Interview with Award-Winning Editor Diana M. Pho

Diana M. Pho is a queer Vietnamese-American independent scholar, playwright, and Hugo Award-winning fiction editor. She has over a decade of experience in traditional book publishing, including Tor Books, Tor.com Publishing, and the Science Fiction Book Club. Diana currently works as Lead Creative Executive for Co-Productions & Partnerships at Realm developing thrilling and innovative audio dramas. Additionally, she has a double Bachelor’s degree in English and Russian Literature from Mount Holyoke College and a Master’s in Performance Studies from New York University. Diana’s academic work includes critical analysis of the role of race in fashion, performance, and the media, in addition to pieces focusing on fan studies and fan communities.

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

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

Salutations, Geeks OUT, and appreciate you having me! I’m a Hugo-winning book editor, podcast producer, playwright, and academic who’s been in and around fandom spaces for much of my working life, and even earlier! 

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

What I’ve done is help creatives tell stories professionally for about 15 years now. I’ve had the pleasure of working across novels, comics, theater, and audio. I strongly believe in the power of language and entertainment. Whether it is working as an editor in prose, a playwright for the stage, or a producer in podcasts, what I’m focused on are exciting, insightful, character-driven tales that make an impact.

What drew you to storytelling, and how did you get into editing and podcasting specifically? 

I was the bookworm who read the kidlit shelves in at the library in alphabetical order—or depending on how cool the cover art was! (Note to authors: young readers DO judge books by their covers!) I was a daydreamer, kind of spacey, and admittedly a nervous and introverted child. I also wrote a lot of fanfiction growing up! Eventually, I got out of my shell more in high school: I edited the literary magazine and the school newspaper. The theater bug bit me, but I did mostly crew work and wrote some plays for the state competition (and won some prizes).  Somehow, by the time I was a junior in college, I got it in my head that I wanted to work on books, and the endgoal was becoming a SFF editor. After a decade in books, I wanted something different and landed in audio at Realm, which luckily checked all of the boxes I was looking for at the time.

I only recently got into podcasts, what do you think is the appeal of this medium? What are some of your favorite examples?

Podcasts are portable stories that you can experience while multitasking. In our busy world, we’re still looking for that little bit of entertainment while commuting, doing housework, working out. I’ve gotten lots of joyful reviews from listeners working the graveyard shift of their job, and how Realm shows keep them company. I know many friends who play YouTube videos or TV shows in the background while they’re doing something else. Podcasts fit that same niche.

Podcasts are also extremely intimate form of storytelling. There’s a level of immediacy and visceral feeling that sound can get in ways prose cannot. The characters of fiction podcasts, especially, can lead you into a soundscape that feels like our real world. Even if that world is a fantasy with dragons or out on a space colony; it’s transportive!

Some of my favorite podcasts play with the format of a talking head show. Welcome to Nightvale is a classic introduction to podcasts that’s a spin on the NPR community radio show. This Sounds Serious is a pitch-perfect comedic reporting mockumentary that is full of unexpected twists. I also love the worldbuilding of The Edge of Sleep, Moonface, and From Now. And of course, my Realm favorites hold a special place in my producing heart: Marigold Breach, Overleaper, Spider King, the Undertow universe, to name a few.

I’m a regular listener of nonfiction and journalistic shows too: Sawbones, Code Switch, The Ezra Klein Show, and of course, The Daily, NPR, and the Journal. I read newspapers but I don’t have broadcast TV at home, so most of my news I pick up via podcasts.

What would you say goes into making a great podcast?

Having a point of view is the most important part: knowing what your show is about and having the confidence, commitment to research, and attentiveness to create a very distinct take on your subject. That counts for fiction as well as nonfiction. Fiction shows must know what they are, what listeners they appeal to, what kind of markets they can reach.

And of course, having a strong production team behind you can be great, but good production doesn’t always mean expensive equipment. It means knowing how to use it well, and to be invested in constantly learning about the craft of production, sound design, acting, etc as much as the words in the script.

As a queer Vietnamese-American creative, were there ever any times in which you saw yourself in pop culture/literature? What would you say representation means to you?

