Ed Greenwood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve been thinking about Leelah Alcorn’s death and her suicide note a lot lately. There’re numerous reasons that hers would affect me in ways more personal than most … but they all come around to, that note resonated a little, uncomfortably, close to things I’ve thought or felt at various points. I, thank all the watching gods, have a wonderful family who is supportive and understanding of who I am and that led me to have … well, it’s why I’m able to be 33 and happy instead of the alternatives.
They’ve made me think long and hard about the way I tend to see the world and the people in it. I don’t know that Leelah was a bookworm. I don’t know, if she was, if she liked the sort of stories I write. It doesn’t matter, she’s gone from the world, but there’re others still here facing a struggle similar to her own – even the happy (or maybe I should say “happier“) ones.
I think, in our society, there’s an odd balance between the status known as celebrity (no matter how minor) and privacy. I think, too, that while we spend a lot of time trying to erode the privacy of some kinds of celebrity, we’re willing to provide virtual anonymity to others. To most people, for example, a writer – be it a columnist, a journalist, a novelist, a poet, a playwright, screenwriter, et al we tend to let those who wield quill and parchment all the reclusiveness she might crave and be content for her to be naught but a byline and maybe a short, uninformative bio at the back cover or last page of a book and one that neither the text nor photo of ever changes in the course of a 30 year career.
But in today’s world, with social media and everything else, we find ourselves able to interact on a quasi-personal level with those authors we love. Twitter, Facebook, Ello, and … okay, I’m not really big on the whole social media business so I’ve exhausted me list of interact-able venues. Well, Goodreads, somewhat and, of course, our blogs.
English writer Neil Gaiman. Taken at the 2007 Scream Awards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
More and more authors are gaining a level of celebrity. We do start to learn about them as people. They suddenly do have a face. We know things about the lovely Ms Rowling, the quirky Mr King, and the hilarious Sir Pratchett that, maybe even 20 years ago we never would have.
There’ve ever been the ones who were very open, forward, and willing to share and interact with the world. I present as Exhibit A, the sweetest and most generous human I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak with: Mr Ed Greenwood. There’re so many wonderful stories from the early days of TSR of him at gaming cons being just the most personable “star” anyone’d ever met; like a bearded and jolly George Takei or James Doohan (the latter, I suppose was fairly jolly himself, now I think on it).
I’ve guarded my own privacy … well, there’re many ways one can use the phrase “guarded jealously”, and I feel rather like I might be justified in claiming more than one of them. In my own defense, I do not think in terms of caring who an author is as a person. I make an assumption that the photo of Dennis L McKiernan, in the back of my copy of Dragondoom, is actually him so I know he’s a) a him (or it’s a reasonable assumption) b) he’s bipedal c) humanoid d) apparently monochrome! e) incredibly young! (I’ve an OLD copy of the book). All I much know about him is he’s good, and I love his work. Then I realised, I do know more. Because of the internet I know that Mithgar grew out of his own pen & paper RPG sessions.
We can’t, I think, avoid learning bits and things about the people whose books we enjoy. Human curiosity and the internet work together to ensure we can learn more and we often go looking for it.
I’ve guarded my privacy because I didn’t want people to say they love or hate my work because of me, I wanted them to do so because of it. I wanted Lauren and Sally, Allison and Jake, all the rest, to be the role-models and to be judged by my skills and talent as a writer. I’ve said before, and I know it’s a real thing that people who know a book is by a woman, or a homosexual, or a 17′ tall rabid badger from Mississippi will buy it or reject it just because of that. It grates against my sensibilities. A person can have a wonderful library of diverse characters and tremendously wonderful role-models of setting and characters and every single last one of those works can be by rich, straight, white, ennobled, cisgender men. All it takes is for those authors to be empathetic, sensitive, thoughtful, imaginative, intuitive, creative, and talented story tellers. Exhibit B: John Scalzi. I can’t, to be honest, speak related directly to his novels, I’ve never read them (my wife has, but only one so she’s no help), but if his blog is any gauge …
Maya Angelou with Bloomberg and Nadler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
That said … to hell with it. My own examples: Ed Greenwood, John Scalzi. I’ll add the likes of Neil Gaiman, Seanan McGuire, and Patrick Rothfuss … yeah, lot of those are SF/F authors, I told you that’s most of what I read. They all interact with the public. And I’m no recluse living in a cave with no social media accounts or ones only known about and accessed by some intern working for peanut butter and saltines.
I don’t follow their blogs. I don’t read them every day. But I do read an enjoy their blogs when the whim strikes me. I do get to know them as people. I’ve interacted with Ed Greenwood, mostly via Candlekeep.com, but I have. With the Takei’s … these days celebrity aren’t lofty, remote deities to be admired from afar.
