breathedout: femme blonde peeks out from behind her martini; woman in tuxedo glowers (celebration)
I realized that I never made a sticky greetings post, which seems to be the done thing around here.

So hello! I'm breathedout on most platforms, except Tumblr, which I'm in the process of leaving:

[ profile] breathedout | [ profile] havingbeenbreathedout | [ profile] breathedout | [ profile] breathedout (I'm never on twitter, though)

I'm a big reader of queer history and contemporary (and older) queer fiction, and I use an online journal as a commonplace book, to record passages I like or find funny or thought-provoking, to keep them organized for future accessibility, and to share them with other folks who might enjoy them. I'm currently in the process of porting ALL my reading posts from the past six years over from Tumblr to Dreamwidth. (As of 1/15/2019, this project is up to August of 2015.) Most of those posts will be hidden from folks' reading pages, but I have been sharing 1-3 highlights per day as I take my little walk down memory lane. If you see something that intrigues you, there's likely to be more where that came from on my actual journal. I do my best to tag comprehensively.

  • History-wise I have a particular focus on French, American and British queer literary circles from about 1890-1950, with a sub-focus on Bloomsbury (I also write Bloomsbury RPF; I have a Lot of Feelings about Lytton Strachey and also, of course, about Virginia Woolf). But I branch out semi-regularly into colonial America, Victoriana, the Cold War, the Hollywood studio years, California history, the history of censorship and birth control, the history of knitting and other fiber arts, and whatever else tickles my fancy.

  • Fiction-wise I've been keeping pretty on top of queer literary-fiction new releases over the past few years; some faves from 2017-2018 include Carmen Maria Machado, Barbara Browning, Chavisa Woods, Rabih Alameddine, Sarah Schulman, and Olivia Laing. Please talk to me about any of them, or rec me reading material you think I'd like!

  • Fandom-wise my first-and-forever entrée into fannish activities were the Sherlock Holmes stories and their various adaptations, especially the first two seasons of Sherlock BBC, which was happening when I first (belatedly, in my late 20s) discovered fandom. I've written three novels and a number of related stories that do various very-AU historical things with that whole meta-canon. I'm a big old lady-lovin' queer and I do a lot of explicit f/f writing, much of it morally complicated; at this point I've written in a bunch of disparate fandoms, from the small (Anne of Green Gables; Heathers) to the miniscule (Affinity; Spring Fire). Right this second, I'd say the visual media I'm fannishly into, with ships appended, includes The Good Place (Eleanor/Tahani, Vicky/Tahani), Black Sails (Max/Anne/Jack, although so far I haven't been able to write this, the show got it too perfect and there's nothing to add), the Black Widow comics (Natasha/Yelena), and like—I haven't even watched Killing Eve yet but that shit is so far up my alley I can pretty much guarantee you I will fall hard for it.

Other relevant tidbits about me: I live in the Bay Area with my beloved queerplatonic life partner and fearless mutual beta [personal profile] greywash, with whom I often post about the writing process as well as day to day life stuff. We bought a house earlier this year, so there may be posts about that whole deal! I have a kind of stressful job in the nonprofit sector and sometimes gripe about it even though I also feel lucky to be able to make money doing something that I consider worthwhile, and which gives me the ability to ensure my art-making is as divorced from commercial concerns as humanly possible. I do yoga, ran my first 10K earlier this year, and possibly most importantly I really love dogs. They're the best.

BTW: I'm in my mid-to-late 30s and everything I write, including this blog, should be considered 18+.
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
Kind of forgot that in my initial spate of MeetUp joinerism I actually signed up for two queer book groups, not just one. The second, devoted specifically to queer theory, only meets quarterly, whereas the first, more generalist group meets every month. But now the two of them are meeting within three days of each other in May, so... happy birthday to me???

Upcoming selection is Mari Ruti's The Ethics of Opting Out: Queer Theory's Defiant Subjects, which for some bizarre reason (read: it must sometimes be assigned as a textbook, since we as a society seem to want to bilk university students for all they're worth) costs $78 in hardback form and isn't available on Libby. $16 Kindle edition it is.
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
Another long but worthwhile passage I didn't want to lose with the return of this book to the library. Warnings for everything you might expect given the title of this post:

Though the United States was now [in the early 2000s] providing nearly twice as much to the global effort against AIDS as the rest of the world's richest governments combined, those billions of dollars brought with them a legion of problems. The Bush administration concertedly began to use the funds to impose destructive policies on the governments of poorer countries, the United Nations, and grassroots and civil society groups. At precisely the point when Bush was insisting that the world accept his trumped-up claims about "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, those diktats were yet more proof of his schoolyard-bully approach to foreign relations.

Read more )

—Siddharth Dube, An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex

Most of the above isn't exactly news to me—I was doing peer education with Planned Parenthood during this period, so I remember a lot of the Bush administration's more egregious anti-sex bullying, although I was focused on its domestic effects rather than the international ones—but Dube lays it all out super clearly. And horrifically.

