Thursday, August 11, 2016

For Equality

Like several other people at Oh Get a Grip, I’ve done a lot of writing for Coming Together, a publisher that produces erotic anthologies that raise money for various charities. Some of the work I’m proudest of has gone into those books, too.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite Coming Together stories, which was in Beth Wylde’s Coming Together: For Equality, a book that benefits Planting Peace Equality House.

My story was called “Risk Rider and Dare Take the Con,” and it’s about cosplay at a geek convention. For those who don’t know, cosplay is the name for dressing up in (often astonishingly detailed) costume in honor of favorite characters from books, movies, comics, and video games.

A couple of years ago (and definitely around the time I wrote this story), there was a lot of vocal controversy around cosplayers. The people who cosplay (often women) began speaking publicly about the harassment they experience at conventions and the ways they are treated as sex objects by attendees. Other people claimed that cosplayers are “fake geek girls” (whatever that means) who are attending these conventions to somehow trick or manipulate “real geeks” (whatever that means).

Some good came out of this flurry of blogs, social media posts, and articles. Many conventions improved their policies around harassment and worked to make cosplayers safer. More people recognized the work and devotion that goes into creating these incredible costumes.

I don’t think it’s all solved, though. Despite much tooting of the horn about the accepting nature of geek culture, my experience as a lifelong geek is that it’s accepting in certain ways but quite intolerant in others. For people on the receiving end of sexual harassment, I think geek culture can be particularly dangerous and difficult. Geek culture is typically very accepting of people with poor social skills, a lack of ability to read social cues, and confusion around boundaries. I’m really happy for people with those traits who feel they are able to make friends in geeky places. However, having this set of traits be commonplace can put people in a bind when receiving sexual interest. Behavior that feels creepy can be excused as “person X is just not good at social cues.” Concerns about such behavior can be dismissed as intolerant. Many people fail to see how this shifts the burden onto certain subsets of the community and creates an unwelcoming and intolerant environment for certain people. I think geek culture needs to work out better ways to be accepting of people outside of the social skill mainstream while also being careful of the safety of all members of the community. People are working on this, but there’s still progress to be made.

I’d also point to things like the recent controversy over the movie Ghostbusters, in which a relentless negative campaign against the movie drove one of its stars away from interacting with the public for a while and has likely ensured there will be no sequel. Some people think they own geek culture, and they fail to recognize that lots of people are geeks, too, and have been all along. (I’m glossing over lots of details in this short description. If you’re interested in knowing more, ask me in the comments, or do a few Google searches. Be ready for hours of reading.)

Anyway, when I wrote “Risk Rider and Dare Take the Con,” I was really excited about that story. It’s fun and genuinely sexy, in my humble opinion, but the story also let me express my pent-up anger around the harassing experiences I’ve had at geeky events over the course of my life. As is often the case when I work on charity anthologies, I was the first beneficiary. It was great to get the chance to let out feelings I’d always struggled to express.

I don’t usually do snippets here, but I feel weird talking so much about the story and not giving you a hint of it. It’s one of my favorites ever, so it would be awesome if this inspired a couple more people to pick up For Equality:

They wound up pressed together in a crowded elevator, the smell of leather combined with Dare's clean, hot skin overwhelming any other person's scent. "Dare and Risk Rider, huh?" The guy next to them wore an assessing expression. "You guys realize you got it wrong, right? Dare is the girl." He spoke as if correcting a kindergartener.

"I prefer dressing as Risk Rider," Jamie-Lyn said. She wouldn't normally have engaged, but Dare's body had emboldened her.

Her interlocutor, however, shook his head dismissively. "That's backwards. It's unrealistic to see a girl as Risk Rider. He's got all the martial arts skills, and he's the one who fights people off while Dare works on hacking stuff. Since women's bodies aren't as strong, it just doesn't make sense for the woman to be the physical defender. Sorry." He turned his back.

"She's bigger than me," Dare pointed out, but the guy didn't respond. Jamie-Lyn wasn't sure if she felt irritated or relieved that he'd decided the conversation was over.

The elevator dinged at Jamie-Lyn's floor, and she tugged Dare behind her, doing her best to ignore the sly hands that brushed against the outsides of her breasts or the curves of her ass. She'd dealt with so much at the con already that people trying to cop a feel just felt unfortunately normal. She and Dare stayed silent until Jamie-Lyn let them into her room.

Dare stopped the door before it closed. "Would you feel more comfortable if we propped it open? I know we just met. You don't even know my real name."

Her cheeks heated. Lust and Risk Rider's reflected boldness had led her to take some uncharacteristically reckless actions. She didn't want to stop, though. Gently, she pulled Dare's hand away from the door, allowing it to close. "What's your real name?"

"Louis Rios."

Jamie-Lyn introduced herself, then cut to the chase. "Why did you ask to come to my room?"

"You know why. We both felt it."

"We did," she agreed. Gazing for a moment into his quick, mischievous eyes, Jamie-Lyn decided to take the plunge all the way. Today, with him, she didn't want to pretend to be anything she wasn't. Some of her friends back home might have thought it was ironic for her to feel this way while dressed as a comic book character, but the point had always been that when she dressed as Risk Rider, Jamie-Lyn was expressing her best and truest self. Her bravest self.

