Writing project: index

This is a post to list the words I’ve used for this project. It will be updated monthly.

  • Inchoate – November 2018
  • Unicorn – December 2018
  • Improve – January 2019
  • Winged – February 2019
  • Scar – March 2019
  • Voice – April 2019
  • Truth – May 2019
  • Energy – June 2019
  • Grinding – July 2019
  • Pocket – August 2019
  • Doll – September 2019
  • Dark – October 2019
  • Wall – November 2019
  • Conversation – December 2019
© bardofupton 2019

Non-binary and disabled

This piece was previously published in September 2018 in the Disgender zine – you can see the zine here, and I encourage you to check it out. There’s lots of cool stuff in it, all themed around being trans/non-binary and disabled/chronically ill.


Becoming (realising I was) non-binary was a lifetime’s process, of fighting a femaleness (femininity) that never belonged to me; of hating the breasts and periods that life burdened me with; of not knowing who I was, what I was, only what I wasn’t, a confusion made worse by growing up in a place and time that barely acknowledged the L and G of LGBT+ (never mind the rest), and so left me bereft of words, of a name for my being, stranding me in a place of “well, female I guess, if I have to choose (but why do I have to choose?)” that never felt right or true; of always wondering why I wasn’t like everyone else, why calling myself female was unsettling, but calling myself male was definitely wrong.

Becoming disabled has been half a lifetime’s process, of injury and illness, of pain and cumulative slow failure of my body’s systems, and yet, I can love my non-binary disabled body in a way I never could love my abled, presumed female body; I can revel in what it can do, appreciate my non-binary self for what it is. Weirdly, it’s illness that taught me to love my body, to appreciate being alive – and it’s illness that finally gave me both the courage and the words to call myself both non-binary and disabled. After years of thinking (insisting) I wasn’t disabled enough to claim that as an identity (because I can x, because I can’t y, because I’m not z) I got cancer, and it was weirdly revelatory in some ways. I had to think about death, and about how having cancer means always having to think about cancer, at least a little bit, even though I’m now in remission, and I thought about what I wanted the rest of my life (however short or long) to look like. And the biggest part of that was I wanted the rest of my life to be mine, to stop being afraid of what people might think of me, and claim myself. And I looked at the mix of physical issues I have and thought, yeah, I’m disabled. I need to own it. I walk with a fucking stick, clearly I’m disabled. Being able to sometimes do without the stick doesn’t make me not disabled, any more than wearing a skirt makes me female. And it was having a mastectomy that made me realise that it’s not that I’m a woman who’s bad at being female, it’s that I’m not a woman at all – which was a deeply and profoundly liberating experience.

The first day I left the house as a newly-identified non-binary person I felt like I owned the world. All the anxiety of a lifetime of faking femaleness fell away from me, and I felt free. I felt like my body finally belonged to me and I could stop caring what other people thought of me; like I could look at myself and not see a failed woman, but see someone who was living on their own terms, someone who belonged not to the world, but to themself – someone who could build their identity from the ground up without any shoulds from society (how to dress, how to act, how to be), someone who could create their own norms – someone who wasn’t an imposter, but who belonged. Someone who could wear a dress if they wanted, or not – but either way it didn’t define them; someone who could be themself, whoever that might be. Someone who is (finally) happy to be themself.

© bardofupton 2019

Reading project, week ending 8 Dec 2019

What have I read this week?

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

This is a science fiction novel following the story of the notorious undead general Shuos Jedao. It is the last in the Machineries of Empire trilogy, and sequel to Raven Stratagem. I liked this; it was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

Romanitas by Sophia McDougall

This is an alternate history novel where the Roman empire continued into modern times. It follows the story of two escaped slaves and the Emperor’s nephew. I enjoyed this, and might read the next in the series.

Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

This is a collection of short stories set in the Machineries of Empire universe. Many of the stories follow characters from the trilogy. I enjoyed these; they filled out the universe in a nice way.

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

This is a collection of three short stories with illustrations. They all involve a kiss, and magic of some kind. I really enjoyed these and would definitely read more by this author.

Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

This is a novel about an ex-Orthodox Jewish woman who goes back to the community she grew up in for her father’s funeral. I found it a little confusing, because there are three viewpoint characters who were differentiated in my Kindle by text size, but I still kept getting them mixed up. I found the book interesting, but I definitely felt like I was missing a layer of meaning (despite the author’s very detailed explanations of various Orthodox Jewish customs). I would definitely read more by this author, though.

