X-Phobia: The word(s) and the myths

Preview: the views below are intended to help people try to have constructive discussions around prejudice, and to learn how to understand other people so we can all share our experience. It’s kinda long, talks about prejudice, and insists on established definitions of a few words that people often either use or interpret incorrectly.

Part of the problem with the way any kind of X-phobia or X-ist term gets thrown around the Internet is that people aren’t working off the same definitions. In a lot of cases, people shift definitions around to suit their causes, but I think the majority of cases are just people who have one definition in their heads, and nobody bothers to explain what these words actually mean.

(By which I mean that people have many times attempted to explain this, but if I’ve learned anything from the Internet, it’s that there is always someone who won’t see something until the tenth or hundredth time you say it.)

So here goes.

To be perfectly clear to start here, X-phobia stands in for transphobia, homophobia, etc., not arachnophobia, triskaidekaphobia, or any other clinical pathological fear. X-ist stands for racist or sexist, not dentist, anthropologist, or any other profession. We’re talking about conditions that make people uncomfortable with other demographic groups, or behaviors that cause harm to those groups.

First myth: “X-phobia means you hate/fear every X person.”

Here’s Wikipedia on transphobia: “Transphobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward transgender or transsexual people, or toward transsexuality.”

And homophobia: “Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).”

Note the important word in both definitions: “range.” Of course there are those frothing bigots who want all gays put in concentration camps; they’re homophobes. But then there’s also the guy who says, “I have no problem with gay people as long as I don’t have to see two dudes holding hands or kissing.” That’s a homophobic statement too. Or the person who says, “It’s perfectly fine for them to have those relationships, but I don’t think they should be allowed to adopt children.” In transphobia, you have: “As far as I’m concerned, whatever biology you were born with is your gender, period.” (Why do you get to define someone else’s identity for them?) Even a comment like “hey, if we can just identify as whatever we want, can I identify as rich?” is transphobic. It’s attempting to make a joke by trivializing the serious identity struggle that trans people go through, and it’s propagating a belief–that gender transition is a whimsical choice rather than something deeply felt for years, that there’s no professional counseling involved, that someone could just wake up one day and think “I want to be a different gender, or maybe neither, or both.” That’s as pernicious as the old saw about people choosing to be gay. That belief is what leads people to propose laws about what bathroom trans people can use, laws that actually harm people and make life more difficult for them.

All of these things encompass X-phobia. If someone says, “Hey, that comment you made is X-phobic,” it’s not constructive to say, “No; I don’t hate X people.” That’s not (necessarily) what you’re being accused of. You’re being told that your comment exposes some underlying misunderstanding of what this group’s experience is and/or reinforces prejudices. Here’s the thing: we don’t often know what our prejudices are until we examine them, and we often don’t examine them until someone calls us out on them. We inherit our understanding of the world from our parents and shape it with our friends, and if none of our friends include someone from X group, it’s easy to hold on to prejudices we don’t even realize we had.

So when someone points out a problem with a comment you made, they’re giving you an opportunity to learn. It’s constructive to say, “Whoa. I totally didn’t get that. Can you tell me what I did wrong?” Or “Wow, yeah, that was years ago and I was dumb then. I’m really sorry about that.” Are the people pointing out problems always right? Nah. But it’s also not constructive to run back to YOUR friends to ask “is this really X-phobic?” because they’re the ones who helped shape your worldview in the first place. If you really want to expand your world, listen to the people who are offering their advice.

Second myth: “I have X friends! I can’t be X-ist” (and the associated “therefore nothing I say is X-ist!”)

I thought we got rid of this back when it was “hey, some of my best friends are black.” Again: X-ist doesn’t mean you hate all X. When you befriend someone, you see them as a person; all the things that make up their identity are there, but they’re your friend first. And so your friend becomes the exception in your mind. Maybe you start saying “hey, my friend has surpassed this stereotype so why can’t all X people?” Maybe your default is still to believe that all X people are a certain way until you meet and get to know them. Or maybe you just haven’t talked to your friend about these beliefs, about their experience being a member of this group, so you feel like the simple fact that you enjoy the company of one person in this group means that you can say anything about them. Trust me: you can’t.

Third myth: “Hey, this one X person said that comment isn’t offensive, therefore it’s not X-ist.”

