Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My Diversity Squad: Addressing having LGBTQIAP Characters front and center and Mental Health by @ckoliver_writes

 Steam - Illustration by professional artist Elizabeth Yeterian 

I got a book deal last week.
It seems like I keep writing that without it actually sinking in. Out of all the people this could have happened to, it happened to me. After a hectic couple of months on the submission circuit, in the end, I chose to sign with Oktopus Ink because they are a company full of people that want books exactly like the books I write, and the books I want to see on shelves. Not to mention, their team is amazingly talented.

I often feel like LGBT authors have to prove we’re ‘diverse enough,’ to write LGBT books, thus outing ourselves without our consent. We have to defend our stories, along with our lives. People assume we are not writing from lived experience, automatically seeking to ‘call out’ and ‘drag’ authors for the slightest misstep. Having SFF wait to pounce on LGBT authors when we don’t offer up every detail of our lives for public consumption is unhealthy. This is something I hope we can get away from.

This brings me right to the first point of this blog--the “my reasons are my own” thing. Last week, I had one of the more popular threads on reddit/fantasy when I announced my deal. Someone chimed in that my cast sounded like “the diversity squad” right off the bat, which was a bit disheartening.

EMBERS is a book that I’m proud to call a “Diversity Squad.”

     Celosia's a cisgender white lesbian

     Ianthe is a pandemisexual brown cis woman

     Adan is a transgender brown heterosexual man

     Kayvun is a white bisexual cis woman whom is also blind

     Lark is a black transgender queer woman

     Riva is a nonbinary pansexual brown person

It's very important to me to have novels where people that have been dreaming for seeing someone even a bit like them in pages of fantasy, can find characters to connect with.

My reasons for having the cast be as diverse as they are, are plain and simply that there is not enough representation in SFF literature. At all. If you think having one F/F fantasy novel every 15 years is enough, I don’t know what to say about that. I am a gray asexual, nonbinary lesbian in a long-term, monogamous relationship with my partner, Elizabeth. (Whose orientation is flat out none of anyone’s business.) That being said, now that I’ve offered my proverbial badges of honor (again, the outing-people-without-consent thing--that being said, I chose to mention it in this post in hopes I will not have to in the future), let’s get into why I think there needs to be a focus on F/F in particularly SFF.

SFF is a genre that’s...Well, I love it. I do. I grew up on fantasy books, and I’ve read more than a few of them. I enjoy Mercedes Lackey, though it wasn’t until I was older that I began to realize how problematic their novels truly are. Particularly, the fact that they killed off one of their only lesbians in their Heralds of Valdemar series. Ylsa was an amazing character, with no reason to die, really.

“Plot demanded it!”

Re-read the book, then ask yourself if it really needed to happen. I’m of the feeling that it didn’t. Lesbian characters are constantly killed, portrayed as creepy--or as having no boundaries, and more. Or worse, they’re seen as objects of desire for male readers, with the lesbian interactions seen through a hypersexualized lens.

In the patriarchal society we live in, SFF has adopted a heavily skewed tendency to cover one of two sub-genres, the tried-and-true cishet ‘anti-hero’ with some magic talent whom is rugged yet awkward falling in love with the equally amazing thin, athletic white human, or problematic M/M vampire/demon/werewolf torture smut with magic to keep it ‘spicy’--most often written by cis women for their own wish fulfillment. There are more than a few publishers that claim to publish strictly LGBT books, but when you click on their books that are in circulation, 390/400 are M/M, with 3 books about lesbians, and one M/M book with a trans guy in it written by a cis woman for their own pleasure. Lesbian SFF is nearly non-existent, as is SFF featuring women that are bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual. I have a demisexual character in EMBERS (Hi, Ianthe!) and an awesome bisexual character, as well. (Kayvun is amazing.)

There is a huge need for a lesbian protagonist that is not only imperfect (Celosia’s failures could fill a book--Oh wait, they did.) but is unabashed about their identity. Celosia has PTSD and depression, which impacts their throughout EMBERS in various ways. I found it an absolute must to stress that they hate the idea that PTSD could be cured with, “Tea, sunlight, and yoga.” as some people will tell you--or that they should be ‘on point’ through the entire book. That’s not reality. The reality is that even when facing the brink of war, their PTSD and depression did not give a shit. They didn’t care that they had an Operative to lead. Mental illness gives no fucks if you have to run errands, go to work, pay bills, take a shower, brush your teeth. Having Celosia never actually be impacted by their PTSD or depression in EMBERS would have been completely not realistic, not to mention insulting to myself and many other survivors of PTSD/those living with depression.

I identified as polysexual for a number of years, queer before that. I reclaimed my lesbian identity after much debate and struggle, along with more than a few tears, not very long ago. Beyond that, it’s highly personal and not something I want to get into with the general public. Please respect my privacy on that. I wrote strong, well-developed bisexual, pansexual, and asexual characters in EMBERS, and will continue to do so. My identity as a lesbian doesn’t come at the expense of other LGBTQIAP women. I try my best to combat erasure, as I know how polysexual erasure impacted me for years, even from within the LGBT community. However, does Celosia being a lesbian mean I should be the target of hate for having written a lesbian protagonist? Some people say yes. If you think a lesbian protagonist is something that doesn’t deserve to be written about because they could have been BPQ, I’m not sure what to say to that. I have no answers for you.

Overall, SFF deserves a lesbian protagonist, and more F/F centric fantasy novels. I am hopeful that Celosia will be the sort of heroine people can identify with, and hope that people will enjoy EMBERS when it arrives in the Spring of 2016.

If you'd like to learn more about Oktopus Ink, an independent digital publishing press, do not hesitate to check out their official website.

If you'd like to connect with author C.K.Oliver, they can be found tweeting @ckoliver_writes, or on their official website.


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