I never saw myself in pop culture exactly, but I will also have a special love for Tina Nguyen, the Vietnamese-American character from the original PBS Ghostwriter series. That’s the first time I’ve seen any Viet people on TV that didn’t have to do with the Paris By Night variety shows my parents watched, or the Vietnam War dramas you see for US audiences. I thought that was very meaningful to me, to see a kid like myself who lived in the shadow of war, but never personally experienced it. But was also just a normal teen girl trying to balance high school problems and solve mysteries with a ghost!

Over the years, there have been more Vietnamese creators of queer art: Ailette de Bodard, Nghi Vo, Ocean Vuong come to mind. I feel so lucky to be living in a time where I get to see these creators bloom.

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

I am a big believer in interdisciplinary work and draw from different creative formats into one giant storytelling toolkit. That’s what made my career exciting; a sense that I’m always learning more ways to express and communicate artistically. So far, it’s been novel writing, playwriting, comics, audio drama… and screenwriting is next on the docket, I think.

At the moment, I’m a big fan of Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World—I’ve read that book a few times and still am learning new takeaways.  I picked up a lot of audio drama tips from KC Wayland’s Bombs Always Beep. Writers who I’m always returning to include Ted Chiang, Walter Mosley, Ekaterina Sedia, N.K. Jemisin, Alexander Chee, Ray Bradbury, Jun Mochizuki, Suzie Lori Parks, Tom Stoppard. I have an undying love for really cheesy supernatural drama and anime. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives/writers? 

Find your community, and always pay it forward. Being a creator – especially being a writer – can be a very lonely experience. Being an artist can make you question your ability, your art, your working relationships, everything all the time. It can be hard finding financial support, free creative time, or emotional wherewithal to continue. But knowing you have people who can relate to your experiences – or non-artists who can offer an outside perspective – can really help support a career for the long-term.

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

Things are in the pipeline that people will be hearing about in early 2023 ☺ I can’t wait for the announcements to come!

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

LoL, what is my favorite tea? It’s lavender earl grey. ☺

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

Yay, list time!

Comics: Chronin by Benjamin A. Wilgus, Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axelrod & Jess Taylor.

Books: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong; The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia.

Podcasts: Alice isn’t Dead from Nightvale Presents; Elixir from Realm; Soft Voice from QCODE.

TV Shows: the new Interview with the Vampire on AMC.

Interview with Cher Martinetti

Cher Martinetti is an author, writer, and founder of SYFY’s FANGRRLS, the female-centric genre vertical syfy.com that ran from 2016-2020. She co-hosted & executive produced its flagship podcast Strong Female Characters. Cher has also frequently written, developed & appeared in various videos for SYFY, including the 20 Women to Watch in 2020 special during Women’s History Month. She’s the creator, executive producer, and former cohost of the popular podcast The Churn—the official post-show wrap-up podcast of the critically acclaimed space opera The Expanse. Cher’s hosted panels at ATX festival, New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con, & has interviewed celebrities on the live stage for ECCC, C2E2, & NYCC. Her work has also been seen on Cracked, Playboy, Death & Taxes, Uproxx, and IFC.com.

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Cher, which you can read below.

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

Thanks! And I can try. I was the founder and EIC of SYFY Fangrrls, which ran from 2016-2020. We were a multi-platform vertical under SYFY’s digital site and focused on celebrating female, non-binary & LGBTQ+ creators and fans within the geek space. Right now, I’m working on what I hope to be my next book and mostly hanging out with my three rescue dogs, Grover, Rizzo and Fozzie. 

How did Pop Culture Pioneers come to be? Did someone reach out to you about the project or did you generate the idea on your own?

We (Fangrrls) had a flagship podcast called Strong Female Characters, which I hosted with two of my editors, Preeti Chhibber – who is now a full-time author and has probably written like 20 more books since I started this sentence – and Courtney Enlow. I had come up with the idea for us to do a special project for Women’s History Month called Forgotten Women of Genre where we would tell the story of a different woman within the geek space whose work was vastly under celebrated or just ignored. Britny Pirelli, my now editor at Running Press, reached out because she had heard the podcast and thought it would be a great concept for a book.

How did you get your start in pop culture journalism? What drew you to this field?

