Thursday, December 02, 2004

And... Catherynne Justifies Herself

An interview with Catherynne M. Valente, author of The Labyrinth.

Why should readers pick up your book as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book?

Because my book is so much cheaper than LSD, and nearly twice as legal. You are required to brave up to 60% fewer dark alleys and abandoned factories to obtain my book, and the seediness of the pushers involved in your transaction has been reduced by 67%. The FDA has recently determined that Product #423789A, “my book,” causes 1/3 less side-effects than LSD, and actually has nutritional value as a fiber-rich foodstuff. No other book on the market provides such an attractive alternative to spinal-fluid altering drugs as my book.

Assume your book has been filed under "Ages 8 to 12" in the children's section, perhaps by mistake, perhaps not. How horrified do you imagine a child would be after reading your book, and why? How many years of therapy would the child take to recover from the experience?

The lovable scamp in question would very likely immediately begin spurting blood from her adorable little eyeballs, and become suddenly incapable of communicating except in Silver-Age Latin. Electro-shock therapy would only succeed in advancing her as far as Carolingian Latin, at which point the lisping cherub would be beyond hope. Only repeated doses of high-proof alcohol will return her to a normal state. Sadly, this therapy must be continued throughout the Dickensian rascal’s lifetime.

Also, it will turn her gay.

I love writers.

Questions for Straight White People

The Guardian has some questions up that are often posed to non-white, non-Christian and/or non-straight interviewees: now it's time to turn the tables -

Do you think of yourself as white or American or both?


Does it worry you that you got your job just because of your race?


Where are you from?

The west coast.

No, but really?

Cow country.

Since this is where you live, don't you think you should try and integrate with other races more?


Is your first loyalty to your God, or to your country?

Do I only get two choices?

Is it true what they say about white guys?

I don't know: I'm often the one saying it.

Given the genocide, slavery and colonialism unleashed in the name of Christianity over the last two centuries, do you feel your religion is compatible with democracy?


I don't mind white people, but if they want to live here then why shouldn't they have to fit in with our traditions?

You mean non-white people have traditions?

Shouldn't the police be doing more to tackle white-on-white crime?

I'm stealing Nick's answer: The police is white-on-white crime! Also white-on-black crime.

Given the objectification of women in your culture and the rise in teenage pregnancies, don't you think it's time to ban young girls wearing make up?

No, but I think it's high time we got rid of abstinence-only education.

What do you make of the tribal conflict in Ukraine?


Don't you feel that this politically correct belief that we have to respect white people's feelings has stifled honest discussion and debate?


Isn't it a shame that white people cannot pick more responsible leaders?

Oh, hell yes.

Don't you ever worry about being pigeonholed as a white person?

Oh, sure.

Why aren't you doing more to check the rise in Christian fundamentalism?

That's a really, really good question.

Who are your community leaders?

There's a community?

Why should we balance our belief in human rights with our tolerance for Christians?

Christians are people too.

What do white people think about Jews?

Non-white Jews?

How would you define "white" style?


Why do you write about white people all the time?

Ha. Gotcha. 2/3rds of all the people I write about are non-white. Ha.

Don't you find that limiting?


What are you doing for your people?

I have people? Like an army, or something?

Have you seen what the Bible says about women?

Yes. Have you noticed I'm not religious?

Don't take this personally, but why are white men so aggressive?

It's a penis thing.

Now the Olympics are over, can we finally admit that white people are genetically equipped to excel in archery and rowing?


What is it with white people and homophobia?

You tell me.

You know what white women are like, don't you?

Gosh, I hope so. They're kinda like people, I think. With blood and guts and everything.

I understand that as a white person you come at this from a particular place, but can't you try to look at it objectively for a moment?

Is this code for "you should read the Bible more"?

When did you first realize you were straight?


Why do you people have such a chip on your shoulder?

Feminists, or white people? The first because we're pissed off, the second because nobody ever tries to make us think we don't rule the world, and they don't ask us questions like this.

Don't get offended, I was only asking.

Watch Your Books.

"Where one begins by burning books
One will end up burning people."

-Heinrich Heine

Thoughts on Beauty

Something to think about -

A cool excerpt from the prize winning book Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body. I'm definately picking this one up:

"... Each image of a beautiful face or perfectly turned limb is not really about the subject that it appears to be, but rather what it is not.

