Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

[tw: parental abuse, alcoholism, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia]

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for this book since I read some early impressions of it ages ago. It sounded like it was right up my alley: diverse historical fiction with cute boys in love.


Henry “Monty” Montague is about to embark on his Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend Percy and sister Felicity. The young lord wants nothing more than to escape his overbearing father, have one last hurrah before his responsibilities catch up to him, and flirt with Percy across Europe. But when one of his reckless decisions endangers himself and his traveling companions and sparks a continent wide manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with Percy.

Here is a brief list of things that can be found in this book:

  • running around naked at the Palace of Versailles
  • a tarot reading (that is actually accurate)
  • cute boys kissing
  • badass ladies
  • the worst pirates in the world

The plot of this novel could be summarized as “Man makes stupid decisions, his friend and sister bail him out.” The book isn’t going to win any awards for its plot, although there was an unexpected fantastical element in an otherwise realistic setting. The focus is definitely on the characters, and this book has some great, memorable characters, even the characters with the smallest parts to play have some little quirk that makes them memorable even when their part in the story is over, such as the bank teller that Monty flirts with in order to make an unorthodox withdrawal or Dante, the son of an alchemist with social anxiety. The story is told from Monty’s perspective in first person, and though he might seem like a bit of a rake at first, but as the book goes on we see that he’s scared, trying to deal with his feelings for Percy (and his homophobic society), has a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and is possibly suffering from PTSD, Felicity is a woman in Regency-era England who wants to study medicine but is barred from doing so, and Percy is biracial and epileptic in a racist society that thinks epilepsy is caused by demons or masturbation. The book is not just about a thrilling manhunt across Europe, it’s also about people who find themselves on the fringes of society. I love these characters, I love Felicity’s snark and how Percy is a huge dork and Monty’s hilarious trains of thought as bad and worse things keep happening to him.

Many works of historical fiction are often whitewashed or straightwashed. We’re told that people of colour who weren’t slaves didn’t exist and queer people couldn’t be public about their sexuality, so it “makes sense” that these marginalized populations are invisible or meet horrible ends, that’s just “realism”. That’s why it’s so refreshing that The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue manages to both have a diverse cast and talk about the challenges they would have faced in that time period, and not only that, but Monty is constantly called out by both Percy and Felicity regarding his privilege while at the same time acknowledging that this doesn’t mean his life has been easy. The back of the book has some historical notes to provide context to their adventures.

I think my only criticisms of this book are that Monty can definitely be insufferable at times, particularly at the beginning before he gets a bit of depth to him. I also thought the final confrontation with the main antagonist was very predictable, although as I said, the book probably won’t win any awards for it’s plot. There was a part that came across as a little white saviour-y, where Monty impersonates a Scottish nobleman to keep himself, his friends, and a black crew of ex-slaves turned pirates to avoid being arrested (and in the case of the pirates, killed). Another thing I found a bit odd was the use of modern English slang. Did people say “bloody” back then because Monty says it a few times. It’s not that I expect all historical fiction to only use period-appropriate expressions at all times, it just struck me as out of place.

As I’ve mentioned (and as you can see up top with the list of trigger warnings) the characters frequently deal with Regency-era prejudice and discrimination. Percy is frequently called “negro” and “coloured” and asked about Africa when he was born in England (and the son of a minor noble, to boot), and he also has to deal with ableism on account of his epilepsy, Monty is naturally referred to as a “sodomite” and is an alcoholic and abuse survivor. There is also a scene where Felicity gives Monty the old “Have you tried not being attracted to men?” line and some disabled viewers might be disturbed by Monty’s eagerness to “cure” Percy’s epilepsy through the power of alchemy. If this last bit concerns you, be assured that he gets an earful over it.

In spite of the fact that bad things kept happening to these characters that I love, The Gentleman’s Guide to Virtue and Vice is still a great book and an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to read some queer Regency historical fiction with just a bit of fantasy to keep things interesting. I’m super excited for the sequel/side story The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, starring Felicity. Also Scipio desperately needs his own book. Why can’t all YA fiction and historical fiction be as cool as this book?

Review: The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green

This book was obtained via NetGalley.

I’ll keep this short and sweet because this book is short and sweet.



The village of Styesville has a dragon problem, and is in need of a knight in shining armor to save the day. What they get instead, however, is a strange traveler in a green cloak, and it soon becomes clear that they might have more problems than a rampaging dragon.

This story is part of a collection known as “Solitary Travelers” which features asexual and/or aromantic protagonists. Another reason I picked it up was due to the striking cover. I can never stress enough that a pretty cover will attract readers and first impressions definitely do matter.

