LGBTQ Fiction: Fitting In and Non-Binary Representation

I love LGBTQ fiction, and I love LGBTQ representation in the media. But despite the increase in LGBTQ representation in the media, for a long time I still felt left out. And it’s only recently that I realised why.

When I flick through description of gay novels, they appear either to be endless remakes of Dorian Gray or cheesy YA fiction.  Lesbian novels seemed great but still not quite right for me. But ultimately I felt neither lesbian or gay novels really fit me or depicted the kind of relationship I wanted. I felt the same looking at images of same-sex couples, imagining myself with someone of the opposite or same-sex. I was only then I realised, that what I really wanted was a non-binary relationship. For a long time I have been really open, warm towards the idea of dating someone genderqueer or intersex, and recently I thought about how nice it would be to date another nonbinary person, so I wouldn’t have to cross-my-fingers and explain and hope they understand, but instead have someone who understands my view of gender and what it is to be non-binary. However, I never realise that this was what I wanted until this week. There’s something about the way cisgender homosexual relationships are depicted or are that never quite felt like an easy fit for me, and then this is when I realised that I was interested in genderqueer/non-binary relationships more than any other form of relationship in both fiction and real life.

However, that’s where it gets a little shitty for people like me. Non-binary characters virtually do not exist in YA fiction, and hell, give me a call if you find a non-binary character in adult fiction. Mainstream fiction. Even in LGBTQ fiction, I do not see many non-binary characters (mainly YA I am talking about). It’s great to see gay and transgender literature flourishing, but there’s always that bitter tear of being left behind and forgotten.

This lack of non-binary representation is a reflection of the lack of discussion of non-binary identities in the media and real life. After Caitlin Jenner came out, transgender identities have been a hot topic for discussion for the past two years. Most people know what the term means. But being non-binary? Haha. Hell no. There’s been very limited media coverage, if at all. My ‘liberal’ friends barely understand the concept- they told me that it’s contradictory to be putting yourself in yet another ‘box’ or ‘label’! Yet anyone who is non-binary will know that being non-binary is the ultimate anti-box.

Anyway, hopefully in the future there will be more representation for non-binary folks. This is something we can strive to do, that I will do. As if making up for the abominable lack of non-binary characters in fiction, at least 3/6 of the main characters of the long-ass literary/comic series I am writing are non-binary ;). If something doesn’t exist, you can always make it exist.

Anyway, this is not all rain and grey skies. The depictions of relationships which I feel are close to what I would like are those found in certain anime.

uranus and neptune injred

Although the relationship between Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tennoh in Sailor Moon is often seen as being a typical butch/femme relationship, there is something in that relationship that seems to transcend those tropes. Maybe it’s because both characters have traits that transcend their supposed ‘type’. Maybe it’s because they’re so well-written they feel real. I don’t know.

Image result for utena

And then there’s Utena! The ultimate non-binary character! Although Utena never exactly says “I am non-binary” since I don’t think the term was really in currency back then, everything about her character and about how she is framed and portrayed screams non-binary (one of the CDs is entitled “androgynous me”).

Maybe I’ll write something more coherent and better structured another time, when my life is less hectic and when I’m feeling better.

Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki

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Tsukuru has always felt less than his friends, less deserving of his place in their close-knit friendship circle- unlike his friends, his name is colourless, and he sees this reflected in his lack of personality. However, one day his friends suddenly cut contact with him and never speak to him again. 16 years later, Tsukuru begins to search for answers under the encouragement of his current fiance, Sara.

This is a book about three things: nostalgia, growing up and revelation. It’s a revelation-based book, but it isn’t particularly well written. It’s a decent book, but it’s not masterpiece, let me explain why.

Firstly, it’s a book about growing up an nostalgia right? It’s about going from point A to B- what happened 16 years ago, and how it is now. Except, point A, the initial starting point, is never clearly described. Murakami doesn’t capture the friendship through evoking vivid memories, rather slapping down 4 character profiles together, as if he was writing a Wikipedia page for the friendship group. We don’t get to know the friends very well, we are left with a short, trope-filled description for which we are supposed to expand to whole characters. Although, it was refreshing to see these overturned once they grew up. However, the way the characters are introduced (or rather lack of) meant I wasn’t very interested in them, as I didn’t know much about them. So when big revelations did come, such as a character revealing their true sexuality, I really couldn’t care less.

