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Stone Telling Roundtable: Erasure and Defiance, Sorrow and Celebration

by Julia Rios

I always enjoy reading the array of wonders in any given issue of Stone Telling, but this one is particularly near and dear to my heart, since QUILTBAG advocacy is one of my personal quests in life. In this roundtable, B, Lisa M. Bradley, Michele Bannister, Peer G. Dudda, Peter Milne Greiner, Jack H. Marr, Dominik Parisien, Nancy Sheng, and Bogi Takács joined me to discuss the wide spectrum of QUILTBAG experiences.

Julia Rios: Lisa, your poem explores a lot of different attitudes around the concepts of masculinity, gender, sexuality, etc. The three brothers are judged and measured against each other with strength and vivid color assigned to the most cisgendered heterosexual of them, and progressively less strength, color, and substance to the others. Micah, who is attracted to other men, is still more substantial than Connor, who seems to be asexual. Connor does get the last point of view section, though, which suggests that while the people inside the poem judge the brothers in this way, people reading the poem from the outside might be expected to judge them differently. What were your aims is creating this poem, and in structuring it the way you did?

Lisa M. Bradley: I really wanted to write a poem for this issue, but I didn't have an idea, even a shred of an idea, to work with. Then Rose mentioned polyamory, and I thought, "Oh I can do that!" But even so, nothing materialized. I'd pretty much given up hope when one night I was lying in bed and the words, "Three sisters, then. It was easier that way," popped into my head, quickly followed by a very sensual but also savage image of many mouths holding one secret.

I can't say I had explicit "aims" while writing it. I was more transcribing it. A lot of disparate elements finally attained critical mass in my head: I've often wondered about sibling marriages (brothers from one family marrying sisters from another); I've been listening to lots of country gothic music, which made me want to write about the late 1800s; I've always been fascinated with fluidity and spectrums, and meta questions about how one sees the spectrum when one is already on it.

The structure arose from a need to get all the characters on the stage as quickly as possible. So Marguerite interrupted Abe. From there, it seemed natural for the siblings to take turns speaking. That the characters would speak over each other also seemed natural, hence the interludes, which proved handy for flashbacks.

I was delighted when I realized Connor would get the last word, because, to me, he's the only character who really knows what's going on, who understands Love. His family thinks of him as watered-down whiskey, but maybe he's white whiskey, or moonshine. To me, he's not colorless, but all the colors combined. Not increasingly weak but a paradoxically stronger concentration, like in homeopathy. If he were really so insubstantial, would he be so scorned?

JR: Thank you, Lisa. Those themes of exploring the spectrum from all sorts of perspectives, and of scorn for things that are perceived as difficult to categorize according to expected binaries come up quite a lot in this issue, as do explorations of the ways conforming to binaries can be harmful.

Dominik, your poem also touches on the way society's expectations of masculinity can damage a person. It uses images of nature and plant life cycles to meditate on the sorrow of a lifetime spent denying one's true identity. In the end, the protagonist tells his daughter, "…who knew all along". How often do we think we hide ourselves more than we truly do? How might this man's life have been different if he'd been more open? And what is it about being near death that allows for personal growth and transformation?

Dominik Parisien: I think almost everyone believes they hide themselves more than they truly do, or at least they hope they do. It's unsettling to think that people can read you, especially if they read things you would rather keep from them. So, the idea that we project exactly what we want to project, and consequently hide what we want to hide, is a comforting fiction. And, well, when we reveal something we thought secret, it can be a great relief, but also painful to realize that we've been carrying this inside us when others actually knew.

The elderly often reflect on past actions, opportunities, etc., so I think asking what kind of man he would be is a very valid question, one he would pose himself, in fact. How open, exactly, would probably determine much of it. Certainly, near the end he wouldn't feel plagued by regret and sorrow for not having been true to himself. Still, if he had openly embraced his homosexuality early on, he might never have had a daughter. For that reason, he can't entirely despise the life he's lead, however much he might loathe large parts of it. Also, if not for his child, the man might be in a retirement/nursing home, another point that would weigh heavily on his mind. A common view of the elderly is that they are asexual beings and are generally viewed in a hetero-normative paradigm. Those who don't conform to this often suffer social stigmatization, which I have seen happen. Although greater attention is being drawn to this, such stigmatization is still very much an issue. Then again, he might have adopted a child, and so might never have been in that situation. In any case, I think that, altogether, if the man were more open he, and his situation, would be drastically different than what I've depicted here.

