Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Offering Sanctuary

Preface: Your response to my last posts have been overwhelming, emotional, touching, gut-wrenching and overall EPIC. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm hoping to catch up with the emails and posts at some point. I might need to sleep a little first.

The only hostility I've received afterwards came from people speculating that my last posts were "marketing ploys" to drive sales of Counterpunch and Dark Soul and to promote my own publishing company, Riptide, which is decidedly a trans and queer-friendly space.

I have to say, those people are such accomplished cynics that I'm frankly awed. I guess being soul-dead like that doesn't even hurt any more, right? For the record, Riptide is doing very, very well, thank you, without me publicly eviscerating myself. But I guess some people think Buddhist monks set themselves aflame because they are cold.

And I want to say a specific "thank you" to the gay men who have reached out. I've given the impression that I have been treated with nothing but hostility from the gay community. While I've had a couple unfortunate encounters (like Mr "I'm going home to have real gay sex now" and some telling me I only have body issues - yeah, rocket science - and need to get laid and my disquiet about my gender would get marvelously fucked away) - I've also received amazing, warm, genuine support, for which I'm deeply grateful.

I also want to add that I've been contacted by many, many trans and queer writers who are "under the radar" and who have experienced the same reprisals, doubts, and harassment. I wasn't surprised by any of those stories - saddened, horrified, but not surprised. I WAS surprised by how many we are. I said I knew of around 7-8 trans* and queer writers. We're getting closer to 20-30 now. I'm not counting the lesbians (double digits) and gays and bisexuals (loads). I don't keep a spreadsheet, but we are MANY, and I salute every single one of you. For your support, your work, your dignity in the face of adversity, I salute you.

I said all I can claim was "Freakhood" - no loving Rainbow family. I was wrong. There's been so much love and support from the rainbow people that I'm shocked and humbled and barely managed to sleep with my heart pounding so hard (and I'm eating my words; they are better with soy sauce). Thank you, guys, gals, and everybody in between. I'm proud of the community, of being PART of the community.

I'm also very, unspeakably (but I'm trying!), humbled by the support from our straight and/or cis-gendered allies. So many of you have reached out and spoken up. Thank you.

To all those who feel the reflex that I suppressed until my "coming out" - the reflex to stand up and speak up - and potentially shatter the identities you've built; it's OK to not do that. Nobody respects and loves you any less because you aren't "out and proud and loud." Please be safe. Do only what you're 150% comfortable with. You do much work behind the scenes, and we can see that and feel the difference, and it's appreciated. Nobody has the right to push you to where I was yesterday, staring down the cliff with only two options left: Jump or fall.

Before I start to sound like General Patton speaking to the Rainbow Army, I'll break it off here. I'm just saying, this experience has made me a better, humbler and less conflicted man and I'm offering the same support that people have shown me to everybody still out there, and I will continue to do what's right.

Which brings me to some house cleaning.

For the record, my posts were about the fall-out and effect of rampant transphobia and harassment on trans and queer writers. Why for us, "coming out" is more like death and a lot less like liberation. Why we don't want to be outed, why that destroys a very tenuous inner calm and peace that many of us have spent decades to build and achieve. I took the fall because my brothers and sisters were asking me to stand with them. I did not want to abandon Oleg, Bryl, and Danny - and all the others whose names I don't want to mention here as they are "passing", but I know they are watching and supporting.

Some people are congratulating my friends on "Finally he has stopped lying, finally he's out". Now, nobody has told me that to my face. To everybody who considered me a liar: Choose your weapon, and let's make an appointment. I believe early mornings are traditional. I'll bring a second. Either face me direct, if you have the GUTS, or shut up, you cowards.

Now, more house cleaning.

This situation was sparked by another author, AJ Llewellyn, outing himself as a trans man on his most recent blog post.

There has been wild speculation about the issue - others have made very convincing cases pro and con, and frankly, it's all out there on the table, and I'm too tired to join the chorus.

From what I understand (I don't have a PhD in Gender Studies, I can always be wrong), a person is trans once they claim they are. The trans community is extremely welcoming and open to to anybody joining. None of us would dare to question another's trans identity, because, you got it, EVERYBODY's identity is the result of an agonizing, often ongoing process. We would never turn on another trans* person calling them a faker or a liar.

