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.
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.
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)
Last year at GeekGirlCon, I had the privilege of participating in the Do-It-Yourself Science Zone teaching kids about probability and randomness.
However, being The Riddler, I had a secret agenda in mind while doing my demonstrations–I have a trio of ten-sided dice that I use to gamble with my fellow super-villains, and I wanted to figure out which of them, if any, had a bias for or against any particular number. What better way to find out than to offload the boring task of rolling those dice over and over again onto unsuspecting passers-by?
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.
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.
“Why Isn’t Bilbo a Girl?” came with this description in the GeekGirlCon ‘14 Strategy Guide: “Comics, games, and films tend to go the ‘less is more’ route when it comes to representation. Often we only see one character of a racial, gender, or sexual minority. Even worse, some people aren’t represented in media at all. Kids grow up asking, ‘Where are the characters like me?’ Let’s have a thoughtful discussion regarding how we address this issue with kids with an emphasis on constructive, positive, and educational answers for the kids who ask.”
The panel began with Moderator Simone de Rochefort saying the panel wasn’t about telling us how representation is important; she assumed we were on the same page about that, since we were all at GeekGirlCon. The panel was also not about The Lord of the Rings. The panel was thought up when Simone saw that some people got into a frenzy when others looked at transmedia and big franchises and asked to be represented. The panel’s title came from a story online, about a child whose mother read The Hobbit to her, and who just assumed that Bilbo was a girl.
Written by GeekGirlCon Copy Writer Sarah “SG-1” Grant
According to Wikipedia, impostor syndrome is defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
Does this sound like someone you know? Does it sound like you, like something you’ve ever felt in your personal, professional, or artistic life?
It’s not every day that one gets to talk to Wonder Woman, but attendees of GeekGirlCon ‘14 had the chance to do just that! Susan Eisenberg, the voice of Wonder Woman in the animated television shows Justice League and Justice League Unlimited (and more!), was featured on two panels, letting fans learn firsthand about her experiences. “The Voice of Wonder: Spotlight on Susan Eisenberg” dove into her professional history and voice acting superpowers, with Samantha Cross moderating and The Mary Sue writer Alan Kistler sharing his background as well. while “Great Hera: Let’s Watch Justice League!” was one enormously fun view-along of episodes from the series. The highly animated panels (pun intended!) were a hit, but for those who missed them, we caught up with Susan afterwards for even more tips and tricks of her trade.
How did you initially get into voice acting?
SE: I actually started out acting, and discovered fairly early on that I was far more comfortable in front of a microphone that I was in front of a camera. I had done radio ads for my father’s business when I was a kid; I did some of the commercials for his department store, growing up in Rhode Island. It scared me to death, and I loved it. You know, it still scares me a little bit, but I still get giddy when I go into a studio!
After attending university for acting and voice acting, were you hoping to land a specific type of role, such as voicing a superheroine?
SE: When I first started out, anything that came my way, I would say yes to. I would do narration jobs, commercials, regional commercials, and it’s still the same: It’s all good, as far as I’m concerned. You get to do a radio spot, or a commercial for television, or a promo for the NFL network, or you get to be on an animated series—if you love doing voice-overs, then you’re going to love doing all those things. Of course there are distinctions with money; certainly commercial voice-overs are the most lucrative, so you get residuals, but I don’t think there’s anyone out there who does voice-overs who doesn’t covet being on an animated series. I say all the time that getting the Wonder Woman job was the biggest gift of my professional life. I got to have fun all those years on the Justice League and the Justice League Unlimited and now, I still get to play her.
How do you think voicing and spending so much time with the character of Wonder Woman has changed your worldview?
SE: It has gotten me into comics more, because it’s the universe I’m in. When I first started out, I hardly knew anything. I had grown up reading Archie comics, but I still get a bit glassy-eyed when people start talking about comic book characters’ origins and things like that. I’m lucky enough to have a few friends invested in that universe, so they’ve helped me along.
Even if it’s not my passion as much as say cinema is, and soap operas—I love my soap operas! [laughs]—I want to know about it, and what’s happening. Being on Twitter has helped a lot with that, because people talk about it so much. That’s been incredible. I’ve been able to interact with people who are directly connected to her, like Phil Jimenez, who draws Wonder Woman, and Gail Simone and Amanda Deibert. That’s been another great gift. I’ve met them all at cons, and been able to travel the world because of Wonder Woman. I’ve been invited to Australia and New Zealand because of her. That’s just been extraordinary, really special.
Speaking of cons, what was your experience like at GeekGirlCon ‘14?
SE: There were a couple big highlights! One of the panels we did was watching the Justice League episodes, and that was just such a hoot. Watching them with a room full of fans was just unbeatable. I got everyone to sing the theme music. When you’re recording shows, you’re doing it in a small group in a recording studio, or you’re watching it at home. Being in a room full of people who, ten or fifteen years later, are still crazy about the show—it’s so incredibly gratifying.
Then, meeting a couple people that I followed on Twitter or who follow me was just so much fun. Meeting the young fans, too, was great. There’s a picture I got of this beautiful little girl, just a tyke, she could barely see over the signing table and she came up in her little Wonder Woman outfit. C’mon, that’s just darling! The best. The best.
I also want to mention Samantha Cross, as it was because of her that I went to GeekGirlCon. It was she who invited me and organized the panel with the screening of the episodes, and it was a great idea. I want to give her a shoutout!
It was also interesting, because it was so intimate as a con. It’s not chaotic, and I like that. I like the energy around it; there was just a kindness to the people there. It was very sweet. They had science exhibits for girls, and things like that that I really support, so I was very happy to be part of it.