I always wanted to be a writer and was given an opportunity to write for IFC’s now defunct “blog”. From there, some of it was luck and some of it was me deciding “I’m going to do this thing” and then being relentless in figuring out how to do said thing. I quit my job at the time and decided I was going all-in on freelancing, which pretty much everyone told me I was crazy to do. I think I was drawn to pop-culture just because, for me, it was something I naturally kept up with. I can’t say I specifically dreamt of being a pop-culture journalist, because I didn’t really know that was a thing. I just knew I wanted to write and could write about this stuff. But in the beginning, I would’ve written almost anything anyone paid me to write. Writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

What have been your favorite fandoms to cover, and who are some female characters/ content creators you currently admire?

Oof, this is a tricky question because some fandoms can get a bit…intense, and not always in the best way. I think any time you find fans that genuinely love something and have these personal and meaningful connections to a story or character, that’s the best. It may not even be a property or franchise that I’m very knowledgeable or active in, but that fan’s pure joy and appreciation is such a special thing to witness. The Expanse has a group of fans that are lovely, called the Screaming Firehawks. Wynonna Earp probably has one of the most fun fandoms I’ve ever witnessed. I’m sure there are more, but those two just pop into my head because I was obviously more exposed to or aware of them because they were both SYFY shows. 

As for female characters, I will always and forever love Leia Organa more than anyone. She is definitely my main girl. Miss Piggy is also an icon. And I love me some Kara Thrace, flaws and all. For female creators, there are just so many! A good start is every woman mentioned in my book.

I had recently started reading your book and it reminded me of another pop culture centered book called The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, which discussed the almost forgotten legacy of Milicent Patrick, the creator of the creature from the movie Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as the legacy of female erasure from genre fiction. Why do you think so many people find it so hard to believe that women are interested in genre fiction, even when so many of us have innovated the damn field?

Mallory O’Meara did a great job with that book, and we actually referred to it in an episode we did on Milicent for our Forgotten Women of Genre podcast. 

I mean, to be totally honest, it’s not just that women are interested in genre fiction, they oftentimes were the ones at the forefront. I think in the last decade or so, it’s become a lot harder to hide information from people, for better or for worse. It was a lot easier to rewrite or whitewash history when people didn’t have the ease of access that the internet affords them. There’s that saying about the history of events being written by the winners, and just that expression encapsulates why people believe all sorts of stuff. When one group of people have “conquered” or named themselves the leaders of a thing, they basically just tell everyone their version of how it came to be. 

Many would argue that pop culture isn’t that important a subject to discuss, serving merely as shallow entertainment. What would you say is the significance or function of pop culture in our culture?

I would say that is bullshit, because everything is part of pop-culture. And pop-culture reflects and often parallels the bigger issues happening in society, which I try to show examples of in my book. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into your field, or hoping to write a book of their own one day?

Everyone’s journey is totally different. I’m a high-school drop-out, I didn’t go to journalism school, and I didn’t become a professional writer until my late 30s. Being a writer was always my dream, but it took me a minute to really go for it. I honestly think I wouldn’t have been ready if I tried to accomplish any of this earlier. But that’s me. The best advice I can give is know yourself, know your limits, have a good support system, and nothing happens nearly as quickly as people may make it seem. Also, prepare to fall often and get back up even more. And have a day job. Don’t judge yourself or your trajectory based on other peoples, or even what you see them posting on social media. Do work you’re proud of, do work you enjoy, and try to work with people that make you laugh and whose work you admire. It makes you a better writer and editor. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer pop culture site, could you tell us about some of the queer figures featured in your book?

There’s several of them. Joanna Russ, Alice Bradley-Sheldon, Alison Bechdel, Rachel Pollack, to name a few. Some people may already recognize or know those names, but more people should know them and their work.

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

Not that I can divulge at the moment. 

What LGBTQ+ books/media would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Truthfully, I would want to know what the readers recommend to me! I’m always on the lookout for new, cool stuff. I feel like I’ve lost my mojo a bit since Fangrrls closed down, so bring it on!

