The Last Herald-Mage Series by Mercedes Lackey Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price.

So, in the last review I had a look at Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey first published in 1989. In that post, I concluded that while it was a wonderful story with great characters and quality writing it was also a deeply unhappy tale. With Vanyel being left alone because his soul mate dies by suicide. So how does the next installment of this series hold up? Well my perception is the same as last time really. There is a lot that is good in this but also things that could have been done a lot better. As usual I’ll start with the things that were good and then get to the things that could have been better. First off massive spoilers for the whole book. Also, a trigger warning for emotional and sexual abuse. With that out of the way lets jump in.

                The first thing I really felt the book did well was Tashir’s subplot. Because of the rumours surrounding his paternity he has been abused by his father for his entire life. His mother is no better, a woman with many demons of her own she sexually abuses her son. While in the previous book Lackey shows that she is able to portray how emotional abuse happens and the effects here she shows how sexual abuse can affect the victims. Also, this story tells the tale of a mother who sexually abuses her son instead of the more common found story of father daughter abuse. While all abuse is wrong and should not be stood the former is a very much misunderstood. Often when older women take advantage of young boys it is not treated like the traumatic situation it is. However here this is not the case. When Vanyel hears of what this boy went through his reaction is one of horror and sympathy. Tashir is scared of any older woman especially a motherly one because they remind him of his own mother. This is how many abuse victims respond, anyone that reminds them of their abuser can be triggering. When Vanyel’s mother Lady Treesa attempts to comfort the boy, he loses control of his powers and causes chaos. What is especially good here is that the story does not condemn Treesa who only meant well but instead focuses on how trauma can effect a young person.

                Tashir is confused about his sexuality-another common response to sexual abuse. He believes he must be gay because he is so scared of older women. It takes a conversation with Vanyel to make him see otherwise. Another feature is how he lies to people he wants to like him about the abuse. This can be seen with his relationship with Jervis. Tashir is convinced that if Jervis knows that he was the victim of both emotional abuse by his father and sexual abuse by his mother then Jervis will dislike him. In other words, the poor boy is blaming himself for what happened. Once again, another common response to being an abuse victim-shame. While this happening to a girl would be just as horrible by having a boy be the victim it brings attention to the fact that boys too can be victims of such things. It is a testimony to the writing that she is able to weave all this into a narrative in the way she does.

                With that being said there is another topic of sexual abuse discussed in the book, the myth that gay men are more likely to abuse boys. While this nasty trope is certainly one that needs to be deconstructed and thrown out, one deconstruction and throwing would have done the job just fine. Instead this idea is brought up repeatedly. The culprit for this is Within, Vanyel’s father. The first time this is addressed is when Vanyel’s own nephew Medren offers himself sexually to Vanyel for music lessons. Vanyel is of course repulsed and turns such a thing down. He does of course help Medren but because the boy has talent not for sex. He also gives Withen a telling off for having such ideas. While Vanyel’s speech to his father comes off a little bit over the top in that situation most people would be. Then later on there is pretty much the same situation with Tashir. Then Medren’s mother saying she trusts Vanyel because the songs are always about him and men not boys. By the third time this is brought up I was ready to yell ‘I get it okay’ But let’s just keep hammering the point home.

                As for Vanyel himself he is very different from the last book when he was a teenage boy. He is now a young man of twenty-eight who has fought on battle fields. He is more than capable of standing up to those who emotional and physically abused him the past. Including his father, bother Mekeal and arms master Jervis. It’s very enjoyable to see him cut down the people who mistreated him in the past. I also liked that Jervis came to see the error of his ways and that Vanyel also came in the end to forgive him. The idea of redemption for a person who behaved as Jervis did in the past is not one seen often. Also, that it allows Vanyel to heal from what happened to him as a boy. So Vanyel has come a long way in about thirteen years but what about his love life since Tylendal died? Answer it does not really exist.

                While Vanyel has had brief relationships since the last part of the story-including two with women by which he has fathered children. But he has never found anyone to replace Tylendal because they were soul mates and no one can replace his one true love. Hmmm, so that the take away is that you can only find love once? Throughout the whole book Vanyel has experiences doubts about his homosexuality because of his close friendship with a woman called Shaveri, whom he has fathered a child with called Jisa. Vanyel is only ‘Uncle Van’ to his daughter as she has a father in her mother’s life bonded King Ranyel-who is sterile and dying. While a story line with a bisexual Vanyel and Shaveri could work Vanyel dismisses it. Because he could only truly loved Tylendal and Shaveri is simply a friend who needs him. So, your friend whose spouse is dying needs you to be there for so there can’t be anything else there? I understand Vanyel is a gay man but we already knew that and so does he. Really what was the point of all this? To show he can never move on from Tylendal no matter how much time passes, no matter who else he meets and what may happen between them? Yes, sounds like a wonderful take away and really healthy outlook. If you can’t tell that last line was sarcasm there is no hope for you. This is the reason why I am rather uncomfortable with and dislike soulmates plots. When taken to logical extremes like this they can become uncomfortable to say the least.

Even with those criticism above would I still recommend this book? The answer is yes. If you can get past the preachiness and unhealthy relationship dynamics then what is left is still pretty good. There is plenty of magic, fighting, intrigue and character development to enjoy here. There is even a bit of humour when Vanyel taunts the homophobic father Leren from the first book by flirting with him and the book ends on a pretty funny joke. There is also an element of tradgy as many more people have died who are close to both Savil and Vanyel both during this story and in the time gap. Vanyel himself nearly dies but the personification of death lets him return to the realm of the living because he has unfinished business. This scene was my favourite as it showed just how strong Vanyel really is. The magic in this book builds on what we learned about magic in the last. I would still recommend this book but I do wish it didn’t have this unhealthy view of relationships (you can only have one true love) and were not so preachy.

I’ll be reviewing Magic’s Price in the next post.

Note: I hope you enjoyed reading this and my other posts. I started this blog so I could publish my own work because chances to get your work published are usually far and in between. Because I’m doing this on my own I don’t have anyone advertising this. So, if you are enjoying my writing please share my blog posts with people who you think will also enjoy them. It would mean a lot to me. If you enjoy my work please subscribe for more. A big thank you to anyone who does this and to people who have already been reading. It means a lot to me.

The Last Herald-Mage Series by Mercedes Lackey Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price

As someone who read an untold number of fantasy, science fiction and other speculative fiction I knew of Mercedes Lackey but had never read anything by her. That changed when I finally picked up a book of hers to read a few weeks back. While more accurately books as it is the trilogy of the Last Herald-Mage in one. From what I have read about the books online since when the books were first published in the 1980s they were very progressive. They had a gay main character, Vanyel who throughout the course of the series becomes a hero to his country and people. There are also gay supporting characters throughout the story such as Tylendel, Moondance, Starwind and Stefen. So how does a story about a gay man who becomes one most powerful Herald-Mages hold up. Has it aged well or is it a product of its time? Thankfully the answer is more the former then the latter but there are still some things that could have been handled better. Let’s start with what the series did well and then get on to what could have been better. I will be taking this book by book. If you have not read the books then I’m warning you now for spoilers. Also going to add a trigger warning for suicide and attempted suicide.

