some January news

New year is sure off to a start!

artwork
cover for Capricious #9, art by Laya Rose
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.

She is, there—amongst the Mango Trees—a Flytrap Garden

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

Continue reading She is, there—amongst the Mango Trees—a Flytrap Garden

We Met in Dragon Shadow

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.

Continue reading We Met in Dragon Shadow

my touch aversion

I’m touch-averse, though not repulsed. I do not enjoy the vast majority physical contact, it does nothing for me, I have no desire to touch or be touched, I read about skin hunger and I’m just baffled. I don’t feel violated or experience sensory overload or have a physical reaction to being touched, the idea of it doesn’t make me feel ill except when it’s in sexual contexts; I just don’t like it. I’m pretty asensual.

Continue reading my touch aversion

Attraction magic, acespec and arospec characters

It’s Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week! You can check out my round-up from last year and follow me on Twitter to see more talk about aromanticism!

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”.

Continue reading Attraction magic, acespec and arospec characters

Transcendent is here!

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cover of Transcendent, art by Noel Arthur Heimpel
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.

You find it here: Book Depository, Amazon.com, Kindle, Smashwords, and Goodreads.

I’m excited to see what future transgender sff anthologies are like, and what K.M. Szpara edits next!

(And remember to check out Lethe Press’s other books and Patreon!)

Queer Planet

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.

reprint & interview

My interactive poem “stone” has been reprinted in sub-Q! There’s other interactive poems, and interactive fiction and games, over at sub-Q which you can check out too!

And I did an author spotlight over at Pack of Aces where I talk about my published acearo characters and how much better my writing life is since I discovered the terminology that described me:

When I was a teen I tried to write characters who were like me. This was before I’d heard of asexuality or aromanticism. All of the characters were broken, like I obviously was, and they were all eventually fixed like I was told I would be. (Perhaps “they were all broken, and they were all eventually broken in” is better phrasing?) They should have been happy endings: the character admitted they were in love, sex was usually implied, hooray, the character is fixed. But they were all off. Stockholm syndrome was common, overbearing and wearing down of wills was common, power imbalance was common. The characters did not choose to fall in love, they didn’t really fall in love; they were pulled into love and sex and held there with a grip that only at a glance looked like a romantic holding of hands. Messed. Up. (But that’s what I thought I saw in books and films and TV, that’s what I thought was the only path for me. There were many stories which horrified me, which people insisted were romantic. He loved her, so it was all right. She ends up saying she loves him, so it was forgiven.)

There was a month dedicated to these author spotlight interviews with various acespec creators and you can check them all out here!

living aro

Today’s the last day of Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week and I thought I’d write about some of the everyday ways that being aromantic has affected me throughout my life.