Furthermore, there is way too much travelling in this book. Murakami feels the need to describe.every.fucking.detail. Do I really need to know that Tsukuru asks the Finnish transport person for directions, that he changes trains 3 times and have each train line described? Furthermore, the prose is ungracefully cut with philosophical and scientific discussions which are written in textbook language, and it seems impossible that humans are saying these words, not textbooks. These conversations are rigid  and awkward and are not well integrated into the book, and their meaning is often unclear.

Not only could the novel be more succinct, the prose… was bland. For the first 50 pages I felt like the translator just translated every sentence without giving a thought about how the sentences might join together or flow. The narration felt distant and apathetic, and sometimes like a Wikipedia page.  It consisted of almost only simple sentences.

The novel has explores dark themes, yet it merely dips its toes in the water, decides its too cold and goes back to be warmed by a pair of tits (literally). The darkest aspects of the novels are never resolved or fully explored. Mental illness is dismissed as “evil spirits”, which I find extremely irresponsible and unhelpful- considering that it writes off mental illness as something mysterious and inherently unknowable (which only perpetuates the stigma around mental health issues), and the idea of “evil spirits” has connections with very crude, historical ideas about mental illness. But it’s fine that this is never resolved according to the novel, because Tsukuru gets to touch lots of tits! (not lying).

A feeling of incompletion pervades the novel. This is terrible because it’s a revelation-based novel! And the point of such a novel is to discover secrets and truths!

This is a decent book, but it could have been much better.

Also, I did not mean to offend Wikipedia in this review, it’s a pretty decent site,

I’m interested to hear what everyone else thought, comment below.

Content warnings (spoilery): sexually explicit descriptions, rape

Review: The Art of Being Normal, Lisa Williamson

I have to admit, the book doesn’t exactly draw you in at first. But as I got past the first few chapters I really began to enjoy the book. The book if full of happy and sad moments, and it deals with themes of: gender identity, coming out, bullying, poverty, family and friendship. I really liked the exploration of different social backgrounds and family structures, because this sort of thing is sometimes neglected in YA.

I enjoyed it. The book was fast paced and had a diverse range of characters. However, it appeared that Lisa Williamson hasn’t yet mastered teenage slang of the 21st century…

Although the author’s purpose of this book is definitely to encourage acceptance of trans individuals, it is not a textbook. The characters are their own people, will their own lives. However, the author’s handling of its transgender characters could be improved. For example, the real transgender community is very diverse in relation to how they negotiate their transgender identity. But in this book all the transgender characters seem to have the same story: they knew they were trans since they were 5, they like all girly/boyish things and nothing else. It would have been less of a problem if there was only one transgender character, but if you put more in, you should really try to show the diversity of the trans community! I also felt like she focused overtly on the physical aspect of being transgender, and sometimes she really doesn’t choose the right way to show their body dysphoria.

The character also uses 2 POVs, however I wish I could get to know David and his friends more. It does seem quite focused on Leo at most of the time. I found David whiny and annoying at first, and I liked Leo’s stern and serious character. However, in the second half of the book I began to like David more as a character and I enjoyed the development of David and Leo’s friendship. However, I felt that this book lacked closure in some parts.

tl;dr Sweet and informative for those who know little about transgender individuals, but could have had a more creative plot and better representation of transgender individuals.

NB: Too much horny teenager talk in this book!


Spoiler section and discussing

The ending… I felt like it was unnecessary to devote a giant paragraph to Alicia sort-of-apologising-sort-of-removing-the-blame-from-herself. It puts the focus on her, not Leo or Kate, who had really struggled and progressed throughout the book. It annoys me, because she was obviously to blame to some extent for what happened, and Leo should not have had to apologise for not coming out earlier, especially given his past experiences! Other than that, I thought the party was cute and so was the Christmas present. I think if Alicia was going to apologise, she should have done it earlier or not at all, because putting that apology as the ending somewhat ruins the nice ending that was the party. I felt uncomfortable that she was friendzoning Leo…

Also, why didn’t we get to know Mam’s story? I felt like the writer couldn’t be bothered to think it up.

Review: Holding Up the Universe

28686840“Holding Up the Universe” does not stand out as a particularly good or bad novel. The two main characters grow and become more accepting of themselves by the end of the novel. However Jack’s repeated use of “broken” to describe himself as someone affected by prosopagnosia is unnecessary and out of place. Although it’s interesting and educational to understand challenges faced by prosopanosiacs and those deemed “fat”, the characters often seem to be infatuated with and reduced to these issues. Niven intends to show that Libby isn’t defined by her weight, yet Libby is defined by her weight in the book. She is bullied, thinks about it constantly, everyone else thinks about it constantly. Although it may be good to show weight-related bullying and make the audience empathetic, Niven talks about weight to an extent that it becomes Libby’s defining feature.

