Interview with Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue, Creators of Katie the Catsitter

Colleen AF Venable is the author of indie bestseller Katie the Catsitter graphic novel series with Stephanie Yue, as well as the National Book Award Longlisted Kiss Number 8, a graphic novel co-created with Ellen T. Crenshaw. Her other books include Mervin the Sloth is About to Do the Best Thing in The World with Ruth Chan, The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom with Lian Cho, and the Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series, also with Stephanie Yue.  

Stephanie Yue is the illustrator of several picture books and chapter books in addition to Katie the Catsitter, and was the colorist for Smile by Raina Telgemeier. Steph travels the world by motorbike and spent the past year and a half converting a Sprinter van into a full-time mobile studio. She’s currently drawing the next Katie the Catsitter from all over North America, and eating and climbing all the things.

I had the chance to interview Colleen and Stephanie, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

Steph: Hi, I’m Steph, the illustrator for Katie the Catsitter. They/She. I like to ride motorbikes all over the world, rollerskate, build things, and I live full-time in a self-converted Sprinter van.

Colleen: Hello there! I’m Colleen Ann Felicity! She/Her/They (People always want to know what the weird AF is doing in there). I’m the writer for Katie the Catsitter. I like to read, hug every the animal, rollerskate, and make ALL THE CRAFTS—currently learning stained glass, figuring out how to build a room from scratch then turn it into an audio studio so I can quietly figure out how to play a trombone I got for $30, and can make a friendship bracelet in under five minutes. Watch out, potential new besties! 

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks?

Colleen: * announcer voice * When last we left our heroes…Katie was officially starting to do sidekick training, Beth and Katie were still figuring out how to get back to being friends, and The Eastern Screech—the city’s highest yelp rated hero—was outed for being a fraud. In this volume Katie deals with not being the greatest athlete, feeling like her friends Beth and Marie are leaving her behind, the Eastern Screech disappearing, 217 highly trained cats running amuck, and a bunch of Killer Robots keep attacking the city. So yeah, nothing too exciting. 

Steph: It’s going to be fun, with lots of action!

What was the inspiration for the original series?

Colleen: I always thought traditional superhero comics simplified things. Good vs. bad. No in betweens. (And don’t get me started about the underwear on the outside thing which I might need to write a doctoral thesis on one day.) I wanted a series where the “good guys” were kinda bad, the “bad guys” were actually good. I also loved exploring how heroes come to be through Katie, an average 12 year old who realizes being a hero is a lot more about heart than falling into vats of toxic things. Also as a kid I was always disappointed that Catwoman didn’t have cat minions, so that gave me the idea for The Mousetress who controls 217 extraordinary cats (as much as anyone CAN control a cat.) 

Steph: Colleen and I worked together previously on a six book series called Guinea Pig: Pet Shop Private Eye. When she approached me with the pitch for Katie the Catsitter, it seemed like a natural fit for our humor and stories around animals.

Colleen AF Venable

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly comics? What drew you to the mediums?

Steph: I loved the comics section in the newspapers as a kid, and poured over the collected volumes of Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, and the Far Side my dad kept in his study. As I grew older, the Sunday funnies expanded to series like the Adventures of Tintin, and manga. I realized the visual nature of comics could quickly introduce a reader to fantastical worlds, and immerse them in a very real sense of action, danger, and emotion. In longer form comics like manga that span many volumes, characters had room to grow and evolve—by the end of a series like Rurouni Kenshin the characters were not the same as they were 28 books ago. That’s what I fell in love with, the ability for comics to share a funny visual gag, convey a sense of excitement and adventure, and handle character arcs, all in one easily accessible medium.

Colleen: Same with me! Those newspaper comics were such a wonderful part of my childhood. I recently did a school visit where I told the students “Imagine every morning someone left a whole pile of comic strips on your doorstep!” I blew the kids’ minds. They couldn’t believe that was true! I also convinced them I was 400 years old. For me, comics are such an incredible medium. I studied playwriting in college, and so many of the things I learned about dialogue, pacing, visual gags, beats, came from my scripting skills. But with comics you can control even more with page turn reveals, dramatic angles, zooming in to important details, scattering visual clues throughout…I truly feel like the true art of making comics is underappreciated. 

As a writer/illustrator, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction?

Colleen: I always wanted to write for kids and teens from the time I learned to read. I hoped to make that book that could help a kid through a hard time and not feel alone. And being able to make kids around the world laugh?! That’s better than any power a toxic vat or outward underwear could give me! I love mixing absolute absurdity with heartfelt emotional story lines of real things kids and teens go through…though in this case, without as many cats in real life, I hope. 

Steph: Landing in young adult fiction was a bit of an accident, to be honest. I started out illustrating for younger readers, but there are so many meaningful stories to tell for this age range as well. I remember how formative some works of fiction were for me at that age. In young adult fiction you can begin to explore more nuanced ideas, concepts, and character interactions while still leaving room to be goofy.

How would you describe your creative process?

Colleen: People watching, reading every comic/play/novel I can get my hands on, animal watching, swimming…if I sat down at a computer 8 hours a day I’d barely get anything done. Instead I write 1-3 days a week and only a few hours on those days. It’s the time between staring at a screen that I get the ideas. I start with handwritten notes. I’d like to say I kept them in a single beautiful notebook, but no, I write them everywhere. On the back of junk mail. On a mile long CVS receipt. In text messages to myself. I don’t even reference them after, but it’s the act of writing physically that gets my brain churning. When I finally sit down they just fall out of my fingers. 

Steph: It depends on the stage of comics making. For pencils, I like to take my iPad to different places and set up with a printed manuscript. When it comes to inking, my favorite thing to do is put on a gripping podcast or some upbeat music, pour myself a beverage, and get lost in drawing.

(For Colleen AF Venable) In addition to the Katie the Catsitter series, you are also known for your graphic novel Kiss Number 8. Could you tell us about the inspiration for this project and what it meant to you writing it?

Colleen: Someone recently asked me why I haven’t done another novel for older teens since Kiss Number 8 and it’s because you have to get in the mindset of your protagonist to write a book…and going back to being a teen…lordie, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone! I know I will again, someday, and miiiight even have some secret first drafts, but it’s an emotional journey, and I think all the emotion I put into that book came through. I started it in 2004, which is why the book is set then. It was inspired by my very Catholic family and their reaction to my perfect older sister coming out of the closet. Suddenly I was the “good kid”—and trust me I was NOT, and I was also secretly bi…something I didn’t even admit to myself until my 30’s due to repression. I wanted to make a book that was truthful to what it was like to come out in the early aughts but also didn’t show the church as some giant big bad guy like all the other LGBTQ books did at the time. Even back then I was exploring themes of all the gray areas in life, no good guys, no bad guys. Mads the protagonist is both so likable but also makes the worst decisions of anyone in the book. I’m so proud of the book, which finally came out in 2019 and was even one of the first comic books to ever receive a National Book Award nod. I thought of it as a period piece, but the emails I’ve gotten from teens struggling to come out make me realize it’s less of a historical novel than I’d like. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Steph: As I mentioned before, Calvin & Hobbes is an easy one, and one that inspired many creators. Tintin introduced me to action and adventure in comics, and Rurouni Kenshin was the big series that landed at just the right age for me. When I toured on motorbikes, I liked to imagine I was Kino in Kino’s journey, self-sufficient and exploring the different cultures of the world. Nowadays, I live in a self-converted Sprinter van named The Bebop, after the converted interplanetary fishing trawler in Cowboy Bebop. On some days the name feels extremely prescient—with all the blackout curtains up, it feels like a little spaceship that could be anywhere in the galaxy. Putting away the curtains could reveal a different planet each day. I see myself in Ed, “self-styled”, taking my craft through time in space, and hunting bounties (making comics and taking on freelance gigs). I even keep a little plushie corgi copilot.

Colleen: Ah! I hadn’t realized Bebop was named after that! As a huge Saturday Morning Cartoon dork I assumed it was from Ninja Turtles! I’m going to second Calvin & Hobbes. I feel like every cartoonist of our generation has Bill W to thank for letting us be absurd, bend genres, and create REAL protagonists, flaws and all. Like Katie, my parents didn’t have much money growing up, so I spent my afternoons after school in the library, being annoying and VERY hyper. (Catholic Church, if you are reading this, please consider canonizing those librarians.) Books that blew me away: Amelia Bedelia, anything Ellen Raskin, Agatha Christie. At the time there was no YA section, and definitely no graphic novel section, but if those existed I would have eaten them up. I got into comics through webcomics after college. It was the thing I had been searching for. Now I am forever in love with anything Victoria Jameson, M.T. Anderson, or Urasawa writes. I swear it’s impossible for those three to create anything that’s less than genius. 

Steph: Ha, that reminds me of how influential The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was for me! I read it at just the right age. If I ever build out another van, it might have to be the Heart Of Gold. It seems infinitely improbable.

Stephanie Yue

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

Colleen: Honestly, for me it’s more comedy icons: Monty Python, Gilda Radner, Mr. Show, Carol Burnett, The Muppet Show, The Marx Brothers. If I had to name comics, I’d have to give a nod to The Tick and The Far Side. I’m a huge comedy history nerd and read anything I can find on the subject. Even in my more serious books like Kiss Number 8, humor is the thing that drives the reader through the angst. Without comedy these stories would never be as powerful. 

Steph: I know I keep coming back to it, but Bill Watterson was formative for me. I also really enjoy the mixed media work of Shaun Tan, and the life and work of Edward Gorey. His former home is now the Edward Gorey House, and it offers a wonderful peek into his life as a creative. It’s one of my favorite stops if I ever find myself going to Cape Cod.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/drawing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

Steph: Cartooning is a surprisingly physically draining profession, with long, lonely hours at the drawing tablet. Whenever available, I do my best to get some social time, outdoor time, and maintain an exercise routine. At the desk, I try to be careful about ergonomics and my posture, to avoid painful aches or repetitive stress injuries. Like many creative occupations that blur the line between work and play, it’s commonly misunderstood. Even after this long I still find myself justifying to people that yes, this is indeed a job, and no, I cannot do this for free.

Also, robots and horses are hard to draw.

Colleen: Whenever I write Katie I have a smile on my face and am often giggling out loud. I also adore the editing process, especially when I get to work with an editor as brilliant as Shana Corey, who’s notes always blow me away. I’m a big fan of jigsaw puzzles and mysteries and figuring out how to reshape pieces so they fit together perfectly. For me the frustrating part is not having more time. I have a full-time day job and can only fit in writing early morning. I’m good at meeting my book deadlines and my job, but my personal inbox and ability to have time for friends suffers more than I’d like. Other frustrating thing: I think I’m the only writer in the world who doesn’t drink coffee, so my love of writing in cafes means a whole lotta brownies and muffins, which I’m fine with but my dentist and non-stretchy pants might not love. 

And sorry about all the robots and horses, Steph!

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

Steph: I live to ride and travel and I love to build things!

Colleen: Steph is being modest, when they say travel they’re doing it on a motorcycle, Vespa (to 49 of the 50 states!!!), and in their amazing van. I’m in awe of them. They’re basically more badass than any comic book hero you could imagine. I can’t even do a somersault and cried the one time I did a tourist-y zipline. (The 10-year-olds and 70-year-olds also ziplining were very confused.) While I might be afraid of heights and worms, I’ve got a handful of things I’m weirdly good at. For instance I once broke a national co-ed jump rope record that hadn’t been broken in 30 years. I’m ranked in the top 50 of Dance Central international high scores…a game series that if I ever have enough money I will pay Harmonics to make another version. I also have an internet famous connect-the-dots tattoo that George Takei said was “the perfect tattoo” and Mark Walberg said was “a bad influence on children.” 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Steph: What is your favorite flavor of potato chip? It’s salt and vinegar, the saltier and more tart the better.