  • I thought there was something wrong with me when I was a teen. I didn’t find people attractive like my friends did (or if I did it was in very specific “I like this hairstyle combined with this waistcoat” aesthetic ways), I wasn’t getting crushes like they were, I didn’t understand why they were talking about boyfriends and the like, I thought the idea of falling in love was suffocating, I thought the idea of meeting someone who would completely change my mind and make me fall in love was terrifying. But I knew of no one else like me. I knew I was broken, I was wrong.
  • I knew I wasn’t gay. At 16 or 17 I discovered the word “queer” and, although I didn’t use it, it was a lifeboat to me. There was a word which meant “not normal, but okay”. If someone could be not straight, if someone could be not gay, someone could be queer? Could… someone be like me? Be like me and be not broken, be not inhuman?
  • When I was younger I had many anxieties relating to my friendships, that they were all fake friendships, that everyone was pretending to like me for some weird joke. (One of my friends deciding, over a term break, that we were no longer friends and that I was someone whose existence she should ignore for no reason I ever knew of… didn’t help this.) I don’t know how related this was to the “once you get a significant other and grow up you stop having friends” trope I had seen so much of in fiction and life. I don’t have this anxiety anymore! I even have friends who’re in romantic relationships and -gasp- we still hang out together anyway.
  • I don’t know whether the zucchini situation will ever not be long-distance. It’s okay if it stays long-distance, it’s okay if the distance shortens, and it’s okay if drifts back down the queerplatonic-platonic spectrum.
  • I don’t think I’m currently healthy enough for a local QPR, to be honest. When work is busy and my sleep is poor (and it often is) I have very few spoons left for the evenings and weekends and, while my QPP is important, sometimes I unfortunately don’t have much energy for emailing.
  • I’m not out at work. Most of my co-workers don’t talk about their home lives and aren’t nosy so I’ve never felt a need to. I refer to my zucchini as “girlfriend”, which is not a lie but contains some omissions.
  • I’m not out to my family. My parents never once asked me if I was dating or why I wasn’t dating so it… never came up. My extended family have on occasion asked my father (“no, but she’s happy”) but never asked me. No one in my family knows I have a zucchini.
  • I think they might have assumed I was dating a male friend who I saw regularly, or mentioned him to my extended family in such a way that they assumed, because I got an invite to a cousin’s wedding which was Penny+MaleFriend instead of a PlusOne. *stares into middle distance*
  • When I was younger both of my parents separately sat me down for the If You Find Someone You Need To Know That You’re Totally Compatible Before You Marry Or Buy A House Together And I Mean Totally Compatible In The Bedroom talk and I nearly mentioned it then but I wasn’t confident enough and also my parents had just mentioned sex and I need to change the topic of conversation because ewwwww.
  • I never dated, which I’m really glad of. I had intense anxiety about the idea of someone finding me attractive or wanting to date me, whenever I suspected someone did I would panic, ask friends “IS THIS??” and hope they never acted because I didn’t know what I’d do. All I knew was I didn’t want that, I didn’t want them, I didn’t want anyone and I didn’t know how to communicate that. I was asked out a few times, every time I panicked and said no.
  • I was an asshole in my late teens/early 20s, and I also did nothing about my personal appearance, and I think part of that was to do with cultivating a more unattractive self so that fewer people would be interested in me. (As I became more confident about being aromantic and matured in other ways, I grew out of needing to be like that.)
  • (But I was also very bad at noticing flirting.)
  • I really like Unresolved Sexual Tension in TV shows because I’m bad at noticing it, so to me it looks like the main leads are good mates and it’s non-romantic and it’s happy and safe. Xena and Gabrielle? Scully and Mulder? Carter and O’Neill? Bones and Booth? Beckett and Castle? NON-ROMANTIC ROLE MODELS FOR THE MATURING AROMANTIC. Until it inevitably becomes Resolved Sexual Tension and then I feel stupid and betrayed.
  • I’ve been told I’m obviously a lesbian because I’m not interested in men; and then called homophobic when I said I’m also not interested in women.
  • I’ve been told I’m immature because I don’t want a romantic partner and children.
  • I’ve been convinced that a friend understood that I was aroace, having seen them use the words and be supportive, and then later found out they thought I was romantically interested in someone.
  • I’ve been told “If you weren’t aromantic we’d probably be dating”.
  • I’ve had friends and known people who didn’t think I was allowed to hate amatonormativity. They would get me to watch romantic films and then get upset that I deigned to dislike such endings like “She gave a rousing speech about how being an independent modern American woman means she doesn’t have to have a partner and then immediately establishes that it’s okay, she’s normal, here’s the guy she wants to date” or “She fell in love and grew apart from all of her friends” or “She had a argument with her boyfriend about how they nothing in common anymore and an argument with her best friend and broke up with both of them, but in the end she only apologises and makes up with the boyfriend”. Their desire for amatonormativity to grant them a romantic partner and a happy ever after was more important than any feelings I had about being erased for my entire life.
  • I feel very grateful to have a group of friends who have no problems if I go “I think this is a good TV show but the succubus powers make me uncomfortable and I don’t want to watch this”.
  • One of the reasons I stopped reading YA when I was a teen was the constant “teen girl just like you learns to fall in love”. The “teen boy or man who’s unlike you learned to fall in love” that was in most of the adult SFF I then started reading was easier to deal with.
  • Romcoms and the romance genre bore me and erase me and alienate me and I can’t do that.
  • I’ve had friendship break-ups that broke my heart.
  • When I was younger I tried to work out what made a romantic relationship so special as if there were some logical maths behind it. I’ve read a lot of “what’s the difference between…” blog posts and now I try to think about it more on an individual level rather than a universal constant.
  • I find writing romantic relationships interesting and frustrating.
  • I find it really difficult to imagine a sff world where aromanticism is completely ordinary. Asexuality, sure. Other queerness, sure. Aromanticism and aromantic relationships as unremarkable, though, is something I struggle with.
  • Sometimes I get really depressed and anxious about how uncertain my life is going to be without a partner to live with and support me.
  • I was a bridesmaid earlier this month and the whole experience—having seen the whole of their relationship, having found out about the engagement, the wedding preparation, the ceremony and the reception themselves—made me both sad that I’ll never have such an experience, and also really glad that I’ll never have such an experience.
  • I get depressed and anxious about how I’m too ill to write most of the time, and there’s no one I can rely on to write about the ace and aro (and agender!) characters I need to write about.
  • I don’t like touching people. Brief hugs from friends are okay (quick tangent: wow, if you’re someone who gets offended when someone doesn’t want to hug you or get massaged or be touched by you without warning then you are gross and you can fuck right off) and the zucchini is the only one I can tolerate holding my hands (and even then there’s plenty of occasions where I’ve had to go “nooo not right now”).
  • I’ve had sex dreams. Every time they’ve made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and like my subconscious has violated me.
  • I’ve had squishes, though the last one was five or eight years ago. The ones that I remember the clearest were both on writers who I did become friends with. I never told them 😮
  • I wonder how much my aromanticism and asexuality has influenced being agender, and vice versa. A large part of Being A Woman, to me, was Being A Woman Who Will Be Attractive To Guys, Being A Woman To Learn How To Look After A House For Your Family, Being A Woman To Get A Man And Kids, which I always rejected with varying degrees of understanding why I did so. Additionally there’s the idea of, well, if I don’t have to worry about which gender I’m attracted to, why even gender? There’s no answers there, of course. I am aromantic, and I am asexual, and I am agender, and that’s who I am.

Aromanticism in Fiction pt 2 – Q&A

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?

Continue reading Aromanticism in Fiction pt 2 – Q&A