 

Magic’s Pawn

 

The first book is Magic’s Pawn published in 1989. For starters, I really do love the character of Vanyel. Considering he is our main character it is important that he is likable in some way. When the reader first meets him, he is a boy of only sixteen, the eldest son of Lord Withen and Lady Treesa. However, he does not measure up to what his father wants in an heir. Vanyel is too feminine, sensitive and prefers music to combat. However, he is more than just a stereotypical gay man. In the first scene of the book he outsmarts his arms master by adopting a different form of combat then the one he has been thought. This shows that if the arms master and his father could instead of punishing Vanyel for his differences accept them Vanyel might not just be good at combat he could excel.  Vanyel is also perceptive analysing other people’s behaviour and understanding what it means with ease. It is not the resourceful and perceptive Vanyel at fault but his father and Arm’s Master Jervis.

Vanyel’s home life with a homophobic father and a brutal arm’s master has caused him to adapt to the situation like many real-life abuse victims do. He hides his real personality behind a mask of arrogance and cockiness. Throughout the first third of the book I honestly just want to give the poor boy a hug. All that being said Vanyel is not just some perfect gifted misunderstood boy. Indeed, he is far from perfect, he is vain and snobbish. But these more negative traits only serve to make him more well-rounded, and indeed he does get enough character development out of these flaws as the books go on. So, for a protagonist Vanyel ticks just about every box that I like to see ticked. Part of the reason I would recommend these books is just to enjoy watching Vanyel grow and develop.

The other important characters in the first book include Tylendel, Savil, Gala, Yfandes and Lissa. Tylendel serves as Vanyel’s love interest and is an interesting character in his own right. Caught between his responsibilities and a feud his family is wrapped in Tylendel is impulsive and passionate. Savil after Vanyel proved to be my favourite character. Savil is snarky, experienced, and perceptive. Gala is Tylendel’s campion. Yfandes is the only campion in the book without a chosen. So far, I’ve done my best to write this without spoilers. But after the jump it won’t be possible. But as the title itself tells you this is not a happy story. In fact, the story of the Last-Herald Mage is a tragic one. But of course, any title with the word ‘last’ in it is going to be. Which bring me to my first problem with series overall and that includes the first book. Gay characters are tragic very often. It is rare to find a gay character who gets a happy ending. And our Protagonist Vanyel is doomed from the very outset by the very title of the series.

Vanyel is a tragic figure even from his childhood. He comes from a dysfunctional family that abuses him. At the start of the first book his arm is broken and his older sister, the only relative to treat him with kindness, is sent to the guards. So Vanyel is left alone. Soon after this he is shipped off to the Capital city of Valdemar, Heaven. It is here for the first time he gets a taste of real happiness. Because he falls in love with another young man, Tylendel. Their relationship is almost sickly sweet something they themselves acknowledge. The scenes leading up to their relationship were Vanyel tortures himself over how his father will react and facing up the fact that he is gay. While the idea of the self-conflicted gay is a cliché it doesn’t last long. As soon as Vanyel realizes Tylendel feels the same way about him he forgets the whole inner conflict and spends his nights with his boyfriend. He also decides he doesn’t care what his father thinks which is good for him. Up till this point the book is fine and enjoyable but remember that thing about this being a tragic story? By the last third of the book Tylendel is dead and Vanyel heartbroken.

While there is another gay couple that of Starwind and Moondance introduced soon after Tylendel’s death, it is not enough to make up for the young man’s death. How he dies is a violent and gut-wrenching suicide. Why is this a problem? After all there are plenty of fictional straight couples who go through the same thing. There are plenty of dead heterosexual fictional characters so why take issue with this? Well, because LGBT+ characters have a higher chance of death, ending up miserably or alone. There a simply far more straight character so when this does happen to them while it may be just as tragic there is still many counter examples not so much with LGBT+ characters. This wasn’t just a problem back in 1989, it continues to be one today. For example, take a look at tv tropes.com page on the Bury Your Gays Trope. There is actually a trope because of how often LGBT+ characters end up dead. Of course, counter examples do exist but social trends are not mathematical equations. A exception does not disprove the rule. In this way, the passage of time has actually helped Magic’s pawn because back in 1989 there would have been fewer LGBT+ characters and even fewer happy endings. Now there are plenty of counter examples and more happy endings.

Before anyone asks the story could still have worked without Tylendel’s death. He could have tried killing himself only to end up in a coma. Vanyel would have gotten all his character development that way and Tylendel life would have been spared. The first third of the story could have ended happily even if the very last of it had to be tragic. Happiness is so rare for LGBT+ characters and with everything Vanyel goes through he deserved happiness. Now with all that being said would I still recommend this book? The answer is actually yes. It is a testimony to Lackey’s writing ability that she is still able to keep me engaged with good characters and a wonderful if not happy story. I would say to pick up Magic’s Pawn if you enjoy Queer characters and if you enjoy fantasy but brace yourself because it is not a happy story.

 

I’ll be reviewing Magic’s Promise in the next post.

Note: I hope you enjoyed reading this and my other posts. I started this blog so I could publish my own work because chances to get your work published are usually far and in between. Because I’m doing this on my own I don’t have anyone advertising this. So, if you are enjoying my writing please share my blog posts with people who you think will also enjoy them. It would mean a lot to me. If you enjoy my work please subscribe for more. A big thank you to anyone who does this and to people who have already been reading. It means a lot to me.

LGBT+ representation in Anime and Manga: No: 6, Queer characters in a Dystopia story

Warning Spoilers.

                Something you’ve probably already figured out if you’ve been reading this blog for a while now is that I have a huge interest in two things Utopia/Dystopia Science Fiction and LGBT+ characters. Putting the two together in a story is garneted to engage me in the narrative. I’ve blogged a lot about From the New World so here I am going to talk about another Anime with Queer characters and a Utopia/Dystopia civilization. No:6 is the title of the anime and the name of the city which is the primary setting and focus. Rather than try to provide an over view of the entire city the anime focuses only on two boys. One Shion who is from the upper crust of the city and the other called Rat who is an escaped prisoner from the slums outside the city. What is also refreshing is that this story has both its protagonists as two young queer characters and their relationship is just as much part of the story as anything else. Since these are our main characters the strength of the story rests on the two of them and they raise to challenge with fantastic results. However, throughout the whole story there is a lack of how their society views their homosexuality, particularly a society like No:6 that punishes non-conformity.