Colleen: Noooo don’t out me as a weirdo who doesn’t really like chips, Steph!!! I have a sweet tooth. Actually I might have two, one in place of the salty tooth everyone else seems to have. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring creatives?

Steph: The most daring thing you can do is just make the thing you want to make and put it out there in the world. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s more important that you start.

Colleen: Don’t be afraid to get better! I started a webcomic in 2004 using MS Paint. Four years later I was the sole designer for First Second Books and had my first graphic novel contract. I wrote 31 books that were rejected by publishers before that contract…and even after that I wrote 6 others that never made it to publication. The most important thing to do is to set aside time for you to be creative every week. There will also be a million excuses, but be kind to yourself and make space for YOU. Also read. The more you read the better a writer you’ll become. And did I mention the muffins? They definitely help. 

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

Colleen: This fall I have two books coming out. My first for adults! It’s a humor/inspiration book called The Swayze Year: You’re Not Old You’re Just Getting Started co-written with the brilliant Meghan Daly, with art by the incredible Tara O’Connor! It chronicles one person from age 35 to 100 who got their start at that age. It’s super inspiring but also SUPER absurd, more of the tone of your best friend saying “SHUT UP YOU AREN’T OLD!” than a cheesy self-help book. 

The other book is a short story collection called Creepy Cafetorium, which is part Sideways Stories and part Gravity Falls. I get to be the Rod Sterling of the series and write all the intros for every tale as a very weird 600 year old lady. It’s incredibly goofy, heart-felt, and has stories from amazing writers like Jadzia Axlerod, Carol Burrell, and Marcie Colleen. 

Steph: I’m always working on my van, my bikes, and future travel.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books (comics included)/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

Steph: Gender Queer spoke to me, by Maia Kobabe.

Colleen: I’m putting my vote in for Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado. It’s a love letter to the Bronx and a horror novel that bases those horrors on real events. But the queer romance was sweet and like little breaths of solace during the gripping thriller. (Note: if you read this book you will never look at the subway the same way again.) 

As for comics, the one that got me recently was Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axlerod and Jess Taylor. DC’s first trans hero! Written by an amazing woman I’ve known since our days making hand-stapled mini-comics to sell for a buck or two at small press cons! Not only is the story so compelling, but the character designs and the candy-colored art are delicious. 

Interview with Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of Victories Greater Than Death, the first book in the young-adult Unstoppable trilogy, along with the short story collection Even Greater Mistakes. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. Her fiction and journalism have appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostSlateMcSweeney’sMother Jones, the Boston ReviewTor.comTin HouseConjunctionsWired Magazine, and other places. Her TED Talk, “Go Ahead, Dream About the Future” got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.

I had the opportunity to interview Charlie, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! I’m a trans woman in San Francisco who writes science fiction and fantasy. I also organize local events, including a ton of spoken word events, but also the monthly Trans Nerd Meet Up here in SF. I love karaoke and queer performance art, and I have been known to do some pretty outrageous performances myself. I won a Lambda Literary Award for transgender/genderqueer writing, and helped to organize a national tour of trans authors called the Cross Gender Caravan. Lately, I’ve helped to create a trans superhero for Marvel Comics named Escapade, who’s appearing in a miniseries called New Mutants: Lethal Legion that I’m writing — it debuted in March 2023.

What can you tell us about your latest books, the Unstoppable series?

The Unstoppable trilogy is an epic story about figuring out who you are and how far you’re willing to go to save the people you love. Tina Mains looks like a normal human girl, but she’s secretly a clone of an alien hero who died — they hid the clone on Earth, disguised as a human baby. And now it’s time to return to the stars and reclaim her heroic legacy. Tina is expecting to leave home and step back into her former self’s life, but it turns out things aren’t that simple, and being a hero is kind of a messy business. Luckily, Tina’s not figuring it out alone: a group of other Earth kids join her in space, and they help her realize that instead of trying to be the second coming of the heroic Captain Argentian, she should try being herself. And then in the sequel, things get a lot messier, and there’s a fascist takeover and we learn the truth about an ancient threat to all life in the galaxy, and Tina pays a heavy price to save her friends.

What was the inspiration for this series?

When I was a kid, all I wanted was for aliens to drop out of the sky and tell me that I didn’t belong here on Earth — that I was secretly an alien, and I belonged with them. As a visibly queer kid with a really severe learning disability, I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere here, and I just wanted someone to take me away from this honestly disappointing planet. So when I started thinking about writing a young adult novel, I wanted to write a book for my younger self — about what would happen if aliens showed up and took you away on a huge, awesome adventure in space.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative and young adult fiction?

I’ve always loved making up weird stories, and that was a huge part of how I dealt with the aforementioned learning disability. I’ve written fiction in lots of different genres, but I keep coming back to speculative fiction because it’s the best way to deal with how strange and confusing the real world is. People are constantly pretending that stuff makes sense, when it really doesn’t. At all. Especially nowadays, the world is changing too fast to keep up with, and tons of people loudly pretend that their imaginary rules are super important and real. And I’ve found that goes double for young adult fiction: when you’re a teenager, you’re surrounded by adults who are pretending that nonsense makes sense, and sometimes it seems like everyone else is playing along. I love stories that gently (or not-so-gently) point out how fake and bizarre all the stuff we pretend to believe in is.

How would you describe your writing process?

It really varies, but I try to do some writing every day, when I can. I know some writers who only write on weekends, or on some other schedule, but I find that if I can keep the story fresh in my head, it flows easier every time. I like to try and get some writing done in the mornings with my coffee, and then take a super long walk to the ocean or to Chinatown, to clear my head and just kind of work things out in my head. Long walks are a big part of my writing process, and so is hanging out with my cat.

As a writer who has written on the importance of fiction as a form of healing and accessing agency, particularly your book, Never Say You Can’t Survive, I’m wondering if there’s anything you could say now on what creative expression and art means to you personally?

Making up stories helped me survive some rough times in my childhood, and it’s still doing that now. Writing stories helped me figure out my gender when I was transitioning. I love getting lost in my own imaginary world, where I can identify with my characters as they struggle to survive and do the right thing, and I especially enjoy when my characters are having a deep emotional conversation that speaks to something in my own life. Writing is my happy place.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

As a kid, I loved big escapist stories with larger than life adventures, and I definitely wanted to be Wonder Woman when I grew up — I also loved Doctor Who for the way that the Doctor used creativity and silliness and kindness to solve problems instead of just shooting everything in sight. I also loved Monty Python and Victor/Victoria, which fed my love of anarchy and seemed to hint that gender was something you could reshape to tell your own story. The books that spoke to me were weird, surreal things like Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time and the works of Daniel Pinkwater. In my early teens I discovered Prince, and his music and his image changed my life.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

Oh, so many. There are so many incredible authors writing right now — N.K. Jemisin’s work has changed the way I think about stories, over and over again. A whole bunch of amazing trans/non-binary authors have come along recently in speculative fiction, and their giving me life and encouraging me to take bigger swings creatively. Among others, Isaac Fellman, Ryka Aoki, Naseem Jamnia, Nino Cipri, R.B. Lemberg, Elly Bangs, April Daniels, H.E. Edgmon, Aiden Thomas and Rivers Solomon… I’m just scratching the surface. It’s a wonderful time to be a trans SFF fan.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

Man, I have good days and bad days, like most people. I love it when the characters are speaking through me and doing stuff that surprise me — that’s the best thing ever. And then there are the times when I know I need a scene where something happens, but I can’t come  up with it to save my life. Revision is also often a nightmare, because you have to make the best of all the choices that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I used to belong to a skipping team. My cat’s name is Marcus Aurelius Sassafras Vespasian IV, but sometimes he goes by Dr. Sassafras or just Dr. Sassy. I used to have a giant collection of Doctor Who memorabilia, but I sold it all and gave the money to charity.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

You have to be simultaneously humble and arrogant — you have to believe that your work is amazing and important and will change people’s lives, so you’ll keep going and doing the boldest and most audacious work you possibly can. But you also have to remember that there are a million other writers out there who are also doing awesome work, and that you’re part of a whole community of creative people who need to support each other. You have to be okay with tons of rejection — I racked up hundreds and hundreds of rejections when I was starting out! — and not take it personally. Also, you should totally make writing a communal activity as much as you can: join a writing group, organize writing dates with friends, share your work online, take part in open mics and other readings. Just find ways to make it a social thing.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I already mentioned this at the start, but I’m writing a miniseries for Marvel called New Mutants: Lethal Legion. It includes Escapade, the trans mutant superhero I created with artists Ted Brandt and Ro Stein, who has the power to trade places with anyone. The plot has to do with Escapade organizing a heist with some of her mutant friends, which (not surprisingly) goes pear-shaped. And the New Mutants are forced to face off with some of the worst villains in the Marvel Universe. It’s a super silly, heartfelt, goofy comedy miniseries about trauma and what we do to take care of the people we love.

Charlie Jane Anders is a guest this year at Flame Con on August 12th and 13th at the Times Square Sheraton.

Interview with Lin Thompson

Lin Thompson (they/them) is a queer author of books for middle-grade readers. Lin grew up playing pretend games in the backyard and basement of their home in Kentucky. Now they get to write pretend stories in the backyard and basement of their home in Des Moines, IA, where they live with their wife and cat.

I had the opportunity to interview Lin once again, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! How have you been and could you tell us a little about yourself to readers who haven’t met you yet?

Thanks for having me, I’m very excited to be back! I’m a trans author of two books for middle-grade readers: The Best Liars in Riverview (out last year) and The House That Whispers (which just came out in February!). I grew up in Kentucky and love to write stories about queer kids growing up and figuring themselves out.

What can you tell us about your latest book, The House That Whispers? What was the inspiration for this story?

The House That Whispers is about an eleven-year-old trans kid named Simon and his two sisters as spend a week in their grandmother’s house—but when Simon starts sensing a ghostly presence there, his hunt for the ghost turns up more feelings and family secrets than he’d anticipated. I knew fairly early on that I wanted to write about a trans kid who starts the story knowing who he is, even if no one else in his life does yet. And I had a pretty good sense of Simon’s character and of the emotional arc I wanted for him. But if I’m honest, what inspired me to make this book a ghost story was watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. I love how the show uses horror elements to explore the characters’ emotional journeys, and I started thinking about how I could use some of the classic ingredients of a haunted house story to draw out this internal journey I was imagining for Simon and bring it out into his world.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically middle grade fiction?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for longer than I can remember—storytelling is just something I’ve always loved. Even when I wasn’t reading or writing as a kid, I was always playing pretend games or making up stories with dolls or stuffed animals. I love writing for middle-grade specifically because it’s such a formative time in developing your worldview and starting to understand more of the world outside yourself. I probably read more at that age than I have at any other point in my life, and so many of the books I read back then have stuck with me, in big ways and small.

How would you describe your writing process?

Somehow both very organized and very chaotic at the same time. I almost never write or revise in order—I’m always jumping around depending on which scene is caught in my head that day or which scene has gotten me stuck. I love being able to just follow where my interest takes me. But it also means I have to have a very solid sense of the plot and structure before I can get very far into working on a story. I love making outlines and beat sheets and lists of scenes—even when those lists inevitably change about a hundred times through the process.

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this??

I definitely understand that challenge—even though I’ve been writing for my whole life, my debut was only the second book I’d ever actually finished, and it took me years and years to even get a first draft done. But I think the biggest help for me is having external accountability—someone besides just me to push me and ask when the book will be ready, haha. The House That Whispers is the first book I’ve written under contract with a publisher, and it made a huge difference to have that official deadline and to be able to work with my editor throughout the process. (To compare with that years-long timeline from my first book, this one went from an idea to a draft to a fully revised manuscript in less than a year total.)

