Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been thinking of how I want to review this book for some time now. It's literally changed how I intend to write queer YA. From page one, I was gushing to friends and authors about how we're introduced to the main character's unapologetic bisexuality. Some YAs toe the line with talking about sex while Monty knows damn good what he wants from life, and that includes a stiff, er, drink.

Monty's voice is so strong and detailed, something I fear is missing from more recent releases. Lee does a superb job of transporting the reader to each new location. I never doubted her knowledge or questioned the authenticity of any character's voice. Everything felt real, vivid, and vibrant. This is an author that knows their stuff. Period.

Lee thrusts the reader into some scandalous and often times emotionally jarring situations, like how abusive Monty's father is or the tense racial issues that arise with Percy. And Monty's sister, Felicity! Bless her. I thought she'd be a bratty know-it-all, but she turns into a strong young lady with a wise head on her shoulders. This trio was a delight to follow and will take you on an adventure that you'll never see coming! I thought it was going to be a simple tale of two friends taking a Grand Tour, but it turns into a story of thievery, the King's men, magic, and more. Honestly, each new twist only adds to your enjoyment and there's a reason why the blurbs have read as they have. You want to be surprised.

This book was refreshing. It shows that queer history can be done and in a way that doesn't bring the reader down. Queer people are permitted to be the heroes, love interests, and go on Grand Tours! I'm truly looking forward to more of Lee's work.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 26, 2017

BAD BOY Revisited

Now that I'm out as a genderqueer person, I'm revisiting my review of BAD BOY by Elliot Wake to give content and trigger warnings for other folks. This is a trans book that contains detailed descriptions of what it means to transition from female to male written by someone who has undergone the process. If you aren't comfortable reading about these details, walk away. If you feel this might be too voyeuristic for you, walk away. If it will bring up to many thoughts or feelings of dysphoria, walk away. If hearing about TERFs and non-trans acceptance by family and friends is harmful to you, walk away. This book was influential in my life, but that's because I was in the right mindset to read it. I'm usually the one doing the vetting for others. I can handle a lot. I can handle dark and angry. If you can't, there's no problem in that. Take care of yourself and put this one aside.

If you have issues with any of the following, please reconsider reading this book or have someone vet it for you:

Abuse (physical, mental, sexual, emotional, verbal)
Body Modification and Description of Post-Surgery Events
Gender Dysphoria
Graphic Sexual Content
Online Bullying
Rape and Sexual Assault
Trans* Degendering, or Anti-Trans* Views of Bodies

Previous review:

I honestly think I terrified the author himself when I told him I'd received a DRC in exchange for an honest review. No need to fear. It was well worth the heart-pounding Twitter exchanges, Mr. Wake. You get a solid "A+" with the expectation that there will be new and exciting works forthcoming from this very bad boy. Transgenderella, anyone?

“Imperfection” has never felt so perfect. This novel really should have pulled my hair and spanked my ass if it was going to mind f**k me so hard. Damn, I loved it. BAD BOY is a tale of broken characters, broken promises, and anti-heroes/heroines that will leave you doubting who to trust and what to believe.

Renard “Ren” Grant is a BAD BOY. That is, he doesn’t quite know how to be a boy. Currently, Ren is a trans YouTube star secretly working for the Black Iris underground vigilante group. He tracks down men who prey on women and 'convinces' them to change their ways. Things get personal when someone from Ren’s past is targeted by Black Iris, a cyber stalker calling himself 'Crito.' Crito heads a misogynistic organization of men who prey on and abuse women. A planned Iris investigation on Crito goes awry, throwing Ren into the path of new Black Iris recruit, Tamsin “Tam” Baylor. Tam’s connection to Black Iris awakens a web of lies that traces back to The Wolf, Laney Keating aka the leader of the Black Iris organization. Now, Ren's position within BI is compromised and he's unsure who to trust, including his long time best friend and former ex-girlfriend, Ingrid. Ren and Ingrid have their own problems; Ingrid has never been accepting of his gender identity, leading to a distancing during Ren's transition. But when another, darker predator comes knocking at Ren’s door, asking for the girl who no longer exists, he will have to pick sides and decide who his real friends are and which are playing his at weaknesses.

