x Winter Downs | GeekGirlCon - Part 3

Trans Women, the Queer Games Scene, and DIY Game Design

Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.

Over the past few years, a thriving indie games scene has sprung up, which is challenging the standard tropes and narratives in all kinds of games—videogames, tabletop roleplaying games—you name it, people are designing it for themselves.

zinesters

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna Anthropy
Image source: Google books

One aspect of this has come to be known as the queer games scene—games that center queer experiences and perspectives—and credit is due in particular to the trans women who are the pioneers of this movement. It began before Anna Anthropy’s 2012 book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form, but that was definitely a turning point in awareness and momentum. The book is a call to action for everyone who considers themselves an outsider to mainstream culture, to use the tools at their disposal and tell their own stories.

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GeekGirlCon ’14 recap: Gaylaxy Quest

Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.

“Why queer spec-fic?”

Panelist Nicole Kimberling asked this, the central question of the “Gaylaxy Quest: Exploring Queer Fantasy and Science Fiction” panel at GeekGirlCon ‘14, and our intrepid panel of sci-fi and fantasy authors devoted the next hour to answering it.

“Queers are wonderful world-builders, by necessity and joy,” said Amber Dawn. Queer people have invented their own communities, culture, pronouns, and sex acts. They deal in subversive narratives, so the common spec-fic (speculative fiction) themes of outsider vs. culture naturally resonate.

In Dawn’s own writing, horror was where she started to fight the good fight. The dichotomy between the typical horror tropes of the “slut” (who has sex with a boy and dies early in the story) and the pure “final girl” seemed irrelevant to her as a queer writer, and she has pursued this in her literary career–such as the anthology she edited, Fist of the Spider-Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, in which, as she put it, “Queer sluts live!”

“Spec-fic is about breaking out of boundaries,” added J. Tullos Hennig. Growing up, she said, even being female felt like a chore, a boundary to break out of. Queer spec-fic is “just another boundary.”

One of the advantages of addressing queer themes via sci-fi and fantasy, said Kimberling, is that writers can approach much more delicate subjects by abstracting them.

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The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin
Image source: Flavorwire

People will accept ‘weird’ if it’s another world, put in panelist Ginn Hale, and she gave the example of an alien species that changes genders (as in the 1969 Ursula LeGuin classic The Left Hand of Darkness). By approaching the subject obliquely, spec-fic writers use aliens and other non-human characters to address human themes.

Another of the panelists, Langley Hyde, tried writing contemporary and lit fic, but it “didn’t seem very realistic”. It didn’t reflect the world she lives in, surrounded by queer community. She and her friends challenged themselves to find some books featuring lesbians, and they weren’t readily found, even as recently as ten years ago.

Hyde pinpoints fandom as one source of the current shift toward addressing queer topics in fiction, especially spec-fic. Fanfic, where many writers flex their literary muscles before branching out into original fiction (or fanfic-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off), outright encourages queer takes on fiction.

The panelists highlighted the outsider feeling that many spec-fic writers get when brushing up against mainstream literary circles–a great parallel for many queer people’s experiences, and a hint at why so many queer writers use fantastical themes and settings to explore their experiences. Amber Dawn teaches at a “scrappy community college” where students get to write the spec-fic they want, and also at a prestigious college where her colleagues think it’s not possible to teach this genre.

Ginn Hale asked the audience whether anyone was doing creative writing in a college, and got a smattering of raised hands. Then, “Anyone writing for themselves?” Half the audience raised their hands.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Hale.

In a crowd of sci-fi and fantasy fans, most of whom were queer, it surprised no-one, least of all the panelists who were all professional writers, that most of them declined to fight that particular uphill battle, and had long since bade the decision to write on their own time and for their own benefit. Both aspects of their work–the queerness, and the spec-fic-ness–are regarded with distaste, suspicion, or derision by many in mainstream society.

Langley Hyde had the experience of having to present her work to her writing group as magical realism rather than fantasy so that people would take it seriously enough even to read it.

Amber Dawn has been able to explore a more holistic identity in writing spec-fic, she says, contrasting that with the editor who told her to “tone down the queerness” in her own memoir!

J. Tullos Hennig pointed at the “mainstream” writers who dabble in sci-fi or fantasy, but who refuse that label, even going so far as to get upset when it’s pointed out. (The panelists didn’t list any examples, but one off the top of my head is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which reviewers go out of their way not to describe as science fiction, even though it addresses the popular sci-fi themes of survival in a post-apocalyptic world.)

So what are some changes to the world of spec-fic? asked Nicole Kimberling.

“This panel exists, for one thing,” said Ginn Hale to a laugh from the audience.

Far more people are open (about their queerness, as well as their spec-fic writing). The wider cultural discourse is about whether to recognise same-sex marriage, while at spec-fic conferences we have discussions about whether someone can be multiple genders.