It’s difficult to talk about this story because it’s so short. It’s around 50 pages long. I’d consider it more of a novella. Suffice it to say that it’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: There’s a village with a dragon problem and someone needs to solve it. The few characters there are don’t have a lot of depth, most outside of the two main characters could be summed up in one or two words, but the thing is, I don’t think this sort of story requires a lot of character depth, although it’s always nice. The world of this story is intriguing. It’s the sort of world I’d like to see explored in a novel, with magical academies and an interesting take on dragons, where the author would have more time to flesh out the world and its characters.

If this story has one major flaw I felt like it was a bit too long-winded at times and I think a few pages of content could have been cut and it wouldn’t have hurt the story. Yes Louisa rattling off what the inn has for supper establishes that she’s a bit of a scatterbrain, but it felt as if the monologue wore out its welcome half a paragraph ago. There was also a bit of a tendency to repeat information. This is a common thing that happens to new authors, in my experience.

In terms of diversity, the major characters are an asexual woman of color and a lesbian. Dragons are stated to not have a sex and only adopt genders out of curiosity, otherwise the minor characters seem pretty homogeneous: white and straight as far as I know. In a large novel with a cast of thousands, this would be an issue, but the cast seems just right for the kind of story being told.

In terms of potential triggers, there’s a description of a bloody sheep carcass, a shotgun wedding, and talk of romance “fixing” the ace and lesbian leads (although in the latter case, it’s because the family believes that she’s been cursed by a dragon).

All things considered, The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green is a typical “queer” story. The sort of coming-out story you’ve probably seen before. Still, typical does not mean bad, and I absolutely recommend it if you like asexual protagonists and/or dragons, especially queer dragons.


[The following PSA is discusses topics that are NSFW.]

Apparently there’s another Ishtar = Easter type graphic going around, and I just want to rip it apart before it spreads.

Here is the graphic:

I just….no, just no.

The text is from Barbara G. Walker’s “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets” (I do not have the book in front of me, but i read that book from cover to cover.) Walker’s work is INFAMOUS for being grossly inaccurate about everything from etymology to history of religion to, well, everything.

I will break it down for you:

“Oriental Great Goddess” – “Oriental” is an archaic, racist term used to describe a wide variety of people (from Saudi Arabia to China to everywhere in between).  Even if we accept that there was such a concept as a “Great Goddess” way back when (there wasn’t) the term “Oriental Great Goddess” doesn’t make any sense. Do you know how many nations collectively make up this idea of “the Orient”? A lot. Also, I never hear anyone saying “Occidental Great Goddess” because that obviously would be silly.

Furthermore, here is part of the entry from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

cunt (n.)

“female intercrural foramen,” or, as some 18c. writers refer to it, “the monosyllable,” Middle English cunte “female genitalia,” by early 14c. (in Hendyng’s “Proverbs” — ʒeve þi cunte to cunni[n]g, And crave affetir wedding), akin to Old Norse kunta, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, and Middle Low German kunte, from Proto-Germanic *kunton, of uncertain origin. Some suggest a link with Latin cuneus “wedge,” others to PIE root *geu- “hollow place,” still others to PIE *gwen-, root of queen and Greek gyne “woman.”

The form is similar to Latin cunnus “female pudenda” (also, vulgarly, “a woman”), which is likewise of disputed origin, perhaps literally “gash, slit,” from PIE *sker- “to cut,” or literally “sheath,” from PIE *kut-no-, from root *(s)keu-“to conceal, hide.”

Hec vulva: a cunt. Hic cunnus: idem est. [from Londesborough Illustrated Nominale, c.1500, in “Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies,” eds. Wright and Wülcker, vol. 1, 1884]

As you can see, the word has absolutely nothing to do with Sanskrit apart the fact that it has Indo-European roots.

BTW, “country” comes from the Vulgar Latin “lying opposite”, “kin” from Old English cynn “family; race; kind, sort, rank; nature; gender, sex,”, and “kind” from from Old English gecynd “kind, nature, race,” related to cynn “family”, none of which have anything to do with the word “cunt”. The fact that some words have similar sounds to each other does NOT mean that they are related, and this is a mistake Ms. Walker makes OVER AND OVER AGAIN!

In short, this is horrible and terrible and needs to go away. Right now.

Seriously, the Online Etymology Dictionary probably isn’t the most reliable source out there, but I GUARANTEE YOU that it’s far superior to anything Walker wrote in her encyclopedias.

P.S. I thought you might like to know that, if her writings are any indication, Walker is an atheist who speaks disdainfully of witchcraft, invoking spirits, and other such practices, which I’ve always found amusing, given the sort of people who take her words as Truth.

