Goodreads Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Lola and the Boy Next Door (Anna and the French Kiss, #2)Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was, for me, probably about a 3-3.5 star book. However, it gets bumped up to four stars on the merits of Lola/fashion, which was my personal OTP.

The love triangle felt like a gender-swapped version of Anna and the French Kiss, which was amusing but make it extra predictable. Lola was basically the definition of a hot mess throughout most of the book (albeit with good reason some of the time). The narrative failed to make Max at all believable as a serious love interest, mostly only showing him in moments of jealously or anger despite how many times Lola says to the reader that she thinks he’s the one. I didn’t fall in love with the setting the same way I did with Paris.

Plus, I started keeping count on my progress updates of all the times the writing felt like it was making an unintentional pop culture reference. Seriously, Max drives a Chevy Impala from the 60’s (Hello there, Dean from Supernatural), Lola has similar ideas about fashion expression as Weetize Bat from Francesca Lia Block’s dream-like lyrical novels of L.A. fairy-tales, Lola talking about being empty vs full for being in a relationship reminded me of a lesser version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer saying she’s still cookie dough and not ready to be with someone until she’s warm gooey cookies… [EDIT: oh, I forgot one! The more over-protective of her gay dads was named Nathan, and I just kept picturing him as Nathan Fillion playing Richard Castle. Admittedly, that wasn’t so much the text as just how my brain works, but still! It totally fits.]

But despite all this little flaws and pet-peeves and moments of distracting reference, despite taking quite a while to warm up to Cricket (largely due to having imagined something much worse than was actually the case about what happened in the past), it was still a fun and enjoyable book, and I still ended up reading it in basically one day(ish). It was also pretty cool getting to see Anna and St Clair from the outside. All three books in this series are told first person, from the POV of a teenage girl falling in love, so the Unreliable Narrator trope is pretty much a given. It makes it extra interesting to see the same characters again in the other books, because it’s a perspective we’ll never get from another book.

But Lola and fashion! Half the reason I love the Weetzie Bat books so much is the whimsical creative daring fashion choices so lovingly described throughout, and here Lola doesn’t disappoint in doing the same. It makes me long to get a sewing machine and a workspace and wigs and go to thrift shops and start CREATING. I adore the way Lola commits to expressing herself through amazing bold fashion statements, and dream about the day I can do the same. It seriously makes up for not being another love letter to Paris (sorry Paris).

Anyway, it was an enjoyable book, and I’ll be rereading it once in a while, right along with the other two. But as Roux said in the movie version of Chocolat, “It’s good…but it’s not my favorite”.

View all my reviews

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Storytelling is a superpower, and other thoughts.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve said (written) a lot of positive things on here about fanfiction. I stand by everything I’ve said before, but due to some recent discussions I’ve been seeing on Twitter lately, I wanted to add a little complexity to my position on some of the issues surrounding fanfic.

Storytelling is important. How we tell the story, what we choose to focus on, and what we do with it afterward, all matter very deeply. These things effect people in a very real way, with very real consequences to their lives. This post is going to talk about some topics that you might not want to expose yourself to right now. I talk about them in pretty general terms, but if even hearing (reading) the name of an issue will adversely effect you, please take care of yourself first and not read this post until/unless you’re in a mentally and emotionally safe place to do so.

The discussions that sparked my own thoughts into wanting to write this post was about toxic shipping in fandom and fanfics. The release of Jessica Jones on Netflix is starting lots of very awesome powerful dialogue due to the incredible handling of PTSD, abuse, rape, misogyny, and other relevant topics for today’s culture. It’s also brought out some less awesome behavior with those people who seem to see romantic tragedy where others see abuse, manipulation, and rape. These are people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica Jones, ignoring all evidence that that’s about the most sickening and unhealthy thing they could possible do. That’s not even touching on the fact that shipping an abusive one-sided relationship is triggering for survivors of such, and also the fact that it’s showing support and/or excusing that kind of behavior in the real world.

The things we create in fiction don’t live in a vacuum, safe and away from all “real world” consequences. It doesn’t matter if we’re creating TV shows, best-selling YA fiction, or internet-only fanfic. All it takes is other people, even just one other person, seeing it. The moment that happens, it’s effecting the real world. It has become part of the world, released into the wild to spawn and grown and change in someone’s mind, becoming part of their thoughts and ideas. So us storytellers must, MUST, be responsible about what we say. But we also have to let go after it’s out there. The time for us to make sure we’re getting it as right as we can is while we’re creating it. After that, it’s too late. It’s already out there, and we don’t get a second change to fix our mistakes.

So when the story is about an abusive relationship, it needs to be called out on being an abusive relationship IN THE NARRATIVE. This is something Jessica Jones did. My skin crawled seeing Kilgrave, despite how much I adore David Tennant. They never shrank away from the fact he was a horrible awful person, even when they gave him complexity and backstory and explanations (and please note: these were NEVER framed as excuses except by Kilgrave). Not all narratives do this; in fact, very few of them do at all. They turn abusers into someone misunderstood, broken but fixable through love and sacrifice. That’s the lessons learned by people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica, because like Kilgrave, they learned about love by seeing it in movies and TV shows. That kind of narrative about love not how the real world works, and survivors of abusive relationships know it.

