The Equality of Differences (full text)

I had posted part of my Equality of Differences post here on my blog previously, but I wanted to post the full text here in case QRM ever needs to purge its old posts for space or something else happens that causes it to accidentally disappear.

While it’s still around, find it here: http://www.queerromancemonth.com/ais-lin-2015/

The Equality of Differences by Ais Lin

I have spent most of my life feeling like an alien on Earth. The main reason for this is because it has often felt like, at every step of the way, I was different than what society expected.

My earliest memory is of being at recess in elementary school and running up to a teacher to ask, “What’s a lesbian?” I know I asked that question because somebody called me one, but I don’t remember exactly what they said, nor what the teacher’s response was. All I know is whatever the teacher said gave me the impression it was something very bad, because I remember running back and yelling at the other kid that I wasn’t a lesbian at all.

I was too young back then to know I actually was a lesbian, and way too young to know I was asexual as well. Maybe if I’d known I wouldn’t have denied it to that kid, because later I would grow up to realize how important it is to be myself. Even when that means I feel like I don’t belong.

For anyone who’s interested, I wrote a blog post earlier this year called An Asexual’s View of Love which talks about how, to me, romance can seem like a fetishization of love. I don’t want to be repetitive so I focus on different topics in this post than I did in that one.

The topic of having romance be accessible to everyone is something very dear to me, as a woman who is definitely a romantic at heart but who also happens to be both asexual and a lesbian. I’ve often felt that the things that are expected of human beings, and especially female human beings in the US, are things that are utterly foreign to me.

There are different ways of feeling alienated or consistently “not normal.” For me, it’s always been a whole lot of little things that added up to me feeling like a freak of nature as far as mainstream is concerned. Stereotypes shouldn’t be expectations, but in aggregate they are.

Women are overtly sexualized in the US (which creeps me out as an asexual), with the expectation that men should get the most out of her and have some control of, or accessibility to, her beauty (which creeps me out as a lesbian), and with the further assumption that her end goal in life must be to have children, marry and settle down (which creeps me out as someone who didn’t like kids as a kid and doesn’t want to be around them any more as an adult).

In short, if you imagine what is assumed to be “normal,” I was almost always the opposite.

One of the most pervasive differences in my life has been related to what are expected to be basic experiences of all American youth. Unlike most people I knew growing up in high school, college, and beyond: I didn’t drink, smoke, use drugs, or party. To this day I’ve never smoked cigarettes nor tried anything even as low level as pot, and I have zero interest in doing so. I didn’t have my first full drink of alcohol until I was probably twenty-three, didn’t own a single wine glass until I was thirty, and generally could happily live my life without alcohol.

In a country that seems obsessed with religion, I was raised without religion but surrounded by various denominations of Christianity (some more hardcore than others). Yet, when I chose my own religion at age 14, I became Wiccan (Pagan) which, at the time, was very misunderstood and resulted in some religious persecution, mostly for my friend. Later, in college, the first time I found a group of people who understood the feeling of Otherness from not drinking/partying, was when I spoke to Sunni young Muslim women who struggled with the same issues. I came to have a lot of respect for Islam, and to day this naturally feel more comfortable around Muslims because they were the first group of people who both welcomed and understood that feeling.

At 14 I also became vegetarian, at a time and place when it was very uncommon to be so (and not entirely accepted). I became a Reiki Level I practitioner at 16, way before alternative healing was acknowledged in the US and I had to drive hours to find someone who could teach me. And when kids got in trouble for sneaking out, I got in trouble for staying up too late reading books.

There are more examples, but that’s a basic overview.

I was very fortunate to have a great family who told me to be myself, and a handful of close friends who didn’t question me being me. For that reason, I had some stability. But in the greater scheme of things, I always felt like I was damaged goods. Broken. In greater society, I felt a lot of pressure because I knew I was inherently wrong. I knew it would be easier if I conformed, but that was something I couldn’t do, even if I wanted to.

I’m proud of being different even though that also means I have often felt suffocated by it, and at times I wished to the depths of my soul that for once in my fucking life I could just be normal. For fucking once, I could fit in with mainstream.

Because a lot of stories are informed by mainstream expectations, I feel like it’s rare to find characters who represent me in any medium. The few times a character represents a piece of me, it often feels like their difference is dismissed or turned into a joke or sometimes even mocked.