The first of the two characters we meet is Shion. Shion has traits that can be both positive and negative depending one’s view. He is a very caring person putting the needs of others before himself. Examples include when he helps Rat after the latter breaks into his home, despite the risks and later, consequences to himself. Later on, Shion saves a baby during the clean up before the Holy Day. Shion is the type of person who is always willing to help and save other people when they need him. However, there is also a negative way of viewing this. Constantly putting others first to himself is a risk. While he has good intentions, he is also naive. This is especially true when he thinks he can simply just break down the walls of No.6. He thinks in doing will make everything will be right with the world. He also seems to think he can do everything such as invent a serum to save the lives of people of No.6, rescue his mother and Safu, break down the walls and be with Rat. Shion does not recognize he is one person with very limited power particularly on his own. This later becomes more evident when he set out to rescue Safu all by himself without asking Rat assistance. Certainly, going to get himself killed in the process.

                In the last two episodes, however viewers get to see a very different side to Shion. Shion is confronted with the reality of No.6. He becomes increasingly pushed during the dangerous mission to rescue Safu. Shion has never done something like this before. He also becomes ruthless. When Rat is nearly killed by a guard Shion, overcome with anger, kills the guard. Shion himself is shocked that he could such a thing, only putting aside his trauma when he has to comfort Rat. Shion was a new and unpredictable environment, this went to his head. This showed just how far he is willing to go to save those he loves such as Rat and Safu even if it means abandoning his gentle nature to kill. His idealism is broken when confronted with what No:6 has done to Safu. Finally, he hates No:6 and vows to destroy it. Shion shows just how a character’s good traits can also be his flaws making him a complicated and layered person and character.

                The other main character is Rat, who is everything Shion is not. While Shion is very book smart and academic Rat is street smart. Shion is overwhelmed by the West Block, by disease and vice but Rat just shrugs it off. Shion would be lost outside the walls without Rat. But Rat would be dead without the kindness Shion should him back in episode one. Rat returns this kindness by both saving Shion from the wasp embedded in him and by being his guide as Shion adjusts to life in the West Block. Rat is the last of the forest people who in the series have been wiped out by No.6. For this reason, he hates the city and those who dwell inside it. He seeks revenge for what happened to him and his people but in doing so would become the very thing he hates. In the end however he finds a way of doing this without massacring the city himself. The parasitic wasps that emerge from the upper class bring an end to the elite. Rat for his part destroys the main the main computer feeding No:6 bringing an end to the place. Rat gets what he wants but also avoids becoming what he hates. When No: 6 walls are broken down not only is Shion’s idealism proved to be correct but so too is Rat’s dream because No:6 is finally gone. Rat is just as complex and rich a character as Shion is.

                While these are two fascinating characters in a dark setting there and their relationship was interesting the way, their sexuality is handled felt somewhat amiss to me. I could understand why these two were attracted to each other, they were different in a lot of ways that worked. Shion was an idealist that was grounded by the more cynical Rat. Rat was street smart and Shion was book smart. But the thing was amiss was that while this was a romantic relationship between two young men it is never commented on how No:6 views such a relationship. No:6 is a totalitarian society were those outside the norm are hunted, punished at best, and eliminated at worst. Even if they are children or if they have committed the crime of doubting No:6. So how is homosexuality viewed in such a city? We are never told not once. Homosexuality isn’t something that is usually tolerated in such regimes but not so much as a comment is made about Shion’s and Rat’s relationship by anyone. Not even one warning them to stay in the West Block because they would be persecuted for their sexuality in the city. Would a gay couple be accepted in the city? We don’t really know.

                This a recurring trend with depiction of LGBT+ characters in anime and manga. There will be gay, lesbian, or bisexual characters but the way the dominant heterosexual society views them will be either glossed over or not addressed at all. The same thing happened in From the New World when all the same gender relationships ended before we could really learn how they viewed by the Village. It’s the same thing here really. Rat leaves at the end of anime just before Shion is reunited with his mother and adopts a small baby of his own (the child who he saved earlier in the story). While it does seem possible that Rat will come back and they will be together it does leave off where there could have been a very happy conclusion and an answer to how their society views their relationship. I understand there are also light novels that may provide answers to some of these questions but from the anime alone these things are left lingering. That all being said if you want to watch an anime with gay characters and dystopian society this is still a very good watch.

Note: I hope you enjoyed reading this and my other posts. I started this blog so I could publish my own work because chances to get your work published are usually far and in between. Because I’m doing this on my own I don’t have anyone advertising this. So, if you are enjoying my writing please share my blog posts with people who you think will also enjoy them. It would mean a lot to me. If you enjoy my work please subscribe for more. A big thank you to anyone who does this and to people who have already been reading. It means a lot to me.

Do Transgender Women have male privilege?

Content warning: This essay contains discussions of mental health, mental illness, honor killings, murder, suicide, transphobia, misogyny, trans misogyny, biphobia, abusive relationships, sex selective abortions, oppression and privilege. That is the trigger warning. Leave now if you wish.

There was also the fact I was socialized as a boy from the outside.

If you want to anger trans women then there is no more certain way of doing that then saying something like ‘trans women are not women because they have male socialization’ or ‘trans women have male privilege’. There are good reasons why this angers a lot of trans women and trans feminine people. All too often it is used as an excuse for transphobia and transmisogyny. All too often it is used to deny trans women’s womanhood and place in women’s spaces. There is a long tradition of radical feminists such as Germane Greer, Mary Daly, and Janice Raymond[i] who have adopted this stance. Recently Chimamanda Adichie has been criticized for her comments on trans women.[ii] So, I’ve decided to try and unpack this whole idea of socialization and transgender women. Should be fun and might get some water boiling somewhere. My own personal experience of being a trans woman is that due to the context around my body and identity I had a limited circumstance based access to male privilege. However, that privilege came at a great cost all of its own. Other trans women and girls with different experiences may never have had or had less access to that privilege. Others may have greater access. But the bottom line is that trans women are not cisgender men and we never have the type of privilege cisgender men have.

To begin with let’s start with the obvious and ask what exactly is socialization. This is usually defined by how one learns and adheres to social and cultural norms.[iii] When one is speaking in terms of gender this typically means you have learned the social and cultural norms that are considered appropriate for men and women.[iv] Of course, this differs by what society or what culture you are in. In my last blog posts about trans issues I said I was socialized as a boy from the outside during childhood and teens but as with everything to do with trans people what that means isn’t simply or straight forward. For starters, that was simply how the outside world saw me, there were a lot of other things the world didn’t see that need to be considered as well. Also, that is my experience alone, many trans women transitioned much younger than I did.[v] Others transition much later.[vi]

Similarly, so transitioning is not as clear cut for many trans women. There are trans women who transitioned from being gender variant children who expressed femininity to adult women. These women such as Laverne Cox[vii] and Candis Cayne[viii] speak of being bullied and stigmatized for such a gender expression. Janet Mock has a complicated story of transitioning young and becoming who she is today[ix]. My experience is different to theirs as well. The first time I was read as female was when I was nineteen. My hair was long and I was wearing a women’s pants suit. But that was all it took. As I said in my last post on trans identity I am not very overtly feminine. Even now when I am perceived as female many people think I am butch or a lesbian. So here in lies the first problem with claiming trans women have this experience called ‘male socialization’-there are as many stories of trans women as there are trans women. For cis women it is no different, there are as many stories of cis women as there are cis women. In short there are as many stories of womanhood as there are women.