This one gets trotted out a lot. Republicans are very good at finding African-American conservatives to speak out against affirmative action, a program which has helped many minority candidates get an education or an opportunity denied to them by systemic racism in our private sector and educational system. The Washington, D.C. football franchise often highlights one of the fifteen percent of Native Americans who aren’t offended by their name (the percentage varies according to what poll and what year you’re looking at). But look: just because you can find one person who isn’t offended doesn’t mean that the twenty people who are offended are wrong. Is there some important truth behind your remark or behavior that supersedes the right of those people to feel like accepted members of society? It’s kind of like when a magazine writes, “Furry fandom is all about sex” (this was more common in the 90s than it is now), and they get that one furry to say, “yeah, pretty much everything I do in the fandom is sexual.” So…the rest of us should shut up about that comment because there’s at least one person who says it’s okay?

The counterargument is “What if there’s just one person who objects to everything? Should we listen to them?” I’m talking common sense here. What’s acceptable in society is constantly changing, and what’s acceptable in one community might not be acceptable in another; what’s acceptable in your community today might be different from what was acceptable five or ten years ago. If you want to keep hanging out in a community, listen to what its members are telling you. Doesn’t mean that every time a single person complains about something you say that you have to change it. But as I said above, when you get close to one of these sensitive areas, it’s always worth examining the things you say and do in public. You might come away thinking, “nah, those people are over-reacting.” But you might also say, “you know what, I still don’t see it, but I’m gonna take their word for it and try harder to understand.”


Look, ultimately all I’m saying is that if someone tells you that you’re speaking/acting with prejudice, if they say you’ve said something X-phobic or X-ist, don’t snap back that you’re not a bad person. Take it as a chance to prove you’re not by examining the words you say and the beliefs that drive them. It’s hard to put aside beliefs you’ve had for years without questioning, but the longer you put it off, the harder it gets. And if you start, if you make that initial effort, you’ll find it easier and easier to go on, and you’ll be open to a new world built on a more solid foundation. I’ve had that experience and it didn’t kill me. It won’t kill you either, and it might make the world a better place.

(And also, if you’re trying to show someone that what they’re saying/doing IS X-phobic/X-ist, don’t wield those words like clubs. Be patient, be reasonable, and try to separate the statement from the person. “Your statement is transphobic” is a lot easier to start a conversation with than “you’re a transphobe.”)

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Me @ TFF

Hey! I’m going to be at Texas Furry Fiesta this weekend, and below is a short list of my panels. When I’m not in a panel, chances are I’ll be around FurPlanet or Rukis’s table in the dealer’s room, where I will be happy to sign things for y’all!

Friday 8:30 pm Write Now!

–Jakebe and I will talk about the structure of short stories and then you will have time to start a short story of your own! Bring something to write with!
Friday 9:30 pm Adult Writing 101

–The old standby. Me and Sasuke and Rechan will talk about what goes into a good furry erotica story.

Sat 12n RAWR Year Two

–Alkani Serval and I will talk about the first furry residential writing workshop, our experiences in year one, the status for year two, and our hopes for the future.
Sat 3:30 pm Publisher Q&A

–I suspect Rechan and I will mostly listen to Fuzzwolf, one of the actual publishers from FurPlanet, talk about publisher stuff. If people want to talk about publishing e-books, I can talk about that, I guess.
Sat 4:30 pm Storytelling in Different Mediums

–I’m excited about this one, sitting with Rukis and Vahn Fox to talk about stories in prose, graphic novels, and video games.

Sun 1 pm Knotsheathed

–This is the panel I’m most looking forward to, because I get to sit down with Fuzzwolf and talk about anything we want for like an hour. Also there will be some dazzling tech stuff from Carrizo KitFox!
Sun 2:30 pm Scene Building

–Rechan and I will talk about how to construct a scene, if I still have a voice left after an hour podcast.
Sun 3:30 pm Novel Writing

–Interested in writing a novel? Having trouble with your manuscript? I’ll talk about novels and structure and will be happy to take your questions. This one is just me, so please come and keep me company!

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Green Fairy tie-in story

To celebrate the release of Twelve Sides in print, and also because I haven’t posted a story in forever, I thought I’d post the story about Henri from Green Fairy to FA. Twelve Sides has eleven more stories, technically only ten of which are about characters from existing works (the other is an original story based on prompts). So if you like my books and are looking for a little more about some of the characters in them, read “The Elusion of Truth” and then check out the collection!

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“Twelve Sides” Paperback Available!

