Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The shape of it

I've had a good think about my future in the genre, and I'm continuing to think. Right now, a double-track approach seems to make the most sense. The melodrama and the hate mob have driven me to reconsider whether I do want to stay in the genre. The messages of support and love and several versions of "don't leave me!" have made me reconsider how much power I'm giving the haters over my writing and the Muse.

Make no mistake, the Muse is still having dinner with the dodo, wherever they are. Not a wingbeat, no words, thoughts, or images coming from him, so as far as the writing urge is concerned, I'm currently "healed", like I haven't written a word in my life and can go happily on living without ever writing another word. There's an interesting calm in that emptiness, in the absence of story. Like a haunted house suddenly exorcised. A schizophrenic healed. Awakening after a night crammed full of dreams and nightmares. Deep breath - calmness - meditative silence.

It's odd not to be writing. All the time I have now for reading. The pre-Christmas stress seems manageable. Above all, I'm getting to bed at a reasonable hour. This is how "normal" (non-writing) people live. It's nice. No obsessing about word counts, no submission stress (I have nothing out there to sell, and nothing even remotely ready to go out anytime soon - the emptiness also characterizes the state of my projects folders).

I know, rationally, that I'll need to write the last parts of Dark Soul, but, as I said, not one wingbeat. I know, roughly, what'll happen, and that used to be a state I could rely on to carry the writing, but I've stared at a white screen long enough now to know that it's not that easy. I might have entered a prolonged dry phase (I've been dry for three weeks now). No writing at all. I've had a few of those earlier in my career. The longest was two years. I suffered like an animal in that time. Short dry spells can be anywhere between a few weeks and a few months.

I don't know, and I'm not going to stress over it. I'm just saying I'm pretty sure I can blame outside forces for it. The Muse asks "why bother" and "for what", whenever I get him to talk.

I'm working on finding an answer, but that's the rational part of me. What I want back is the ability to fall into my story and feel the passion for writing and for sharing a story with anybody outside myself (I'm happy to entertain myself, but I can do that day-dreaming without the hard work of actually sitting down and typing it all up. I can entertain myself with a novel-length day dream in one day and enjoy that for a week).

It doesn't help that everybody around me (in real life) tells me I'm "too good for that". Part of me knows, and that's why those words are gaining so much traction - I've done THAT dance before, I know the markets, I have the contacts, I can actually sell in the mainstream if I really, really want to. It means a lot of work and networking, might involve switching back into German, might involve building a totally new writer persona online. It's all daunting and complex and exhausting - last thing my Muse needs. I've been writing m/m because it's what I'm good at, what's natural for me, because it's fun and because of the readers.

But that doesn't mean I don't, ever, have mainstream ideas. And at the same time, I'm already pushing that particular envelope, and it might just be one more step to re-enter that realm.

For the moment, I've removed all "In the Works" projects from my website, because I think that some of the things I'm working on can go into the mainstream and those might need to go under a new pseudonym (I'm working on a few, but none has yet "clicked" for me), and because I have no visibility how many projects will actually happen. I had a pile of about twenty projects that I might potentially want to do, but after the last month, the life has been leached from all of them.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

‘i see myself’: embrace the rainbow

In the past few days, we have been privileged to witness an increasing awareness and understanding within the m/m romance community about the complex issues of gender/s and sexuality/ies.

This has been a significant and positive step forward in healing a rift caused primarily by ignorance and bringing hope where there was once anger, turmoil and devastation.

This is by no means an end, however.

For if there is one thing we have all learnt is that a rainbow cannot easily be grasped or defined.

Rainbows are constantly changing. Rainbows are not fixed. Even when an artist tries to portray them in a photograph or piece of work it is only one moment in time they are capturing, not the full journey of a rainbow.

It is this fluidity we need to embrace and encourage others to do so as well.

To this end, we are sending out a challenge.

A challenge to help us increase awareness, acceptance and support for the trans*, intersex, intergender and questioning people in the m/m romance community and broader community by adding this to your site:

We believe this will stand hard as a sign post symbolising hope as well as a safe space for GLBTQQ people to freely be themselves. Whoever 'they' might be at that particular moment and whoever 'they' might be in different moments in the future.

We do this on the day which marks the 13th International Transgender Day of Remembrance; a day for remembering those trans* who have been the victims of hate crimes.

We also do this in association with the Safe Reading Zone campaign; a promise to those GLBTQQ people among us that we will support them.

So, will you accept our challenge?

Perhaps this excerpt from an interview in September 2011 between genderfluid Andrej Pejic and ABC’s Nightline Juju Chang will help you make a descision:

Chang: When you see yourself in the mirror, do you think of yourself more as a man or as a woman?
Pejic: I like to keep my options open.
Chang: What does that mean?
Pejic: I see myself.

‘I see myself.’

That, friends, says it all.

Please help us spread this message.

