Sean Avery Medlin (he/they) is a gamer and Hip-Hop nerd, whose only wish in this world is to watch an unproblematic Black sci-fi T.V. show. Till then, Medlin teaches creative writing and guides cultural work for organizations across the U.S., while also creating rap, poetry, prose, and performance. Their music, literature, and theater all question the limits of Black masculinity, media (mis)representation, and personal narrative.
Medlin has shared stages with Saul Williams, J. Ivy, and Lemon Andersen. Their work’s been featured in Afropunk, Blavity, the 2018–2019 Chicago Hip-Hop Theater Festival, and the 2020 Tucson Poetry Festival. Their Hip-Hop play and album, skinnyblk, along with all their previous work, is available online at superseanavery.com. 808s & Otherworlds: Memories, Remixes, & Mythologies is Medlin’s debut collection.
I had the opportunity to interview Sean, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi Michele! Thank you so much for doing this interview! I’m really excited and interested in Geeks OUT!
So a little about me: I’ve been a self-proclaimed nerd most of my life, whether it’s rap music, poetry / spoken word, anime, video games, Greek mythology, or random science facts, ha. It took me most of my life to become comfortable with my geekiness, and I think that projections and stereotypes of Blackness or Black masculinity definitely interfered with that.
Now as an adult I recognize, welcome, and respect that all the best people, and artists, are GEEKS! 🙂 AND that oftentimes Blackfolk are among the geekiness of them all!
Judging from your book, you appear interested in a variety of subjects, such as poetry and literary non-fiction. How did you find yourself becoming drawn to these different forms of writing and do you think they ever play off each other for you?
For the longest time I did not understand the terms “literary nonfiction” or “creative nonfiction” for that matter. As a student of spoken word, slam poetry, and rap music, the norm is to write about your lived experience in creative, poetic, dramatic, and sometimes fantastical ways. So when I sat down to write what would become “808s & Otherworlds”, I was aiming for something like “creative nonfiction” or “literary nonfiction” because I’d seen MFA programs (and literary awards for manuscripts and pieces) in those genres. The more I tried to write for that specific category, the further away I got from what makes my writing special.
The integration of non-fiction elements into poetry is almost natural for me, because I mainly construct poems based on my lived experience. Storytelling, extended metaphor, rhyme, those devices were introduced to me by a Hip-Hop musical / literary tradition. In short, I’ve always thought of my work as poetry, and it wasn’t until others used nonfiction terms to describe it that I began viewing it from that lens.
As a writer, what drew you to spoken word and what do you think are the merits of this form of expression? Are there any poets you would say have inspired you or influenced your style?
Spoken Word really is the foundation of my writing. It’s a deeply Black american tradition, and I was introduced to it from a young age via musicians and bands like The Roots, Jill Scott, and Gil Scott Heron. The written word is always meant to be spoken, especially for my people, who were barred from formally reading or writing English for decades on end. A few of my biggest influences are Saul Williams, Danez Smith, Joshua Bennett, Jasmine Mans, and Aja Monet.
Since Geeks OUT is basically a queer nerdy organization, how would you describe your own literary/geeky tastes and preferences?
I’m a big Marvel fan, more on the cinematic side than comic side, and even then what gets me most is the mythology. I’ll spend hours reading online about alternative timelines and universes within Marvel, reading superhero origin stories and abilities, and watching fan made versus videos, aha. Like I mentioned earlier I’m into anime too, but now I mostly watch it with a critical lens, looking for imperial propaganda or commentary haha (cuz Japan is also imperialist, lest we forget).
The thing I geek out the most about is rap music, actually. I love listening in-depth to lyrics, breaking down double entendres, rhyme schemes, flow patterns, different kinds of rhymes, everything really. I’ll look up samples from my favorite songs, writing credits, the whole nine. Nothing makes me feel more alive than the goosebumps I get from hearing a good rap song.
Is there anything you do to help you get inspired to write or facilitate the creative process?
I’m a big fan of the freewrite. Some of my best or most interesting work started as a freewrite. I try to do a certain number of freewrites a week, depending on what kind of project I’m working on, like poetry, music, essays, whatever. It allows me to always have my thoughts on paper somewhere, and I can revisit them, edit them, pull the juiciest parts, or just never look at it again. The freedom of the freewrite is what I enjoy the most, no pun intended. It’s fun, and that fun fuels my process, especially in the generative phases. Once I have a lot of writing that I think might be related by theme, aesthetic, or content, I begin a mass rereading of the freewrites that move me the most, which leads to rewrites and revisions.
Aside from writing, what are some things you would want people to know about you?
I want people to know that you don’t have to be a fan of Hip-Hop, or an american Southwest citizen to enjoy my work. My work is mostly concerned with a kind of self-reclamation and declaration. Sure I write about specific identities, Blackness, nonbinary identity, bisexuality, etc. And I don’t hide my political and philosophical views. But at the end of the day, I’m trying to connect on an experiential and emotional level, I just want even a fraction of what I feel to be felt by the reader and listener. I want that, I want people to know that I want to connect with them.
Are there any projects or ideas you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
Well I just put out an EP titled “I Never Left” in August 2021, which can be found on all streaming services, Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Youtube, Amazon, Google, etc. The deluxe version, which includes an extra 7 tracks, is available on sale only at Bandcamp. My rap name is the same as my author name, Sean Avery Medlin.
I’m also currently the Narrative Designer for an indie video game in early development stages, but I cannot say anything else about it!
What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers?
