Shamed Without Guilt

Or, Why My Writing Has Been Disrupted So Long

On the 17th of September, 2019, Jacquelyn LaRonde, a trans woman who had been accused of having sex with a minor, was finally acquitted, after a struggle that took two and a half years and took a brutally high toll on an innocent woman and quite a lot of other people.

Jackie, on the way to a medical appointment

Just to set the stage: Jackie is in her late forties. She has known she was a woman for as long as she could remember, but found little support. That took second place for some time to a disabling physical condition, several badly degenerating discs in her back (thanks to early efforts to be properly masculine and playing minor-league hockey, and a successful computer store that involved repeatedly moving huge old pre-flatscreen monitors, and being a passenger in a bad car accident). This has left her in increasingly severe chronic pain for well over a decade. Despite that, having finally transitioned so she could be her own true self, she was happier, and was finding ways to cope with the pain that allowed her to reduce, though not eliminate, the very strong painkillers that she’d been prescribed. She was active as vice-chair of the local Pride committee, and had found a part-time job at the local branch of the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), among other things helping young trans people understand, offering them support and answering questions. Her honesty made her popular with them. She felt happy and productive, and there is nothing better for chronic pain and the depression that comes creeping in with it. That doesn’t mean that her pain was no longer there, because even the strongest pain meds only dull it, but it gave her a reason to get up in the morning and a way to distract herself from it. Being such an extrovert, it made her feel more energetic, being around people and getting involved as CMHA’s representative on several committees and working groups. When politics tore apart the Pride committee, she and I and the chairman Daryl managed to pull together a parade and an event in the park afterwards, and we did it in three weeks–and people needed it, it was just after the Orlando shootings. Life settled into a fairly comfortable state: two adult women, one physically disabled, one with severe anxiety and depression, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with three elderly rescued cats, supporting each other and each doing what the other couldn’t, with money often tight but usually not impossible.

On the first of February in 2017, the morning after Jackie had spoken publicly on behalf of CMHA at a LGBT film event, two Kingston police officers showed up at the door. Jackie and I were still having breakfast, after which she’d finish dressing and catch the bus to CMHA. She hadn’t even had her morning meds yet. Within minutes, with no explanation of what she was being arrested for, she’d been handcuffed and spirited away. I barely managed to stop them at the door with a drink and her morning meds, and to shove the bag with her prescriptions into the hands of one of the officers. Continue reading

Why I Switched to ClassicPress



Look closely at any of my writing sites. See any difference? Any breakage? No?

I switched everything to ClassicPress, a new hard fork of WordPress, rather than update to WordPress’ 5.0.x. (Here’s a footnote: WordPress is open source, which means that others can take the code and make changes to it and create something new. A ‘fork’ is what it sounds like: it’s an offshoot that forms when people start making changes in a different direction.)

I don’t know whether 5.0.x would have broken anything on my sites. After all, they’re pretty lightweight and straightforward. But given the many people who are, innocently and in good faith, following the oft-repeated advice to always keep one’s site up to date and are finding their sites broken… well, who can say what would have happened?

At issue here is Gutenberg, the new “block-based” editor that WordPress is forcing down the throats of users. More properly, phase 1 of Gutenberg, which is going to expand outside the editor into other aspects in the future. There are countless sites right now covering the flaws in Gutenberg, ranging from site breakage to being a difficult and buggy and non-intuitive editor. I’m not going to repeat them. You can find them. Depending on which part of the Internet you hang out in, you might not be able to avoid them.

I’m not a coder or dev or website designer. I’m a disabled ex-medical secretary and a fantasy writer. Want me to do transcription, filing, reception, data entry? I’m all over it. Want me to spin a story? Just try to stop me. But when it comes to the increasingly complex world of computer sciences and information technology? Uhm… I know the fundamentals of how a computer works and can generally do what I want to do on one. I know the fundamentals of how a cat works, too, and I can keep one healthy and happy, but that doesn’t make me a vet or help much beyond recognizing when something is not right. Cats, at least, do not typically need upgrades once they have core vaccinations and have been spayed or neutered!

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Wait, you write erotica too?