With hope and love, Aleksandr Voinov, Amara Devonte and Kris for 'embrace the rainbow'.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The artist as public property

It's always fascinating to me to explore just who we writers write for. In my personal case, I write because I have to.

When the Muse is his glorious, wing-beating self (imagine my Muse as a black-winged, vaguely human-shaped, vaguely male creature not unlike what I'd picture an angel as, but one of those kick-ass, sword-wielding angels, drawing a thunderstorm in one hand and soaring like an eagle when the energy is there) - there's simply no stopping. I know that the Muse is likely part of my own soul, some deep well of energy that I tap into when I work. Sometimes, writing has nothing to do at all with the Muse. Then it's just putting words on the page. Making the screen look untidy. Ruining perfectly good paper with ink scrawls.

When the Muse is involved, it's fire and fury and thunder. Then the book comes out in one piece, as if it has only been waiting somewhere else for the gates to open. It's lightning - indivisible, extremely powerful, and really interesting to feel pass through you.

So, in many ways, I write because I can't not. A book is a primal force that hits me like an earthquake. Tell that incoming train headed your way that you really don't quite feel like it. Hah. Good luck with that.

I can't refuse to write. I'm a writer, that's why I'm here for. If there's any reason or sense in human existence, mine is that I was put here to write my little black heart out (and help others do the same).

There've been some denizens of the lunatic fringe that think (and have said, although, crazy as they are, they aren't crazy enough to say that to my face) that my refusal to write in a certain genre is "holding my stories hostage". Yeah, so me writing is just giving people what they own anyway - like it's not me giving those stories to the world, but somehow TAKING something from those readers. Not just owing, but evilly withholding what's their due. To vid, read the "GRR Martin is not your bitch" post by Neil Gaiman.

(As a sidenote, these people are a tiny minority - while many have expressed dismay, they also respect my decision, whether it's permanent or temporary).

In response I want to repost (slightly rephrased and borrowing from other commentators for context) what I posted here:

Whether or not an author is "public property" and whether he or she owes readers anything is a question I've grappled with myself. E M Foster didn't write certain books because he felt he couldn't write about the gay subject matter. Kafka wanted all his work destroyed - everything we're reading of Kafka's has only survived because a dying man's wish was blatantly disregarded and a promise was broken. To read his work at all is to benefit from an act of treason. I'm on the fence about it, too. Kafka made world literature a richer (and much stranger) place, but on the other hand, those were his stories - he didn't owe us anything. At the same time, as a reader, I want to chain some authors to the desks and make them write book after book for me. As a writer, that same idea horrifies me.

In a way, we owe the Muse and the book to tell those stories (not that I could stop either). We got this gift, and I think we are obliged to to the best we can with it. As I keep saying to my writing “padawans”: Your Ego Doesn’t Matter.

Or, another analogy. I compare the job of the artist in his/her own community as that of the shaman to his/her tribe. We mediate, we heal, we walk the path into the imaginary/spirit world, wrestle and negotiate with spirits, and come back with gifts that heal/benefit the community. In return, the community respects us and feeds us (in my case, I do my own feeding, but the idea is to give something back to even out the relationship).

The last couple weeks have given the appearance that my “tribe” had turned toxic – on me and others like me. Handing over the hard-won kill to them, when all you see is clenched fists, is not easy. Personally, I’m not that selfless. So, the returning shaman, witnessing all that anger, turns on his heel and walks off to a less hostile tribe, sick to his heart over it.

In the mainstream, there are prominent writers writing under a variety of names that not necessarily reflect their physical, genetic gender. I’d never speculate whether Val McDermid is actually female or identifies as somewhere along the Rainbow spectrum (I frankly don’t know enough about the person), but there’s an example where the mainstream is a hell of a lot more accepting than I’ve seen the m/m community be over the last weeks. In the end, it’s the story that counts, and hopefully the author – without whom no story – gets their just rewards.

Of course, I’m hoping that the m/m community/genre will grow up. That we’re going to be less torn back and forth through what’s essentially some of the most odious residual traits of “fandom” (which, when it’s supportive, is very supportive, but when it’s bad, is VERY bad). What we need is a “level up”, to borrow a roleplaying term. If we ever want to hope to be taken seriously, this shit’s gotta stop.

I fully understand if people turn their backs in disgust. I received an email from a dear friend – one of the strongest writers in the genre – who is so hurt and disgusted she may never come back. This is collateral damage that many people will never notice, because few of those who left made the kind of blog post I did.

Bringing this to a close – I think we need to all be more accepting and tolerant, which, however, includes shutting up the haters, showing support to those who are under attack (whether we like them personally or not), and educating ourselves through all of this.

If the space is safe once again, the shamans will continue dancing and singing and bringing you those strange things from the Otherworld – hope, stories of love and overcoming darkness.

