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WICKED PRETTY THINGS: My $0.37

So a number of authors, some I've never heard of, and some I love dearly, were invited to an anthology, "Wicked Pretty Things". Then Jessica Verday announced that the editor had asked her to change a male/male romance in her story to a male/female romance, and was withdrawing from the anthology because that is just not okay.

[personal profile] cleolinda has been keeping track of some of the fallout. Seanan McGuire withdrew.


Please allow me to digress a bit.


It was 1995. I was engaged. We were fifteen and fourteen. We'd met at a summer academic camp; I'd been taking a writing class. We lived some few thousand miles apart: Pennsylvania and Alaska. Around Christmas, I bought matching, interlocking silver rings, and sent one off in the mail with a promise and a proposition -- a proposal: if we still feel this way after we're done with high school, after we're done with college, why don't we get married? The ring I got back didn't quite cross in the mail with the one I sent out, but it was pretty close. We'd been making the same plans. We were officially engaged.

In the ensuing year, I met a local guy in my theatre class. Longtime readers of this journal will know him as Shawn. (That Idiot Shawn, to be precise.) I fell head-over-heels for him. I'd already tackled the polyamory concept at camp, though I didn't realize that there was a word for it until boojum sent me an email telling me that there was such a thing and here were some starting points for research. So I was polyamorous. So I was engaged, and I was also in love with this local guy, and while it wasn't exactly okay -- I was in denial about the love for the local guy, I let him know I was off the market on account of being engaged, I knew that I was wired polyamorously but the only permissable Other Significant Other in this case would have been pyrogenic -- it was not something that challenged my identity. I was able to trace the ethical stack that made polyamory, and accepting it where all parties were in agreement, the thing to do, back to preschool. Montessori school. Raffi. "The More We Get Together", "The Sharing Song". I should share my toys. I should share my treats. I should share my books. I should share my friends. So why shouldn't people share boyfriends or girlfriends?

It was a long-distance high school romance. The odds were already stacked against it. I fell harder for Shawn. Shawn started behaving dangerously, scarily, and I went right along with him as if I'd never heard that such thing as a lie could exist. I was a mess, jumping when the phone rang and crying at night, and dragging people into the mess with me.

Eventually (too soon, not soon enough) I realized that my engagement was dead, mostly on account of me being mixed up with Shawn.

1996. Summer vacation. Not even a year from when we'd first met. I felt horrible. I was still in love -- but I loved Shawn more, and it wasn't right to not set my partner free. It was a morning. Tuesday, I think. I was alone in the house, listening to the radio. It was the expensive time of day to call, $0.37 a minute. I'd already racked up a horrendous phone bill with all of the Shawn-related problems. This couldn't wait, and it wouldn't take long.

As I picked up the phone to dial the number my fingers knew so well, a song came on the radio: Roxette, "It Must Have Been Love". It was indeed over now. I made the call. The conversation was short, and a painful relief for both of us. Less than a minute ended the future we'd been imagining for ourselves. I'd already cried myself out. There were no tears, not until much later.

1997. Fairbanks Summer Fine Arts Camp. This year I was enrolled as a writing student, not a visual arts student. It was my first experience of a formal peer critique group outside the halfhearted attempts in my English class, and I craved the feedback of my peers, the more incisive the better. My ego wasn't bound up in the words I'd already produced, but in the determination that with enough people telling me what I got right and what I got wrong, I could write a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. I wrote fearlessly, edited relentlessly, and put out twice as many words as any other member of the class.

It was time for me to lay my soul bare before the rest of the class. I wrote the story of that sickening minute of breakup, simply entitled "$0.37". It was my turn to read. I started. I paused.

"... he ...", I said, and edited myself on the fly as I read aloud.

It was still my story, but it wasn't true anymore. I was erasing my identity as I spoke, afraid that my class would turn against me as my friend Sara, the one from the big Mormon family, had. I was polyamorous. I was bisexual. I was slamming the closet door shut and crying inside it. I felt horrible. My reading fell flat. I was still acting, as I'd been trained to do in those theatre classes, but it was no longer in service of making the audience feel their way through my breakup, but in service of me not crying in front of them, not betraying the edit. The praise from my classmates didn't make me feel any better. My ex-fiancée wasn't named Eric, and she wasn't a boy.