Keep writing. That’s probably it. Keep writing. Make it a practice, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t maintain a rigorous schedule. Building discipline takes time. And one more thing I guess: you don’t need an MFA to be a writer. You most definitely can get one, but it’s not a necessity. Okay wait, one last thing, forreal: find a community of writers who hold your work with care and rigor. That last one is actually the most important; all good art is collaborative.
What do you hope readers will take away from 808s & Otherworlds?
I want people to have a taste of my world, that’s all. I want readers and listeners to experience the hodgepodge of cultures and circumstances that has crafted me into the artist and human that I am. I want people to put down the book with a renewed (or new) interest in contemporary rap, modern day abolitionist movements, and vulnerable conversations on intersectional identities and relationships. I want folks to actually look up some of the songs and poems listed in the “References and Credits” section. I guess I want a lot, aha. I want to be received.
Finally, what queer books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Brett Mannes from the Comic Book Queers Podcast, as they discuss the all LGBTQ+ cast announced for Billy Eichner’s queer rom-com Bros and celebrate the newly out Elvira as our Strong Female Character of the Week.
KEVIN: The Emmys continue the tradition of being so white after touting diversity BRETT: Marvel abruptly ends yet another queer heavy book in Guardians of the Galaxy
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN: The Night House, 9 Perfect Strangers, Foundation, Midnight Mass, Star Wars: Visions, Aquaman: The Becoming BRETT: Doom Patrol, American Horror Story: Double Feature, Inferno, Killer Queens
Ashley Woodfolkhas loved reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Rutgers University and worked in children’s book publishing for over a decade. Now a full-time mom and writer, Ashley lives in a sunny Brooklyn apartment with her cute husband, her cuter dog, and the cutest baby in the world. Her books include The Beauty That Remains, When You Were Everything, and the Flyy Girls series. Find her on Twitter or Instagram @ashwrites.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming book, Nothing Burns as Bright as You?
Well hello. I’m Ashley. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I’ve been lucky enough in the last few years to have a few different YA novels published. My latest, NOTHING BURNS AS BRIGHT AS YOU, is my feminist manifesto and the queer novel of my heart, and as much as I love this book, everything about it terrifies me. NOTHING BURNS is about two messy girls in a tumultuous relationship—they’re friends but also more than friends, with hardly any boundaries. On the day they set a fire, their relationship spirals out of control, and as the truth of their history is unraveled, their future is revealed.
How did you get into writing, and what drew you to young adult fiction specifically?
I’ve been writing poetry and stories since kindergarten, and I can’t say I was specifically drawn to YA on purpose. It’s just that when I sit down to write I almost always have young characters in mind. I think it has something to do with how unique the teen years are. They’re the first time you’re able to make your own decisions and yet, there are still so many freedoms you don’t yet have. It’s a time full of firsts and rife with opportunities to make mistakes while also being full of second chances. Teens can be so messy and so brilliant in the space of a few hours, and I find that resilience and versatility so fascinating—it’s such a cool thing to play with when writing stories. I also just think teenagers are the best people: so much more passionate and kind and motivated than anyone else I know.
In a beautiful essay you wrote for Catapult, “How Writing My Young Adult Novel Helped Me Reclaim the Queer Girlhood I Lost,” you talk about how writing a queer young adult story allowed you to access a version of queer youth you yourself didn’t get to have? Could you expand on this and the vicarious power of fiction?
I think that essay says it all. I didn’t see my own queerness for years despite the signs being everywhere. Attraction to multiple genders? Check. Romantic entanglements with multiple genders? Double check. Queer besties? Celebrity crushes across the gender/sexuality spectrum? Undying empathy for the queer community as an “ally”? Triple check. I have always been who I am, I just didn’t have a name for it, didn’t recognize it for what it was until I was well into my adulthood. And the pain I feel for what was lost—people I didn’t pursue or maybe didn’t even notice, relationships I destroyed because of an idea I had in my head about who I was…it troubles me sometimes. Through writing I’m able to work through some of that grief, some of my sadness about what I missed out on. I’m able to explore feelings that I suppressed without even realizing I was suppressing something. Through my own powerful imagination, I can write the stories I wish I had read; stories that may have helped me see myself more clearly years earlier. I felt invisible for decades. I just hope that the things I write are able to help someone else feel seen.
What are some of your favorite elements of craft?
Coming up with and building characters is by far my favorite part of writing any book.
Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you?
I’m on a mission to help kids (and adults!) believe they’re worthy of love and acceptance simply because they exist. I try to plant that message in the heart of everything I write and say and do. Other than that, I’m a mama to a toddler and a pittie, a wife to a very cute guy I’ve loved since I was 19, and a lover of good food, emotional books, indie movies, and all kinds of music. I’m a card-carrying member of the frequent criers club, and I believe therapy should be free and widely available to everyone. But until then, I’ll keep writing books that I hope help people feel a little less alone.
What advice might you give to other aspiring authors?
Be relentless (you only ever need one yes to move forward at every step in this process, so don’t be too discouraged by rejections), and write like no one’s watching.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
The characters in NOTHING BURNS don’t have names. Why not?
Names felt too restrictive, too tied to a single identity. I want these characters to be anyone. I want them to be everyone.
Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about?