The argument of male socialization is a flawed one because it is a simplistic one. It does not bring nuance to the table. It does not capture all the different experiences trans women have. The second problem is that some argue that anyone who is perceived as male gains male socialization and therefore male privilege. One example of this is how assigned female foetuses are being aborted in certain parts of the world.[x] This argument however is also flawed. For starters if you want to argue that this effects only cisgender girls and women, then you are overlooking another group: trans men. Some of those ‘girls’ being aborted would have been trans men and boys but they had been assumed to be female. Because of that they were victims of sex selective abortions. Another problem is that some trans women are intersex[xi] and may also fall victims to sex selective abortions[xii] and intersex genital mutilations.[xiii] Also, the preference for male children does not stop once an infant is born. Transgender women and girls can be the victims of honour killing for failing to live up to being a boy or a man.[xiv] That is just one example of how the families of transgender women can kill us. Once again, this argument is overly simplistic and does not take into account all these different facets of the situation.

All of this is naturally pretty horrible. As a trans woman I have heard of, read about, and mate many transgender and intersex people with many of these stories. I believe that the crux of the problem with claiming trans women have unlimited and non-circumstantial male privilege before our transition, comes down to a misconception over one central concept: that privilege has to do with only how you are perceived. To show the problem with this let’s take some examples with other times members of marginalized groups have been perceived as members of a privileged group. For example, LGB people who are coercively or otherwise perceived as straight. I am bisexual. This is not something that is readily obvious about me just from talking to me. You may guess from my behaviour or from my appearance that I am not straight as has happened but you have no way to confirm that unless I told you. Now let’s say I was in a relationship with a man. I would be perceived as straight and no one would have to know otherwise. So, do I have access to straight privilege?

Well to answer that lets have a little look at some research of bisexual people in relationships perceived as heterosexual.  In 2010 the CDC reported that bisexual women were more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence then both lesbians and heterosexual women.[xv] The vast majority of these bisexual women have been abused by a male partner.[xvi] Meanwhile bisexual men were more likely to experience intimate partner violence then gay or heterosexual men.[xvii] Most bisexual men identified only female partners as their perpetrator.[xviii] These people were in what were perceived as straight relationships yet were more likely to be abused then their monosexual counterparts. Including monosexuals in same sex relationships. Yes, those in different sex relationships clearly have some privileges those in same sex relationships do not. They can get married anywhere in the world and can openly express affection in public without fear of homophobic backlash. But as this research shows it is far too simplistic to say that removes all oppression, stigma, and inequality bi+ people face. It does a disservice to bi+ people to say that once we are perceived as straight we are no longer part of a group that deals with inequality and oppression.

Not convinced fine then let’s look at other studies of bisexual people. Bisexual people are at greater risk to be homeless, unemployed, and live in poverty then gays, lesbians, or heterosexuals. [xix]  We are at higher risk for depression, mental illness, and suicide.[xx] Have a look at research such as the bisexual invisibility report which contains many stories that demonstrates bisexual people in many different types of relationships face these struggles. Of particular interest is the story of bisexual man who was accepted when he came out as gay but once he started dating women was stigmatized and ostracized.[xxi]  This is not even taking into account again the concept of intersectionality. The experiences of oppression and inequality are altered by thing such as gender, race and that is just two examples. I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. Being perceived as a heterosexual when you are not one does not does not remove inequality and oppression from your life. If anything, it makes things more complicated.

If you still think that that privilege has to do with only how you are perceived then fine let’s take another group of people who are not easily identified as being members of marginalized demographic. Let’s take people who have mental illnesses. People with a mental illness are by very definition an invisible demographic. Also, I feel it is important to mention here that I myself have a diagnosis of depression and been told I have traits of borderline personality disorder. Yes, by doctors and mental health professionals before we get started. Because you cannot tell this just be looking at me does that mean any inequality and oppression relating to my mental health disappear? Of course not. Let’s have a look again at some research on the matter. Only one in four people with a long term mental illness are employed.[xxii] Mental illness is far more common among those who are homeless.[xxiii] Homeless mentally ill people are also less likely to receive the help and support they need. Just because being mentally ill is not a visible factor does not mean it is not a factor at all. Just because you can’t immediately see something does not mean all the inequality and oppression it brings vanishes.

I could go on with so many more examples such as POC that are perceived as white, people with neurological disabilities and gays & lesbians who are perceived as straight. But I think I have made my point. Privilege, oppression, and inequality are not simply about how you are perceived. They are also about things such as internalization, mental health, and access to resources. All things that are not always visible with the naked eye. With all of this in mind let’s get back to the topic at hand: Do transgender women have male privilege? When a trans woman has transitioned it is clear that any access to male privilege she may have had is gone. So, what about before her transition? Well let’s have little look at some research of the lives of transgender women before transitioning. Transgender people as a whole before transitioning experience higher levels of depression and anxiety in comparison to their post transition counterparts.[xxiv] This is true across all ages from children to teen to adults. The trans population as a whole deal with far mental health issues then the cisgender population.[xxv] The idea that privilege has to do with only how you are perceived I think I have demonstrated is clearly false. It is so much more than that. What people need to understand is that being perceived to be of privileged group when you experience oppression and inequality is in fact a two-way sword. I have been both visible and invisible at different times and with my different identities. Whether you are perceived as a member of a marginalized group or a privileged one does not change the fact you experience oppression. Rather it changes how you experience it.

Yes, cisgender women have spent their whole lives (maybe even before being born) being perceived as girls and women. With that comes the oppression misogyny brings. I am not denying that. However, what I am arguing is that being perceived as a member of a privileged group (in this case male) when you’re not (as is the case for transgender women) does not simply remove all the oppression trans women as women face. It changes how you experience it. That change may bring some benefits but it also brings some pretty big drawbacks of its own. As a pre-transition trans girl my depression and anxiety nearly killed me. But the first time I was ever catcalled or street harassed was after I had begun to be perceived as female. At the same though my mind began to function because I then had access to the treatment I needed. However, what this conversation almost always centres on whether trans women have male privilege what is often left out is that cisgender women benefit hugely from cis privilege.[xxvi] To give an example when I tried to start hrt to relieve myself of gender dysphoria it was an uphill battle of me vs my family, doctors, and society in general. On the other hand, when my mother and aunt needed hrt, there was no fuss and no fighting. It was between them and their doctors and easy done. Cisgender women have better mental health, employment and their womanhood is not in question. Recognizing that cis women have a form of privilege from being cisgender does not detract from either their womanhood nor their oppression.