Of course, this opens the community up to abuse and appropriation, when people claim trans status to enlist allies and to get a ready-made army to march for them. We embrace anybody claiming the label, because this is a mechanism that has, often literally, saved trans people's lives. If there's nobody else left, you can raise your hand and call for help, and you have instant allies. This process is VITAL and it's saving lives and sanity, and even possible exploitation doesn't give us the moral right to judge another. You say you're trans, you are. I believe we're a lot more enlightened there than most cisgendered people (some of whom have called me a liar... the mind, it boggles).

Now that AJ Llewellyn, a - to put it mildly - controversial character has joined our ranks, I am thinking back to my medieval studies. Let me explain:

In the Middle Ages, if you were a hunted criminal and managed to reach a church, you could claim sanctuary on hallowed ground. This meant that whoever was coming to enforce the law couldn't harm you and couldn't remove you from that sanctuary. As far as worldly law was concerned, you were untouchable.

Sounds like a great deal, right? A community is persecuting somebody for wrong/harmful behaviour, and all you have to do is claim sanctuary with a group who will immediately - reflexively, nobly - step up to defend you and protect you from punishment. A second chance. Awesome deal.

But the custom had a flip side: While the murderer or horse thief couldn't be hanged, he WAS subject to church discipline. That means: penance, some of which was pretty extreme. We're talking asceticism, flagellation, "mortification of the flesh", all those tasty things that made medieval spiritual life fun and games. The murderer/horse thief would have to atone for his sins, mend his ways, and subject himself to the rules of the church/order that he has fled to.

Personally, I'm ready to embrace AJ Llewellyn as a brother in trans.

I'm not questioning his new-found, brand-new identity, I'm not questioning that he's distressed.

I have my own history with AJ and it's not positive. I will emphatically NOT list his actions here. I believe we all know by now what they are.

But AJ has joined the trans community, and I welcome him.

But I am distancing myself - as strongly as I can - from AJ's behaviour (he has attempted to link himself to me in private posts, and I protest this link SHARPLY). Yet I cannot and will not doubt his brand-new identity. We trans people would rather be exploited than wrongly accuse one of ours.

AJ, welcome to your sanctuary. If you can mend your ways, do. If you achieve that, I'll be proud to call you brother. Right now, all we're giving you is sanctuary, because that's the code, not because we love you or even forgive you until you've shown that you can play nice and contribute, positively, to the community.

20 comments:

  1. One word: Awesome.

    I swear I'm usually much more articulate, but all I can think to say is: Awesome. You are awesome Aleks.

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  2. Yeah, I'm just gonna echo V here. Love.

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  3. Aleksandr Voinov
    I really hope that you would reconsider quitting writing under this name because I know that as a reader I myself buy everything that is release under this name automatically because I have not found anything that is not good. I know that I cannot be the only reader out there in this genre that does not care about the gender of the writer if the material is good.

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  4. You have entered the sanctuary, now it is time to atone. A perfect analogy. Than you.

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  5. An amazing response (yet again!) and I'm learning to expect no less from you. You are a treasure.

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  6. I must agree that was awesome and thank you.

    I was very disappointed when I read your earlier post about not writing M/M anymore and the reasons behind that decision. I really felt that you misunderstood why a majority of people were upset about AJ. I don't think people were upset about his being transgendered. I really felt bad that you or anyone else in the GLBTQ community thought that.

    I am glad you did this follow-up blog. Because although I am sorry you are leaving I now feel you don't think it was a transgender issue regarding the AJ uproar.

    I agree it is wrong and insensitive to question/doubt someone on gender identification. I don't think people were doubting/questioning transgenders as a group. But, I can see how it could/would be interpeted that way.

    So, I will say again thank you for this post. It opened my eyes to how an issue can be interperted many different ways.

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  7. You continue to amaze me my friend. Since I'm still doing the blabber your ear off everywhere else thing, I'll just say... I love your post, you rock my socks.

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  8. I have not read many of your books,but the one that stays in my mind is Test of Faith that you co-wrote with Raev Gray. I read this in May 0f 2010 and to this day when I think about it I sob. It was a brilliant story of Faith,between two men. Talent like yours should continue in this genre Please. Maybe all this trauma is like a line in the sand for the GLBTQ, community and for the straight community to understand a little of what people suffer. There needs to be more conversation so all can understand each other.Stay strong!!!

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  9. Again, so to the point. Excellent post and one I can totally agree with.

    I sincerely hope you will not stop writing, if for no other reason than to stick your finger in the air at those who have a problem with gender identity.