Last year I published an e-book only collection of the short stories I wrote for my Patreon, called “Twelve Sides.” This year I decided to try out Amazon’s new print program with that book. So if you want a print copy of “Twelve Sides,” you can get it at Amazon now! This is the first time I’ve done this so I’m interested to hear about the quality of the books. And if you’d like to get them signed, you have time to order them before coming to TFF and seeing me there. 🙂

Also, international folks! I’m curious how the shipping works for you, like, is Amazon printing these locally, are they available in all the countries, etc. Especially if you’re coming to FurDU…

As with the e-book on sale at Amazon, I did not include all six of the illos in the original e-book (on sale at baddogbooks.com and other furry sites). The major retailer e-books have two illos; the print version has three, because I decided to add back in one that isn’t quite as explicit. Hopefully it’ll be okay.

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“Over Time” Bonus Story coming soon!

Because you guys bought up a thousand copies (and more) of Over Time (thank you so much, you guys are awesome!), I’m writing a short bonus story that will be posted for free on my FA and SoFurry sites sometime in March probably.

But if you’d like a sneak preview, you could sign up for my mailing list before Monday: http://bit.ly/kyellmail. It goes out once a month and your email address isn’t used for any other purpose. You get info on all my projects coming up and writing tips every month, as well as sneak peeks at stories I’m working on. So if you’ve ever wondered when a new book is coming out…or been surprised to see a new title…here’s your solution. 🙂

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Oscar Time: Why Moonlight Should Win

…though it still probably won’t.

I’ve now seen all nine Best Picture nominees, and here’s my ranking of them (in tiers). This is based on an assessment of the film’s craft, not how much I liked it (*).

At the bottom is the “flawed film that I guess a bunch of people thought was interesting,” namely “Hacksaw Ridge.” The “flawed film with great performances” tier has in it “Fences” and “Lion.” Then there’s the big tier of “really good films but just short of outstanding,” and that’s where “Arrival,” “Hidden Figures,” “Manchester By the Sea,” and “Hell or High Water” land (kind of in that order).

It’s no real surprise that “La La Land” and “Moonlight” are my top two films. They’re the ones most often mentioned as the frontrunners for Best Picture. (I would put “Zootopia” in this category as well, but despite having one more spot, the Academy didn’t put it in the running for Best Pic.) There’s been a lot of ink about “La La Land” and why it should win Best Picture (it’s a beautifully shot, well written, outstandingly acted unique vision) and why it shouldn’t (it’s fluffy and not as substantial as some of the other nominees, it’s derivative, it’s a musical for crying out loud), and to some extent I feel like I agree more with the should than the shouldn’t. But the biggest reason I think it shouldn’t win Best Picture is because that would be unfair to the actual best picture (co-best picture) of the year: “Moonlight.”

“Moonlight” isn’t flashy like “La La Land.” It doesn’t have a romantic landscape like “Hell or High Water,” or historical significance like “Hidden Figures.” But it fully realizes its world as well as any of those films, both through its cinematography and through the relationships of the people in it. The movie takes the drug dealer role, which for decades has been a stereotype, and humanizes it in the person of Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who is the favorite to win the Oscar for his performance.

All three actors who play Chiron are terrific as well, and the direction is incredible especially in that regard. Every performance uses cues from the previous one to keep consistency in the film, leading to little moments where you recognize Chiron from the previous segment. The ambition in the film and the success with which Barry Jenkins realizes it are worthy of recognition.

My particular love, of course, is writing, and the writing in “Moonlight” is outstanding. So many films about gay relationships talk loudly and openly about their relationships and their problems, and this is out of necessity: gay films often saw it as their mission to educate the public about gay relationships and communities. But just as Mahershala Ali’s drug dealer is a real, complex person, so is Chiron a real gay man growing up in a hostile environment. When he talks about his desires, he talks in subtext and in hidden meanings. And the conversations are so well scripted, full of tension and need, that a simple dialogue between two friends has you holding your breath and waiting for what might come next.

The story is necessary, heartbreaking, and very personal, educating without being didactic. It has depth that “La La Land” doesn’t, and while “Moonlight” may not be as bold and unique in its cinematic vision, it has a clearer, deeper messsage. It’s a wonderful movie in all of its aspects. It’s a difficult choice, certainly, but I think it’s the most deserving of the Oscar this year.

(*) My list of the Best Picture nominees (plus the one that should’ve been) in the order of how much I liked them is:

Hell or High Water
La La Land
Hidden Figures
Manchester By The Sea
Hacksaw Ridge

By and large this was a pretty good year for movies. Only “Hacksaw Ridge” I thought was really flawed, and “Fences” had enough great performances that I didn’t mind its staginess and slightly muddled story. And I’m pleased that Rotten Tomatoes’ weighted ratings agree with my top four (and almost my top seven; “Hidden Figures” counts as a 2017 movie in their listing so it’s not in the 2016 best of). https://www.rottentomatoes.com/top/bestofrt/?year=2016

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Courses of Action

Our conversations in my friend circles, both in the real world and on Twitter, have for the past few months been taken over by politics. Who’s done what, who’s going to do what, how can we stop someone from doing something, how can we support someone? And even though we get tired of it, fatigued, the events keep on coming and we can’t turn away for fear of missing something important.