In the subsequent chapter he details how the US used its disingenuous conflation of consensual sex work with human trafficking to conduct raids on exactly the sex-worker-led AIDS prevention organizations that had been demonstrating such amazing results in reducing transmission rates in India. US-led teams of Indian police kicked in doors, abused and beat women sex workers, jailed them with no clear charges, and even publicly accused the long-time activist Meena Seshu (executive director of sex-workers' collective Sangram/VAMP, which had forgone US funds and refused to sign the administration's prostitution gag rule) of colluding in human trafficking, in an attempt to discredit her and her organization. The Bush/Cheney/Rove administration was evil, y'all.
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
Well my Reading Wednesday entry might be a little shorter than normal today because, very unusually for me, I've spent the entire week reading just one book: Siddharth Dube's memoir An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex. I've been laughing at myself because last week I was kind of like "yeah, idk, it's okay," but almost as soon as I'd posted that entry—and as soon as Dube got beyond his own childhood and adolescence, and into his work with the HIV/AIDS crises in India and the US—the book became RIVETING. To the point where I'm now sneaking paragraphs while waiting in line at the grocery store, or waiting for [personal profile] greywash to get back from the restroom at the restaurant. Dube worked for several years as an investigative journalist, then went back to school for public health before returning to India to write two books, one on the daily lives of a family of rural Dalit people, and the other on the AIDS epidemic in India; and while the personal elements of the book undeniably add investment and gravitas, it's in connecting them to the larger sociopolitical currents that his writing really shines.

In case you missed it, I excerpted a (very) lengthy passage about the amazing HIV/AIDS prevention work done by South Indian sex workers, a section which literally had me gasping, pumping my fist, and saying "HOLY SHIT" aloud for the duration. (FYI: it looks like SIAAP, the org featured in that passage, is still going strong, and in addition to a continuing focus on the rights of sex workers and their children, has expanded their programs to include work on adolescent mental and sexual health, education around consent to combat sexual harassment and violence among young people, and advocating for respect for the labour, agency, and consent of informal laborers and migrants. They're killing it, basically. Sex workers get shit done.)

I've now reached the section of the book that deals with the backlash against SIAAP's practical, sex-worker-led style of 1990s AIDS activism: the Bush administration's post-9/11 war-mongering and the prescriptivist, anti-sex, Christian fundamentalism-inflected strings they tied to all the aid money they offered; paired with the rise of the BJP and the Hindu right in India which, among other things, spurred a backlash against the nascent queer rights movement there, painting queer sexuality as a Western import antithetical to the "authentic" Indian way of life. (Dube goes into some detail earlier in the book about how, on the contrary, the homophobia in India's laws and customs dates largely from British colonial rule, not before—but as we in Trump's America can all attest, historical accuracy is not the forte of conservative nationalist movements.) This part of the book is equally riveting if substantially less optimistic; it's reminding me viscerally of my hatred for the Bush administration, which—is interesting to be reminded of, actually, since hating the Bush administration had a somewhat different flavor than hating the Trump administration, despite certain obvious commonalities. Watching kids on tumblr treat George W Bush as a sort of funny uncle, with his paintings and his ranch, really brought home to me the extent to which people tend to think of the current tyrant as an exception. It only takes scratching the historical surface, though, to be reminded that although Trump is flashy and personally idiotic, white supremacy, puritanical Christian supremacy, homophobia, misogyny, profit-mongering, and punitive, paternalistic policies that attempt to control the bodies and actions of the poor, are PROFOUNDLY nothing new.

Anyway! Ahahaha. So now I'm like 70% through this book, and haven't read anything else all week. Which is cool, since there is a whole queue of people lined up for my copy, meaning I have to actually finish it by the return date. I'm excited that it's in high demand, though, because it 100% deserves to be. Gripping, gripping stuff.

My only other reading-related news is that as consolation for missing my book group on Sunday I ordered their next selection, Samantha Allen's Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States. Which arrived yesterday, so: I will read it and try again. May will be here before I know it. Etc. etc. The May group actually meets on my birthday weekend, and I feel like a new queer bookgroup will be a great birthday present if it actually pans out this time.
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
So this excerpt is egregiously long, but I found it both fascinating and almost literally incredible, and wanted to capture it for future reference after I return the book to the library. Putting quite a bit of it under a cut. Warnings for everything you might expect given the subject matter:

Sex workers continued to bear the brunt of the persecution [from government, medical, press, and societal stigma around HIV/AIDS. In addition to hospitals refusing to treat HIV-positive patients, courts refusing to let HIV-positive people marry, and employers firing HIV-positive employees, which were issues faced by all HIV-positive Indians, o]n the orders of the courts or government, sex workers were routinely rounded up in raids and forcibly tested for HIV, with those testing positive incarcerated indefinitely. In 1994, the Maharashtra government attempted to pass legislation that would have allowed it to brand HIV-positive sex workers with indelible ink. In 1996, the Mumbai High Court ordered the arrest and mandatory HIV testing of more than four hundred sex workers; many of the women were incarcerated for over a year, and seven died in that time. The Supreme Court made several rulings that further legitimized the persecution and abuse of sex workers.

My notebooks were soon overflowing. Every one of the interviews was heartbreaking because of the desperation they exuded, so different from the philosophical resignation with which I had seen Indians accept more conventional catastrophes, however awful or unremitting. Their terror leached through as relentless anxiety. Every conversation returned to the looming prospect of death. For those with children, there was the added feverish dread about which relative or friend could be trusted to house them, how to set aside some money to provide for them, how to ensure their well-being.

