Tag Archives: Nonbinary

Better Know an Author: Fox Benwell

New month, new author to meet! And today is a very special day to meet Fox Benwell, because he has a story in the all-#ownvoices disability anthology, Unbroken, edited by Marieke Nijkamp, which releases today!  So let’s get right to it!

It’s September 2018, and that means two things: 1) you have a new short story out and 2) it’s been a year since your incredibly unique f/f YA novel set in South Africa, Kaleidoscope Song, released. Newest things first: What can you share with us about your contribution to Unbroken?

“A Play in Many Parts” is…sort of a Faustus retelling. Or a number of retellings all tangled together and on the page at onceIt’s a love letter to (Marlowe’s version of) the play, and to theatre itself…a tale of bargaining for one more curtain call, whoever you are.

And your narrator is a cane-using enby with chronic pain, dodgy joints, fatigue, and wild love for crafting stories that change people.

For those who aren’t familiar with Kaleidoscope Song, can you tell us a little about it? 

Set in Khayelitsha, Kaleidoscope Song is a tale of first loves (both musical and human), of growing up queer in a sometimes-hostile environment, and of the power that lies in figuring out how to use your voice.

Both of your YA novels, The Last Leaves Falling and Kaleidoscope Song, are set in foreign countries (Japan and South Africa respectively). What draws you to writing about locations beyond your home nation of the UK, and what are your favorite ways to research them?

Honestly, while I’m intensely proud of those books in and of themselves, the world – and publishing – has shifted since I wrote those stories. Everything I’m working on at the moment is much closer to home, and I’d rather concede the floor to own-voices representation, for now.

That said, if you’re going to write other places (or experiences) than your own, research and respect in equal measure are the key. And not just for obvious facts: seeking out the stories and art and food and music and film (and hey, did I mention stories?) of those places and people is a good start to understanding someone else’s perspective, in addition to where your story might lie.

Music is really at the heart of Kaleidoscope Song, which of course means I must ask: what are you listening to and loving right now, and what are your forever favorites?

Oh my godddd, have you heard Grace Petrie’s new album, Queer as Folk? The entire thing is a roller coaster of queer feels. But I’ve had Black Tie on loop for a fortnight and it’s still making me cry. It’s big and hopeful and a little bit heartbreaking, and I love it.

And I’m working on a winter-and-music story right now, which means lots of not-so-Christmassy Christmas music is sneaking its way into my work playlists. Stuff like In Terra Pax, and old, obscure carols and folk songs.

Both The Last Leaves Falling and obviously Unbroken center around disability, as does your academic research. What are your thoughts on the state of disability rep in YA right now, both queer and otherwise? 

How long have you got? No, seriously, my academic thesis will be 80k, and it’s not nearly enough. 😉

We have a tendency to use disability as a (tragic and/or inspirational) plot point, and to fall back on notions of intelligence, ability and beauty of measures of worth or humanity. Sometimes this is big and obvious. Sometimes it’s subtle, in subplots and casual language, but it’s nearly always there.

There are, of course, some excellent books with equally excellent representation! But on the whole we need, quite simply, to do better.

There are some excellent people working on that, and it takes time, and changing societal perceptions of us isn’t always going to be an easy sell. But we must, because right now we’re doing a massive disservice to readers, disabled or otherwise: they deserve better. Consistently. Emphatically. Better.

What are your favorite representations of disability in queer YA, and what would you still love to see?

Everyone should read Unbroken, obviously: so much intersectional fabulousness in those pages.

Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension is totally badass. Rivers’ Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts may be bleak in a lot of ways, but I love it anyway, for the things that it explores. Hannah Moskowitz’s A History of Glitter and Blood is just…so deep and twisty and full of layers.

And I know this is sort of sidestepping the YA thing, but if you’re interested in the intersection of queerness and disability, you should read everything that Kayla Whaley ever writes.

As for what I’d love to see: I had to go back to my shelves to answer this, because my first instinctive answers were all one or the other – queer, or disabled – which clearly means there’s not enough of us multiply-marginalised folks on the shelves yet. We shouldn’t have to think for answers.

