I have a new poem out at Strange Horizons! “Penelope’s body, looming” (podcast link) is about weaving and binding, and loneliness and courage in the closet. I wrote it when I was deciding whether or not to get top surgery.
“Kin, Painted” has been reprinted and podcasted at PodCastle! It’s narrated by Julia Rios. If you’ve had a hankering to listen to a story about an aroace middle child of a queer-normative and supportive family trying to find out how to fit into the world and how or whether to paint, well now you’re in luck! Hooray!
It is so wonderful to me that so many people like this quiet little story.
The Kickstarter for Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good and Sharp & Sugar Tooth: Women Up To No Good (edited by Joanne Merriam and Octavia Cade respectively) has relaunched! My arospec love story “Red, from the Heartwood” appears in Sharp & Sugar Tooth and features a non-binary arospec dryad, who bakes desserts with apples plucked from her own body, juggling her long-term queerplatonic relationship and her new romantic relationship with a woman who’s having a little bit of difficulty with the idea of relationship anarchy. It’s got body horror and good food and weird food and questioning arospec wonderings about romance and puns and getting to know your girlfriend and aroace metamour over Star Trek and, don’t worry, the queerplatonic relationship is still strong and happy at the end of the story. You can read the opening of it here! Please have a look at the line-up and the other sneak peeks, Sharp & Sugar Tooth is looking pretty mouth-wateringly good.
New year is sure off to a start!
New story: Issue 9 of Capricious, The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue, is available now in ebook and paperback! It contains my story “Walking the Wall of Papered Peaces”, featuring a (sex-repulsed demiro ace) cis clockmaker engaged to a (allo) non-binary plumber, both of whom end up on a weird quasi-magical quest to find a wall made of origami animals because of communication problems in their relationship. I have some things to talk about regarding this story, but that’ll come in a later post. As you might expect, the other stories in this issue feature gender diverse pronouns and a lot of non-binary characters! Please check it out, and thank you to everyone who supported its fundraising and who has talked about it!
New poem: earlier this month my poem “Penelope’s body looming” was accepted by Strange Horizons! It’s inspired by Greek myth and my gender journey, and it’s the first poem I’ve written in two years so that’s very exciting.
New calendar: well this is a bit late now but at the start of this year I was convinced by some friends to make a calendar of my bird photos for them, and I did so, and now you can buy this bird calendar if you’d like! The individual photos are also available as prints and cards. I have been told I’ll be making another calendar for next year, which I’ll hopefully get organised before next January… :p
New page: I’ve added a wallpaper page to this site! It currently has a few 1920×1080 wallpapers of my wildlife photography (at present, black cockatoos and other native Australian birds) and I’ll be adding more birds to it soon as well as some bees and architecture and flowers. All the wallpapers are and will be free to download. If there’s any specific bird (or other) photos I’ve posted on Twitter that you’d love as a wallpaper, let me know and I’ll prioritise that!
New focus: the last few months I’ve been grappling with an issue that took up a lot of mental energy and time. An issue I started thinking about in 2016 but put off because of the toxic job/unemployment situation. An issue I have, as of this week, partially resolved in that I booked a date for top surgery.
2017, huh? Okay, so. At the beginning of the year I quit my job because workplace conditions had repeatedly deteriorated to the point where my mental health was in a tailspin and dragging my physical health down with it. With no relief in workplace conditions and workload in sight, unable to reliably fill out job applications because my free time was occupied with being stressed out from this week’s workload and being stressed out thinking about next week’s workload, feeling constantly miserable and drifting towards… the bad end of depression… I quit. Luckily I had enough savings to weather several months of unemployment, and now I have a new job which I very much like and my co-workers are lovely and supportive and my manager isn’t toxic and I am not being overworked and underpaid! It’s nice and strange and good for me.
I’ve been trying to work on improving my mental and physical health this year. Reclaiming it, I suppose. De-stressing from that awful job, unlearning the unhealthy habits I formed trying to cope with the stress, forming better betters. It’s been going okay. It’s difficult sometimes, when you have mental illnesses and physical conditions that feed on each other to make you feel like shit, to work out what healthy is, what you can actually aim for, what you can actually achieve. When I look back on how I was this time last year versus now, though, I can see the difference in my life. I can see how far I’ve come, how much of me I’ve rediscovered. I still have ways to go—reading and writing is still very difficult, mental energy-wise—but I’m buoyed with my progress so far. …I think I say that every couple years and then I have a downslide so we’ll see what Terrible Stressful Things next year throws at me.
I’ve continued to delight in photography this year. I’ve had two weekend road trips down south. I’ve tried to see more of my friends. I’ve done 50% of my Pokemon blackwork sampler and I’ve made some embroidery pieces I’m really proud of, like this rainbow lorikeets once.
I sold a story I’ve been editing for what feels like forever, it was on its fifth or sixth revision and I’d actually trunked it. That is “Walking the Wall of Papered Peaces” and it’s going to appear in Capricious in 2018. It is a story I don’t think I would write now—about the insecurities between an asexual clockmaker and her non-asexual romantic partner—but I’ll go into that when it’s published.
And I also actually wrote a story this year, and sold it too: “Red, From the Heartwood” will be appearing in Sharp & Sugar Tooth: Women Up To No Good in 2018 or 2019. “Red…” features a dryad who works at Bunnings, her two partners, a light smattering of body horror and lots of apple desserts. There is a queerplatonic relationship between two arospec enbies, and a romantic relationship involving a queer woman. Given my dislike of when non-aro people write non-human aro characters and when non-NB people write non-human NB characters I think I will have some things to talk about when it comes time to talk about this story! I still can’t really believe that I wrote a whole short story. The last one I finished was “Kin, Painted” in early 2015. Since then I’ve had trouble just writing a single scene. But when I saw the theme and Octavia Cade’s name attached I was instantly inspired with the core idea (ha ha… apple pun). It was still a struggle to write and edit it inside three months, even though I was unemployed and it was only 5,000 words, but I did it and it was a huge accomplishment for me, and then even more amazingly Octavia accepted it! I can’t wait to share two new arospec characters with everyone, to talk about this story and to see what other stories are in the anthology.
