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.
• 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.
Yesterday’s Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week entry is an update to my how to write aromantic spectrum characters guide, in response to seeing some people ask about aro romances and how that would even work. I don’t know much about romance genre or romance-centric stories so I don’t have any recommendations for aro romances, but I can clear up why they could and should exist!
Q. Aro(spec) characters in romantic relationships? talks about both arospecs who fall in love and those who don’t but are still in romantic relationships.
I had a short Twitter thread on this topic several months ago and have finally been able to expand on my thoughts!
I’ve been interested in attraction magic for a long while. Succubi, love spells, seduction magic, manipulation, enthralling—all that kind of stuff. I’m interested in thinking about how they would work, or how they would not work, on acespec and arospec characters. So whenever I see a piece of fiction where attraction magic and asexuality/aromanticism coexist I’m always excited to see how the author’s chosen to think about this intersection. And so far… So far I’ve always been disappointed. There’s just “this asexual (usually also aromantic) character is not affected, that’s it”.
Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction has been released into the world! It contains my story “Kin, Painted”, originally in Lackington’s, a gentle thing about queer children growing up in a supportive family, and Our Narrator trying to find a true self and place amongst them. I wrote a bit about it, as well as my gender and ungendered protagonists, here. (Bit funny rereading that; last year feels like only just yesterday, yet also so long ago.)
“Kin, Painted” is the concluding story in Transcendent, and also the inspiration for the cover painted by the outstanding Noel Arthur Heimpel, and I am just all ヽ(ﾟ〇ﾟ)ﾉ and (⁄ ⁄•⁄ω⁄•⁄ ⁄) and (ღ˘ᴗ˘ღ) at such an honour.
Here’s the full table of contents! Look at that line-up, damn.
I’m excited to see what future transgender sff anthologies are like, and what K.M. Szpara edits next!
Strange Horizon’s Queer Planet special (a month of queer-focused fiction, poetry and non-fiction) has begun, and one of this week’s items is my column, “Did You Mean ‘A Romantic’?” which talks about growing up as an aromantic in a amatonormative world, highlighting some of the media which has scarred me and some of the reactions and realisations I’ve gotten throughout life.
This is my first non-fiction sale! And the title is from before “aromantic” became a term Google knew and that was the standard search correction suggestion.
In Aromanticism in Fiction pt 1 I covered some of the whys of arospec characters. Pt 2 attempts to cover some of the hows. It’s still not quite a How Do I Write Aromantic Spectrum Characters guide (I recommend reading the experiences of arospec people and talking to them for more help on that front) but it should help point you in the right direction!
Q. Should I use the labels aromantic/asexual/grey-/demi- in my fiction? How do I make the orientations clear without using labels?
Q. Wait… aro… allosexuals??
Q. Grey-romantics? Wtfromantics?? Aroflux?? ?????
Q. Aro(spec) characters in romantic relationships?
Q. Okay cool so I can just write about grey-romantics falling in love or being in a romantic relationship to keep a partner happy to have a normal story right?
Q. What aro tropes should I be careful around?
Q. So… can my robot/magical construct/non-human/inhuman sociopath/eccentric genius/immortal stuck in a pubescent body/other thing where it’d be weird or creepy for it to be in a romantic relationship/alien be aromantic or will you get mad at me?
Q. Can there be a reason for being arospec?
Q. How do I write a queerplatonic relationship?
Q. What are the alternatives to a queerplatonic relationship?
Q. I wrote a story that doesn’t have any romance in it, does that count?
In Aromanticism Pt 1 below I’ll take you through some reasons why you should write arospec characters. In Aromanticism in Fiction Pt 2 I’ll start going into more details about how to write them.
Let’s write characters on the aromantic spectrum!
The crowd shuffles their feet awkwardly.
Look, I get it, okay? Stories without romance in them are boring, nonsensical, a waste of time. Happy endings are just physically impossible without someone getting romantically rewarded. Romance is definitely not ever crammed into films just for the sake of it without paying any mind as to how this might fuck up the rest of the film. Romance is absolutely never tacked on merely because society has conditioned us that a dedicated romantic and sexual monogamous relationship is the peak of all human endeavours.
But you know what?
Aromantic spectrum people exist. Aromantic spectrum characters can exist! They should exist. They can be interesting, they can have adventures, they can save the world, and they can do it all without being alloromantic.
Any single character you can think of: they can be on the aromantic spectrum. Any of them. All of them. All of the characters you think of can be on the aromantic spectrum (and/or the asexual spectrum!)!