Both the reader and Ren will be questioning what is real until the very last scene unfolds. Even then, minds will be toyed with and lines crossed. BAD BOY a fast-paced read filled with sexual tension and high stakes. Memorable characters with distinct personalities are there to guide the audience through the maze of plot turns and revelations. This isn't a book to be missed and one that won't be overlooked. If you want a gritty, eye-opening look at controversial subjects going head-to-head with each other (female/male/trans rights), then BAD BOY is a must-read.

This novel took me on an emotional ride while teaching me things about hormones and gender differences I was honestly fascinated to learn. I’m a sucker for well-placed fiction that’s thoroughly researched. Oh, yes. Give me all of your facts and figures. Tell me about T levels and how they influence emotional regularity. The information was incorporated beautifully in a way that didn’t hinder the flow of the plot while enhancing Ren’s character. The information was given to me so effortlessly- not info dumped- and each piece had meaning. A well-placed factoid about men not crying as much as women due to testosterone levels here. How T changes your libido there. After all, this is a trans man’s story that’s written by a trans man, BUT IT IS SO MUCH MORE. It takes on subjects from every angle and makes you consider all sides of the argument before coming to a conclusion.

As for style, BAD BOY is beautifully written with poetical descriptions that border lyrical, ones you really don’t see with its genre anymore. I was engrossed in the environment, able to taste the salty skin of lovers and feel the pulsating nightclub music. My senses came alive through the simplest passages. It was electrifying. The publishers (Simon and Schuster) aren’t allowing any excerpts to be released before publication or else I’d give examples. Not that I’ve highlighted over 100 passages- okay, so it was more.

BAD BOY opened up my eyes to some of the potentially harming gender ideas I have previously held. Trust that I am by no means narrow-minded and or hold any phobias. I am a trained SAFE Zone ALLY (4+ years), feminist, LGBT+ activist, fall along the spectrum, and yet I still have so much to learn. Please, #ownvoices authors, teach me. I don't want to stop learning! (Edit: I've now come out publically as genderqueer, which I was struggling with while writing this review. HI! Pleasure to meet you.)

I’ve always taken the stance that gender roles were learned. ‘A man does Y and a woman does X.’ Yeah, well I’ll do whatever the hell I want to, genetics be damned. Living in the Deep South, it’s hard to have a gender neutral marriage where there are no wife/husband roles. Cue the banjos because I’ve been to too many baby showers or children’s birthday parties where boys wore blue, played with trucks and guns and were force-fed manly-man ‘my boy ain’t havin’ no dolls’ lines from birth. If not, they were seen as “sissy.” Girls were shoved into ruffles/tutus then given Barbies, shopping toys, and cleaning supplies because it’s what the culture was reinforcing. I’ve hated these constructs for so many years. The context of this novel opened my mind and allowed me to see past the negativity to the underlying identity. All we need to do is talk it out, be a little mindful, and share our feelings. I'm more compassionate. You're more compassionate. We're all more compassionate.

A person, regardless of gender, can identify with female or male oriented objects because it’s what feels right to them, it reflects their inner self. I’ve always been of the mindset that people do what is right for their mental and physical wellbeing. Don’t spend any more time being miserable than you have to. GTFO if you can. Raise your hand if you spent too long in a toxic relationship/environment. *looks around* I see we're all here and accounted for. Let's continue.

Seeing the transitioning experience was raw. People need this. It's not magazine covers and TV shows. The same glossed-over exposure once happened to mental illness until people spoke out. Transitioning is about inner turmoil and outer battles. It's not about cosmetics. It is not a choice. It’s a lifesaving procedure. Each day spent trapped in a foreign body is on borrowed time. Ren’s story will SHOW you how vital it is. Not tell you. It. Will. Show. You. It will rip your bleeding heart, watch it pulsate between his claws, and ask, “Do you get it now? Do you see how exposed and raw it feels?” Yes. Yes, I do. These tears are yours. Take them as an offering for your next work-in-progress, damn you.

One of my favorite parts was being able to identify with parts of this novel while not being trans myself. I felt such a connection and investment in the main character’s story. It is told from a place of “No bullshit, this is how it is. I am going to take you there- good, bad, ugly, and embarrassing.” I have body dysmorphia from 15+ years of eating disorders and am in recovery from self-harm. When Ren spoke about the complications of never liking what you see despite what others saw and wanting to crawl out of your body at any cost, I was in tears. Yes, again. Stop looking at me with those judgmental eyes. You are not my mother.