As for your last question, I think being near death forces people to re-evaluate their value system. How do they want to be remembered? Why would it be necessary to keep this hidden any longer? Why hold this or that grudge? Deathbed reconciliations may be a cliché, but they do occur more than you'd think. I worked with the elderly for years and you wouldn't believe the number of people, whether the elderly themselves or their families, who radically change their interactions with one another when faced with impending death. I find that type of transformation deeply affecting and quite sad at the same time. Those cathartic moments may mean a great deal to all involved, but the dying only experience them briefly. It's the living who really experience the long-term effects. For that reason, it was important to me that the man have at least some time left to him; he isn't on his deathbed in a hospital, but in his daughter's house; he may be in the autumn/winter of his life, but outside the world is lush, green, and his personal growth is mirrored in the natural world — he still has a brief summer/spring to live his life as he would.

JR: Peter, your poem also calls on the imagery of nature and plants, but instead of sorrow, evokes celebration. Some opponents to QUILTBAG equality claim that all orientations and identities other than cisgendered heterosexuality are unnatural. Did you intend to respond to that with your work, or was it simply coincidence?

Peter Milne Greiner: Much of my work deals with what I guess I'd call Alternative Englishes or Other Englishes. Maybe Fringe Englishes. Or in a broader sense the many idiolects within a given language. Or an outer limit lexicon and grammar that purposefully defamiliarizes. In terms of queer culture this idea has its apparent antecedent in an aesthetic of codes. There are two ways that I tried to push this idea in my poem. The first is the falsehood of the title, which could in this context be thought of as a forged will to accept the imagined, or what is perceived to be the imagined. The second pertains to the use of nature. Or unnature. I believe it is the calling of the imagination to call into question what we accept… about anything. To espouse possibility and crisis. Which is why creating a venue wherein sf and poetry can interrogate these issues in tandem is so important to me.

I don't believe any of us can make the call as to what is humanly natural or humanly unnatural. To assume that kind of precarious stewardship of reality undercuts our ability to speculate, to achieve. Undercuts our refusal to accept anything less than what we can be and imagine and create. Critical engagement with gavel-swingers who seek to curtail our desire and need for endless worlds is one thing. Some days I feel like I'm in the business of assault. So yeah, I believe in all kinds of coincidences, actually. But not that one. As for nature in the poem, and celebration. I think for me it started out as solid ground (pun intended). Nature will always be there doin' its thing etc. But it's not and it won't. Like language, like reality, it's not a fixed system. There's no such thing.

JR: Nancy and Bogi, your poems both deal with people who are perceived as inhuman, and do not conform to gender binaries.

Bogi, your narrator says, "I could not chance upon a gender / until I realized that was a gender in itself." This speaks volumes about the ways gender can present, but the poem hints that others in the narrator's world find this very acceptance of ambiguous gender presentation a symptom of being inhuman. Later the narrator says, "They ask me if I am a clone (why?) / or if I am inhuman, like a robot / built for a single military purpose — / not as far as I can tell." Where did this idea begin for you, and how do you see the poem's narrator and eir struggles to assimilate in this hostile environment?

Nancy, your narrator is on display as an inhuman machine (The Mechanical Turk), and their gender confuses people ("And they will say to me: / (Sir, madam, sir, madam) / Are you king or are you queen?"). In the end, your narrator looks inside themself and says, "…there in the centre of me, waiting / (in all the ways, yes, yes / I learn to make myself) / — a ripe human heart." How do you feel about current societal perceptions of gender binaries and humanity, and what led you to explore them through this particular symbol (a machine, that was falsely presented as an automaton, but actually controlled by a human)?

Bogi Takács: In speculative fiction, explicit gender neutrality and/or asexuality only seem to occur in robots, aliens or artificially created people, with very few counterexamples. I think the reason is that a lack of sexuality or gender is used as a shorthand by authors to demonstrate inhumanity. The underlying assumption is probably "Everyone wants to have sex, right?"

When I saw the call for poems, I thought I could write a poem related to my own sexuality (or, rather, the lack thereof), but literally all the SFnal imagery I could draw upon was negative and dehumanizing. As a member of an ethnic minority, I am dehumanized quite often, and I would hate to perpetuate this even further in another context. But since poems often draw on tropes to achieve succinctness, I was stumped.