Darien (Empire of Salt: Book One) by C.F. Iggulden

This is a fantasy novel about the city of Darien, and six people who become involved in defining its future. I quite enjoyed this, and would probably read the next one in the series.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

This is a fantasy novel about a young man called Lazlo Strange and a young woman called Sarai, who is also a goddess. I liked it a lot. The characters are interesting and so is the world. I definitely want to read the next in the series.

© bardofupton 2019

Reading project, week ending 1 Dec 2019

What have I read this week?

The Terranauts by T. C Boyle

This is a novel about a group of people taking part in a project where eight of them live within an enclosed some for two years. It was interesting but I didn’t really like it, mainly because I disliked all three of the viewpoint characters.

Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is a science fiction novel set in the very distant future when the sun is dying. The main character is Stefan Advani, a scholar who is sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony for his heretical ideas. I liked this. The world is interesting, and so are the characters.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, November 2019

This month’s word is wall, meaning “any of various permanent upright constructions having a length much greater than the thickness and presenting a continuous surface except where pierced by doors, windows, etc.: used for shelter, protection, or privacy, or to subdivide interior space, to support floors, roofs, or the like, to retain earth, to fence in an area, etc.” or “an immaterial or intangible barrier, obstruction, etc., suggesting a wall”.

————–

Walls make me feel safe. It’s always been that way, as long as I can remember. I’m never happier than when I’m indoors. The best, in fact, is sitting inside a closet. Two sets of walls, even if one set is wooden. I’ve occasionally considered putting up a tent within the closet, to maximise the number of walls, but I can’t find one small enough.

It’s not that I never go out. I go out regularly, in fact. It’s just that I’m never happy or relaxed when I am. And as soon as I enter a building, any building, I feel a weight lift off my shoulders. Home is best, of course, but anywhere will do.

When I was a kid, I used to build walls. Walls within walls within walls. Entrances offset from one another, so more of a maze, I suppose. Sometimes they’d be indoors, but more often outdoors. They were never high enough, barely kneehigh usually, but they filled a need – I did always have to start from the outside and build in, though. I’d be too scared otherwise.

All of that, I suppose, explains why I became an architect. Now I can design walls for a living. And I can do it inside.

All this is a prelude to explaining why, when I got an enquiry about designing a labyrinth, I jumped at it. I’ll admit I thought it was an odd request, but how often was I going to get a chance like this? To build walls, and walls within walls?

It was by competition, so others were submitting plans too. I knew I had to outdo them all, so I made the effort to travel to the proposed site so I could adapt my ideas to the location. I made my labyrinth a multi-storey structure, spiralling deep within the ground.

And I won.

At the time I was delighted. I felt like all my dreams had come true. I even supervised the construction in person, because I couldn’t bear to miss the sight of my ideas becoming reality.

But it turns out I was working for a modern-day King Minos, and once this labyrinth was finished, he had all the workmen killed. One of them managed to get out a scream, and that gave me enough time to flee into the labyrinth, but now I’m stuck here. I daren’t leave, because he knows who I am, but I’m afraid to stay. It feels wrong in here. I hear strange noises, and I’m reminded of something I once heard, about how all labyrinths are the same, that there’s only one true labyrinth, and all others connect to it. I laughed at the time, but now I’m not so sure it’s fiction. It’s easy to believe strange things, down here in the dark.

The walls that used to comfort me don’t anymore. I can hear them moving in the darkness, sliding from place to place, changing the layout until I couldn’t escape even if I wanted to. And it feels like there’s something else in here with me, something alive, something angry and malevolent, but there can’t be. Can there?

I don’t know anymore, but I’ve gathered my courage, and I’m going to travel further in. Maybe there’s a way out. Maybe I will end up in the one true labyrinth. Maybe I’ll die here. But whatever happens, I want to find the centre of the labyrinth. I can’t help but think there’s something worth finding there.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

© bardofupton 2019

Reading project, week ending 24 Nov 2019

What have I read this week?

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is a science fiction novel, the sequel to Children of Time. It concerns the meeting between the spider society from Children of Time and a society evolved from octopuses. I enjoyed this, it’s a good continuation of the story, and I felt like the different societies were very different from each other and didn’t seem like variants of humanity at all.