With dysmorphia, you can change yourself, have the surgeries, lose over 75-pounds, stop cutting, go to therapy, take the meds, fly over the magical rainbow, and have the world tell you you’re beautiful, but that person- your old sense of self- will always be staring back at you in the damn mirror, haunting you. The constant doubts never go away. You'll never be enough. And this is the first time I’ve seen it represented in a novel where I’ve been able to connect with a character and not felt self-pity or drenched in sorrow. It was strengthening to read someone else’s struggles even if they’re not identical to mine. I’m not at the point where I can write at length about my own history without relapsing. So, I say to you, Mr. Elliot Finley Wake, bravo and thank you.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I carved the mark.

Content Warning: discussions of self-harm and cutting

I carved the mark.

Over and over again, I carved into my skin with X-Acto knives and clipped off razor blades so the white scars would stand out against my flesh and remind me why I was hurting, why I was seeking relief in pain. The deepest marks sit on my left forearm, clean little lines intersecting one another. Those clean lines led to years of messy rehabilitation, therapy for mental illness. I was borderline, self-destructive. I was bi-polar and reckless. They were right. I wanted to hurt myself because the world moved too fast then too slow, it made me too anxious, too depressed. The only thing I could control was food and pain. Not eating and bleeding. Those were my comforts.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Writing #OwnVoices: Exploring Gender Identity and Sexuality

I did a guest post on Melissa A. Graham's blog that gives advice on writing LGBTQ+ characters and how I've explored writing them from my own voice. Here's a preview with a link at the bottom:

I met Dill Werner several months ago through the 10min Novelist facebook page. We became critique partners and I quickly realized that there was something special with this one. Not just with their writing (which, let me tell you guys, you’ll want to remember their name!) but with them as a person. Through Dill’s platform on Twitter, I have witnessed hours of encouraging statements, calls to action, and a firm solidarity and love for the LGBTQ+ community. The latter is not only very prominent in their professional and personal life, but is also reflected quite masterfully in the writing I was privileged to get a peek at.  
 “It’s not as simple as labeling a character ‘bisexual’ and thinking they’ll be interested dating only male or female characters.” 

Because of this, I have asked Dill to guest blog for me. After all, this blog is (mostly) dedicated to becoming an author and all that entails. In the era of #OwnVoices and the voracious appetite agents are—finally—starting to get for diversity in literature, Dill is a shining example of how to successfully and authentically embrace LGBTQ+ both professionally and personally. 
 Dill Werner on accepting, exploring, and representing Gender Identity and Sexuality: 
A few weeks ago, I sent an email to my literary agent telling her the truth: I was genderqueer and preferred to use the pronouns “they/them.” It was important for me to make the transition before my debut novel came out and avoid any misgendering in the public eye. She understood and said she supported me no matter what I chose to do. Luckily, I’m with a literary agency that promotes diversity and protects its authors. It doesn’t hurt that I’m also signed to the president, senior agent, and a NYT bestselling author.

Read the full article on Writing #OwnVoices: Exploring Gender Identity and Sexuality here.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Navigating the In-Between: Demisexuality in YA Lit

I wrote a guest post on demisexuality in YA for the Gay YA's Asexuality Awareness Week, 2016.

Navigating the In-Between: Demisexuality in YA Lit
by Dill Werner  
I can only speak for one person when it comes to demisexuality—me. My experiences, my preferences, my sexuality, me. Being a queer demisexual means that I fall somewhere along a spectrum within a spectrum along another spectrum. I am a demisexual floating in the asexual spectrum hunched under the queer umbrella. It’s…complicated. 
Demisexuality is a very individual and emotionally-linked experience, which makes it difficult to draw out an exact description of what it is to be demi. Being demi means my sexual orientation falls somewhere between asexual and sexual. I feel sexual attraction but not in the same way sexual people do. Demis need a deep, emotional bond in order to experience sexual attraction toward another person. Keep in mind that sexual arousal and sexual attraction are not the same thing. A person can be sexually aroused but not sexually attracted to someone, and no always means no.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hey, I'm Genderqueer. New Pronouns, too!

Surprise, I’m genderqueer.