Let’s look again at my own statement about being socialized as a boy, while yes, the outside world did it’s best to make a boy and later a man of me it clearly failed. As a girl, I learned toxic ideas about womanhood as well- that I could not be a woman because I didn’t behave like one (whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean). The uphill fight for the treatment I needed. My mental and by extension physical wellbeing was poor. All of these means that yes, I did experience oppression before my transition simply in a different way to how I experience it now post transition. Also, it is different the oppression of cis women but that does not make it any less real. But at the same time, it brought me certain things cis women have never had such as being able to avoid sexual harassment. So, did I benefit from male privilege? I believe that in some ways yes. But in other ways no. My privilege was limited by the context that was around it and oppression was there as well.

Let’s examine this further and have a look at some other trans women and their stories. What happens when transgender people are denied access to transition related healthcare? What happens if trans women and girls never transition do they have the privilege cisgender men and boys have? For an answer we need look no further than the sad story of Leelah Alcorn who after being denied transition related treatment died by suicide. Leelah never got to transition, she lived her entire life coercively perceived as a boy and in the end, that is what killed her. She is just one story there are many others that also have a sad ending. You may say that Leelah’s death has to do with transphobia and her being trans not with misogyny and her being a girl. However, you would be wrong. Let’s have a little look at her suicide note shall we. Leelah said the following ‘The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life…. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound…. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy.’[xxvii]

Leelah was terrified of not being perceived as a cisgender woman. She was convinced that if she failed to live up to what society deems as a woman-cisgender or at least appearing to be cisgender she would never be able to love herself. Or find someone to love her. Thus, we see the problem with claiming trans girls like Leelah have the privilege a cisgender boy does. It acts as if her socialization as a sex she was not, her internalization of cis-centric female social standards and her lack of access to her needed medical treatment were the experiences of a cisgender boy who wanted to switch genders. They were not. They were the experiences of a transgender girl who was killed by society’s transphobia and misogyny (this is what we call transmisogyny kids). Saying that Leelah Alcorn benefited from male privilege because she was perceived as a boy does a disservice to her, other trans girls and women like her. Just because she was perceived in that way does not mean that the forces of oppression and inequality vanished. In fact, it was those very things that killed her.

You might be thinking about trans women who were ‘successful men’ before transition such as Caitlyn Jenner, the Wacholisiki sisters and Martine Rothblatt. But once again we need to look at the context around these women. They are all white, adults, transitioned in adulthood and very wealthy. Caitlyn Jenner is probably the most well-known of these three examples. Jenner came out late in life after being an athletic sports champion, a husband, and a father. However, that privilege didn’t exist by itself. Even now post transition Jenner retains her wealth, her whiteness, and her conservative politics. She has gone from being an old fashioned American Patriarch to an old fashioned American Matriarch. Which means there is a lot of privilege she has not lost. It is those other privileges that allow her to remain safe, secure, and content. Even when trans girls like Leelah Alcorn are taking their own lives and trans women of colour are being murdered.

Jenner does not understand these things as can be seen for her continued support for Donald Trump. Because she is privileged in so many other ways she does not understand that things are different for her now as a transgender woman. Well, you might be thinking what about her life before transition? It is clear Jenner did benefit in some pretty huge ways by being coercively perceived as a man. She was an Olympic athlete. This brought her fame and money. But it also must be remembered that part of the reason she was able to compete was not just being seen as a man but a white heterosexual masculine man from a middle-class background. If she had been a person of colour like Laverne Cox would Jenner have gotten so far? If Jenner had been seen as a feminine gay man like Candis Cayne before her transition had been would Jenner have gotten so far? Also, Jenner was not really a heterosexual masculine man, even though she was perceived as that. What did being perceived as a man when she was not, cost her?

Jenner herself gives us a lot of insight into this. She states that her pre-transition self always had a secret, a burden. In many of her interviews she talks about hiding and disappearing before her transition. She first attempted to transition in the 1980s only to go back to living as male.[xxviii] She talks about contemplating suicide due to the struggles of having surgery and the press.[xxix] None is meant to take away from the problematic things she has said nor to try and dismiss the privileges she has. Rather it is to point out that while yes, she did benefit hugely from being perceived as male it also brought her challenges of her own. With her other privileges, her access to male privilege was greater than people like Cox, Candis and Alcorn but she still did not gain the whole of male privilege the cisgender man enjoys. It must also be remembered she is one trans woman with an uncommon story at that. The story of trans women and girls who are murdered by our society are far more common – especially if they are women and girls of colour. From looking at the context around Caitlyn Jenner and her privilege a more nuanced perspective can be gained.

Chimamanda Adichie comments were poorly worded and simplistic. That being said I do not believe she is transphobic. I think it is more likely her comments were well intended even though she is wrong. One of my friends at the time said that while she may be ignorant being trans is not something very well understood. Maybe not but that only makes it understandable not acceptable. Chimamanda Adichie got so much backlash because I believe because of this statement ‘if you’re born a man with all the privilege that entails’. But here is the problem trans women are not men even when we are perceived as such. We never have all the privilege cisgender men have even when we are perceived as male. Because of the context that exists around our bodies and identities we only ever have limited, circumstance access to male privilege at best. That access is lost once we are perceived as female. But if that limited access has to be acknowledged so too does the challenges of pre-transition trans people and the privilege cis women have simply for being cisgender.

While it is important to acknowledge how transgender and cisgender women are different but it is also important not to lose sight of the things we have in common. We are all women trying to make our way in the world. I will leave a few links to people who have written about what trans women and cis women have in common instead of how we are different. I think looking at what we have in common is just as important as acknowledging our differences. If we’re going to make the world a better place for all women I think that is a good place to start.

 

Why Trans Women Belong in the Fight for Abortion Rights by Diana Tourjee

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/wnwvbm/why-trans-women-belong-in-the-fight-for-abortion-rights

 

Trans Feminism: There’s No Conundrum About It by Julia Serano

http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/04/18/trans-feminism-theres-no-conundrum-about-it/

 

The Trans Feminist Manifesto by Emi Koyama

http://eminism.org/readings/pdf-rdg/tfmanifesto.pdf

 

I will also be focusing more so on what cisgender and transgender women have in common in a future post from here. Now that I’ve tackled difference I’ll be looking at what we have in common.

 

Note: I hope you enjoyed reading this and my other posts. I started this blog so I could publish my own work because chances to get your work published are usually far and in between. Because I’m doing this on my own I don’t have anyone advertising this. So, if you are enjoying my writing please share my blog posts with people who you think will also enjoy them. It would mean a lot to me. If you enjoy my work please subscribe for more. A big thank you to anyone who does this and to people who have already been reading. It means a lot to me.

[i] Bettcher, Talia, “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/feminism-trans/  >.

[ii] Channel 4 ‘Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Interview’ ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP1C7VXUfZQ ).

[iii] Bicchieri, Cristina and Muldoon, Ryan, “Social Norms”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/social-norms/ >.

[iv] Mikkola, Mari, “Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/feminism-gender/ >.