The one constant I found in my research was that AIDS had devastated the lives of India's sex workers like no force ever before. In the dozen years since Selvi and the five other sex workers in the Madras reformatory had been found to have HIV, countless more sex workers had contracted HIV, had fallen mortally sick, or had died. [But due to the rudimentary state of India's vital registration systems at the time, and the lack of sites providing trend data on HIV infection rates], no one knew exactly how many—or even exactly where.


But it soon became evident, to my great surprise, that alongside the havoc AIDS was wreaking in the lives of sex workers, the epidemic had also catalyzed positive changes for them, perhaps even transformative changes for those who might survive the epidemic. Read more )

—Siddharth Dube, An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex

This actually GOES ON for another 15 pages to talk about SIAAP's growing influence on the development of global policy around AIDS prevention in sex-worker communities not a decade after their founding (!!!), but I have literally been transcribing for an hour and a half. Still. Fucking amazing stuff.


Apr. 14th, 2019 08:14 pm
breathedout: Portrait of breathedout by Leontine Greenberg (Default)
Friends, I have disappointing news, which is that I got the wrong location for my queer bookgroup, meaning that I will not, as anticipated, get to discuss Myra Breckinridge with twelve other folks, so I will not be able to regale you with stories of the no-doubt extremely spirited conversation. Apparently there are two bookstores with the same name, at opposite ends of the East Bay, and I picked the wrong one. *Very sad trombone noise*

The level of my disappointment at this development is... possibly unreasonable. The group meets every month, so it's not like it's a huge deal; I'll just try again next time. And their May selection is Samantha Allen's Real Queer America, a much less controversial-seeming choice which I'd wanted to read anyway. I have another group event—a hike—on the calendar for next Sunday, so it's not like I'll have to wait a month to socialize with other queers IRL, even.

But I'd started seeking out in-person queer socialization opportunities because I've been feeling isolated both in my work and personal lives lately, and I feel like a wider net of community connections is something I sorely need. The work thing is, ugh, whatever, long story short it is my job to sometimes break unpopular news to people, and recently I did that and now everyone is having feelings about said news and a lot of the negativity in those feelings is being directed toward me even though I don't, actually, personally dictate California employment law. As surprising as that fact may be. I think it's just one of those things where it'll be uncomfortable for a while and then we'll all rebuild our connections, but for now it feels pretty lonely and pretty lousy.

On the personal side, I haven't been as interested in dating-type interactions lately, so although I have reconnected with a few lovers/sexfriends who are great and lovely people, that's not really the kind of dynamic I'm craving. And internet- and fandom-wise I feel sort of lonely that I don't have a media source I feel particularly fannish about at the moment. So many folks in my circles, including of course [personal profile] greywash, are super, super into The Magicians but I'm just... not, really; and the stuff about the show that does interest me runs counter to the prevailing fandom and shipping trends. (Also counter to the stuff the showrunners want to spend any energy exploring, APPARENTLY, but that's a post for another day.) The major writing project that I am passionate about right now is an original one, which is further isolating. I didn't really realize, I think, that despite the often-toxic atmosphere of Tumblr and the way the infinite-scroll, constant-refresh setup poorly impacts my mental health, I'd come to rely on just the massive number of connections and types of connections I'd made there over the years: no matter which part of my personality I was expressing at any given moment, there were probably some folks who related with interest. But I can't really support heavy engagement on more than one social media platform and I don't think it'd be good for me to go back there, so: no way out but forward.

All of which is, you know, all well and good, it's just the way things happen sometimes. A month or so back I got on Meetup, joined a bunch of queer groups in the area, RSVPed to some events, and I really felt like "Okay! I've got this! I'm taking responsibility for my feelings and looking after supplying a lack in my life! True self-care is investing the effort up-front to get one's needs met sustainably in the long term!" All of which still holds true, but having the first thing I put on my calendar rescheduled (this was the hike that is now next weekend) and the second thing I put on my calendar fucked up due to my own navigational confusion, is surprisingly demoralizing! It feels like I've put in all this hard work of doing outreach, researching logistics, preparing reading, psyching myself up, and leaving the house... all for no payoff. Even though really, as I should remind myself, the payoff is just slightly delayed.

Anyway that's my whining for the evening. I will now drink Pinot Grigio and read about amazing sex workers in India doing practical, peer-based AIDS activism in the early 2000s and actually making a difference while punitive, shaming, nonconsensual government-sponsored programs with huge budgets failed. And will be fortified for the week to come. So there.
breathedout: smug blonde next to a typewriter (office life)
me: Mannnnn I don't want to write this report I've been putting off. I want to have an online conversation with other humans. But I want it to be about something other than The Magicians... maybe I'll open Tumblr after all these months and see what's cooking over there.
tumblr: purity/anti-purity screed
tumblr: meme post I literally can't interpret even a little bit, having been gone for five months
tumblr: long thread of sniping, acrimonious debate about whether or not the fans who care about Captain Marvel's makeup in the trailer for the upcoming Avengers movie are stupid and petty
tumblr: "you've been followed by six porn bots thinly veiled as "fitspo" bots! :-D
me: Ohhhhhh right, no no no no no, never mind this is horrible, I'll just write the report already, leave me alone, good god

Whisperspace )
breathedout: plotting mischief in underwear (conspirators)
1. Gertrude Stein was from Oakland (????!!)

