Pins and Needles

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine Publications, 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ever since the AIDS crisis, we queer people have had a complex relationship to blood, so we are put in an interesting relationship with the fictional figure of the vampire, a figure who can alter what it penetrates, and who both feeds off of blood and often changes those whose blood it comes in contact with. Jerome Stueart’s How Magnificent is the Universal Donor explores the complexities of Queer relationships with blood without making his narrative an AIDS narrative directly. Instead, he creates a new blood-based pathogen called BBD, which spread through 40% of the population and needs to be treated through blood transfusions. 

Stueart explores the idea of medical control around a blood-based pathogen, illustrating that medical professionals and the World Health Organization are able to exert total control over the lives of those it views as medically threatening. But, disease is frequently a method of Othering certain people, casting them as infectious invaders into a normate body. Frequently diseases are traced back to other countries, particularly those with less political power on the global stage, and, in the case of AIDS, there is a narrative that pushes the disease onto the Queer population, and gay men in particular, casting gay men as an infectious population. At the time I am writing this, Canadian Blood Services still won’t allow gay men or anyone who has had sex with a gay man to donate blood (unless they have been celibate for at least 3 years). This targets a specific population and portrays them as inherently infectious. Although Stueart portrays the disease BBD as not connected to any specific population, his use of two gay male narrators brings the reader’s attention to this parallel, inviting us to question why these two men, in particular, are targeted by a medical system that has absolute control over them. Their own narratives are erased in this society in favour of the narratives put over them by doctors. 

“How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” invites critical questions about power and the relationship between medical power and those who are oppressed. Stueart asks us to question who is benefitting from medical practices and medical power and getting us to look at the way that medical practitioners frequently forget how much social and political power they have… and that their practice still shares the same biases as the rest of society. “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” is a narrative about reclaiming our stories and using these stories to empower us.

To discover more about Angels of Our Better Beasts, visit http://chizinepub.com/the-angels-of-our-better-beasts/

To find out more about Jerome Stueart, visit https://jeromestueart.com

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Canada Day Complexities and Questioning the 150

By Derek Newman-Stille

Art by “Chippewar”

Like many marginalized Canadians, Canada Day can evoke some complicated feelings. We are often very aware of the oppressions that have been carried out in the name of “Canada”: residential schools for aboriginal people, asylums that perpetuated the torture of people with disabilities, the Pink scare, bathhouse raids, and other attacks on queer Canadians, the razing of Africville and so many other acts of violence that seek to position white, straight, able-bodied, Anglophone Canadians as the only “true” Canadians. 

Canada 150 has been constructed as a celebration of Canadian history, and yet, in the nation’s attempt to construct itself as a country of justice and benevolence, it has erased large parts of its past, trying to make itself seem as though it is a country of constant justice, rather than a country that needs to acknowledge that it has carried our horrible abuses of people in the past and continues to do so. Even the title “Canada 150” carries a problematic assumption, erasing the thousands of years of aboriginal presence on this landscape in trying to make it seem as though Canada was born from nothing 150 years ago. Canada’s acts 150 years ago were a theft of land, an oppression of people who have lived on this landscape and who have continued to be robbed of land and have been oppressed for the length of those 150 years. 

Canada has supported arts for its 150, but only if those arts celebrate the message that it is trying to evoke, and the arts council positions artists within its “cultural mosaic”, but only if one fits into the mosaic in the right way, only if one performs identity the way that the arts council wants to see. 

As writers, researchers, and fans of speculative fiction, we have an opportunity to ask big questions (the speculative part means being inquisitive). We can ask these questions of our past through historical fiction, inviting questions about what could have happened in Canadian history if things had gone differently and invite readers to learn about Canadian history beyond the canonical history we are often taught in our schools (the sanitized version that constructs this nation as heroic). We can invite questions about where we are going from here, ask questions of our future, and interrogate possibilities and alternatives that we are told are impossible or improbable. With our creative energy we can invite those impossibilities to the table and see how they play out. We can write dystopian fiction that invites critical questions about how things can go wrong if we continue on our current path. We can write utopian fiction that imagines a radically new nation of justice and inclusion. We can write horror that showcases the horrors that constantly take place behind closed doors in our nation, imagine fantasies where Canada can be transformed through a different relationship to our environment, superhero fiction that doesn’t end up just being nationalistic tripe, and science fiction that imagines different ways of understanding the sciences that we use to justify our actions. 