She took Dare's hand—Louis's hand—and guided it to her crotch, wrapping it around her soft pack. "I'm not exactly traditional," Jamie-Lyn said. "Do you mind?"

"I like it."

The smile that spread over her face made Jamie-Lyn feel fierce, victorious, and hungry for more. She wrapped an arm around Louis in a grip meant to claim him and kissed him just the same way. She kissed him as a man would kiss, guiding the pace, teasing his mouth open with her tongue, her lips outside his lips, her jaw pressing his open wider, her hands making him submit to her.

And if you’re interested in writing for charity, too, I’m currently taking submissions for my first editing project for Coming Together, Positively Sexy (deadline extended to October 1st). Full details are here. (And I need to work on propagating the deadline extension…)

11 comments:

  1. Jeez... And I thought it was complicated growing up in the 50's & 60's.

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    1. Pretty sure growing up has always been complicated, going back to the beginning of time.

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  2. I wish I'd thought of using the Coming Together books for the theme of "charity," but then again, I'm glad I didn't, because you expand it in far more interesting ways than I could have. I've had stories in three books of the series, but mine were all reprints, which doesn't really count as charity.

    It's not just cosplay conventions that have the kind of harassment problem you describe. Science fiction and fantasy conventions have it, too, and not just among the cosplay elements. There have been such battles about conventions either not having effective anti-harassment policies or not enforcing the ones they have that a number of regular con-goers have boycotted them. The problem tends to be with older offenders who are fairly high in what passes for status in the community, so the con committees don't want to offend them. It's been pretty ugly.

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    1. I was surprised no one had taken that angle already!

      You're so right about the broader issue of harassment at cons in general. I heard good things about the most recent world con, so maybe there's hope?

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  3. I'm so glad you talked about Coming Together, Annabeth. I considered that as my topic for this theme, but I've blogged quite a lot about this before, so I wanted to do something new.

    I've never been to a con (though I consider myself a true geek, as have been many of my lovers), and find your observations distressing. Your excerpt demonstrates exactly what you mean, though. I've got to pick up a copy of this antho.

    While we're talking about Coming Together, geeks and cons, though, I have to mention my M/M cross-dressing story "To Boldly Go", in Nobilis Reed's CT antho, Coming Together: Outside the Box, a pioneer-themed collection benefiting http://cholangiocarcinoma.org/. It takes place at a Trek convention, where the main character (a gay guy) goes dressed as Lt. Uhura.

    Cameron, I think you'd particularly like it...

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    1. I was sorry this antho didn't make it into print. I think it had a smaller audience because of that.

      To Boldly Go sounds amazing! I will have to check this out! :)

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  4. Annabeth, your snippet of the story does lure a reader to the anthology. (Yet another TBR book!) Now that you've brought it up, I'm amazed that no one else here mentioned the "Coming Together" series in the context of the charity theme. (I have a few stories in those collections too.) I've seen some of the posts about sexual harassment at cons, and the reactions to it. Interesting that you and Lisabet mention almost opposite reasons for the harassment in geek culture: too many members lack social skills (the 4 science geeks in the sit-com Big Bang Theory come to mind), but some members have enough power to violate other people's personal space and get away with it (several characters in Game of Thrones come to mind). Those conditions could overlap. I hope some resolution can be found, not only in geek/fantasy cons.

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    1. I definitely think the overlapping conditions you mention contribute to the problem. One gives cover for the other. I'm not blaming people without social skills. I think the harassers know exactly what they're doing, and are hiding behind those with legitimate social issues to excuse what they know is bad behavior.

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  5. It's been many years since I was groped by strangers. I guess having grey hair is a symbol for them to leave you alone...you're just not sexy anymore. Whatever. It's nice to not have to worry about men feeling like they own me, just because they find me attractive. But aggravating to realize that not only does this still go on, but it's gotten worse.

    Boys need to be taught that when a woman is interested, she'll let you know. And if she says "no," that means "no." End of discussion. I don't know how there can be any confusion about that.

    BTW, I was once groped at a concert while I was in college, with my boyfriend who was over 6' tall sitting next to me. Some creep kept sliding his hand under my arm and grabbing at my breast. No amount of pushing his hand back stopped him. I could have just turned around and let the boyfriend deal with it. Instead, I grabbed one of his fingers and started pushing it backwards, against the back of his hand. I pushed until I heard at audible snap. I think I broke it. I sure hope so.

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    1. Yeah, I don't understand why we have so much trouble being willing as a society to communicate (to everyone) that it's not okay to touch people who don't want to be touched. It's distressing how that goes on.

      I hope you broke that finger, too. In my experience, I usually sit there and try to figure out what to do for so long that the groping ends before I actually do anything. I've actually been working on getting over my urge to "be nice" at all costs so I can take action. It's surprisingly hard.

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  6. We women are so conditioned to be "nice" at all costs, that it costs us dearly. I never cared about being "nice." I swear like a Marine, and as a kid I was in fistfights regularly. When I grew curves I shamelessly stole boyfriends, telling the girls who accosted me that I didn't mean any harm, I just wanted to "borrow" him. I gave him right back, didn't I? I didn't want to keep him, just to take him for a spin. No harm, no foul, right? Heh, heh.

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