[v]McGuire Peter “Ireland’s transgender children” The Irish Times ( https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/ireland-s-transgender-children-1.2171777 )

[vi] Stevens, Grace Anne “My Transgender Life — Transitioning at Age 64” The Huffington Post( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/grace-anne-stevens/my-transgender-life-transitioning-at-age-64_b_6615476.html )

[vii] L/Studio created by Lexus “It Got Better Featuring Laverne Cox”

( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MfxtM9N3fw )

[viii]L/Studio created by Lexus “It Got Better Featuring Candis Cayne”

( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ9aMvRBQXY )

[ix] L/Studio created by Lexus “It Got Better Featuring Janet Mock”

( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iedimNVkIXM )

[x]  Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia “Sex-selective abortion”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex-selective_abortion)

[xi] A. S. “Identity Theft: A Trans* Intersex Woman on Traumas and Surgery”

(https://www.autostraddle.com/identity-theft-prose-on-my-surgery-and-traumas-as-a-trans-intersex-woman-175806/)

[xii] Zwischengeschlecht.org “Selective Intersex Abortions: XXY 74%, Indeterminate Sex 47%, Hypospadias 2%”   (http://stop.genitalmutilation.org/post/Selective-Intersex-Abortions-Hypospadias-Intersex-XXY)

[xiii] A. S. “Identity Theft: A Trans* Intersex Woman on Traumas and Surgery”

(https://www.autostraddle.com/identity-theft-prose-on-my-surgery-and-traumas-as-a-trans-intersex-woman-175806/)

[xiv]  While Honour killings are usually talked about in terms of women being killed for things such as marrying someone their family disapproved of, honour killings of trans feminine people have also been documented as have honour killings of LGB+ people. This is in particular a problem in countries such as turkey.  For more information see here the following links to these pdfs and articles

(http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5195f1290.pdf) (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/23/murder-transgender-lgbt-hande-kader-turkey)

[xv] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation p. 26 (https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf)

[xvi]The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation pp. 26-27 (https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf)

[xvii]The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation p. 27 (https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf)

[xviii]The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation p.27 (https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf)

[xix]Understanding the Issues facing bisexual Americans pp.2-3

http://www.lgbtmap.org/file/understanding-issues-facing-bisexual-americans.pdf

[xx] Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations p.14

http://sf-hrc.org/sites/default/files/Documents/HRC_Publications/Articles/Bisexual_Invisiblity_Impacts_and_Recommendations_March_2011.pdf

[xxi] Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations p.4

http://sf-hrc.org/sites/default/files/Documents/HRC_Publications/Articles/Bisexual_Invisiblity_Impacts_and_Recommendations_March_2011.pdf

[xxii] Pasha-Robinson, Lucy ‘Three quarters of people with long-term mental illness are unemployed, report finds’ The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/mental-health-depression-anxiety-mental-illness-work-workplace-report-tuc-findings-a7741746.html

[xxiii]O’Keeffe, Alan ‘Homeless people suffering with mental illness ‘do not get adequate support’, new report’ The Irish Independent

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/homeless-people-suffering-with-mental-illness-do-not-get-adequate-support-new-report-35829824.html

[xxiv]Ford, Zack ‘Allowing Transgender Youth To Transition Improves Their Mental Health, Study Finds’ Think Progress

https://thinkprogress.org/allowing-transgender-youth-to-transition-improves-their-mental-health-study-finds-dd6096523375

[xxv]The William Institute ‘Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults’ Ann P. Haas, Ph.D. and Philip L. Rodgers, Ph.D., American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Jody L. Herman, Ph.D. Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law January 2014. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf

[xxvi] https://new.oberlin.edu/dotAsset/2012181.pdf

[xxvii] For Leelah Alcorn’s full suicide note please follow this link to the catholic trans word press blog https://catholictrans.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/leelah-alcorns-suicide-note-full-text/

[xxviii] Corinthios Audrey ‘Caitlyn Jenner on the ‘Dark Days’ Surrounding Her First Attempt to Transition: ‘I Was Very Honest with Kris’ People TV Watch http://people.com/tv/caitlyn-jenner-talks-first-attempt-to-transition-in-the-1980s/

[xxix] Iteale Leanne ‘Caitlyn Jenner talks of suicide, secrets in new book’ The Detroit News http://www.detroitnews.com/story/entertainment/books/2017/04/26/caitlyn-jenner-talks-suicide-secrets-new-book/100951442/

 

The Man In the High Castle: Great concepts with poor execution.

This book could have been amazing the potential is there but I found it to be a very inaccessible read. The main idea is that the Axis powers won World War II and now America is divided between the Japanese and the Germans. The characters are all in the states and all of their stories are occurring simultaneously. It has only been a few weeks since I finished the book and I actually can’t remember all the character’s names. The ones that did stand out were Julia Fink, Frank Fink and Robert Childan. I know there were others but nothing about them makes them memorably to me.

Full disclosure: This is my second time reading this book but it is the first time I have actually read it to finish. The last time I read it I was still in school, transition year to be exact. I didn’t finish it. At the time I was very impatient and disliked slow books. I would power through books reading them as fast as I could. It would not be until much later did I realize the problem with that. That just because a book is slow does not mean that it is bad, sometimes amazing stories need time to build. So having learned that and having finished a college I decided to return to this book. Only to learn that it wasn’t just my approach that was the problem but that the book itself has a problem.

Many fascinating things happen in the book. For example the book within a book ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ and the sections from it were fascinating. Julia Fink’s story was be far the most interesting part of the story as she meets the authors of the book in a book. The ending where it becomes clear the characters are within a multiverse were every possibility of what could have happened did happen. Or how the I Ching that is the guiding force in the book is actually the writer of ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’.

So why with all this does the book fail to be truly engaging? The main problem is that there are too many characters to be keeping track of. There about seven point of view characters and none of them big players in the scheme of things. Rather they are more like the characters from China Mountain Zhang, the common man trying to get by. While that is a route the story can take if Philip Dick wanted it to having to keep track of all these different people is confusing. Particularly when the book tends to jump around between each of these different characters.

The story would have worked better if it had told each of the characters’ stories one by one rather then trying to interwove them together in the way the book does. When you have so many characters, some of whom never meets, it creates confusion over who to focus on. Which makes the book a struggle to read. Which really is unfortunate as the book does deal with some pretty fascinating ideas but execution comes off rather clumsily.

Note: I hope you enjoyed reading this review and my other posts. I started this blog so I could publish my own work because chances to get your work published are usually far and in between. Because I’m doing this on my own I don’t have anyone advertising this. So, if you are enjoying my writing please share my blog posts with people who you think will also enjoy them. It would mean a lot to me. A big thank you to anyone who does this and to people who have already been reading. It means a lot to me.

Anime Review: From the New World Episode Eleven: Distant Thunder in Winter, English Dub.

Warning: The series I am reviewing contains depictions of child abduction, disappearance, murder, and violence in a future totalitarian society. It also depicts sexual violence. The show also contains sexual relationships between young people. That is the trigger warning.

