On protests and being an ally

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Every now and again, I chime in on current events, mostly social justice issues. I write stories that are not overtly politcal or educational, but I’m always aware of the two-way connection between literature (culture) and politics. Literature can deepen understanding of cultural diversity, or strengthen, even create harmful beliefs and attitudes. Beyond that, I’ve always cared a lot about social justice, in part because of my upbringing and later when I confronted stigma and prejudice quite personally as a gay man. Though my platform as an author is small, I’ll gladly use it to denounce bigotry and boost the signal of individuals and groups who are fighting the good fight.

There’s a lot to say about the White Nationalist “Unite the Right” rally, the deadly violence, and the counter-protest that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. As the country moves forward by removing statues of “confederate heroes” that were installed across the South as symbols of white supremacy, a response to black progress in the Reconstruction Era and de-segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, it is sad though not surprising we are witnessing a backlash from whites. We don’t have to look to archived, black and white photos, grainy camera reel from a much earlier era, to see what mobs of White Nationalists look like. Their images – carrying torches, rifles, ugly placards – their sounds – reclaiming America, they’re everywhere in social media and daily newscasts, and a frightening reminder that social change does not come easily.

There’s also a lot to say about President Trump’s incitement of white nationalism during his campaign and continuing through his presidency. His speeches have been polluted with racist propaganda, sometimes remarkably overt in the case of his defamation of Mexicans, his calls for violence against media outlets and his political rivals, which dare to characterize him as racist. His slogan: Make America Great Again, is easily decoded as: Make America White Again, by both his supporters and his opponents. He foments distrust, fear, hatred of brown-skinned foreigners, Muslims in particular, with fake news narratives about the threat to white American safety.

Trump’s reaction to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and the anti-racist protestors who bravely met them there (bad behavior “on both sides”) shows once again whose interests he represents. He defends the cause of preserving confederate statues, says the anti-racist, anti-fascist counterprotestors had no right being there, suggests they got what they deserved. It is not acceptable. The Resistance must fight even harder to oppose what I call an anti-human agenda because it encompasses so much, is targeted so widely: anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-transgender, anti-women, anti-poor, among others.

All of these things are important to talk about, and what’s on my mind the most are the courageous counter-protestors, one of whom Heather Heyer made the ultimate sacrifice. Those counter-protestors were black and white, and mostly white according to participants. That’s likely due to many factors such as the composition of the college town and the privilege of white folks to protest without the fear of police brutality (at least a lessened fear, without historical precedent). White anti-racist activists are no more righteous than black anti-racist activists, and by elevating their courage, their herocism, I mean in no way to suggest that, or to move focus away from the core of the “Unite the Right’s” intention, which was to terrorize people of color, to “put them in their place.”

Movements need allies, and that’s exactly who Heather Heyer was, an anti-racism ally. I hear this discussion a lot from friends and colleagues who are people of color. It’s time for white people to stand up, take responsibility for racism in our own community. Anti-racist work is hard. It’s sometimes deadly. Black people cannot do it on their own, nor can Muslim-Americans, nor transgender people. At times like this, I evaluate myself as an ally. I talk the talk, but do I walk the walk as much as I could? I confront racism when I hear it spoken, most recently in conversation with the owner of a newstand (which also led to deciding to buy my midday soda and snack at a different newstand). I have participated in Black Lives Matter protests and helped students use photography to promote anti-racist messages. I could do more. There’s no question about it.

This is one thing I had to do today: to honor Heather Heyer along with all of the counter-protestors from Charlottesville. They are national heroes.

Heather Heyer Memorial

Retrieved from cnbc.com

 

#TransgenderRightsAreHumanRights

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In light of President Trump’s vow earlier this week to ban transgender people from serving in the military...

And in light of voices of support for such a move by congressional Republicans, feebly and disingenously cloaked as a cost-saving measure for medical costs…

And in light of Christian political groups seizing on the issue to foment fear and hatred of transgender people…

And in light of the U.S. Department of Justice, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, mobilizing a legal strategy to enable bigots to refuse employment and services to LGBT people

And in light of mainstream media coverage that frames these issues as a reaction to Democratic “culture wars” and “identity politics” (how come transgender civil rights are “identity politics” while endless coverage of the forgotten, white male Midwestern factory worker is just “news?”)…

I decided not to write about all the reasons these people are wrong-headed and ignorant and basically akin to a rusted drain pipe spewing chemical waste into our drinking water. Instead, I wanted to share some stories. Some real life stories about transgender people serving in the military.