People who buy into the toxic narrative and defend it are hurting the survivors. They’re also hurting themselves and anyone else who listens to that narrative, because it makes it easier for the myth to perpetuate. They’re giving confusion and uncertainty to people who won’t always recognize abuse because it’s been dressed up as romance. They’re giving excuses and justification to those who will use romanticized abuse to get what they want from other people, consciously or not. They’re supporting a culture that doesn’t acknowledge rape, abuse, misogynist, violence against women. They’re supporting a culture that can’t tell the difference between what’s okay and what isn’t. They’re supporting a culture that devalues the abused and their experiences.

I’m not saying the people who ship these things are bad, necessarily. They might be. I don’t know, because I don’t know them at all. All I can tell is that they’re certainly misinformed and in desperate need of some feminist education. I’m sure a lot of them would disagree with me and call me a lot of horrible things if they read this. I’m sure a lot of them wouldn’t even realize the irony of doing that, how it would in fact prove my point better than my own words can. This happens all the time, both on the internet and in the “real world”. Despite all progress, we’re still living in a toxic culture, one where just telling the truth about it on the internet can, and often does, lead to death threats, rape threats, and verbal abuse.

Which is why storytelling is so desperately important. The real world hurts, and a lot of us use escapism to survive it — I certainly do. The thing is, it isn’t really escapism. It’s just a different way to change and explore the very same narrative we’re living in day after day. The way that narrative is framed will either make our wounds bleed more, or help them to heal. If someone is telling a story with toxic relationships, framing them as tragic romance is adding to the very thing that’s hurting us in the first place. But framing them with in-your-face honest realism, showing just how bad and awful and insidious they are, makes them become something we can then point to and say, “See, this is what’s really going on. This is what it feels like to be stalked and manipulated and trapped and then survive. It’s not romantic. It’s not something you get over by the next episode. It’s scary as hell, and it changes you for life. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you strong. It’s awful, and it’s happening every day. But we can still fight back.”

There was another conversation happening a few days ago. It was about how J.K. Rowling was continuing to tell people the right and wrong ways to interpret her characters. These people were talking about how hurtful it was for an author to do that. They had bonded with the people in these stories because the characters resonated with real life experiences and people. The characters were real to them, like all our favorite fiction characters are real to us. They had claimed them, had written and read fanfiction about them, had created their own narrative and framing about them, both by using what was in the text and by going beyond it. These people were offended and outraged at the author telling them they were wrong in their own interpretations.

So how are those people different from the people shipping Kilgrave/Jessica Jones?

They’re different for a very simple reason: the framing and narrative created by toxic shipping is ADDING to a toxic culture. But these outraged fans are creating interpretations to DISMANTLE toxic culture. They’re creating narrative to add POC, to add queer relationships, to call out abusers, and other important issues that were overlooked or deemed unimportant in the original text. No work of fiction is perfect, even Harry Potter, and it can certainly be hard to tackling every issue at once. So these people are taking something they love, something profoundly important to our generation, a touchstone of our culture, and they’re adding this framing to it. They’re doing it because they love it, and because they have the real life experiences and knowledge to understand where the failings and shortcomings are, and they have the passion to try and fix them. This is something I love and adore about fandom, by the way.

J.K. Rowling coming along and telling them that no, those things are wrong, is hugely upsetting. Harry Potter and co are her creations, but as soon as she published the stories, their names and experience became ours, too. They’re part of everyone who reads the books or watches the movies or listens to the audiotapes. They’re part of our culture, a lexicon in our ongoing dialogue about the world. She doesn’t get to invalidate that by telling us we’re doing it wrong. She can and does try, but it doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. She had her chance to tell that story, and now it’s our turn. Which means the responsibility in how the story is framed falls to us, too.

A storyteller gets one shot to get it right. And, regardless of if they do or not, everyone who received that story then gets their own shot to get it right. And on, and on, and on. Stories never really die or go away. They keep mutating, traveling, forming and breaking apart and reforming, over and over and over. Stories are alive, even the ones pinned down with print or film or tape. They’re alive in our minds, as soon as we read them or watch them or listen to them. They never leave us, and they never stop changing our thoughts and feelings and actions. They get passed on, warping themselves through the lens of our perceptions and experiences, and again through those same things of the ones who receive it from us.

How we tell the stories is so important. They can literally change the world for someone, for good or bad. The moment we’ve told the story, we’ve lost the chance to tell it better. So we’d better get it the best we can the first time, because that’s all we get, and with that one chance we can heal or break someone else. It’s scary and huge and real, and it’s powerful and beautiful and magic. Storytelling is the ultimate superpower. It doesn’t matter if you think you have an audience or not. Chances are, someone somewhere is still listening. You’re touching their life. So you can either add to the toxic culture that’s probably already hurting them, or you can use that superpower to help create dialogue to dismantle it, and let them know they’re not alone.

We all have our own experiences, our own truths and struggles and wounds and insights. Storytelling is how we can share those things, finding the common ground with others and opening the eyes and minds of those who never realized what life was like for us. It’s a chance create understanding, compassion, empathy, outrage, revelation, and a myriad of other things that are extremely hard to pass on without the wonder that is storytelling. Storytelling is how we learn about other people, it’s how we can grow to understand the world, how we remember the past, and how we can shape the future.