The panel then opened up the floor to audience questions.

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Members of the audience at a GeekGirlCon ’14 panel.
Image source: GeekGirlCon flickr

 

Q: Lots of current gay stories have sexuality as an afterthought. Is that a goal?

A: Maybe for some writers and readers. However, lots of readers want some sex just to be sure it’s queer!

Q: How do you reconcile the writing of an author whose work you admire, but who is problematic in their real life? Examples: Orson Scott Card (a noted homophobe) and Marion Zimmer Bradley (an author who identifies as feminist and writes feminist fiction, but who sexually abused her daughter).

A: It’s a very daunting question. Everyone has to do what they feel comfortable doing. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s letters helped Hennig in her writing–thirty years ago.

In literature class, students have to analyze authorial intent, but as a writer that’s often not relevant. What the writer put in may be completely different to what you take away from a work of fiction. You can know someone is problematic and still like their work, but everyone draws the line in different places.

Q: Fandom is all about reading slashy (queer) subtext into mainstream media, and yet writers can work really hard to create original queer fiction and never get off the ground. Why the disconnectekGirlCon 

A: It’s not the Age of the Book. We could counter this by starting book clubs, and building communities around books. Look for queer-specialist publishers.

Q: What’s still missing from queer fiction?

A: Representation and diversity, particularly characters of color. Seek out QTPoC (Queer and Trans People of Color). Encourage genres like post-colonial spec-fic.

It would be nice to pick up more books outside the specialist LGBT section of the bookstore, and see queer characters.

Mass media is all about “box it, sell it, make money.” Small presses are the ones pushing the boundaries.

Q: What’s the best approach to writing queer characters (and characters with other marginalized identities) as someone with relative privilege?

A: Be respectful, do research, and give humanity to every character in your book. And after all that, respect that some queer readers will still want queer stories from queer writers.

Finally, here’s a list of recommendations, of both books and authors, that came up in the panel. Some of these are works of classic literature, which only proves, as J. Tullos Hennig put it, that “We’ve been doing this in spec-fic for centuries.”

Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson

When Fox is a Thousand, by Larissa Lai

Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

Gossamer Axe, by Gael Baudino

Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Octavia Butler’s (especially her short stories, eg. Blood Child)

Tanith Lee

Judith Tarr

Samuel R. Delany

Elizabeth Bear

Ursula LeGuin

K.J. Charles

Melissa Scott

Hal Duncan

Jo Walton

N.K. Jemisin

The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, a webcomic by E.K. Weaver

O Human Star, webcomic by Blue Delliquanti

The Legend of Bold Riley, a print comic by Leia Weathington and various artists

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Jewish Heritage Month: Geeky Jewish Women

Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.

Whether acknowledged or not, Jewish people were instrumental in shaping 20th Century US culture and scientific advancement. As a person of Jewish heritage myself, I am always excited to find out that someone I admire is Jewish, but oftentimes I don’t know that information unless I specifically go looking. It seems that Jewishness is often subsumed into other ethnic identities–and of course there are the thousands of non-practicing Jews (like me) who feel some degree of connection to our Jewish heritage, but that might not be obvious in our day to day life.

Since May is Jewish Heritage Month, this seems like a good time to highlight Jewish people’s contributions to US culture

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Zombie Awareness Month: Terror of the Masses

Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.

I hate zombies.

Oh, sure, zombies have been the zeitgeist for so long that I’ve developed a list of exceptions to my zombie media antipathy–Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, the videogame State of Decay, and most recently the ridiculous/awesome/ridiculawesome TV show iZombie are great examples. However, I realized that the zombie fiction I like all fits into one of two categories. Either it emphasises community-building (particularly of marginalized people) in the post-apocalypse, or it humanizes the zombie characters. On reflection, it’s not really surprising that I favor stories that center character and relationship development over mowing down mindless hordes of enemies.

Liv_Ravi

iZombie: Liv (a zombie) and Ravi (a human) bonding in the morgue. Image source: Entertainment Weekly.

When I heard that May is Zombie Awareness Month, I scoffed. Who isn’t aware of zombies? The lists of zombie films, novels, and games grow longer every month. The CDC uses zombie preparedness campaigns as an education tool. Zombie Awareness organizations have sprung up that imitate other awareness campaigns with ribbons and buttons to advertise their cause. Even hardcore zombie bandwagoners are starting to tire of the ubiquitous hordes.

But there’s an opportunity here to talk about zombies and what they represent in our cultural consciousness.

Winter Downs
“Rock On!”

GeekGirlCon ’14 Recap: The Year of the Asian

Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.