I forget, too, I grew up in the 80s, and early 90s. I own (no, not past tense, I still have it) an 80286 with a 2400 baud modem. I’ve got floppy discs with Prodigy on it from before there was an internet for it to access. I’ve used BBSes, FIDONET, and IRC. I remember with ICQ was brand new, and Search.com was what Google is now. Maybe I see the world, sometimes, through the lenses of an 80s kid instead of a 21st century one. I’d have had virtually no way to know the sexuality or birth-assigned gender of a favourite author. I’d only know their race if the book had a photo, and I’d have their name (and said not-guaranteed-to-be-present photo) to guess their gender … but today that’s just not true. When books really make an impression on people it often includes the author becoming someone they might look up to. I’m no Maya Angelou, but … then again, early in her career … was she?
I plan to begin trying to write a for really real author bio for the places I’ve got my current silly one. I may miss one, please feel free to point this out to me, I’ll be very grateful. I may begin to include one, though probably a bit different, in my books. Certainly I’m going to be more open about myself from now on.
George Takei on the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Pride 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If my books had only 1/10 the sales figures I do, I might assume that too few people know I exist to actually care, but I have hit best seller charts. I have sold as many or more copies of Love or Lust than most first printings of a new author’s first book. I finally had to admit to myself, like it or not, a blog with some 500ish followers, a decent daily hit rate, etc. means I’m achieving some degree of notice and that translates to celebrity even if it is very minor. More bluntly, people know who I am, know what I wrote, and might be curious about me. Some of those people might be Leelahs, and I want them to know that it can (I won’t say does, that depends on factors both in and out of the individual’s control, but it undeniably can) get better. On the outside chance that there’s someone struggling with sexuality or gender identity or whatever who needs someone to look to for an example of that “can get better” business … I present myself.
I am Ms Jaye Em Edgelciff. I am a transsexual lesbian living in the Georgia in the United States and from the Ozarks part of Arkansas. I am happily married to a woman who I met in college, I have two ridiculously odd, but wonderful little kittens and a hyperactive (as in for the breed) black-mouth cur. I, sadly, do not have any children … yet. I’m 33, and my birthday is 8 July 1981. I’m an Army brat who never got to see too many places but I did get to live in San Antonio and Honolulu. I’m a geek, and always have been. Hard as it is, looking at the world today, but even if I’d known what I was as a little girl I could not have transitioned … it just wasn’t done back then. I didn’t know what I was, or why I felt the ways I did. I was awkward, I was shy, I was … I won’t say unhappy, as I had wonderful friends and a good family, but I was terribly depressed and had more than a few suicidal thoughts growing up. As a teenager I finally started to get words around how I felt … I clearly had spent many of my past lives as a woman and had made the exceedingly foolish choice to come back around as a man (or had done something awful and was being punished with a penis, in some of my more self-hating moments). Eventually I learned what transgender and transsexuality actually were (as opposed to the rather limited and skewed understanding I had under the term “sex change operation” where one envisions a guy going to get it cut off because he wants to be made into a woman … language matters, and connotation of sentence choice makes all the difference in the world).
With the help of hormones, and all the other fun things that go along with transitioning I am now a much happier, much more confident, much more me person than I was when I was young.
I don’t really write my books for myself. Joe doesn’t exist to represent me or what I am. Joe exists because, in the ficton of Now & Forever, Joe exists and is a transsexual man. Lauren and Sally don’t represent myself and my wife … the most we have in common is I’ve red hair and hazel eyes, but Lauren has those features because Lauren has those features … my own eye and hair colour are rather different shades from hers and while I’m fond of them, clearly I’m not so vain as to force them onto someone else. My stories are just for you to enjoy. If they have any social purpose, any moral reason then it’s is only to remind people that we are all of us people. To quote Stranger in a Strange Land, “thou art god, thou art goddess”. I write what I write and the characters I do because they had the story I loved enough I wanted to take the time to write it down and share it with you, and if that story happens to illustrate a point you can take away and maybe see the world differently then that’s a bonus. I read for pleasure and entertainment, I’m not about to write something with a purpose other than that; but I will admit there is a moral message that evolved as I wrote, but it was a pretty easy one … but it comes back to the Golden Rule which Bronson Alcott proved ages ago is so simple and obvious that 5 year old children are able to reverse engineer it with a little help from the Socratic method.