Working on lots of things, but nothing else I can talk about right now. ☹
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
I had the opportunity to interview Jarad, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT!. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure – thank you for having me! I’m Jarad Greene, a cartoonist living up in the mountains of Vermont. I’ve been working as a cartoonist since I was a teenager, originally doing gag cartoons and comic strips for the newspaper, but currently my focus is on longer form work. I like to make fantasy, adventure, and contemporary autobiographical works for kids and young adults. Moving to New England unlocked a latent athletic affinity, so I’m still getting used to the fact that I now do CrossFit and feel compelled to go running. During the summer I try to spend as much time outside as possible, swimming, hiking, and looking for new ice cream spots. As for winter… that’s a work in progress.
How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?
I was an avid comics reader as a kid, reading comics in the newspaper and picking up monthly titles whenever I could. I was also an on-again, off-again journal-er and I took a sketchbook with me everywhere, so making comics came pretty intuitively. I created illustrated book reports for Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, and The High King while in middle school and I think those were my first foray into putting words and pictures together with panels and dialogue balloons. I started working on a deadline when I joined my high school newspaper staff as a cartoonist and I haven’t really stopped since.
Your forthcoming book, A-OKAY, is described as a semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel centered around an asexual boy. Could you talk about where the impetus for this story came from?
It began as a reaction to my first book, Scullion, a fantasy adventure, and wanting to do something very different from that while I waited on responses to my queries to editors and agents. I ended up writing a comics essay called Memories of a Former Porcelain Doll, which was a memoir comic about my two times going through Accutane treatment, ages 18-25. I had so much built-up energy and feelings about the years I spent trying to clear up my skin, that I felt compelled to write about it to organize my thoughts and get it out of my head. My draft of the comic received a publishing grant from the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) in Boston, where I debuted it as a 32-page mini comic a few months later. People’s response to it was unlike anything I had experienced with my other work. Readers kept circling back to my table to tell me how much it meant to them or how much it helped them understand what someone in their life who had acne went through. I planned to follow the essay up with a part two, but I had subsequently sold Scullion and it was almost 2 years later when I sat down to write again. The full-length memoir version I conceived felt pretty dark and miserable and in talking with my agent, she asked me who the book was for, and who I was hoping to reach. It reminded me of the reaction at MICE and that almost every person who spoke to me related the acne experience to their younger self or a young person in their life. I immediately knew how I could reconceive the story and age it down to a time when most kids experience acne troubles, while also making a less miserable, much happier story, which aligns better with who I am as a person. The asexuality aspect was in the new version from the start, a bit to my own surprise, since it wasn’t something I had ever planned to write about. Middle school is a time when questions of sexuality begin to arise, but back then I didn’t have the words I needed or any representations that could’ve been helpful. I hope A-OKAY can be that rep for a kid who doesn’t even know that they need it.
In addition to exploring asexual and aromantic identities, the book also explores something else that’s often rare in narratives with a male lead, specifically body insecurities. Would you mind talking about this a little in detail?
When I experienced my acne troubles, I didn’t know how to talk about it with other people, even my friends and family. I only wanted my skin to clear up to the way it was previously, but looking back on that time, I can see that a big part of talking about it meant accepting a level of vanity that I didn’t want to be revealed to other people, so I mostly kept my feelings to myself.
I couldn’t have asked my clear-skinned friends about their skincare regime, that would’ve been WAY too embarrassing! As time goes on, I’ve found that most of my friends are dealing with all kinds of insecurities. Maybe it’s getting older, maybe it’s that I went through my acne troubles and came out the other side, but I feel much more comfortable sharing my struggles and feelings with friends and knowing that I’m not alone. That’s one thing I wanted to put into A-Okay, that once Jay opens up, he realizes that his real friends aren’t making fun of him for going on acne medication or wanting to take care of his skin, they just want to know that he’s okay.
As a person who identifies on the Aromantic-Asexual spectrum, would you say you’ve seen any media that you felt you related to or represented by in this way? If not, was A-OKAY a response to that?
Certainly not when I was growing up; I can’t recall a single book I read or was assigned to read with any queer characters. TV was a little better or maybe just more accessible? I first heard a character refer to themselves as ‘asexual’ in the TV show “The Killing,” but that wasn’t until I was 24 years old. It was absolutely a factor in having it represented in A-OKAY. It was the only request I had of my agent when pitching it, that I didn’t want to work with an editor who would ask me to remove it or turn it into a love triangle. She found it an amazing home at HarperAlley. It has been extremely validating to be supported by so many in making this book.
As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
Oh boy, where do I begin! Obviously with this book I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from my own life. But more broadly, I’m a huge fan of the author-artists: Atelier Sento, Faith Erin Hicks, Hope Larson, Raina Telgemeier, Vera Brosgol, Liniers, Gene Yang, Alexis Deacon, Tove Jansson, and Becky Cloonan to name a handful. There are also SO MANY amazing cartoonists and illustrators on Instagram whose work gives me little jolts of inspiration when they pop up on my feed… but I could be here all day listing them.
Another big source of inspiration for me comes from my free time: hanging out with friends, cooking, baking, going on adventures, visiting my family, wandering around a new store or city, etc. It all fills my well of experiences. If I want to write about the lives of characters, I have to have a life myself.
What’s something you hope readers take away from A-OKAY?
I hope readers can get a better sense of what it’s like to privately struggle with something, and that they may have people in their life going through an issue they don’t know about. And even if it’s something like acne, which isn’t life-threatening and may not seem like a huge deal, they’ll understand that it may feel big to the person experiencing it.
Besides A-OKAY, are you currently working on any projects that you are at liberty to speak about?
I am contracted for a second book with HarperAlley, but as for the title and plot, I am not at liberty to say. I’m very excited about it and can’t wait to shout about it from the rooftops! I post random things from my desk, like paintings and sketchbook doodles on my Instagram, so that may tie people over until then.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?