Whatever and whenever I personally will write, I honestly don’t know. The Muse is very silent right now. I will continue to act as a publisher and supporter in any case. What I will do is take a stab at the mainstream, quite possibly under a totally different name, I don’t know. It’s not something that will happen very soon. The damage that was done in a few days or weeks may take months to scar over, and may never fully heal. It's easy for attackers to move on, but the attacked live with the memories of shame, fear, anxiety, stress, horror and disgust for the rest of their lives. It'll always be there, sitting low in our guts.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Offering Sanctuary

Edited to add (5 January 2014): It's come to my attention that an unpleasant individual tries to instrumentalise this post for explaining/excusing her trans* phobic view - essentially calling upon me as a witness and as somebody holding the same position as her. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I'm not going to remove what I wrote, I'll bold the pertinent part, so you guys can see what I ACTUALLY wrote.

Further, this is my comment to her at her blog.

Dear Ann - I want to protest sharply you calling upon me as a kind of witness to strengthen your position - my position is nowhere NEAR yours on this issue, and I absolutely do NOT want to be seen anywhere near your position on this - I don't share it, I've never shared it, and you using a trans* girls death in this manner is frankly deplorable.

As a note - if you've READ my blog post you're referencing, I said I was ready to embrace AJ as a trans* person if he chooses to identify as such. I see no need in policing anybody's gender. AJ might have had had a change of heart. I'm quite happy to assume the best of people. 

Trans* identities are tremendously difficult, with ups and downs, and you do not get to be the "panty police". You can call authors whatever you want, fact is that the person you call straight or whatever might be a queer person who hasn't come out. You trying to FORCE them out, your long-standing attempts to "out" a male author of m/m for reasons that might have to do with his status as one of the best-selling and most beloved authors, etc, is deplorable. It's not your job nor your right to police people's identity, and I will NEVER stand on that same position with you. I'm not on your side. 

Using Leelah's death for this? For fucking shame. Leelah's suicide has hit me so hard I can't even talk about it. I don't know ONE trans* person who hasn't been suicidal, often multiple times. Most trans* people I know are cutters, bipolar, suffer from depression and have a host of emotional and mental issues.  Using that to make your point? Yuck.

Please refrain from sub-tweeting about me, making speculations, and trying to pull me into your spat. I've seen 6+ years worth of your spats, and I'm tired of the pattern. Ever since you harassed me on livejournal after I feedbacked one of your stories and you kept making passive-aggressive "sub-posts" (tweeting wasn't around then), I stayed WELL clear of you. Since then, you've harassed a good dozen of my personal friends in one way, shape or form. Please forget I exist. Better yet - go write something and stop that drama addiction. 

I have zero interest to be associated with you, and this is the last time I'll respond to your antics.

TLDR version: I disagree with you. I see your pattern. Leave me alone.

----Historical blog post follow, emphasis bolded -----------------------------------------------------------

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.

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? 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.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Here I stand, I can do no other

This is the blog post that I never wanted to write, but I owe it to all genderqueer and trans* writers and readers out there. I’m hoping that my experience may serve to make the “community” a safe place for us – others like me. At present, I don’t know if the aftermath of this – action, reaction, consequence, if I understand correctly – will allow my Muse to survive. After this, I frankly don’t know if I’ll have the strength to go on writing using this name and this identity. This Self.

I’ve taken most of this from an email I sent a prominent blogger. I’ve changed names to protect the innocent and the guilty both.

The Call

I could quite literally write a book about my experiences and my thoughts on the matter. If something almost kills you, it's bound to provoke some Heavy Thinking. So apologies as this is going to be long.

I did not want to get involved in this at all. I've been "outed" several times on the internet. A former co-writer of mine who's seen me in RL has repeatedly outed me. I have been referred to on the internet as "one vicious tranny". A gay guy I've met in my London-based writing group has only recently outed me to a violently hateful group, then added smugly that he was now going home to "have real gay sex".

These experiences are rather typical, I'm afraid. It's why I only meet people in person as a writer who I trust to not go out there and tell the world who I "really" am (as we can see, my judgment is less than perfect - friends can turn to enemies rather more quickly than I like, especially when writers are involved).

Refusal to Heed the Call

This is not to accuse. I feel awful for first trying to stay invisible and secondly trying to ignore it, while my trans* friends were/are suffering because they are "out" about their status, while I was busy telling myself "I'm a writer, not a human rights activist".

Yeah, I guess Ezra Pound was just a poet, too.

The loss of "safe space" thanks to the rabid hate mob is probably at the core of the issue why I've put my stuff on hold. I originally bought into the myth how "tolerant" and "accepting" "our" "community" is. Well, it is, if you're gay and physically, born, genetic male. There's a worship of the cock going on I find a little disturbing.

Regardless - one thing I believe is incredibly important in this debate is to drive home - in some minds at least - the difference between "coming out" and "passing".