That’s one reason why I think fanfiction is so important. Not everyone has the same experiences (obviously), so when someone can take a beloved narrative like the Harry Potter books and flesh it out even more by drawing on their own unique view, that adds to both the story as a whole, and to my own views of other people. I can become a little more aware of other peoples’ realities in the real world, and the world of Harry Potter gets a little closer to being complete because more than one voice is adding to it. The more voices and the more diversity gets added to it, the better it gets at breaking down toxic culture for more people. No one is going to get things 100% right, but the more people who add to it, the better the chances get for the overlap to make up the difference. Not to mention how cathartic it can be to add to that narrative and framing yourself, which is exactly what I experienced the first time I venture into writing fanfic as an angsty teen.

I’m a storyteller myself. Not just in this blog, either. I recently finished a first draft of a novel I hope to actually publish in the next year or so, and I’ve started on a sequel already. I’ve been world-building fantasy and sci-fi worlds for stories since I was about twelve or so, and do it by playing Let’s Pretend for as long as I can remember. Saying I love it is kind of a “does not compute” understatement moment for me, because it’s just part of who I am. It’s not something I’m passionate about, because it’s synonymous with passion for me. I breath, I blink, my heart beats, I create people and worlds and scenarios in my head. It just is. Obviously, thinking about getting to share one of those worlds and some of those characters is exciting and cool. But you know what the thing I’m most excited about is? It’s seeing what other people will do with them.

I want to see my own stories get out there, because I want to see how they grow and change with each new interpretation. I want to see what other stories get told with these characters who are real to me, because that means they’re real enough to someone else to inspire those other stories. I want to see what will happen when someone else uses them to tell personal stories, uses them to explore other issues, uses them fulfill other dreams and hopes. I want to see how someone else thinks the story should end. I want those things because seeing them will make me a better storyteller, and a better person. Those are the things that will help me understand someone else, and help me to understand the world and the cultures and all those other things I’m not going to experience as myself. I don’t know what it’s like to live the world as someone else, but using stories like this helps me get closer to that. Especially if they’re using the power of storytelling for good.

Stay strong, cyber-friends, and keep telling stories that help to heal and dismantle those toxic cultures.

Love,

GeGi.

Trip Log: Mixed Feels.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Portland was awesome! I didn’t actually do all that much apart from hang out with my friend and wander around the neighborhood, but if you’re with the right company, just that much can be the best thing ever. I also accidentally-on-purpose bought a bag FULL of books and audiotapes… but they were very affordable, so there’s that! There’s some pictures from my time there on my Twitter account if you want to check them out.

From one end of Oregon to the other, I headed down to Grant’s Pass for the weekend, to spend a little time with my brother. I’m still sorting through my feels a bit after seeing him; obviously it was fantastic to get to hang out after so long apart, but it was also slightly awkward to see how much has changed with him that I hadn’t been aware of. We’re both horrible at staying in touch with one another, which is part of the problem, but it’s more than that, too. He’ll always be my brother, of course, and there’s still all the shared history between us from growing up, but he feels like a stranger, too, and one I probably wouldn’t get to know if we were just meeting. It’s sad; I hate to see someone I love turn into that, to lose some of that spark that made them one of my first idols. But I’ve grown up enough myself to see him in a different light, to see what kind of person he really is now. It hurts, but it’s also part of letting go of past fantasies and becoming my own person.

I’m also reeling a bit from something he said to me; both what he said and the fact he said it in the first place. I had just told him about some of what had happened to me in my last relationship — the horrible things that were done towards me, the things said and repeated to me, the betrayals and manipulations. For some reason, my brother felt that would be a good time to mention that part of why he hadn’t been in touch with me for those seven years — other than the previously agreed story that we were both just really bad at keeping in touch — was because his ex-wife (who I’d always been friendly with, had hung out with back in Idaho, and with whom I’d had a lot of friends in common), had apparently told him repeatedly I was spoiled, and that she didn’t want me staying in her house if I came to visit.

I have no idea how to take this news. I’m still wrapping my head around the pending divorce in the first place — something I only found out about a few months ago. I understand he’s in a bad place right now, and I have sympathy for him. But that’s for him to deal with, and I have to take care of my own problems. To hear this story about someone I thought of as my sister-in-law and family, and not only that, but to hear it from my brother, and knowing that he was thoughtless enough about my own well-being to tell me in the first place… it’s a lot to take in and recover from. I’ve been hurt and accused of a lot of nasty things through the years, and am constantly dealing with the damage that’s done to my self-esteem and self-image. I hadn’t expected the newest blow in that direction to come from the mouth of my brother. He and Mum were pretty much the only close family I have who’d never said hurtful things to me. I can tell myself my brother didn’t mean to hurt me by telling me that, but it’s a hurtful thing to say and there was no reason I needed to know. Intentions aside, it was a hurtful act.

And now I’m trying not to cry in public, as I write this using a cafe’s internet. I’ll be hitting the road again soon, and what a relief it is to know I can be on my own for a while now. The people we surround ourselves with are so important to choice wisely. It’s not always obvious what’s going to be a good choice. Solitude is a lot easier and safer sometimes. Plus my twitter-friends. My twitter-friends are the best.

Love to you all,

GeGi.