If you want the laundry list, I identify as a genderqueer pansexual, demisexual. What does all of that mean? Gender-wise, I neither identify as male or female. I’m a combination of both and yet don’t want to be defined as either. While male and female are considered to be binary genders, my gender is non-binary, one that’s very individual to me. Some people are going to object and say this isn't a real thing or that I'm just being "weird." *clears throat*

I. Do. Not. Care.

I don't care if you don't agree. I've seen it and heard it all before. Keep your negativity to yourself. Or, if you prefer, we can go our separate ways. That's fine, too. I will still be happy and genderqueer. Now, moving on.

Pansexuality is a sexual identity that occurs when a person is attracted all gender identities along the gender spectrum. For me, gender isn’t a factor when it comes to attraction. If you think I’ll be sexually attracted to you, slow down. That’s where demisexual comes in. Being demi means my sexual orientation falls somewhere between asexual and sexual. I feel sexual attraction but not in the same way sexual people do. Demis need a deep, emotional bond in order to experience sexual attraction toward another person. This can happen in an instant, a month, years, or not at all. Sometimes, we only get a handful of these connections, which makes dating very difficult. I found my person and knew right away. Before, I also knew right away that other people were NOT going to work out.

Questions you may have:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: JERKBAIT by Mia Siegert

JerkbaitJerkbait by Mia Siegert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

JERKBAIT is a gripping and beautifully written story that starts off strong and doesn’t let go until the final epilogue. Even then, you’ll be in tears, wishing it didn’t end. Mia Siegert granted me a copy of the Audible audiobook, which I highly recommend everyone check out. I loved it so much that I immediately downloaded the Kindle e-book from Amazon.

I’m a huge fan of LGBTQ+ books that aren’t strictly “issue books.” Mia Siegert takes LGBTQ+ themes, brings them to light, but makes the novel about so much more than the issues of homophobia and coming out. JERKBAIT deals with racism, predators, first loves, gay stereotypes, homophobia in sports, targeted bullying, fake friends, parental pressure to succeed, sibling rivalry, and so much more.

I’d been walking unnoticed in Robbie’s flattened path ever since. Those fourteen minutes stayed between us like a wall. Me on the side with the shadow. I didn’t have to think about him except when the debris of his destruction lobbed over and caught me in the face. We were two countries; no shared thoughts, languages, customs. We weren’t at all alike; we just happened to have been alive in this vast world for almost exactly the same amount of time.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to the author about her novel, and she told me certain parts were Tristan’s story and certain parts were Robbie’s. I read JERKBAIT as someone who has experienced life from Robbie’s point of view: a person living with mental illness and constantly seeking help through whatever (destructive) means possible only to be ignored. I was the kid in the family asking for help, admitting that I didn’t have control, and being told I’ll be fine. But it won’t. Unless something is done and people talk, it’ll only get worse. We see the progression of Robbie’s mental state decline and that no matter how many shallow precautions his parents take to prevent another suicide attempt, they’re no replacement for therapy.

I saw Robbie glance at me from the corner of his eye, like he was waiting, hoping, praying, that I’d say something, but I was still mute. I couldn’t give him what he wanted. I didn’t know how. Robbie needed help. Robbie was alone, and was pleading for help. And maybe he was pleading for help from me. Or maybe that was me just hoping he was. Wishing that maybe, somehow, through this mess, someone would think I was important, or worth getting to know. That maybe the favorite son would realize the forgotten son was a decent guy. That someone was actually grateful for me. But that wouldn’t ever happen. Not when I couldn’t defend myself against a bully and had nothing to offer my brother in exchange for his sacrifice. He wouldn’t be grateful because there was nothing to be grateful for. I would continue to live in his shadow, a disgrace.

It was fascinating to take a step back and think about what other people in these situations are going through and how they cope. Tristan explains, “I wanted to argue with Dad, to yell at him, but I couldn’t. He wouldn’t listen to me.” The parents don’t want to admit that their child is flawed. The siblings can only do so much without risking their parents’ wrath. While one person in pain is crying out, those around them can feel as if their hands are tied because of outside pressures. Several factors go into the Betterby’s decision not to seek professional help: needing to put on a front for family and sports’ scouts and wanting to avoid the stigma a mental health diagnosis can bring. They decide to pretend like everything’s fine, and that’s never a solution to a long-term problem.

“Can we just go home and pretend you didn’t see that?”
“Sure,” I said. Because if there was one thing I could do and do well, it was pretend. If only pretending meant forgetting as well.