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Thor Love & Thunder-claps

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this new episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Jon Herzog, as they discuss the new reveals from the Thor: Love & Thunder trailer, Laverne Cox’s new Barbie doll, and celebrate the new trailer for the final season of Love, Victor in This Week in Queer. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Mattel introducing a Laverne Cox Barbie as part of it’s Tribute Collection

JON:  New teaser for Star Wars: Andor

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Fire Island, Rescue Rangers, Stranger Things, RW Homecoming: New Orleans
JON: Bob’s Burgers, Kenobi, Obi-Wan Star Wars Comic

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

New trailer for the final season of Love, Victor

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Thor: Love & Thunder

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QUICK HITS

MOVIES

• New trailer for The Beast

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TV

• New trailer for The Winchesters
• New trailer for season 3 of The Umbrella Academy

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VIDEO GAMES

• New trailer for MultiVersus game

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Danny from RW
• JON: Idris Elba, always and forever

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Love, Death + Westworld

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this new episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Christopher Murray, as they discuss the Stranger Things season 4 premiere, new trailers for Westworld and Love, Death + Robots, and celebrate our first look at the queer horror movie They/Them in This Week in Queer.

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: The networks cancel 17 series in the span of 48 hours

CHRISTOPHER:  New teaser for Resident Evil series

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Firestarter, Dr. Strange, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Heartstopper
CHRISTOPHER: Destiny 2, FF shirt collection at Uniqlo, Death Stranding

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New teaser for season 4 of Westworld

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

First look at queer horror movie They/Them

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for volume 3 of Love, Death + Robots

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QUICK HITS

MOVIES

• New trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water

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TV

• New trailer for First Kill
• Ncuti Gatwa to star as first black Doctor Who

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COMIC BOOKS

• Marvel introducing new trans mutant Escapade in Marvel Voices: Pride

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Storm, Regent of Sol
• CHRISTOPHER: Mr. Sinister

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Everything Bagel All at Once

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this new episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Will Choy, as they discuss their love of Everything Everywhere All at Once, the new teaser for Thor: Love and Thunder, and celebrate a new trailer for Angelyne as our Strong Female Character of the Week. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: WB looking to shake up DCEU, defends cutting gay dialogue from Fantastic Beasts sequel

WILL:  New trailer for revival of The Kids in the Hall

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Sonic 2, Choose or Die, The Final Purge, Heartstopper
GRAHAM: Great Pottery Throwdown, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Massive Talent

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for Angelyne

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

First look at Rupaul’s Drag Race All-Stars (All Winners season)

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New teaser for Thor: Love & Thunder

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QUICK HITS

MOVIES

• After losing 200k subscribers Netflix floating ad-supported tiers

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TV

• Kerry Washington joins The Simpsons as recurring character

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COMIC BOOKS

• Marvel launches The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl podcast

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Misha Collins
• WILL: Emma Frost, until I have way more therapy

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Our Flag Means Gay

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In a new episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Tea Berry-Blue, as they discuss the new trailers for Russian Doll and The Bob’s Burgers Movie, the queer storylines in Our Flag Means Death, and hope that MCU executive and fellow queer, Victoria Alonso’s words sway the Disney CEO to do more, in This Week in Queer. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: HBO Max developing You Brought Me the Ocean into a series

TEA:  Showrunner of She-Ra reboot speaks out on crew being underpaid/overworked

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Everything Everywhere All At Once, Morbius, Young Justice, Severance, X-Men Red
TEA: OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH, also Moon Knight, Julia, Old Enough!

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for season 2 of Russian Doll

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

MCU exec calls for Disney CEO to take a stand at GLAAD Media Awards

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for The Bob’s Burgers Movie

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QUICK HITS

TV

• HBO Max developing a prequel series to IT 
• Elliot Page’s character on The Umbrella Academy is reintroduced as Viktor

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COMIC BOOKS

• DC announces creative teams for 2nd Round Robin tournament

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Blackbeard/Taika Waititi
• TEA: Vico Ortiz

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Disney Gay for Pay

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

After a little break, the Geeks OUT Podcast returns with Kevin and Jon Shutt, as they discuss Jamie Lee Curtis officiating her trans daughter’s wedding in cosplay, the trailers for Roar and Men, and celebrate the queer and ally employees who participated in the #disneywalkout in This Week In Queer. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Pride comes to Marvel and DC again

