The Moment of Change – Reading

So, the Moment of Change is almost here. It will be released at Wiscon, and I am organizing an open-mic reading to celebrate the anthology. You do not have to be a MoC contributor to participate in the open-mic reading! Everyone is welcome! Here is the description:

Come join the authors of the “The Moment of Change” for an open mic evening in celebration of the first-ever anthology of feminist speculative poetry! “The Moment of Change” is edited by Rose Lemberg and forthcoming from Aqueduct press, and includes poems by Ursula K. Le Guin, Nisi Shawl, Amal El-Mohtar, Delia Sherman, Vandana Singh. Bring your own feminist speculative poems to read, and join Rose Lemberg, Shira Lipkin, Sofia Samatar, and Alex Dally MacFarlene for an open mic extravaganza to celebrate the release of the anthology and feminist speculative poetry in general.

The reading will take place on Friday, May 25th, at 9:00–10:15 pm at Michelangelo’s near the Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information about Wiscon, visit their website.

If you are attending Wiscon and are a fan of speculative poetry, or are curious about it, please consider participating – and if you are so inclined, please spread the word!

UPDATE: THERE WILL BE COOKIES, BROWNIES AND ICE TEA AT THE READING. PLEASE COME!!

Giant

It is April 4th. Always I am late with those things, but their significance is not lessened by my tardiness.

Seven years ago, on March 30th, Alan Dundes passed away while teaching his graduate folklore seminar. I wrote a flash piece, “Giant,” shortly after I started writing fiction, in March 2008, because I needed to talk about him. Selling the piece was another matter. In 2011 I was finally ready, and the story found a home at Not One of Us, where it was published in the 46th issue.

Today I am making Giant publicly available. It is very short, and my only 2nd person narrative so far. It is a bit different from most of my other work, though I have some other short pieces (such as Kifli, Teffeu, and perhaps Seven Losses) that seem to belong to a series.

The Moment of Change – cover!

Behold the cover in all its glory! So tremendously happy about this. The painting is by the wonderful Terri Windling.

The table of contents is here!

The anthology would be released at Wiscon; I have organized an open-mic reading (everyone is welcome to read!) – and will announce the details here when I have them.

So. Excited.

Stone Telling 7 (the Queer Issue) is here!

And it is glorious! In addition to the poetry, don’t miss the roundtable, B.’s article on translating queer poetry, the second installment of Brit Mandelo’s article on the poetry of Joanna Russ… in fact, I hope you won’t miss anything!

Stone Telling 7: Bridging, cover

Special thanks to Julia Rios on her work on the roundtable, and Jennifer Smith for tirelessly reading, coding, proofreading, and doing hundreds of other things without which this issue would not now be in front of you. Huzzah!

Aaaand congratulations to the following poets on their Rhysling Award nominations for the year 2011:

Erik Amundsen, “The Lend,” Stone Telling 5, Sept. 2011.
Mary Turzillo, “Moving to Enceladus,” Stone Telling 3, Mar. 2011.
C. S. E. Cooney, “Postcards from Mars,” Stone Telling 6, Dec. 2011.
Shira Lipkin, “The Changeling’s Lament,” Stone Telling 5, Sept. 2011.
Sofia Samatar, “Girl Hours,” Stone Telling 6, Dec. 2011.
Alexandra Seidel,”A Masquerade in Four Voices,” Stone Telling 5, Sept. 2011.
Catherynne M. Valente, “The Secret of Being a Cowboy,” Stone Telling 3, Mar. 2011.

No Coming out Narrative, or Growing up Queer in the Soviet Union.

[ETA, March 2016]:  since I am going to link this entry from my post about my Nebula-nominated story “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” I want to update with what happened in the four years since I wrote this entry. 1) I have met other ex-Soviet people in my age group who came out as queer, often but not always after immigrating to the West; have not met any other ex-Soviet trans people my age yet (if you are an ex-Soviet queer and/or trans person, I’d like to meet you!). 2) it turned out that my “friend who was always very supportive” became virulently unsupportive once I actually came out, and that marriage rapidly ended; 3) I am now very happily partnered to another NB trans person.

[ETA, 2/27/2017: Met more ex-Soviet LGBTQIA people! Hurray!]

Trigger warnings: emotional discussions of my personal experiences with homophobia, transphobia, bullying, intolerance in the family, and immigration.

—————-

In April 2011, I had a discussion about my participation in an online queer space with a person who ran it, with whom I had casually interacted with before. She said, among many things, “Look, I have no idea what “coming out” even means to you, frankly, if you’re in a heterosexual marriage.” I no longer come to that space, or speak to that person.

