Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 10

Welcome to another edition of Non-Binary Authors to Read, wherein I highlight non-binary authors and recommend a starting place for their work. If you’d like to catch up on the other entries in the series, you can find them here. For the purposes of this column, I use non-binary as a catch-all term to include authors identifying as genderqueer, agender, queer, neutrois, gender non-conforming, and other genders not aligned with the male/female binary. Now, on to the recommendations!

Fiyah Issue 3Danny Lore is a queer writer based in the Bronx. My recommended starting place for their work is appropriately enough their first professionally published story – The Last Exorcist from Fiyah Issue 3: Sundown Towns. As the editors write in their Letters from the Editors: “Sundown Towns were towns with curfews that applied to black people –essentially, black visitors had to exit the town before the sun set, or else they would face the wrath of the town’s white citizens. Authors were charged with submitting stories that discussed this painful history, but we also asked for stories that examined concepts of belonging, community, and of place.” Lore delivers a story that pushes the concept of sundown towns to the extreme, an extreme that sadly feels like it could logically grow out of the racism of our present day society. Naheem is an exorcist in a world where many white people have opted to offer themselves up as Residences for demons, voluntarily being possessed in exchange for protection and special privilege – i.e. things already granted to them in the real world by virtue of being white.  On a small scale, a white student feels slighted by what they perceive as a black student unfairly taking “their” place in college, and turns to demons for help. One a large scale, entire Helltowns are created where black people literally cannot go without the ground smoking under their feet and demons tearing them apart.

When Naheem gets worked up, he gestures emphatically, fingers twitching with every word. He tends toward lecturing, and his topic of choice is the accessibility of exorcism in a post-possession America. He is unimpressed by those who say the art is too complex, too archaic to pass on to the common man. On the contrary, he believes that becoming an exorcist is a task both necessary and easy, if we are to survive as a people.

The story is related through a reporter who begins by interviewing Naheem and ends up filming what turns out to be his last exorcism. The reporter is conflicted, having a white mother and a black father, never knowing which side the demons will see if they step into a Helltown. Lore gives a supernatural twist to the very real and ugly face of racism, scapegoating, fear of the “other”, and clueless privilege. At the same time, amidst the ugliness, it is a story about fighting back, about making the world better for others, and speaking out against oppression and power. It’s an excellent story, an excellent starting place, and I look forward to more of Lore’s work.

Shoreline of Infinity 9

Leigh Harlen is a writer of dark speculative fiction. My recommended starting place for their work is The Last Days of the Lotus Eaters in Shoreline of Infinity 9. Lita is the only one in her village who believes the world is changing. The stars are going out, trees are dying, and winters are lasting longer than they should. When she tries to warn people of this, no one believes her, not even her parents, except for one priest. He knows the truth, but believes it is better to keep the status quo, let people lead happy and ignorant lives. When Lita refuses to stay quiet, he poisons her, burying her alive in a ritual that feeds a dying tree whose blossoms bring forgetfulness, allowing people to be truly oblivious to the doom coming for them.
The earth and the creatures in it ate her flesh, but the tree kept her bones, its roots wrapped around and entwined every remaining bit of her.
While Lita’s body dies, her consciousness remains, forcing her to be the means that allows the other villagers – even her parents – to forget everything she tries to warn them about. In eating the lotus blossoms, the villagers’ memories transfer to Lita, so even in death she must bear the burden of knowledge alone. In time, however, another little girl comes along who refuses to accept common wisdom and sets out to force people to see the truth before it’s too late. With this story, Harlen offers an interesting twist on the trope of the buried child, the sacrifice that bears the sins of a people in order for everyone else to lead happy lives (e.g. Le Guin’s Omelas, or the story of Jesus Christ). Like Christ, the consumption of Lita’s transubstantiated flesh is literally the key to the rest of the village’s peace of mind. However, in this case, rather than salvation, the villagers only gain ignorance of their own destruction. Harlen weaves other elements into the sacrifice story, such as the idea of climate change denial, and the dismissal of women’s voices. It’s a wonderful story and an excellent starting place for Harlen’s work.

R.J. Edwards is a writer, librarian, and podcaster. My recommended starting place for their work is Riot Nrrd Comics, an online webcomic. While the comic is currently on hiatus, the good news is there are four years worth of comics currently available to catch up on. Riot Nrrd Comics is about all things geeky – comic books, video games, Star Wars, scientists, astronauts, and other delightfully nerdy stuff. But it’s also about being a marginalized nerd – being female, non-binary, black, fat, neurodivergent – basically being the type of person who doesn’t often get to see themself reflected in mainstream media. On the rare occasions when they do get to see themselves, those reflections are often problematic. For example, the first few comics call out Joss Whedon specifically for his depiction of “empowered women”. The comics tackle the questions of whether it’s still possible to love the things someone creates, while recognizing them as imperfect. Among the geekery, Riot Nrrd also touches on friendships, relationships, religion, work, stress, life, and every day problems and triumphs. Elements of it remind me of Chaos Life in its wide-ranging scope, touching on all aspects of life big and small, while reveling in nerdiness. At the heart of Riot Nrrd are characters who care about each other, who share geeky passions, and genuine friendship. It’s a lovely comic, and an excellent starting place for R.J. Edwards’ work.

That’s it for this installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start. As always, I’d love to see your recommendations in the comments, and I’ll be back with additional recommendations of my own soon. Happy reading!

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