I don’t have personal stories. I retrieved these from various media. And at the risk of belaboring what’s probably an obvious point, I chose stories about servicemen and women because that’s been the national conversation this week. Obviously, every transgender person — military or otherwise — has a valuable story to be told, and their legal status is fragile across many contexts. We need to tell and listen to transgender stories every day, not just when they are under attack by our government, though probably, especially so then. That’s what I’m getting at.

Oh, and I do have one personal story. I’m reading Daniel Heath Justice’s “Indigenous fantasy epic” The Way of Thorn and Thunder, and it includes non-binary gendered characters, refered to as zhe and hir. I haven’t come by a lot of transgender fantasy fiction, but that’s something I’m making a priority to read more of.

So here are some transgender military stories I really like. The fight to realize human rights continues!

From Buzzfeed: The First Out Transgender Active Duty U.S. Army Officer

 

Transgender, at War and in Love

This short documentary shares the challenges of a transgender military couple, who are banned from serving openly.

 

Transgender military couple fears future after tweets from President Trump

DALLAS – A transgender couple with North Texas ties who’ve both served their country say they’re unnerved by President Trump’s call to ban transgender service members. Laila Ireland served the Army for 12 years. Her husband Logan is a Staff Sergeant, active duty with the Air Force, and a stream of tweets from the Commander in Chief put all their dreams in jeopardy.

Transgender In The Military: The Story Behind Their Camouflaged Identity | TIME

An estimated 15,000 transgender troops currently serve in the U.S. military. Each has risked dismissal from military service for revealing their identity. Directors Gillian Laub and Shaul Schwarz follow the stories of Maya Martinez, Landon Wilson, and Jamie Ewing.

Get started on the Werecat series for free!

About a month ago, The Rearing (Werecat, Book 1) went permafree at Amazon, BN.com, iTunes, and Kobo. It was a strategy I talked about with the publisher in order to give the series a boost, also coinciding with the release of the fourth and final installment The Sim Ru Prophecy.

That free e-book of The Rearing has a link inside to download The Glaring (Werecat, Book 2) for free as well when you sign up for the publisher’s fantasy and sci fi mailing list. And, you can also get the second book for free directly when you sign up for that list: https://mybookcave.com/d/991f2695

After that, I’m afraid you’re on your own, though you can pick up the third installment The Fugitive for just $1.99 at e-retailers, and the e-book of the fourth book is just $3.99 (it’s novel length). If you want to spread the word about the series, leave a rating or review at the place where you downloaded or purchased the books, and/or Goodreads or wherever you like to discuss books. That helps tremendously and earns my undying gratitude. 🙂

I mentioned previously the some exciting things happened when The Rearing first went permafree. It skyrocketed on Amazon’s sales ranking charts, going as high as #3 in its category (gay fiction) and staying in the top ten since then.

The permafree strategy seems to be paying off. I just found out from my publisher that The Rearing has had over 2,000 downloads on Amazon in the past month and gave a nice spike of sales of Books 2 and 3. The free book has also received four new reviews at Amazon and eight new reviews at Goodreads. The later books have garned a good number of new readers at Goodreads as well as a handful of reviews there.

Meanwhile, I’m working hard to promote The Sim Ru Prophecy in the blogosphere, and I’m grateful to Queer Sci Fi and Dawn’s Reading Nook for featuring the title earlier this month. The Trilogy and The Sim Ru Prophecy got awesome reviews at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words (big thanks to Melanie!). In the coming weeks, there will be reviews coming out from The Hopeless Bibliophile Blog and Out in Print, and hopefully more!

Werecat: The Glaring

In search of feline iconography in Mexico City

Husband and I spent last week in Mexico City, which was a first time trip for both of us. We were hosted by friends who own an amazing B&B in the Condesa district, and I have to give their business a plug, even though it hardly needs it. The guys Craig and Jorge have established the top rated B&B in Mexico City, and the place is thriving: The Red Tree House.

The Red Tree House

Here I am relaxing in the garden courtyard.

The Red Tree House

The dining area, which is decorated with artwork by local artists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did a lot of museum-hopping, visiting markets, and strolling around the Centro Historico, and of course I could not resist searching out artifacts of feline mysticism, and no doubt boring the hell out of our hosts and the other guests while talking about my obsesssion. Mexico City is built on Tenochtitlan, an ancient Aztec settlement. They were a people who worshipped a jaguar god and had a legendary military of Jaguar Knights! How could I resist?!!