Sincerity is the secret ingredient to any good story. Focus on the work that really matters to you, no matter how strange, goofy, personal, or specific the stories you want to tell are. As long as you love it and are excited to tell it, it will reach the people it’s meant to find.
Finally, what LGBTQ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Daniel Stalter, as they discuss the first trailer for a reboot series of the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer, the trailer for Hawkeye and celebrate Gwendoline Christie joining the cast of Wednesday for our Strong Female Character of the Week.
Bill Konigsberg is the author of six books for young adults, which have won awards including the Stonewall Book Award, the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, and the Lambda Literary Award. Bill lives with his husband, Chuck, and their two Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Please visit him on Twitter @billkonigsberg.
I had the opportunity to interview Bill, which you can read below.
CW: Discussion of mental illness and suicide.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you, and sure! I’m the author of six young adult novels, all of which explore the lives of LGBTQ characters. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, with my husband, Chuck, and our Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford. Before turning to YA lit, which I did by publishing my first novel in 2008, I was a sports writer for ESPN and The Associated Press. In fact, I became the first openly gay man at ESPN when I wrote an essay called “Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays” in 2001.
As a journalist for websites for ESPN, how would you describe the transition from sports writer to young adult author? Would you say there are any times where your former writing experience bleeds into the other?
It’s really a different world. With sports journalism—any journalism, really—you’re looking to be as concise as possible, using an economy of words. Creative writing allows me to really branch out and explore language in a way that journalism never did. I would say that a bunch of my novels include athletics, and (hopefully) I do that well. ☺
Where would you say your ideas for books usually come from? Do you look towards anywhere specific for inspiration while writing?
It’s kind of all over the place. Sometimes, like with my most recent, THE BRIDGE, I get inspired with a concept and move forward from the idea. More frequently with me, I want to write about a specific character whose voice I hear in my head. It’s like I’ll get a line of dialogue or something that triggers me to explore more, as if a character is leading me and saying, “Hey there, come see about me!”
Some of your books, including The Music of What Happens, deal with the subject of masculinity, of characters trying to figure out what it means to be a “man” as well as navigating toxic masculinity. Could you lend us your thoughts on this?
This has been such a huge theme in my life. Maybe because of my youth, in which I played a lot of sports but was also dealing with what was at the time a secret, that I liked other guys? I think over time I began to really focus in on those questions about what it means to be a man, as opposed to the lessons we learn from media, or in our society. I think standing up and being counted even when you’re different is more courageous than so many of the toxically masculine attributes—violence, being taciturn—are. So yes, I seem to come back to that issue a lot. I think it’s important that we allow boys to be who they are, and not try to live up to some bogus and false vision of masculinity that breaks down the more you look at it.
Your latest book, The Bridge, deals with some very strong subjects, including suicide and depression. What drew you to writing about this? Is there any advice you would want to give to other writers writing this topic?
I was drawn to write about suicide and depression because of my own history with both. I have been dealing with chronic depression since I was a teenager, though at the time I don’t know that I knew what that was. In my mid-to-late 20s, I attempted suicide by taking pills. The pain in my life was just too much for me to bear, or that’s what it felt like at the time. It took me a long time to write about these things, because it’s such a vulnerable thing, talking about mental health. I didn’t want people to judge me based on that, but really over time I began to realize that was the same thing as not wanting to be judged for being gay. My life’s work, it seems, is to keep uncovering the things I’m not supposed to talk about, and writing about them in great detail.
As for advice for someone writing about this topic: I would stress the importance of not glamorizing suicide. Suicidal feelings can be so powerful, and what is most helpful, in my opinion, is letting people know that they are not alone, that other people have felt the same way. The most dangerous thing we can tell people who are struggling is that something good comes from completing suicide. We need to stress how important it is for all of us to stay another day, even when it’s really hard.
What advice would you give to writers in general, especially those looking to finish a book?
I’d stress that when we talk about finishing a book, often we are talking about finishing a first draft of a book! And by that, I mean that novels generally take at least three rounds of revisions to get really good! So instead of comparing your first draft to someone’s third (or eighth, you never know!), just get the words down so you can see what you have and get into revision, which is where a lot of the magic happens.
Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love spending time with my dogs, and I love spending time with good friends. Those are probably the things I spend most of my time doing, and I really enjoy both.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
That’s a tough one. I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the years! Maybe something about legacy, about what I hope I have given to young readers. And the answer to that would be that I hope some young readers have seen their own hearts in my writing. That they have recognized something innately wonderful in my characters that they can also identify in themselves, and feel really good about.
As a writer who has been in the game for a while, how have you seen the landscape of young adult literature change since you first entered and today, or even since you were a young adult yourself?
In the 13 years since my first novel came out, the landscape of young adult literature has changed drastically. I remember winning the Lambda Literary Award with that first novel, Out of the Pocket. There were maybe 25 books that year to choose from that had LGBTQ protagonists. Now, on a yearly basis, there are probably 300! I think the quality of writing has improved a lot. I think the diversity of voices has grown significantly, though we are still working on that. I think the types of intersectionality seen in these novels today dwarfs anything that was happening 13 years ago. In short, I think we’re in a YA renaissance, where some incredible work is being done.
Are there any questions you are working on and at liberty to discuss?
I have a novel coming out next May called DESTINATION UNKNOWN. It’s about two boys meeting in 1987 New York City, with the AIDS crisis looming all around them. I have read so many books about AIDS, and have always dreamed of writing one. Having grown up in that time and place, it has been a huge issue in my life, and I think I’ve needed to write about it for a long time.