"It is about the imperfections that are absent: the machine errors that arise from the vicissitudes of the womb, childhood, maturity and old age ...

"When we see someone who appears to have avoided them, however fleetingly, we pause to look with amazed delight. Beauty, Stendhal says, is only the promise of happiness. Perhaps. But it is equally the recollection of sorrow".

via Moorish Girl

China, China, China

In the movie Master and Commander, one of the boys working on becoming an officer is told by Paul Bettany, ship's doctor and amateur naturalist, that he has a knack for naturalism.

And the kid says: "You don't suppose I could be a sort of Fighting Naturalist, do you?"

China Mieville is a sort of Fighting SF Author.

"I always had a paranoia about someone pulling my earrings out and tearing my ears, so I always wore them with clasps that undo when pulled. Then about three years ago, this man ripped my earrings out during a political argument. Half of me was thinking, 'What the hell are you doing?', the other half, 'Result!'"

I mean, aside from the fiction, which is wholly weird and a fun romp, you've got an author personae like this:

"My first big crush was Purity Brown, the very cool human sidekick to Nemesis the Warlock in 2000 AD comics. She was a feisty kickass heroine dressed in apocalypse chic, leather, straps and guns."

and this:

"Being called 'the sexiest man in politics' when I ran for parliament for the Socialist Alliance was a pretty lovely cross to bear. But who's the big competition? Paddy Ashdown?"

Just read the whole column. It's great.

Did I mention that the fiction's not bad, either?

Some Thoughts on Fake Feminism

So, I sat down and watched the summer special-effects movie, The Day After Tomorrow. What can I say, I have a thing for Jake Gyllenhaal of Donnie Darko fame.

Being me, there's a little part of my brain attuned to the gender dynamics of the movies I'm watching. I watch them for their own sake, sure, and if they're popcorn thrillers, I let a lot slide, but I tuck the information away for later speculation.

In the case of tDAT, you've got a Scifi channel Battlestar Gallactica attempt at feminism, which is basically this: We've Got Female Characters in This Movie! One of them's a doctor! One's a Smart Asian who Works for NASA! And There's a Smart Girl member of the decathalon team! See how great and hardworking we are, how much we've done toward including women in our show? See! See!

And on the surface you go, oh, look, female characters.

Then you're reminded of why the female characters are there.

The female doctor stays behind to comfort a dying child. She's later "rescued" by helpful men in snow plows, showing that if you just keep up your faith in men and do your duty protecting a dying child, you, too, will be rescued by men.

The Smart Asian woman is almost a gender-neutral role, except that one of the science team members makes eyes at her, so we know that he's got "something to fight for." She has about three lines, and when The Boys go out to save some kids stranded in NY, she, of course, stays behind.

And the decathalon girl... dear god in heaven. She's a sweetheart actress and all, but she has about eight lines, and very little personality. She seems to exist merely for plot reasons: so that Jake Gyllenhaal will join the decathalon team in order to get close to her, and then brave an ice storm and some totally unneccessary and really silly looking computer generated wolves in order to get some antibiotics for her to "save" her from septic shock. Which, of course, he does (to be fair, she does get kudos for being able to speak French, and staying behind to help... um, a woman and some children from drowning in a car).

Here's what I want:

The female doctor stays behind to help a hot 30-year-old-guy dying from cancer, not a kid, and when told an ambulance isn't coming, she bundles up and goes out into the cold, finds an ambulance, hotwires it, expertly drives it around snowy obstacles, loads the guy in the back, and drives to safety. She is welcomed as a hero at the base camp, and quickly takes over the medical ward from an incompetent male doctor.

The Smart Asian actually has a personality. And instead of making eyes back at the scientist guy, she turns out to have just lost her female lover in the storm in New York, she, too, has Something To Fight For. When the guys try and leave without her, she says, "No, my lover would have wanted me to go. Besides, I've got better endurance than the rest of you, and I biked around New York for six years. I know the place better than any of you." She'll then go, and instead of one of the guys dying, she'll figure out a Smart Asian way of saving him. Also, her lover will end up being alive, and they'll have a really emotional reunion.