But that external accountability doesn’t have to be an agent or editor or anything official—it can be a friend, or a beta reader, or a made-up deadline you’ve set for yourself and told your friends to hold you to. I might never have finally finished that first book if I didn’t have my amazing writing group to help push me. Writing is such a solitary activity, but it can be hugely helpful to have a community of other writers where you can all cheer each other on.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

There were definitely books that I connected with as a kid, but I don’t remember reading a book with a specifically queer character until I was well into college. Instead, queer fanfiction sort of filled that role for me, and had a big hand in helping me realize that I was queer. There were so many amazing queer creators writing these beautiful, nuanced explorations of identity in ways I’d never seen before, and that helped me see myself reflected in ways I hadn’t even known to look for yet.

And now, even just within middle-grade, there are so many books coming out that would have totally changed my life if I’d had them as a kid. I cried more than once reading Kyle Lukoff’s Too Bright To See because of how closely the narrator’s experience of gender mirrored my own in younger years, before I had the words for what I was experiencing. And Nicole Melleby’s In the Role of Brie Hutchens explores what it’s like to be a queer kid raised in a very Catholic environment in a beautiful, funny way that hit me really hard.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

I love to branch out into other creative projects when I hit a writing block—baking, painting, doing embroidery. All of it feels so much better than just staring at a blank page feeling bad about myself, and having other hobbies can really help refill my creative well. My latest project is historical fiction, so sometimes when I’m stuck on something in it I’ll give myself permission to just poke around through the research and go down all kinds of rabbit-holes into weird and interesting parts of history, and see what sticks.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?

My absolute favorite feeling when I’m writing is when I know something in the plot isn’t working but I’m totally stuck on how to fix it—and it’s incredibly frustrating, and I’m sure there’s no solution. And then finally, I find some piece of the story that I’ve been assuming has to be a certain way, and I realize that it doesn’t, actually, and I can just change it to fix the problem. Because it’s all made up. Which sounds so obvious, and yet somehow I forget that every time! But I made the whole story up in the first place, and I can adjust whatever I need to, and it’s empowering and terrifying at the same time. I always feel like I’m breaking the book when I make changes like that, but I love the feeling of getting to put it back together better.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I have a cat who’s very cuddly and too smart for her own good and is absolutely perfect. I really enjoy studying old maps and am slightly obsessed with historic sailing ships. And this last one is a little bit of a brag but—like Simon in The House That Whispers, I am also very good at Tetris.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Have you ever lived in a haunted house? Which, I don’t think so, but my old high school was definitely haunted, and the teachers had all kinds of stories, and sometimes for drama club we had to store props in the haunted section of the third floor and it was terrifying.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?

Figure out the writing process that works for you! Everyone’s brain is different and no one’s creative process is going to look exactly the same, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different strategies and approaches and see what feels right for you.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I’m still in the very early brainstorming stages for my next middle-grade book. In the meantime, though, I’ve been working on a YA historical fantasy that’s very, very queer, which has been a really fun challenge and something I’m really excited about!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

In middle-grade, I loved Camp QUILTBAG by Nicole Melleby and A.J. Sass. In YA, I’m super excited for Jen St. Jude’s If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come (I got to read an older draft of it and was fully bawling in the most beautiful, cathartic way). Others I’ve loved lately include We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds, When The Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb, and The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas.

Header Photo Credit Katherine Ouellette

Interview with Amanda Leduc

Amanda Leduc is a writer and disability rights advocate. She is the author of THE CENTAUR’S WIFE (Random House Canada, 2021), DISFIGURED: ON FAIRY TALES, DISABILITY, AND MAKING SPACE (Coach House Books, 2020), and THE MIRACLES OF ORDINARY MEN (ECW Press, 2013). Her essays and stories have appeared across Canada, the US, and the UK, and she has spoken across North America on accessibility, inclusion, and disability in storytelling. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she serves as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.

I had the opportunity to interview Amanda, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Of course! I’m a Canadian author and disability rights advocate. I’ve written several books: a nonfiction book called Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, which was published in 2020, and two novels, The Centaur’s Wife, published in 2021, and The Miracles of Ordinary Men, published in 2013. I currently live in Hamilton, Ontario, where I write and serve as the Communications and Development Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.

As an academic, what can you tell us about your book, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space? What was the inspiration for this book?

Disfigured is a hybrid book—a blend of memoir and cultural criticism that looks at several well-known fairy tales from a disability rights lens. I look at my own lifelong fascination with fairy tales and explore how that, along with my disability, shaped how I grew up and viewed disability in the world.

What are some of your favorite stories/fairytales concerning disability, or containing disabled coding?

I think that Beauty and the Beast is a really great example of a fairytale that is deeply coded in disability. The Beast, as a character, is made to look different, is othered, as a result of his bad behaviour. This carries the message that those who look (or walk, or act) differently from the “norm” are this way because they somehow deserve it. It’s the kind of message that we can (sometimes!) deconstruct as adults, but it’s often difficult for young children—who are most often exposed to fairytales in their formative years—to understand this. And as a result, we grow up internalizing these kinds of messages—the good things that happen to so-called “normal” people versus what happens to those who are perceived as different in some way.

How did you find yourself getting into writing, both fiction and non-fiction? What drew you to those mediums?

I have always wanted to be a writer, since the time that I was very small. It’s just always something I’ve wanted to do in the world. I was initially drawn to fiction first, and spent a lot of time in my teens and twenties focused on learning how to write stories and novels. So it came as something of a surprise to discover in my thirties that I was also very interested in non-fiction, and in exploring the ways that this genre in particular could shift and grow and change.

How would you describe your writing process?

It’s very organic. Usually I start a book thinking of one specific scene or idea. With Disfigured, I was interested in the fact that so many of the fairytales I’d been introduced to as a child featured disability but were never discussed in explicitly those terms, so I set out to write a book that explored this idea, and along the way the book incorporated memoir and hybrid forms as a part of this discovery. With my latest novel, The Centaur’s Wife, I had a scene in mind of a woman who was struggling with her marriage (and with the world ending) but also secretly in love with someone else. I was interested in exploring what “taboo” love can mean, and looking at how grief and desire can intertwine. Then, as I was exploring these things, the novel began to incorporate elements of disability into the story as well.

When I write, I don’t generally have an outline—I start with something small and then build on that, and the outline gradually reveals itself to me as the story goes on. The initial part of writing—that first scene or idea—can often be quite slow, and I’ll spend months or years just jotting down little notes to myself and thinking through the world of the novel and what it’s trying to say. But then gradually the momentum builds and once I’m in the thick of a writing project it usually comes out in a steady fashion. At the height of things I like to shoot for a minimum of 1000 words a day, but I don’t always get there.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

I love Karen Russell’s work, and Kevin Brockmeier, and Carmen Maria Machado—I think they’re all doing really interesting things with form and voice, and the “reality” of the worlds that we as writers try to build.

I was, and still am, a huge fantasy and sci-fi nerd. When I was young I read a lot of the fantasy and sci-fi classics, like Octavia Butler and C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien, and it’s a genre that I still love escaping into, particularly when my own writing is proving difficult, (which it often does!). I love Sarah J. Maas, and am waiting impatiently for her next book.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed that I’ve reached a place where inspiration seems to come from everywhere—I find creative influences everywhere I look, from the shows I watch through to my daily walks with my dog. It’s really wonderful and I wish this for all writers—to be able to look at the world around you and see creativity everywhere feels like such a gift!

What advice would you give for authors for portraying disability (whether that of their own or of others) within their own work? 

I think it’s important for all writers to be honest with themselves around the question of portraying a character with a disability, particularly if that disability isn’t your own. You need to ask yourself: am I the best person to tell this story? Or should I be amplifying the voice of someone else who is already telling this story in some way?

If you really think that a character must have a disability of some kind, and you don’t have that experience yourself, you must pay to have your work read by someone with lived experience—in publishing they’re often known as sensitivity readers—so that they can give you advice on the portrayal of your character and suggestions for how it might improve.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging?

I love creating new worlds and imagined futures (and presents, and pasts!) and then getting to play in them. It’s the greatest thing. The challenging part of that is making sure that everything then makes sense in the context of the story!

Besides your work as an author, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I write a regular newsletter ( and also work across North America as a disability rights advocate, giving presentations on accessibility in events and the presence of disability in storytelling.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?

I wish that interviews talked about book advances and the financial realities of writing more! The reality is that most writers who are working in the world today do not write full-time—most of us have day jobs and do all of our writing on top of that. I think that a lack of discussion around this can perpetuate this idea that anyone who is a public writer has someone found a way to make a lot of money doing it, and that is so often not the case.

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

I have a new novel called Wild Life coming out in Canada next year—and hopefully in other countries too—though I’m not yet sure exactly when that will be. It follows two hyenas who walk upright and talk like humans, and the writing of it is probably the single most enjoyable time I’ve had as a writer to-date. It was so much fun to do.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?

I think a lot of advice to writers boils down to don’t give up. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. Don’t give up! There is a time and a place for your stories. What I’ll add to this is: your work will find its audience. And that audience is not going to look the same for everybody. But that’s okay! Understanding your connection to your readers—what people are drawn to in your writing, and how your writing shapes the world that your readers inhabit—is part of the magic of being a writer. May you know that moment when it arrives, and treasure it forever.

Finally, what books/authors, including possibly those related to queerness and/or disability, would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

So many! Carmen Maria Machado for sure (Her Body And Other Parties, The Dream House), Keah Brown (The Pretty One), Emily Ladau (Demystifying Disability), and Alice Wong (The Year Of The Tiger, Disability Visibility), just to name a few. Happy reading!

Interview with Sabrina Imbler, author of How Far the Light Reaches A Life in Ten Sea Creatures

Sabrina Imbler is a writer and science journalist living in Brooklyn. Their first chapbook, Dyke (geology) was published by Black Lawrence Press. They have received fellowships and scholarships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Tin House, the Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat, Millay Arts, and Paragraph NY, and their work has been supported by the Café Royal Cultural Foundation. Their essays and reporting have appeared in various publications, including the New York Times, the AtlanticCatapult, and Sierra, among others.

I had the opportunity to interview Sabrina, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a cancer living in Brooklyn with my partner and our two cats, Melon and Sesame. I love gummy candy and having multiple beverages of different temperatures on hand at any moment.

What can you tell us about your latest project, How Far the Light Reaches A Life in Ten Sea Creatures? What inspired the book?

The summer after I graduated college, I moved to New York to intern at a magazine that paid me $10 an hour, so I also freelanced for an ocean nonprofit. I would scour Google News every week to find weird or surprising news about the ocean, which helped introduce me to many of the creatures in this book. But there was one headline in Reuters that I never forgot: “Octopus mom protects her eggs for an astonishing 4-1/2 years.” I read through the story, which described a deep-sea octopus at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that guarded her eggs for four-and-a-half years without moving or eating anything. I was stunned, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I knew octopuses have an incredible, bodily intelligence that extends beyond the reaches of what our human brains can imagine. I knew octopuses could escape their tanks and unlock jars and hide themselves in coconuts. What was it like for such an animal to sit, unmoving and wasting away, for so many years? 

The octopus had implanted herself into my mind, and I knew I wanted to write about her but wasn’t sure how. A few years later, I saw the online magazine called Catapult had opened submissions for columns. I pitched a column inspired by the octopus, where I would mix memoir and science writing to see what lessons I could draw from the ways sea creatures survive in the ocean. The first essay was about the mother octopus and my own mother, which I expanded for the book. All the creatures in the book have carved out space in my heart, the mother octopus is at its beating center, the creature whose life felt refracted from my own.