But I am finally ready to talk about this in public, to you – about what “coming out” means for me, as a person in whose language there was no word for “queer”, no words for “coming out”, whose reality did not include a “coming out narrative.” I am finally ready to talk about growing up queer in the Soviet Union; and what it did to me, to my life. This is a coming-out story that is only enabled by my liminal status as an immigrant (multiple times) now living in a country where coming out stories exist as a genre – and can be told.

A caveat. This is an emotionally difficult and triggery thing for me. I am speaking out because I must. But I am speaking out of pain. I tried to make a neat narrative out of this, but I cannot. It is too raw. It is not scholarly either.

Reading this, you do not owe me anything – not respect, not compassion, not even politeness. Nevertheless, I will not allow rude or derogatory comments here.

***

I am 35 years old. I was born in the Soviet Union, lived in Western Ukraine and subarctic Russia before immigrating to Israel when I was fourteen. I live in the States now. Of my generation of ex-Soviets (people in their mid-30s to mid-40s), I do not personally know a single person who came out as queer, though I have heard of one other person who did so after immigrating to the US.*

I came out on January 1st, 2011. This happened because of my participation in the SFF community, thanks to allies and their stories that taught me – in long, painful, triggery lessons – that what I am is not shameful or despicable; and so my queer identity at last became – by degrees, painfully – something I could talk about. But it hasn’t always been so.

I knew I was different since I was – six? earlier? Some people know very early on. I knew. But I did not know what I knew. I had my first same-sex experience during a summer pioneers’ camp; I was 11. I remember the first time I was bullied for being a lesbian; that was in the fall, after I returned to school from the summer camp. I wasn’t new to bullying; I had experienced physical violence/bullying since I was 7, for being Jewish. But my parents have explained to me how the Jewish thing worked, what to expect; my family was very Jewish and in a sea of anti-Semitism I was proud of my Jewishness and anti-Semitism did not crush my spirit. That time, I…. I remember the feeling of amazement sweeping over me. The kids who bullied me before, for being Jewish, they were sure. That time there was a lot of hesitation. They were not sure, and that had somehow made it worse.

I knew the slang/derogatory word for gay (‘goluboj’ – blue), but I learned the word for ‘lesbian’ from being bullied. My mother had the most horrible fear of me being queer, since I was very young, but she did not have a word for it either. In the beginning she tried to frame it in terms of male homosexuality, for which there were (derogatory) words; it has always been very perplexing for me, since I could not figure out how this applied. Then she talked about “that” -that is what she calls horrible things, disastrous things, like my father’s stroke. Things too bad to name. Later, when we immigrated to Israel and some concepts surfaced on her cultural horizon, she told me lesbians were the most disgusting thing in the world; “worse than gays,” she said. I do not blame my mother – she is a product of her upbringing. [ETA 2/27/2017 – my mother has lived in Israel since 1990, and has had many years to adjust to my queerness and transness, but unfortunately only became more vehemently homophobic/transphobic; so “product of her upbringing” no longer holds.]

My feelings now are too often those of anguish and envy. Recently Russian legislation outlawed LGBTQI identities/expressions in Russia (again). My first reaction was, “wow, they are talking about it.” Being queer is illegal, but to me – to me- it is a step up from not even being acknowledged to exist. (From the article I just linked to: “Open discussion of homosexuality was almost unheard of in Russia until just a few years ago. A Soviet-era law that punished same-sex relations between men with prison time was repealed in 1993, but the subject has long remained taboo outside a smattering of bars and clubs in major Russian cities.” – and this only refers to the G identity).

Since moving to the US, I cannot shake the envy of the coming-out narrative. Coming out here is hard, heartbreaking, too often dangerous, and requires great courage; but it is a thing. It is a story. You get to hear it. “How I came out.” There are queer people in the media, even if those are negative portrayals. There are books, role models – not enough, but they exist here and there. There are words. Of course, the US is not uniform and not everyone had the same experience; so much depends on location, ethnicity/race, class, the parameters of one’s queer identity. But I don’t think these gradations existed in the Soviet Union.* There was no “coming out narrative”.

Coming out was not a possibility for me, not even because of the price to pay, but because, growing up in the Soviet Union, I didn’t know what I was. I had no points of reference.

No books, no TV personas (negative or positive), no movies, no newspapers. NO WORDS. I had no WORDS in which to describe myself, I had no LANGUAGE to help me understand who I was.