There is very little other than these issues in this book, except from romance and family problems. Furthermore there is a vast, faceless cast of supporting characters- friends and foes- who lack proper characterisation and differentiation, other than “friendly”, “bitchy” or “bully”.

The book is not slow paced, but could have been shorter and at times, it is melodramatic. However, my main issue with the plot is that it seems incomplete. The ending was incomplete, somewhat anti-climatic (although there wasn’t that much of a climax towards the ending) and utterly predictable.

Another problem: the first half of the book is almost wholly about weight-issues/prosopagnosia, but then the two main characters get into a car together- and BAM- they want to make out. I feel like the chemistry between the two main characters feels forced and sudden sometimes, but as the book progresses it does improve, although some of the romantic lines verge on the creepy or just weird (Niven has yet to master the prose of romance and the use of metaphors), however, at times the romance and friendship in the novel is sweet.

The book is also dotted with cliches from head to toe, although at times it does manage to cleverly incorporate cliches into its message. I also appreciated the diverse cast, especially in contrast to “All the Bright Things”.

tl;dr: book mainly about the protagonists’ defining issues (weight and prosopagnosia) with romance. This is not a terrible book, but there are better books out there.

The friends we made on the way.

That afternoon I left the Cambridge, the ancient seat of magnificence and intelligence, with the words, “I have seen beauty, I have seen kindness.” as the colours of the divine sunset melted and glowed. The prayers and the drunk, transcendent glories of the sky almost placed me again to believe in God, or some divine being.

I cried today. The thought of revision and not having enough time was overwhelming. And the stupid decisions I must make. But in my tears I realised, there was another beauty, another kindness, which I had encountered on the way. The beauty of friendship and the kindness of my friends. That dark, grey, period of loneliness and non-existence finally condemned to the dustbin of history.

My friends cared for me, they believed in me. They said I will get into to the place of my childhood wishes. They said I will do great things. They believed in me.

My teachers believed in me.

I exist.

But the one who was with me the most, although we broke our friendship several times. The one who rooted for me in my friendlessness and non-existence. The one who believed in from the start. They will always be the dearest, no matter what hurdles or mountains or cliffs we face in the future.

But this is not to devalue my other friends. One is gold and one is silver. An old song. But they are both platinum, merely of a different age.

I have seen the heirs of nobles, the children of hunger. I have seen cruelty, evil and irresponsibility. I have seen beauty and kindness.

Everyone believes in me.

I must believe in myself.

I exist.

And,

I will change the world.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Image result for oranges are not the only fruit vintage

A simple and enjoyable, yet challenging and thought-provoking novel on growing up in an evangelical Church community and discovering one’s true self. Winterson weaves complex ideas and heavy emotions into a simple yet at times fragmentary and experimental novel.

Jeanette was adopted as young age, and poised like Christ to save the world through her future missionary work. However, as she grows older, she discovers that the battle she must fight is not against the sinners ‘out there’ but within her own home and church, and ultimately she must decide to accept herself for who she is or remain in the rigid church community. The novel is laced with humour and sweetness, as well as interesting ideas.

However, I do wish that Jeanette’s lovers were better developed, but I understand the focus of the book was about her, her mother and the church, and the lovers played mainly a supporting role. I cannot help but feel the book is quite simply sometimes, perhaps it is the prose or the oldness of my copy. The ending did not meet my expectations and at times I disliked the fragmentary and brief nature of the novel. However, I still enjoyed reading the novel as a whole.

“I feel like my opinion doesn’t really matter.”

 

Image result for voter apathy

“Do you not maybe feel a responsibility to vote?”
“Not really, I feel like my opinion doesn’t really matter. Like it’s only one vote, so…”

A dialogue with a millennial in a recent Guardian video.(7:38-7:48)

When one sees oneself as only as an individual voter, a sole political agent amidst millions of other, different individuals, one is unable to grasp the power and potential of the collective. That is the loss of contemporary society. That we should not vote, not do anything political, because it means nothing. Of course, if everyone thinks like that any chance of a collective movement is destroyed. The reason #BlackLivesMatter gained attention is because of the mass reaction it provoked and the thousands of activists involved.  In Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues that the capitalism’s most effective opponent and scrutiniser was the trade unions- forcing capitalism to survive through innovation, not cutting wages (as would have benefited the factory owners). Marcuse lamented the situation of society, when people lost sight of themselves as a group and became “individuals” within a system that valued individuality and individual success above all else. For in abandoning the group to fulfil such an individual vision of success, workers lost their collective bargaining power. And thus they lost any power they really had, as financially disadvantaged or marginalised individuals in an unequal system.