2. Artist Kaucyila Brooke is doing a super cool project where she interviews folks about the lost lesbian bar scene of Californian cities and then maps the narratives thereby unearthed. I <3 the results a lot.

3. My people love their softball, potlucks, & S&M.

(Okay, I didn't need to "learn" the third one.)
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
After moving to Delhi, [my close friend] Siddhartha had lived in a series of rented apartments in the cheaper sections of Defence Colony, Lajpat Nagar, and Jangpura. Siddhartha's flawless Hindi and his angelic good looks always enchanted his landlords initially. But in just a few weeks they would inevitably turn hostile.

They disapproved of the unending stream of bohemians visiting Siddhartha—men of feminine appearance (some with tweezed eyebrows and a hint of kohl), rough and macho men, obviously single women (based on their arriving and leaving without male companions), and even one flagrant cross-dresser who sometimes arrived decked out int he shiny slips he favored. Singly or in a group, they all disappeared into Siddhartha's apartment.

The curtains were then pulled tight. Whatever the hour, there was music and loud laughter, sometimes broken by suspiciously long silences. Impromptu parties took place at odd times, occasionally even in the afternoon. The sound of ghungroos and male voices seductively singing "In ankhon ki masti ke, mastaane hazaron hain"—"Countless men are intoxicated by my bewitching eyes," a courtesan's siren song from a classic movie—would drift down. Siddhartha's voice, excited and giggling at a peculiarly high, feminine pitch, would float above the din.

Soon enough, the landlords would insist that Siddhartha move out, saying that his lifestyle was unacceptable in a respectable neighborhood. Though they strongly suspected he was gay, it was never brought up. They had no firm proof, and the large number of women visitors must also have confused them. But, Delhi being lawless in such matters, the landlords either refused to return Siddhartha's rental deposit, or, without giving him due notice, insisted that he leave immediately or be thrown out forcibly.

Because I had long taken on the role of being Siddhartha's responsible older brother, I inevitably got involved in the crises. Try as we might, matters would deteriorate. On one occasion, I came to blows with a landlord and his adult sons. Luckily, my years at [Eton-style boarding school] Doon had made me a tough opponent, and they backed off after we traded a few punches.

—Siddharth Dube, An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
[My partner] Tandavan and I often went to my brother Pratap's home, where he and his family treated us warmly. I found even a greater warmth and naturalness at the home of my only other relative in Delhi, my aunt Nandini, the very youngest of my mother's five siblings and hence of my generation rather than my mother's. We had been close since our childhood. I had not discussed with her my being gay, so I was surprised and deeply touched to see that from the moment that Tandavan and I started living together she made it a point to specify that he was always invited with me to her in-laws' home, where she lived in a traditional joint family. From every one of her family, Tandavan and I only felt love and warmth. They may have privately discussed my being gay among them, but not once in their company did I ever feel that my choice of romantic partner was remarkable or made me different.

I was struck that my other favorite aunt, Usha, who lived in the small town of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, also treated my relationship with Tandavan with complete ease, insisting that we visit her often, giving us a bedroom with a double bed, and taking care to give us privacy. I thought of telling her and Nandini categorically about Tandavan and my being a couple, but decided against it on realizing that they were certainly already aware of it yet had not asked for any explanation on my part. All the evidence began to convince me that traditional Indians were immeasurably more accepting of same-sex desire than Anglicized Indians like my father. Siddhartha, with whom I had been debating the matter, insisted that was true, judging from his personal experience of being raised in a more Indian setting than I, a sprawling extended family that shared a large Calcutta house.

In contrast, my father—though unfailingly courteous to Tandavan—did not display the same kind of warmth. I didn't raise the matter with him, as all I wanted him to do was what he was doing already, treating Tandavan politely. But the unfortunate downside was that I stopped joining my parents and brothers on family holidays, to which my brothers' girlfriends were invited. It created something of a hiatus in my relationship with my father after a decade in which we had drawn closer and closer.

—Siddharth Dube, An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
Holding steady at six books currently in progress, although they're a slightly different mix this week than last week. It's difficult to decrease that number when holds keep coming in on Libby!

I'm continuing to make my way through Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, from which I posted an excerpt a few days ago about colorism at post-Civil-War Black and mixed-race colleges and universities. This week I started and finished the third of the five sections, "William Lloyd Garrison," which covers roughly 1840 through 1880. This period is so much more talked-about in popular American discourse about anti-Black racism than the period in the preceding section—the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the dialling-back of Reconstruction are all, for good reason, central to what we tend to think about when we think about race in this country—that this section had fewer "huh! the more you know!" moments for me. Still, it continues to be a very helpful refresher and synthesis, combining concepts & historical trends I may be familiar with, in ways that I may not explicitly have thought of before. I'm intrigued to get to the section coming up—"W. E. B. Du Bois"—as the period it covers is my particular era of interest but American racism during that era hasn't especially been a focus for me. I'll be interested to see what kinds of connections it sparks. That said, it'll have to wait a bit: having reached a good stopping point, I returned the book to the library early & put my name back in the queue, since there was someone waiting.