Thinking about what it meant to be *me*, I often experienced a feeling of unspeakable shame, disgust, and despair that I could not put into words. I later came up with “monster”.

I turned to my imaginary worlds, which were populated by queer people (but they were the default so I did not need to invent words) – which is how I often got bullied and beaten, because I would stupidly tell these stories to a few “friends” in school, who then banded up with others and beat me for these and for being attracted to girls. It would have been perhaps easier for me if I’d never been attracted to boys. I was. Just not very often, and not until much later in life.

Of course, there wasn’t even a derogatory word for ‘bisexual’, or any word for bisexual – at least I never heard of it. There were no words for the non-binary gender configurations which have at last explained me to myself and with which I have come to identify in the recent years, once I learned the names for them.

As a result of the homophobia, bullying, and confusion, in my early teens I invented a near-religious system of strictures focusing on the concept of ‘unfreedom’ (nevolya) and the need to control and police oneself very tightly lest any shamefully monstrous urges, thoughts, and needs escape. By my late teens I managed a great degree of success in this. I no longer was accused of queerness. Neither did I date. I was, of course, pressured to date men, but I found out I could lie about that. So I did. If I talked to you about my late teens and early twenties at any point, there is a high chance that I lied to you.

Lisa Bradley wrote, in a roundtable of the Queer issue of Stone Telling, “”all my life I’ve struggled with a vain yearning, now mostly put to rest, that I could shave off unwanted aspects of myself.” This is absolutely true for me. My gender/sexuality was something that I locked out of my life. Like words, it did not exist. I married early and am still married to a friend who has supported me though many, many years in which I desperately hated myself. This is where my life is right now. [ETA 2/27/17, I deleted some things, as it was a misrepresentation].

I am preoccupied with silence in my work. Silence is not about choosing not to speak out, silence is the lack of language in which to speak out, the impossibility of even rudimentary understanding of the self – understanding that must come before action, before reconciliation, before everything. The first issue of Stone Telling, Silence to Speech, was addressing that in part – a recognition that not just me, but many other people move in silences, are erased, are gathering courage to speak – and poetry is such a powerful vehicle for this.

We need words. Narratives. To guide us out of the terrible unspoken silences.

Coming out –for me – is not about who you sleep with, or do not sleep with. Coming out means naming yourself – and words have power. Coming out means no longer participating in the erasure of one’s identity, self, dignity, existence. Coming out means – a voice.

I am reveling in the existence of the words ‘queer’ and ‘genderqueer’ in my life. I rejoice in the possibility for all of me to exist and be named and come into light. When I had no words for myself, when I could not call myself queer – I wasn’t, somehow, straight and cisgendered. No. I was just silenced. I was erased. But I was still – that.

My struggle is within myself, to find the strength to speak despite – and because of – my lived experience. I must keep flailing for identity and dignity despite the realities of my life. Publishing Stone Telling has been a tremendous gift – supporting the brave and painful, raw and triumphant voices that find their words and their stories despite dangers and demons has empowered me to do likewise.

And yet I often think about all those who cannot do so, who cannot begin to do so, who do not have the words, or who have the words but cannot pay the price of speaking out. Not every road leads to freedom. But perhaps my story will be useful for someone out there.

Thank you for reading.

——————————-

*reading about this, I know that awareness of G and L identities started to surface during the Perestroika period in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but I cannot tell you anything about it. I do not know.

**Again, Moscow and St. Petersburg probably had more awareness of at least the G (and maybe L?) in the underground; here is a Wikipedia entry. I don’t know anything about this.

A Single Copper Coin

When I was eight (I think), I read a folklore collection that included a Central Asian folktale that I want to share with you. Since I was only eight, I no longer remember the name of the folktale, or the specific collection from whence it came (I do vividly remember the illustrations, but it is not helpful, I know).

The story went like this: two friends traveled together to a market to sell their goods. One baked potatoes, and the other made a heap of flatbreads. Since the friends were hard-working, they arrived at the marketplace early. There was nobody there yet; no buyers, and no other sellers, and both of these worthies were getting quite hungry. So the potato friend says to his buddy, “How much for one flatbread?” And the reply is, “One copper coin.” “How lucky,” the potato friend replies, “I just happen to have a coin with me!” And so the flatbread is purchased and eaten.

Now the flatbread friend is getting ravenously hungry, so he asks, “How much for a potato?” And the answer is, “One copper coin.” And so they trade with one another, paying each other fairly, until all the potatoes and flatbreads are all sold. But between them they have earned only a single copper coin.