You transitioned between books 1 and 2, which came complete with a name change to the fantastic Fox. What was the process of changing your authorial name like, and what advice would you give to authors pondering doing the same?

It was terrifying. And then not nearly as terrifying as I had imagined: I’d somehow expected more pushback than I got. And sure, sometimes there’s a disconnect between books under one name and the next (which eventually will fade, if books go into the next reprints) but it’s worth it. It’s worth it for that first time you see your real name right there on a cover (I did not get that feeling the first time around, under my old name, at all). It’s worth it for not wincing every time somebody talks to you, or every time you sign a book. It’s worth it, because somewhere out there is another kid just like us, for whom it means everything to see that they could live that out-and-proud life, too.

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember seeing in media, for better or for worse?

Uhhh. I think I discovered Boys don’t Cry and Priscilla in the same week O_o.

And 13-year-old me accidentally found the gay erotica shelves in his Borders bookstore and somehow found the guts to buy (and hide) an anthology of ‘fairies and fantasy beasts’ stories. I don’t remember story details, but I do remember the magically right feeling of gender and attraction not being fixed points.

What are you working on these days?

I just finished copyedits for another geeky (D&D/ bathroom rights) story, coming soon, in Stripes’ anthology, Proud

And amongst my current WIPs you’ll find a pregnant trans boy building his kid a new, better world, a story of winter-song and deep dark voices, ace-spectrum rep and QPRs, transitioning, anxiety, neurodivergence, and chronic pain. And also pirates. Because we will populate your shelves with our adventures.

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Fox Benwell is a perpetual student of the world, a writer, adventurer, and wannabe-knight, who holds degrees in international education and writing for young people, and believes in the power of both to change the world. His in-progress PhD research examines disability in current YA fiction.

He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Last Leaves Falling, and Kaleidoscope Song.

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Guest Recs From Erin Ptah: More Webcomics With Major Nonbinary Characters

Welcome back to Erin Ptah, with another round of webcomic recs!

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Before we dive into this post, an important note: I have a Kickstarter to print Leif & Thorn Volume 1 launching on September 17. Watch the site, and mark your calendars!

And now, back to recs for other people’s comics.

This whole series of posts started, almost a year ago now, with a set of recs for webcomics with major nonbinary characters. At the time, I didn’t have enough recs to break that category into sub-themes.

Now I have more recs! But…I don’t have enough new recs to break those into sub-themes. So here we go again.

Today’s theme: Even MORE webcomics with major nonbinary characters!


sample-lasthalloween

(1) The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

The story of Mona and her unusual friends, who must work together to defend humanity from countless horrific monstrosities! Perhaps they will succeed, and humanity will prevail as it always has. Or perhaps this will be… The Last Halloween.

Horror with funny parts, ongoing. There’s a parallel world of monsters, one for every human, and the Phagocyte — the figure who normally keeps the worlds in balance — just died without a replacement. On Halloween, naturally.

Separately, there are a bunch of your typical horror-movie creatures secretly hanging out on Earth. Vampires, mummies, that sort of thing. A group of kids from this team meets up with Mona, a ten-year-old human who is 100% done with everything, and they set out (very unwillingly, in Mona’s case) on a quest to find a replacement Phagocyte before the whole human race goes extinct.

As of the beginning of the story, Mona is being raised by a single nonbinary Parent. They get separated from Mona pretty early on, and end up forming their own mini-team-up with another parent, one of the monster kids’ vampire dad. (Also, there’s definitely a spark between them.)

The art style is perfectly fitted to the story. Expressive characters, creepy detailed backgrounds, classy monster designs, lots of areas of solid black that frequently close in around the panels. The black-and-white lineart also mutes the ick factor when things get bloody — which does happen, but this series is much more interested in being Gorey than gory.


sample-stoopgallants

(2) The Stoop-Gallants by M.J. Alexander and W.W. Rose

There’s not much that goes on in the village of Lefthand Goat Way and the surrounding areas – unless you count some wholly accidental necromancy, a wizard who came by their powers thanks to a clerical error, a depressed villain with a chinchilla…

Fantasy comedy, ongoing. This one resists summaries — it jumps around between a bunch of groups, showcasing characters from different species, magic levels, social classes, moral alignments, mortality, and so on.