Speculative Fiction, like all fiction, is an act of imagination, and, as such, it is about the potentials that we can dream up. It is a genre of our imagination, our thoughts, our perspectives, our aspirations, our anxieties, our fears, our dreams and our nightmares. It is a genre of ideas, and we need to remember that ideas are powerful, transformative, and, yes, dangerous. A nation is a boundary – one that is placed on geographies and people and that uses techniques to try to bind those disparate people and geographies together. But we aren’t defined by our boundaries. Canada’s boundaries have separated people, sought to erase aboriginal territories and nations, and the process of drawing that boundary was as much about exclusions as it was about inclusions. It is up to us to redraw boundaries, or, better yet, to imagine beyond boundaries and conceive of new types of definitions and new ways of understanding ourselves and the places we access. We need to remember our history, and that means all parts of it, including (or possibly especially) the ugly parts of it. We need to question the way that borders have been drawn around what is appropriate Canadian history and what is not. We need to invite questions of our government when it tells us that it has given people enough and as it why, ask it to give access to fresh water to aboriginal people, ask it to make spaces actually accessible for disabled people, ask it to stop pathologising queer people and trying to portray only one type of queer person (normally the most normative behaving) and actually open things up for areas of radical expression and radical inclusion. 

We can imagine new possibilities in our arts and our critiques and we have a responsibility to imagine better.
To find out more about the art by Chippewar above, visit http://www.chippewar.com/product/free-150-years-of-colonization 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 72: An Interview with A.C. Wise

On this episode of Speculating Canada, I Interview the fabulous A.C. Wise about The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again. We discuss trans narratives, femininity and femme identity, Lovecraftian fiction, monstrosity, unspeakable horrors, weird literature, horror literature, resistant texts, diversity, representation in literature, making our fiction match the diversity of our own world, memory, the power of speculative fiction to evoke new thoughts, and the power of discomfort to evoke change.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files. 

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play. 

Stigma is Sticky

Stigma is StickyA review of Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos (Margaret McElderry Books, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

As she frequently does, Nalo Hopkinson uses her novel The Chaos to disrupt hegemonic ideas of normalcy, questioning what is ‘normal’ and using the supernatural and magical to point out the way that the norms we create are equally strange. The Chaos takes elements of fantasy, magical realism, and Lovecraftian weird fiction and blends them with a surreal sense of a world where anything can happen. 

When a volcano suddenly appears out of Lake Ontario, the world becomes populated with creatures of myth and magic that disrupt the categories we use to impose a sense of order on our world – the rolling calf, tar babies, fish who swim upstream through lava, Horseless Head Men, and an archaeopteryx that may also be a phoenix. Story and place intermix in a way that illustrates the way that we already impose stories on our landscape to limit it. Hopkinson illustrates that we are always in a world of stories and that we create our own stories to understand ourselves and others. 

The Chaos presents a world where the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves enter into our world, shaping us physically like they do mentally and socially. When people in Hopkinson’s world are able to see the mythic, it changes their relationships to each other, and their relationship to themselves. The Chaos is as much about identity as it is about magic. The altered space of the Toronto landscape disrupts a sense of ‘home’, allowing characters to question their notions of belonging and how they fit into their world and communities.

The name of Hopkinson’s protagonist, Sojourner, literally ‘a stranger in a strange land’ highlights the sense of powerful estrangement that shapes her tale. She is a teen who has experienced stigma all of her life, being bullied and slut-shamed as a younger teen, and being perceived as constantly other than she is – seen as too white to fit in with black peers and too black to fit in with white peers. She has created her group of outsiders that have created their own brand of belonging. Yet, her body is under change as a sticky, black tar like substance begins spreading across her skin, changing her and her relationship to her body. She is becoming different and uncertain to herself, and yet her uncertainty about herself may serve to give her further self knowledge about the stories she uses to narrate her own life.

Hopkinson illustrates the way that change is resisted by those in hegemonic power as mobs of people begin targeting people with disabilities, those who are non-white, and those who identify as queer, seeing them as part of the “chaotic changes” happening in their world. In particular, she examines the role of police causing more damage in their attempts to control the change they see happening around them. Hopkinson points out the way that ableism, homophobia, and racism show themselves more blatantly when “normalcy” is disrupted. When bodies and minds are disrupted.