Robbie is constantly telling his identical twin brother Tristan that “I can’t do it. You’re not listening! No one fucking listens!” Tristan sees Robbie putting on the classic show and pretending like nothing has ever happened. Robbie acts like didn’t try to commit suicide or that he’s not miserable away from school. Around their teammates, he’s perfectly fine. That’s what he’s expected to be, fine. As the reader, you may or may not have picked up on the subtle hints as to what’s really going on with Robbie—I was practically screaming as Tristan to get a clue—but Tristan is slow to piece the parts together.

I caught my brother’s eyes. They didn’t look right. He didn’t look like some crazed madman, or some psychopath. He looked . . . scared.

The characters of Robbie and Tristan’s parents really hit home. Siegert tackles issues teenagers are dealing with that many adults don’t want to see, including domestic abuse which doesn’t just come from the parents but from his brother as well.

Robbie took after Dad, sometimes beating the crap out of me if I made a mistake that cost us a game. But eventually, his fists stopped. Eventually, he realized I just couldn’t do what he could. That was almost worse.

This is something I’ve also personally experienced. It happens. People don’t talk about it because there’s this siblings-are-going-to-fight mentality. Again, it’s not okay. It’s not okay to ignore one child for another or to allow one child’s temper to rage and beat up on the other one because they’re special or they have a problem containing themselves. I hope adults and teens alike will read JERKBAIT and see these actions for what they are, abuse.

“Stop being a baby. You’ll be fine.”
My ribs felt cracked in two. “But—”
“Knock it off.” She led me to the couch.

But JERKBAIT is about the evolution of character. Siegert provides a beautiful dynamic between the two passions of the Betterby twins. Tristan loves musicals and performing on stage while Robbie is devoted to hockey. They are both very talented in their fields, but only one (Robbie) is supported by their parents. In an ironic twist of fate, Tristan is the one who is bullied by his teammates and called queer when they discover he likes musical theater.

That was the one crappy thing about a team; there were never secrets.

In JERKBAIT get a sneak peek into the boy’s locker room, which has this strange homoerotic tension that goes unspoken between the players. It’s okay to flaunt yourself and make crude gestures or jokes—as long as you’re not really gay. The moment a person is, well, that’s crossing the line. Then, everyone has to jump into ultra-masculine mode and prove their heterosexuality or risk being called out. High school locker rooms are terrible for everyone. Let’s all admit it: no one really felt comfortable in changing rooms as a teenager. As Tristan puts it, “locker room homophobia could make anyone’s life miserable.” But it’s about more than homophobia. Certain hockey players cite religion and others blame sexuality as reasons to ostracize and torment a gay teammate, as if it’s perfectly fine because they have their reasons.

“I don’t want to play with some homo,” Henry said, nose wrinkling. “He’s an abomination of God.”
“Fuck you,” I snapped. “You think anyone would voluntarily choose to be gay with the way you assholes treat them?”

What really drives the novel is the progression of Robbie and Tristan’s relationship. They start out as strangers who have been hiding secrets from one another, sides of their personalities that they haven’t dared to share with anyone in their family. Tristan is tasked with watching over Robbie while the hockey season plays out so he can be drafted. It’s all about rankings and draft picks for their parents. There is an enormous amount of pressure on Robbie’s shoulders to be perfect, be the star athlete—the golden child. Meanwhile, Tristan is forced to sacrifice his health and happiness to further his brother’s career. At the same time, this isn’t what’s best for Robbie. When you see the two brothers come together and sharing truths, that’s when the most progress is made.

As much as I wanted to be my brother’s anchor, I knew I couldn’t be the only one helping him. He needed a whole support system.

You have two imperfect characters living imperfect lives in a dysfunctional family. Through this comes a story that’s believable and highly relatable for anyone who is has struggled with issues at least once in their life. These can be issues of homophobia, mental illness, domestic abuse, neglect, pressure, or bullying. JERKBAIT also provides an excellent opportunity to stand back and look through the lens as an outsider. Think about how others are feeling in similar situations and how you can help. What can we all do to be better?

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About Me

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YA and Adult LGBTQIAP+ Author, Feminist, and Mental Health Activist, Overall Nice Person, and Supporter of #ownvoices & We Need Diverse Books. Rep'd by The Knight Agency. Come for the insight, stay for the bunny pictures. They/Them genderqueer pronouns, please. I'm on Twitter @dillwerner