It’s in this rec post on account of Flea, the wizard-due-to-clerical-error, who we meet on the way to a magical Consortium with their pet teacup manticore. (They explain that, in the big city, tiny designer manticores are bred as pets for rich people who eventually get bored and dump the animals in the sewers.) They get help from Alta, a renowned dragonslayer with an anxiety disorder who speaks in high-fantasy argot when she’s nervous, and Marigold, the squire whose duties include translating for her and whose hobbies apparently include magical Candy Crush.

And all that happens after several chapters with Ru, who accidentally summoned a revenant — turns out his own blood counted as “virgin” by necromancy standards, because none of his sexual experiences, with men or women, involved PIV. His housemate Mica asks for help from the local evil wizard, who she made friends with, because she ran out of books to read when she’s bedridden with a flare-up and he’s the only local with a library.

With this much good stuff you’d think a comic would have to run out of steam at some point, right? But this one just…keeps going. It keeps dropping into new scenes and character groups, in between building up ongoing conflicts with the familiar ones, and the writing is funny and entertaining enough that you can roll with it.

Bonus notes: The artist has a great eye for expressions and body language. I’m very into the developing f/f romance. And the various critters are adorable.


sample-broken

(3) broken by Yubria

broken is about a fairie general and his army struggling to protect their city-state after an alchemical anomaly brought eldritch monsters into their dimension. Warning: this comic contains graphic violence, horror, and flashing images.

Horror-drama, ongoing. To fight off a set of encroaching horrors, this high-tech fairie society has basically gone in the military-dystopia direction. Their tactics include using homunculi, genderless artificial lifeforms that do whatever task they’re assigned; and constructs, the dead bodies of corrupted citizens of neighboring countries, which can be puppeted into dangerous situations while all the living people stay at a safe distance.

Lots of scenes make great use of animated gifs to enhance the fear, tension, and creepiness. There’s a wonderful use of color overall, too — the details of fairie wings alone add so much worldbuilding and atmosphere.

Our main character is Huvrye (hoov-rai), a homunculus general who never aspired to lead murderous offense-as-the-best-defense campaigns, but he’s really good at it so it’s what he’s stuck with. Things get weird when his construct starts behaving unusually in the middle of a battle. It’s supposed to be corrupted past the point of recovery — it’s not supposed to have reactions.

In the middle of the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, the emotional hook here is the story of a heartwarming friendship growing between two people, in a society that really doesn’t want them to be people…and will enforce that with military-grade weaponry if it has to.


sample-courtofroses

(4) Court of Roses by Kelsey Peterson

Meet the members of the (someday) legendary bardic troupe, the Court of Roses!

Fantasy comedy, ongoing. Merlow the Rose is a half-elf bard traveling the world. The good news: he has both musical and magical talent, including the power to charm his way out of tense situations. The bad news: he plays the bagpipes.

In spite of this drawback, he spends the first couple of chapters picking up new friends: Diana the friendly human, Nocturne the unnerving infernal, Sven the goliath who plays war drums, and Feliks the energetic one-gnome band. (Feliks is nonbinary. Also, though so far everybody’s single, Diana has mentioned being into the ladies, while Merlow is into anyone.)

Great expressions in the art, snappy one-liners in the writing, and building shenanigans in the plot. This is laying all the right groundwork to be one of those series that starts out funny, and will eventually build to being epic-without-ever-ceasing-to-be-funny.


sample-smallblessings

(5) Small Blessings by Danie

The escapades of a house-spirit in an old apartment building.

Fantasy fluff, ongoing. Adorable domestic adventures with the itty-bitty Alasdair (about the size of a Borrower, also magic). Doing little repairs! Shooing away spirits of corruption! Tidying up giant objects! Reading books taller than they are!