Many writers, including Hugh Ryan, have noted the historical and fictional connections between queer people and the water. What are your thoughts on this relationship and why queer people are drawn to the water?

I love Hugh’s exploration of queer Brooklyn navy yards and Coney Island performers in his book When Brooklyn Was Queer, and I am glad to be in a lineage of queer people finding ourselves in the ocean. I believe everyone has their own route in, but to me the ocean represents a place of possibility, where bodies move differently, where we sink and float, where we can be outside the prying eyes of society and with other queer community. And no one has a more wide-ranging, wonderful notion of sex than the animal kingdom.

Where did you each find your love for writing (and by association marine biology)? What specifically drew you to non-fiction?

As soon as I started reading, I knew I wanted to write. I always felt at home near the sea, and initially wanted to write about the ocean and sea creatures from a totally impartial perspective. But my experience of the world inflects all that I write, and so the most honest way to approach the subject became weaving my own story into that of the sea.

Growing up, were there any books or authors that touched you or inspired you as a creative/ or made you feel seen? Are there any like that now?

Like many other gay people, I grew up worshipping at the altar of Tamora Pierce. I dreamed of living in the young-adult kingdom of Tortall. All of Pierce’s young protagonists were role models for me, gender-bending people who shed off societal expectations to become the person of their dreams. There’s Alanna, the young girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight. There’s Kel, the girl who becomes a knight as a girl (thanks to Alanna’s trailblazing.) But my favorite of Pierce’s series in Tortall is “The Immortals,” starring a girl named Daine, who can speak to animals, briefly lived with wolves after bandits murdered her family, regularly communes with The Badger God, and also raises a dragon before it was cool. Daine is my number one, and Pierce’s books were probably the reason I wanted to become a writer. I remember sometime when I was in elementary, Tamora came to my local bookstore to sign some books and I brought my heavily dog-eared copies in a sizeable stack, and she was kind enough to sign every single one.

What inspires you today?

The sea, invertebrate animals of all kinds, my cats, my friends, my partner, trans people, local bookstores, the orcas sinking yachts in Spain.

How would you describe your writing process? 

I write slowly and need to put everything on the page before I can understand the shape of an essay.

What are some of your favorite things about writing? What do you find to be some of the most difficult/frustrating?

I love when I have no idea where a piece will go until I’ve finished a draft, and my conclusion is actually the beginning of the piece. I find it very difficult to motivate myself to write outside of my day job, which is also writing.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

If I could go back in time to any period, I would go to the Cambrian Period and snorkel.

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I believe in unions, in community organizing, in gender-affirming healthcare for all. 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers? 

Write to your own community and let everyone else catch up; never compromise the nuances of the story you want to tell for some imagined general audience. The work will always be strongest when you write something you’d want your friends to read.

Are there other projects you are working on and at liberty to discuss?

I’m focusing on rest and personal growth right now, but I’m thinking about another book about bugs!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky and Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Interview with Author Mark Oshiro

MARK OSHIRO is the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning Latinx queer author of Anger Is a Gift, Each of Us a Desert, and Into the Lightas well as their middle-grade books The InsidersYou Only Live Once, David Bravo, and Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena. They are the co-author (with Rick Riordan) of The Sun and the Star: A Nico Di Angelo Adventure. When not writing, they are trying to pet every dog in the world.

I had the opportunity to interview Mark, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hello, Geeks OUT! I’m Mark Oshiro. I’m a middle grade and young adult author based in Atlanta. And I really love dogs. And vinyl records!

What can you tell us about one of your upcoming books, Into the Light? What was the inspiration for this series?

Well, so far, this is still intended to be a standalone book! Some day, I’ll get an idea that will become a series. Into the Light is my foray into writing a thriller. It’s a very personal story because it is both inspired by and based on a lot of my experiences as a teenager, particularly my upbringing as an adoptee in a religious family. I wanted to write something that was frightening, emotional, and would also challenge me as a writer.

In addition to your own original stories, you’ve also been working on another, The Sun and The Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure? What was it been like focusing on a character with such as strong queer fandom and history? How would you describe your connection to the Rick Riordan fandom before signing on to this project, and what was your reaction afterward?

I’m a latecomer to the Percy Jackson series. I read the books when I was on tour for Anger is a Gift back in 2018 and immediately fell hard for them. To the surprise of NO ONE, once I met Nico in the third book, I instantly connected with him. So to get the opportunity to write from his point of view? It’s surreal. I create stories that often about kids dealing with trauma or difficult childhoods, and I know that’s why I was drawn to Nico. In many ways, I do feel uniquely qualified to contribute to bringing The Sun and The Star to life. Suffice to say, this journey the past couple of years has been one of the most rewarding and thrilling things I’ve ever done.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative and young adult fiction?

Well, I was drawn to storytelling mostly because it was the only thing I was both good at AND interested in when I was a kid. I’ve been creating stories since I was in the first grade. But it didn’t feel like a real possibility to me until I was a freshman in high school. My English teacher that year (shout out to Ms. Alford!) assigned us The House on Mango Street to read. It changed my life. It was my first real sense that Latinx folks could be authors and that we could write about our lives.

I’ve generally always loved the weird and the strange! It’s very natural for me to write in that space. The same goes for writing stories for a younger audience. I’m genuinely trying to capture the excitement and wonder I felt as a teenager who was a giant bookworm. So I’m absolutely writing the kind of stories I wanted back then.

As an author whose switched between young adult and middle grade, what is the appeal of writing between different age groups?

Right now, I tend towards wackier and funnier plots in my middle grade books, while my young adult work is far more intense, introspective, and complicated. From a creative standpoint, it helps me feel more free to write whatever kind of story I want. I also love how vastly different the two audiences are to interact with as well. You can ask any author writing for multiple age categories about this, but middle school and elementary visits/events are VERY different from young adult ones. Though don’t be fooled: kids will still shade you or rip your soul out of your body, no matter your age.

How would you describe your writing process?

Much better than it used to be, ha! These days, I’ve figured out what works best for me, so I do feel like it’s been streamlined in a sense. I take an idea and do freewriting until I feel like it’s fleshed out enough that I have a vague beginning, middle, and end. Then I write a detailed outline for all the scenes, and once that’s done, I start drafting! I am a fast drafter in general, but require a lot of time for re-writes and edits.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I mentioned The House On Mango Street earlier. I was a huge fan of Poe, Stephen King, Jane Austen… I devoured all the Goosebumps books in elementary school. That’s where my love of story, structure, and horror came from. It was a TV show, though, that actually made me see myself in the story: My So-Called Life. Wilson Cruz’s portrayal of Ricky Vasquez changed my whole life. He was the first queer Latinx person I had seen in any fictional medium ever.

That’s another purpose I imbue in my writing: I want to be someone else’s Ricky Vasquez. I am thankful that there’s a lot more of us—those of us excluded from so much of publishing or film or the TV industry—telling the stories that we want to tell.

I will say that the story that most resonated with me in the last few years? Probably Midnight Mass. And I have a bunch of recommendations for y’all at the end of this!

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

Every day life. My childhood. Really, really good works of art. Extremely cursed jokes in the group chat. 1am meals in diners.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

I love a good framing device and a very voice-y first-person narrator. I’m also a sucker for a mind-trip of a structure. Unfortunately, those are all really challenging to pull off and I constantly keep using them. One day, I will write something that’s a lot easier to execute.

Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I’m a big lover of music; if I could be doing anything else, it would be writing and playing music. I can talk anyone’s ear off about music in a heartbeat. Into the Light is also based heavily on my experience as a transracial adoptee. I’m Latinx (as is my identical twin brother, who thankfully never got separated from me), but my adoptive parents are white and Japanese/Hawaiian. Hence the last name that often confuses people! Also, I love long distance running.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Oooh! The question would be: What are the three albums you’ve listened to the most while writing your books? And the answer would be: Sing the Sorrow by AFI; The Other Shore by Murder by Death; Gone Forever by God Forbid.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t throw away any old drafts. I’ve turned old drafts into novels. Twice! And if you struggle with perfectionism, the best thing I ever did for my process was to write what’s called a zero draft: a draft that I show to literally no one. Not friends, not my agent, not an editor. No one sees it. So I just write my trash draft that’s littered with errors and might not make any sense, but the story is on the page. I can do something with it. Give it a try!

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I’m currently in the development stage of what will hopefully be my eighth book and third original middle grade novel. It’s a spooky and funny and will absolutely also punch you in the heart because it’s a Mark Oshiro book. I’m also thinking of branching out into adult horror, but that’s all I can say at the moment.

Also, I’m pretty sure I know what my next YA novel is going to be, and unfortunately for me, it is yet another speculative novel with a bizarre narrative structure. I’ll see myself out now.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

Any and everything by Leah Johnson.

Nothing Burns As Bright As You by Ashley Woodfolk

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Any and everything by Sarah Gailey

Fifteen Hundred Miles From The Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Interview with Alex Crespo

Born and raised by the Great Lakes, Alex Crespo writes about queer love, magic, and all the ways they intersect. When not writing, you can find him making art or daydreaming about Mothman. He currently lives in Chicago with an endless anime watchlist and his black cat Hex. You can find him on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram as @byalexcrespo.

I had the opportunity to interview Alex, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks so much for having me! I’m a trans Mexican-American author based in Chicago. I love writing coming of age stories centered around queer love, friends who are really like family, and small towns that are more than what they seem.

What can you tell us one of your debut novel, Saint Juniper’s Folly? What was the inspiration for this project?

Saint Juniper’s Folly is described as Cemetery Boys meets The Haunting of Bly Manor, a queer haunted house mystery that’s perfect for found family fans, romance lovers, and anyone who likes a spooky thrill. It follows Jaime, a Mexican-American teen who returns to his hometown only to get trapped in a haunted mansion in the woods. He begrudgingly accepts the help of Theo, the local type-A golden boy, and Taylor, a Puerto Rican girl attempting to unravel the mystery of her mom’s sudden death, to learn the truth about the estate and set him free.

The book alternates POVs between the three main characters, and they all have drastically different backgrounds and perspectives on this stressful, bizarre situation. On top of the supernatural dangers in the book, they’re each grappling with their own personal struggles. They feel suffocated by grief, other people’s expectations, and anxiety about their futures. I wrote the bulk of this book during the first covid lockdown in 2020, and I really wanted to play with this idea of how different teens might react to feeling trapped—physically and emotionally.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction and speculative fiction?

I grew up an avid reader and continued to love young adult fiction well past my teens, so when I thought about writing my own books, YA felt like a really natural choice. I was drawn to speculative fiction in particular because it allows you to explore conflict through a larger-than-life lens. For a lot of teens, the struggles in their lives feel monumental—they’re experiencing so many big changes and interpersonal issues for the first time, and that’s terrifying. Amplifying those everyday emotions through magic and metaphor is a great way to honor and validate those big feelings, and I love that specfic allows me to do that.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer?

Honestly, I don’t remember reading many books with queer or latino representation when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw more titles with characters who shared my identity popping up, and that was a game changer for me both as a reader and aspiring author. Now I’m really excited to carry that torch and bring more diverse representation to readers through my own writing.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?

The biggest influence on my writing right now comes from TV. A lot of times I’ll start watching a show to unwind but end up taking notes on characterization and pacing instead. K-dramas in particular have taught me so much about concise storytelling and the elements of swoon-worthy romance. I’ve also watched a lot of seinen anime recently. I love how the genre unpacks moral dilemmas and philosophical themes with a lot of nuance.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult?