JON:  For her daughter’s wedding, Jamie Lee Curtis will officiate in cosplay

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: X, The Lost City, Star Trek: Discovery, Minx, Kirby & The Forgotten Land
JON: Archane, Star Trek: Picard, The Witcher, Clone Wars, Horizon

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for Roar

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Across the country Disney employees staged a walkout to protest the company’s support of “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s sponsors

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Men

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Oscar Isaac
• JON: Moon Knight

Interview with Courtney & Royce of The Ace Couple Podcast

Courtney Lane (she/her) and Royce (no pronouns/he/they) are a married asexual couple of nearly 8 years who host The Ace Couple podcast where they talk about all things Asexuality. By discussing queer culture and history, they explore the topics of life, love, and sex through an Ace lens. Additionally, Courtney has a YouTube Channel discussing history, hair, disability and asexuality as well as a Patreon featuring video tutorials. You can also visit Courtney’s website, Never Forgotten, which Royce built and manages.

I had the opportunity to interview Courtney and Royce, which you can read below.

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

C: I am an asexual woman of many hats and many maladies. My hats are both literal in the sense that I’m rarely seen without something atop my head (a purple tophat is my signature go-to) and figurative in the sense that I’ve had an exciting variety of odd jobs and hobbies throughout my life. I’ve run my own company, Never Forgotten, for seven years where I make bespoke contemporary hair art and jewelry. Some of my deepest passions include keeping the nearly lost art of hairwork alive, harnessing the sentiment of hair to help get in touch with our most complicated emotions, and exploring mortality as a means of learning how to live our best lives.

R: How do I do this? Hetero-romantic asexual. Agender. Professional programmer. I started learning programming with the intent of getting into the video game industry, but ended up going another route. I mostly work on the parts of software that people interact with, and spend quite a bit of time focusing on user experience and accessibility.

C: As a couple, we’ve been married for almost eight years and we go by “The Ace Couple” online. We live in Kansas City with our two large snakes (Sen and Chihiro), our grumpy rat dog (Quiggley) , our somehow even grumpier opossum (Lenny), and our 30-40 highly acrobatic mice (too fast and flippy to count or name). For fun we often play video games or board games and read books aloud to one another. Occasionally we collaborate on writing D&D adventures and co-DMing for our friends or when schedules don’t align for groups, we take turns DMing for each other. 

How would you describe your podcast, The Ace Couple? Could you tell us how this project came to be and how you came to work on it together?

R: Well, we’ve been involved in the public Ace community in varying capacities in recent years. We had also talked about doing so a bit more prominently. The idea about this podcast specifically came from some repeated conversations we’ve had about all of the unhealthy relationships we see presented in media, or unhealthy relationship behaviors we heard casually mentioned by acquaintances, combined with the general lack of representation of Ace relationships.

C: The reason why we thought our voices, specifically, would be valuable was precipitated by the fact that time and time again, we would see young, romantically oriented Aces on online forums who expressed feelings of anxiety or hopelessness. For years, we’ve observed these folks as they desperately seek some kind of confirmation that they can have a fulfilling romantic relationship someday if they so choose. Of course, being in a happy asexual marriage, I wanted to loudly proclaim for everyone searching that yes, this IS possible! Here we are! We are proof! 

However, Royce is quite an introvert and a lot less inclined to put themselves out there in a public capacity, so I never imagined that this would actually be something the two of us would do together. The conversation was something like, “wow, if there was another asexual couple like us who started a TikTok, YouTube channel, or a podcast, I bet a lot of people would find it really comforting.” To my surprise, Royce was actually interested in pursuing the idea!

R: We decided that a podcast was something we could both manage and that we would totally do it . . . someday. And then Natalie Wynn of Contrapoints blew up Ace Twitter and we jumped on a microphone with little to no prep and just went for it.

C: And we’ve been going strong ever since, releasing a new episode every week! We explore varying topics of life, love, and sex through an asexual lens with a goal of emphasizing intersectionality. We also try to keep a nice mix of heavy, difficult topics such as ableism and acephobia alongside light-hearted Ace joy like fun anecdotes from our own relationship or positive examples of asexual representation in the media. 