Also, while I was there, meeting fans who did grow up with the shows, and who cared about them—I don’t want to sound immodest, but for them, I’m their Wonder Woman, because they’re too young to know Linda Carter. She was my Wonder Woman because I grew up with her, but when I meet people in their twenties and thirties, to know that [Justice League] had an impact on them is really moving. It was such a quality show, and everyone—the actors, the producers, the artists, the musicians, the directors, and especially the writers—made it just so well done.
That’s one great thing about Wonder Woman as a character—she’s been in different shows for a few different generations now, yet she’s remained a feminist icon throughout it all.
SE: Yes! Except it depends who you ask, because sometimes the word “feminist” gets you into trouble. People get kinda scared, and I’ve never understood why. I think if you’re of a certain age, it’s something to be grateful for, feminism. It’s just equality. Really, to me, it’s freedom and equality, and certainly Wonder Woman is that. You throw truth and justice in there and it’s like, “Hello!” It is Wonder Woman. I feel very, very fortunate.
I think about that all the time when people ask about this Wonder Woman or that Wonder Woman, this actress or that actress. The truth is that it’s the character that endures and endures. Whether it’s me or somebody else, an animation or live action, books, comics, whatever, it’s the incarnation. She will just continue to be as popular as she is because, in my opinion, she’s extraordinary. I think in this day and age, we need her ideals and that moral compass. You can’t play somebody like that and not feel it, even in everyday life. I never take that likely.
What advice would you give to those who want to break into voice acting?
SE: I would say the first thing is to take classes. I think oftentimes, people are under the misconception that if you have a “good” voice, quote unquote, then oh, you should do voiceover. But it’s far more involved than that, just like there’s a skill set for acting. People ask me all the time, “Did you ever want to be an actor?” And I’m like, well, Wonder Woman isn’t me. I wasn’t Diana Prince. I only say “Great Hera!” maybe once or twice a week at most [laughs].
There is a skill set there, and you have to get a demo reel. Depending on if you’re doing commercial or promo or animation, you put that together so you can send it out to agents. That way, they can listen right up front and bring you in for auditions. I can’t emphasize the importance of classes enough. I still take classes! There are always things you can tweak and be more comfortable with. You can get into habits, and sometimes it’s just really good to throw it all upside down and get out of your own grooves.
Plus, the beauty of voice-over today, as opposed to twenty years ago when I started, is that there were always voice-overs throughout the country, but the big markets—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles—were really the only main games in town. Now, you can have a successful voice-over career living in Minneapolis, living in Portland, Seattle has a huge market, I’m sure. You don’t have to get on a plane and move to Los Angeles; there’s plenty of work to be had.
The days that you get to be in front of a microphone: that’s what you’re in it for. Even the days you get to audition; that’s basically our full-time job. You have to audition, and practice, and be lucky. And if you are lucky, just be grateful.
Do you have any goals or projects you’re working on now, or looking forward to doing this year?
SE: Recently, for DC, I did an online video game, Amazon Fury, and a couple episodes of a show for Marvel [Avengers Assemble]. That’s already done, and there are one or two other things, but I can’t reveal them yet, because they haven’t been announced yet. It’s to be continued!
And actually, the other thing I’d like to do more of this year is to be involved with more cons. I can announce that I’ll be going to Emerald City Comicon! I’ll be doing several panels, and that’s a goal of mine. I love being out there. I love meeting the fans and hearing their stories, having them introduce themselves to me and talking about who their favorite character in the Justice League is. If that doesn’t make you giddy—to be in a room with the fans, singing the theme song of the show you’re in—if you can’t be moved by that experience, you’re dead inside [laughs].
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, views, and voice, Susan. You do Wonder Woman justice!
Join us at GeekGirlCon ‘15 to meet more of your favorite real-life heroes. Purchase your passes today to see all the action!
Written by GeekGirlCon Manager of Editorial Services Winter Downs.
The “Double Others” panel was one of the highlights of my weekend at GeekGirlCon ‘14. In case you couldn’t make it, here’s a recap of its exploration of the depiction of non-humans in genre fiction.
Our panelists defined the “double other” as a character in genre fiction who is both a person of color and non-human–alien, vampire, werewolf, mutant, etc. They called on the audience to list some examples and got a variety of replies: Worf and Tuvok from Star Trek; Gamora, Drax, and Blade from the Marvel comics and movies; Lister and Cat from Red Dwarf; Tara from True Blood; the entire werewolf clan from Twilight.
One of the five panels starting our Sunday morning at GeekGirlCon ‘14 was Diversity in Young Adult Literature. As the GeekGirlCon Strategy Guide explained, “Representation is vital for people of all races, sexualities, gender identities, and abilities. According to Malinda Lo’s 2013 Diversity in YA website, only 15% of NYT Bestselling YA Books had people of color as main characters, and only 12% of books had LGBTQ main characters. This panel will examine the market today, what readers want versus the disconnect with publisher’s diversity, and what we can do to improve the number of diverse books for teens.”
One of my favorite things about panels at GeekGirlCon is the way that common threads can emerge from different conversations; it gives me something to think about for months after the convention. If that sounds like the kind of thing that interests you, don’t forget to grab your passes for GeekGirlCon ‘15.
Slash fans were in for a treat on Saturday afternoon, in what panelist Aja Romano jokingly referred to as the “mini slash track”–back-to-back panels on “21st Century Boys: Slash in the Mainstream” and “Queerbaiting in Genre Television: Representation or Exploitation?”
The panels touched on different aspects of the push-pull between fandom and creators over queer characters, relationships, and representation. What happens when fans, desperate to see queerness represented in their beloved films, shows, and comics, co-opt those media to tell their own stories in fanfic, fanart, fan vids, gifsets, and so on–and what happens when creators are aware of those trends?