Writing stuff, fannish stuff, weird stuff, smutty stuff. Generally NSFW, but not always. You can also find me at ConnorWrites.com. I keep a dedicated fandom-related tumblr at Brilliant! as well.
No Thief Like Fear

Hop Against Homophobia logoToday, I’m participating in the Hop Against Homophobia. A few housekeeping things before we get started: 1) This is a very long post, so I’ve broken it into two parts. This is the Serious Stuff part; the following post is the Fun Stuff part. Be sure to read both! 2) Comment Policy: I’m pretty relaxed about comments. My biggest rules are the most common: no personal attacks, no personal details (i.e. addresses, shoe sizes, phone numbers, etc.), no spreading of hate.

Without further ado, the post:

I’d like to talk about the phobia part of that word in particular. The title for this post comes from a song of the same name by Jason Gray, from his album A Way To See In The Dark.

Fear and I go way back. I have no idea how it happened, but somewhere along the line (when I was 10/11/12), I started developing odd fears. Like, say, my brother disappearing, or myself becoming irrevocably lost. These fears waxed and waned over the years, subsumed by new and different fears (O hai, high school!). By the time I was 20, I had a mass of anxiety that lived in my stomach to the point that it was actually affecting my health. It also affected my mental health—I spent a fair amount of my early twenties avoiding going out except with family.

Most of my fears are irrational—I don’t know where they came from, or why they developed into the abcesses that they are today. There’s a concept in Buddhism called “Small Mind”, which is the little voice that tells you that your [creative endeavor] sucks and they’re all gonna laugh at you! and the like. Most of the time, I do a decent job of keeping Small Mind locked up in its cave, but occasionally it escapes and runs around the meadow outside the cave, Kermit-flailing and screaming at the top of its lungs about whatever the topic of the day is.

Usually, Small Mind is screaming and flailing because I’m doing something big and scary – submitting a story, or waking up on a release day. That at least is something that I can deal with, because it’s expected. When my fears pop up more or less out of the blue, I have a tougher time with them.

I understand having fears that overshadow the positive stuff in one’s life. I understand letting fear win, too. To my everlasting shame and disappointment-in-myself, I let fear win in a BIG way last fall. I was standing in the Seattle-Tacoma airport, in front of a Delta self-check-in kiosk, holding the page with my confirmation barcode/number on it. I was staring at the “Get Started” and “English” buttons on the screen, and I was paralyzed.

I could not make myself lift my hand and tap on the “Get Started” button. If you asked me what I was afraid of (and the person that I called after ten minutes of dithering certainly did ask), I couldn’t tell you. I still can’t, all these months later. All I know was that there was this fear—more than that, it was FEAR, with fangs and claws and probably wicked-looking weapons—that simply blotted out all of my rationality.

Instead of gritting my teeth, pushing through the FEAR, and getting on a plane to Memphis (and from there to New Orleans), I turned around and dropped $600 on a ticket home.

Fear kept me from seeing two cities I’d never been to before. Fear kept me from meeting new friends, from seeing my dad (I had a ticket to go see him before I headed home), from doing live in-person boots-on-the-actual-battlefield research for a story that I’m now stalled on.

Losing to fear has cost me a lot, over the years, not just those opportunities and the $600. Fear cost me at least two chances to have boyfriends, once in high school and once much later; fear has cost me time and peace of mind. So yeah, I can understand fear and I can even understand letting fear run your life for you.

Where I draw the line, however, is letting my fear become a doctrine. I do my damnedest to make sure that my anxiety and my fear basically affect only me. A good number of homophobes, on the other hand, are not only quite happy to embrace the rule of fear but to force it upon others.

Case in point: my city. For the last two years, GLBT-rights people worked hard to get an anti-discrimination initiative on the municipal ballot. They got a sponsor, they got signatures and donations and the April 3rd ballot got Proposition 5.

All Prop 5 would do is add the words “sexual orientation or transgender identity” to the municipal anti-discrimination statute. You know, it’s the bit that’s tacked on at the end of job postings and the like and it says “[Entity] does not discriminate on the basis of age, ethnic background, religion” blah blah blah. It would make it a crime to fire someone, to deny them housing or evict them, simply because they were gay/bi/straight or transgender.

