfy.

And you know what else? I think Wave’s attitude does readers of M/M romance a disservice. I think a tremendous number of them are way more open to variety and diversity than that.

I’m not saying that Wave has to change her review policy or that readers shouldn’t read what they want for whatever reasons they care to have. But again, we’re at the point where individual preference crosses over into the wider culture, and I think we need to have a conversation about it that rises above the level of I’M NOT A BIGOT I CAN DO WHAT I WANT. This is a great opportunity to be more self-reflexive than we really have to be, and to confront some difficult things. We’ll be better people for it. So will the genre. I want to be comfortable with the M/M label. I have high hopes that someday I will be.

For what it’s worth, a great response by Heidi Belleau can be found here. Sara York also has a good post on the problems with “disrespect”. LA Witt and Aleksandr Voinov weigh in and both are very worth reading.

Oh, PS: Wave – and others – don’t say “het”. Oh my God, do not say “het”. I immediately infer so much about you when you do, and none of what I infer is flattering.