    Not to mention you're a helluva writer just based on your blog posts. Don't let one massive crap storm ruin that for you. :)

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  10. Thank you for this post - it was the missing link for me to reconciling what I knew of AJ's behavior to AJ's welcome into the trans* community. Everything clicked for me. I don't think I've been alone with that disconnect in understanding, which seems as if it's at the heart of much of the current discord.

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  11. Thanks for taking the time to chat, in view of all the emails and posts you have to catch up on. I do hope, though, that you won't stop writing for the MM romance genre but if you do go ahead and return to mainstream fiction, or full time gardening or teaching, I still know you'll still be in touch.

    Live well, my precious one:)

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  12. No matter what, even if I don't personally like some other trans folk, even if I don't know them, even if I think they might be appropriating the label, I will stand with them and defend their rights to define themselves. There's enough infighting and if we trans folk don't at least stand with each other then we're in serious trouble indeed. I mean this with all sincerity: this is a brave thing you did.

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  13. Mr. Voinov,
    You have always had my admiration for being a very talented thought-provoking author, but you now have my admiration for being a man who will stand up for what is right, even at the expense of everything he holds dear, simply because it is the right thing to do. It is not only obvious from your previous posts, but this post also shows that you are still taking action because it is the right thing to do. I doff my (imaginary) hat to you Sir, you truly are an honorable man. Thank you for simply being you.

    Sue.

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  14. ::speechless with admiration::
    (which doesn't happen often, let me tell ya)

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  15. Thank you for defining the stance, sir. Very much appreciated.

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  16. Sanctuary, with all that implies. A very simple and elegant analogy.

    Trust you :D

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  17. I'm sorry I called you a quitter. I shouldn't have been so hard on you. I get all worked up when I see people giving up things they love, but I didn't know the whole story, so I should have kept my mouth shut.
    I hope you'll accept my apology.

    I think it's amazing the way you've laid yourself out as you have, for the sake of others. I hope it all works out as you wish.
    I will make a donation to breast cancer research today in honor of your friend R.

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  18. Like SueM, VJ, Bryl and others - my hat goes off to you Aleks! I've never come across such a warm-hearted, tolerant (and literate) person as yourself. Thank you for your blog, your kind-hearted-ness, and HUGE heart.
    Whatever you do in the future (although if you don't write any more M/M stories I will be devastated), may the grace of God go with you. You deserve it!!
    *hugs* and *kisses* and *love* forever.
    Carole-Ann

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  19. I've refrained from commenting on any of this for a variety of reasons. But I have to comment now to say AMEN! I read your previous post with awe and tears streaming down my face, and thought about commenting then but didn't know what to say. I still don't, really. But I think this is the most perfect analogy and summation of the situation I've seen.

    I'm sorry for the pain you and so many others have felt in all this, but I'm awed by your strength, your courage, and your ability to find words to illuminate the incomprehensible. With posts like this and your previous one, I can only imagine what a net positive gain has just been made in the world, and will continue in an ongoing ripple effect. I've never (yet) read any of your books, but will have to rectify that asap.

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  20. Am late to the party on this one (I've been sick) but yes - that's it exactly. If we agree with Aj's behavior or not is one thing. Do I? Of course not - obviously I've been flying my freak flag for way too many years now to condone what he did. That said, he is one of us, and I will stand with him and defend his right to *be* one of us. I hope this whole thing has been a learning experience for him (and a f*cuking lot of others - I'm looking at all of you with the pitchforks), and I hope that he finds a way to get right with himself and atone. I know in my heart he meant no offense, and that things just snowballed away from him, and he stood there on the ledge, watching the havoc from above and hoping nobody would see him up there, or that he could fix the damage from afar. Now he has that chance to fix the damage. I've never had issue with Aj for any reason - he has been nothing but kind and caring toward me, supportive when others weren't (and there've been a lot of times when others weren't and a lot of others all too ready to throw stones instead of lending hands). I've been challenged and mocked among the m/m "community", asked to "prove my worth" far beyond merely writing down creative stories. I've been publicly and privately insulted - both by writers AND publishers (don't even get me started on how long it took me to get one publisher to address me by the correct name and pronoun). But I won't be stopped, and I won't let anyone stop Aj. Not because of who he is - but because of what he is. He is a member of our pack. We're wolves and badgers, and we should act like them. :-)

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