And for that matter, how did the two of you meet?

C: I don’t believe in fate…but it was fate. 

R: We met online. On a dating site. The full, in depth story is covered in our 3rd episode: Our Asexual Love Story. But the short answer is that it was a wild coincidence on OkCupid.

As a asexual person, how did you find yourself coming into realization of this part of your identity?

R: It happened a bit differently for each of us.

C: I was a teenager when I first thought of the word asexual for myself. I was quite convinced of and comfortable in this identity and never really questioned it, although I did not discuss it openly for a long time. This was mainly because I thought I created this term for my own singular experience and never expected that it was already an established sexual orientation that others around the world also identified as. It was really just a happy accident that the word I determined for myself ended up being the “correct” one afterall. 

Then, in adulthood, when I was finally considering coming out and exploring this identity publicly, I saw that despicable episode of House where they proved that anyone who is asexual is either “sick, dead, or lying” when it first premiered ten years ago. It was the first time I had ever heard asexuality being used to mean a human sexual orientation in media and at first I was elated…until I realized where they were headed. While it definitely did give me additional anxieties, I officially started the process of coming out just a few months later.

R: When I was younger, I either didn’t notice anything non-normative enough about myself to really consider anything like this, wasn’t really aware of what “normative” actually was, or attributed discrepancies to some other factor. Anxiety or whatever else. I’m hetero-romantic and am not sex-repusled, so I assumed I was within whatever the standard of hetero-normativity is. Until I actually started dating and trying things. It still took a few years for things to finally settle in. That I was asexual. And even longer than that to start to identify and separate allo-social habits and behaviors. 

(Courtney) In addition to having a podcast, you also work as a Victorian Hair Artist and Historian? Can you describe what that profession entails and you came to work in that field?

C: When I was 5 or 6 years old, my grandmother took me to the above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans. At the time, she never imagined that this would spark a life-long interest in the way humans have memorialized their deceased loved ones throughout history. I was already quite immersed in this world of mourning and sentiment when I first learned of Victorian Hairwork. This became my primary research focus, as it made perfect sense to me- not only is this a beautiful work of art to memorialize your loved one, but it is actually made using a literal part of them. 

I studied this history for many years before I ever learned how to make it. There was a time when I assumed it was merely a dead artform lost to time and even if it wasn’t, I had no patience to style the hair on my own head, so I probably wouldn’t be very good at it anyway…and how wrong I was!

Seven years ago, I owned a small insurance agency that I hated and I was looking for a change. I decided to take a gamble and sell my agency in order to open my new company Never Forgotten where I would be a full time Victorian Hair Artist (even though most people at the time had never even heard of this artform)!

Now, I make custom pieces of hairwork, both decorative art and wearable jewelry, for clients. I make a wide variety of pieces including mourning tokens, romantic gestures, family trees, baby’s first haircut, cancer survivor mementos with hair lost during treatments, even quite a few items made out of the hair and fur of beloved pets. There are a number of reasons why one might commission me, but the one thing all these pieces have in common is that they are inherently sentimental.

I also lecture about the history behind this artform and, pre-pandemic, I would teach classes on how to perform these once nearly-lost techniques. Since my illness requires an abundance of caution in these times, I am currently only teaching through video tutorials on Patreon, but I look forward to the day when I can resume traveling to teach at colleges and museums once again. 

(Courtney) As a disabled person who also identifies as asexual, one can assume you might encounter a number of people who struggle to reconcile the two identities, even people from within the disabled or asexual community. What are your thoughts on this and how would you describe your intersectional experiences?

C: The complications are really twofold. Not only is there a tremendous amount of ableism present in asexuality communities, but there is also a lot of acephobia that comes from disabled spaces. It’s really, well and truly, a double-edged sword. There are very important reasons why both of these communities are so quick to try to distance themselves from one another, but that leaves a lot of people, like myself, in the crossfire.

Disabled people have a long history of being desexualized and infantilized. At its worst, this goes as far as forced sterilization and other forms of eugenics aimed at the disabled population. Over time, this has resulted in a lot of modern disability activism centering around sex, specifically the desire to be recognized as sexual beings. 

