The Oiran’s Song

This story from Isabel Yap comes with a trigger warning, as well it should. It is a vivid story set in the midst of many kinds of trauma. It simultaneously is as cold as the winter in which it is set and burns with a yearning as hot as the blood that is spilled.

The first few days, she does not run out of questions. She never helps with your tasks, but often comes along. When you ask her why, she replies, “I’m bored.” But no sex before dinner, or so the unspoken rule goes. She keeps up with her practice, and plays splendidly every night, so they let her do as she pleases. In many ways this matches the idleness of Yoshiwara before evening. But there are no warm baths and no parades here, no other girls for her to pinch or tease. She sits and watches you, tossing and catching her bachi or plucking her shamisen, while you walk through the forest gathering wood, or beat the soldiers’ bedsheets out in the snow, or polish their guns and swords.

The soldiers scout for the enemy, await orders from the military, loudly argue about whether to trust the French. You know that the purpose of your unit is to be light, quick, trained with foreign weapons. Eight in a unit, stealth and speed as shields. You have seen the men do their work. You have tried to do the same.

But you are clumsy with the sword, and although you are now a decent shot, holding a gun still makes you anxious. You might fire more accurately if they did not snicker every time you tried. A year ago, Kazushige was appointed your trainer by Taichou—they didn’t expect you to become one of them, but an extra set of hands and eyes was welcome.

Kazushige is one of the few who has never touched you. He still laughs at your mistakes and hesitation, still hits if you do something wrong, but when he moves your arms to position the rifle, he never grips you too hard. Sometimes you even think you like him.

The idea of liking anything is strange. Unreal. You remember Tamakoto; you remember Kaoru. As memories held apart to be revered, wondered at, they make sense; anything closer and your mind shuts off. The oiran’s shamisen makes an awful twang, and you return to the task at hand: checking that the traps set to capture wolves are still in place.

“No wolves are going to come, anyway,” the oiran says.

“How do you know?”

“Because of the oni,” she answers.

It is well known that the women of the floating world delight in storytelling. They spend years honing this skill.

“Like in the rumors? Those are lies.”

“No, they’re not,” she says. “I’ve seen one.” You glance at her, but she doesn’t meet your eyes. She strikes her shamisen, then grins so that you know she is teasing. “It frightened the hell out of me.”

You keep your mouth closed, though really you are thinking: you frighten me, and I don’t know why. Then you realize: it’s because I want to protect you, and I don’t think I can.

The trap is empty, as it has been the last several days.

“The wolves aren’t coming,” she repeats.

Someone shouts for you to start getting dinner ready. As the two of you trudge back through the snow, you think: the wolves aren’t coming; they’re already here.

Keep reading.

Also, if you like the story, consider doing as Yap asks and funding the Uncanny Magazine Kickstarter. As she notes, the publication of this story was possible because Uncanny reached all their stretch goals for their first year. They have only a few more days to reach the same level for their second year. If you want an additional incentive, I am offering two backer rewards.

Rethinking Diversity Panels

In the last week and a bit, it seems everyone is writing about rethinking the value of diversity panels. That isn’t to say it’s a new topic. It’s not even close.

It is, however, in the public eye at the moment. The painful absurdity at Gen Con’s “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” panel. Wes Chu being out of place at a diversity panel at Sasquan just a few months after talking about having been removed from a panel he was suited for to be placed on a diversity panel. General talk about supporting diverse writers in the wake of Sad and Rabid Puppies having “accidents” all over Hugo Awards ballots. All these have put the topic firmly in the public eye, and folks have plenty of good things to say on it.

As someone who just organized a conference at which all the speakers and presenters were women or genderqueer people, I generally agree with these assessments. We worked hard to match people with topics that reflected their expertise, not their marginalization, keeping “minority provides free education” duties to a minimum. Our priority was to highlight their other skills and interests. [Read more…]

Secular Women Work: Lobbyists Are People Too

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

This is the earliest panel we started pulling together and one of the last to be finalized. That is, in part, because we were ambitious. We didn’t want this panel to only reflect the viewpoints of people who lobbied. We also wanted people who had been lobbied, elected officials who have relied on input from their constituents to help them make good decisions. We got them.

I’m particularly proud of having State Representative Phyllis Kahn on this panel. She’s been a good champion for the separation of church and state and helped Minnesota Atheists be heard on these issues. Her legislative work includes groundbreaking laws like Minnesota’s first Clean Indoor Air Act. And her stories about work on various issues demonstrate how much is decided based on who shows up. [Read more…]

The Easy Targets

I miss having Hiba as a colleague here at FtB. I fully support her taking her writing in the direction she wants, and I have no doubt she’ll continue to be successful at it, but I miss her blogging. I miss the nuance she brought. I miss the confrontational truths. I miss the challenge to break down our behaviors and really understand them.

I miss this sort of thing.