Back in college, I took a class in conservation biology, and that same sort of fatigue is a problem facing that profession all the time. Once you start concerning yourself with endangered plants, animals, habitats, and so on, there are hundreds of trouble spots all over the world, large and small, each one vitally important. You can burn yourself out trying to care about all of them.

The solution is: find one that you’re passionate about and devote your energy there. Maybe it’s one that is close to your heart for some reason, or maybe it’s one that doesn’t have a lot of people looking after it yet. But focus on your one issue, or maybe two, and do what you can there.

The problem is similar here. I was trying to figure out how to spend my energy–I think we all have been. While RTing calls to action and calling my reps is useful, I still feel spread too thin. So I thought about this aspect of our current situation this morning: The Republican administration’s policies are going to have adverse effects on a lot of different groups. Voting rights are in danger, especially with our current Attorney General. Civil rights are in danger, especially with a looming conservative Supreme Court nomination (which might very well overturn the stay on the Muslim ban). People’s very health and life are in danger from the gutting of the ACA. These are real, tangible consequences. There are a whole host of ethical issues in the White House and its staff, which are unsavory; maybe that offends you more than anything else. There are entanglements with the Russian government that may have already endangered our democracy.

What I wanted to do was pick one of these things that has real consequences. While it’s fun to mock Fox News’s Tucker Carlson for lamely comparing Steve Bannon to the head of ISIS, or to mock 45’s buffoonish tweets, it isn’t for me a useful use of energy (beyond what it takes to RT and maybe write a quick comment).

If you’re a red state liberal, keep calling your reps. Show up at town hall meetings when you can. Make your voice heard. You’re doing great work so far. And come 2018, work like hell to increase liberal representation in our government at *every* level, not only the federal one.

If you live in a blue state, call your reps and make sure they know how much you object to what’s going on. And if they won’t object as much as you think they should, elect people who will.

Pick your cause. If you can’t work for it, support the people who are. I’m donating monthly to the ACLU because I feel that they will be most effective in stopping the curtailment of civil liberties in this country.

And take care of yourself. Take a break from the news when you can. Tweet your furry pics and jokes, have fun, stay mentally healthy. We have to stay true to ourselves!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you’ve got someone(s) to spend your day with, may you have a lovely happy day, and remember Dan Savage’s advice: sex before dinner.

If you don’t have someone to spend the day with, don’t despair! Spend it with yourself or your other single friends and have a great time. And remember, I didn’t meet my husband until we were both in our thirties. I have friends and relatives who didn’t find their partners until their fifties. It might seem a long time to wait, but if you’re open to a relationship and you’re happy with yourself, I feel confident that you’ll find someone to share your life with. And the good news is that our society is increasingly accepting of whatever your relationship looks like. Be yourself, and accept others for themselves.

(This is not the post to talk about the movements to roll that back; that’ll come tomorrow.)

Me, I’m cooking dinner at the house and we’ll do our dinner out tomorrow, because by the time we thought about making plans everything for tonight was booked. So we kind of get two Valentine’s Days! <3

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Since You Asked…

After the recent Slate article about “The Time He Desires,” I got a few inquiries from people to the effect of “don’t you think it’s ironic to be defending Islam with a character who would be executed in most Muslim countries?”

The questioners were not actually interested in having the conversation so much as pointing out supposed logical fallacies in liberal views, but it’s an interesting conversation to have, so I’ll have it here on the blog anyway.

First, I’m going to take their preconceptions at face value and answer the question, because no matter what the facts are about Muslim countries actually executing gay people (hint: most Muslim countries do not execute gay people, and of the few that do have the death penalty for gay behavior, only one regularly acts on it), the idea is that many Muslim countries are hostile to gay people, and that’s not false.

I’m touched by the questioners’ concern about the welfare of gay people, to start. Gay people of faith have it hard in any country; the point of the book is reconciling your sexuality with a faith that tells you it’s wrong. That could be Islam, or most branches of Christianity, or Orthodox Judaism. So the book is about faith. It’s not about countries, though there is a little bit about countries and their practices in the book–in fact, the mistake the main character has to walk back from is assuming that his home country’s practice of Islam is the only way. Muslim countries differ in their interpretations of Islam, and Islam itself is bigger than any single country.