I tried to subvert these tropes, but the end result somehow always came out hamfisted. (I'm happy to see that ST7 will have at least one other poem that tackles this issue!) After several failed attempts, I just decided to build on tropes not related to sexuality or gender — for example, 'the government is cruel and heartless', which is something I am experiencing right now, and thus I can credibly write about. (Though I am, mercifully, not employed by said government.) Also, while people involved in real-world psi research are usually nice folks — speaking from experience here —, the governments that have funded them historically often seemed to be interested only in the intelligence gathering applications of said research. I don't know if anyone ever tried to mine reincarnation experiences for intelligence, but it's something I could certainly imagine happening. If someone wants to try, then I hope my poem will also serve as a warning to treat participants well…!

There is probably one other source of inspiration, though it wasn't explicit in my mind while working on the poem — there is a strong Hungarian tradition of subtle subversion and collaborating with the regime on the surface while working against it. Unfortunately, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, this led to everyone claiming to have been such a subversive person, with people elevating themselves and slinging mud at everyone else, lasting to the present day… but that's an issue that would probably take another poem to tackle!

Nancy Sheng: The central theme of "Inner Workings", its own ripe human heart, is the idea of gender ambiguity and being genderqueer. The protagonist claims no gender; or rather, the protagonist subscribes to neither of the rigid gender binaries we work with today — where we generally only have two choices: male or female. Anyone who has ever had to fill out an official form will see that binary in work. Gender identity is something that the outside audience forces on the protagonist, and a large part of the poem swings between "inner workings" and "outer workings." There is a rich inner life for the protagonist in which gender simply does not matter, or is not a concern, but there is also a tension with the outer life, in which the public obsesses with ascribing a clear-cut gender to the protagonist.

The reason I included the automaton aspect is because I think there is an interesting way in which we play with robots and gender. There are two main reactions, from what I observe: either we explicitly code them as one gender or another (even though technically, most of them lack human sexual features). Or, as Bogi mentions, we code them as genderless. Both can be troubling. The first because it plays into that rigid binary system in which there are two opposing camps and we must all claim allegiance to one or another. The second because we tend to address genderless entities as freaks. We use the pronoun 'it' when neither 'he' nor 'she' fit. We create a spectacle out of true gender ambiguity.

Spectacle is a major part of the protagonist's life as the Mechanical Turk, as is the idea of performance. The Mechanical Turk, after all, was created to be exhibited. We, as Judith Butler argues, perform gender and sexuality, and if we experience instability in our identities, we hide them. The protagonist of the poem is very aware of performance, and is both constrained by it (performing, as necessity, as an chess-playing automaton) and subverts it (going out dancing after work, which is another type of performance, but a choice that the protagonist makes and celebrates).

BT: I haven't read the poem yet, so I'm kind of shooting in the dark here, but it's also interesting to see that the original Mechanical Turk (coincidentally, a Hungarian invention!) is a "Turk" and not a Mechanical Hungarian. That's a kind of double othering — a human-shaped but inhuman mechanical device (actually controlled by a human, but the people coming in contact with the device did not know that), and an exoticized foreigner who also carries an image of power (a large part of Hungary used to be occupied by the Ottoman Empire). So it's an especially strong image of the Other, which somehow still has the familiar inside; and to read about this from a first-person perspective can thus prove to be especially powerful.

JR: Michele, your poem touches on the way humans interact with artificial constructs (in this case a space suit), but your construct is far from inhuman. Rather, it is built of all the very human memories, celebrations, joys and sorrows of the seamstress's love. What led you to marry the tropes of nature ("But for the gloves, grass-green and gold, I embroider all the flowers of our garden —") and space travel ("There is such grace in every arc from pad to orbit, you tell me"), and what does it say about the idea that loving someone means being willing to let them go?

Michele Bannister: I wrote this poem after reading of the women who outcompeted large companies to obtain NASA's contract for the Apollo spacesuits. They individually crafted each spacesuit, and a lot of details in the poem reflect the requirements of their technical precision. In a future where such skill in craft remains valued, what better gift for an astronaut than a personalised spacesuit? The details the seamstress-protagonist adds touch on history: the Apollo 12 moonwalkers found pinup pictures added among the pages of their wrist checklists, and modern suits retain splashes of colour to help visually distinguish spacewalking astronauts. I find it interesting that two other of the poems discuss the external inhumanity of robots; yet spacesuits, which similarly are androgynous on the exterior, have always featured such small touches of detail relating to the personality of their inhabitant.