Why else was Thatcher so eager to “atomise” society- to break it up into nothing more than mere individuals? Because the forming a political groups empowers the powerless through the sheer numerical strength and solidarity of a group, allowing it to challenge the privileged and powerful. It reminds us that discrimination and oppression exist in a systematic, pervasive and institutional way. That we are not alone. That these are not individual accidents or events. And that in seeing this pattern of inequality, we have the power to change it.

I am not saying that individuality is not important, I am saying it should not be the only mode of identification, nor the only way of thinking, especially when it comes to politics, where power is unequal yet the situation and cry for change is always paramount.

Headfirst/there is no escape

The state of waiting is over. The race has begun. Let me be neither the tortoise or the hare, but my self (others’ lives are a scare, will explain later).

This week I finished my personal statement and university application form, which will be checked over by my teachers before I officially apply. I am not fully awake right now, I am tired but trying to escape or find some better purpose than schoolwork and homework. Dad is still not well enough to return to work, but, fortunately, his hearing aids have come!

In the morning, 3 questions I decided I would like to ask myself (in no particular order):

  1. Will my father get better?
  2. Will I get into Cambridge?
  3. Will I publish my book?

The first and last are the most important, although they are all significant for different reasons.

I have much to say, but little awakeness.

I will try to recall the sentences I weaved in my head earlier today on the journey home from school:

The self-sacrifice, holy and whole submission to the system here is comparable to the self-sacrifice that the Christian religion demands.

Reasons why I want to go to Cambridge:

  1. Beautiful place, most beloved in terms of location, architecture and atmosphere of all the universities I have visited!
  2. Awesome lecturers and supervisions- should make an interesting education!
  3. Location- close by, in case anyone in my family gets ill.
  4. Prestige…
  5. Money (I know this shit from sociology and too much sensitive data)
  6. Mixture of private/state school students
  7. My father is very smart and comes from a poor background, however he did not get into the Chinese equivalent of Oxbridge for various reasons, therefore I want to make it up for him by getting into Cambridge, because I know I stand a good chance. Also because my father has not been well so I want to make him happy.
  8. Childhood dreams… perhaps something I have little freewill over since I didn’t choose to spend my 4th birthday at Cambridge (although I did consent to it for my 16th!), that’s how things went.
  9. I have the opportunity to. When I was younger, I wasn’t particularly smart, or at least I wasn’t perceived to be. It wasn’t until I was 13 I made the decisive realisation that I could/should aim for the highest grades possible, and it wasn’t until I was 16 that I had the grades the would give me the greenlights. I have high predicted grades, but a candidate that looks good on paper must look good in the interview. Also, many people simply do not have the support to apply to Cambridge, which is why I am trying my best to use this opportunity (will leave it to you to spot the irony and the cyclical argument here…)
  10. Range! The course is run by a broad range of specialists, unlike at other universities where certain topics aren’t really given that much depth and the choices are narrower (esp. Durham).

There are probably more reasons, quite tired.

I did get a headache today.

The attitude I have to things now, means everything.

It will hurt if I do not get in, because there will definitely be noticeable swathes of people at my school who do get in.

And my father’s health, means I haven’t been able to devote my full concentration to homework.

And then, my own desire to escape this cycle of death, this death of the self (perceived).

Farewell,

The End is Nigh/Before the Storm: Reflections on the Summer

Yesterday I felt rather calm, and the day before, even calmer. But slowly, I felt the breeze prickling my skin, memories of mind violence come flashing back to me sporadically. Excitement, restlessness, anxiety.

Many things happened this holiday. And all I can say was that it did not go as planned, at all.