Leave now if you wish.

Also, spoilers for the episode and the whole series. Do not read any further if you don’t want spoilers.

Recap: This episode opens with Saki and Maria in school. They end up talking about Ryou, a boy from group two who has had his eye on Saki for a while despite being in a different group. Actually, he switched over from group two to group one because group one had so few members. How had group one ended up with so few people? No one knows why. Also, Saki doesn’t know why none of them has questioned it. But she does smell a rat. Maria kisses Saki embarrassing her. Maria says Saki wants someone else to kiss her. Ryou then approaches them saying they seem close. This exchange follows.

Maria: ‘of course we are Ryou, as a matter a fact we’re in love, jealous?’

Ryou says: ‘Yes, a little’.

Maria: ‘of who?’

Ryou: ‘both of you’.

Maira: ‘you little liar’.

Ryou: ‘Saki do you think I could have a word with you?’

Maria leaves but not before Ryou mentions that Mamoru has had his eye on her and that she is number one in the polls. Older Saki now starts narrating. Older Saki now explains what is going on. Which set of students now has to form male and female pairs for school work but in reality, this is them choosing who they have romantic feelings for. Ryou wants to talk near the courtyard entrance but Saki asks instead for them to go outside. Once outside Ryou tells her he wants to pick her. Saki is confused asking why would he pick her.

Ryou becomes frustrated saying he has been watching her ever since he moved over to group one. She asks when he began to feel like that. He says he started feeling that way during the camping trip. Saki doesn’t remember this. She tries to remember but the boy’s face is edited out. Saki is not the only one who is confused. Satoru had seen her and Ryou together and his look had been one of complete confusion. There is a cut away to Saki standing in front of a grave. A dog is with her. She hears a voice of boy. The boy from her memories. The boy she cannot remember. After being buried his face and name were destroyed. Saki next sees a grave with a mirror-but it isn’t her grave. Turning she looks into the mirror. A flash of light comes from the mirror. She wakes up in bed. Crying. Another flashback of her in her families’ store room. She finds a mirror there with hidden writing on it.

The next day in school she asks Ryou to talk again. She asks him the following questions.

‘What advice did you give me when we went canyoning at night?’

‘Why did you break up with Satoru?’

‘How did the Monk Rejin die?’

Ryou is unable to answer any of these. Saki decided not to pick him. Saki runs into Satoru on her way back to class. Satoru for his part can’t remember why he liked Ryou so much. Saki says ‘(Ryou) doesn’t fit the part…. He isn’t not the person we fell in love with’. Satoru smiles at that. Saki pairs with Satoru, Maria with Mamoru and Ryou with some other girl. The scene cuts to Saki and Satoru telling Maria and Mamoru about how Ryou wasn’t with them camping. Maria is doubtful of this. Satoru says he has memories of going out with Ryou but he can’t shake the feeling that it was someone else. Ryou is not Satoru’s type. Maria agrees saying his type is more like Ray. But she still has doubts. But more that members of group one think about it the less it makes sense. Slowly they start putting two and two together. Their memories have been tampered with. They decide to seek out this other boy’s house. They call him X for simplicities sake. They end up back in Pinewood. But they don’t remember it. They end up at a massive crater in the in ground. They slip past a barrier. A recent one by the looks of it. They reach a large lake. Mamoru says X can’t exist. But Maria has doubts. It is here finally that not only do they realize there was X but someone else as well. An image of Reiko flashes across the screen. Mamoru becomes more upset saying if they keep digging up stuff something will happen. Saki says they’ll get rid of them. Mamoru breaks down and Maria rushes to comfort him. She tells them to stop talking. Mamoru is sent home on a boat. The scene changes.

Saki shows Maria and Satoru the mirror with the hidden writing. It belonged to Saki’s sister. Saki believes the school got rid of her sister. The writing is a bit crooked. Maria asks Saki not to bring this up again but Saki is angered by this. Maria explains herself saying she is more worried about the friends she still has. Not Saki because Saki is the strong one but Mamoru who needs to trust the world he is in. Who is too fragile to survive without that trust. Saki is more sensitive than most but she is able to live with pain and suffering. Something the rest of them can’t do. Saki promises not to bring this up around Mamoru anymore. The two girls embrace and kiss. Satoru also hugs them. Just as they are about to go home they are approached by two adults who asks to talk to them. Satoru asks if they are with the education committee. But they say they’re not but in fact work for Satoru’s grandmother the chair of the ethics committee. The scene cuts to them in a waiting room. Saki and Maria demand answers from Satoru. Maria says he must have been rating them out. But Satoru doesn’t know any more than they do. Saying that neither of them knew either because the members of the ethics committee is kept a secret. This information is not public. They are brought one by one to the chair’s office. Her name is Tomiko. Saki is told there is no need to be nerves but she is in face scared. The episode closes to credits.

Analysis: This episode began as something of a breather from everything that happened in the last episode but very soon it changed into setup for the next episode. For when the audience meets Tomiko head of the ethic’s committee. Answers are coming. The anime has now really hit its stride. The animation, music and characters are all coming together to create this story. It is with Shun’s death that this anime really kicks off in terms of story. An explanation as to why people in particular children has been around since the first episode, children who are weak, aggressive or appear to be are killed by Impure Cats. But here it’s explain why no one ever reacts to that. Memories are erased. People are removed not just physical from society but also from their friend’s and family’s hearts and minds.

The education committee is ruthless in doing this. Maybe Saki’s sister was still learning to control her powers? Had poor control over them like Reiko? Or she might just have had bad eye sight? But the education committee is so afraid of Karmic Demons and as we later learn Orgies or Fiends that they killed her at the first sign of trouble. Is it justified? That’s another question I’ll deal with further down the road once I’m finished with this anime. Other small details give more answers though and raise more questions. For starters why is the Ethics committee so secretive that even their family members do not know about their jobs? Satoru behavior shows he was just as clueless as the girls. One small detail I really liked was when at first called his grandmother ‘granny’ but then called her Tomiko. He’s realized that this woman was not who she appeared to be.  Another subject is how far did the mind wiping of Shun go? How many people had to have their memories erased? Why is it only group one who are putting two and two together? This is talked about further down the road as well.

Another thing this episode is that even though they have been paired with two boys now Saki’s and Maria’s romantic relationship has not ended with them kissing in this episode. I’ve said before that I doubted these character’s relationships are intended to be monogamous. Maria’s and Saki’s continued intimacy here provides the strongest evidence for that. However not much more comes of it in terms of conflict for the story but it would have been interesting to see what may have happened if Maria stayed in the village. (fanfic anyone?). Similarly, so it is further evidence that despite having both other sex relationships and same sex relationships none of these characters are expressing jealousy. Maria is not upset at the idea of Saki being paired with Ryou in fact she teases Saki about it. Another thing about this episode is that it shows just how analytical this group is. They figure out very fast that someone has been playing with their memories.  Saki shows in particular how aware she is of something being wrong in how she deals with the situation with Ryou. She is soon able to detect he is not the boy she spent that summer camp with nor is he the boy she developed those feelings for.