© bardofupton 2019

About “coming out”

I recently read Julia Serrano’s Excluded, and it made me think a lot about assumptions, and about “coming out” – which is really only a thing because of other people’s assumptions, as the quote below explains:

When we are marked, unmarked assumption can be endlessly frustrating, as it seems to place the onerous task on us to “come out” to those who misperceive us. “Coming out” results not only in having to deal with the ramifications of being marked, but also with having to overcome the narrative (which exists in the unmarked person’s mind) that we were previously “hiding” or “closeting” ourselves, and are now “revealing” our true identity. Sometimes this narrative holds some truth for the marked person as well – for instance, a gay man who “comes out of the closet” may have felt like he was previously hiding himself but is now revealing the truth that he is gay. But other times, this narrative belies the marked person’s actual experience. For example, I may not be actively hiding the fact that I am transsexual, but when I drop it into casual conversation (e.g., “back when I was in little league,” or “back when I had a penis”) other people may perceive this as a “coming out moment”, rather than recognizing that they were the ones who were projecting cissexual assumption onto me all along. Also, the “revelation” narrative that others project onto me may invalidate my experiences and identity in other ways. For instance, if I tell someone I am transsexual, they may interpret that as me “revealing” that I am “really a man”, rather than accurately seeing me as a woman who has shared the fact that I am transsexual rather than cissexual…

Even if the so-called “revelation” is interpreted accurately, it still pretty much sucks for the marked person. As I have said ad infinitum by this point, when we “reveal” our marked status, we open ourselves up to attention, remarks, questioning, and so on. Further, we can never predict how any given person will react to these supposed “revelations”, so we must always be on guard and prepared for the worst possible negative reaction. Finally, if we are perceived as having just “revealed” our maried status, we may be bombarded by accusations that we have been insincere, inauthentic, manipulative, deceptive, and artificial, even when such allegations are patently untrue.

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serrano (p. 195-196)

I’ve found the coming out concept irritating for a while: there’s a scene in the movie Love, Simon where Simon, a gay teenager, says that he doesn’t see why he should have to come out when straight people don’t have to. It’s played for laughs – there’s a montage showing scenes of straight teenagers coming out to their parents with a variety of negative reactions from the parents. And hey, I laughed at that scene too; it was well done, and funny. But. He actually has a point. It’s heteronormativity, and cisnormativity, and amatonormativity, that are the reason that people like me have to come out at all. And it’s not a one-and-done process, you’re doing it constantly. And the only reason you have to do it at all is that other people make assumptions about you.

Gender entitlement often takes the form of homogenizing assumptions about who we believe people are and how we expect them to behave in the future. This includes universalizing assumptions, such as expecting everyone we meet to be heterosexual, or cisgender, or monosexual, and so on. Other assumptions will come in the form of stereotypes that we project onto people belonging to a specific group. Sometimes our assumptions may match those commonly made in the culture at large, whereas other times our assumptions may be quite different (e.g., when queer people boast about having “gaydar” – the supposed ability to know for sure whether other people are queer or not without having to ask them). As I have discussed throughout this book, assumptions pretty much suck. Sure, sometimes the assumptions we make are correct, but often they are flat-out incorrect. And unfortunately, the burden always ends up being on the “assumee” (i.e., the person who the assumption is made about) to challenge any incorrect assumptions that are made by the “assumer” (i.e., the person who makes the assumption). Sometimes when I point out the incorrect assumptions that people make about me, it is no big deal. Other times, it can be slightly awkward or time consuming, and in some instances it can be downright awful. Because of horrible negative reactions that I have received in some cases (especially upon coming out to people as trans), I am often hesitant to correct other people’s incorrect assumptions about me. But this also has negative consequences: It forces me to keep quiet about this aspect of myself, which can be both difficult and disempowering. Furthermore, if that information ever comes to light at a later date, I may be accused of hiding the truth or deceiving other people. In other words, incorrect assumptions create a damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t situation for me…

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serrano (p. 244-5)

For example, I date, or have dated, men, and therefore people often make the assumption that I’m a heterosexual woman. This is their mistake: all I’ve done is date a man, and look the way that I look, and they’ve made a number of assumptions:

  • That I only date men (and I’m therefore straight)
  • That I’m female (and therefore straight)
  • That I’m feel sexual and /or romantic attraction (and I’m therefore allosexual)
  • That I’m only dating that person (and therefore monogamous)

And yes, these assumptions would probably be true of many people who look like me, dating people who appear to be men. But they’re not true of me; some or all of them are not, in fact, true of a lot of people who might superficially resemble me in one way or another.