I have the most fun writing dialogue and intimate, emotionally-charged moments between characters. I try to write chronologically, but sometimes I jump ahead to write banter and tension because it feels like such a treat. On the flip side, sometimes choreographing movement during scenes feels like a drag. Hats off to authors who love writing action sequences, please teach me your ways.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

When I’m not writing, I’m making art. It’s one of the only things that fully quiets my brain and lets me relax. That, and reading copious amounts of fanfiction.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Oh, that’s so fun. I wish someone asked what song I’d choose as the theme for Saint Juniper’s Folly. It would definitely be “Frozen Pines” by Lord Huron. I listened to Strange Trails nonstop while writing the book, so that album will always have a special place in my heart.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Make time for daydreaming in your day to day life. It’s really hard to fill your creative well if you don’t give your brain time to breathe and wander. Also, never be ashamed of having lofty goals when it comes to your art. Own it and don’t be afraid to be seen trying.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

Yes, I have another queer paranormal mystery coming in spring 2025! Four teens track down a local cryptid that’s feeding off secrets before their own hidden truths are exposed to their coastal Oregon town. It’s got a full cast of messy, lovable lgbt+ characters that I can’t wait to introduce to readers.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I just read A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall, a historical romance featuring a trans heroine, and it blew me away. Every facet of the story is handled with so much care and tenderness, I’m already itching to reread it. Racquel Marie and Jonny Garza Villa both have YA romances coming out soon that look incredible, so those are next on my list.

Star Trek (But Make it Gay): TNG

Busy Geek Breakdown:

Lifelong Trekkie or never seen a single episode? Check out the following:

Season 3; Episode 16.  Season 4; Episodes 4, 23. Season 5, Episodes 6, 14, 17.

Also, if you just want to see the Riker Maneuver click here.

If you’re a seasoned Trekkie, or don’t want context, skip ahead — here.

For the Total Star Trek Red Shirts Provisional Ensigns (Red Shirts are important now!!!):

Star Trek: The Next Generation (often abbreviated as TNG) is an American science fiction television series that aired from 1987 to 1994. It is the second Star Trek television series and a sequel to the original Star Trek series TOS that aired from 1966 to 1969.

The show is set in the 24th century, about 100 years after the original series, and follows the crew of the USS Enterprise-D, led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, (aka Gunshow circa 1994)  

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: TV Guide Publishing Group, Inc.

… as they explore the galaxy and encounter new civilizations and technologies. The Enterprise-D is a massive starship that is capable of traveling faster than the speed of light and is equipped with a variety of advanced technologies, including a holodeck, which can create realistic virtual environments.

The show has a large ensemble cast, with notable characters including Commander William Riker (galactic thirst trap) . . .

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Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (Take a look, It’s in a book!) , Lieutenant Commander Data (an android), Counselor Deanna Troi (a betazoid empath counselor), and Lieutenant Worf (a Klingon).

Lt. Worf” by Tram Painter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The show also features several recurring characters, such as Q, a powerful and mischievous being who challenges the crew with his god-like abilities.

TNG is known for its thought-provoking stories and themes, such as exploring the nature of humanity, the ethics of scientific experimentation, and the consequences of interfering with other cultures. It was also notable for its impressive special effects, which were state-of-the-art for its time.

Overall, TNG is widely regarded as one of the most successful and influential science fiction television shows of all time and has spawned numerous spin-off series and feature films.

Before we get into individual episodes, let’s talk about Q . . . . 

The character Q in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is often portrayed as being fascinated and intrigued by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Q, played by actor John de Lancie, is an omnipotent being who serves as a recurring character throughout the series. He often tests the crew of the USS Enterprise-D and challenges their beliefs and values. Q has a playful and mischievous personality, and he enjoys manipulating the crew and testing their limits.

Some would argue that while Q is often seen interacting with Picard and the two characters have a somewhat adversarial relationship, there is no indication in the show that Q has romantic feelings for Picard. That Q’s interest in Picard seems to stem more from his fascination with humanity and his desire to explore and understand human behavior.

It’s worth noting that the relationship between Q and Picard is deliberately ambiguous, and the show’s writers have left their interactions open to interpretation. While some fans may see hints of romantic interest in Q’s behavior towards Picard, the show itself does not provide any explicit confirmation of this.

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If you’re not convinced though and believe I’m just shipping Q-Card out of wishful thinking, wait until I post my blog about a later series. Anyway, Nerdist agrees with me (some spoilers).

Tasha Yar while not Canonically gay, has often been embraced as a gay icon and even made #1 on the AutoStraddle Star Trek lesbian character list. 

Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby, was the chief of security aboard the USS Enterprise-D and appeared in the first season of the show.

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One reason for Tasha Yar’s appeal to the LGBTQ+ community may be her status as a strong, independent woman. In the world of “Star Trek,” women are often shown in positions of power and authority, and Tasha Yar is no exception. She is a skilled fighter and a competent leader, and she is not afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs. Unfortunately, due to the actors desire to go elsewhere in her career, she ends up perpetuating the “Bury your gays” stereotype by getting killed off at the end of Season 1.

Ch . Ch. Ch. Changes … in uniforms over 100 years. It’s easiest to explain using the infographic from below. (get the full infographic here)

The most important costume revelation for TNG is the Skant! The Star Trek skant is a type of uniform worn by some characters in the Star Trek franchise. It is a unisex garment that resembles a dress or tunic and was first introduced in the original Star Trek series in the late 1960s.

The skant was intended to be a futuristic, gender-neutral uniform that would reflect the show’s optimistic vision of a society without gender-based distinctions. The skant was worn by both male and female crew members and was meant to signify that everyone in the Star Trek universe was equal and could perform any job regardless of gender.

The skant was worn by several characters, although most of the men sporting it in TNG were in the background.

The skant reappeared in later Star Trek series, including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where it was worn by both male and female crew members. However, the skant was eventually phased out in favor of more traditional uniforms.

In recent years, the skant has become a popular item among Star Trek fans and cosplayers, who often create their own versions of the garment. The skant is seen as a unique and iconic part of the Star Trek universe and a symbol of the franchise’s progressive values.

IMG_3050” by marakma is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Alright. Now on to my favorite part … the numbered list!

6. “The Offspring” (Season 3, Episode 16):

*CW: Mental Health, Death*

In this episode, the character of Data creates an android “daughter” named Lal. While the episode does not explicitly address LGBTQ issues, the themes of identity and acceptance resonate with many LGBTQ individuals.

Honey, let me tell you, as a fierce Star Trek fan and a proud member of the LGBTQ community, this episode that spoke to my heart on so many levels. In fact, after watching this episode I had to take a break and watch several episodes of RuPauls Drag Race, before I could resume my Trek re-watch.

Firstly, I was struck by Data. This android struggles with his identity as a non-human being and the prejudice and discrimination he faces from others because of it. Many of us in the Queer community can relate to feeling marginalized and ostracized for simply being who we are. Watching Data grapple with these issues was both emotional and empowering, as it reminded me of the importance of standing up for oneself in the face of discrimination.

But the real heart of The Offspring lies in the creation of Lal, a child-like android that Data creates as his own offspring. Many of us know all too well the balance required to prioritize found family and the importance of finding people who reflect our identities and experiences. Lal represents that desire for a family and the struggles that come with it as she navigates her identity as a non-human being and grapples with the discrimination she faces from others.

Data allow Lal to choose her own gender and appearance, and while this idea was executed in s somewhat binary way, still Star Trek saying Trans Rights in the early 1990’s was amazing! There are several remarks about how your gender is how other’s perceive you and impact how folks interact with you.

And there are absolutely some wonderful, memorable moments in this episode, like when Lal first learns from her job in Ten Forward as a cocktail waitress for Guinan (working at 3 weeks old – wow, nobody want to work these days!!!) and she first learns that people touch hands and then touch lips when they like each other. And of course Riker’s very first time meeting her, she picks him up by the collar to kiss him – right as Data walks in and says “Commander, what are your intentions with my daughter?” It’s just *chef’s kiss* one of those moments where my spouse had to ask why I was cackling so loud.

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Watching Data’s relationship with Lal develop throughout the episode is beautiful as he learns how to care for and love his new creation. The performances by the cast, particularly Brent Spiner as Data and Hallie Todd as Lal, were simply outstanding, capturing the complex emotions and struggles of their characters with real depth and sensitivity.

But what impressed me about The Offspring was its relevance to LGBTQ issues today. The episode tackles themes of prejudice, discrimination, and the importance of individual rights and freedoms, which are still relevant to our community. It’s a reminder that the fight for acceptance and equality is ongoing and that it’s essential to stand up for ourselves and our loved ones in the face of discrimination.

Overall, The Offspring was a profoundly moving and empowering episode that speaks to the struggles and joys of the LGBTQ community in a significant way. I highly recommend it to any queer person or ally who wants to see themselves reflected in a powerful and poignant story. Live long and prosper, honey.

But what caught my eye were the costumes worn by the android characters. Data, in particular, wore his normal sleek and form-fitting uniform that accentuated his non-human features, with metallic accents and a bold black and gold color scheme. On the other hand, Lal wore a simple dress with a flowing skirt, contrasting beautifully with her pale (and much more human like) skin, and conveying a sense of innocence of youth. Of course, she did have to wear this giant bob type wig, to allow for a scene later in the episode where they opened up her positronic brain on camera.

Of course the villain of the story, the Admiral who initially wanted to separate Lal from Data (and there were owe so many brilliant points in this episode about why Data was being questioned and second guessed on creating a life, when other’s weren’t questioned about procreating). Ultimately, Lal begins to feel actual emotions, beginning when she realizes some strange man who doesn’t care for her wants to take her away from her family and ensure she grows up ‘the right way’. She effectively has a breakdown and dies as a result of the intense feelings, which is of course heartbreaking, and the Admiral finally feels for Data as a father.

The crew is generally very compassionate, and Data mentions a heartwarming note about all of Lal’s memories will live inside him. But then Captain ‘Prick-ard’ basically says, “Oh, you’re not crying? Get back on watch!’ and Data does. Come on Jean Luc – you couldn’t give him a day off to contemplate existence? Or at least ask if he would prefer to mourn or get back to work? Well, we all know that for all his wisdom, Picard never did well with feelings. Or children. On that note, on to the next episode!!!!

5. “Suddenly Human” (Season 4, Episode 4):

*CW: Mental Health, Death

In this episode the crew encounters a human boy who was raised by an alien race after his parents died. As they attempt to reunite him with his biological family, they must navigate the complex issues of identity, belonging, and cultural differences.

These poor abandoned kids add to the confusion and chaos with the Mourning, a sound they make when separated from their Captain, until Picard charges in and orders them to be quiet.

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Now, this is a powerful message for our community, my loves. It reminds us of the importance of family and belonging, and how our sense of identity can be shaped by the culture and community we grow up in. It’s a message that resonates deeply with the LGBT community, as we too have often struggled to find acceptance and belonging in a world that can be hostile to our identities.

And speaking of cultural differences, my darlings, let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The crew’s attempts to reunite the boy with his biological family echo the struggles faced by LGBT individuals in reconciling their identities with their cultural and familial backgrounds.

Now we have to talk about Captain Picard’s attempts to connect with the boy. Bless his heart, he’s not exactly the most skilled at dealing with children, is he? But it’s also a reminder that we all have our awkward moments, and that even the most stoic and composed among us can struggle to connect with others at times.

But let’s talk about Captain Picard’s attempts to connect with the boy, my darlings. Bless his heart, he tells Counselor Troi that he’s not great with kids – a fact that is abundantly clear throughout the episode. But we can’t fault him for trying, can we? It’s a reminder that even the most seasoned leaders among us can struggle when it comes to parenting and connecting with younger generations.

And speaking of Picard, my loves, let’s not forget about Picard Day – an annual celebration of the captain that was established by the children on the Enterprise. It’s a playful moment in the series, but also a reminder of the importance of honoring those who inspire us and bring us together.

But beyond the jokes and playful moments, my darlings, this episode is a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding. As the crew attempts to navigate the complex dynamics between the boy and his biological family, they must confront their own biases and assumptions about what it means to be human.