I also wanted to subvert the narratives that surround the Apollo program, with its heroic exploration-era emphasis on individual masculinity. This future values the traditionally female pursuit of fabric-work, the gentleness of gardening, and the love of the astronaut and her wife. But this story also sits firmly within the heroic tradition of romantic poems. In that context, these people are both extraordinary not in who they are, but in what they do. Theirs is a future in which their love and strength are celebrated, as surely as any astronaut and partner's resolution in the face of uncertainty has ever been.

JR: I never knew that about spacesuits, Michele. Fascinating stuff.

Peer, like Dominik's, your poem touches on the damage we can do to ourselves when we deny our true identities. Unlike Dominik, you call on fantastical beasts instead of nature and plants to illustrate your musings. Why did you decide to tackle this issue with dragons and flight? Is there a significance, too, to the gender of the dragons?

Peer G. Dudda: Dragons are scary creatures! They fly around and destroy things! Yet, dragons are magical and often portrayed as beautiful in flight. When we are taught about the "Other", especially liminal identities, they're often framed as this Big Scary demonic thing that is dangerous to both ourselves and to society. This is particularly true for identities that transgress gender and sexual norms.

In my mind, dragons are typically gendered as male, and I wanted to explicitly call on the feminine Other and to describe the dragons with words coded (in English) as feminine. For me, it was a mixed-gender metaphor for (gender)queerness, to explore how G/L/B, trans*, and gender non-conforming people are often explicitly and implicitly taught to be complicit in their own erasure. That is not to say that other identities are not also taught self-erasure — my own experiences as a hard-of-hearing child come to mind — and I hope the poem speaks to others who have lived through self-erasure and self-rediscovery.

As for flight… who hasn't fantasized about just flying away from it all? What does it really mean, to "fly home"?

JR: Peer brings up a really good point about being taught to be complicit in one's own erasure. I want to open that up generally to the whole group. Wherever you are in the QUILTBAG (and remember that the A includes allies!), you chose to do something brave by writing a piece for this issue, and participating in this roundtable. That sort of speaking up explicitly defies erasure, which is important, because visibility is one of the steps on the way to equality. But I wonder what all of you experience on a day-to-day level. What made you decide to contribute to this cause, and do you find that you do comply with the larger societal pressure to hide your true self in any way?

LB: As a brown-skinned Hispanic from South Texas transplanted to Iowa, I often feel quite conspicuous, rather than erased. When associating with other parents at my daughter's school, I try not to speak too aggressively or joke about violence (wanting to slug someone, frex), even though my thoughts are often casually violent and naturally grim. I don't want to be that fiery Latina or scary chola—which is actually kinda funny, because my roundness gives me more that earth mother vibe. I keep my southern twang and TexMex sing-song under wraps. I try not to curse. I don't want to be considered uncouth or lower class.

On the other hand, I do bring forth some aspects of myself, such as the fact that I medicate for depression and that I experienced post-partum depression bordering on psychosis. I realize folks might wonder about me (why doesn't she work? why doesn't she drive? why isn't she enrolling her daughter in extracurriculars?) and I hope that being nonchalant about my illness eases some of that uncomfortable curiosity. Likewise, I try to be vocal about my support for marriage equality, because I look very conservative on the outside—stay-at-home mother, married my high-school sweetheart—and I don't want to be mistaken as condoning any kind of oppression. Despite my situation, I'm attracted to many kinds of people, and tribal and poly families have always seemed most logical and satisfying to me.

Awareness of the disjunct between my natural inclinations and my appearances probably factored into my wish to contribute to the queer issue. Also, all my life I've struggled with a vain yearning, now mostly put to rest, that I could shave off unwanted aspects of myself. I thought my poem's theme (accepting the multiplicity of self) lent itself to Rose's call for work that questioned the heteronormative paradigm and its binary suppositions.

BT: This is a complicated issue for me, and in fact that's probably why I decided to participate — I am an aromantic asexual woman who also has a rather atypical gender presentation. I am very masculine looking and acting (just by default), and as I dress in long skirts etc. because I am Orthodox Jewish, I often get read as a trans woman, or a butch lesbian woman (since I fit the often incorrect preconceptions and stereotypes people have of these groups).

What I often see on the Internet is "asexual people have it easy because they can just hide" — I don't know, I used to get a lot of flak from people, even from random passersby, before I realized the key was to look so threatening they would not for a moment consider harassing me. (Disclaimer: Don't try this at home.) But this is more because of my gender presentation than my being asexual.