In addition, the book is about an American immigrant from a Muslim country, so the fact that he would be persecuted in a Muslim country is exactly the point of the book. So no, even given your hypothetical world full of bloodthirsty Muslim countries, the defense of Islam with a gay character is not ironic. It is exactly the point I am trying to make: to change your understanding of Islam from being defined by a few violent individuals to being defined by the strictures that actually define it.

Now let’s take a look at that hypothetical world. It’s true that gay people are persecuted in a lot of Muslim countries, and there’s a great overview of that in The Guardian from last year. If you don’t want to read the whole article (you should though), here’s a summary: the number of Muslim-governed countries that regularly executes gay people is 1. That’d be Iran. Among other countries:

In Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and Mauritania, sodomy is also punishable by death – though no executions have been reported for at least a decade.

Among other Arab countries, the penalty in Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia and Syria is imprisonment – up to 10 years in the case of Bahrain. In those that have no specific law against homosexuality, gay people may still be prosecuted under other laws. In Egypt, for example, an old law against “debauchery” is often used.

These laws have a catastrophic effect on the lives of people who are unlucky enough to get caught but, despite occasional crackdowns, the authorities don’t, on the whole, actively seek out gay people to arrest them.

Wikipedia lists 45 countries in the “Muslim world” where Islam plays a role in the government to varying degrees, from forming the basis of government to being separate from government affairs. By my count from their LGBT Rights page, 31 of those countries consider homosexuality illegal, so about two-thirds. But that’s out of about 75 countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal, many of which are Christian countries (like for example the 85% Christian country of Uganda, where an American Christian pastor traveled to encourage the government to tighten their laws against homosexuality). And only two countries in addition to the Arab countries mentioned above have death penalties (Nigeria, in some areas, and the Palestinian Territories), and in both it’s unclear whether anyone has actually been recently executed.

Yes, Muslim countries are in general less accepting of gay people than non-Muslim countries. I absolutely don’t want to give them a pass on that. But I think it’s important to characterize things as they are rather than with radical hyperbole. And more to the point of my book, there is a large population of American Muslims who follow American customs in addition to their religion; there are gay populations in many Muslim countries. The picture is complicated, and taking some time to learn and understand the difference between a religion and the culture of some countries that follow that religion would not be wasted time. It was in fact with the hope that some readers would do that that I wrote a novella about a Muslim character attempting to undergo that same journey.

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Further Confusion Schedule

Hey, Further Confusion is almost upon us! I’m excited to have the first book in my new Love Match series coming out from FurPlanet, and hope you guys will check it out. I’ll be around that table Friday for at least the first couple hours the dealer’s room is open, and probably for more than that as well. If I’m by the Sofawolf table, you can buy Love Match (and any Cupcakes you might be missing) and bring it over; likewise if you’re missing any of my Sofawolf titles (or Hot Dish 2, which I have a story in!), you can buy them and bring them over to me. I’ll sign any of the books anywhere!

Saturday and Sunday I’ve got some panels. When I’m not at the panels I’ll likely be back around the Sofawolf or FurPlanet tables and I’m happy to sign books. Come say hi!

Here are the panels I’m doing. I’m pretty excited about all of them and hope to see you guys at some of them. (To answer a frequent question: recording is at the discretion of the convention, and with the exception of Unsheathed, I haven’t made any arrangements to record any of them.)

Sat 4:30p – 6p: What’s Your Problem? –with Fuzzwolf of FurPlanet, Jakebe, Ryan Campbell. A full time editor, some part time editors, and authors with experience explain the many and varied reasons why your story might have been rejected.

Sat 10p – 11:30p: Adult Furry Writing –with Rukis and Not Tube. The marvelous and unpredictably hilarious staple of furry writing tracks. We talk about writing pr0n/erotica/romance.

Sun 11a – 12:30p: Brainstorming in Real Time –with Jakebe, Ryan Campbell, and Watts Martin. Having trouble coming up with ideas? We’ll walk you through a brainstorming session with input from the audience.

Sun 3p – 4:30p: Write Now! –with Jakebe. We’ll go over short story structure and a handy formula for getting your story’s bones in place, and then you’ll have time to actually START WRITING IT.

Sun 10p – 11:30p: Unsheathed Live –with K.M. Hirosaki and Not Tube. Our pretty-much-only-at-cons podcast returns so we can talk about furry fiction, conventions, pop culture, drunkenness, and anything else that comes to mind. This year we have a special surprise for you guys, so don’t miss it!

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