On the other hand, asexuality as an orientation is widely medicalized and pathologized. There are still medical practitioners who see asexuality as a symptom or an illness that must be fixed. At its most sinister, this can lead Aces to medicinal and/or psychological conversion therapy.

These realities ultimately lead to a lot of harmful discourse such as “we’re disabled, but we’re not asexual” or “we’re asexual, but there’s nothing wrong with our bodies because we’re not sick or disabled” with both sides throwing the other under the bus in an attempt to humanize their respective experiences to an outside audience. This does real harm to people who are living at this intersection. 

In my own experience, I have received widespread hate and harassment from the asexual community in the past for speaking out about my experience as a Disabled, Asexual woman. From unfriendly DMs, to piling on in comment sections, and even seeing people in various online forums speculating about my medical history and wondering if the issues I face with my medical professionals are somehow entirely my fault. Time after time I’ve been told that I should not speak about asexuality because I am “Bad Ace Rep” and that by sharing my own lived experience, I am doing a disservice to the entire orientation.

It has only been within the last 6 months, after starting our podcast and doubling down on my intersectional disability and asexuality activism, that I’ve begun to see the tides turning. For the first time in a decade, I feel like my voice is starting to be heard and I sincerely hope that this is the start of a cultural shift for the better from within these communities. 

As a couple, both of you identify on the ace spectrum. How do you feel your own respective identities play off each other when talking about asexuality, or simply being together as a couple?

R: We are in different areas of the spectrum, but not in a troubling or incompatible way. Courtney is closer to the sex-repulsed or sex-averse side, and I’m closer to the sex-affirmitive or sex-neutral side.

Having a somewhat broader shared experience definitely helps talk through the various aspects of the whole community.

And for our relationship, yes, our differences have been close enough that it has been pretty easy for us to navigate. But I think the thing that had the single largest impact was having open and honest conversations about expectations, needs, limits, and boundaries.

What are some things for someone who is still new to asexuality/disability identity you would want people to take away from this interview?

C: Well hopefully you take away the opinion that we’re pretty neat along with the desire to check out our podcast sometime to learn more! 

Kidding! Mostly…but in all seriousness, take away whatever it is that you find useful. That is all I can hope for consumers of any of our content. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives or asexuals coming into their identity?

C: I try very hard not to be the advice-giving type, because when others give me advice, I often find that it is unwarranted or irrelevant and there is rarely a one-size-fits-all piece of advice that I think is truly worthwhile for a majority of people. However, since the question is one of identity, there is one thing I’ve learned above all else and it is this: what you do is not who you are.

I grew up dancing and it was such an entrenched passion that I defined my whole being around the idea that “I am a dancer”. I think it’s very natural for artists to do this, but this led to even more heartbreak than was necessary when my body began to further decline and I could not dance as often or in the same way as I used to. 

The way in which I built my personality around dancing caused an identity crisis which further complicated matters. Aging, illness, disability, even temporary injury or naturally fluctuating interests can drastically change the activities we’re able to do throughout our lives, and while it’s natural to grieve for the things that you may no longer be able to do, the whole process is much kinder to yourself if you realize early on that what really makes you you is worthy and valuable and it is completely separate from your physical or cognitive abilities and actions.

The same advice could be applied to asexuality for a different, yet improtant reason. All too often, I see questioning asexuals experiencing a sort of imposter syndrome and asking a lot of questions such as “am I still asexual if I (insert sexual act here)…” Asexuality is a matter of attraction, orientation, and your ability to feel at home in the label -nothing more- and no action you can take will be able to take that away. 

Aside from your work, what do you enjoy doing in your free time and what are some things you would want others to know about you?

C: Well, I know you said aside from work, but we also do a bit of accessibility consulting together for events and companies. With my lived experience as a disabled woman who has access needs and with Royce’s expertise in web-accessibility, we make a really good team!

R: I always have to have a project of some kind going on.