And Miss Female Decathalon with also actually have a personality that exists outside of Jake's conception of who he wants her to be. She'll tell Jake he's damn hot, and there won't be any of this back-and-forth with the dumb-ass loser rich kid, cause she's smart and sexy and knows what she wants, and she wants Jake. She'll save him from a bus accident or something, to prove it. Upon saving the French-speaking woman, she'll take charge of her own health, and point out her wound to everyone so they'll know right away that she's in bad shape. She'll be the one to come up with the idea that there's medicine on the ship, which she and Jake will then go and get. There can be some steamy sex action after she's been treated for septic shock. Or whatever. Then, when he's attacked by wolves for trying to save her from them, she can toss him over her shoulders and haul him back into the library.

That would a sweet-ass movie.

The Big Gay Media

I jumped over to Atrios' place and was troubled by this little post about Anderson Cooper and CNN's apparent reluctance to air the matter of his sexuality on prime-time news.

Whoa, buddy, hold on:

His sexuality is nobody's damn business.

Who I take to bed is nobody's damn business.

The forced "outing" of celebrities and media people really bugs me.

Now, I do take exception to this. People who go and vote on laws that deny me or my friends rights because of who we want to take to bed, or start to encroach on what I'm "allowed" to do in bed had better be the sorts of people who do nothing but hetero missionary style sex after dark - and don't cry every morning because they feel like there's something missing from their lives.

If they're not happy heteros, I wanna know why the fuck they're trying to force their happy hetero missionary married sex on me. If it doesn't work for them, why the fuck are they pushing it? Cause God said so? God also said slavery and incest are OK. Don't go throwing your book at me and burning everything by Michael Cunningham. Illusions of compulsorary hetero-ness need to be smashed out. If the guys who make the laws aren't even 100% grade A straight, (whatever the hell that is) they better not be making laws on who me and my buddies are allowed to be attracted to.

But here's my deal: who I'm fucking or not fucking ain't nobody's business if I'm not making laws about it.

Shows like Queer Eye are cool because they show "real" gay guys on TV who aren't dying of AIDS. Women like Ellen Degeneres are great because they're like, "Yea, I'm gay, and I do all this other stuff too. Get over it." But you know what, if Jodie Foster wants to be like, "She's my friend, fuck off, it's not your business," and Kevin Spacey is like, "I'm a reclusive bachelor, fuck off," then it's really not my business anymore than it's my business whether or not George Clooney hires high-class hookers.

Who Anderson Cooper takes to bed isn't my business. Sure, it would be great for more people to go, "Ha, yea, I'm not totally straight either. Not many people are 100% grade A straight. Get over it." because it would tear down some of the heteo-insanity myth, but at the end of the day, I can't demand that everybody talk about their fucking sexuality all the time. If you don't think that effects you, think again: cause that'll lead right on to interrogating men and women who aren't attracted to the "right" kinds of men and women, and women like me who also like little geeky guys are going to be required to talk about it all the time and justify it (as if I don't feel enough pressure to do that already).

Do we need more "public" figures to "out" themselves to help bust down the hetero myth? Oh, sure, it'd be great. But you can't force it. You can't require it. You can't ask people about it all the time. One of the reasons I mentioned my occasional attraction to women was to help bust down this myth, as it occurs to me a lot that I spend a great deal of time here talking about hot guys, and spreading my own version of the hetero myth - and I've chosen to share because this is a public space. But I can't be *required* to do that. If, like Ellen, somebody is brave enough to go ahead and share their private life in the public eye in order to help break down the absolute hetero myth, good for them.

But Anderson Cooper's a news guy. He does news. What, exactly, does his sexuality have to do with his chosen profession?

I suppose that as questions of sexuality become even more visible and more political, this is going to be an even bigger deal: who's got a same-sex partner, who's had a same-sex love affair. You can't just do a 50's "knowing wink" anymore (of course, the reason you could only do a "knowing wink" then is cause you'd get yourself thrown in jail as a communist). For some reason, if you're in a same-sex relationship, it's like you're required to scream it from the rooftops.

In a society where Britney Spears is dry-humping anything that moves and male singers display women in their music videos in the same way they display cars, we've really gotta have a dialogue about sex.

But you can't force it. And you especially can't force it on somebody just cause they're gay. Screaming heteros aren't forced to explain and justify their sexuality and how it affects their ability to be news anchors.

Nobody else should be forced to either.

Sex is personal. And sexuality is wide and varied and fun.

I don't think a news guy's sexuality is anybody's business: CNN's or mine.