For a long while I did not engage with my sexuality in any meaningful political way. I wasn't interested in the act of sex itself, and I thought if some other people would harass me because of my perceived gender/sexuality, they were the ones who ought to do the thinking, not me. In part this was because I already have to advocate way too much for myself, being a visible and conspicuous member of an ethnic minority that faces a lot of discrimination in Hungary. And it's very exhausting and draining, so I used to think I'd rather not take on anything else, especially since my health is not perfect and I have a finite amount of energy I can spend on this.

But then I realized that on the English-speaking Internet and especially in SF fandom, lots of people were not only nice, but actively supportive. When I was just wondering whether I should write an asexual and/or neutrois-themed poem, several people wrote me to tell me to do it. And that's before we get to the general plus that there are all kinds of concepts, related to advocacy for practically any discriminated and/or underrepresented group, that simply do not exist in my native country — and I was very fortunate to be able to learn about these in online discourse. I learned a lot and I felt it was time to give back something in return.

JR: Thank you for sharing your experiences, Lisa and Bogi. One of the things I love about this issue, and this conversation, is that we have contributors from many different cultures.

B., as your article deals directly with that issue of communicating ideas across cultures, I'm interested from hearing your take on all this. Both you and Peter talk about different Englishes. Peter mentioned fringe Englishes earlier in this conversation, and you mention all the different translations of poems and other work into English in your article. At the same time, you write openly about the exclusion and erasure that comes from talking about certain subjects (like queerness) only in English, even when one is able to understand it. What value do you find in the different translations? Has seeing so many helped you or others you know find words to express QUILTBAG ideas in smaller regional languages? Do you feel that the English you grew up with allows you openness and freedom of expression, or does it feel restrictive in some ways? Here you are speaking out for us, which is wonderful, but I wonder if it makes you feel sad at the same time because you aren't doing it in one of the other languages you speak.

B: I've always loathed and loved this word 'Englishes', for it perfectly encapsulates the lapse between people who speak the English(es) and the ones who think it's an act of defiance (or resistance even!). People who are "resisting the colonial tongue" by "breaking and splitting it" are also the ones who don't get jobs they want or are made fun of when they speak English for not sounding "professional" enough. This isn't to say all work that uses Indian English (as an umbrella term for many, many ways region and languages splice into English) is an act of privilege and it holds no meaning whatsoever to the "real" lives of people; rather it'll be more fruitful to always ask, who is re-claiming the English and whose life chances are hampered by this very 'defiance'.

So, when we're talking of translations and re-translations, of re-translations helping a certain kind of queer people (ones who are English-speaking, mostly Hindu for the re-claimed texts are almost always Hindu, and middle-class) express themselves, it's already a very small group of people whom this standard can be applied to. Of course, there's value in such translations — my biggest concern is the disjoint between these translations not being available to people whose lives have very little to do with English, and the methods of circulation that'll ensure these translations will remain among the above mentioned sect of people, be it via the internet or in terms of sheer geographical spaces. It would be more than just naïve to even believe a few individuals with their (our) benevolence can "reach" these people and all will be well. Again, it comes to life chances — queer teens committing suicide because they're convinced they're 'abnormal', the whole industry of yogis, doctors, kafirs and every other "mystical" healer offering to cure the queerness out of a body and the queer movement saying in all possible symbols and language that we don't want you if you don't look and talk like us — who gets to live in such a toxic environment and still make it alive.

Freedom of expression, the liminality of such expression is not so much the question as much as the who of it all — and what we can do to ensure it's not the same people who are actively othering some people out of the movement. Speaking out here has been a very rewarding experience, I finally had a reason to put down things I've been thinking about a lot lately to words and to see people's reactions to them. Re-translation, for me, addresses the English-ness of the whole movement and at once can also be a bridge of sorts between these two worlds — given that these two worlds will ever merge — and I'm determined to do all that I can to make this gap a little smaller, even if it means writing in a public space such as this one or teaching, or asking these "uncomfortable" questions amongst friends and allies when we envision the "future" of the movement etc. All I hope is that my voice drowns in a sea of a thousand such voices — till we've effectively moved away from the nice-Hindu-English-speaking queer person image, till this image no longer holds any resonance.

JR: Thank you, B. The whole idea of QUILTBAG orientations and identities being abnormal is one that comes up over and over again, as we've seen earlier in this conversation with the discussions around asexuality and genderqueerness, and the overwhelming pressure to hide or deny parts of our identities. Working to promote visibility, and to challenge the established social binaries is very important. I love the idea of translations as cultural bridges, and I hope we'll see more and more of them in the future.