I don’t expect that any of you need this PSA though, because surely all of you know that Walker’s books are, well, seriously outdated is being charitable. The whole book is just as bad as this one little entry.

A Rant About “Girly” Things

First of all, a shout out to my Lokean friends on Facebook! I love it when a serious conversation becomes a CIVIL discussion on gender and sexuality. Seriously, I don’t get civil discussions in Heathen groups, all I get are shouting matches until someone says “I’m keeping the frith!” before they chicken out bow out of the ensuing melee. Love ALL the peeps!

Actually, this post was sparked by a different discussion in my group for queer polytheists (and allies) about things that are marketed towards men and women, and how fucking frustrating that is if you’re genderqueer (which I’m not).

And then I started thinking about my recent review of Leviathan, which, awesome though it is, has yet another example of a girl disguised as a boy who is open about her dislike for all things “girly”.

And you know, I can accept that, after all, Deryn’s trying to fit in to the all-male, sexist British Air Service, she doesn’t really have the luxury of liking “girly” things, she has a secret to protect, after all, and so much to lose if she slips up.

But (and this is the kind of thing that protagonists in urban fantasy are particularly guilty of) there are protagonists who are convinced that they somehow can’t be as kickass as they are and like things like makeup, or dresses. There’s a trope for this, of course: Real Women Don’t Wear Dresses.

And it’s all a bunch of fucking sexist bullshit.

I hate wearing makeup, the colour pink makes me ill, I like wearing dresses (even when it isn’t hot out) and pants, I think horses are okay (I’m allergic), but unicorns are better. I don’t like sports, if all sports dropped off the face of the Earth, I wouldn’t care. I can’t cook to save my life, though I can bake, just not pies. I hate clothes shopping, seriously. I hate it so much I don’t even know my own sizes (I’m tiny, I still fit into clothes that I wore yeeears ago.) I like reptiles and amphibians, my bearded dragon is cute.

I play video games. I like RPGs, both Eastern and Western, FPSes are boring, as are most puzzle games (although 999 is fucking amazing). I also like action games. I’m currently playing Prototype. I should be playing DMC Devil May Cry, but WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO DANTE, NINJA THEORY? WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO HIM? And I haven’t played DMC 4 yet.

The only character to date that I didn’t feel anything for is Kratos from God of War. Fuck you, Kratos, I don’t care if your whole village was torched, I just don’t care about you. (Then again, I’ve always rooted for Hector over Achilles, if you know what I mean.)

I swear a lot.

I think I’m the only person alive who actually likes Final Fantasy X-2, because it is ridiculous and LOOK EVERYONE! FANSERVICE!

If someone says a boss is easy, I will take twenty tries to beat them. If someone says a boss is hard, I will beat them on my first try and wonder what everyone else’s problem is? Seriously, Neclord, you were easy! Luca Blight was still hard, though.

I like romance AND “fucking”, figure me out, pornocracy!

I don’t like kids, I tolerate kids, I would never hurt a kid, I rage when I hear about other people hurting kids, I just don’t like them. I don’t really want anything to do with them.

Insects = creepy, except butterflies and dragonflies. I’ve eaten ants once, it was vengeance for all the times the little shits have bitten me.

I will happily try odd food items. I always wanted to go on Fear Factor and try those hissing cockroaches (not sure about the deer penis, though). Apparently they’ve turned larva into snack food. I would eat it, just to say I did.

Okay, seriously, why would I play Kameo: Elements of Power (billed as “Zelda for girls) when I could play an actual Zelda game?

I’m telling you all of this because binaries are just so fucking stupid. Okay, so I could probably put more of those things under a heading marked “girly/womanly things” but why would I waste my time doing that?

I am a woman, I like things, and I can fucking like all those things and it doesn’t make me “less” of a woman….


All Authors Should Handle Sexist Bigots Like This

[Trigger warning: sexism, general warning for terrible spelling and idiocy]

Scott Lynch, author of the Gentlemen Bastard series and The Lies of Locke Lamora, responds to a sexist bigot who complains about his middle-aged black pirate who is also a mother of two. The result is EPIC! (The text of the original letter is in bold).

Your characters are unrealistic stereotpyes of political correctness. Is it really necessary for the sake of popular sensibilities to have in a fantasy what we have in the real world? I read fantasy to get away from politically correct cliches.
God, yes! If there’s one thing fantasy is just crawling with these days it’s widowed black middle-aged pirate moms.

Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man’s world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!

First, I will pretend that your last sentence makes sense because it will save us all time. Second, now you’re pissing me off.