Here are some images I found while out and about.

Jaguar relief

Fragment of a mural at the Templo Mayor museum, preserving artwork from Tenochtitlan

Jaguar taxidermy

Jaguar taxidermy, also at the Templo Mayor museum

Mural, jaguar and serpent

Mural in the lobby of the Museum of Anthropology. The jaguar and the snake were both creatures that featured prominently in early Mesoamerican religious beliefs.

Jaguar mural

Portion of a mural from the Teotihaucan gallery at the Museum of Anthropology

Jaguar statue, Zapotec origin

Jaguar urn

Jaguar urn, Mayan origin

Mayan codex

Mayan codex at the Museum of Anthropology. Of particular interest to me due to my fictional Sim Ru Prophecy of Werecat #4

Olmec head

Ancient Olmec head, some of which are believed to represent an anthropomorphic jaguar god.

Werejaguar god

The Olmec gallery at the Museum of Anthropology was where I knew I would strike it rich. This statue has been identified as a werejaguar god (or priest).

Werejaguar baby

One of many Olmec statues believed to represent a werejaguar baby.

Ciudadela market

This little stall in the Ciudadela market was populated by at least five cats (that I could see). I took a look inside on an intuition they might have something interesting in there. Though I didn’t end up buying anything.

Jaguar pipe

I did pick up this trinket at Ciudadela, which has a pipe that makes a jaguar roar when you blow into it.

An excerpt from The Sim Ru Prophecy: #Werecat4ReleaseWeek

Rounding out this week’s posts, I thought I’d share a short excerpt from Werecat #4 as part of my kick-off for its release. Many thanks to folks on Facebook and Twitter for your support of #Werecat4ReleaseWeek. The book has gotten off to a good start at the Kindle store, and I’ve been busy all week rounding up reviewers and bloggers for future publicity.

Whew! It’s been quite a busy week, and I’m looking forward to my vacation, which starts on Sunday. Husband and I are headed to Mexico City, so I’ll go dark here for a week or so for a much needed break.

I chose to share an early scene from The Sim Ru Prophecy that gives a hint of the intrigue which moves the story forward. Picking up from The Fugitive, the hero Jacks has traveled to Caracas, Venezuela with his boyfriend Farzan, their cat Bella, and their friend Kwame, after acquiring an ancient codex known as The Bastet.

Jacks believes that The Bastet contains secret knowledge about werecat magic, and he knows for a fact that the werecat terrorist group The Glaring is after it. This scene takes place after Jacks, Farzan, Kwame and Bella have checked into a hotel in Caracas, and Jacks’ is up late on their hotel room balcony with the codex after being scolded by Farzan that he should come to bed.

~

Alone on the balcony, Jacks found himself staring unfocused into the night. He felt like such a shit. Why couldn’t he be a good boyfriend and lay down with Farzan for that one night? Farzan put on a tough front, and he truly was tough as nails when he needed to be, but he had to be going out of his mind with worries about his family. Farzan had dropped out of medical school and left his family’s home for the first time in his life to be with Jacks. He had left all of that to live on the run, in constant danger.

Jacks had thought he could figure out the codex, gaining some advantage over the Glaring and giving Farzan some hope that his sacrifice had been worth it. But Jacks had to be reasonable. His problem with the Glaring was much too big to be solved in one night.

The night air was suddenly cold against his skin, and he felt like he was shrinking. What if the problem was too big to be solved, ever?

All Jacks knew about the Glaring was that they had organized to destroy humans in vengeance for exterminating the Amerindian cultures from which the dual spirit werecat had been borne. They operated like a network of terrorist cells, and they had millions of domestic strays with whom they could communicate psychically to keep surveillance on their enemies.

Who was Jacks to stop an organization like that? Besides being a single werecougar up against an untold number of werejaguars and allied weretigers and werelions from Asia and Africa, Jacks had only come into his werecat nature less than four months ago. Did he really believe he could bargain with Tepe? The Glaring’s leader had to be incredibly powerful and persuasive. It wasn’t in a werecat’s nature to follow anyone. Getting so many of them behind him was an amazing feat. And Jacks’ only leverage with Tepe was money and appealing to his human side. Tepe probably didn’t need any of the former, and he had pretty much shown that he had sworn off the latter.