2014 is in the rear-view mirror, so perhaps now we can answer the question posed at GeekGirlCon last year by LeiLani Nishime and Kristine Hassell: “Is 2014 the Year of the Asian?” Whether or not it was, can we take the improvements made in pop culture depictions of Asian people, and continue to build on them in 2015 and beyond?

The two panelists picked their title because, as LeiLani observed, many conversations about the future of Asian Americans in media were all about the new season of TV. But before digging into why people are so excited about the new shows, the panel took us on a retrospective of the depictions of Asian and Asian American people over the past few decades.

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Panel Submissions closing soon

Do you have a great idea for a panel or workshop inspired by women’s contributions to, and experiences in, geeky life? Whether you’re a gamer, costumer, cosplayer, writer, scientist, artist, business owner, or whatever flavor of geek you may be, if there’s a topic that’s important to you–something you are passionate about–and you think people would be interested in learning or discussing it, let us know!

Panel submissions are only open for one more week–until midnight on Friday, May 1–so if you’re itching to get your ideas in front of a welcoming crowd, make sure not to miss this opportunity!

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Panelists at GeekGirlCon ’14: Meg Humphrey; Cath√© Post, Corinna Lawson, and Tristan J. Tarwater; Angela Webber and Ashlee Blackwell. All images from GeekGirlCon flickr.

The Con will be held October 10 and 11, 2015 at The Conference Center at the WSCC. This is your chance to be part of it, to talk about topics that mean something to you, and to learn more about geek culture all over the world. This year is our fifth anniversary, and we’re already working to make it better than ever!

With the panel application, we’ll need:

  • Panel title
  • Short description (100-150 words)
  • Audio visual requirements
  • Age restrictions (if any)

We will also need the following information for each panelist on the submission form:

  • Name
  • Short bio (150-200 words max each)
  • Email
  • Twitter handle

So head over to our applications page and let us know your ideas. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.

Winter Downs
“Rock On!”

Sakura-Con recap 2015

Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.

One thing I love about volunteering for GeekGirlCon is the sense of community we foster among our attendees–and even among people who haven’t yet made it to the Con!

Each year we have a booth at Sakura-Con, the biggest anime convention in the region, and this weekend I got to help out.

Sakura-Con has a celebratory atmosphere, and the cosplay is among the best and most varied I’ve ever seen. (Excepting GeekGirlCon, of course–but then, I may be biased!)

Winter Downs
“Rock On!”

Panel Submissions for GeekGirlCon ’15 Open Now!

Do you have a great idea for a panel or workshop inspired by women’s contributions to, and experiences in, geeky life? Whether you’re a gamer, costumer, cosplayer, writer, scientist, artist, business owner, or whatever flavor of geek you may be, if there’s a topic that’s important to you–something you are passionate about–and you think people would be interested in learning or discussing it, let us know!

15632946316_ed9e338a04_k 15470737040_c41ef35a19_k 15035932484_5beadebccd_k

Panelists at GeekGirlCon ’14: Meg Humphrey; Cath√© Post, Corinna Lawson, and Tristan J. Tarwater; Angela Webber and Ashlee Blackwell. All images from GeekGirlCon flickr.

We are now accepting applications for panels and workshops for GeekGirlCon ‘15, which takes place October 10 and 11, 2015 at The Conference Center at the WSCC. This is your chance to be part of it, to talk about topics that mean something to you, and to learn more about geek culture all over the world. This year is our fifth anniversary, and we’re already working to make it better than ever!

Applications are open only until May 1, so head over to our applications page and let us know your ideas. We can’t wait to hear from you!

 

Winter Downs
“Rock On!”

Way-hey and up She Rises: Female Pirates of History

Maybe I should save this topic for Talk Like a Pirate Day, but September 19 is a long way away, and I have things to say!

Pirates are one of those perennial geeky favorites, like ninjas, whose popularity has outlasted their relevance, and whose popular depiction is–how shall we put this?–questionably accurate at best. They’re also subject to the kind of gatekeeping familiar to geeky women everywhere: “everyone knows” that the high seas were the domain of men. Why, women were considered so unlucky that they were never allowed on boats, right?

Wrong.

Winter Downs
“Rock On!”

GeekGirlCon ’14 panel recap: The Heroine’s Journey

If your flavor of geekiness encompasses writing, literature, or heroic fantasy, you’ve probably heard of the Hero’s Journey, or the Monomyth–an idea presented by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book The Hero With the Thousand Faces. He identified many heroic narratives from the mythologies of different cultures and time periods as having a similar overall arc: the hero is called to adventure, initially refuses the call, and eventually sets out on his quest. He is initiated into a supernatural world previously unknown to him, undergoes a series of trials, receives aid along the way, and eventually achieves his quest’s end. He must then return to his original world (which he may be reluctant to do), ending the story as the master of two worlds.

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