Another great scene in this episode was when Saki and Satoru talk about how Ryou is not the boy they both had feelings for. Saki even puts their Shun as the same saying ‘He’s not the person we fell in love with’. However, Shun is not gone entirely from the story. From now on it looks like he will be Saki’s spiritual advisory. Which is a pretty cool touch. Finally, one thing this series does that I haven’t mentioned but is done just as well as the creating an atmosphere and foreshadowing are the cliff hangers. This episode ends with a really well-crafted one finishing just as the audience meets Tomiko. Leaving a huge desire for us to learn more about her and the only way to do so is to watch the next episode.

Note: I hope you enjoyed reading this review and my other posts. I started this blog so I could publish my own work because chances to get your work published are usually far and in between. Because I’m doing this on my own I don’t have anyone advertising this. So, if you are enjoying my writing please share my blog posts with people who you think will also enjoy them. It would mean a lot to me. A big thank you to anyone who does this and to people who have already been reading. It means a lot to me.

China Mountain Zhang and the concept of Passing

Trigger warning: The book I’m reviewing contains depictions of sex, rape, suicide, racism, and homophobia. The book also contains persecution of sexual minorities. Proceed with caution if any of that is triggering for you.

Also, spoilers. Lots of Spoilers.

                Welcome to my first non-anime review and my first book review on this blog. Today I’ll be looking at the book China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, published in 1992. This story takes place in a possible future where America has gone through a Second Great Depression and thus a communist revolution has taken place. The U.S.A is now a second world country with China being the first world (‘everyone wants to go to China they think’). The Chinese and those of Chinese ancestry are here the privileged racial category in society. The protagonist of the story is a gay man who is a mix of Chinese and Hispanic heritage. His Chinese name is Zhang Zhong Shan and his Spanish name is Rafael. Living in this alternative world he passes both as both Chinese and as heterosexual. Some chapters are told from the point of view of characters he meets. Such as San Xiang an ugly girl he is briefly coerced into dating. There is also Angel a kite rider, future sport that is dangerous often resulting in death. Finally, there is a Martian couple of Alexi and Martine. This is not a narrative about people who change the world but about people who are trying to find a way to live in it. Each of these characters struggle with this but for different reasons and they have different methods of doing so. One of these methods is passing but that method brings about its own problems.

                The concept of passing is something that is central to Zhang’s story. Before he was even conceived his parents used gene-splicing to make him look as Chinese as possible. He feels that he and his mother most be more like cousins then parent and child because he only has so many of her genes. He knows this is irrational though and logically knows that she is his mother. This something that haunts ‘my face is a lie’ he thinks. However, appearing to be an ABC (American Born Chinese) is not always a good thing when one is not especially when one is also a gay man (Intersectionality anyone). At the start of the novel Zhang works for Foremen Quin as a construction-tech. Foremen Quin sets Zhang up with his daughter San Xiang. Zhang goes along with this because he does not want to lose his job but knows it is a problem because of his homosexuality. As the situation escalates Zhang eventually reveals that he is in face not ABC, that his mother is Hispanic. This ends his faux-relationship with San Xiang and loses him his job along with his apartment. While passing as ABC and as straight clearly gives Zhang certain privileges it also complicates his life and creates obstacles he would not face otherwise.

But of course, he and his parents are not the only ones using technology to pass as something he is not (or at least something he is wholly not). San Xiang is considered ugly both by herself and everyone she meets. Her face is described like that of a chipmunk with eyes too big and no chin. She seeks to correct this and later does by changing her face to fit into her society of beauty standards. However once San Xiang is considered a pretty girl she then starts to receive attention from men she is not used to. This leads to horrific results when she is the victim of date rape. San Xiang begins to miss her old ugly face because it allowed her to be invisible. Both characters pass as something they are not to gain perceived benefits of belonging a more privileged group of people. However, both also discover that passing brings it’s changes and complications with it that can be deadly.

                The idea of passing as a racial group you’re not is not something that belongs just to sci fi. Take for example how some biracial Americans have passed as only white to gain access to education, employment and to survive. What is new here is how this concept has been altered in this science fiction tale. Instead of having characters passing as white, there is a character with Hispanic Ancestry passing as an American Born Chinese to gain work, education and to survive. But as the books shows it is not that simply. While I did enjoy this twist on the idea of racial passing I was less impressed with San Xiang’s story. The idea of a girl using technology to make herself fit into beauty standards is not new and is everywhere. Try googling plastic surgery. A critical look at this has a lot of potential to draw some interesting conclusions. But instead the idea is that being ugly protected San Xiang from predatory men. But as a naïve pretty girl she becomes the victim of date rape. The problem with this depiction is very simple: being ugly does not protect you from predatory rapists. The idea that men like Bobby would never tried to take advantage of San Xiang because she was too ugly is ridiculous. For more on that go here (https://rapecrisis.org.uk/mythsvsrealities.php). I won’t say anything more about it because that link does a better job of it then I can.

                So, with that out of the way I’ll move on to the other types of passing in this story. That of passing as straight and as passing as another gender. I’ll start with passing as straight as I’ve already briefly touched on it and it is much more prominent in the story. Zhang is not open about his homosexuality while in New York except with some gay friends and his mother. Later when he goes to China he must actively hide it because his sexuality is illegal. He becomes lovers with his tutor Haitao and through him meets Liu Wen another gay man. These men pass as straight and live with the constant fear of being found out. The scene that best demonstrates this is when Zhang, Haitao and Liu Wen visit a secret gay bar one night. While at the bar they experience as sense of community but they know they are under threat. This threat later becomes a reality when the bar is raided. Resulting in a desperate scramble to escape. While Zhang and Haitao escape they are scarred and further tragedy awaits them. The idea of gendered passing however only appears in once during the story. In the gay bar when Zhang admires a pretty girl only to realize she is a boy. He is not aroused nor disgusted by this act of cross dressing (as he calls it) only interested in this display of femaleness he has not seen before. He takes note of her body language and style of dress. Fascinated by this woman/boy. It is more of an odd to gendered passing than anything else. But even though it Is only brief this nod to gender passing shows another way many Queer people pass and the tremendous effort they often put into doing so.

The concept of passing of course is not the only subject explored in China Mountain Zhang. Themes such as migration, history, politics, race, and more are all woven into the narrative. So why did I focus so much on the idea of passing? Because it is something I have a lot of personal experience except for passing as a different race (I’m white). As bisexual, transgender, and a woman with (invisible) disabilities and health conditions I’ve passed as many different things. So, I found a novel that spent it’s time dealing in depth with characters who passed as so many different things fascinating. The only part of the book I really disliked was San Xiang’s sub plot but I won’t repeat myself. If you like alternative history, soft science fiction, queer characters and stories about the average joe or jane check this book out but take San Xiang’s subplot with some salt.