I also finished Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge, which, as mentioned last week, I picked up because it's the April selection of a local queer book group I'm hoping to join. Hooo, friends. I have taken one for the team in reading this so that you don't have to. I'm not exactly sorry I read it—I do still think it'll be a FASCINATING discussion, and it is useful to have the data point about the first novel with a post-op trans protagonist, and a novel that came out of the queer (gay male) world in 1968—but: wow. Last week I sort of thought, okay, this book is rapey and transphobic, but it's Period-Typical (tm) rapey and transphobic... and that could still be true but it definitely got WAY MORE rapey and transphobic as it went along, with the levels of casual racism and antisemitism pretty much holding steady. As the kids say, "yikes."

With regard to the transphobia in particular, I'm sort of left with this outstanding question about Vidal's intentions and my own ability to evaluate or even perceive them: there's just so much triangulation that I find myself having to do, in order to imagine myself into the shoes of his intended 1968 reader. Obviously, CW for transphobic details ahead. ) Don't read it, though, probably. Unless you're writing a paper on queer literature of the 1960s or the history of trans representation in America or something.

ANYWAY after those two uplifting reads, I felt in need of some pure escapism, so I've been spending some more time with Katrina Carrasco's The Best Bad Things, the previously-mentioned western opium-smuggling thriller with the bisexual/gender non-conforming Latina disguise aficionada protagonist Alma Rosales. It's super enjoyable! A real page-turner. Alma feels written with EXACTLY ME in mind, which is a nice change from the Vidal. I'm a little over a third of the way through it right now, and I think at this point I'll probably focus on this one until I finish it; it's pleasingly twisty-turny with a flash-forward/flash-back structure that keeps you guessing about how our heroine got from Point A to Point B. As the setup might suggest, it's also got a lot of extremely pleasing identity-and-disguise-and-powerfuckery porn (figurative porn, so far, though my hopes are high). For example, the scene when Alma, in male disguise as her altar ego Jack Camp, macks on the mistress of her male coworker with whom she also has a sexually-charged rivalry, and whom she previously cased while posing as a naive Scottish governess in need of a chaperone about town. Or the scene in which she watches this same coworker watch her interact with their mutual boss (and Alma's ex-lover) Delphine; and she is turned on by seeing herself in both their eyes. Good stuff! Good stuff. The Port Townsend connection continues to be fun, too: spotting traces of the town I've spent time in, in the 1887 frontier port described.

Thanks to the arrival of a Libby hold, I also started Siddharth Dube's An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex, which is so far very... memoir-y. It's interesting, if no-frills in its style; so far he's covered his privileged & very Anglicized upper-caste Hindu upbringing in Calcutta, which includes an (also very Anglo-reminiscent) coming-of-age-as-a-gay-man-at-boarding-school-amidst-horrific-abuse-by-the-older-boys section, and then his awakening to a wider consciousness of systemic oppression during his sojourn at Tufts College in the early 1980s. His reflections on India versus the US in the 70s and 80s are interesting, as are his recollections of comparing the reality of the US with his youthful idealized notions of the freedom and equality in the west. One of the things he talks about at some length is how, upon coming to the States, he read voraciously everything he could find about the science and political reality of gay and lesbian life, even if a lot of that news was grim: because in India it was simply not mentioned, so he had felt wholly alone. In one of those pleasing bookish connections (pleasing for me, not for poor Dube), he writes:

So absolute was my lack of theoretical knowledge that everything I read came as a revelation. Despite having studied at India's leading school and college, I had never come across any scientific information on homosexuality, not even in biology textbooks. The sum total of my reading had been the mild allusions in Jacqueline Susann's books, a handful of sexual passages in Harold Robbins's potboilers, and Gore Vidal's oddball Myra Breckinridge.

"Oddball" is. One word for it. I will say, reading this passage the day after finishing Myra made me very grateful that I have such a comparatively wide and easy-to-access library of queer literature and resources available to me. Good grief.

Anyhoo anyhoo. Once I finish The Best Bad Things I want to start a re-read of Austen's Persuasion for [personal profile] greywash's and my project on adaptations. It has been a MINUTE since I read anything published before about 1890. Updates as they come.
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
African Americans and their allies tried to create their own opportunities [in the wake of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery] by establishing dozens of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the late 1860s. Antiracist educators and philanthropists who viewed southern Black students as intellectually equal to White students were almost certainly involved, but they were not nearly as numerous or as powerful as the assimilationist educators and philanthropists. These assimilationists commonly founded HBCUs "to educate... a number of blacks," and then "send them forth to regenerate" their people, who had been degenerated by slavery, as one philanthropist stated. Black and White HBCU founders assumed New England's Latin and Greek curriculum to be the finest, and they only wanted the finest for their students. Many founders assumed "white teachers" to be "the best," as claimed in the New York National Freedman's Relief Association in its 1865-1866 annual report. HBCU teachers and students worked hard to prove to segregationists that Blacks could master the "high culture" of a Greco-Latin education. But the handful of "refined," often biracial HBCU graduates were often dismissed as products of White blood, or as extraordinary in comparison to the ordinarily "unrefined" Black.

Not all the HBCUs founded in the aftermath of the Civil War adopted the liberal arts curriculum. African Americans "had three centuries of experience in general demoralization and behind that, paganism," the 1868 founder of the Hampton Institute in Virginia once said. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the former Union officer and Freedman's Bureau official, offered teaching and vocational training that tutored acceptance of White political supremacy and Blacks' working-class position in the capitalist economy. Hampton had a trade component that aimed to work its aspiring teachers hard so that they would come to appreciate the dignity of hard labor and go on to impress that dignity—instead of resistance—onto the toiling communities where they established schools.