PS: I’m not going to have regular internet access for the next week or two, just so you’re all warned. Those who have my phone number, feel free to try texting. Everyone else, please be patient for my replies. <3, GG.

Not the usual kind of post…

[WARNING: this post talks about my struggles with triggering subjects, including but not limited to depression, self-esteem, cutting, suicide, and bad relationships. Only read if you feel such subjects aren’t going to be harmful to yourself. Your own health and care and safety are far more important than whatever rambling words I’ve typed.]

Dear Cyber-Friends,

On the surface, I have a pretty awesome life; I’ve never had debt, I have decent jobs, I now have a good car, I pretty much always have somewhere to live and food to eat, I have friends and family who love me and support me when I ask for it, I have a computer and a smart phone and books and movies and an ipod full of music… There’s a lot of obvious comforts and benefits in my life. Not to mention things like being unattached to any location so I can travel whenever I want (jobs allowing) which a lot of people seem to find quite enviable, and having the ability and privilege to be independent, and apparently having some talent at artistic things like writing and painting.

On the flip side, I’ve also struggled with things like having a short and violent temper, having untreated depression, thinking I’m worthless and invisible, self-harming, finding meaning and direction in life, coping with the unexpected death of someone I grew up with as a teenager, isolating behavior, social anxiety, introversion, extreme trust issues, a history of bad and borderline abusive romantic relationships… A lot of those things are connected, and pretty much all of them have been/are being handled on my own — without the help of trained professionals or medication, or even much discussion with said friends and family.

I think a lot of the reason I’ve never gotten help or even opened up all that much about the internal things I deal with is due to those trust issues and that self-image of not being worth someone else’s care/time/attention. Everyone has shit in their life they deal with. My suicidal moments haven’t played out to actual action and my moments self-destructive behavior has been contained enough not to interfere beyond my own mind and body, so to the slightly damaged logic of my meaner side equals all that to being not bad off enough to bother anyone else with my own issues. Besides which, talking about my less-than-happy bits means being vulnerable and trusting not to use that to hurt me, and so far the track record on that working out in my favor has been spotty.

Even typing this post is hard to do, and the thought of actually publishing it terrifies me because then I’ll be admitting how broken I feel inside sometimes. I work hard to keep it hidden from everyone, and I honestly don’t think I could even tell you why or how I became convinced at such a bone-deep level that I had to pretend to be perfect, but for some reason I hold myself to an impossibly high standard. Exposing the parts of me that don’t live up to it, no matter how much I know those who love me already know about them, is one of the hardest things I could possibly do. I want to delete this whole post, but for some reason being honest right now feels really important and necessary. Which means I probably won’t be reading this over again before I post — something I usually do to make my typical long run-on sentences broken down into coherent thoughts — so if this post is a bit of a rambling mess, that’s why. Welcome to how my brain composes writing.

I don’t know what point I’m trying to make here. Maybe I just wanted to use my little corner of the internet to confess that I haven’t been feeling very stable lately. I’ve been using physical exhaustion (cross-country skiing) as a way to cope — I push myself beyond what I think I can do so I end up too tired at the end to feel anything but the “high” of exercise, while also satisfying the part of me that demands self-punishment by doing something a little more constructive than cutting. It helps to purge the build-up of frustration and anger and depression which cause my short temper, and allows me time and reason to be outside, which helps build a sense of contentment.

But the holidays are here at the ranch, which means I haven’t had that outlet all week, and probably won’t get it again for another week. I haven’t been dealing with it well, which is to say I’ve been cutting and drinking and isolating myself and listening to angry music and crying. Not to mention getting progressively more annoyed, frustrated, and generally pissed off with basically everything, but especially the people who already take more energy to deal with. I simply don’t have the energy to spare for dealing with them right now, because I’m using it all to keep myself alive and get through this period. I cling to the knowledge that my emotions tend to cycle, so every darker time like this is always book-ended with brighter times. It helps. It helps me survive it, anyway. It doesn’t really help make it any better to go through.

I have a really hard time letting anyone see me when I’m like this. I get very edgy knowing people are around, and I just want to feel safe — which for me means being alone, or at least anonymous. The last thing in the world I want is people being physically around me, people I don’t know very well questioning me, or generally interacting with others physically or verbally. So I spend a lot of time with headphones on, and I spend a lot of time on the internet. Internet friends are, at the very least, a welcome distraction. Sometimes they even help me feel better, if only for a brief bright moment.

Family is tricky, because I don’t want them to worry about me, so I don’t want them to know how screwed up I feel. When I was a teenager and wanted to kill myself, I didn’t because I decided I would wait until my parents and siblings had died, so I wouldn’t be hurting them. Since I felt dead already and just wanted to stop existing, it seemed like the least I could do to simply hold on long enough not to cause those who would miss me any extra pain. Even now, in my darker moments, I wonder if anyone would really notice or care if I were simply gone. I know my Mum would, and probably my Dad and sister and even my brother, and maybe a few others, but I have a hard time understanding why anyone loves or cares about me, the real me, so it’s difficult to convince myself I matter.