When I came back from holiday, I actually got past my ennui pretty quickly. Which was nice. But then sizzling temperatures of 30 degrees celsius and above left me unable to work after lunch. And then, my dad fell ill. I had to take him to hospital many times, and at the start I was extremely scared. My mum wasn’t in the country, and I couldn’t drive. Luckily my dad and me managed to get to the hospital, even though he could barely walk and needed a wheelchair- the ambulance (999) had refused us. His illness was re-diagnosed several times, and the doctors kept on messing around and changing his medicine. Anyway, he recovered some of his hearing, stopped puking and is able to walk now. However he still has severe tinnitus which is preventing him from returning to normal life and work. I am grateful for the fact my dad has an stable job, which he won’t lose if he is ill for a long period of time. This is a privilege I know many people do not have. I remember when my mum lost her job after she went to visit her dying father abroad for 2 weeks. But looking back, it’s for the best that she quit that job, if people there were really that horrible. Her wages weren’t good and she had to work long hours. Although it was a few years before she found a good job, I am happy that she has a stable job now that pays at least the minimum wage.

I wasn’t able to read as many books as I wanted. Partially because I was note-taking which meant it took 2-4 weeks to complete a book. I did a lot of revision this summer (well not “a lot” but more than in the past summers).

At the start of July I forced myself to start writing to participate in Nanowrimo. This was both a good and bad idea. Good that I wrote. Bad that I went straight into it without being able to plan. This was because I was still at school for all of June so I couldn’t do any planning. I went on holiday and I fell behind by a week. I tried to catch up. I joined a chat with other people who were doing a word war, which gave me writing anxiety. Then my dad’s illness came. Then, I finally became passionate about my ideas and stories again. A lot more planning. Then, I finally feel ready to write. Although I only write a very small part. A lot of rearranging of the first few scenes. I can see where the connections must fall. But I must think of them. A bit ugh. I still need to get past my problem with writing.

In the last week of the holiday, I finally met up with my friend D. We talked about lots of stuff in small chunks. She disliked the school. She had become a nicer person two months away from the English clique. I wondered if I should talk about school. She was extremely scared about what was coming. The weather was warm, sunny, and stifling in some of the museum rooms. Unfortunately both of us get a bit frazzled in extemely hot weather.

Didn’t talk to my friends for 3 weeks. Although I really needed someone to talk to as my father was ill (they talked to me for the first two weeks, but not much afterwards). Was disappointed, desperate. Angry, needy. Finally met up with them yesterday. Although they may have solved one problem, they have many to solve. Listening to their personal problems and existential crises, I expected myself to give some enlightening advice or sweetening words a la my old self, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have much to say, I felt a bit empty, as if listening was filling my time- both good and bad. I was nice to hear someone, they thought it was nice to hear their voice again.

Didn’t finish the essay for the competition on time. Could have did it today, but I would have rather have rested before the storm. The storm, all that must come.

University, Cambridge- exam-interview-rejection/acceptance/pool, examinations. Also, societies. Sounds like nothing in these condensed words. But I sense the mind violence and paracetamol, sweat-filled nightmares, compulsory sleep on a conveyor belt of work. Weekends spent doing essays, spare moments used to calculate the order of work, surreal philosophical bus journeys. Cold. Winter. Oh and. Interview practise, exam practise, and a hundred other stressed Oxbridge applicants, some who think private school students are oppressed by state school students via positive discrimination/affirmation. All my friends on caffeine again. Anger at the teachers, the terrible teachers who do not teach. Trying to catch up on scarcely available ideas of Plato & their criticisms (irony) and rare German texts, and pieces of German phrases. No scissors. But I feel angry at her already. Also my awesome left-wing politics teacher is gone (up North, laughter).

I said for a long time that I was prepared to die this death. And now it is time for the finest race of my seventeen years. And now I must prepare myself to hit hard, slam onto the bus face-first and travel at Olympic speed. But this is a marathon, and we are half way through. It was merely a long break at a water station with towels and television. Now to return, to the race. To the terrible storm that awaits, the unpredictable days and ambiguous future that awaits me.

Lola Olufemi | The problem with “accessible” feminism

An important article.

Fly.

The word “accessible” is thrown around a lot. When people use it to refer to activism in Cambridge (The Women’s Campaign, the BME Campaign) one of the main criticisms they level against those involved is centred on this idea. The campaigns have a reputation for being “unfriendly” “not widely supported” or even, “getting things wrong.” More people do not engage with them because their fear of making a mistake on a Facebook discussion page outweighs their investment in the issues they claim to support.

It is perhaps an unspoken truth that many (white, middle class, cis) people have silently felt locked out of these activist spaces because they resent not being able to exist in them uncritically.  By this I mean, a lot of these people’s engagements with feminism stop when things become “difficult.” When they are asked to move past the realm of overt displays of gendered discrimination, of…

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