For all their submission schooling, Hampton-type HBCUs were less likely than the Greco-Roman-oriented HBCUs to bar dark-skinned applicants. By the end of the century, a color partition had emerged: light-skinned Blacks tended to attend the schools with Greco-Roman curricula, training for leadership, and darker-skinned Blacks ended up at industrial schools, training for submission. In 1916, one estimate found that 80 percent of the students at the HBCUs offering a Greco-Roman education were light-skinned or biracial. The racist colorism separating HBCUs was reflected in Black social clubs, in housing, and in the separate churches being built. Across postwar America, there emerged Black churches subjecting dark-skinned visitors to paper-bag tests or painting their doors a light brown. People darker than the bag or door were excluded, just as light-skinned Blacks were excluded from White circles.

—Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

I didn't know this about the color bar at historically Black colleges. My ignorance is slightly surprising to me since the single required-reading novel for all first-years at my own college was Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, the first section of which takes place at an all-Black college modelled on Booker T. Washington's Hampton-style skilled trades school The Tuskeegee Institute. As the narrator's lightness comes up elsewhere in the book (such as when a White woman in the Communist group who recruits him whispers to her fellow Party member that she wishes he were darker and therefore more of a "real Negro" to suit their tokenist agenda), I'm a little bit surprised it didn't come up with regard to his school, either in the text itself or in class discussions. (That I remember, anyway. It's been a while since college.)

Now I'm thinking about other depictions of post-Civil War higher education for Black people. What precisely does the prospect of Oberlin mean, for example, when Denver is studying to get in there in Toni Morrison's Beloved? Just based on its current curriculum I assume that Oberlin leaned toward the classical/Greco-Roman model; I know it began as a Whites-only college and only admitted Blacks later (but still pre-Civil War: Wikipedia says 1835). I don't know if it was one of the universities with a color bar in place, but if the dominant ideology was assimilationist (Black students who studied the Classics were, in the minds of those espousing this rhetoric, supposedly aspiring to "turn themselves White"), it does sort of underline the isolation from her community of origin that's being proposed to Denver, when she's encouraged to study for entrance there. Which in turn plays interestingly with how isolated Denver has historically been WITHIN that community (for most of the book she's essentially housebound due to ostracism), and the way the resolution she finally manages to achieve, happens as a result of reaching out & connecting.
breathedout: Portrait of breathedout by Leontine Greenberg (Default)
Today I learned that...

  1. During WWI, tiny Elizabeth Bishop was living in Nova Scotia! Apparently she lived with her grandparents in Great Village, NS, from 1915-1917, aged four to six, and thereafter returned often for holidays. Great Village is west and slightly south of the Antigonish/Trenton/New Glasgow area where my characters Rebecca and Katherine grew up and where Emma lives; and situated on the Minas Basin north of Halifax, where Maisie and Rowland live. This has no practical applications for me as even Bishop at six years old was, you know, still a six-year-old; she wasn't running around falling in love with Canadian maidens and writing sonnets about loss. But I thought it was a cool connection.

  2. The artist Mildred Valley Thornton, of whom I had never heard, sounds like a force to be reckoned with (from Shay Wilson's "Portrait of a Vanishing Artist)":
    At the age of seventy-seven, Mildred Valley Thornton looked back on her achievements. Her oeuvre was impressive-- hundreds of paintings, most of them striking portraits of First Nations people from the Plains and the West Coast, dating from the 1920s to the 1960s. She'd received honours and recognition. She was a fellow of the British Royal Society of Arts. She was a respected art critic. She had published a book (a second book was published posthumously). Her paintings had been internationally exhibited.

    Another person might have felt satisfied with these accomplishments, but Thornton was bitterly disappointed. Since the beginning of her career, she had refused to sell any of her portraits, even though they were in high demand. She wanted the Canadian government to one day purchase the entire collection on behalf of the public and to acknowledge the historical importance of her contribution. [Thornton intended to pass on the proceeds from this sale to the First Nations people who had been the subjects of her portraiture.] But when that day came, the Canadian government refused to buy it. Angry and hurt, Thornton made a drastic decision--she would have every last painting in the collection burned.

    This last did not actually happen because this codicil to Thornton's will wasn't properly witnessed; instead her works were sold into private collections and the money went to her estate rather than back to the First Nations people whom she wanted to benefit. Womp womp.

Honestly I also learned a TON more things today; it was kind of a breakthrough research day followed by a super productive talking-about-my-novel session with [personal profile] greywash; I feel like I'm much further along in this restructuring process than I was at the beginning of the weekend despite the fact that I am PLAGUE-STRICKEN; LO I HAVE A COLD; MISERY IS ME.

I physically feel like a slug and yearn for a return to my gym/yoga routine, but otherwise: not too bad, considering.
breathedout: nascent novelist in an orange bikini (writing)
Story #9 for the Passchendaele ficlet cycle (more information here), run in concurrence with [community profile] femslashficlets Janelle Monáe lyrics prompt table challenge.