And speaking of connections, my darlings, let’s not forget the playful reference to daddy issues in this episode. As the crew attempts to navigate the complex dynamics between the boy and his biological father, it’s hard not to laugh at the irony of Picard – a man with his own complicated relationship with his father – trying to play the role of mentor and father figure.

Ah, my darlings, wouldn’t it be lovely if every lost child in the galaxy could be a Mandalorian foundling, with the handsome Pedro Pascal as their daddy? Alas, in this episode, we are dealing with a Talarian foundling instead, and the crew of the Enterprise must navigate the complex issues of identity and belonging that arise when a human boy is raised by an alien race.

Now, we’ve all been there. Who hasn’t had a rebellious phase as a teenager, blasting rock music and acting out against authority? Maybe not as far as stabbing someone in their sleep, but otherwise it’s a universal experience, and a reminder that even in the future, some things never change. “Stop that noise!”

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But the real message here is about empathy and understanding. As the crew comes to understand the boy’s experience and perspective, they are able to bridge the gap between their two cultures and find a way to reunite him with his family while still honoring his identity and experiences.

Now, my loves, can we talk about those Talarian uniforms? They would be so fashionable if they weren’t wearing those turtlenecks underneath! It’s a good thing we have our very own fashion icons on the crew to provide some much-needed style inspiration. Data – does he have ANY pores? His skin is flawless! And Troi, are we sure that low cut v-neck jumpsuit is regulation Star Fleet?

But the journey to reunite Jono with his Talarian family is not without its challenges, my loves. Jono’s experience as a hostage has left him with deep-seated trauma and a desire for revenge, leading him to effectively try to commit suicide by cop in a dramatic confrontation with his Talarian captors. It’s a poignant reminder of the ongoing impact of trauma on our loved ones and the need for compassion and support in their healing journeys.

Despite the serious nature of this episode, my loves, we can always rely on the charming Captain Picard and his aversion to young people to bring some levity to the Enterprise. Don’t miss it!

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So let’s raise a glass of (vegan) Blood Wine to the crew of the Enterprise, my darlings, and to the power of empathy, understanding, and acceptance. We must never forget that we are all connected by our humanity, and that our differences should be celebrated, not feared. Remember, love knows no boundaries – even if we have a few heart wrenching and even awkward moments along the way!”

4. “The Host” (Season 4, Episode 23):

In this episode, Dr. Crusher falls in love with a Trill ambassador named Odan. Now, the Trill are a fascinating species, honey. They can transfer their consciousness between hosts, and Odan’s current host is a fine-looking man. But when that man is injured, Odan is transferred into a new host, temporarily Commander Will Riker – and that’s where the drama begins.

Let me take a moment to say – How in the hell did I not know there was a nail salon on the Enterprise? Is Picard secretly rocking hot pink toenail polish under that very regulation exterior? In the 24th century, along with the skant, are hair and nail uniform regulations finally equal?

Anyway, back to the drama. Now, the symbolism here is strong, my loves. The Trill’s gender-neutral culture challenges our preconceived notions of gender and identity. It reminds us that gender is not binary and that love can transcend labels. But Dr. Crusher struggles with this concept, as many in our community still do today.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Also, I would like to take a moment to appreciate Deanna Troi. Although the onscreen romance between her and Riker doesn’t happen until later, and they don’t marry until the film Insurrection, they are friends and former lovers while serving together during the events of TNG. If not exactly kitchen table poly, it’s at least super enlightened of Troi when comforting ‘Dr. Beverly’ to tell her that if she can find love and comfort in Odan in the form of Riker, then she should.

Anyway, Riker realizes it’s beyond physical, and that she is attracted to the person she knew as a man – at the end, after averting a war (because of global warming caused by overdependency on an energy source – interesting) but she finds it difficult to accept that Odan is now in new woman host, but admits that she still loves Odan, and understands that it is her own failing to accept the new form.

Another great line from this episode, which I definitely did not catch when I was younger. When Crusher confronts Odan about not telling her he was a symbiote, he say’s “Did you ever have to tell someone you were only a single being? Of course not!” Wonderful echos of the double standard of being expected to come out as Queer, but not as cis-het. Ok, I see you Starfleet. All this in 1990! Boom!

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Is there a deeper metaphor with Dr. Crusher being the one to transplant her lover into Riker? Who knows, but it’s a great chance for some Special Effect!!!

Anyway, as usual the real kicker is the costumes. The Trill’s signature spots are a bold fashion statement, representing their connection to their hosts. However, when Odan is transferred to the new host, those spots disappear, leaving us with a blank slate. It’s a powerful visual representation of the struggle to maintain identity through change.

And let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The Trill’s fluidity challenges traditional gender roles, and their love can transcend bodies and lifetimes. It’s a beautiful message for our community, reminding us to celebrate our differences and embrace the complexity of our identities.

So there you have it, my darlings. Another powerful episode that challenges us to think beyond the binary and embrace the diversity of our world. Let’s all raise a glass of Saurian Brandy to love in all its forms! No Synthehol for us!

3. “The Game” (Season 5, Episode 6):

In this episode, the crew is faced with a new game that has taken over the minds of everyone on board, including Cadet Crusher’s new love interest, Ensign Robin Lefler. The game represents addiction and how easily we can be controlled by outside forces.

So the beginning of this episode as inspired me to amend what I said about Troi and Riker. By this time, she definitely knew how freaking thirsty he was and so also knew what she was getting herself into. The episode opens with Riker hooking up on Risa and then getting introduced to this super addictive, very easy to win, brainwashing game where you mentally push a disk into a cone, then get a euphoric/orgasmic rush.

Courtesy of

But the real message here, my loves, is about control. The game takes over the crew’s minds, leading them to act in ways they usually wouldn’t. It’s a reminder that we must always be vigilant against outside forces that seek to control us and our actions. That we can be ourselves and do what we know is right, despite what the rest of society tries to tell us.

But, ultimately, Wesley puts his faith in a trustworthy adult (in this case Data) to safe him from his own mother among everyone else on board. While Data formulates a plan, Cadet crusher runs around the Enterprise Home Alone style, distracting everyone to buy time.

So let’s raise a glass of Altair Water to Ensign Lefler and Cadet Crusher, my darlings, and to the power of individuality and self-determination. We must never let anyone or anything control our minds or our hearts. Remember, we are the captains of our own destiny, and as we all know geeks always save the day!

2. “Conundrum” (Season 5, Episode 14):

In this episode my fellow LGBT-rekkies, the crew wakes up without memory of their identities or mission. They must work together to uncover the truth and prevent a war between two alien races.

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Who is this new guy? He’s now the Executive Officer? Why does Picard still call Riker ‘Numbah Won’ if he’s third in command now? Oh right, it’s a mind controlling alien. Why didn’t he just make himself the Captain? Or a Commodore? Ah well …

Now, this is a powerful message for our community. It reminds us of the importance of memory and identity and how easily they can be manipulated or erased. It’s a message that resonates deeply with the Queer community, as we have faced challenges in asserting our identity and having our history recognized and celebrated. Even if it turns out we’re a space faring Trombone Player.

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But let’s talk about the way everyone acts when they forget who they are. Worf believes he is in charge, apparently because of his confidence and fancy sash.

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Data thinks he is a robot bar tender.

Courtesy of Dat4L0re

… and there is a very awkward love triangle between Ro Loren, Riker, and Troi but as their memories return and they discover their individual roles on the ship, they begin to adjust and change their behavior to reflect their unique identities and personalities, albeit with most of their inhibitions restored.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

And speaking of identity let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The crew’s struggle to regain their memories and assert their individual identities echoes the struggles faced by LGBT individuals in maintaining their identities in a society that often seeks to erase or marginalize them.

But the real message here, my loves, is about unity and collaboration. The crew must work together and trust each other to uncover the truth and prevent a war. It’s a reminder that we must come together and support each other even in the face of adversity and uncertainty.

So let’s raise a glass of Romulan Ale to the crew of the Enterprise, my darlings, and to the power of memory, identity, and collaboration. We must always remember who we are and where we come from and work together to create a better future for ourselves and our community. Remember, together, we are unstoppable!

1. “The Outcast” (Season 5, Episode 17):

*CW: Conversion Therapy, anti-trans rhetoric

In this episode, the Enterprise crew encounters the J’naii, a society where gender neutrality is strictly enforced, and the character of Soren, a member of this society, begins questioning her gender identity. This episode is often considered the most prominent LGBTQ episode in the series.

The J’naii are gender-neutral and reject any concept of male or female, reminding us that gender is a construct and that we can be whoever we want, regardless of societal norms. Despite a clunky conversation about gender-neutral pronouns, which is somewhat unsatisfying (especially since the singular “they” has been used since the 1300s), this episode further explores gender and sexuality than any others in the series.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

But of course, the crew faces a challenge as Soren expresses romantic feelings for Commander Riker. There are some funny and awkward moments along the way. I did appreciate how we find a way to use words like ‘Micro-Cochrans’ to describe engine output to someone from a species which likely has never heard of Zephram Cochran (a lot like the U.S. still refusing to use metric)

Courtesy of

But this is where the drama begins. The J’naii don’t believe in gender or romantic love. Soren’s attraction to Riker is seen as a violation of their societal norms. She is forced to undergo a mind-altering procedure to conform to the J’naii way of life.

The symbolism here is deep, if a bit on the nose. Soren’s desire to love who she wants challenges the J’naii’s strict adherence to their cultural norms. It reminds us of the struggle we face in our community, where we are often told that our love is invalid. But Soren’s bravery in standing up for her true self inspires us all.

As a devoted fan and an advocate for LGBTQ rights, this was one of my favorite episodes to re-watch. I remembered it differently, as growing up in the Midwest USA, I had little exposure to anything outside CIS-Hetero-Normative ideas. And in the 1990s, on analog network television, seeing Queer representation felt a lot like Lily and Zefram seeing visitors from the future in the TNG Film, First Contact.

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The costume choices in this episode were fascinating, as they played a role in highlighting the differences between Soren’s society and the Federation. Soren’s people wore gender-neutral clothing, which was a sharp contrast to the bold and colorful uniforms of the Enterprise crew. The neutral tones and simple dress designs in Soren’s society reflected their strict adherence to gender neutrality and conformity. At the same time, the bright and varied uniforms of the Enterprise crew conveyed a sense of individuality and diversity.

Another interesting costume choice was using makeup and hair styling to convey gender. Soren’s people had identical haircuts and minimal makeup, again highlighting their adherence to strict gender neutrality. In contrast, the crew of the Enterprise had varied hairstyles and makeup choices that reflected their individuality.

But what struck me about The Outcast was how it highlighted the struggles of LGBTQ people we still face today. Soren’s journey to embrace her gender identity, despite the disapproval of her society, was a powerful metaphor for the struggles of many LGBTQ people who face discrimination and persecution for simply being who they are. And, it gave us this fantastic monologue – there’s a cut down version with captions available here.

But in the end, it’s about love. Soren’s love for Riker transcends gender and societal norms, reminding us that love knows no bounds. It’s a message we need to hear today more than ever as we continue fighting for our rights and identities.

Despite Worf very excitedly accompanying Riker to the surface to mess some folks up, and Picard very specifically not giving Riker permission to act, but also staying in orbit just long enough. Sadly, the episode ends with Soren telling Riker it was a mistake- it appears the conversion therapy was a success.

Overall, The Outcast was a powerful and thought-provoking episode that used costume and makeup choices to explore issues of gender identity and LGBTQ rights in a truly impactful way. I highly recommend this episode to anyone who wants to see themselves reflected in a powerful and poignant story.

