By: Jason Evans
Jason Evans recently interviewed two queer authors, Nonir Amicitia and Olivia Wylie who discussed writing the queer character.
Jason: Please introduce yourselves!
Nonir: I’m Nonir Amicitia, one half of O.E. Tearmann. I use they/them pronouns, play too many video games, and have two giant Sterlite containers of old writing under my bed. In addition to writing as O.E. Tearmann, I also run Wandering Jotun Crafts, which is dedicated to providing art and spiritual services to uplift and support marginalized communities.
Olivia: Hey, I’m the other half of this writing team wearing the O.E. Tearmann trenchcoat. I’m a bisexual, biracial cis girl with a blue streak through my hair and my soul, a jack of all trades and a master of none. My first love is folklore, but I’ve branched out into sci-fi, ethnobotany, and non-fiction horticulture writing. Trained in ornamental horticulture at CSU, I own the residential landscaping and garden-related artistic business Leafing Out Professional Gardening, write for the Brehon Law Academy, create art and illustrated books of ethnobotany and folklore under my own name, and am moderating too many facebook groups focusing on folklore, research and art.
Jason: What do you write?
Nonir: I tend toward fantasy and scifi with strong romantic plots. Lately, I’ve been working on some queer romance and erotica short stories I’ll be publishing under the name E.S. Argentum sometime soon (fingers crossed).
Olivia: I really love doing research, so I do a lot of work on Old Irish cultural artifacts like the Brehon Law, the Triads of Ireland, and the Ogham. Currently I have a book out on the Victorian Language of Flowers, the Old Irish Alphabet of Trees, and the Triads of Ireland, with a forthcoming volume on the history of invasive weeds in America.
When I’m in the mood to be less cerebral, I like to write folklore-based works, and I’m the artist on the folklore-based webcomic Parmeshen. With Nonir I write the hopeful queer cyberpunk series Aces High, Jokers Wild, which is our way of getting catharsis for everything going on in the US and showing others how to light candles in the darkest night.
Jason: What are the top three things I should know, in your opinion, if I want to authentically write queer characters?
Nonir: One: queer characters are just as nuanced and varied as any other type of character; they have interests and likes/dislikes and personality quirks that have nothing to do with their sexuality or gender. Two: please don’t fall into the “all queer people are promiscuous and only think about sex” stereotype. Again, just focus on writing well-rounded characters. Three: don’t write just one. Practice, practice, practice, and avoid tokenizing or fetishizing your queer characters.
Olivia: A) We’re people. Not classifications. This is life, not D&D. Don’t write a trans woman character; write a girl with a thing for race cars who has a hell of a time sourcing good jumpsuits in her size, maybe, and mentions that the only time being trans sucks is when you try to find something cute for a woman your height. See the difference?
B) Read Before You Write. I can’t stress this enough. Go read a ton of Own Voices stuff from queer authors in every shade of the rainbow. Go read books like ‘Transcending Flesh’ by Ana Mardoll. Read ‘Traversing Gender’ by Lee Harrington. Then go out and ask—and accept—what needs correcting in your work. Queer Sci Fi Writer’s Workshop is a good place. Put exactly as much research into understanding your queer characters as you would understanding an ancient Roman character. What you write could change someone’s life, for better and for worse.
Jason: When writing about queer people, what are some things, you find, that they are confident about? Can you give me some examples?
Nonir: Honestly, I can’t really answer this because queer people are just as diverse as cishet people. Everyone has their own things they’re confident about and things they struggle with, and there’s no real way to make a blanket statement about it.
Olivia: So, to answer this question, first we’re going to have to unpack it. Then we’re going to have to reword it. Then we can answer it.
The problem with this question is that it assumes several things. Firstly, it assumes the monolithic nature of people who aren’t cisgender and/or heterosexual. This assumption is false on the face of it. Like any other group, we’re made up of a wide range of people with all kinds of personalities, backgrounds, goals, and skills.
Living in the modern world, we must consciously overcome this outdated thinking. The term ‘queer’ is an extremely wide umbrella. Scratch that, it’s a circus tent, under which all sorts of folks have all kinds of lived experiences.
Secondly, this question assumes that sexuality and gender identity affects other specific personality traits—namely, confidence. These traits are not intrinsically linked. This is an essential point.
So, what are queer people confident in? Answer: it depends on the specific person you’re talking to. You can have any combination of gender, orientation, skillset, and personality. An extremely confident science whiz who’s asexual, romantically attracted to women, and absolutely sure she can talk anyone into anything. A straight trans guy who’s a great arborist and a little shy. The combinations are absolutely endless. Exactly as they are for cis-het people.
A better wording of this question could be: what are modern queer people able to feel confident in displaying publicly concerning their identity?
Again, this is completely dependent on the lived experience of the person you’re talking to. According to the Federal Hate Crimes Registry, 20.8% of hate crimes are based on LGBT identity as of 2013, up from 17.6% in 2008. Of these crimes, 72% are violent in nature. If you’re lucky, you live surrounded by a supportive community, whether natal or cultivated. If you’re not lucky…well, bluntly, you can still end up beat in an alley. Or worse. And where you get beat verses where you get bothered for dating advice all depends on what subculture you live in. It is, as a very broad blanket statement, safer to disclose your gender and orientation more openly in the US and Europe today. But some seriously nasty subcultures still lie under that blanket. Again: there is no one thing we’re all confident in.
Well, okay, maybe there’s one thing. We all know that you’ll never get all that glitter off. Glitter is forever. But that’s the only thing we are all completely confident in.
So, here’s the takeaway: treat LGBT people like people. Write LGBT people like people. Don’t assume they all do anything. Ask people about what they’re confident in. Let them tell their life stories and their experiences. Ask them what they think. Oh, and keep the cap on the glitter.
We will see you next month for Part 2.
In the meantime:
You can read more about Nonir and Olivia’s hope-punk series at www.aceshighjokerswild.com
Jason Henry Evans says that life is funny. In 2004 he moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. He dedicated himself to public education and realized his heart was not in it. So he moved on. At the same time he stumbled into a creative world of art and literature he now calls home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.