Unfortunately I haven’t written much since “Red…” but I’ve been settling into my new job and routines and dealing with, uh, well let’s talk about that now. Last year I started binding occasionally, on the weekends sometimes with close friends. I started researching top surgery, not sure if I wanted it or not—not sure if I could even access top surgery here as a non-binary person not taking testosterone and not transitioning in other ways to masculinity. Binding made me happy, but sometimes I was indifferent to my breasts or mildly liked them rather than hating them, so I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to get top surgery and, if I did want to get surgery, would I still want to get top surgery if I had to fly interstate or overseas to get it. But then I put that all on hold when I decided to quit my job. Now it’s a year later, I’m employed again, my health is better than it was to boot, and I’ve started researching and thinking about top surgery again. If I like the surgeon I’ve booked a consultation with then I can get it done at home, and if not then I can go interstate. While I’m not 100% decided yet—hopefully the consultation will give me the answers I need to finally, fully, make that decision—I feel clearer in my feelings, though if I need to go over to Melbourne or Sydney I’ll have to consider whether the added expense and difficulty on top of all the other expenses and difficulties will still be worth it. I don’t mind if, after all of this, I decide I don’t want top surgery. But if that happens, I want to decide this because I want to keep my breasts, not because I’m too intimidated by the logistical difficulties, the pain and the potential awkwardness.
Here’s a flash prosetry piece of mine which appeared in Verse Kraken in 2014! The formatting in this inspired me to do “stone”, my twine poem.
“She is, there—amongst the Mango Trees—a Flytrap Garden”
by Penny Stirling
Here’s a poem of mine which appeared in ASIM in 2014!
“We Met in Dragon Shadow”
by Penny Stirling
The first kiss is a fleeting duty
on my cheek burned and sooty.
“Thank you,” she says, “mighty sir—”
But then I remove my armour.
Although the fight was my conquest
the dragon’s sullied the success.
My gryphons are dead, my magics blown.
Princess and I have a long walk home.
I’ve written before about the Korra finale, about how my elation at Korra and Mako not getting back together turned into my stomach bottoming out when Korra and Asami held hands, that I immediately felt guilty about being upset by something that would be groundbreaking for so many people, that I wrestled with whether I was allowed to feel upset that the ever-increasing hope of Aang’s successor finishing her show single was suddenly dashed. And I decided that I was allowed to feel upset, and I decided that I was allowed to talk about being upset, but only if I paired this with being explicit about how important it is that Korra and Asami held hands and stared into each other’s eyes, how important it is to me and to my friends and to strangers across the world that there is canon bi rep. There was zero possibility that Korra was aro and yet I had built up this hope that she could be happily single for the final episode because that is all I can ever hope for on television and that is fucked up.
But you know what? If in the comics Korra and Asami weren’t together, if the cartoon canon were changed and they had never held hands, they had never stared into one another’s eyes in a direct mirror of the wedding scene, if they were platonic besties? I would not be happy with that. I would not celebrate that. I would not call that a victory for female friendship rep. I would not say “isn’t the fluidity and journey of sexuality so important?” I would not tell women who are attracted to women that they should be happy about this. I would not tell them to shut up, I would not tell them “but this Korra is not that Korra”, I would not refuse to hear and boost their concerns, I would not write articles about how wonderful and important and nuanced this female platonic-only friendship is to me and to everyone without even mentioning that this is queer erasure and that this has hurt others. I would not go “fuck you got mine” at the erasure of a character’s canon queerness.
And you know what? If Jughead in Riverdale turns out to be aromantic and allosexual I won’t proclaim that a victory for aros. I won’t call that a win. I won’t tell aces that their pain at being erased doesn’t matter because fuck you got mine. And if Jughead in Riverdale turns out to be aroace but touch-hungry and romance-hungry, that’s not a victory either.
• Do think about why. Why do you want to write an arospec character? Are you questioning or have you identified as aro in the past? Do you have aro friends or acquaintances and what to do right by them? Did you accidentally create an aro character and realise something that an aro wrote resonated? Do you want to be inclusive and raise awareness and educate your readers about us? Have you read about the aromantic spectrum and thought it was interesting? Did you decide not to write a romance and then thought “well, in for a penny in for a pound”? Have you been thinking your writing’s getting a bit formulaic and that it’ll be an invigorating challenge to write an aro character? Are you collecting characters of different identities like they’re Pokémon? Do you think it’s the new craze to make you stand out amongst the crowd? Are aro readers just easy advertising and money? Do you think being aro is more palatable than other queer identities? Is there some plot block that you can only solve with an aro character?
Just like with any minority, there are better reasons and worse reasons to write an aro character. I’m not saying that if you have some particular reason then you shouldn’t, but you perhaps should think more carefully about the character and whether the reason for their existence might lead you to negative stereotypes and upsetting real life aros with this representation.
• Do open up your search engine of choice and start researching! Use search terms like aromantic spectrum, aromantic identities, aromantic terms, myths about aromanticism, aromantic stereotypes, aromantics in fiction, aromantic representation, aromantic fiction recommendations, realising you’re aromantic, might be aromantic, writing aromantic characters, aromantic resources, aromantic relationships, aromantic relationship hierarchy, relationship anarchy, what does aromantic feel like, am I aromantic…