Finally, what queer books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
I had the opportunity to interview Julie, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Julie Sondra Decker and I’m an author, educator, and activist from Florida. I’m aromantic, non-partner-seeking, and asexual. I’ve always loved writing—most of my fiction is fantasy, speculative fiction, or science fiction, but whenever I’m passionate about something I love to write about that too, so I’m always writing articles, essays, rants, and sometimes even longer works. I’m a hobbyist musician and artist who also loves cartoons, baking, karaoke, reading, and spending quality time with friends. I do support work at an engineering firm as my main day job, and my side work has involved my writing and sometimes freelance editing. I live by myself in a big house with no kids and no pets, and though I socialize frequently, I really value my solitude. I’m always working on some new project.
As a person who identifies on the aromantic-asexual spectrum, how did you find yourself discovering this part of your identity?
I was a teenager in the 1990s before internet communities existed, so my access to similar people was limited when I was growing up. Dating other people was never my idea, and when I was propositioned, relationships I consented to never came with any spark of interest, neither romantic nor sexual. I didn’t realize those two attractions might even be separate because I wasn’t interested in either romance or sex, and since everyone else seemed to want both, I thought it was a single experience that just didn’t happen to me. I only understood them as distinct attractions once I met people who experienced one and not the other.
As I was first realizing this was pretty different from others’ experience in my school, I began to refer to myself as “nonsexual” and didn’t worry too much about it. I assumed that eventually I would like someone that way, but wasn’t in any hurry for it to happen, and none of the romantic or physical interaction I experimented with was inspired by intrinsic desires from me, nor was any of it satisfying or interesting. On a good day it was just boring, but most of the time it was actively unpleasant. Eventually I decided if I was going to have another relationship, it was going to be my idea, and I would wait for some indication from MY body or mind that I wanted this before I tried anything else. But I never did feel any kind of sexual or romantic attraction to anyone else, so I felt comfortable using my “nonsexual” term until the broader community grew up under “asexual” and gave me more widely used language for it.
How did you find yourself getting into this type of advocacy? Did anything in particular inspire you?
Since I always turn to writing as a means of expression, working out my annoyances in text seemed like a natural step. I had a rudimentary website in the late 1990s and one of its sections contained a page of rants. Most were on topics like “my roommate is annoying” or “I hate running out of toilet paper,” but one of the rants was essentially a top-ten list about responses I hated hearing when people found out I was not interested in sex. I listed the most common knee-jerk reactions, from “you just got out of a bad relationship” to “you’ll change your mind when you’re more mature”; from “you’re secretly gay” to “you’re too ugly to get a man”; from “you’re just trying to be special” to “you just haven’t tried ME yet.” (And of course, everyone’s favorite Bingo Free Space: “Have you gotten your hormones checked?”)
That essay got far more attention than the other complaints on the page, and suddenly I was hearing from other people who felt the same way I did. And what really struck me was how many of those emails were so desperate, sad, and grateful to find out they weren’t alone. I hadn’t ever been particularly concerned about my asexuality even though I was frequently irritated by ignorant comments, so hearing how lost these people had felt for so long was as eye-opening as it was heartbreaking. From that point on I worked to make content for various media and made myself available to be interviewed when there was interest, and when I realized many “gatekeepers” against asexuality cited a lack of published material on the subject as evidence that asexuality wasn’t a legitimate orientation, I decided a book needed to exist and that I was well placed to write it.
Your book, The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, is considered one of the first non-fiction books on the subject. What inspired you to write this book and did the fact that it was one of the first published texts on the subject put any particular pressures on you?
Other books did exist but they were either textbooks (written by a non-asexual person) or self-published books (great but less mainstream reach). In an ideal world, I think people who want to learn about a subject should be willing to consider less traditional media coming straight from underrepresented voices with lived experience, but in the real world we have many people with traditional understandings of legitimacy, and unfortunately those people might be controlling our lives. Having a book out there to find makes it easier to order it to a library, cite it for a school report, bring it to your therapist, or lend it to a parent or partner to ease your coming out. And getting the message out there is easier with a mainstream publisher with its ability to reach markets that are less accessible to self-published authors or niche publishers.
I do say in the introduction to the book that it is not meant to be a comprehensive look at the topic, nor should it be upheld as some kind of ultimate word on everything asexual. But I knew that it would probably be The Asexual Book for quite some time and that made me hyper aware that a) I didn’t want to get anything wrong and b) I didn’t want to leave anyone/anything out. So I requested volunteer readers from dozens of specific demographics—I put out a call for test readers on my social media and got over one hundred responses (with more than half of them actually coming through with feedback). Every section in the book that represents an experience or identity has been read by someone who matches it and gave thoughts and feedback. (That’s why the acknowledgments section is so long!) In some cases I was simply told that I had already covered everything they could want, while in other cases I received enthusiastic suggestions for more points and topics to include, or occasionally critique and concerns. Non-asexual volunteers also read the parts for non-asexual people. And multiple bloggers whose work was significant in the asexual online world agreed to let me include quotes from them so we could at least have some distinct, diverse voices breaking up the general narration.
Despite the work I put in, there are obviously some things I would change today, and I have seen some parts of it get misunderstood or taken out of context for disappointing reasons. I’ve also seen legitimate criticism, and after discussing that early commentary with its authors, in two cases I was able to incorporate revisions that addressed the issues in the next edition of the book.
How have you seen the field of asexual media/literature change since the publication of your book?