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Editing (and writing) tips

I recently got a question asking about writing tips in general, and especially related to editing. For privacy reasons, as usual, I won’t name the person–but I’m writing a post here instead of replying directly because 1) I always ramble like fuuuuuuuck and 2) maybe someone else out there is curious about the same thing from my perspective.

First, as always, I’m obviously not a professional. You’ll definitely want to go with what professionals say, if anything goes against my thoughts. But for what it’s worth, I helped a family member edit her book and a professional who worked with her on the book was really impressed with my feedback. Which I am not saying to pat myself on the back; I say only to mention that maybe, hopefully, some of this is useful and not totally leading people down the wrong path lol

Writing

I have some posts on writing advice here: http://ais-n.tumblr.com/tagged/writing-advice — and there should be some that Santino and/or I wrote under “writing questions” here: https://aisness.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/icos-master-list-feb-2016-edition (Note that there may be some overlap between the two links, also I’m not sure if all those links still work–if you see any specifically that don’t, let me know).

I have lots of thoughts on writing, but they’re all pretty informed by my personal writing style which is very much aimed toward writing what makes sense for that story and those characters, and “rules” be damned. I don’t like the idea of confining oneself to expectations if it interferes with the natural, organic progression of a story. That does mean I tend to go pretty hardcore into stuff I write because if I’m writing a dark story, I’m not going to pull punches; and I tend to add a fair amount of darkness into my stories because it doesn’t feel realistic to me otherwise. But this also means my style doesn’t work for people who want to feel like they always know what’s coming or at least know the limits to which the story will go. After all, as we’ve seen, you cannot trust me to not totally fuck up a character because it feels like the right progression for me. And that’s not fun for some people to read, you know? But it’s super hard for me to write a more chill story because it’s not the kind of story I tend to read. I try to do it and then I get bored, but other people can do that same concept and story in a fantastically beautiful way and really excel at it.

What I mean by this aside is that I have maybe a bit odd of a viewpoint on writing stories compared to some more traditional or mainstream views, so that may make me a terrible person to ask for thoughts for you, or it may make me someone who vibes better with your personal style. I think it’s most important we’re all genuine to ourselves so whatever writing style works for you is the perfect style for your stories. There’s a story out there for every occasion, every voice, every idea, every feeling.

There is no right or wrong way to write; in my opinion, the only way you can do anything “wrong” is by not believing in your own personal voice, your own personal style; by silencing your individuality if it doesn’t fit the stronger, louder voice. If it does fit, that’s perfect and you should run with it. If it doesn’t, don’t change yourself or your world or characters or story into something it isn’t. That feeling of dissonance will be what is taken away from your story instead of the story itself, at least to readers like me. Because I do believe what Maya Angelou said is true: people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. In my personal opinion both as a reader and a writer, I think that applies to stories as well.

I also think research is really important but I guess that’s a whole other thing. I’m getting too much into writing tips right now so I’ll leave it at this and the linked posts above — but if anyone is curious about anything in particular, let me know. If you’d be curious about my personal thoughts on anything, I’m happy to answer 🙂

Editing:

Editing is a pain, but also kind of fun. I have a few thoughts on it– most of what I’m first talking about below is you editing your own work. I touch a little on editing someone else’s work afterward.

**Read or edit for the overall flow as much (or IMO more) than you do the specific grammatical nitpicking. I know that’s going to go against what a lot of people feel about editing, but here’s the thing: stories are translations of the heart, whether it’s the heart of the overall story, the heart of the writer, the heart of the characters, the heart of the reader, the heart of whatever it represents. To me, a story is poetry on a larger scale, or it’s a song, or it’s whatever artistic endeavor that represents something that, to you, feels moving or meaningful.

Yes, it’s important that we understand what you’re trying to say. For that, yes, having someone check the grammar is definitely useful.

But the rules of grammar are not the rules of language. That may sound like an odd thing to say because, yeah, technically it is– but think about when you’re learning a new language. If it’s anything like when I’ve taken classes in the multiple languages I’ve taken classes in, the teacher tells you all the specific grammatical rules so you’re speaking properly, politely, in complete sentences with all the correct intonation and all the right tenses. You can definitely get your thoughts across if you learn a language that way, in that people will understand the concept of what you’re saying because you are literally speaking textbook to them.