Being alone is easier to deal with — even when I feel lonely and isolated — than trying to understand and deal with people caring about me. I just can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that I might be important to someone else. I mean, I’m important to me because I have to be, but I honestly can’t figure out what there is about me that would make anyone else care. If you’re not immediate family, telling me you love me and being serious about it is a sure-fire way to make me at the very least confused, if not actually freaked out and running. Partly because of bad past experiences, but partly just because if you think that I’m worth loving there’s clearly either something wrong with you or you just have no idea who I really am, and either way isn’t promising. Much better to just avoid all that and be on my own, where I can be as crazy as I need to be without fear of judgement or of causing pain.

Big chances to the outer life are good — for a while I can cruse on the excitement and newness, which gives me the extra energy to be social and optimistic. But it’s not really my natural resting state, so to speak, so eventually I revert back to introvert and depression, unless I put a lot of effort and awareness into self-care. The moment I let that awareness slip into laziness, all the issues I’ve pushed back pounce again, and it’s back to fighting to survive long enough to regain equilibrium, while expanding all extra energy into not letting the mask of strength slip enough to let those around me see how much I’m hurting. I think half the reason I’m being a nomad with seasonal jobs is so I know I’m only committing to a few months at a time before the next new thing. Having an end date in sight gives me sometime to aim for when things get dark.

I’d been talking about doing a Europe trip with a couple of the roommates here at the ranch once the season ends. I’ve been rethinking that plan this last week; I feel like I’d rather spend the majority of my time between seasonal jobs doing something on my own, being away from the constant interaction this lifestyle demands. It would help me recover enough to get through another season, and maybe I could even save up enough money to do a bigger trip later. Also, I’ve been feeling a strong urge to make going to the parts of Europe I’m drawn to into a sole trip, with more of a personal pilgrimage focus than just tramping around with a couple people half a decade younger than me.

The idea of traveling on my own is very soothing to that part of me that feels constantly on edge when I’m around people. Thinking about it brings a feeling of calm to the constant agitation, which seems like a pretty good sign that it’s a good call. I haven’t talked to the roommates about my possible change of heart about the plan yet, because I’m still not sure which way I’m gonna end up going on it. I’m not sure what I’ll decide to do this spring. I have a job interview for next summer already, though.

The whole point of the way I’m trying to live right now is to have freedom. I want to live life on my own terms as much as is very possible for anyone. I’ve always been pretty fiercely independent, even at my most co-dependent, and I’ve finally gotten over my own fears enough to act on it. I don’t want to start compromising that just yet, so right now I think that means traveling solo between jobs, and doing my own thing during jobs. I don’t hold on to other people well, so I lose touch as soon as I leave, and I think I’m actually pretty happy with that. I’m not a social creature. I think I want to just drift through the lives around me, and not hold on. I want to be free that way.

There’s more I could say, but this seems like a good stopping place. I’m only going to get less coherent as it gets later, for one thing. And I feel like I’ve lost the plot somewhat of what I was trying to say — which I’m not even sure what that was in the first place, so…

Anyway.

Take care of yourself. It’s the kindest act you can do.

I love you all.

GeGi.

A Rather Long Post About Being A Fan.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve talked a little before at about fandom, and in particular about the way a fandom can either become a very bullying or very supportive place. If you’ve been following my Twitter account the last couple days, you probably won’t be surprised I’m going to talk about fandom again right now. Everything I’m going to say is from a personal point of view; I don’t pretend I’m speaking for anyone but myself, and I certainly can’t comment about anyone else’s experiences, goals, desires, dislikes, etc.

Okay, disclaimer over, now for the backstory. I’ve never really been a “group” sort of person. Even among close friends, I tend to keep to the edges, watching and listening more than talking and participating. I generally go with the flow, and tend to form strong opinions only after much thought and comparison to other opinions, and only once they seem to make sense. I’m certainly not very vocally, and when I am, I try to be pretty fair and balanced about it. Even on my own personal soap box of this blog, I still try to use positive language to try and educate rather than alienate. When interacting with other people, I look at things from as many sides as possible and keep my observations to myself except for a few occasional pointed comments if I think they are warranted or if I’m particularly passionate about the subject.

Make no mistake, I DO have loyalties and preferences, and in the right environment I’m as susceptible to “fan-flailing” as the next excited and passionate person. But more often than not, I simply don’t want to get dragged into arguments if someone disagrees with me. I have very little patience for that sort of thing, having been constantly exposed to it growing up. Those kinds of things very often have little to do with actually sharing different points of view for mutual education and enlightenment, and more to do with “THIS IS WHY YOU’RE SO WRONG AND SUCK AS A PERSON”, especially when they happen in most places on the internet. I’d much rather have conversations that go more like “YOU ARE AN AWESOME PERSON AND I’M SO GLAD WE GOT TO SHARE THESE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS”.

So usually, my fandom interaction goes something like this: there will be a thing I like, and I’ll see some other people liking that same thing, and they might have different things to say about it, and I’ll listen and go “oh, cool, I totally see that now” or “oh, cool, never thought of that before” and I may or may not actually agree with those things, but it doesn’t matter because we’re all enjoying this things and learning from each other and sharing our passions. I love that kind of stuff. And if I really like you, I might even start ranting about cinematography or something!

And then sometimes someone will come along and tell all the people sharing and liking this one thing why that thing is a X Y or Z bad thing, and it will escalate back and forth, and sometimes the cool people rally, and something the not-cool people will make death threats, and it’s all just very unpleasant and nasty and often enabled by a lot of the cultural problems we’re dealing with more and more these days. I’ve talked about some of those problems before on the blog. Check the archives.