I think it was supposed to be a lesson in economics.

I often ponder on this tale. What if they’re trading… not edibles, but say… say, little objects of art nobody else has ever wanted. And there are two friends, say, and only a single copper coin between them. So one creates a little object of art that she knows her friend would like. She is paid a coin. Then the other creates a little object of art and sells it to the first. For a coin, of course. There’s only one coin between them, but now there are two little objects of art in the world. They trade like this for a bit, and here comes the third, who has no money whatsoever but creates another little object to sell for the same copper coin. Fourth, fifth have no coins but bring a carpet to sit. The sixth brings in another coin. Seventh arrives; she looks at the goings-on and is moved to create something strange and glorious, which she is happy to sell for a coin. The first buys the glorious thing for a coin and creates another one in response. People are starting to gather around; someone tossed in a coin. Someone else joined in.

And so it goes. They are still poor – but now they have a village.

Queer Speculative Poetry recommendations

As you may know, I am putting together a Queer chapbook with work from Stone Telling (including the queer issue) to launch at Wiscon. One of the contributors to Stone Telling 7 and the queer chapbook, Dominik Parisien, is asking:

Just out of curiosity, have you considered including a brief “Recommended Reading” section in the chapbook regarding queer poems that have appeared in other magazines? This could expose readers to other great queer poems they might not otherwise discover.

This is a GREAT idea. To that end, I would appreciate it if you could please help me with specific titles of queer speculative/sff work. I already know about the queer work of Sonya Taaffe, Jeannelle Ferreira, Adrienne J. Odasso, and Catherynne M. Valente (including work not reprinted in the Moment of Change, but would appreciate pointers to anything else, especially but not limited to work that appeared in 2011-2012.

(Sorry I wasn’t clear before, but really looking for spec rather than literary, here).

A great review

Bogi Takács, who has done a lot of wonderful reviews of Hugo-eligible work this year, offers a clueful and detailed, and very positive, review of “Held Close in Syllables of Light.” What a treat – thank you, Bogi!

Bogi raised two issues about worldbuilding: one pertaining to the class representation in “Held Close…” and another about the parallels between the Khana and the Jews. I have answered the question of classism in the comments (the second one is probably more to the point than the first), and I am planning to post my response to the “Jewish Question” (hehe) separately as an essay on my blog.

Feminist SF/F: on Feminist Characters

During #FeministSF twitter chat yesterday, a question was floated about what kind of women we want to see more often in speculative fiction, and what kinds of characters are feminist. Keri@Feministfantasy.com called for strong female characters: independent women who save themselves and make their own choices, and are not defined by men. This is, I think, the popular notion of what a feminist heroine should be like.

A discussion followed, and I said many things, and some people said I should write up my thoughts as an entry.* Here goes.

In the twitter chat, I said:

For me, a feminist work showcases a variety of women, not necessarily a “typical” strong female character. I feel that by limiting feminist expression to strong female characters only, we are shortchanging ourselves. If male characters are allowed to be strong, weak, broken, insane, anti-heroes – why can’t we have a range of female characters likewise? I think that writing women in a non-stereotyping way, as people with desires, weaknesses, strengths – is feminist.
I want portrayals of women that are as vivid and varied as portrayals of men.

Limiting the range of female characters to the kickass-heroine, we are saying that only one type of woman is worthy of story.

I say, that approach is helpful in a short run, but harmful in the long run.

Let me unpack.

The Warrior Woman is a powerful archetype. We are still fighing very simple battles. We live in a world where all-male Best-of anthologies are published, where women’s books are reviewed less than books by men, where all-men panels happen – heck, we live in a world where all-male groups are empowered to decide on a woman’s rights to her own body. Against these, the Warrior Woman stands tall. She is powerful and unafraid of power. She does not complain , does not bend, does not hesitate. She may grieve, but her grief will never put her in a corner. She towers above the cowing figures of those who oppress us. She lends us strength. She is an Example of how we want to be, powerful and free and unafraid. She is an archetype, a token, and we need her – we need her in life and we need her in books and movies. She empowers us. There is not enough of her, yet.

But in a way, she also undermines us.

A subtype of the Warrior Woman is the Professional. She is a scientist, a doctor, an astronaut. She is fearless, competent, and wise. She is usually alone, surrounded by male colleagues who are sometimes goofy, immature, undersocialized, or just plain wrong. But never the Professional. She is never immature, never undersocialized, never abrupt, never wrong, never makes horrible mistakes with friends. She must be polite and rational and calm. She must never, ever be impolite or offensive, because women are so often demonized and underrepresented and barred from professions for various reasons (including ascribed overemotionality) that the Professional must always guard against it, always present a flawless Example. She is always, always a Token.