A lithe, furry body wove through Jacks’ legs, and then Bella jumped up on his lap. Jacks absent-mindedly raked his hand down the cat’s back. It hurt like shards of glass against his heart to think about, but he wondered if he should try talking to Farzan again about going home. The Glaring didn’t have to be Farzan’s problem. If Farzan got hurt while accompanying Jacks on his mission, Jacks wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do when you loved someone—protect them at all costs, even if it meant letting them go?

Bella nudged against the codex. Jacks caught her firmly but gently by the scruff of her neck. The book was fragile, and she could damage it, however innocently.

Bella looked up at him and held his gaze. Something was stirring in her head. Another mystery of Jacks’ werecat transformation was that they could read each other’s minds and even connect their minds to visualize and hear what the other one was doing. A bizarre thought occurred to him. He opened up the codex and laid it flat on his lap so that they could both look at it.

A burst of light ate up his vision, and then things looked like he was peering through binoculars with fisheye lenses. The first page of the codex appeared as two planes sliding over each other, like a double-exposed photo, only fluid. Jacks waited out the unpleasant sensation of adjusting to his vision melding with Bella’s. He had always done it with his eyes shut. Otherwise, it felt like someone had hooked his eyeballs on a fishing line. But to test out his instinct, his vision had to be focused on the same thing Bella was looking at.

Jacks strained to right their two planes of vision on top of each other. They slid back and forth, and then they locked into position. The codex was as sharp as an ophthalmologist’s chart through 20/10 lenses. Every detail and imperfection of the abstract symbols stood out crisply in his sight. Jacks could even make out the minute brush stroke of the ancient stylus that had drawn them.

He looked to the first line of glyphs, and nudging Bella mentally, he brought her plane of vision squarely on top of his. The first character was a bearded man with a tall, elaborate headdress, and the ones below it were a series of dot-and-line characters interspersed with glyphs. As Jacks looked down the column, like reading a totem, the words of a story formed inside his head.

“In the year 166, the month of our lord Cit Chac the jaguar god, the day of Ki, was born Po Nge Be, son of U Kix Chan, king of kings, ruler of the seven tribes. The boy was blessed with health and strength and beauty above all others, and the people loved him. For the prince’s name day when he was to wear the sacred pagne of manhood, his subjects brought tribute to please the gods: twenty and three bushels of maize for the corn goddess, three-twenty urns of water for the god of rain, three herds of sheep for the god of gods Hunab, and a weaned jaguar cub for Cit Chac. Of these, Po Nge Be proclaimed: the cat shall not be sacrificed for he was to take him as his companion, and he named him Pu Neb.

“The people were afraid. As Cit Chac had blessed their warriors with fearlessness and might to overpower their enemies, so would He take vengeance on the kingdom and bring upon it bloody war.

“But Po Nge Be was wise. He understood that Cit Chac plays tricks on men and that the cub Pu Neb was sent to him to test his honor and his loyalty. So did Po Nge Be take Pu Neb to our lord’s temple where on the night of the jaguar’s tail, when the eye of the god of death looks down upon the world beseeching those who desire to travel between the worlds, Po Nge Be mounted Cit Chac’s altar and took the knife to the jaguar’s throat and took it to his own.

“This pleased Cit Chac, and he permitted Po Nge Be to stand before his throne. When our lord returned him to our earthly realm, he was no longer Po Nge Be, and Pu Neb was no longer Pu Neb. For they were both man and cat and king of men and king of jaguars. This is how the werejaguar kings became supreme. May they protect us until the end of days. This is how the werejaguar king is born on the night when Cit Chac blesses human sacrifice with the magic of the spirit world.”

Jacks veered away from the book and shook off the ethereal tethers that connected his mind with Bella’s. He looked around the balcony and the city below. It felt like the writing in the codex had swallowed him into another world, and he half-expected to have been transported to an ancient time and place. To re-emerge to ordinary surroundings was disappointing at first, but as Jacks settled in with what had happened, his blood rushed through his veins, and he had to hold down a cry of victory. Bella chewed at one of her paws in a routine chore of grooming. Jacks scooped her into his arms and kissed her on the forehead.

With Bella as a conduit, he could read the Bastet.

How such a thing was possible was well beyond his comprehension, but how and why didn’t matter. Jacks could decode the secrets of werecat magic. He felt as tall as a skyscraper. He would figure out why the Glaring was so desperate to steal the book. He would stay a step ahead of them.

Jacks tucked the book under one arm and carried Bella with the other, and he rushed to wake up Farzan and Kwame and tell them the news.

~

Pique your interest? You can pick up the e-book at the Kindle Store, or buy the paperback at Amazon or BN.com.