In The Chaos, the boundaries of categories that seek to separate things are broken down and the world’s complexities cease to be able to be ignored as individual perceptions because they have become physical. Hopkinson’s surrealist word painting of the world, despite its strangeness, only serves to underscore the strangeness of normalcy. Reading this tale allows us all to become Sojourners as we return to our own strange world, questioning it.
To discover more about The Chaos, visit http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/The-Chaos/Nalo-Hopkinson/9781442459267 

To find out more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit http://nalohopkinson.com/

QueerCon During Capital Pride – A Retrospective

Most of the Pride Events that I have attended in the past have tended to privilege events of performance and dancing. Pride parades tend to construct queer bodies as spectacles for straight people to observe. There tend not to be a lot of events for the more geeky queer folk.

 

At the same time, most geeky events (fan conventions) tend to be highly heterosexual and not provide a queer space. When there are queer panels, they tend to be off to the side, leaving queer people feeling as though they were included as an afterthought or part of a diversity checklist.

 

QueerCon, part of Capital Pride in Ottawa, made a safe space to be queer and geeky, to push boundaries and imagine new possibilities. QueerCon provided a space for imagining new possibilities while questioning the structures that tend to erase queerness.

 

QueerCon provided a fun space for opening up questions and critiques and this energy could be seen from the attendees who walked around asking questions about why queer voices don’t appear more often in public spaces. People were excited about new possibilities and new opportunities for imagining spaces where queer people could be comfortable being queer. There was a freedom of expression that is rare in other spaces.

 

The day began with an animation workshop that allowed people to access their creative abilities and express themselves in a new medium. People grouped together in unique ways, using the power of play to question and critique the society that oppresses queer lives.

 

Mariko Tamaki spoke about her inspirations for her comics “Skim” and “This One Summer”, sharing her ideas about expressing queerness through the graphic fiction medium. Sophie Labelle continued this discussion later in the day when she talked about her comic “Assigned Male” and the expression of trans experiences. People who attended these talks were able to imagine new possibilities for expression and the use of creativity. Having comic artists speak allowed QueerCon to bring attention to the way that we can write and produce art creatively in a way that allows us to find and share our voices. Comics have the unique power of intertwining art and word.

 

I spoke on a panel on Diversity and Representation with people from diverse perspectives and diverse engagements with queer geekdom such as Mariko Tamaki (comic book writer and artist), Niq Cosplay (cosplayer), Saffron St. James (burlesque artist), Rhapsody Blue (burlesque artist). This allowed us to explore the diverse ways that we queer geekiness or geek queerness. By combining academic voices with cultural producers, we were able to interrogate the ways that we engage with our communities and how we can bring these communities together.

 

There was plenty of play to be had in addition to the discussions and QueerCon invited people to engage with Geek Trivia and questions about cosplay (the creation and wearing of costumes from popular culture). The discussion of cosplay allowed for the imagination of the ways that we can transform characters from popular culture by wearing their costumes. Essentially, cosplaying bodies can become tapestries for imagining new possibilities.

 

QueerCon was a needed addition to Pride, allowing for new ideas to develop in a safe space where multiplicity of voices was encouraged.

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Tales of Her Own

Tales of Her Own
A review of Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (Joanna Cotler Books, 1997).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue casts a web around traditional fairy tales, drawing them together into one narrative thread by having a character from each tale introduce the next tale as her own. Characters both narrate and are narrated about. These are tales about the telling and about the power of narration itself to reveal, conceal, and create the self.

Donoghue invites her characters to ask who is allowed to tell their tales and who is constructed through the telling of tales. Characters resist the narrative ark of “tradition”, imagining new possibilities for their own deviation from the text. 

These are liberating fairy tales, opening up possibilities, and giving women voices in these tales where the traditional tales limited the options open to women. These are tales of shifts and changes, allowing women to chart new territories through the fairytale landscape, changing their circumstances. Often set at the cusp of womanhood, these tales explore the relationship between bodily and social transition. 

Donoghue evokes the power of witches, those othered and ostracised women, for changing the world around them, opening critical questions, and encouraging women to recognise their power. She resists the impulse to tie her stories up with a heterosexual “happily ever after”, and instead imagines new narrative possibilities, creating lesbian couples, women content to be without sexual relationships. 

Her tales reimagine Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Goose Girl, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid. Donoghue illustrates that an intensive knowledge of folklore allows one to play with the tropes of the tradition, imagining new possibilities. 

You can discover more about Emma Donoghue’s work at http://www.emmadonoghue.com 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 67: A Discussion About The Queer Coll(i/u)sions Conference with Cait P. Jones

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Cait P. Jones and I discuss the Queer Coll(i/u)sions conference we co-organized.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.