Cue, of course, the hateful and the fearful—and the hateful who prey on the fears of the fearful—crawling out from every snowed-under rock. The opponents of Prop 5 ran commercials that said if Prop 5 passed, then straight people who didn’t like those icky gays would HAVE TO hire them whether they liked it or not! If Prop 5 passed, daycares would HAVE TO hire cross-dressers to work with CHILDREN!

(And, wow: I could NOT find the animated No On 5 ads on YouTube. Not that I really wanted to watch them, but I wanted to link to them for proof that I wasn’t doing much paraphrasing of the opposition’s stance.

Buuuut I did find this particularly hideous gem: a radio ad in which, apparently, ANYONE can become a kindergarten teacher regardless of qualifications if Prop 5 passes! Because if it does, “someone of indeterminate gender” will HAVE TO be hired by the school district or there will be an expensive lawsuit.

And no, pointing out the flawed “logic” of this assertion will not get you anything but a headache, trust me. Neither will pointing out that if that was at all true, all employers would have to hire anyone in a protected class regardless of how many positions were actually available and/or qualifications of said candidates.

Also, if you do choose to visit the “Protect Your Rights” website, all that’s there at the moment is a letter carrying on about how “common sense has prevailed” and that Protect Anchorage wants to “continue to [have] dialogue … in a way that binds, not divides.” Ha ha ha ha wow, I don’t believe that for a femtosecond. And now you know where I live: slightly to the left of Mars!)

I have always wondered precisely what it is that homophobes fear, and there is a question that my mother asks from time to time that I find appropriate at the moment: “What is really going on here?”

Reesa posted a graphic that posits an answer: “Homophobia: the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women.”

Is that it? Or is it the fear that being bi/gay will emasculate them? “If I like guys, that must make me a woman!”, or something like that? (And of course being a woman is the worst. thing. ever*.)

Or is it a fear of being vulnerable? “I’m only a man so long as I am strong and mighty and being gay means you talk about feelings and strong men don’t do that.”, maybe?

There was a study released recently (and I hope they didn’t spend much money on it) that suggests some homophobic people are in fact bi/gay themselves. Not really a surprise, that one.

A function of the “lesbians are hot, men are not” trope? I certainly don’t know.

One thing that I find interesting is that the loudest and most obvious homophobes are men. I’m sure there are homophobic women out there, but generally the voices are those of men, and the focus is on gay men—or possibly-gay men. (As I said, I didn’t find the video of the animated ads, but this article from The Huffington Post has a video, a still from the commercial in question, and some “Wow, this is incredibly awful. What is wrong with you people?” text – and it is pretty damn offensive. It’s the “transvestite” ad, which is not only misleading, but it conflates “cross-dressing” with “transgender”, which are two VERY different things. Preaching, choir, I know. Anyway.)

What I do know is that the hateful and the fearful in this city might as well have put on monster costumes and run around yelling BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA! TEH GAYS WILL EAT UR CHILDERN! BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!

The Yes On 5/One Anchorage campaign had an amazing array of people, from former mayors and governers to faith-community leaders (at least 40 of them!) who all said that it was time to live up to the lip service. Thousands of other people in this city agreed.

But fear apparently won**. Fear and ugliness were preached, fostered, coddled, gift-wrapped, and given a place at the table. There are those among NoP5’s proponents that claim this is a “tolerant city”, which is easily debunked—all you have to do is ask.

Fear has stolen a lot from me, over the years, and now those for whom fear is a lifestyle*** are forcing us to allow their fear to steal from those of us who have a decidedly different worldview.

There is indeed no thief like fear. Fear steals peace, love, joy, creativity. Fear steals reason, logic, rationality. Fear costs money, time, energy; fear costs relationships, jobs, confidence, and in extreme cases, lives. Fear keeps the fearful chained down, out of the sunlight, away from the green growing things of life. I know this, know it intimately, know it as certainly as I know how to breathe.

So I will make you a deal, if you’re willing: the next time we have the opportunity to make a stand against someone else’s fear, let us do so. Even and especially if it means that I have to stand against my own fear in the process.

* Total sarcasm, I promise. I basically view people as, well, people, whatever their preferred personal pronoun.

** The election on the 3rd was, to put it politely, an incredible mess. I put together a really quick timeline-ish collection of the best reporting on it, but the TL;DR version? Ballot shortages, people being turned away, veteran poll workers finding things hinky, deliberate misinformation distributed (but it’s doubtful said misinformation was responsible for the mess), and last but not least an election commissioner who believes the Diebold machines are not only completely accurate but… “Those are amazing machines – utterly amazing. You… they print out everything. It is impossible for them to go haywire.”