You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.

Why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does. H.L. Mencken once wrote that “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.

Shit yes, Zamira Drakasha, leaping across the gap between burning ships with twin sabers in hand to kick in some fucking heads and sail off into the sunset with her toddlers in her arms and a hold full of plundered goods, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy from hell. I offer her up on a silver platter with a fucking bow on top; I hope she amuses and delights. In my fictional world, opportunities for butt-kicking do not cease merely because one isn’t a beautiful teenager or a muscle-wrapped font of testosterone. In my fictional universe, the main characters are a fat ugly guy and a skinny forgettable guy, with a supporting cast that includes “SBF, 41, nonsmoker, 2 children, buccaneer of no fixed abode, seeks unescorted merchant for light boarding, heavy plunder.”

You don’t like it? Don’t buy my books. Get your own fictional universe. Your cabbage-water vision of worldbuilding bores me to tears.

As for the “man’s world” thing, religious sentiments and gender prejudices flow differently in this fictional world. Women are regarded as luckier, better sailors than men. It’s regarded as folly for a ship to put to sea without at least one female officer; there are several all-female naval military traditions dating back centuries, and Drakasha comes from one of them. As for claims to “realism,” your complaint is of a kind with those from bigoted hand-wringers who whine that women can’t possibly fly combat aircraft, command naval vessels, serve in infantry actions, work as firefighters, police officers, etc. despite the fact that they do all of those things— and are, for a certainty, doing them all somewhere at this very minute. Tell me that a fit fortyish woman with 25+ years of experience at sea and several decades of live bladefighting practice under her belt isn’t a threat when she runs across the deck toward you, and I’ll tell you something in return— you’re gonna die of stab wounds.

What you’re really complaining about isn’t the fact that my fiction violates some objective “reality,” but rather that it impinges upon your sad, dull little conception of how the world works. I’m not beholden to the confirmation of your prejudices; to be perfectly frank, the prospect of confining the female characters in my story to placid, helpless secondary places in the narrative is so goddamn boring that I would rather not write at all. I’m not writing history, I’m writing speculative fiction. Nobody’s going to force you to buy it. Conversely, you’re cracked if you think you can persuade me not to write about what amuses and excites me in deference to your vision, because your vision fucking sucks.

I do not expect to change your mind but i hope that you will at least consider that I and others will not be buying your work because of these issues. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for years and i know that I speak for a great many people. I hope you might stop to think about the sales you will lose because you want to bring your political corectness and foul language into fantasy. if we wanted those things we could go to the movies. Think about this!

Thank you for your sentiments. I offer you in exchange this engraved invitation to go piss up a hill, suitable for framing.


I’m not really a pirate person, but I might just pick this one up.

Sorry for spamming all your inboxes so much today. I just had to post this.

A Concise Guide to JRPG Characters

I’ve played a lot of JRPGs over the years. The first JRPG I ever played was Final Fantasy VIII, which I bought after watching the introductory video on a show called Video and Arcade Top 10. Before watching that show, I had never heard of this series.

I had to play it on a quarter screen because my PC couldn’t handle fullscreen. I bought the strategy guide (my first strategy guide) because I couldn’t seem to kill Elvoret on Dollet, and I didn’t understand the Junction system until close to the end of the game….

….and I was hooked, seriously hooked.

At the moment, most of the games on my desk are JRPGs: Fate/Extra, Radiant Historia, Devil Survivor 2, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and most recently Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time (review to follow). I’ve played through most Final Fantasy games (save for the MMOGs and FF 13, because I don’t have a PS3). I go to great lengths to collect all the summons (yes, I did breed a golden chocobo, without cheating) and I’ve only beaten one Weapon monster (Omega Weapon in Final Fantasy 10) outside of battles that were required by the story. He went down in around three hits. I’ve borrowed every game in the Suikoden series from a lucky bitch friend who bought the first Suikoden game from the bargain bin at Toys ‘R Us (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Suikoden series, it’s nearly impossible to get the first and second games for under $180). The first strategy RPG I ever played was Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance, and I will pretty much buy any RPG Atlus puts out because Atlus is just that amazing.

Okay, I went a little off-topic, suffice it to say that while I love JRPGs, they do have their fair share of stereotypes stock characters that get reused over and over again. So, for the newbie to JRPGs, here is Gef’s Concise Guide to JRPG Characters:

The Hero

The Hero is almost always a young man. He is most likely an orphan, or has one living parent (most often his mother) whose only function is to say: “Hi dear, aren’t you late for your adventure today?” The most common profession for a JRPG hero is a mercenary. A popular form of Hero in JRPGs is the silent protagonist, which allows the player to project mold his personality somewhat. If he does speak, expect him to be one of two types:

  • The Everyman
  • The Angstbucket The Cold and Aloof One

There are exceptions to this, of course (Zidane from Final Fantasy IX is pleasant and a womanizer, more developed than the everyman and not at all like the angstbucket cold and aloof. If this is a setting that makes use of elemental magic, expect the Hero to start with Fire.