Anyway.

In fandom, these two scenarios are pretty frequently played out. However, I’m relatively new to being active enough to observe it happening in the moment. I’ve been a fan of various things all my life, but due to the aforementioned “sticking to the edges”, I never really interacted with other fans all that much. I might read articles, but would skip the discussion boards and comment sections due to all the arguing and insulting and hating and bullying it often seemed to degrade into. I’d rather just enjoy the thing I loved on my own and keep all the excitement and theories to myself, rather than risk being attacked online. I had enough going on my life already, and made the choice not to add more stress.

That all started to change a year or two ago, with the oh-so-excellent Snark Squad, who run a website with one of the most polite, intelligent, respectful comments sections I’ve ever heard of. To be sure, they’re had their difficulties with hate and threats and insults and bullies too, but the Snark Ladies are some truly classy women, and they — with the help of the regulars — would always address the problems and bring the discussion back from the explosive potential.

I finally had a place where I could venture out of my shell and leave comments, without the fear of attack from all sides. It was a revelation. I created a Twitter account solely to be able to interact more with these incredibly awesome people. I started a blog because they had shown me how meaningful someone can make their own little corner of the internet, and how supportive an online community can be. They inspired me, and helped me feel safe putting myself out there. Even if I was attacked or threatened, I knew they would have my back.

I’ve branched out a bit since then; the last few days on Twitter, as I mentioned, have been full of fandom posts for a particular ‘shipper corner of the internet connected to the TV show Supernatural. Actually, my semi-involvement with them has been going on a bit longer. It started with the earlier blog post here (linked above in the intro to this post), when I talked about how divided and hurt the fandom was, and how irresponsible some of the actors had been about the issues causing it.

Things flared up again more recently when an online journalist was falsely flagged as a security threat and escorted from the convention she was reporting at, all without any investigation into the matter. Turns out, a bully with an agenda and a friendship with the actors’ bodyguard had sent an out-of-context screencap of the journalist tweeting a quote from a different show. Some “threat”, huh?

Some fans rallied to her defense, and others continued to attack. Look for the hashtags #IStandWithEmily and #EmilyDeservesAnswers for those who support her. The matter still hasn’t been fully settled; the convention apologized and refunded her, but their hands had been tied anyway during the whole thing. The show, the network, the stars and the bodyguard involved all still have yet to address the incident, apart from some vicious tweets from the bodyguard immediately after that he’s since erased.

To add insult to injury, the same journalist had been organizing and fundraising commemorative mugs and gift baskets for the cast and crew, to celebrate their tenth season and 200th episode (aired earlier this week).

The 200th episode itself was another touchy subject. Supernatural seems to have no qualms about meta commentary and breaking the fourth wall on occasion, and has multiple entire episodes pretty much centered around doing just that. The results are…mixed, to put it diplomatically. Reception among the fans depends greatly on who you talk to.

It’s not surprising; the show has a history of not understanding fandom, of not handling PR well, and of inadvertently condoning or deliberately ignoring bullying behavior of some of the fans towards many others. Of course they’re going to be a little “off” when it comes to trying to break the fourth wall on the show and have meta commentary on something they don’t actually seem to understand all that well. They give us broad strokes, and the reality is very nuanced. It’s an obvious and understandable mistake, but one they could have handled much better in the past if they’d not been so blind to their own privileges and the damage they were causing.

It’s understandable that fans who have had a painful experience at the hands of the people in charge of a thing they love, and at the hands of other people proclaiming to love that thing, might be a bit wary, a little mistrustful, and just too tired to keep hoping and fighting for what they love. It’s understandable they might not feel safe in the general fandom. It’s understandable they might decide they need a break, or some reassurance from people like them, before they risk exposing themselves again.

If the thing you love has been a cause of pain, betrayal, attacks, threats, and all manner of not feeling welcome or safe, and if the people perpetuating that behavior feel vindicated doing so due to comments made by the people who are ACTUALLY in charge of that thing, then yes, taking a break or even leaving it forever are totally legit options. That’s kind of obvious.

I’m new to this fandom, and while I do already have some pretty strong loyalties, I haven’t been on the front lines of this fight. I haven’t been attacked for years, as some have. I haven’t had to go through the roller-coaster of hints and hopes and disappointment. I went into this thing pretty late in the run, and I was pretty heavily aware of exactly what to expect from it. I went in, but I did it with my eyes open and my guard up. The fans I’ve paid attention to are fabulous people. I avoid the ones who aren’t adding to my experience of the show, the ones who are attacking those things I feel loyalty towards, the ones who are bullies. It’s a survival method. I get to bask in the good stuff, while aware enough of the bad to try and avoid stepping in it. I stick to the edges still, but now there’s some interaction going on, too.

Back to the 200th episode. It was promoted as a “love letter to the fans”, which made some of those fans very nervous. Not only is the fandom heavily divided and antagonistic with a history of bullying, but the show itself has a track record during some of those meta episodes AND in the real world of belittling and insulting many of the very fans who’ve supported it and kept it on the air for those ten years. There was a very strong and skeptical “wait and see” vibe on my Twitter feed.