Side-by-side photos of Hiba Krisht, one with hijab, one with bare hair and shoulders. Text in post.

Feminism is defending Muslim women who wear the hijab for whatever reason against shaming or attack.

Feminism is not categorically denying that the hijab can be coercive, body-shaming, slut-shaming, restrictive, or psychologically crippling.
– Hiba Krisht

Ex-Muslims of North America posted this to their public Facebook group a couple of days ago. Some of their readers had a problem with the statements. Actually, they mostly had one of three problems. [Read more…]

Dancing for Uncanny

It’s no secret around here that I’m a fan of Uncanny Magazine. It isn’t just that the editors are friends of mine, though they are. They publish plenty of fiction that is to my tastes, like here and here…and, uh, here, here, and here. They’ve also published me, so I have every reason to be biased.

Still, there are plenty of people who agree with me that Uncanny is well worth supporting. You might even be one of them. This is part of the reason I’ve offered up two rewards in their Kickstarter to pay for their second year of publication.

PICK A SKEPTIC BRAIN. Stephanie Zvan of Freethought Blogs (Almost Diamonds) will blog about a topic chosen by you. Includes everything from the SUSTAINER level.

Want me to write about a topic that interests you? No problem. You get a year’s subscription to great art and essays as well, plus additional fan goodies.

Or maybe you want to go for something a touch more cruel.

TORTURE A SKEPTIC Do you love to hate ghost/monster hunter or UFO shows? Choose your best-worst episode of paranormal TV and have skeptics Dr. Rubidium, Jason Thibeault, or Stephanie Zvan rally the Mock the Movie crew to watch and live-tweet the pain. (We’ll contact you to select the episode and skeptic. First come, first choice.) Includes everything from the SUSTAINER level.

This reward was built out of the long-standing trolling of one of the Uncanny editors who loves to tell me how much he’s enjoying his ghost-hunter shows. (Yes, Michael, I said, “trolling”.) He’s been telling me I need to watch them for years and finally found a pitch I couldn’t resist.

Even if neither of those rewards suits your fancy, go check out the Kickstarter. Basic subscriptions are available, as are plenty of other rewards. Uncanny has just a few days and $6,000 to go to to maintain its ability to support diverse stories, new writers, great fan writing, art, and kindness. Help make that happen.

A Useful Definition of Identity Politics

“Identity politics” has never been more than a dogwhistle in my experience. It’s been a way to tell people facing discrimination in activist spaces that they should shut up for the cause. It’s used to suggest that certain identities are inherently divisive when asserted, while others are still merely default. In other words, it’s made certain identities unwelcome in organizing simply through its use.

This is why it was refreshing and illuminating to see an activist lay out a definition that’s useful for planning effective activism and that doesn’t define the behavior of only a marginalized group as political. Interestingly enough, it came out of discussions about Rachel Dolezal a couple of months ago. From Elizabeth Wood at Woodhull Alliance: [Read more…]

Secular Women Work: How to Be an Ally

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

This was a pretty intense panel, with people talking about it all evening and the next day. The tweets won’t and can’t do it justice, as they captured the advice more than why it is important. I am extremely grateful to Desiree for asking us to put this together. [Read more…]

We Need to Talk About Femmephobia

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons this month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Over the last several months, I’ve increasingly noticed discussions about gender and gender oppression happening without reference to femmephobia. I’m sure my attention to the problem is the only part of this that’s new, but the situation is still frustrating. There are too many topics where all we can do is talk past each other if we don’t address femmephobia directly.

Before we can do that, of course, we have to understand what femmephobia is. For a succinct answer, I still like this one from Ozy Franz:

Femmephobia is the devaluation, fear and hatred of the feminine: of softness, nurturance, dependence, emotions, passivity, sensitivity, grace, innocence and the color pink.

There’s more to femmephobia than those examples–love of adornment goes far beyond preference for one color, for example–but the basic definition holds.

Like any of the so-called phobias that come out of bias and feed into oppression, this is significantly more complex than an irrational fear. Hatred is part of the mix, as femmephobia a specialized form of misogyny. Devaluation to the point of denigration is perhaps femmephobia’s most common form. But the fear is there too, though not everyone may fear the same things. Some people may fear the “otherness” of femininity in a world where the masculine is default, while others may fear being “tainted” by femininity. [Read more…]

Secular Women Work: Getting Your Message Out in Spite of a Hostile Press

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

This panel is the one that diverged most from my expectations as an organizer. All of our panelists are closely associated with “alternative” media, publications that aim for and succeed in niche markets. I expected to hear a lot about how to build and leverage those publications. Instead, I heard solid strategies for using a hostile press to reach untapped audiences.

I couldn’t be more delighted. In many ways, this is harder work, but it also has the potential to reach more of the people who need to be educated or have their minds changed. It’s very good to have understand the considerations behind the work. [Read more…]