*** It’s fun to use their own rhetoric.

Because I’m Super-Avoider, Author Who Won’t Write! today…

I read the latest post over at Michelle and Reesa’s blog, then re-read Reesa’s post about the people out there who don’t like your (whoever you may be) story.

I second most of what she said, but I just want to add that I’ve recently encountered two readers whose reactions were… Well, startling. The first one complained because she got the plot outlined in the blurb. Yeah, that was my reaction, too: since when is it a problem to get the story the blurb promises? Maybe on Bizarro Earth, but in this reality?

The second one is a bit more problematic, because the guy makes valid (rudely stated, but valid) points about the story. Only thing is, he’s whining because I wrote the story that was asked for, and it wasn’t what he wanted — however, he wasn’t the one who requested the story.

You can’t really argue with that kind of thing. Well, you can, but you’ll end up a depressed monotreme. I’ve written a couple different responses to the second guy, and am about to draft a third. I have another post to write, first, however.

Apparently, I think you’re stupid.

From the post ‘4 Writing Crutches That Insult A Reader’s Intelligence’, on Kristen Lamb’s blog, after the usual “NEVER USE ADVERBS OR YOU SUCK” advice*:

In fiction, bold font and italics are almost never acceptable. Again, if the prose is well written, the reader will stress the word(s) in his head. Trust me. We don’t need to hold our reader’s hand, or brain, or whatever.

Bold font I’ll give her, because in fiction, bold font is the exclusive domain of things like chapter headings and the like. Italics, on the other hand… I don’t agree that “well-written prose” automatically equals the reader “stress[ing] the word(s) in his head”. Let’s try an experiment!

Here I have a passage from First Flight, italics removed. Can you tell what’s supposed to be emphasized?

The top came open easily, and he stared. Eggs. LOTS of eggs. More eggs than he’d ever seen in his whole life, as far as he knew. Chris picked one out and held it up, suddenly realizing that he didn’t know how to get them open. He needed help. He needed a tool. He needed… a spoon.

And here’s the same one, with the intelligence-insulting italics in place:

The top came open easily, and he stared. Eggs. LOTS of eggs. More eggs than he’d ever seen in his whole life, as far as he knew. Chris picked one out and held it up, suddenly realizing that he didn’t know how to get them open. He needed help. He needed a tool. He needed… a spoon.

I don’t use italics because I think my readers are stupid. I use italics because I want my readers to have the story the way I see and hear it in my own head. That’s what they’re looking for, after all—the story that I am telling. Don’t I owe it to them to tell it the way it and the characters demand it be told?

As usual, the post ignores dialogue entirely. Here’s another little experiment with italics, this time with Benny and Phil. (This scene is in first-person, from Phil’s agrammatical POV.)

"Will was drunk and he was being silly. Was that it?" I was gonna say no, but he kept talkin’. "Or are you planning to kill me?"

"Kill—Sweet Jesus! What the hell?" I stared at him, my mouth flappin’ ‘cause I din’t know what to say about that. Din’t he know me? "What the hell? Why the hell would y’think that? I ain’t gonna kill you, Benny; I ain’t even thought about it. Kill you? You lose your mind or somethin’?"

Benny shrugged. “You’ve heard the other guys talking about that kind of thing. It’s happened before.”

Where does Phil’s emphasis fall? How do those words sound, what cadence do they follow?

Here’s the original version:

"Will was drunk and he was being silly. Was that it?" I was gonna say no, but he kept talkin’. “Or are you planning to kill me?”

"Kill—Sweet Jesus! What the hell?" I stared at him, my mouth flappin’ ‘cause I din’t know what to say about that. Din’t he know me? “What the hell? Why the hell would y’think that? I ain’t gonna kill you, Benny; I ain’t even thought about it. Kill you? You lose your mind or somethin’?”

Benny shrugged. “You’ve heard the other guys talking about that kind of thing. It’s happened before.”

So did that make you feel stupid? I hope not, because all that was supposed to happen was that you were supposed to hear Phil’s voice, loud and clear.

I’m the sort of person who, if they were going to insult someone, would make it a bit more obvious than through the use of formatting in my writing.

* Which, to be absolutely fair, she did** temper with the note that one can use adverbs as long as you weren’t pedestrian about it.

** This is non-fiction, so it’s okay to use italics.