Then people started live-tweeting as they watched the episode.

Reports trickled in that sounded more hopeful, and then some started doing that “fan-flailing” sort of excited all-caps tweets that are probably about half the reason I love being around fandoms. The show had actually given the fans something they could enjoy, to various degrees. Not everyone loved it, of course, and like everything in life it could have been even better. Yes, all those other issues still existed. Yes, there is still all the baggage and bullying to contend with. But the 200th was far better than a lot of us had feared, and it gave those who analyze the meta a lot of new material to work with (which is probably another quarter of the reason I love fandom — meta analysis is addictive when you’re already an over-thinking geek who loves mythos and the process and ideas behind storytelling).

I’m not holding my breath for things to get any better in the fandom or the show. Despite what all my positivity may suggest, I’m much more pragmatic than optimistic. But because I stick to the edges, because I went in with my eyes open and never had to have the painful process of disappointment and attacks, I can set all the politics and social issues and bigger picture to one side for a moment, and just enjoy the ride of the 200th as a stand-alone, isolating it for the moment from this history attached to it and enjoying it at face-value only. From that point of view, it was a pretty fantastic episode; full of giggles and nods and surprisingly insightful yet utterly ridiculous songs. There were plenty of things to flail over, even if they turn out not to be as meaningful in that bigger picture in the future. For one hour, I could just enjoy being a fangirl.

The episode is called Fan Fiction, and I think what I want to take away from it as the moral of the story is this: the story belongs to anyone who loves it enough to care about it, to anyone with the passion to fight for it and believe in it, even if the story they’re focused on is slightly (or very) different than someone else’s. It’s not about what’s “canon” and what isn’t. It’s about the heart of storytelling — drawing people together, taking them into someone else’s life and bringing them on a journey, letting them experience emotions and situations they wouldn’t otherwise, and leave them feeling a little more connected to the people around them afterwards. Fanfic or canon doesn’t matter; at this level, all good storytelling becomes equal. It’s the story that’s valid, not the origins. And good storytellers are valuable, whatever they’re credentials, because they’re how stories stay alive and relevant and able to grow.

In that respect, I’d say the little corner of fandom I’ve been on the edges of is doing things exactly right. Storytelling and fiction exist to be shared. Studies show that people who are exposed to fiction develop more empathy for others, because it helps them understand who are different than them, people whose lives look nothing like their own but whose emotions and struggles are just as real. Clearly it isn’t a magic cure, or else no one in a fandom would be bullying anyone else, but it’s a good starting place. The friendships and support that can come out of shared storytelling and fandom can last a lifetime, and are the foundation of a functioning society of any size. We need empathy to survive as a people, and we certainly need it to thrive and grow ourselves.

Be kind to each other, and read more. Both acts are good for you.

Love,
GeGi.

Read Your Book Case

Advanced Sexuality 101.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

In last week’s Tuesday post I talked a bit about my gender identity. Thanks to some inspiration from one of my bloggy friends, I thought a good follow-up would be talking a little more on that, and start talking about sexuality. This is a huge subject to cover in one post, so I’m going to try for just a basic introduction to some of the more complex aspects this time. If you have any questions afterward feel free to ask in the comments!

To a majority of people, I think sexuality is still considered a bit of a yes/no, black/white, gay/straight subject. Hopefully quite a few people are aware of some of the middle ground — bisexuality — and see that it is a legitimate aspect of a spectrum. However, there’s a growing awareness that sexuality, like gender, can be much more complex and multifaceted in reality and practice.

Below is a useful chart for reference; I like this one because it contains enough categories that I think it starts to reflect a bit more accuracy with us more complex humans, yet it is still a fairly simple and accessible breakdown for those being introduced to this concept.

According to this chart’s categories and definitions, for instance, I would currently self-identity this way:

  • Gender Identity is genderqueer.
  • Romantic Attraction is lesbian.
  • Sexual Attraction is bisexual.
  • Sex is female.
  • Sexual Practice is grey asexual.

This is basically why I label my sexuality with the catch-all term “queer”, in case you wondered.

Now, I’ve already talked about being genderqueer in the prior post I mentioned. “Bisexual”, for me, is not about binary genders; it is saying “I like those with gender/sex like me, and I like those with gender/sex unlike me”. I prefer it to pan-sexual for personal reasons (nothing against those who prefer pan-sexual! I’ve used that label as well, and have zero problems with it. Labeling yourself is all about personal preference). I’m going to assume that “lesbian” and “female” probably don’t need explaining. If they do, then just ask me in the comments, or do a search on the internet, or look in the local library.

As for the last category, “grey asexual” is a term that can have different definitions depending on who you ask. Broadly speaking, it can be an umbrella-term for folks that aren’t quite sexual, but aren’t quite asexual either. The middle ground, so to speak. This one is a bit tricky for some people to understand, so I’ll get into it more further down. For now, just try to keep in mind that sexuality can be more than just an “on/off” thing for some of us.

I’m going to assume that thinking of sexuality and gender in these ways is new and unfamiliar for you. If it isn’t, awesome! I love awareness and diversity, so good for you! For the rest of you, I’m going to start getting into these categories a little more. This subject is about as huge as the number of people in the human race, since we’re all incredibly diverse and unique in many ways — so if I get something wrong, it’s because I can only speak for myself and my own understanding. Think of this as an introduction rather than the definitive word on the subject.