Crossing the First Threshold

For sexualities other than straight, "coming out" is a traumatic, cathartic rite of passage, that, yes, creates that "gay identity", which from then on is visible. I was very relieved when I realized, actually, I'm bisexual, and it’s OK to be that. I can love a person rather than a set of genitals. Being bi is, obviously, being under a "general suspicion" of cheating and being generally not trustworthy. Many lesbians tell a bisexual woman she's not "real" because she got her rocks off - even once - with a guy. Many gays call a bisexual man a "gay in denial". I do believe I never deceived anybody about my sexuality. I've gotten my rocks off with trans* people, with men and women, and it was fun every time. I'm not ashamed.

But yeah, "coming out" usually means that the enormous pressure that non-straight people live with is lifted. Wow, suddenly you float. The thing that made you consider suicide? Gone. People actually still smile at you. Some even call you brave - what a boost after you've spent most of your life cringing away and hoping that people will leave you the fuck alone, or at least not look into your head.

Now, "passing" is different. Trans* people live with this enormous pressure, but it never leaves. It's a miracle I'm alive. Between 16 and 21, I was constantly considering suicide. Then my mother died a painful, drawn-out death from cancer. And I thought "okay, throwing away a healthy, functional body is a waste and who are you to end your life when others are desperate to draw even one more breath and don't have that choice?"

Every time I considered suicide, I would remember my mother's face, just wisps of her gorgeous rich mahogany hair left, the skull visible as a herald of impending death, as she was weighing only 80 or 90 pounds. Who am I to kill myself when I'm healthy and not physically suffering?

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Then the internet. Online communities. I chose a neutral name (vashtan) and realized there's freedom in that. I've kept vashtan's gender neutral - I did not want to "deceive" anybody. Ever.

My first publications. Getting AlexANDER W. added into my German passport? HUGE rush. Unspeakable relief. The front was still lying, but the back - oh, the glorious back, the bit under "Pseudonym or Religious Name" - it finally spoke the truth. I'd become, legally, in a small part, black-on-green, Alexander W., ridding me in one fell swoop of a last name I've inherited from a wife-beating rapist father AND the wrong gender.

I was Alexander. I couldn't wait to tell everybody. The bloom rounded, tightened, seams began to appear. It was ready to burst.

I read everything about the issue. MTFs, FTMs, Intersex, intergender, trans*, genderqueer... suddenly I had words for that deep-seated unease that told me my very BONES were all wrong. Suddenly the "wow, YOU are a real man." Suddenly, all my games as a child - always the knight serving the lady, always the fighter, the bodyguard, the protector of the weak - suddenly made sense. Why even as a small child I bristled when somebody called me a "pretty girl". I wasn't. I was a boy. Imagine the heartbreak when boys at some point told me I couldn't play with them because I had long hair. I liked my long hair. I wasn't ready to give it up so I could play with the other boys. Non-conformist to the end, I guess. Boys had short hair, I refused to fit in, hence I was ousted.

Thus expelled from the boys, I tried to join the girls for company. They told me I was a boy - wild, physical, competitive. I also didn't give a toss about the current crush on some boy band. I just wanted to belong somewhere.

I didn't. I found, in the end, a bunch of outsiders who'd hang around me, because I had cool ideas and made up fun games. We were still the outsiders on the playground, but we were at least damned well entertained.


When my body developed, I prayed for it all to go away. I think the reason why I'm still here is largely because of one of the most powerful characters I've ever had. Silvio basically told me I was being a dumb asshole for staring at the pills in my hand and that my vertigo should at least keep me jumping from that bridge. Through all that, I've had friends (who had no idea - as far as they were concerned, I was just a bit of a tomboy), but as we've seen through things like Trevor and It Gets Better, friends sometimes aren't enough. I was a firm believer in reincarnation, but something always held me back from "trying again", as I called it back then. Reload. What's your return policy, universe?

For whatever reason, the male persona I built (or, arguably, that I am) helped me cope with the increasing pressure. Somebody calling me "Mr. Voinov" (which is just a translation of "Herr W.") takes the pressure off. It makes me smile, but there's always a tang of pain in it, too. Calling me "sir" is like if somebody tells you you're gorgeous and actually means it.

I'm coming back to "passing" now. To a trans* person, "passing" as his/her real gender is - unspeakably liberating. Suddenly, the pressure around you eases. You can BREATHE. You can even be yourself. I can't count how often I've been told I write "masculine", or even "hyper-masculine". I was told, when I started out, to write under a male pseudonym, as "the female style" is different - and women prefer books written by women, especially historicals. Or: "What woman cares about war, soldiers, or politics? They want woman issues." (Which, presumably, is about courtship, het sex, child-rearing and covering their husband's flank.) This drove me away from trying to make it in the historical mainstream - I never managed to get my head around "woman issues" - talk about biographical blocks.