So there I am, being assumed to be a heterosexual woman by some person. And that means that, if I continue to interact with that person, I have to make a decision: do I “come out” to them? And that’s not an easy question to answer. I have to consider lots of factors:

  • How will they react?
  • Will they be angry or upset?
  • Will they cut contact with me? If so, how much of an issue will that cause?
  • Will they try to use this information against me (e.g. to out me in some situation or to some person that I’m not currently out to)?
  • Will they become violent or abusive?
  • If I live with them or require their financial support, will they throw me out or cut me off?

Every time I choose to come out to someone I’m taking a huge risk, because even if you think you know how someone will react, you can never be sure. (For example, I came out to someone I’d gone to school with, via email, and never heard from her again.) So I often don’t, depending on the situation. If I’m not going to see the person again, I probably won’t bother (the one exception being that I might ask them to use my correct pronouns).

And quite apart from the risk, it’s tiring. Constantly explaining who you are, and as Serrano says, opening yourself up to the questions, often very intrusive, of others, can be exhausting. Sometimes I’ll just let people assume whatever they want to assume, because I just don’t have the energy (physically or emotionally) to deal with it.

On the one hand, these assumptions are not my fault. I am just being myself, living my life, I’m not deceiving anyone. If anything, they’re deceiving themselves. But on the other hand, I’m the one who will suffer if they react badly to learning that I’m not who they assumed I was.

My “coming out” policy has pretty much always been that if someone asks, I will tell them, and if I think it’s relevant, I’ll proactively tell them. These days I’ve expanded that a bit, because I want people to use the correct pronouns for me, so I do tend to point that out without being asked. I’m also a big fan of badges, so I do have a large collection of badges that proclaim various aspects of my identity – which I consider low-key coming out that requires no effort from me apart from wearing the badge.

I do hate the whole “coming out” concept, in part, because it seems to imply that you owe the world the “truth” about your gender, sexuality, etc. It suggests (incorrectly) that you can do it once and then you’re out forever. And it definitely has the implication that if you are not out, you are somehow being deceptive, or you’re ashamed of your identity.

I don’t think that any of that’s true, though. In some circles, I’m very out as queer, as non-binary, as demisexual, and so on. In others, I’m not. But in the places I’m not out, or less vocally out, my gender and/or sexuality is, in my view, not relevant – and if it becomes relevant I’ll mention it. If I’m not romantically or sexually involved with you, is it any of your business what gender(s) of people I’m attracted to, if any?

I’m not a fan of coming out, and in particular, the pressure on people to come out, the belief that if you aren’t out to everyone you know somehow you’re ashamed of yourself or inauthentic. People have their reasons for not being out, some of which I mentioned earlier, and it’s a valid choice to not be out, or only to certain people. Your own safety (in all senses) is the most important thing, not some sense that you “owe” people the “truth”. Yes, it would be great if we could all be completely open about who and what we are, but that’s not the world we live in.

What I’d really prefer is that people in general stop making assumptions, or at least put less moral weight on them – i.e., if I’m not what you thought I was, at least stop thinking that makes me lesser. I realise that would require a complete social and cultural revolution, but why not aim for the stars?

I’ve been trying to do this myself: not assume people’s gender, sexuality, physical ability, etc. It’s hard – it’s pretty engrained to assume all these things, but I try, and the more I try, the less difficult it gets. Maybe we could all just try a little bit more to assume a little bit less.

© bardofupton 2019

Reading project, week ending 17 Nov 2019

What have I read this week? Just one, this time.

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serrano

This is a nonfiction book about the causes of exclusivity in feminist and queer movements, and ways in which that issue can be remedied. I found this book really interesting, and it certainly made me think. It is written in a fairly accessible and easy to read style, and I definitely intend to read more by the author.

© bardofupton 2019

Reading project, week ending 10 Nov 2019

What have I read this week? Late again, sorry!

The Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen Series Book 1) by Emily R. King

This is a fantasy novel about a woman named Kalinda. She is selected to be the hundredth wife of the rajah of her kingdom. I found the world really interesting, and I liked the main characters. I enjoyed this book and would probably read more in this series.

Raven Stratagem (Machineries of Empire Book Two) by Yoon Ha Lee

This is a science fiction novel following various characters. It is the sequel to Ninefox Gambit. It’s set in a very dystopian future where the preserved mind of a disgraced general who murdered his own soldiers is resurrected to help with a problem, but then he goes rogue. I liked this. It’s a good continuation of the story, and I’d definitely read more in the series.

© bardofupton 2019