Magical Autobio

Magical Autobio

A review of Ronnie Ritchie’s “Star Kid” in We’re Still Here: An All Trans Comic Anthology (Stacked Deck Press, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In the comic “Star Kid”, Ronnie Ritchie intertwines autobiography and ideas of magic. They use ideas of astology to understand themself, sharing their early fascination with sun and moon symbolism and the relationship between these celestial symbols and gender (since the sun and moon are gendered in many European cultures).

Ritchie explores their love of stars from an early age as a symbol that is often seen alongside the sun and moon, but also the power of the star to separate them from the gendered characteristics of the sun and moon. Despite their love of astrology and stars, they describe the challenge of growing up in an Evangelical home where astrology was considered evil, and their subversive claiming of the star symbol. They use the artistic medium of the comic to illustrate their love of illustrations, showing the way they combined sun, moon, and star symbols together in their early art.

Stars, suns, and moons became metaphors for gender for them in their exploration of their own gendered identity and they frequently drew characteristics of gender and characteristics of the sun and moon together, realizing that these descriptions were too limited to capture the complexity of their identity. Being a nonbinary person, they discovered the potential of being outside the orbit of the gendered sun and moon in a space they created – The Star. They illustrate that the symbol of the star allowed them to find a symbol of joy, happiness, and cuteness (they make sure to distinguish the marshmellowy stars in their art from the actual huge balls of nuclear fire).

Ritchie cleverly combines autobiography with hints of the speculative and the magical, pointing out that we often explore complex ideas through symbols. People have been exploring their identities through astrology for a long period of time, and Ritchie’s use of astrological symbolism in understanding their gendered identity takes the astrological into a new sphere of contemplation. They illustrate that the symbolic is still an important realm for contemplating identity, particularly since so many of our social symbols are gendered.

To find out more about We’re Still Here: An All Trans Comic Anthology, visit Stacked Deck Press at https://stackeddeckpress.com/product/were-still-here-an-all-trans-comics-anthology/

To find out more about Ronnie Ritchie, visit their website at https://www.rritchiearts.com

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A Green Monster Who Isn’t Envy

A Green Monster Who Isn’t Envy

A review of Morgan Sea’s “Abominatrix” in We’re Still Here: An All-Trans Comic Anthology (Stacked Deck Press, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Abominatrix”, Morgan Sea plays with the notion of Marvel Comics’ She Hulk and produces another gamma powered superhero. Sea’s hero is a Trans woman who adores She Hulk, and decides to take a shot of gamma infused chemicals as part of her transition. Instead of ending up looking like She Hulk – a green-skinned, powerful, beautiful woman, she ends up looking more like the Hulk villain, the Abomination. Instead of becoming a villain as Marvel comics characters tend to do when they have lived a life of oppression and don’t become beautiful superheroines, Trixie tries to live her life as she always has. She reminds herself “They’ve always treated you like a monster. They’ve always wanted you to hide”, so she decides to practice radical self love instead. While out on the streets, she continues to be subject to social violence – insulted by passers by, having drinks thrown at her. While being subjected to violence, she has to constantly reassure other people that they are safe from her instead of being concerned about her own safety. Even when she wants to use the washroom, she is told that she would need to use the men’s toilets instead of women’s toilets.

When Trixie finally decides to act back against all of the social violence she experiences, she ends up fighting another gamma powered hulk and the two of them end up crashing through spaces of oppression like a pharmacy where a doctor is refusing a Trans person their meds, a bank where a Trans person is being denied a loan for their electrolysis machine, and a classroom where a teacher is trying to force children to believe only in binary genders and that gender is unchangeable. This is a comic about smashing heteropatriarchy and Morgan Sea reminds us that we can’t accept violence and sometimes we need to act back to prevent that oppression.

Sea plays with some meta fictional elements of her comic, writing Trixie’s inner dialogue with the awareness that she is a comic character. She uses language like “Just got to take it step by step, day by day, panel by panel” and “See you are almost off this page!” to remind readers that this is a self-aware comic, a comic that is purposely raising questions and critiques about the mainstream comic industry. “Abominatrix” invites us to ask questions about the absence of Trans characters in most superhero comics (where Trans characters often only appear as villains) and asks us to question the portrayal in comics of a character who is done being subjected to violence and decides to speak back. As I mentioned above, the characters who act back against social violence in comics are generally treated as villains and the role of heroes is often to reinforce the status quo. Sea’s comic is about challenging the simple narrative of mainstream superhero comics and inviting an awareness of the absences and vilifying of characters who stand up for social justice. She asks us to think about how we create our monsters and the ideologies that go into producing those monsters.