Reward/Seizing the Sword

Fast forward a few years. Passing for male has quite literally enabled me to be a productive, positive member of human society. Give what I have to give - mentor, teach, give and write. I can give these because the pressure was off, the pressure keeping me contained, pressuring me into something I am emphatically NOT. If you expend all your energy fighting other people's perceptions, you have no energy left to do the important stuff, the constructive stuff.

Under such considerations, things like "I'll sell five more books if people believe I have a flesh dick dangling between my legs" aren't just laughably trivial - they don't even register. I've heard people say that they prefer women-written books to mine because "Voinov is clearly a male writer - like all of them, it's all heartless sex and violence, he just doesn't "get" romance." Some way of "passing", that! (But, hell, I take it.)

The thing is, tearing our protection away - negating our "passing" - is as traumatic as if a jeering mob out on the street were ripping your clothes off to laugh at the shape of your breasts or labia or dick and balls. I can't possibly express the amount of distress that my trans* writer friends have felt over the mob's desire to rip their clothes off. As far as I'm concerned, I have bigger balls and a bigger dick than a huge amount of born and bred males.

My sense of honour and personal integrity made me step up in defense of my trans* friends, most of whom have been bullied into submission and are scared of being made a target next. We'll all been there before. Most gay guys consider us women (I've heard some of the most vile, trans* phobic comments from gay men) – most women consider us women and do everything in their power to help society re-assert the gender binary. (Those are generalizations - I've encountered a lot of extremely supportive women of all stripes.)

While most gay men laugh us off as "not real men" (like I have to assert my masculinity to every gay man out there - even those I don't want to sleep with!), many women are truly vicious - "how dare she!"

I've always held the belief that the female hostility to trans* people is really a loathing of the traditional female role. Tearing our clothes off in public is a way to act against the "unlawful claiming of a more liberated gender". Men ARE more powerful in this society, and trans* men are seen as those refusing the female gender (while, in actuality, we're not refusing anything - it's not what we are and most of us feel an extreme disconnect to any perceived female role). We're damaged, freaks, deficient. Worse, we're cheaters, liars, impostors. We're claiming the "male privilege" not to be belittled, and maybe we even end up wielding power and authority and have respect. Yeah, how DARE we.

Some of us shrink away under the onslaught of hostility and pressure, cringing. So at war with ourselves, few of us are strong enough to fight against ourselves AND against the rest of the world. ONE of those battles is plenty.

Every time a specific prominent blogger attempts to out the most high-profile male-representing author in our genre, I want to rip her head off. Has nobody ever considered that this writer is actually who he says he is? Or would the fact that he's a prominent, visible, highly successful - and much-loved - writer in the genre have anything to do with it? The message to us trans* writers is, very much: Don't stick your head out, or we'll chop it off. Beyond a certain level of success, people are envious enough to jump on anything that makes a person vulnerable.

The Road Back

Frankly, I knew that launching Riptide would potentially "blow my cover". Who on earth is interested in trans* literature but a trans* person - and who at Riptide is clearly NOT a female? The fact that I'm being represented by an avatar, the fact that I'm not answering questions about my gender (and many tried asking them, which tells me it's something people feel they have a right to know about in detail) or what I think about women writing gay sex, or whether I get turned on when writing sex (yeah, sweetheart, want the number of inches too?) - all that immediately sparks suspicion.

The more visible I am - the more interviews I've given - the more that old pressure has come back. I've been told I'm too "soft", or "too gentle", or "too understanding", (or "too nice/generous") that a specific turn of phrase is feminine - up to my use of emoticons. People are scrutinizing everything I do - on Twitter, Facebook, there were people even re-posting blog entries from LJ that I've locked away to be only seen by friends. The pressure was mounting. Clearly, being anything but female draws suspicion, but I refused to be driven into neurosis by it. I am who I am, who I say I am.

The whole debate never considered the trans* issue. Just look at the words used: It was always "women parading as men", "women appropriating gay identities for gain and profit" or "women lying/cheating because they are sociopathic liars". It's like you're walking out in the streets, and suddenly, everybody's clothes are being ripped off and the crowd inspects us, naked, whether we pass. The border controls in the US are so intrusive that many US-based trans* people have stopped travelling. *I* am not going to fly to the US because I don't want some guy give me a body cavity search. The trans* body is more delicate, more complicated and a hell of a lot more fragile, even if you're built like an American Football player.

But while the debate went that way, us trans* writers were incapable of stopping it. Everybody speaking out on behalf of trans* writers knew that they would have their identity questioned. I was incredibly reluctant, because not only did I do a good job of "passing", but because I never saw myself as an activist for anything (I believe most of society's ills would go away if people were holding themselves to higher moral standards and realize that serving others means serving yourself).


Basically, I didn't want to open myself up to the trans* phobia out there - I didn't want my gay friends to suddenly consider me as a "transman", which always means "not real man" (talk about worship of the cock) - always. Once that "trans* is attached, it conjures up images of a more or less believably mutilated female body, a more or less healthy mind inhabiting it. By being "trans", we're "less". Less strong, less healthy, less male or female. From "male" or "female", we turn into "not quite" and "less" in society’s perception.