There are more mainstream-published books on the topic, first of all. It’s nice to have other books out there that cover different ground and provide a different look at the experience of asexuality. I’ve also seen a veritable explosion of asexual characters entering fictional landscapes—in sitcoms, in cartoons, in comics, in literature—and more media personalities identifying publicly as asexual. We’re moving away from the simple need for awareness and more toward advocacy; the world knows we’re here, so what do we do about it?
As a writer who has been in the Aro-Ace (or Aspec) community for over twenty years, how have you seen the community evolve since your entry into it? How have you seen the world’s perception of aspec identities change (or not change) since then? What would you like to see change?
Within the communities, there was a question of core identity and microculture signifiers—what did WE count as asexual or aromantic, what language did WE want to use for ourselves, do we want to “reclaim” insulting commentary or reject it, what do we want our flag to look like? Are we queer? How do we fit in, and how do we not? Is it appropriate to name the majority, the non-asexual population, and is it possible to tease out what disadvantages being asexual or aromantic has as a marginalized identity? We talked about all these things, and sometimes argued about them, and sometimes invented new language to help describe more specific experiences within ace or aro identity, and sometimes dealt with waves of gatekeeping or harassment or bad media examples that set us up as targets. We’ve seen this movement evolve from internet communities just looking for someone to see us and hear us to a collection of organizations, individuals, and concepts that has political importance, allyship, pride, visibility, and resources. We’ve lobbied to have our orientation recognized in Federal non-discrimination legislation. We’ve successfully communicated to have definitions revised in major mental health resources to reflect the legitimacy of asexuality. And many of us have been able to support each other through forming or leaving relationships and talking to our loved ones about who we are.
I’ve definitely seen a shift in recognition of the orientations over the years—it used to be almost inevitable that coming out as asexual would then lead to a twenty-minute Q&A with someone who still walked away thinking “eh, it’s a phase, they’ll grow out of it.” Conversely, now almost everyone I talk to about asexuality has heard of it before their conversation with me. I’d like to see authentic understanding of asexuality and aromanticism grow in the future, and other developments I’d love to see would be a) more asexual and aromantic characters in popular stories; b) a revision of the DSM-5’s definition of asexuality and treatment of sex aversion since it’s currently still pretty problematic, as well as more information for and resources for mental and physical health providers; and c) the establishment and growth of physical organizations dedicated to asexuality and aromanticism.
For someone who is new to the ace community, what resources would you recommend checking out?
I generally tell new aces to figure out their preferred way of absorbing information and jump right in. If they want a written resource, I’m partial to recommending my own but also like to recommend ACE by Angela Chen, reading blogs and articles from my resource list, and reading through scientific research and/or posts on AVEN. If they like podcasts or interactive interviews, I have some of those in my resources list too. If they get something out of interacting, I recommend they start a blog and interact with other ace content, or post on and read/comment on posts in AVEN or ace/aro Facebook groups. If they want to go to ace meetups, I have resources for those (though they can be sparse). And if they want to watch visual media, there are a few news stories and a documentary to recommend, plus YouTube is full of vlogging aces who make everything from educational videos to fun debunks of popular misconceptions.
What are some things you wish you had known when you first came out as aspec?
I regret very little and can’t think of anything I’d change about how it all went down. But I think at the very beginning since I developed my identity in isolation, I was predisposed to believe MY experiences and definitions could be generalized, and I think it would have been good to know that some of them were not. I didn’t realize, for instance, that detractors who assigned me traumatic sexual experiences in my past to “explain” my orientation shouldn’t be countered with statements like “no, aces aren’t traumatized” since, well, some aces do have experiences like that and denying that it’s true for ME could accidentally throw them under the bus depending on how it’s phrased. But for so long I thought I was mostly just talking about myself and couldn’t see the harm that could do.
Aside from your writing and advocacy work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
I can serve as a good example of an asexual, aromantic, unpartnered person who legitimately wants to be this way and isn’t sad or lonely. I generally don’t have trouble convincing other ace or aro people that this is true, but some of them have trouble seeing how they can be happy in their own lives when they’re surrounded by negative messages about their futures and lack positive examples of fulfilled aro and ace people. I’d love people to understand that asexuality and aromanticism has never been experienced as a hole or a missing piece for me and I formed whole without that part, and if someone out there feels broken or incomplete because everyone ELSE keeps telling them this piece is supposed to be there and is vital to a satisfying adult life, they don’t have to internalize that or live that way. We just don’t have omnipresent examples in our lives of how fulfilled ace/aro/unpartnered life might look, so we have to do more work to invent it and step into it ourselves. If we do that, I assure you we will be much happier.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
I’ve seen other aces sometimes ask this question but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked it: “If you could take a pill to change you so you could experience sexual attraction, would you take it?” Or maybe, “Do you wish you were not asexual/aromantic?”
For me, it’s a very confident no. I’ve never had the envy some people talk about with regard to wishing I fit in more in this regard, nor do I have a particular curiosity about what it would be like to be like someone else. I’ve heard some people say that sounds impossible because why wouldn’t someone be curious, why wouldn’t we want to get involved with something that everyone talks about like it’s the best thing ever, but interestingly most of those people have at least one aspect of their identity that they’d never consider changing even if it were possible (e.g., a straight person who thinks it’s reasonable to insist aces must be awfully curious about what it would be like to be straight, but has never wondered what it might be like to be ace, and also wouldn’t take THAT pill).