To find out more about Morgan Sea, visit her website at https://morgansea.wordpress.com

To find out more about We’re Still Here: An All Trans Comics Anthology, go to https://stackeddeckpress.com/product/were-still-here-an-all-trans-comics-anthology/

WONDERful

Wonderful

A review of Cait Gordon’s A Night at The Rabbit Hole in Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland edited by Colleen Anderson (Exile, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Alice in Wonderland is a story that plays with identity, disrupting the power that normativity has on our society. Cait Gordon has tapped into that power that Wonderland has to resist normativity and creates a GenderQueer Alice who has just come out and taken on their new name and pronouns. It is refreshing to read a story featuring a GenderQueer character that is not about the struggles of occupying their identity. In A Night at The Rabbit Hole, Alice is instantly accepted for their gender and people don’t slip up and refer to them as anything other than “them” after one quick correction.

Gordon uses the Alice in Wonderland text for its power to disrupt power structures that erase identity possibilities and instead writes a story filled with potential and possibility.

A Night at the Rabbit Hole is a tale about a meeting in a dance club where Alice is given a pill that transforms their perspective and gives them an expanded view of the world around them, allowing them to see through human disguises to the creatures beneath. Gordon plays with the question of what could alter someone’s perspective like the “drink me” potion and mushroom that Alice takes in Carroll’s story and ultimately comes up with the connection to club drugs. After Alice took their pill (here called a “tart”), I have to admit that the Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit was running through my head as Alice’s perspectives were warped, and I think that Gordon intended to plant this trippy tune in the minds of her readers.

Cait Gordon’s characteristic playfulness comes through in this tale of altered reality and questioned norms and she invites readers to chuckle at clever witticisms at the same time as they speculate about possibilities beyond the simple world that they live in. This is a story that empowers at the same time as it entertains

To discover more about Alice Unbound, go to http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/alice-unbound-beyond-wonderland/

To find out more about Cait Gordon, visit her website at https://caitgordon.com

Valuing Care

A review of Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law’s The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As a society, we undervalue care and undervalue care workers. We tend to assume that people who do care work are doing it because they like helping people and we assume that the job is compensation enough. Even in the home, we de-value family members who provide care, viewing their care work as something that doesn’t need compensation. Care work is consistently treated as though it is not real labour and isn’t valued or compensated for. 

Part of this lack of value for care work stems from patriarchal beliefs that position care work as a feminine labour and therefore de-value it the same way that patriarchy de-values anything viewed as feminine. 

Care work has been in need to reimagining for some time. It has needed a fundamental disruption of social assumptions and a re-evaluating of the meaning of this labour. Using the medium of speculative fiction, a genre devoted to asking questions, Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law’s The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound brings together stories that critically interrogate the way that we imagine care and care-giving. These stories take a broad exploration of what care can mean, looking at parental care, long term care homes, social responsibilities for care, foster care, maternal care, elder care, medical care by doctors and nurses, the care relationships of pets, and even the care roles of insectile species’ (since care isn’t just a human trait). These stories examine complexities of care that are critical to this culture moment such as what is the value of care?, what difference does quality care make?, what is quality of life?, is care the role of home or the state?, what are the gendered dynamics of care-giving?, why do we de-value care-givers?, how much responsibility should parents have in the care of their children?, and what is the role of robotics in care? These are all critical questions that are in need of complex and creative answers and The Sum of Us invites readers to think critically about them. It doesn’t introduce easy answers about care-giving, but instead invites readers to explore often contrary ideas about care, asking readers to come up with their own critical questions and creative answers to the meaning of care.

These are tales of robots, aliens, insects, future wars, supervillains, nanites, other worlds, plagues, and mutants, but at their core, these are all tales about what caring means, and these are real, human questions. They may be explored through the lens of the alien, but they are fundamentally about human values and what care means to us. Sometimes the only way to get us to ask critical questions about the way that we value (or de-value) caring labour is to project our modes of care onto another, onto the future, onto another society, onto the inhuman so that we ask ourselves “if this makes us upset when we see an alien doing it, what does it mean that we are doing the same thing?”

To read some of the reviews of individual stories in this collection, see my review of:

Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/25/skating-on-the-thin-ice-of-sports-masculinity/

Juliet Marillier’s “The Gatekeeper”

https://disabledembodiment.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/the-reaper-cat/

Edward Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/08/insectile-intimacies/

Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/06/exposing-the-caregiver-within-the-human-suit/

A.M. Dellamonica’s “Bottleneck” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/06/10/caregiving-at-war/

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Dreams as Fragile as Glass” 

https://disabledembodiment.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/breakable/ 

Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/28/what-is-means-to-be-an-outsider/
To find out more about The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/ 

Skating on the Thin Ice of Sports Masculinity

A review of Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick” in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Speculative Fiction stories about hockey are relatively rare in English Canada, although Amy Ransom has illustrated that they are a popular motif in Quebecois SF. That makes Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick” a rare treat, particularly since it deals with the complexities of hockey culture and its complex relationship to gender and disability. 