But then think about your native language. Do you speak or type grammatically correct all the time? Do you avoid contractions, run-on sentences, do you not indulge in hyperbole, do you not have fun dropping an Oxford comma or two? If you’re feeling an intense emotion, aren’t you even more likely to play the strings of the language you know best? Changing vocabulary to emphasize meaning or form, adding intensity in your tone or your chosen verbal attack, throwing in swear words or cutting your sentences in half then in half again and again until it’s just partial words because you’re too upset or excited or something else to properly form a complete sentence?

There may be people out there who don’t do this, I don’t know. But for me, this is how I function, and it seems to me how a lot of people around me function. We rarely speak perfectly politely, perfectly properly, in our native tongue 100% of the time. Even languages built very much on the concept of polite and proper, even cultures with a clear sense of in group vs out group, have variations set in place in their language to indicate intimacy, friendship, a sense of understanding. Those levels are there so we can share that connection with others in something as simple as the word we choose when we call them, or the name we use when they come close.

To me, stories are like levels of language. There are different ways of telling the stories based on the story that’s being told. If it’s a character who’s distant or cold, or a setting that requires a sense of detachment, writing in very proper, polite, grammatically perfect sentences makes sense because it provides that sense of out group you would get in your native tongue. If it’s a story that should feel visceral, cloying, catastrophically vulnerable, then it’s meaningful to write in an ebb and flow of emotion dependent on the feeling of the character or the feeling the writer wants to create within the reader. Words breathe life into the story they relay, so the chosen words matter. Most of the time, I think stories benefit from a variation in the telling of them; perfect in some places, very imperfect in others, a constant reflection of the tapestry of emotions and motion in the world or story itself, or a view into the mind of the character displayed.

So, although it’s important to have someone who can help with any egregious and unhelpful grammatical mistakes, or spelling errors or the like, I also don’t think that should be the primary focus. It’s the sort of thing that’s important to take into account so that no poor wording accidentally jolts the reader from the story, but it shouldn’t be the be all and end all because that could result in losing the more emotional flow needed for what the story is trying to get across.

I think of it like this: writers are the translators for a character’s life. How would the characters feel at different points in the story, and therefore how best can that be worded to make the reader feel the same way reading it? How can you make the reader feel like they are experiencing that same emotion the character is feeling? That’s the best way to bring alive a world or plot or character, in my mind: by making it real.

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Never regret you

I received this anonymous post on tumblr, and since I wrote a long answer I thought I may want to reference it later. To make it easier to find, or in case it helps anyone else to see this who would miss it on tumblr, I’m posting it here.


 

lovedieanon

I feel that way a lot too, anon. I can understand that feeling well. Since I’ve always felt like some sort of weird outlier to life at large, I’ve struggled a lot of my life with refusing to be anyone other than myself, while constantly having to recognize how being “myself” meant that a lot of who I am will not be understood. It’s been getting better over time but that feeling still remains, even though I’m lucky with having some great friends and family.

Actually I wrote an article along these lines for Queer Romance Month if it helps at all: The Equality of Differences.

Anyway, because of all that, and compounding the issue with me being asexual and a lesbian, I have always felt like no one I could ever come to love will ever love me, and I’ll end up dying alone. I still feel that way now. I’ve kind of resigned myself to that inevitability, in all honesty. I just don’t feel like there’s a reason anyone should bother with me, and even if they did then the trouble is with me being an asexual lesbian I have a VERY small subsection of people who I may even be attracted to in the first place who also would be okay with who I am, without one or both of us having to seriously compromise on what is important for us just so we can be together.

But the thing is, I’ve spent many years watching other people cycle through all these relationship hurdles and roller coasters and becoming co-dependent or being too afraid to exist on their own and always jumping into relationships because they can’t love themselves individually. I’ve watched people in relationships spanning years, decades, split up later because they grew apart or maybe they never should have actually been together in the first place but they thought they had to be because that was what they thought love was. (I wrote about this in January 2015 on my blog as well which maybe you would find interesting if you want to see that thought process in more detail: An Asexual’s View of Love)

The conclusion I’ve reached over time is that it isn’t bad to be alone. Honestly, it isn’t. There is a lot of freedom in being alone; you can dictate your time much more efficiently, you can explore ideas or hobbies or adventures at your leisure, and you can take all the time you need to recognize, really realize, how important you are as yourself. I’ve always been really big on people being themselves, whether or not that happens to fit mainstream.

For me, in any group of people I’m in, there’s almost always some pretty big part of me that is pretty fucking weird to the people in that group. So there’s a part of me that always feels like it doesn’t belong, like I stand out, and that has created dual reactions over time for me.

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