ETA: I mistakenly listed A.J. Fitzwater as non-binary when I originally posted this, so my apologies. Her story is still a damn good one though, so I’m moving it to the bottom of the post. Consider it a bonus Women to Read entry!
It’s been a while, but I’m back with another edition of non-binary authors to read. As mentioned in previous installments, non-binary is my term-of-convenience, meant to include agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, and various other terms not falling within the typical spectrum of strict male/female identification. (A note relevant to this series and my Women to Read: Where to Start series at SF Signal – apologies to any authors mis-gendered in either of these columns. If I’ve fucked up anywhere, and you’d like me to change anything, please let me know.) Now, on to the recommendations…
First up is Rose Lemberg, a bigender author and the co-editor of Stone Telling Magazine. My recommended starting place for her work is Grandmother-Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds, part of her Birdverse series of stories, which was published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. There are several things to recommend this piece. It is a story rich in imagery and sensory detail. It is a story about magic – who is allowed to use it, and what kind are they allowed to use. It is a story about language – who is allowed to speak, and what happens if they cannot. It is a story about love – what would you do for its sake, how far would you travel, what would you give up and leave behind. And it is a story about self – coming to know who you are, and seeing others more clearly in the process. Lemberg also uses the tale to explore gender in fascinating ways. Women and men live separate from each other and have different powers at their disposal. The protagonists’ brother, Kimriel (Kimi), cannot communicate verbally. As a result, the male scholars will not take him, and he must stay among the women. More than that, because he cannot speak and debate and talk the way scholars do, he is no longer considered male. He becomes the main character’s little sister, and is given a new name, Zohra, though she continues to answer only to Kimi. There is also Grandmother-nai-Tammah who wishes to be known as a man. My meager description of the story doesn’t do it justice. It presents the notion of gender as something both rigid and fluid, each binary choice coming with its own weight. As mentioned before, it’s soaked in sensory detail, transporting the reader to the world of the tale. Overall, it’s lovely on many levels and a wonderful starting place for Lemberg’s work. I will also selfishly recommend The Shapes of Us, Translucent to Your Eye, which we recently published at Unlikely Story.
My second recommendation is for David J. Schwartz, a genderqueer author. My recommended starting place for his work is the brilliant non-fiction essay, Masculinity is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box, recently published at Uncanny. The essay deals with and deconstructs the unreasonable and unattainable ideals of masculinity, and examines the places where masculinity and nerd culture intersect. To anyone familiar with nerd culture, Schwartz gives the easily recognizable example of a boy who isn’t good at sports, and therefore constructs a nerd version of masculinity to define himself. This version of masculinity includes things like fierce love of comic books, video games, and certain movies and tv shows. This boy then becomes very defensive and exclusionary around said interests, seeing them as something needing to be defended from others. This need to defend leads to the concept of the ‘fake geek girl’, and the idea that anyone outside the narrow ‘male’ box does not belong in nerd culture. They are in fact ruining that culture simply by loving it, because it is not theirs, it belongs solely to the person trying to defend it. The essay also touches on Schwartz’s own movement toward identifying as genderqueer and how it impacted his life. It’s a wonderful essay, well-worth the read, and an excellent starting place for Schwartz’s work. I would also recommend The Water Poet and the Four Seasons, which I included recently among my list of favorite pieces published by Strange Horizons over the years.
A.J. Fitzwater is a New Zealand author who was awarded the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent. My recommended starting place for her work is She Must, from the recently launched Capricious. She Must is an intriguing story on many levels. It breaks grammar rules, frequently eschewing commas and thus demanding the reader pay extra attention to catch meaning. It also plays with fairy tale themes, twisting them around to make the hero and the villain of the piece the same creature. Then, just when you think you have a grasp on things, it adds a modern flair, with real estate sales, fucking with the fairy tale motif. She Must tackles the weight of social expectation, gender roles, and many other themes, all within a relatively short tale. In their author interview, Fitzwater states her interest in breaking down the fairy tale form and moving beyond the boundaries of the traditional tale. The repeated refrain of ‘she must’, is woven throughout, bringing attention to the imperative, and the weight laid on women in particular. As Fitzwater says in her interview, there is a specific mold fairy tale heroines must fit in order to be worthy, and not become the villain. For example, most older women are relegated to the role of wicked crone, or jealous queen. Only the young, pretty, and marriageable girls are the heroes of their stories. The language used throughout She Must is striking, poetic and harsh all at once. I’m recommending this as a starting place for Fitzwater’s work for the way it plays with form, but there are many other worthy starting points, including A Fear of Falling Under at The Future Fire, and Cartography, and the Death of Shoes in the anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land from Crossed Genres.
So there you have it – two fantastic non-binary authors whose work you should read, and a bonus woman to read. If you have your own recommendations, please leave them in the comments!