I confessed my crime to the teacher, afterward, in private. She comforted me, and said that she'd suspected when I read it. She told me it was more powerful the way it belonged, and I should not be ashamed of having written it.

1997. Winter. I had a new, local, girlfriend. One fine evening, her father invited a co-worker of his to a family dinner. When he found out that the co-worker had a son close to his daughter's age, the son was invited too. And since both of them knew me, why didn't Azzie come too? So I came. And ... it was me, my girlfriend, and Shawn. Awkward!

Eventually, we three teenagers retreated to her room, letting the grown-ups talk shop. It was quiet in there. Dark. Perfect for sharing the sorts of secrets you can't repeat in the light. You could have cut the sexual tension with a knife. We were on the verge of an enthusiastic bisexual polyamorous snogging session -- my fingers were skating up her leg, Shawn's hand tracing patterns on her arm, Shawn's other hand holding me by the shoulder, completing the triangle -- when her little brother barged in and entirely ruined the mood. It was hot and hilarious and deserved to be written down for posterity. So I did. And then an English teacher asked the class if maybe any of us had any essays or anything that we'd written that we might like to share with the class.

I started reading. This essay started slow, with all the hilarious mishaps of dinner, and my class was giggling and eating out of the palm of my hand. Things started to get hot and heavy, even though I'd only written about how we were sitting on her bed and looking at the stars. The class was totally in the moment, listening to me. I had that flash of awareness you sometimes get when you're performing -- I'm telling this story, I have this power, they are totally engaged, I am making them feel what I felt in this moment, all the anticipation, the sexual potential, the love -- if I finished reading this, the class would be all the way with me, they would know exactly how I felt, and they would probably agree with me.

I chickened out. "And-then-her-little-brother-barged-in-and-ruined-the-mood, the end," I babbled, and slammed the green notebook shut. It was truthful, but it wasn't true. (I lost that green notebook. I have hoped to find it for many years now. I wonder what became of it.)


Before I got engaged, I told my mother I was bisexual. She tried to argue me out of giving up on boys, because she knew boys my age could be trolls. That wasn't the point. If I'd been giving up on boys, I would have said I was a lesbian. She told me to keep it quiet, because people would try to hurt me if they knew, and it could hurt my father's career. I tried asking my friend Sara, daughter of the colleague of my father's who I later suspected Mama was talking about, what she thought of two girls dating, or two boys. She said it was disgusting. I stopped talking to her. She never knew why. I told my fourth grade teacher, the one who I told all about my love life and its complications even years after elementary school, that a girl friend of mine had a crush on me. "Eewww!" she said. I stopped confiding in her.

My fiancée and I looked desperately for signs that we weren't alone in the world. Michael Stipe refusing to label his sexuality was amazingly inspirational to us. There were other hints of respected adults who weren't straight, and it was a lifeline to us. Ginger gave me Dykes to Watch Out For clippings. We existed, no matter how hard other people tried to pretend we didn't. I ignored the chilling implications of "was bisexual: now he's monogamous" for the bisexual part. Aral Vorkosigan was attracted to soldiers, on a planet where heterosexuality was the only acceptable path. He was out there. I just had to survive long enough to see a world where I could live as myself freely and without fear.


Editing my stories as I did was an act of self-erasure: sometimes necessary to survive, but not okay, never okay, merely the lesser of two evils. Pretending that the world only contains straight people is not okay. Teaching your children that the world only contains straight people is not okay. It is a denial of that-which-is, a denial of c'thia. Treating any mention of same-sex romance as inherently more sexually explicit than an equivalent action of an opposite-sex couple is not okay. Trying to pretend that the only possible ethical instance of human sexual behavior is for reproduction is not okay. Teaching your children that is not okay either.


I support Jessica Verday, and the authors who have withdrawn from this anthology, and the authors who are choosing to avoid this editor until such time as she realizes the full implications of what she asked Jessica to do, and makes a meaningful acknowledgment of this. I can hardly do otherwise.

Crossposted. comments.
Gone away, gone ahead,
Echoes roll unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead.
Why have all the Weyrfolk fled?

Where have dragons gone together
Leaving weyrs to wind and weather,
Setting herdbeasts free of tether;
Gone, our safeguards, gone, but whither?

Have they flown to some new weyr
Where cruel Threads some others fear?
Are they worlds away from here?
Why, oh why the empty weyr?

-- "The Question Song", Anne McCaffrey
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