I’ve started using neutral pronouns: ou (ou/ou/ous/ous/ouself) or they (they/them/their/theirs/themself)! It took me a while to find some that felt right for me and I was discouraged seeing how certain cis people treated and misused neutral pronouns, but if I let people like that hurting people like me stop me doing things then I’d probably still be assuming I was an incredibly broken alloromantic woman so fuck that shit, I’m doing this thing.
Speaking of discouraging matters: 2015 frustrated. In 2014 I made gains, and then I lost them again. Frequent illnesses impacted on my chronic health issues and most of the time it was all I could do to tread water. The last story I completed was in January, the last poem February. It’s incredibly frustrating; previously I had finally started feeling good about my relationship with writing and then it was back to exhaustion and depression and wondering if I’ll ever get that part of my life back. It’s impacted upon other areas of my life, and then there’s rebound impacts and, to be honest, I’m surprised I even managed to survive working full-time. I have hopes for 2016, hopes for better health, for life improvement and getting back to things like writing and seeing friends more often and going on road trips and drawing and playing games and reading more and all that jazz, things that I enjoy and that improve my life. But I had those hopes for 2015 and I saw how that went so maybe I should be hoping just to continue treading water, to not slip under. Or to not slip under as much. Hah…
It wasn’t all bad, of course. I did manage to work full-time, I had a really great week in Melbourne with a good friend, saw my zucchini and made plans to travel in 2016, finally figured out the agender thing, got asked to be a bridesmaid, made some embroidered gifts which people loved, supported friends, had good times, made people laugh, tried new foods, became enraptured with new cartoons and shared them with friends, knew I was loved and appreciated.
I had one story published, “Kin Painted” in Lackington’s, and two republished: “Love Over Glass, Skin Under Glass” in GlitterShip and “Tanith’s Sky” in The Best of Luna Station Quarterly: The First Five Years; and four poems published: “Stone” in Interfictions, “Skin Ashore” in inkscrawl, “Singing Her Body Oceanic” in Liminality, and “The Selkie Before Summer” in Liminality.
Four poems from someone who doesn’t understand 99% of poetry. Whoooops.
Only one of those was written in 2015, and then nothing else but scraps of paragraphs. I repeat: frustrating. Especially since, having figured out the agender thing and having thought about pronouns, that’s something I want to poke more in my fiction, moving away from non-gendered characters and background conceptualisations to characters like me, characters sort of like me, characters less like me. But, alas, the body decreed it was not to be.
In embroidery, I had a good year, I think. I didn’t get as much done as I wanted to because of health reasons and unanticipated projects, but I’ve really liked what I’ve done and I’ve challenged myself. I cross stitched Doctor Who using actual embroidery thread for the first time; my blackwork projects included Avengers, Gardevoir, Ninetales. The last of those I’m especially proud of, that style was uncharted (*sunglasses*) territory for me and it was a lot of trial and error to understand what I was doing. I learned a whole lot and I think I pulled it off! I also made several other patterns, and I nutted out a quicker way of making patterns. I’m currently in the middle of an important gift project and then I’ve got a commission to do, so I think after that I’ll take it easy and stitch some Pokemon blackwork patterns I’ve got waiting for me.
I played a few games too. Gravity Ghost was my favourite, even though it made me cry (it was a stressful week)!
My long poem “The Selkie Before Summer” is up at Liminality! It’s about a southern fur seal (or maybe an Australian fur seal) who leaves the ocean for the first time to rescue a lover and ends up exploring Victoria and gender and matters of the heart. (And there’s another poem in this issue about a sea creature who heads inland, by Sandi Leibowitz!) Yes, it is yet another S-title poem about skin. I might have gotten it out of my system now but I promise nothing.
Earless seals like greys and harps have always seemed like quasi-fantasy animals to me. I knew they were real, I saw them on documentaries, but they were just so different to the fur seals I was more familiar with that there was something mythical about them. (White swans have the same effect. When I visited Britain and saw them it was a very “how is this even a real island” moment. Seeing a lone black swan amongst a group of white swans in Windsor did not help this surreal disconnect.) But imagine an Australian fur seal selkie walking along a yellow sandy beach, their brown skin draped over their head to keep off the burning December sun, even though every story and art I see specifies otherwise. That’s more real to me than anything involving a grey seal and the Atlantic.
Of course, it is now well and truly summer, but I was in fact in Victoria this past spring, so here’s two indulgent photos. (If the eucalypts look strange, they’re shedding their back, which is one of my favourite things! Such a beautiful time of year, seeing the trees shed and change colour.)