I also didn't want to speak on behalf of trans* writers. We're still all individuals, and while I know at least, off the top of my head, 7-8 genderqueer/trans* writers – and boy, their talent, how much they have to give this community that hounds them so! - I'd never claim any kind of leadership here.

Basically, I was “passing” and working behind the scenes. Every trans* writer out there knows my status. I've encouraged writers to write and share their stories (rather than lock them away for fear of BEING VISIBLE and hence VULNERABLE), telling them the community was "safe"; people were "different here". Oh hell, was I wrong, and as the lynch mob of the M/M Goodreads Group and a number of bloggers and HUNDREDS of bigoted commentators descended upon us, my heart bled for my friends who went out there and fought or hid under the same old stone of crushing guilt and self-doubt.

It's not that we don't want to be "out" - I admire both Danny Juris and Bryl Tyne for the way they go out there and represent. My choice was different. I worked behind the scenes, working subtly, helping trans* people (you start to recognize them after a while, it's like gaydar, also, I'm really good at reading people), supporting my brothers and sisters, while still "passing" as male to a society and community I simply didn't trust to "get" it. Get me (yeah, and tell me I was wrong… I was not).

I simply refused to write emails or blog posts like this one I'm writing right now to every person out there emailing me who’d doubted what I told them. Doubted my integrity over the use of a pronoun – a use that has kept me sane and productive. This is stuff I almost killed myself over – I don't believe somebody paying 3-7 bucks for any given story I've written deserves to know all this or has a right to it, let alone a moral right in the interest of "customer transparency", as the moderators of the M/M Goodreads Group have claimed, to wild cheering and shows of support.

I believe that the exact geography of my genitals is my – very personal - privacy issue. Once you tell people you're trans*, the next question is about when you'll have the operation. My body then suddenly turns into the gore-encrusted battlefield of somebody else's gender perceptions, like it’s not my body at all, like I no longer have any power over it, and can’t be trusted to shape it when and how I want.

At the end of the day, a trans* person is only seen as valid once their bodies conform to what cisgendered people consider acceptably male or female. If you're not having the operation (because the attempt to make a dick always results in something that most trans* men consider laughably inadequate, let alone somewhat gross-looking) - you're not valid. At the very least, people want to know whether I've started testosterone yet. Which is a question like "do you still beat your wife" - once you step onto that battlefield, you can only lose.

I chose to act as I did not to deceive anybody. I did it to find a way to live in dignity. To not spend most of my time and energy fighting a battle I cannot win. You know, because every hour I spend begging for acceptance - from very often bigoted assholes - is an hour I don't spend writing.

I chose to live as a man over explaining - for the rest of my life - why people should please, please PLEASE "allow" me to be a man, if you please, if it's not too much of an imposition, if that's OK with you, sorry to disturb your ideas of male and female a little, there. There, there, let me be invisible instead so nobody gets their assumptions challenged.

Fuck that.

I'm a proud man, I've fought and worked extremely hard for what I have achieved. I'm not used to asking anybody for their leave to be what I am. I try to act as an ethical person, supporting my male, female, trans* and queer friends, writers or not. My mother taught me to live my life in a way that I can look at myself in the mirror in the morning, every morning. Whether I look in that mirror while shaving should be irrelevant.

I'm not ashamed of myself, or my friends. I don't believe I owe anybody anything. No born and bred male - or what I call "genetic male" - has to explain why he's a man. And no woman has to explain why she's female. It's just us who are questioned, exposed and harassed the moment we show one weakness, and people react shocked and have the BALLS to be OUTRAGED when we, like a hermit crab, desperately scamper to protect our soft bellies?

I've received so many emails - before I made the blog post – about "who or what are you really"? My policy has always been, if somebody asks me, personally, in private, what I am, I do the "bees and flowers" talk. Not because I don't want to lie, but because I believe people that are actually asking might actually want to know. And I have the hope that once everybody knows at least one trans* person, they will stop harassing the others.

Maybe it's time for the T in the alphabet soup to fight for our rights, but maybe it's clearer now why we don't. It's tearing away our passing, it questions the identity we fought so hard - often against physical violence, harassment, bullying, depression, addiction and all-round derision from men and women both - to build and maintain, as we have to, to have even a shot at sanity and happiness.

I've been tempted so often to tell those people "if you need to know the shape of my genitals, you are not my friend". Which is an, I believe, understandable response, but it's also really defensive.

I don't like hurting people like that. I *still* DON'T WANT TO HURT PEOPLE THAT HURT ME, can you imagine?

Sorry for the long, long, LONG diatribe - I want to make sure everybody understands where I'm coming from, my position, my experiences that obviously shape everything I am and how I respond to the threats to my identity. I've never seen myself as an activist or a figurehead.