That includes programming, either for work or as a hobby. I tend to do the video or audio editing for things we work on. Lately, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time writing D&D 5e material. It’s been a nice creative endeavor, since I haven’t worked on video game designs in so long. I also like to have video games, anime, and manga on hand for when I need a break.

Then there’s the occasional spark of interest: making a spot for compost in the backyard and seeing what pops out of it, optimizing the purchase of a household necessity, trying to figure out how to make better coffee, etc.

C: One important aspect of me that isn’t always center-stage these days is that I love to perform in front of live audiences. At one point, I thought that professional dancing was going to be my career path. I have also done quite a bit of acting, sometimes professionally, but most often for fun and on a volunteer basis. Just before the pandemic, you could find me singing in a weekly show at our local Hamburger Mary’s! 

My disabilities can sometimes make certain types of performing difficult, but I’ve always found a way to incorporate the performing arts into my life. I was a dance teacher/choreographer for 15 years and I also created and taught a drama curriculum for the arts academy I worked at until I had to quit due to health concerns. 

Other professional and/or hobbyist hats I’ve worn throughout my life have been zookeeper, science educator, fencer, bass guitar player/vocals for a metal band and a punk band, stage combat trainer/choreographer, model, wild chicken tamer. I am very proud of my strange and versatile resume, but since I don’t typically like to define myself by the one thing I happen to be doing at that point in time, sometimes I think “Professional Weirdo” is the best title for me, and in fact, it says so on my business card! 

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

C: When was the last time I won a breakdance battle you ask? Thank you, that’s a great question, I would LOVE to tell you…

In 2019, a local entrepreneur friend and I decided that since we don’t get to have traditional company holiday parties, that WE should organize one for all the fellow entrepreneurs and self-employed folks in the KC metro. 

The event went off without a hitch and as the night was winding down, a dancer asked the DJ to pose a challenge: anyone who could beat him in a dance off would win $50. I’m sure nobody suspected the cane-using disabled woman who was wearing a heavy, historical ball gown with a full hoop skirt to step forward, but I still to this day wear spandex shorts under all my dresses for this exact scenario, so I kicked off my shoes, threw my hat aside, dropped my crinoline hoops, grabbed the hem of my floor-length gown, and tucked it into my spandex shorts. Sure, I couldn’t walk the next day, or the day after that…but that night? I walked (hobbled) away $50 richer. 

Can you tell us about any other projects you two might be working on and at liberty to discuss?

C: Last year, I founded Disabled Ace Day in conjunction with Ace Week as a way to boost the voices of fellow Disabled Aspecs and draw attention to the intersectional issues we face. Ace Week takes place during the last full week of October and as of 2021, Wednesday during Ace Week is our officially designated Disabled Ace Day. We hope to continue growing the event this year and in the future. 

Finally, what queer media would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

C: Goodness, what a big question! We’ve got a lot of queer faves, so for the sake of brevity, we’ll keep the list to queer media that we’ve consumed together as a couple and both loved.

Bojack Horseman has our all-time favorite example of asexual representation on TV in the character Todd Chavez. 

Nimona, the webcomic-turned-graphic novel, was the first book we ever read aloud together, so it’s definitely got a special place in our hearts even though most of its queerness falls back on coding. 

As for video games, we are really fond of the entire Life is Strange franchise. All protagonists at least have the option for a queer plotline, but the real, non-negotiable queer gold is in the prequel DLCs Wavelengths and Before the Storm (which is basically just lesbian punk simulator). 

Tell Me Why comes from the creators of Life is Strange where you alternate playing as a pair of identical twins, one of whom is a trans man, as they use their powers of twin telepathy to unpack childhood trauma. 

For some cozy, queer genre fiction video games, we love dispensing drinks on Coffee Talk and Va11-ha11a.

We also have a long-running hobby of playing as many strange or unconventional dating simulators as possible, and Dream Daddy was *chef’s kiss*.

Flame Con Retrospective w/ James Tynion IV

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In our final celebration of the 300th episode the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin sits down with the prolific writer, James Tynion IV, as they reflect on the very first Flame Con in 2015. They discuss the many books James has worked on in the 7 years since, how the industry has changed, and what projects he has on the horizon.

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*Podcast is available now, video premieres on YouTube (3/11) at 2:30pm.