In classic theories of gender and language, women are said to be more polite because women are disempowered. Robin Lakoff (1975) theorized that lack of power is a key factor in constructing women’s discourse; due to women’s subordinate position in society relative to men, women would strive to minimize any threat to the people in power (men), and would therefore come across as more polite.

“Men are power brokers in most speech communities, while women are subordinate. Men can dominate the talking time, interrupt, and use a narrower range of speech variants because they don’t need to worry about pleasing their interlocutors, especially when the addressee is a woman. Women by contrast need to be supportive and non-aggressive and must be linguistically flexible in order to survive in societies in which they are not in control” (Eckert and McGonnell-Ginet 1998, 491)

This notion of power and powerlessness is very, very basic. As sociolinguists, we’ve moved quite a ways from it, and we know now that these generalizations about women and power in discourse are not borne out by the data. The data are, in fact, extremely diverse. (c.f. the work of Cameron and Mills in particular). Still, this notion of women as powerless, however inaccurate or incomplete, “provides a powerful symbolic meaning” (Cameron 2000, 333) that affects both people’s behavior and societal expectations.

What I am trying to say is, with the Warrior Woman (and her subtype, the Professional) always and only our Story, we as women act out our powerlessness – our desire to be invincible and able to ordain our own fate (Warrior Woman), and our desire to be Impeccably Competent in order to be Allowed to Exercise our Chosen Professions.

I want women to dream their literary heroines from a position of strength. Just as we know by now (I hope) that women are not always polite, so we should be able to have heroines who do not always represent our oppression. The way to get there, I think, is through multiple, intersectional, and diverse (yet not stereotyped or cartoonish) portrayals of women. I want women to be able to be Neurotic Geniuses. I want the Amazing Inventor with bad hair and mismatched socks who yells sometimes and makes her friends upset, and sometimes forgets to eat, and sometimes forgets to do laundry. I want to read about the Magician who forgets to check her email and gets embroiled in a political struggle at her University, which she loses ungraciously. I want to read about Neurotic Creative Professionals – architects, writers, film directors, music composers – who, in throws of creativity, can be quite upsetting to be around. I want to read about a brilliant woman scientist who is also a miserable drunk. I want to read about the person in a wheelchair who loves her work, but who takes her disability really hard. I want to read about women who are child-free by choice, and women who are mothers. I want to read about mothers who decided to stay at home, and mothers who work. I want to read about women who are fat and not, women who struggle with weight and women who do not. I want to read about asexual women, bisexual women, I want to read about people who are genderqueer and trans* and questioning. I want to read about menopausal women. I want to read about a heroine who is eighty two. I want to read about women who are mentally ill. I want to read a book with a feminist anti-hero. I want to read about kinky women, I want to read about dominant women and submissive women. And note, I haven’t even touched upon the questions of racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity!

One side effect of writing a range of women is that we might not be comfortable with all of those characters, all of those women, all of those people. In real life, unless you are extremely holy, you won’t be comfortable with all the people you know. But what we often do in genre is allow men to be uncomfortable and difficult, but erase the women who are less than warm and fuzzy-making.

What I am saying is simple. As I see it, limiting women’s creativity to the Warrior archetype is limiting us in difficult ways that are ultimately bad for us, because this perpetuates our oppression. There are all kinds of men in speculative literature. There are NOT all kinds of women in speculative literature. There should be all kinds of women in speculative literature. Having all kinds of women who are human and complex will empower us to be ourselves, and comfortable in our skins. It is not easy, but I think we can get there.

——–
* Additional and very important points were raised by Ekaterina Sedia (@esedia) and Alex Dally MacFarlane (@foxtailedgirl) among others; I encourage you to check out #FeministSF.

——–

And ETA: Alex Dally MacFarlane wrote an excellent and important follow-up entry on female friendships. I did not want to discuss female friendships in my entry, because Alex raised this point in the original twitter chat, and I was hoping she’d write up an entry on this topic – and she did. Thank you, Alex.

“Braided to each other / beneath the benevolence of the sky”

My queer epic poem “In the Third Cycle” is a winner in the Strange Horizons readers’ poll.  I have written elsewhere about how important this piece is to me; I consider it my best poem. It is an incredible thing for me to see it recognized, and to know that it has readers.

THANK YOU.

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About

Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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