Yes, I do write erotic fantasy along with the non- (or at least less-) erotic sort. In fact, I’ve just started a new serial, Fair Trade, that is an urban fantasy but also distinctly erotic. And no, I see no reason at all to be embarrassed about that. This post is not an apology or an excuse. It is my personal take on the existence of, and frequent dismissal of, erotic literature.

First, we need to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.

WordNet defines erotica as “creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire”. I do not agree with this highly judgmental definition at all, nor with declaring pornography and smut to be its synonyms. In fact, that’s pretty much my whole thesis here, that erotica can have entertainment, literary, and/or artistic value aside from its ability to stimulate sexually.

Wiktionary has the much less disparaging “Erotic literature, art, decoration or other such work” with a usage note of, “This word sometimes encompasses only material that is not pornographic and has or is purported to have artistic or social value, but also can include pornography, depending on the context and speaker.” Erotic is defined by Wiktionary as “Relating to or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement.” As long as we understand “erotic” to include a broad umbrella of peripheral aspects that might not be sexual in the traditional sense but often interact with it, then I think we can go with that.

Sexuality, the erotic, and all the associated instincts, drives, and emotions are complex and powerful and common, although not universal, and while any given nuanced combination is probably unique, the individual aspects generally are not. The erotic incorporates body and mind, emotion and imagination, spirit and culture, all integrated into one–or with conflicts between that, unresolved, can be devastating. Few other aspects of our existence encompass so broad a range or reach so deep. The erotic can lend that power and passion to fiction, whether it’s incorporated as secondary layers or more centrally–as long as it’s used properly, and isn’t expected to stand alone.

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Gender-neutral Pronouns

Let’s talk about pronouns.

First-person pronouns are pretty straightforward: “I/me” and “we/us”. In English, since we no longer differentiate between second-person singular and second-person plural, using “you” for both, we get into a bit of trouble now and then. There’s a persistent sense that we need to be able to distinguish between the two sometimes for clarity, so we end up with “y’all” or “you guys” or any number of dialectical variants. We’re missing a pronoun that we clearly feel that we need. That’s more of an issue when speaking or addressing others directly, however. When it comes to narrative fiction, at worst a character may stumble over the ambiguity the same way it happens in real dialog, and need to clarify their meaning to their listeners in whatever way is appropriate.

At the end of that paragraph, I just ran into the big, and familiar to many, pronoun issue with third person. How to phrase it? His listeners? Her listeners? A character could be either. His or her listeners? There are two problems with that: it assumes that the character actually identifies as one or the other, and it gets really awkward-looking after a few repetitions. So I went with the singular “they,” as many now do. It works. Continue reading

Pansexual, not bisexual

I originally wrote this┬áback in Sept 2015 for an online magazine┬áto which I submitted a few short pieces. I’ve spent some time thinking about whether it really belongs here. I’ve decided that, while it isn’t specifically about writing as such, it does make a point about the importance of a single word, a label, in self-identity. This matters, or should matter, to anyone whose writing involves character diversity, and not only in regards to orientation or gender. Reposted here with a few small corrections.

When I first realized, a bit over two decades ago, that I wasn’t straight, I took a look around me for an alternative description for myself. This being the early nineties, research was more complicated than looking online, and community and support more limited. I quickly concluded that “lesbian” wasn’t quite accurate, despite some lesbians occasionally choosing sex with men. When I stumbled over the idea of bisexuality, I seized on that: here was a term that wouldn’t try to force me to choose, and would allow me to acknowledge that I found people of many kinds attractive and desirable.

Life went on, and I ran into all the wonderful stereotypes that people have about bisexuality. Men I barely knew hit on me with descriptions of their wives. People assumed that I was non-monogamous because if I were monogamous, I would no longer be bisexual. I heard the bad jokes and the slurs and the put-downs: can’t make up their minds, sitting on the fence, want it both ways, in denial, too horny to care who they sleep with, and all the rest. I learned fast to stay away from lesbian events locally, because there was an unspoken rule that bi women were welcome only if they could be assumed to be lesbian–a kind of don’t ask, don’t tell. Having just come out of one closet, I refused to go back into another one. Continue reading