So let’s raise a cup of “Earl Gray, Hot” to the J’naii, my darling Queer Geeks, and as always, Live Long, and Prosper.

Earl grey, hot” by Fanfare & Foofaraw is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

These episodes, among others, are shining examples of good science fiction exploring issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in a nuanced and thought-provoking way. While the series may not have always been at the forefront of LGBTQ representation, these episodes show that it was willing to push boundaries and challenge societal norms.

Are there any other favorites I missed, or should I cover them in the next post? Let me know!

Star Trek (But Make it Gay): TOS

Busy Geek Breakdown:

Lifelong Trekkie or have never seen an episode? Check out:

Season 1; Episode 5.  Season 2; Episode 4. Season 3, Episodes 2, 10, 19, 21.

Pay special attention to the balance creators and actors held between pushing cultural issues and the FCC Rules on Obscenity (more closely regulated prior to 1984). It featured storylines that addressed controversial issues, such as racism, war, and politics, and depicted violence and sexuality in a more frank and realistic manner than was typical for the era.

If you just want to see a young George Takei shirtless, oiled up, and wielding a sword, not to mention a savage comeback by Nichelle Nichols, watch Season 1; Episode 4 “The Naked Time”. (that’s the actual title) Or just go here.

Note: If you watch the show on Paramount Plus, the original Pilot is listed as Season 1; Episode 1. This throws the episode count off for Season 1.

For seasoned Trekkies, or people who just like numbered lists, skip ahead here.

For the Total Star Trek Red Shirts (read: Noobs) read below:

The first Star Trek series, known as The Original Series (TOS), was created by Gene Roddenberry and premiered on CTV in Canada on September 6th, 1966. It later aired on NBC in America on September 8th, 1966. The show followed the voyages of the USS Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk and was set in the 23rd century, presenting themes of a Utopian society and racial equality. It was originally referred to simply as Star Trek prior to the release of spin-offs.

Despite performing well in its time slot when it first aired, the show was cancelled after three seasons due to budget issues resulting in lower quality episodes and a shift to a Friday night time slot. However, after entering syndication, the show’s popularity skyrocketed. It was notable for featuring the first African-American officer in a recurring role, as well as a Japanese-American in an intelligent and capable role rather than the racist farce many other shows used. They even has a Russian officer, as this was the height of the Cold War, and Roddenberry’s vision of the future meant that such things were far behind us.

A decade later, the original cast reunited for the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture aboard a refurbished USS Enterprise. They went on to appear in five more films, culminating in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991, which was produced during the spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation and shortly before Gene Roddenberry’s passing. Characters from the original series also appeared in later Star Trek productions, including the seventh movie, Star Trek Generations. Of course Leonard Nimoy also played a role in the Kelvin timeline films later, where all of the characters were re-cast with modern actors.

Alright, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s Dive in!

A few years ago, I began a re-watch of Star Trek, starting with TOS, and posted out-of-context Tweets of my reactions. I’ve recently re-watched some of my favorite episodes to discuss LGBTQ+ stories, including Queer Coding and allegory. Disclaimer, while working on writing up my notes for my Star Trek TOS re-watch, I’ve been catching up on several years of RuPaul’s Drag Race. This may or may not have impacted which details I notice and my narrative style.

The Original Series of Star Trek featured several episodes with queer-coded subtext and some moments that fans have interpreted as having LGBTQ+ themes. However, it’s worth noting that because the show aired in the 1960s, overtly LGBTQ+ representation was impossible due to the time’s social and cultural context. In addition, the original series aired just four years after Illinois became the first state to decriminalize homosexuality and went off the air a few weeks before the Stone Wall Riots in June 1969.

Lucille Ball and Gene Roddenberry played a significant role in balancing queer coding and pushing issues of LGBTQ and racial equality in Star Trek The Original Series while keeping the show on the air in a less tolerant time.

Lucille Ball was instrumental in getting Star Trek on the air, as she owned Desilu Studios, the production company that produced the show. She was a well-known trailblazer in the industry and was committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity in her productions. It was because of her support that Gene Roddenberry was able to push the boundaries of what was acceptable on television at the time, including addressing issues of LGBTQ and racial equality.

Gene Roddenberry was a visionary who believed that science fiction could be a tool for promoting social justice and progressive values. He used the genre to explore complex social issues, including gender, race, and sexuality, in a way impossible in more traditional programming. He recognized the potential of science fiction to push the boundaries of what was acceptable on television and in society.

Gene Roddenberry on the set of Star Trek: The Original Series
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One way Roddenberry pushed the envelope was through queer coding, which refers to the subtle ways in which character or situation portrayal suggests same-sex attraction or non-conforming gender identities without explicitly stating them. This allowed Roddenberry to address LGBTQ issues in a way that was less likely to attract backlash from conservative viewers and censors.

Overall, Lucille Ball and Gene Roddenberry were instrumental in balancing queer coding and pushing issues of LGBTQ and racial equality in Star Trek The Original Series while keeping the show on the air in a less tolerant time. They were pioneers in the industry and used their positions of power to promote diversity and inclusivity on television. Their legacy continues to inspire and influence future generations of creators and viewers alike.

Now that you’re all briefed, On To The List!!!!!!

6. “The Enemy Within” (Season 1; Episode 5):

One episode often cited as having queer-coded themes is “The Enemy Within” from the first season. And not just because you get to see this adorably grumpy ‘Unicorn Dog”.

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

In this episode, Captain Kirk is split into two separate beings by a transporter malfunction, with one half embodying his “good” qualities and the other half his “bad” qualities. The “bad” half is more aggressive and sexually assertive, and at one point, he attempts to assault Yeoman Rand, one of the few prominent women on the show (you can tell he’s a bad boy because of his demand for Saurian Brandy, his eye makeup, the attempted Sexual Assault, and the manic yelling “I’m Captain Kirk!”.)

This split allows the writers to explore the duality of human nature in a unique and thought-provoking way.Some have interpreted this scene as a metaphor for sexual violence against women. However, others argue it has homoerotic undertones, with the aggressive Kirk representing a repressed homosexual desire. Ultimately, he realizes that embracing his more primal nature makes him a good Captain, as without it, he’s too meek and mild to make any of the difficult decisions he’s called upon to make.

1966 … ‘ Enemy Within’ – Star Trek” by x-ray delta one is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

As the episode unfolds, the crew must grapple with the consequences of their captain’s split personality and work together to reunite the two halves of his being. The scenes between the two versions of Kirk are compelling, highlighting our internal struggle to reconcile conflicting aspects of our personalities.

Now, while this episode may not explicitly include the LGBTQ community, its themes of identity and acceptance are universal and can resonate with all viewers, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And that’s something we can all appreciate, right, my loves?

So, while, “The Enemy Within” may not be the most groundbreaking episode of Star Trek regarding LGBTQ representation, its exploration of human duality and the power of acceptance is universal and timeless. The costume choices and character interactions are on point, and the episode is engaging and thought-provoking. Let’s all remember that we all have light and darkness within us and that acceptance and understanding can help us find peace and wholeness in ourselves and the world around us.

5. “Mirror, Mirror” (Season 2; Episode 4):

Another episode with queer-coded subtext is “Mirror, Mirror” from the second season, which features an alternate universe where the crew of the Enterprise is all ruthless and power-hungry. In this universe, the Tehran Empire (vary much Nazi type ideals of extreme xenophobia and subjugation, mixed with a slight Klingon aesthetic) has expanded instead of the Federation. (You can tell that Spock is evil because he has a goatee )

Let’s dive into “Mirror, Mirror.”

“Mirror, Mirror” is an iconic episode of Star Trek, exploring the concept of parallel universes and the darker sides of human nature. While the episode doesn’t specifically address LGBTQ issues, its themes of power and domination certainly have relevance to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community.

One aspect of this episode that caught my eye was the costume choices. The uniforms worn by the crew of the USS Enterprise in the mirror universe are noticeably different from their counterparts in the regular universe, featuring more revealing cuts and darker colors. These costume choices help to emphasize the mirror universe’s more aggressive and dominant nature and create a distinct contrast with the regular universe’s more formal and modest uniforms.

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Spock is fascinating in this episode, as he must confront the darker aspects of his nature in the mirror universe. As a Vulcan, Spock prides himself on his logical and rational approach to life, but in the mirror universe, he is more aggressive and emotional to survive. This exploration of internal conflict and the struggle between reason and emotion is something that many in the LGBTQ community can undoubtedly relate to.

Throughout the episode, the crew must navigate the unfamiliar and dangerous mirror universe while grappling with the consequences of their actions in that world. The power dynamics and struggles for dominance are starkly evident. The episode serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked ambition and the importance of recognizing the humanity in others.

While “Mirror, Mirror” may not be explicitly LGBTQ-inclusive, its themes of power, domination, and the darker aspects of human nature are undoubtedly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community. In addition, the costume choices are striking and help to emphasize the contrast between the regular and mirror universes. At the same time, exploring internal conflict and the struggle between reason and emotion is thought-provoking and engaging. Overall, “Mirror, Mirror” is a classic episode of Star Trek that resonates with viewers today.

4. “The Enterprise Incident” (Season 3, Episode 2):

“The Enterprise Incident” is a thrilling episode of Star Trek that sees the crew of the USS Enterprise embark on a dangerous mission to steal a Romulan cloaking device. While the episode doesn’t address LGBTQ issues directly, its exploration of power dynamics, secrecy, and the blurred lines between truth and deception resonate with many in the LGBTQ community.

In this episode, Captain Kirk fakes his own death and disguises himself as a Romulan to steal a cloaking device.

During their time on the Romulan ship, Spock very nearly seduces an incredibly thirsty Romulan commander to gain her trust. Do you see a trend yet? Riker isn’t the only First Officer who can get it, as he navigates the complex political landscape of the Romulan Empire to carry out the mission. Spock’s Vulcan stoicism and ability to think logically under pressure are critical to the mission’s success. In addition, his interactions with the Romulan commander provide a fascinating exploration of the tensions between different cultures and worldviews. While the scene was controversial then, it is often cited as an example of queer coding in the series.

One aspect of this episode that I found particularly interesting was the costume choices. The standard Romulan guards look pretty dorky. The Centurions look a bit cooler, and the Commander has this amazing two color 1960’s go-go dress and boot combo that really makes her stand out. However, the uniforms also blur the lines between friend and foe, highlighting the episode’s themes of secrecy and deception.

Overall, “The Enterprise Incident” is a tense and exciting episode that explores the complexities of power dynamics and the blurred lines between truth and deception. While it may not directly address LGBTQ issues, its themes of secrecy and the struggle for acceptance and understanding are undoubtedly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community. In addition, the costume choices are striking and help to emphasize the episode’s themes, while the character interactions are engaging and thought-provoking. Overall, “The Enterprise Incident” is a classic episode of Star Trek that is definitely worth watching.

3. “Plato’s Stepchildren” (Season 3, Episode 10):

In this episode, the Enterprise crew encounters a group of telekinetic aliens who force Kirk and his crew to perform for their amusement. During the episode, Kirk is forced to kiss his crewmate Uhura, and Spock dances and nearly face stomps Kirk. While the episode was controversial then, it is now considered a landmark moment in LGBTQ representation on television.

Let’s dive into “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

“Plato’s Stepchildren” is an iconic episode of Star Trek that has become well-known for its groundbreaking portrayal of an interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. However, the episode’s exploration of power dynamics, control, and the use of force is also highly relevant to LGBTQ issues.

The episode occurs on Platonius, where a group of powerful telekinetic beings known as the Platonians have enslaved anyone who doesn’t have powers and forced them to do their bidding. The Platonians delight in exercising their power over the humans, subjecting them to various forms of humiliation and torture.