Title: Fête
Fandom: Original Work
Pairing: Rebecca Landry/Katherine Llewellyn
Rating: Teen & Up
Prompt: "Pink like the halls of your heart"
Word Count: 1000
Tags: Consent Issues, Christmas, Ambivalent Courtship, Parlour Games, Gift-giving, Teenage Heartbreak, The Male Gaze, Author is glad she is no longer 17 years old, It's almost Easter so the time is right for a Christmas story
Antigonish, Nova Scotia: December 23, 1878.

"Do you love your neighbour?" Alice asked, her face grave.

Whisperspace )
breathedout: nascent novelist in an orange bikini (writing)
Not a Passchendaele ficlet but a Magicians one: for both the [community profile] femslashficlets prompt "Sharp" and [personal profile] greywash's Marina/ladies mini-fest (DW link for more information: go sign up to write your own theory about who Marina is dating!).

Title: Shard
Fandom: The Magicians (TV)
Pairing: Marina Andrieski/Victoria Gradley
Rating: Teen & Up
Prompt: "Sharp"
Word Count: 1000
Tags: Blackmail, Mirror World, Canon-typical blood offerings, Doppelgangers, Fragmentation of the self, Nonstandard use of lawn implements, Morally dubious rescue missions
Marina, having kept her ear to the ground, spots an opportunity.

(Incidentally: I am now 3/3 on "first story in the pairing tag" in this fandom. [personal profile] achray bequeathed me a delightful Margo/Eliot prompt that really plays to my strengths (or... as much as any story in this kind of universe can play to my strengths), but can I bring myself to write it if it will break my streak? I am torn! What would you do, if you were me?)
breathedout: nascent novelist in an orange bikini (writing)
Story #8 for the Passchendaele ficlet cycle (more information here), run in concurrence with [community profile] femslashficlets Janelle Monáe lyrics prompt table challenge.

Title: Bind
Fandom: Original Work
Pairing: Emma Walsh Thompson/Maisie Thompson Adams
Rating: Mature
Prompt: "Am I a sinner with my skirt on the ground?"
Word Count: 1000
Tags: World War I, Home Front, Snowed In, O Canada, Frenemies with Benefits, Infidelity, Marriage, Autonomy, Clubs and Charitable Societies
Halifax, Nova Scotia: February 4, 1916

Later, looking out at the drifting white, Maisie laughed, out of nowhere, and said, "Is this why you didn't want to marry Paulie, then? For all those years?"

breathedout: Portrait of breathedout by Leontine Greenberg (Default)
I am enjoying this set of images of WWI-era women at work at a wide range of employments, war-related and not, courtesy of the Public Domain Review and London's Imperial War Museum. Also appreciated this section of the PDR commentary:

Looking through the thousands of photographs, perhaps surprising is how many show signs of joy: scenes of rural cooperation and industrial progress, of mutual support and collective endeavour. Indeed, if one were to stumble across the collection with no idea of context, they might appear to document some kind of feminist utopia (albeit one heavily bent on arms production). The trauma of the war, the loss of loved ones, the toil of work are often not visible there on the surface. No doubt this partly reflects a genuine positive spirit present amongst the workers, but one wonders also what role the medium might play here: the transforming presence of the camera (offering perhaps a welcome novelty from the daily grind, or triggering instincts to pose), and simply the limitations of the visual in conveying the lived reality of working life (as the German playwright Bertolt Brecht would later remark, the reality of a factory or workplace cannot be conveyed by a “merely photographic” reproduction). And this is not to mention the influence of any motives or biases of the photographers (George P. Lewis and Horace Nicholls among others) or their employers, the British government.

Whisperspace )
breathedout: Reading in the bath (reading)
Well last week I was at five currently-in-progress books and thought I might be down to four in a week's time; instead I'm back up to six. "C'EST LA VIE, as the Americans say," as my French friend Marie Christine used to say.

Anyway, early this week I realized that the April meeting of the queer book group I'm looking at trying out is coming right up, so I got a start on Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1968) in order to be finished by the time the group meets. I'm now a little under halfway through and I can already say: it is going to be a very interesting conversation. The novel is super offensive; I'm not saying that in a bragging-approving way, although Vidal obviously was writing to be deliberately provocative; I'm saying: there are a lot of very legitimate reasons to be offended by this book, including but not limited to: casual racism, casual antisemitism, rape jokes and general complacency toward rape, allllllllll the homophobic slurs, depiction of a trans woman as a sexual predator and, simultaneously, a depiction of a sexual predator (the same woman) as broadly sympathetic. So you know, if any of that is a hard-line "no" for you, and I would hardly blame you if it were, give this one a pass!

All that said, it's also a pretty fascinating anthropological glimpse into its queer-historical moment, and, poorly as much of it has aged, other parts of it are genuinely very funny. The whole thing is a kind of carnivalesque satire, so all the characters are caricatures, but Myra, the trans woman protagonist, is, as I said above, both broadly sympathetic and an interesting data point for literary queerness, especially since she exists in a milieu and an aesthetic that is very recognizably gay-male. (Myra predates John Waters's Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble by just a few years, and we're definitely playing in the same ballpark; and the thread of Myra's cinematic obsession is continued in works like Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976).) As such Myra's hardly the only queer in the village that is the third-tier acting academy in Westwood where she has landed a job teaching Posture and Empathy while trying to collect her "husband"'s land inheritance from the washed-up radio cowboy who runs the place. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is how she interacts with the other flavors of queer folks she meets (with slurs; yet also with recognition), as well as how she interacts with her own queerness. This passage, for example, in which a colleague invites her to a mixed-gender orgy ("Myron" is her past self, whom she publicly refers to as her late husband):

I was at a loss for words. On the one hand, the idea was definitely attractive. Myron sometimes enjoyed the company of four or five men at the same time but he did not believe in mixing the sexes. I of course do. [...] Although I am not a Lesbian, I do share the normal human response to whatever is attractive physically in either sex.

