On Writing While Female (Part II)

For Part I please go here:  Part I 

I started writing women.  Strictly women. If there was a romance needed, they were both women.  Or, in one case the lead was a woman and she turned to a Real Doll. And (even though I said I wasn’t going to muddy with race, here I go) I wrote non-white.  I mean, I had lived in NYC a long time before I went to grad school.  I don’t think I had a single white friend those 14 years, not a close one at any rate.  So why was I writing all white characters?

The response was not good.  In fact, I got comments about how I was weird.  Asking why I wasn’t writing about white people, etc.  And these were the written comments. (one poignantly asked, “What’s with all the Asians?  She also asked why my lead wasn’t a waitress because she did live in NYC after all, sigh.”)  I was veering from the contract I had signed by going to an MFA – to propagate dominant culture.  To be part of that ivory tower system of sameness.  This anger toward me meant I was going in the right direction.  But I was being alienated even more.

As part of our graduation we had to stand in front of an audience at a scheduled reading and be the ‘opening act’ for a published writer, friends of the faculty usually.  I read a piece that not only was modular, but the star was a non-straight half-Filipina woman.  This piece has since been published and then reprinted twice (Dreaming of the Mananangaal).  While for my peers, those I had gone through 3 years with, I had attended their readings, given some bottles of wine at their readings, congratulated them, etc. I got one text congratulating me and a lot of faces that turned away.  NOT ONE of my professors attended my reading.  Not even my thesis advisor.

However, the rest of the community was amazingly supportive.  A professor who had been pushed out (and is now the head of a wonderful community based writing program) said it was probably the best student reading in five years.  Undergrads were energized and coming up to me saying how much I had inspired them.  One of the poets in the program told me how beautiful the piece was, and how he thought it was poems at first and then it morphed into a story.

And I finally realized that I was on the path to my voice.

Back to Horror

When I’m asked why I write horror I say that I don’t, that I just write about being a woman and since most editors are male, they read it and go ‘shit, this is scary’ and suddenly there I am on the TOC with the menfolk.

I wish that statement was more joke than it is.  The story in Cemetery Dance is based off real events not just for me, but for many women.  When a woman says something, it isn’t always believed.  In fact, there’s a general institutional doubt of women speaking the truth, or their voices being valid.  If I go back to my MFA class, so many times a female would make a comment and the professor would nod, then a guy would make the same comment and the professor would smile, validate, and leap the conversation off of it.  This happens A LOT.  It’s like I’m standing in a room with a hand over my mouth (not my own hand) when I speak.

My story, “Anti-Theft,” deals with a woman who is having things replaced in her home and the cop who doesn’t believe her.  And I’ve had that happen too- only even more dire.  I got a death threat from a person from my past after they saw my name in an antho.  The threat was in writing.  Part of it said the phrase used in every Criminal Minds episode, “I love you too much and you are hurting me by staying away.  It’s a nine hour drive to where you live.  If you don’t reply in your own handwriting I will drive over there and purge you from my life.”

No shit, right?  Clear as day?  I mean – I hadn’t contacted them for ten years, I was in a different state and this shows up certified mail having never given out my address.  No brainer.

The male cop said, “They just love you and miss you,” and no amount of WTF read the letter, look at this, understand they’ve killed my pets in the past would convince him that I was anything more than overreacting to a missive of love and longing.

This happens every time I go to the doctors, too.  I’ve had very harrowing experiences when the male doctor has just told me I have anxiety, or as a woman I do certain things, think certain things, that I’m not really sick even though I am (one led to a rough exam I should have reported, but I was convinced it wouldn’t do any good).  They ignore what I am saying and focus on the gender, and the devaluing occurs.  (This is also part of why I now work in with doctors even though I don’t go to them as often as I should- my pat answer to what I do is ‘teach them to not be dicks’ which is way hard to do).  Women doctors do the same thing.  Medicine is a patriarchal institution and just as my first story that got me ‘into the establishment’ was about a man because that’s the story I learned was important, so do women doctors learn to distrust female patients.

(to be continued. . . .)


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