One aspect of this episode that caught my eye was the costume choices. The Platonians wear flamboyant, brightly-colored outfits that emphasize their power and status serving up some greek god, Olympus type realness, while the humans wear drab, gray clothing that symbolizes their oppression and lack of agency. These costume choices highlight the power dynamics at play on Platonius and the struggle for freedom and self-determination.

Of course, this episode is a classic example of Bill Shatner’s ‘AAAAAAACTING!!!!!’ – as the away team is psycho-kinetically compelled into degrading and dangerous shenanigans for the entertainment of a power-drunk psychopathic god figure.

Also, I realize that most folks likely watched this on an old clunky Black and White Television set, not digitally remastered on a big screen HDTV.

Vintage RCA Television Ad circa 1966

However, during Mr. Spock’s forced dance scene, they could have picked a dancer closer in height or build to Leanard Nemoy, or at least not had him look directly at the camera. Ah well. That’s one of the great things about Star Trek, all the random things you can catch on a re-watch.

Dr. McCoy is also fascinating in this episode, as he battles with the ethical implications of saving the life of a monster. This exploration of power dynamics and the use of force to control and subjugate others is highly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community, who have faced similar forms of oppression and humiliation throughout history.

Of course, the most memorable scene in this episode is the interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura, which was groundbreaking for its time and remains a powerful symbol. Also, stick it to the racists and haters, NBC executives initially tried to film a different version without the kiss to air in the deep south, but the actors purposely messed up every single take in which they didn’t kiss.

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

While this wasn’t technically the first interracial kiss on television, it was undoubtedly one of the most talked about. For perspective, remember that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a huge Star Trek fan. So he actually talked Nechelle Nichols into continuing as Ohura instead of leaving to pursue her stage career.

In conclusion, while “Plato’s Stepchildren” may not address LGBTQ issues directly, its exploration of power dynamics, control, and the use of force is highly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community. In addition, the costume choices help to emphasize the power dynamics at play in Platonius. At the same time, the interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura remains a powerful symbol of love and acceptance. Overall, “Plato’s Stepchildren” is a classic episode of Star Trek that resonates with viewers today.

2.”Requiem for Methuselah” (Season 3, Episode 19):

In this episode, the Enterprise crew encounters a reclusive immortal who becomes jealous of his android girlfriend/daughter who falls in love with Kirk. There are a lot of dynamics here, and this episode could definitely be considered an allegory for coming out and awakened sexual desire/ gender identity.

Let’s dive into “Requiem for Methuselah.”

“Requiem for Methuselah” is a thought-provoking episode of Star Trek that explores themes of love, mortality, and the pursuit of knowledge. While the episode doesn’t address LGBTQ issues directly, its exploration of these themes is highly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community.

So, the costumes: Rayna wears a stunning, flowing gown emphasizing her otherworldly beauty and grace. In contrast, Flint wears a more practical, utilitarian outfit that reflects his scientific pursuits. These costume choices highlight the distinction between the two characters and their different approaches to life and love.

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Kirk plays a significant role in this episode, as he is forced to confront his emotions and desires when he falls in love with Rayna, and somewhat creepily stirs the first ever feelings of desire in her (She is an android who has heretofore had no emotions). This exploration of the complexities of forbidden love and passion is highly relevant and tragically, as Rayna finally starts gaining her own agency, saying “I choose. You do not command me!” she is torn apart by her own conflicted emotions and identity and dies.

In addition, Flint provides an exciting exploration of the pursuit of knowledge and the quest for immortality. His desire to live forever and accumulate knowledge and power is highly relevant to the human experience, as many people strive to leave a lasting impact on the world.

Overall, “Requiem for Methuselah” is a poignant and thought-provoking episode of Star Trek that explores themes of love, mortality, and the pursuit of knowledge. While it may not address LGBTQ issues directly, its exploration of these themes is highly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community. Additionally, the costume choices highlight the contrast between the characters, while the character interactions are engaging and thought-provoking. Overall, “Requiem for Methuselah” is a classic episode of Star Trek that is definitely worth watching. Also, at the very end, Spock very questionably intrudes Kirk’s mind with an uninvited mind meld but instead of going through the very well know, “My mind to your mind, your thoughts to my thoughts” bit, he just puts his hand on Kirk’s sleeping head and says, “Forget”.

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

1.”The Cloud Minders” (Season 3, Episode 21):

In this episode, the Enterprise crew visits a planet where the ruling class lives in a city in the clouds while the working class lives on the surface. During the episode, Spock engages in a romantic relationship with a woman from the ruling class (who is super thirsty for him, and has amazing eye makeup. We also get to hear some great line as she learns about the ‘7 year itch’ that Vulcans get *see Season 2; Episode 1), challenging the societal norms of the planet. This episode is also a great reminder that it’s pretty easy to have a utopia in the clouds when you completely subjugate and enslave people. This episode echos many of the racist arguments used to enslave people in our own history (but in Spaaaaace!) This episode was especially on the nose in 1969, and an example of when Star Trek didn’t pull any punches.

(Disclaimer: They use the r-word in the episode when discussing the effects of the gas)

Let’s dive into “The Cloud Minders.”

“The Cloud Minders” is a fascinating episode of Star Trek that deals with themes of class inequality and social justice. While the episode doesn’t address LGBTQ issues directly, its exploration of these themes is highly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community.

The characters from the planet Stratos wear ornate, flowing robes that reflect their privileged status, while the Troglytes wear more utilitarian outfits that reflect their oppressed status. These costume choices highlight the stark contrast between the two groups and their different social standings. Also, the guards have super fun hats.

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Droxine also plays a significant role in this episode, as she is initially dismissive of Kirk and Spock due to her prejudices against them as outsiders. This exploration of prejudice and bias is highly relevant and is unfortunately all too familiar to the LGBTQ community, who have faced discrimination and stigma due to their identities.

In addition, the episode raises important questions about social justice and the distribution of resources. The Troglytes are forced to work in harsh conditions to mine the valuable mineral zenite (which it turns out impact brain function, and a simple respiratory renders the caste system toothless), while the Stratos inhabitants enjoy a life of luxury and privilege. This exploration of class inequality is highly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community who have faced discrimination and barriers to accessing resources and opportunities.

Overall, “The Cloud Minders” is a thought-provoking episode of Star Trek that deals with class inequality and social justice themes. While it may not address LGBTQ issues directly, its exploration of these themes is highly relevant to the experiences of many in the LGBTQ community. The costume choices highlight the stark contrast between the two groups, while the character interactions are engaging and thought-provoking. Overall, “The Cloud Minders” is a classic episode of Star Trek that is definitely worth watching.

It’s important to note that the queer coding of these scenes and episodes is a matter of interpretation and is not explicitly stated in the show. However, they offer a glimpse into how LGBTQ+ themes and characters were explored in media during a time when overt representation was impossible.

These episodes and others demonstrate Star Trek: The Original Series’ willingness to explore themes of gender and sexual identity in a groundbreaking and provocative way. While the series may not have always been overtly LGBTQ-inclusive, it pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on television. It paved the way for future series to explore these themes more deeply.

If you enjoyed this, please let us know, and check back soon for The Next Generation!

Review: Disclosure

“Stories hurt, stories heal.”  Those words conveyed the message of last summer’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and they popped into my head when I was thinking about Sam Feder’s documentary Disclosure, which premieres on Netflix on Friday, June 19.  What does this have to do with a documentary about the history of trans representation in film and television?  The stories these media have told about trans people have indeed both hurt and healed the interview subjects, all of whom are transgender (including insightful Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, also an executive producer on the film.)  Their testimonies demonstrate that representation truly matters. 

Laverne Cox

In one powerful example, writer/actress/producer Jen Richards (Mrs. Fletcher, the 2019 Tales of the City) recalls that when she told a friend she was transgender, she was asked, “Like Buffalo Bill??” because her only frame of reference for trans people was the demented, skin-wearing serial killer from The Silence of the Lambs (1991).  Needless to say, the reference was painful for Richards.

I myself learned that it’s impolite to ask trans people about their genitals by reading a piece on Cox years ago, so I can testify to the importance of trans representation in educating the larger world about their issues.  I also didn’t question the validity of the L Word storylines, in which Max transforms into a rageaholic because of testosterone, until I read how inaccurate and misleading those episodes really were.  These early eye openers set me on the path to educating myself more fully about the community and the many issues they face.

Lilly Wachowski

With its broad scope covering the very beginnings of cinema—which we learn featured cross-dressing and genderqueer characters in its earliest days—Disclosure seemingly aims to be a trans version of the acclaimed 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, itself based on the expansive 1981 book by Vito Russo.  Disclosure touches on everything from an old episode of The Jeffersons featuring a trans female character, to the Oscar winning Boys Don’t Cry (1999), to the problematic Max (Daniela Sea) character on The L Word, to the recent triumphs of Sense8 and Pose.  Its subjects testify, again and again, to the significance of these depictions on their lives:  Sense8 co-creator Lilly Wachowski was inspired by Bugs Bunny’s fabulous gender bending; actor/activist Marquise Vilson recalls Reno, a Jerry Springer guest who was the first Black trans masculine person he ever saw in media; and writer and Survivor alum Zeke Smith recalls the pain of revisiting his favorite childhood movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), and realizing that it’s graphically transphobic.  A number of the subjects testify to the devastating and frightening effect watching Boys Don’t Cry had on them, and challenge the “it’s a true story” defense by asking why this is the kind of story Hollywood has told so many times.  Richards was brought to tears by Jed, a father on the docuseries I Am Cait, affirming his transgender child.  “When I saw that father go so much further than I thought was even possible, it hurt, I couldn’t bear it,” she recalls.  “Because then all of a sudden, all those people, who couldn’t accept me, when I knew it was possible to go beyond acceptance—why couldn’t my mom have been like him?  Why couldn’t my friends have been like him?  And seen the value in my experience?”

The documentary also includes a variety of talk show interviews with trans subjects from the 1980s and 90s (i.e. Joan Rivers, Arsenio Hall) to the present (Oprah and Katie Couric—the latter took the time to learn from her mistakes after being called out by Cox on offensive questioning).  The difference between the older and contemporary interviews is telling, as many of the older Q&A’s are preoccupied with the gender the subjects “used to” be and specifically their genitals—although Winfrey and Couric have both been guilty of this line of questioning.  Rivers, however, deserves credit for affirming the identities and dignity of trans folks on her program decades ahead of the curve.

Brian Michael Smith

There are compelling stories about the challenges and frustrations of working in the industry, like Candis Cayne’s irritation at the tone deaf dialogue when she played a murder victim on CSI: New York and Sandra Caldwell’s triumphant coming out in the New York Times after working for decades in the closet. This is a comprehensive and involving look at the subject matter, although I wish it were a little longer (I’m usually all for shorter films, but I’d happily watch a 2 hour or longer cut of this).  There are a couple productions I’d like to have seen just a little more about: Transparent and the ensuing sex scandal with cis lead actor Jeffrey Tambor is touched on just briefly, and although actress/model Jamie Clayton (Sense8), actor Brian Michael Smith, and writer/speaker/artist Leo Cheng all appeared on the L Word reboot Generation Q, which did a considerably better job handling its trans characters than the original, this isn’t actually mentioned.  There are also a number of clips that aren’t identified, particularly at the end of the film.  But these are minor quibbles. Feder and producer Amy Scholder‘s conscious decision to use only transgender voices to discuss the media that’s portrayed their own lives is a strong and important one, and the personal impact adds immeasurably to the film’s weight.  Disclosure is well made, well thought out, and a significant historical record. In light of the ongoing murders of trans women and this past week’s Trump administration rule removing protections for transgender people in health care, its call to recognize transgender humanity is as relevant as ever.

Disclosure premieres on Netflix on Friday, June 19.

Jamie Clayton