The suggestion that Myra's transition has enabled her to countenance more "mixing [of] the sexes" among her sexual partners than she was able to before it, is an interesting one. Anyway I'm sure I'll have more to say about it as I continue reading over the next week and a half.

Apart from the Vidal, I've been making some headway on Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, from which I posted a couple of excerpts as I went. I was mentioning to someone in comments that Kendi's book is an extremely high-level overview that's written for a popular audience, which makes it different than most of the history that I read, and I keep hankering after deeper dives on incidents on which Kendi spends 2-3 paragraphs and then moves on. Still, though, as a synthesis with a focus on the development of racist thought in the US, it's good, and it's helping me both to remember sections of US history I haven't thought much about since high school (what happened in the 1820s, anyway?) and to combine in enlightening ways various things I did know about, but hadn't related to each other. It's divided into five top-level sections according to the historical figure who serves as the sort of "guide" through that era—Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis—and I've just finished the Thomas Jefferson section & moved on to the Garrison. This will be a long-term reading project, though: I've been checking it out from the library but there are always people waiting, so at the end of each three-week stint I have to return it and put my name back in the queue.

Also reading and re-reading a bunch of journal articles and book chapters for novel research, including a few chapters from Marjory Lang's Women Who Made the News: Female Journalists in Canada, 1880-1945, and a re-read of Craig Heron's "The Great War and Nova Scotia Steelworkers". Both of which are very useful for my purposes but I don't have a ton to say about them more generally. Though I will share this bit of doggerel verse in which editor JP McEvoy imagines a heavenly reception for a female journalist who reported on the circuit of turn-of-the-century women's clubs and charitable societies:

St Peter met her at the gate,
And took her by the fin
Said He: some sins we all must rue
But you did clubs one winter through,
And that is hell enough for you—
Come in.
breathedout: femme blonde peeks out from behind her martini; woman in tuxedo glowers (celebration)
me, back in October: Omgggg, Gillian Anderson is starring in All About Eve in London, WHAT IF they do a National Theatre Live broadcast of it, I will probably pass out omg
NT Live: Encore screening from a theater near you on your literal birthday, bitch!
me, wiping a tear from my eye: You like me... you really like me...

Whisperspace )
breathedout: nascent novelist in an orange bikini (writing)
I had today off work and spent the whole afternoon starting (or... continuing, but it's still early days) the process of taking apart my novel outline and looking at interweaving a second, home-front narrative arc. So far I can say that I really like what this does for the early section of the story; it solves some problems with events that formerly seemed overly coincidental and authorial and are now solidly character-arc-driven; and it also sets up some productive tensions for later in the book between my two POV characters. But I'm also feeling a bit overwhelmed by how to target my research at this point; it's a big project and there are so many areas to explore and flesh out. Which, I knew that was true before I started the restructure—it was true even with my old high-level outline—but even more so now. As I was telling [personal profile] greywash earlier today, I get so much joy out of working inside these very detailed, solid historical frameworks... but constructing said frameworks for myself is a lot of work! I'd been working inside the Unreal Cities framework for so long that I kind of forgot how much work it was to make.

Anyway, a few notes of interest that I happened across in my reading:

  • Did you know that "hinterland" has a technical definition? Apparently, in maritime terms, the area which brings its goods to a port for export and receives the imports processed through that port, is that port's "hinterland." (In more general economic terms the same can be said of an area outside an urban center, even if that center's not a port.) I always just thought it meant "the boonies." *themoreyouknow.gif*

  • Three of the four surviving issues of the Atlantic Advocate, which today I learned was Nova Scotia's first Black Canadian newsmagazine (starting publication in 1915) are available online to browse at one's leisure: January 1917; April 1917; and May 1917. I haven't had time yet to read them all in full, but skimming through, they're an interesting read: extremely moral-suason-y—the January issue promises "All the news of interest: Of the Race; Their Doings; Their Progress"—but it gives a sense of how a certain group of Black Canadians were talking about their lives & activism at the time.

  • You can also browse the entire run of issues of the Dalhousie Gazette, the Dalhousie University student newspaper, from its inception in 1869 right up until the present day. In case you wanted to know what Professor Martin had to say about dreams in his lecture to the medical school, or what happened on the Senior Night Walk of November 30, 1916.

  • Archives of mainstream Nova Scotia newspapers are, on the other hand, bizarrely difficult to find online?? Apparently I need to track down a ProQuest membership in order to look at back issues of the Halifax Chronicle(/Herald)?? My life is hard, etc. etc.

  • Speaking of Halifax, did you know that the Great Halifax Explosion, in which a ship laden with high explosives exploded in the harbor, was the largest man-made explosion in history prior to the atomic bomb? Now you do.
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