Obviously, a lot of people are probably not overly complex, and therefore might not think of some of these things being separate categories; not every chart separates romantic attraction, sexual attraction, and sexual practice, for instance. But that’s one of the reasons I love this particular chart. Those ARE separate things for some people, and defining our own sexuality to ourselves — much less coming out to other people — can get very confusing very quickly without the realization that we can have different answers for those aspects.

Much the same way my biology is female but my mind and personality are genderqueer, I experience physical attraction — “that person looks sexy”, etc — to all genders, but tend to only have romantic attraction — “I wanna spend time with that person”, etc — with non-male/female gender types. Oddly enough, I’ve been in more “dating” type relationships with men; I guess I seem to come off as a straight female unless I correct people all the time, and for a while it was easier from me to do as expected and ignore how I felt, due to unfortunate circumstances. But I usually didn’t feel quite right in those relationships, more like I was playing a part than just being me, and they rarely lasted very long.

As for sexual practice, I would personally like to break down this category further: Sexual Practice Identity and Sexual Practice Behavior. Like the separation of other categories, those can legitimately be different things for some people. It can cause confusion and distress for one’s self and others trying to deal with the seeming paradoxes caused by trying to definite them as one thing. Currently my answers would be the same for both, but there have been times when they were not. For instance, the last time I was in a relationship, my identity was still grey asexual, but my behavior wasn’t. That caused a lot of problems and stress for me, because at the time I didn’t know how to break it down into these categories to reconcile how I felt with how I acted.

Speaking of grey asexual, this would be a good time to get into another aspect of the sexuality spectrum. Hopefully most people are aware of the range between gay and straight, with bisexuality being in the middle. However, this is only one side of a sexuality pyramid. Asexuality — those who do not experience sexual attraction/desires — is the other tip. In that vast space between those points, are all the people in-between; those who rarely experience sexual feelings, those who only do under very particular circumstances, those who experience it very atypically, and so on. If you want more information about this, I suggest you check out AVEN’s website here, because it’s basically a whole other post to really get into it, and I’m just doing overviews at this point.

I call myself grey asexual to indicate that I’m somewhere in the middle of that pyramid/spectrum. In terms of Sexual Practice (both behavior and identity), I don’t consider myself completely asexual; yet I have very little interest at the moment in pursuing a physical relationship with anyone — and am only slightly less averse to the idea of a romantic non-physical relationship (those relationships would be called demisexual, by some definitions). As mentioned above, I have a history of feeling conflicted about physical relationships even when I do think I want them — so I’m pretty sure I would label myself grey asexual for my Sexual Practice Identity even when my Behavior did not indicate it.

All in all, I tend to approach all aspects of my sexuality — like my gender — as being quite fluid. I’m aware this view is pretty atypical from the majority. It can lead to a lot of confusion and uncertainty, for myself and others, but I find the fluid and multifaceted approach helps my own sanity more than it hurts anything else, and that’s the important thing. Everything I’ve talked about here is only as useful as it is helpful; if it doesn’t help you, don’t apply it to you. But by the same token, please keep it in mind when dealing with others, so you can be respectful of their identities and needs.

There’s a lot of information in this post, so I’m going to leave at that for now. I didn’t really get into everything, but it’s a start, and hopefully it will spark some interest in learning more about this fascinating subject! If you have any questions or would like me to do another follow-up on one of these topics, leave a comment…

Love,

GeGi.

A Letter of a Different Kind.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

This post is not part of my usual schedule, but it says some things I needed to say…


Dear Ex,

I was wrong.

I was wrong to think — to believe — that you were my match, that you were my equal. I was wrong to think we believed the same things, or that we were on the same path. Words can lie and mislead, and yours lied to me, allowed my heart to be misled by hope.

You did not intend to hurt me. But you also failed to step up and be a partner when you saw that I was hurting. You did nothing. You stayed silent. You stayed passive. You turned away from me, and ignored me. Your words turned away from me, turned into disappointment in me, frustration in me.

I fought to be at your side, and you kept walking away.

And when I couldn’t fight anymore, when I was tired and bruised and bloody from constant battle, weary to the soul, what did you do then? Nothing. You told me it was my fight, my choice. Your actions and words sent a loud clear message: You didn’t care. I was nothing to you. I didn’t matter.

You were wrong.

You were wrong to think I was nothing, that I didn’t matter. You were wrong to treat me as a problem, an annoyance. You were wrong to treat me as less than a partner. You were wrong to stand idly by as those you cared about mistreated me. You were wrong to watch and do nothing as I fought, to blame me for fighting, to tell me I shouldn’t fight, to tell me I was wrong.

You were wrong.

I carry the scars, still fresh, on my bleeding heart. I carry the weariness, the sadness, the hurt and the guilt. It is not my burden to bare, but you made it mine. You failed to be my partner, and I constantly pay the price. I carry the anger, too. That is mine, my right, won in battle. I shouldn’t have to wear it, but I choose to take it up because without it what else is left? The battle is still being fought, every day, by my sisters and friends. I wear it for them, and for myself, until there is a day when no one hurts us anymore.

Love,

Fox.