But on top of that, I honestly get pretty fed up with hypotheticals like this. I haven’t been asked this specific question but I was once asked whether I would have sex “if I had to to save the world,” and what gender I would choose to have sex with if my sex acts could somehow save humanity. When I said I’d probably choose another woman, the person laughed and concluded I was a “hypothetical lesbian,” and brought it up several more times in other contexts insisting he had “proved” I was a lesbian. When people ask these questions they are often expressing that they don’t actually accept your REAL answer and want you to pick a box to sort you into that they find more comfortable, so they can then invalidate you and treat you like a hypothetical answer offered under duress reveals more about you than the answer that has applied in your non-hypothetical, real life all this time.
Sexual orientation isn’t a switch to flip, nor can it be controlled by a drug we can take, so entertaining the hypotheticals is not very practical. If something fundamental could be replaced with a different reality at the touch of a button, I’m essentially being asked what I might want if I were a different person. They want to hear that aces desperately want to be like them, or they want to hear that if we would choose to stay as we are then we’re accepting that our orientation “is a choice.” But everyone who asks leading questions to trap someone into admitting that REALLY their orientation constitutes close-mindedness or fear is projecting their own values onto someone who isn’t them. It’s peculiar, but it’s unfortunately pretty common.
Are there any projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?
Not that it’s necessarily anything to get excited about because I have no guarantee that these projects will see the light of day, but I do have two YA novels in progress that have asexual characters—one protagonist in a realistic YA and one supporting character in a science fiction YA. If I am able to prioritize finishing one of them, get it through editing and into my agent’s hands, maybe it will get more exciting, but as such it barely counts as news. I’ve also written a science fiction short story with asexual protagonists (well, one asexual aromantic character and one graysexual demiromantic gender fluid character), but my submission attempts haven’t landed it a home yet.
I also continue to produce my Letters to an Asexual series on YouTube once a month.
What asexual or general LGBTQIA+ media (i.e. books/ television/etc.) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Asexuality-nonfiction-wise, I did really like Angela Chen’s book ACE, and a book I recently read with a positive representation of an asexual and aromantic supporting character was The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (a Welcome to Night Vale novel). Some of the more well-known representations of asexuality in visual media like Bojack HorsemanI still haven’t seen, but I did really enjoy the supporting asexual characters in Shortland Streetand Huge. In broader LGBTQIA+ media, I’m really enjoying The Owl House right now (a cartoon with canonically bisexual, lesbian, and nonbinary characters). And I think everyone already knows how much of a raging Steven Universefan I am, so recommending that is always a given—one of the characters was identified as asexual by one of the storyboard artists, even!
Dan Parent has brought Kevin Keller to Kickstarter! As part of Archie Comics‘ celebrating their first high profile LGBT character, you can now get every Kevin Keller story in one volume with over 700 pages of content.
As of writing this post, the campaign has pulled in $13,301 from 135 backers in just over a full day of being live. All reward tiers are still available and you can get the printed omnibus collection starting at just $45.
Dan Parent has been with Archie for over three decades and introducing Kevin Keller during that time is something that’s been important to Geeks OUT readers. That fact is important to Dan as well, who took the time to join Geeks OUT for our virtual Flame Con that was broadcast last month.
You can read the full press release from Archie Comics below.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN… KELLER
Prolific Comic Creator Dan Parent Announces Kickstarter Campaign for KEVIN KELLER CELEBRATION!
To Mark His First Decade in Riverdale, Comic Omnibus Will Celebrate Kevin Keller’s Greatest Moments
(Los Angeles, CA) – XX, 2021– American comic book artist, writer and Archie Comics legend, Dan Parent, announced today a Kickstarter campaign to develop KEVIN KELLER CELEBRATION!, an omnibus of the trailblazing character’s first decade in Riverdale. With the blessing of Archie Comics, this complete compendium of all things Kevin will feature over 700-pages of comic book fun, chronicling Kevin’s game-changing first appearance to where Kevin’s legacy stands today.
“For the past 35 years, I’ve had the pleasure to work on multiple characters and titles for Archie, but my heart always comes back to my heart and soul, Kevin Keller,” said writer Dan Parent. “Being able to spearhead this campaign, with the support of Archie Comics, is the perfect way to continue the legacy of the character as well as celebrate the 80th anniversary of Archie Comics.”
Harvey Award nominee and 2013 GLAAD Award winner, Parent aims to build on the massive success of the highly successful Kickstarter campaign tied to his hit comic series DIE KITTY DIE with a comprehensive look at the life and times of Archie Comics’ first LGBTQ+ character. Fans of Kevin, Riverdale and Archie Comics will revel in this celebratory collection which features Kevin’s first appearance, the four issue mini-series, the complete fifteen issue KEVIN KELLER series, the LIFE WITH KEVIN graphic novel, highlights, extras and so much more!
“When Dan came to me with the idea of introducing Kevin to Archie Comics ten years ago, I knew we were on the precipice of a huge cultural shift for our brand and for that reason, among many others, is why we fully support Dan’s campaign efforts,” said Archie Comics CEO/Publisher Jon Goldwater. “The introduction of Kevin, Archie Comics first gay character, ignited readers and fans across the country and it’s a testament to Dan’s creative work that Kevin is such a positive and everlasting fixture in the world of Riverdale.”
Additional details on the KEVIN KELLER CELEBRATION! campaign as well as a full breakdown of Kickstarter rewards can be seen here.
In the return of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Michelle Rose, as they discuss our first look at The Matrix: Resurrections, WandaVision making history at the Emmy’s for the MCU, and celebrate our first trailer for season two of We’re Here in This Week in Queer.