Some of the mini spirits go by “they,” inclusing Alasdair and an unnamed houseplant spirit. Others include Malcolm, who uses “he”, and Plish, a tiny aquarium mermaid who gets referred to as both “they” and “she” depending on the post.

Early on Alasdair makes friends with Alicia, the human resident of one of the apartments, who shares her books with them. She’s also the one who warns them that the building is slated to be torn down. So there’s a bit of ongoing plot, but don’t expect it to move fast — this comic is mostly a vehicle for lovingly-rendered cute scenes with tiny people.


Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, crossdressing, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person (where Timothy/Camellia is finally out of the bigender work closet) and Leif & Thorn (featuring nonbinary knights, guards, and secret agents). Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: No Man Of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll

Today on the site, we’re revealing the gorgeous cover for the brilliant Ana Mardoll’s No Man of Woman Born, a collection of fantasy stories featuring transgender and nonbinary characters, releasing on July 10! (See tags for more details on rep!)

No Man of Woman Born Text

Destiny sees what others don’t.

A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny.

From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.

And now the cover with a note from the author! 

No Man of Woman Born Text
Cover Art by Anna Dittmann 

I’m so excited to reveal the cover for this short story collection, which I feel I’ve been gushing about for actual years now! No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven stories told from the point of view of trans, nonbinary, and gender-questioning characters each going about their epic fantasy lives mostly unaware that they are fated to fulfill seemingly impossible prophecies. If you enjoyed Éowyn’s helmet-pull, hair-tumble, I-am-no-man reveal to the Witch-King, you’ll love these stories as much as I do.

[That, but with 1000% more transness.]

I’ve loved epic fantasy since I was a child, but never felt represented in the old canon despite loving the classic elements–particularly prophecy, which is so often like a riddle you can only appreciate after the answer is in front of you. It’s been amazing and affirming to allow myself to really explore gender in a fantastical setting and build worlds that accept my complex, messy, never neat-and-tidy genderfeels.

So many characters in this collection are transgender, and all of them carry a piece of myself. Wren is an agender fisherperson who uses my pronouns and carries my autism with xer through the story. Caran is a bigender witch with magic that isn’t flashy, but is useful all the same. Nocien is a boy, period. Even when others struggle to accept his gender, the magic surrounding him never falters. Every character is accepted by the rules of magic that govern their lives, which is something I needed: affirmation so deeply interwoven into a world that even the laws of nature recognizes trans and nonbinary genders. We didn’t blink when cis authors gave us feminine moon magic, so why shouldn’t magical forces recognize a genderfluid princess?

At its heart, No Man of Woman Born is a work of love: a combination of my passion for epic fantasy and a deep-seated need to turn characters trans and set them free to shine on the page. For the cover, I wanted something that could capture their vibrancy and I was fortunate to work with the phenomenal Anna Dittmann. She beautifully brought to life the character of Finndís, a trans woman we meet in the story “Daughter of Kings”. Finndís’ rightful legacy has been denied to her, and she must now find and retrieve a magical sword stuck in stone and left in the heart of a dark forest. Anna perfectly captured the look and feel of this setting and produced a cover which I could not love more.

I hope you’ll love this collection as much as I do. All gushing aside, I think it’s an important addition to the fantasy genre: a glimpse into how normal and normalized transness and nonbinary genders can be in a setting. We can have these characters and have them not be unusual or weird. Each of these characters is special and they’re trans, as opposed to being special because they’re trans.

No Man Of Woman Born is available for preorder on Amazon! The book will be released on July 10th (the Tuesday before International Nonbinary Day, July 14!)

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5757381Ana Mardoll is a writer and activist who lives in the dusty Texas wilderness with two spoiled cats. Xer favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. Xie is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and several short stories. Aside from reading and writing, Ana enjoys games of almost every flavor and frequently posts videos of gaming sessions on YouTube. After coming out as genderqueer in 2015, Ana answers to xie/xer pronouns.