I've received an email - from a gay guy - telling me "to come out and be done with it". He felt that my refusal to "come out" was the ONLY thing that drove me out of the genre and this way he wouldn’t be robbed of my stories. There it is - a gay guy who mistakes the roles and energies at work in "coming out" and "passing".

No, it's the prospect of being paraded naked in front of the jeering mob. No catharsis for me. No happy rainbow-flag waving gay family to welcome us. No gay identity to claim for us. All we can claim is visible, exposed, naked, soul-crushing Freakhood.

For me, "coming out" is the closest thing to destruction I've come in six years, after I stumbled, blind with tears (and I never cry), away from the London-based trans*men meeting, and considered whether I should just end it all under the Tube train on the way home. Boy, was that tempting.


I'm still not sure how I should - need to - respond to it all. Do we trans* writers NEED a figurehead? Do I owe anybody to come out as a deficient male? Do I have to turn myself into a martyr for the baying mob, just because I'm writing some sexy, plotty stories about how people survive adversity and find love and redemption?

Do I owe it? Do I want to read a hundred comments pouring down the hatred of me and my kind when Dear Author posts "Aleksandr Voinov Comes Out as Trans Writer" [Please, Dear Author people, don’t use the word “she” or “her” when you do. Just this, please?]; do I deserve to be counted among those who are “Faking It” to quote the title of a blog post on Jesse Wave’s m/m review blog? Do I?

I'm not a Trans Writer. I'm somebody who, barely, survived the journey to be male, with most of my dignity intact. I have toughened myself up enough to not flinch anymore at "vicious tranny". Like a young guy who hears "faggot" the first time, "tranny" makes me flinch. But if you keep hearing it, you stop flinching. The vicious thing about such words is that it takes a lot of flinching before you can embrace a word like that.

I don't want to fight. I don't want to spend the next years - or even the rest of my life - explaining over and over why I'm a man and not a defunct female, why I'm a man, not an impostor.

But there are kids in my community – in my true community, my true family. One little guy from Finland whose blog posts (I see them on LJ) are all about how he can't stop vomiting from the stress the community is under. Somebody who clawed his way back to sanity and has repeated told me I’m an “inspiration” and he loves me. Do I owe it to Oleg to "come out"? Should I take the barbs and arrows and poison? Should I, being strong and dignified and, as yet, unbroken, step forward BECAUSE I am strong? Do I owe people a chance to break me, in public, humiliate me and deride my writing as that of an impostor? How many emails will I get that express people's disappointment in my "deceit"? Do I stand even a remote chance to explain all this while keeping my honour and dignity intact?

Those are the main questions right now.

And now that I’ve done it on my blog, will I flinch at "vicious, deceitful tranny" comments or can I take it, chin held high?

And once it's over, can I still open a vein and WRITE FOR THOSE PEOPLE, keep telling that same story of hope and love triumphing over darkness? Can I? Am I strong enough?

And there I thought I could just write stories and entertain people. Tell them about hope, and love, and the amazing resilience of the human spirit. (And people are shocked I might tell those stories to an audience that will not tear me apart for what I am. Silly me, what am I thinking, withholding my only gift and talent from people spending a couple dollars while at the same time feeling entitled to know whether I have ovaries and what exactly I do in bed with my freak body.)

Bottom line - I hope the whole, sordid, undignified, toxic mess has at least led to some people questioning their assumptions about my tribe, my people, my friends and made the world on the whole less hostile for them. But me, I remain here, deeply conflicted. Is this worth the destruction of my identity?

And, will I ever reclaim enough of my dignity to write again with confidence and grace?

Will I?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Monkey has stopped dancing

This morning, I woke up with one decision crystal clear in my head. I've been spending the last three days with my friend R., who was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. We spent the last days talking through some heavy shit at times, about life, how we spend it, and what makes us ill, what keeps us going. What do we live for? We also laughed a lot, which is always a plus.

But this morning I woke up - and I'm quitting. That's the decision. In the last weeks, certain parts of the romance community have taken it upon themselves to harass and bully every trans writer in the m/m genre. People - my friends - have cried bitter tears, others have thrown away half-written or half-outlined stories. Others were so distressed that they have considered suicide.

Basically, I loved that community because it was so "tolerant" and "enlightened". I said that in all the interviews. That I love that sense of community. Never before as a writer have I had such close interactions with readers or bloggers. My interactions were limited to Amazon reviews and a rare email here and there before I became part of the m/m community. Wow, it's been fun. As writing is only a financial side gig for me (it's great when it covers the books I'm buying for research), that sense of community was the main thing I got out of it - something I've only recently realised.

Now that that same community has turned into a bullying, torch and pitchfork wielding mob that harasses my friends to tears, tramples on stories that haven't even been written yet, and drives artists to consider suicide, this is where I draw the line.