I do not feel that I am really all that interesting a person. There’s not a lot about myself to talk about. I enjoy cooking, though not much lately due to having an exceedingly tiny kitchen that makes cooking more a chore than a pleasure. I enjoy foods, especially sushi and pasta. I play video games, and board games, I love nature and hate cities. I’m quiet. I don’t get out a lot, but I also live somewhere that there’s nowhere to go if I wanted to get out. I’m average height, if a bit petite in build. I’m black, Cherokee, Irish, Dutch and German that I know of. I’m a distant cousin of George Straight and that’s about as exciting as my universe gets.
I’ve said before, it’s not because of what I am as far as sexuality and gender that are why I’m inclined to care about rights and equality. That’s just who I am. When I thought I was a straight white male I still felt this way. People don’t have to be LGBTQ or black or whatever to empathise and care and understand that equality matters. It also doesn’t require someone to be non-white, not-straight, and/or non-cis* to be discriminated against. White people experience racism in Hawaii, the natives are a little angry about the whole annexing the place at gun point (I’m simplifying the history, but really … Hawaii didn’t want to be a state, dirty pool was used to make it #50), in some forums of the internet there’re LGBTQ who can get just as mean or meaner to straight and cis who venture in there as they might assume that the hetero-cis would be … and maybe turn away a potential ally. Men can be feminist, and we do have unrealistic and harmful stereotypes about men just as we do for women; in short, they face their own brand of sexism and objectification … I think fewer of them seem to care, but it doesn’t change the fact it’s true. In short, you can be the king of flippin’ England and still care about ending sexism, ending anti-lgbt* nonsense, ending racism, etc. just because you take the few seconds to care and to remember:
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
And … I know my audience is mostly teens and parents of them.
- Parents, please remember that the most important thing any parent can do is to love and support who their child is. Please do not be Mrs Alcorn saying “we loved our son” when speaking of your trans* daughter who has died because of too many of that very statement; and please extrapolate down for the less extreme (and not-trans*) analogues to that statement.
- Kids … maybe you’re somewhere, right now, where you’re misunderstood and alone. Maybe you’ve parents who … maybe they’re confused but do love you, or maybe you’re right and they don’t … but if that’s the case they’re no parents; do what you must to be safe, but within that context be you. Do your best to get by, channel your sorrow and pain into determination to have the best schools all banging down your door for you to attend, or if you’re crafty/creative/musical/whatever … use your pain to fuel your exodus into somewhere accepting, tolerant, somewhere that you are at peace and happy. For the trans* kids, yes it is easiest to transition as a child, easier as a teen, but possible as an adult and hey … depending what aspect of it you’re talking about, it’s possibly been within your lifetime that transition was even possible for someone who wasn’t an adult. It can be okay, but you have to hang on long enough to let it do so, and you can’t just cross your fingers and wish for it to get better. The wishes that come true best are the ones you make true. Not every dream can come true. I won’t paint a fairy tale where every mom & dad eventually sees how foolish they were and accepts you for who you are, it happens so don’t give up hope, but if your dream is that … steel yourself that it might not happen, but the fun of the word ‘might not happen’ is it contains the caveat of ‘could happen’. Family has a number of meanings. My wife has little to do with her blood family for a laundry list of reasons, not all of it, but a fair chunk. Her family is, mostly now, mine. You can control your destiny, somewhat, if you give yourself the chance to do it.
And … depression is real. It’s serious. Life can be roses, unicorns, sunshine, and bunnies cuddling and you still hate the world and want to die. I know this, first hand I know this. If you can work through it yourself, fine. But I know that nothing I say will make that pain and those thoughts go away, that’ll take the right help and what that is varies from person to person. Need someone to talk to? Suicide hotlines exist in droves, contact me if you like, friend, pastor, cousin, dog, cat, tree, or rock. Maybe you need someone to care about … of all things, one of the biggest reasons I’m still alive is that I’ve always had cats and I’ve always loved them too much to leave them. Maybe you straight up need meds; fun part is, a competent doctor might recognise (for the trans* I mean, obviously this won’t help for anyone else) your issue and help you get your parents to help you transition … you really are a boy/girl trapped in a girl/boy body and your brain craves the correct hormones and your body isn’t making enough. Everyone else AND some of the trans* folks … sometimes you need anti-depressants, St John’s Wort, Prozac, or whatever. Do what you must and can to make that better, it’ll make the rest of life a lot easier.
There. Now you know me, sort of. If this helps one person, it’s worth it for the loss of privacy and for the loss of that barrier between people judging my work through the lends of who and what I am instead of by simply looking at the page. Because life is far more precious than any of that nonsense.
I’m going to sticky this until I can get ’round to working out what to say in my bio. So please don’t forget to scroll down to see if there’re any new posts made after this.