Humphrey’s story explores hockey culture from the outside, examining it from the perspective of a care-giver who is providing support to a hockey player with a disability. Reshma is the trainer for a service dog named Zuzu, whose specialization is sensing the onset of seizures. In this near-future fiction story, Zuzu’s abilities are augmented by a collar that assists her in monitoring the health of her human. 

Sports masculinity tends to be hostile to the idea of disability, viewing athletes with disabilities as less capable, and often as somewhat feminized, particularly when the require the use of care-givers. Sports masculinity is about hyper ability. Although a team sport, hockey, like many sports, relies on the idea that athleticism is a product of individualism, an independence that pretends that the star athlete has accomplished everything on their own. The idea of needing care and support can disrupt this illusion. Humphrey explores this in her story by examining the complex secrecy around hockey star Ty’s disability. The hockey association wants to keep Ty’s disability a secret, projecting him as a star that doesn’t need support, and even his team engages in the complex veil of secrecy, pretending that they don’t know about Ty’s seizures even when they have witnessed them. Secrecy is part of the cohesiveness of the team and the maintenance of the team’s sense of sports masculinity, willfully ignoring anything that doesn’t match their ideas of ability.

“Number One Draft Pick” simultaneously places women in nurturing and supporting roles and men in active sports roles while also pointing out that this dichotomy is totally artificial and that the gendered reactions around sports are social constructs, created by the team and their supports to model the idea of the independent athletic hero. Humphrey uses science fiction and disability to complicate sports masculinity, pointing out the complexities in the construction of athleticism and its relationship to the body. 

To discover more about Clare Humphrey’s work, visit http://www.clairehumphrey.ca

To find out more about The Sum of Us, visit the Laksa Media Group website at http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

Class Constraints

A review of Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” (Woolf Like Me Publishing, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” is a steampunk story of disruption, shaking up the class divides of the Victorian Era. Diem writes a tale of escape from the boundaries, barriers, and confinements placed on gender and class. This is a tale of change and one of questions.

Clara is a woman from upper class society, confined by assumptions about her gender and by the roles placed on her behaviour by her family. She desires adventure, wants to change, and she is able to stow away on an airship to escape into the sky and away from everything holding her down. When she is discovered by pirates who offer her an opportunity for a new life, she leaves behind her debutante clothes and jumps into new adventures. She believes in the freedom of the sky, yet even in the sky she is underestimated, treated as a delicate flower in need of protection. She has to not only change herself, but also change the perceptions of those around her.

But she is not the only one to change. The pirate captain was formerly a Duke, giving up his role and status to share wealth with the poor. He is a steampunk Robin Hood, and like that other rogue, he has created a family of misfits. Clara is able to find her own family amongst these rogues and they provide the ability for her to choose her own path.

In order to free herself from the constraints placed upon her, Clara must play roles, clothe herself in identity. Rebecca Diem recognizes that clothing provides restraints on identity, shaping the way that we are read by people around us. Clothing wraps us up in assumptions, becoming a costume where others read us.

To find out more about Rebecca Diem, visit http://www.rebeccadiem.com

The Horror of the Sense of Wonder

A review of A.C. Wise’s “The Lion and the Unicorn” in Lackington’s, 2015 (https://lackingtons.com/2015/02/12/the-lion-and-the-unicorn-by-a-c-wise/)

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

Wonder is something that shapes much of speculative fiction, propelling us to imagine new possibilities and new ways of interacting with the world. But, a sense of wonder can also contribute to a constant desire for the new, the unique, the special, and the never-before-seen. A.C. Wise’s “The Lion and the Unicorn” examines the horror of that sense of wonder, that desire for the strange. Wise introduces us to a unicorn boy who is kept as a sexual slave in confinement. The unicorn boy is regularly visited by people who sexually assault him out of their desire to experience something new. They have a compelling need for him and objectify him as a sexual toy to be played with. In their ardour for the new and unique, they have sought out other wonders, disempowering them – chaining them, removing teeth, and otherwise rendering them defenseless – so that they can be used as objects of gratification, figures of desire. Their monstrous desire makes them seek out the figures that myth defies as monsters.

 

Wise tells a sexual assault tale that reverses the narrative that we have been trained to expect within a patriarchal society. Instead of presenting a woman as the object of desire, Wise presents a boy who is sexually assaulted by women. The unicorn boy was born out of a sexual assault by his mother on his father and he, similarly, has led a life of repeated sexual assaults. Wise extends the question of sex and disempowerment by including a new vulnerable figure and one who is subject to horror because of his beauty. As he says in the tale “Beauty can be terrible, too”.

 

“The Lion and the Unicorn” takes us into the realm of wonder and reminds us that wonder has historically been used as exploitation – it has been used as justification for colonialism, scientific experimentation, freak shows, and the control of those with wondrous bodies.

 

To discover more about the work of A.C. Wise, visit her website at http://www.acwise.net/

 

To read this story on Lackington’s visit https://lackingtons.com/2015/02/12/the-lion-and-the-unicorn-by-a-c-wise/