As I have said before, I was never very good at being a girl, but I didn’t want to be a boy, either. What I wanted was to be able to do the things boys did while still being a girl.
When I was a teenager, I expressed that by arguing politics and doing debate, but it also came out in my reading. I read a lot of adventure stories — spy novels were all the rage — and also some more complex books in which some man (it was always a man) confronted difficult situations in life.
I identified with the men in those books. I still didn’t want to be male, but those were the kind of adventures I wanted to have (or at least to imagine).
I grew up and went off to law school (because that was something coded male that I had talent for) and then found my way into martial arts. I took up martial arts because I got the idea that if I learned those skills I would not be at risk from male violence. By the way, it was not an area where I had a lot of natural talent.
For the most part, I have trained in Karate and Aikido schools with both men and women, meaning I trained in places with a majority of men. But for a brief period I trained in a very feminist all-woman school, and it gave me a solid connection between my training and my feminism. My experience of becoming a confident person physically is intimately tied to my feminism.
My feminism is embodied. I understand it in physical terms. This is deeply important to me, because it has allowed me to live my life without a lot of physical fear. But because I understand those things on a deep physical level, I have had to work hard to figure out how to write about them and explain them to others
My reading habits changed about the same time I became a martial artist. One didn’t cause the other; it was just serendipity. A friend pointed me in the direction of C.J. Cherryh and I started reading science fiction seriously.
Most of the authors I read were women and a lot of the stories were ones in which women had adventures, both outrageous ones and complex ones. There weren’t enough of them, and I eventually ventured farther into both science fiction and fantasy, but they always affected how I saw the field. (I was completely nonplussed by those pathetic boys who claimed SF/F was all white male adventure stories.)
Eventually I got serious about my own writing and started writing the kind of adventure stories I had always wanted to read. Looking back over what I’ve written so far, I find that almost all my stories center on a female protagonist. There are a few from a man’s point of view, but even those have something to do with women.
I have created ambigender characters who are both male and female and there is one story I truly love in which even I don’t know whether the main character is male or female. Every time I try to assign that character a gender, it feels wrong. (Perhaps they are nonbinary, though that word and concept was not in common usage when I wrote the story.)
All that is to say that I write the kind of stories I wanted to read as a child, stories in which women have adventures or deal with the complex issues of life. Love sometimes comes into them, but it’s rarely a focus. And because most of them are SF/F, I’ve had the luxury of writing stories about women who do things without having to write stories about how they manage to do things in a world that wants to keep them in their place.
I’m thinking about this a lot right now, as we once again see the underlying misogyny of our culture play out in the halls of Congress. There have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of articles using the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to illustrate how women must tread carefully in public while privileged white men can throw a tantrum before a Senate committee (both as witnesses and as senators) and still get taken seriously.
I’m way past tiptoeing around privileged male fragility. I’m way past telling men “please let me in the door and I promise I won’t upset your applecart.” I’m way past putting up with men who think they’re entitled to abuse women as part of their manhood rituals.
Right now I’m putting my energy into the physical response to all that, into teaching and writing about empowerment self defense, because I know from my own experience women who learn to use their power physically are able to claim that power in the rest of their lives.
And yeah, I’m still writing fiction with women characters who know their own power. I’ll keep doing that, too. I’m not going to write about women who tiptoe around male privilege to get an edge here and there. I don’t give a damn if that’s “historically accurate” or not. My women characters come in through the front door, sometimes with a sword in their hands.
Women are strong, we are powerful. We aren’t going to put up with this crap anymore.