Jack, your poem challenges the gender binary, but instead of presenting a being of uncertain gender like the ones in Nancy and Bogi's poems, it speaks to the certainty of gender dysphoria, and ends with triumphant transformation. I'm particularly interested in hearing your thoughts about using the moon as an image and symbol in this poem. People often strongly associate the moon with femininity (calling menstruation a woman's moon cycle, for instance), but your poem suggests that the moon is at least equally valid as a masculine symbol. In the end the "true moon" is described: "An upturned crescent fierce and white / and blazed its bull-head light." Would you talk a little about that symbolic choice?

Rose Lemberg: This is highly unusual for me to jump into roundtable conversations — I don't think I've ever done so before — but I want to say a few words about Julia's question to Jack.

Not all cultures associate the moon with femininity; this is reflected in language. In Russian, for example, the word for full moon — luna — is feminine, while the word for the crescent moon — mesyac — is masculine. In Modern Hebrew, yareakh is masculine for moon, but a feminine word — levana — also exists. So in my languages the moon is, in fact, multi-gendered, which I think beautifully supports queer readings of the moon; and I've been surprised for the longest time by the US English-speakers' strong association of the moon as feminine. There are many other cultures with masculine words for moon, and male moon deities.

JR: That's a very good point, Rose. I considered going into that difference in cultural perceptions of the moon's gender in the question (even in the US, we often talk of the man in the moon, and in the 1980s, there was a popular ad campaign for McDonald's featuring a suave suited man with a crescent moon in place of a human head…), but decided in the end to phrase it with "people often associate the moon with femininity" just for the sake of keeping the question simple and clear. If Jack, or anyone else, has insights to add about the various genders of the moon according to other cultures, I'd be happy to see them.

B: Seconding Rose on "not all cultures associate moon with femininity" — in Hindi and Gujurati both the moon as a noun is masculine (Chaand/Chaando) and their adjectives are feminine (Chandini for both) — and the first time I encountered the moon as a necessarily feminine subject was in Kristeva's "Women's Time" essay some four years ago. Having grown up with comics such as Chandamama (where the moon is invoked as an uncle), it takes me a little time to (re)think of the moon in an exclusive feminine role. Looking forward to Jack's poem, maybe that'll be more familiar than the bizarre space Kristeva's moon occupies in my brain!

Jack H. Marr: That is definitely one of the things that inspired the imagery of the poem, Rose: the way the moon is an example of something that is not inherently gendered being strongly assigned a particular gender association (in English-speaking North America and Britain, female), but that association being neither 'natural' nor fundamental. The same applies to body parts that our societies gender (genitals, reproductive organs, particular kinds of breasts).

The poem expresses some of my own conflict around this in my embodiment. Before I had surgery, I had a great deal of dysphoria about my reproductive body parts (and around associated things such as menstruation and the potential for conception) — but, at the same time, I knew that they did not inherently make me any less male, that there are men who have uteri, ovaries etc, that they can be male body parts just as they can be female. (And indeed, as the poem hints at, the uterus and fallopian tubes have been considered visually similar to that very male symbol, the horned animal's head, with some people suggesting that this symbolism goes as far back as the art of Neolithic Catal Huyuk.)

As a fem queer man, I had/have a lot of the same tension around femininity — which the moon is also considered a symbol of. For a long time I had to repress any femininity within myself in order to be able to live and to access medical transition. It wasn't until recently that I was finally able to accept and embrace this within myself, and to express my own queer femininity in my male body. As in the poem, I am gradually learning to tell the difference between a femininity that was imposed upon me and framed as 'natural' because of cissexist associations with my body parts (the false moon) and the femininity that is a natural expression for me personally as a queer man (the true moon). The poem expresses both that and, more widely, the rejection of cissexist narratives about myself and the finding and claiming of a true self beyond them.

JR: Thank you all for speaking out and revealing yourselves in this conversation. Defying the societal pressure to hide perceived abnormalities takes tremendous strength and courage, and it's been an honor to take part in that ongoing dialogue with you. Like B, I hope our voices join and are joined by a sea of other voices, all celebrating the breadth and richness of human identity until "abnormal" orientations and identities become unremarkable and taken for granted.

Julia Rios writes speculative prose and poetry, and is a regular contributor to the Outer Alliance blog ( She's half-Mexican, but her (fairly dreadful) French is better than her Spanish. She has blue hair and brown eyes, though these things are subject to change without notice. To see more of her work, visit her website at