Gabriela Martins is a Brazilian kidlit author and linguist. Her stories feature Brazilian characters finding themselves and love. She was a high school teacher and has also worked as a TED Ed-Club facilitator, where she helped teens develop their own talks in TED format. She edited and self-published a pro-bono LGBTQ+ anthology (Keep Faith) with all funds going to queer people in need. When she’s not writing, she can be found cuddling with her two cats or singing loudly and off-key. Like a Love Song is her debut novel. Find her on Twitter at @gabhimartins and on Instagram at @gabhi.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you so much for having me, friends! I’m super excited to be here! I’m Gabriela Martins, a Brazilian author, and LIKE A LOVE SONG is my debut. I was an English teacher for ten years and I’m also a linguist, now writing full-time while my cats cuddle on my lap.
How did you find yourself getting into writing fiction, particularly Young Adult?
I’ve always written fiction. My first-ever book was a rip-off of one of my favorite books at 11 years-old, only it was a lot gorier, and the protagonist was suspiciously like me. From then on, I wrote fanfic for many more years before starting to try to get published traditionally. And I tried and tried for a decade! I queried a handful of books, and they were all YA. I was always drawn to narratives that explore firsts, and being around teenagers for such a long time as a teacher has also definitely helped.
Your debut novel, Like A Love Song, features a Brazilian protagonist along with a variety of queer characters. As a queer, Brazilian author yourself have you ever felt like you were writing yourself, or parts of yourself, into this story? Also, was the title inspired by the Selena Gomez song?
I think we all write parts of ourselves in our stories, but being queer, especially so when we’re writing a story about finding out who you are, and having the courage to own up to it. My main character in the book isn’t queer, but she faces her own issues with self-acceptance throughout the book, more in relation to her heritage.
While Natalie, our main character, isn’t queer herself—which is also a conscious choice, as I grew up with the social and cultural message that queerness was contagious, and not truly who I was, just a product of being around so many queer people—her two closest friends and love interest are. I align way more with chaotic bi and sweatpants-loving Brenda than with all of Nati’s glamour in being a pop star, but I think there are bits and pieces of me in all of them in different ways.
The title actually came way later! The book’s initial title was You Can Call Me Nati, but our publishing team wanted that could tell you right off the bat that it was a romcom book and also showcase the musical aspect with a song as the title. I absolutely loved their suggestion, and we ran with it!
How would you describe your writing process? What do you wish you had known when you first started writing?
I wish I had known that revision is a biiiiiig deal. Before the shift from aspiration to day job, I am embarrassed to admit that… it’s not even that I wasn’t good at revising, I simply didn’t do it. I queried lots of books without having properly revised them. I didn’t even know how to. I write relatively clean drafts, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need tons of revisions! Working with skilled editors—my agent has a decade of history working as a RH editor prior to becoming an agent—helped me understand where my weaknesses are, so I can do a slightly better job at self-revising before I show anyone else my work. But I will say that I won’t be caught dead sharing a first draft with anyone, ever! That baby needs to sleep for a few days before I read it over and convince myself it’s not as bad as I think it is before I can even share with my critique partners. lol
Aside from your own book, is there any Brazilian media (i.e. books, movies/TV, music, etc.) you would want people to know about?
There are so many good things. Brazilian art is deeply prolific, and some of my favorite medias of all kinds are Brazilian. My favorite romcom movie of all time is Brazilian (“O Homem do Futuro”, a romcom/scifi crossover that is hilarious, nostalgic, and ultra-swoony). My favorite pop singer, IZA, is Brazilian, and I grew up with rock stars who were out and proud and defined rock’n’roll in Brazil: names like the late Cazuza, Cássia Eller, Renato Russo, but also Lulu Santos. Netflix recently released a Netflix Original called “Cidade Invisível” (Invisible City), a crime/fantasy show about Brazilian legends with a new spin.
Since your debut book is obviously inspired by music, did you listen to any specific artists while writing it? And who would you say are some of your favorite artists?
The album “Lover” by Taylor Swift had just come out, so I had that on repeat while I was drafting and revising. Funny thing, then “SOUR” by Olivia Rodrigo came out earlier this year, and I’ve been listening to that non-stop ever since! I feel like “Brutal” is just perfect for the book. I wish that song had been around already before the book was published, so I could add it as an epigraph. It’s just perfect.
As a writer, who or what you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
I read a lot and across a lot of different genres, so I feel like I should say books, but I do that for pleasure. What fills my well and ignites my veins really is music. Even little sparks of a story—a trope, a character name, the idea of a situation—only really take shape once I start listening to songs that fill in the blanks, and it snowballs from there. Some of the albums on repeat on my Spotify lately are SUNMI’s “1/6”, Taemin’s “Advice”, Olivia Rodrigo’s “SOUR”, Sum 41’s “Underclass Hero”, and Kid Abelha’s “Educação Sentimental”.
Are there any projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?
In summer 2022 my sophomore book comes out, also with Underlined/PRH. It’s called BAD AT LOVE and it features Daniel, a rocker with a bad rep of being a player—but who’s actually super shy and only suffered a million tabloid misunderstandings—and Sasha, a stubborn and cynical teen journalist with no chance of going to college… until their paths cross. Daniel is challenged by his bandmates to date Sasha for the whole summer on a bet, and she’s offered a chance at a scholarship if she can find the dirtiest dirt on L.A.’s favorite bad boy. He is demi and she is pan, and I can’t wait for you to meet them too!
Finally, what LGBTQ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?