So Long, Ursula

I’m sorry to say that beloved SF author (and fellow Portlander) Ursula K. LeGuin has died.

I did not know her in this life. If I was Phil I did know her but it was a fraught friendship of which I remember nothing.

And yet in this life, I owe her a great deal more. A preeminent voice in american SF, she raised the bar for women in the genre. Pick nits all you want about whether I’m a “real” woman (I get that nonsense all the time), but I’m real enough that the world, by and large, sees me as one, treats me as one, and addresses me as one. I’m real enough to see how the SF genre isn’t always very friendly to female authors, and often presents women as dated stereotypes, mere accessories to male characters, or as flat, superficial representations. Ursula was one of the writers that helped make it easier for writers to present well-developed women in their work.

One of her criticisms of Phil was that his female characters weren’t well developed, and this was a fair and accurate criticism. In my current work I have something to work from, some experience, some insight, that has helped but if it wasn’t for authors like Ursula, I would be under pressure to cater to the male gaze. Special interest factions like the Sad/Sick Puppies are still trying to turn back the clock, but they never will. What’s done is done. Thank you, Ursula. Today I remember your feminism with joy and gratitude.

I should also add, her book “The Lathe of Heaven” was a major influence on my latest novel (the one I finished in October and hope to release by April). In her honor, here is a 1980 film adaptation.

Yes, The Way We Talk About Women Is A Problem

Having been completely cis male in most of my prior lives and a writer known for annoyingly stereotyped female characters and being unfair to my wives in my last life, the following will be something I would have probably never said before.

Yes, the way we talk about women is a problem.  Experience is a harsh teacher.

I have to be honest about something: part of the reason I didn’t transition sooner was because deep down, I had shit tons of internalized misogyny to deal with.

I grew up with a mother whose mental illnesses made her extremely emotionally unstable and gave her a cruel, vindictive streak. Early on I was taught by the men in my life to believe that that’s just how women were. That’s certainly how bad wives on TV shows acted, and how many men are socialized to see women: as an obnoxious pest who plays mind games and complains about not being appreciated. That is to say that the men in my life were not being mean-spirited by telling me that my mother was a “typical woman,” but they were repeating a meme that was soaked deep into the culture and I had really no point of reference for any other view.

But I also grew up with the option of living life as a man, and confronted with these unlikable visions of womanhood I could never imagine myself as anything but a man. I began to see a woman as a fallen, dirty thing and in my pride I thought “I am not fallen and dirty, so I must not be a woman.” I admired the Greeks and the Romans with their masculine ideals and came to see homosexuality as a morally superior form of love. From there my ideas descended into a morass of pseudo-classical homosexism.

Even when gender dysphoria began to hit, I still tried to love my homomasculine role as a gift, so much that I constructed a false identity around it. I had the perfect body to be a bear, and I found it surprisingly easy to bed cute guys who were looking for a big burly chub. It was such an ego boost to have a body type that so many guys actually preferred where I knew, if I lived as a woman, I would just be seen as fat and ugly.

As my dysphoria got worse, I felt like I needed to be cuter so I could get more guys to mount me instead, because I hated always being on top. I wanted to look more androgynous, or even become a fully passable “trap.” But from my experience, “feminine” meant “petite,” and I began to starve myself, setting limits of 1000 calories per day (sometimes going as little as 700) while purging with laxatives. I didn’t think back then I could be beautiful without losing weight.

Only now, in hindsight, do I see just how much these attitudes have been normalized, and just how much damage they do when that’s all you ever hear most of the time. I was completely at the beck and call of a culture that has surprisingly bitter contempt for women and I was none the wiser. Ultimately, had I not grown up in a culture that says women are irrational and vindictive, had I not lived in a culture that fetishizes masculinity as a superior virtue, had I not lived in a culture that puts so much emphasis on small, unhealthy bodies, I would have been saved so much trouble that I didn’t even know I was in at the time. I thought I was just suffering for the sake of “the good fight” of defending masculine virtue when all I was doing was more damage to myself than I had to.

Yes, the way we talk about women is a problem. It’s not cool to shame our bodies, our minds, and our existence. This isn’t about “getting a thicker skin,” this is getting to the heart of a culture that really needs to learn some respect and hold itself accountable for its attitude.