The very same community that cried crocodile tears over the "It Gets Better" campaign has now turned into the most vicious lynch mob I've seen in twenty years. Every transphobic asshole out there is having a field day. We'll soon have an Underwear Gestapo, taking monthly blood samples to monitor testosterone levels.

All trans writers I know in the genre are exceedingly distressed over this. My friends ask for their books to be delayed, are considering killing off their fiction writing altogether, because there's a baying mob screaming for blood.

It comes down to this: I don't want to write for bullies, for people driving my friends into considering self-harm. I'm not some monkey that dances when it sees a banana.

Now, I'm afflicted in that I have to write, but I have decided and resolved to put all m/m and gay romances indefinitely on hold.

There. Monkey has stopped dancing.

I will instead return to my roots, writing mainstream fantasy and thrillers and historical novels under a different pseudonym, which is still to be decided, but will not be released to anybody but my closest friends.

What does this mean?

Basically, that's it. As I've started "Dark Soul" and don't want to leave people hanging on the cliffhanger, I'm going to finish the mini-series (another 30-40k words), even though, it must be said, I'm reluctant as all hell about that.

I'm also going to finish a co-written project that my co-writer has committed herself to (because I can't leave *her* hanging), but after that, I'm throwing myself on the tender mercies of the mainstream.

After that, I'm done.

That means no more books in the m/m romance genre. Me and that genre are done, thanks to the nasties, the bullies, the mean assholes, thanks to the torch wielding mob of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group; and people like A.S., the old bitter troll that substitutes hatred and envy for talent and real passion; thanks to everybody who has sent a trans* writer an email demanding a geographic breakdown of their sexual organs because they are entitled to it somehow; thanks to everybody who has cornered and forced ANY writer out there into "admitting" and "telling the truth" and "coming clean".

I can't wait to share my stories with my new readers.

To my readers - I'm sorry, guys. I hope you'll enjoy those stories I'm leaving you. There's plenty talent out there, and I'm sure Riptide will help find you more great talent. I've heard they are good at that. :)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Out of touch for a while

I'll be a little scarcer (read: really scarce) for a while. A close writer friend of mine has been diagnosed with a very aggressive disease, and I'm going to stay with her for a few days (going incommunicado). That it's November doesn't help, or that it's pretty close to the anniversary of my mother's death, sixteen years ago. The Big C really puts everything into perspective - writing, legacy, life and death.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Faber-Castell Ambition mechanical pencil (stupid and shiny)

I have to admit, I spend stupid amounts of money on stationary. Fountain pens, mechanical pencils - if its shiny and pretty and cool, I want it. (I can always justify another purchase - sometimes I buy several, so I can give some away.)

So, today I regained the use of my Faber-Castell "Ambition" stainless steel mechanical pencil. The damn thing is too pretty for its own good. It's sleek, it's solid metal (I do like a pencil with some heft in the heat of the writing battle), it's German precision engineering. I'm a sucker for German/Swiss/Austrian(Czech) brands - Rotring, Pelikan, Faber-Castell, Koh-I-Noor, Lamy. Bring them on, I never had a bad experience with any of them (not that I could ever afford a Faber-Castell pen before).

So, yeah. I bought it as a "pick me up" at the pen shop in Heathrow when I flew out to Chicago, and it wasn't THAT expensive. I counted it towards my Christmas presents last year. (Yes, I'm justifying spending a small nation's GDP on what's basically a stupidly pretty mechanical PENCIL).

Anyway, as if to punish me for this act of conspicuous consumption, the bleeding thing broke only after a few months. I didn't actually *do* much to it, I wrote a little with it and otherwise kept it in a leather wallet. Hardly extreme sports in the Sahara fending off a rebel insurgency with just a pen for a weapon to block bullets.

Now what makes that pencil so stylish is that a twist of the cap pushes the mine out. Simple, elegant, genius. Until it breaks. Then the genius design falls flat on its bottom: you can't open the thing, you can't jiggle parts around until they fit and work again.

So I had to hand it in to a specialist pen shop (same chain I bought it from in the first place). They sent it to Germany (I assume changing a small broken spring exceeded any British engineering skills that are left in the country?) - which took eight weeks (they must have shipped it by coughing decrepit donkey mail).

Eight weeks and £10 later (which would have bought me 40 plastic mechanical pencils - enough even for this productive writer to stomach some losses), the pen has returned - that is, I picked it up a few hours ago.

It's sitting right next to me, looking stupidly shiny and elegant again, saying "Trust me. I won't break again. It was probably your own fault anyway. Love me again."

But I feel the shine is off. I don't quite trust it. It's let me down before - it might again. What happens if I'm in the middle of a brilliant sentence and the pen breaks again and I'm losing my train of thought? How can I ever trust you again, Faber-Castell, if I have to keep a 25-cents pencil ready whenever I use the "Ambition" to write a sentence, just in case?