The Best Friend

The Best Friend is typically the Hero’s childhood friend (sometimes their only friend apart from the Love Interest). Typically, the Best Friend will stick around for most of the game and will be absolutely loyal to the Hero….

….that is, unless they are the Best Friend Betrayer.

JRPGs love this trope. Chances are very good that the Hero will be betrayed by his Best Friend at some point (especially if it’s been established that the BF is jealous of the Hero). Sometimes the BF is jealous because the Love Interest seems to prefer the Hero, other times its a matter of clashing ideals, whatever the reason, players can expect a series of boss fights (usually ridiculously easy) against this friend. If a Best Friend Betrayer isn’t killed by the Villain, they usually end up rejoining the party near the end of the game.

The Rival

The Rival is the cold, aloof hero’s equivalent of the Best Friend (as cold aloof heroes rarely have any friends). The Rival’s skills typically complement the Hero’s: they may wield similar weapons or be proficient in opposing elements. The Rival will sometimes join your party, but at the very least, you can expect a series of boss fights against this person.

The Love Interest

The Love Interest is typically the Hero’s childhood friend. In the case of a cold and aloof Hero, expect the Love Interest to make it her mission to get him to lighten up. The Love Interest will typically be your party’s healer. The player better give her an entertaining name, because they’re going to be hearing it a lot, especially if she’s kidnapped at some point.

The Genki Girl on Caffeine Perky Girl

A favourite character type in Japan and the bane of Western audiences, the Perky Girl will typically have an unusual hairstyle (particularly hair colour) and an advanced case of motor mouth. She’s not usually the Love Interest, but expect any person she’s interested in to initially find her annoying (unless he’s the Womanizer). If it’s the Love Interest’s goal to make the Hero “lighten up”, the Perky Girl does this for the entire party.

The Womanizer

The Womanizer is, quite simply, the one who flirts, a lot. Expect that female characters will rarely flirt back at him. The Womanizer does tend to end the game attached to someone, giving up his womanizing ways for the sake of love, or something….

The Villain

There are many different types of villain, but here are a few of the most common:

  • The Nihilist – The Nihilist is the type of villain who is sick of war and conflict and the messiness of human existence. His solution to these problems, naturally, is to kill everyone and start anew. Sometimes this is combined with a major g0d complex.
  • The Bugfuck insane The Mad One – The Mad One is a very popular villain type, and even in games where the other types dominate, there will usually be at least one villainous character who lost his marbles years ago.
  • The Power Hungry – This type of villain wants power and is willing to do anything to get it. If this person is a corrupt official, he will likely be an early boss (sometimes even the first boss of the game). Generally, these villains serve as pawns for more nihilistic villains.

The Villain tends to be overwhelmingly male. If female villains are present, they are usually Femme Fatale types who tend to be lacking in the clothing department.

Other things you need to know:

Women are typically magic users – Sometimes she uses her fists, a bow, or an unusual weapon, but more often than not, female characters are mages, and more often than not, healers. Male mages tend to be villains or specialize in black magic. Men, on the other hand, typically use phallic symbols swords and spears in combat.

How do you spot a villain? Look at his hair. White hair (especially on a young-ish person) is a common indicator of villainy in Japan (stark white features being associated with death). Note that this obviously doesn’t apply if the protagonist has white hair.

There are a bunch of other character types I could have discussed: the Mentor, the Old Master, the Cheerful Child, but these are some of the most common.

And the War on Women Continues….

A Facebook friend alerted me to this article on Jezebel.

In summary, some conservatives have their undies in a twist because someone mentioned *gasp!* menstruation in a discussion about birth control.

You may recall a similar kerfluffle over the term “vagina” in June.

Conservatives, why oh why do you hate women so much? Oh wait, I know! It’s because of girl cooties, right? Someone didn’t give you your cootie shot and now you can’t have any contact with women or EW! COOTIES!

Or, wait, don’t tell me, where you stood up for a date in high school? Dumped? No, no, let me guess, you just got served divorce papers? Is that it?

Seriously, what happened?

The funny thing is, I know how you feel. There was a time I couldn’t say the word “penis” without giggling. I overcame my giggle fits by saying the word “happiness” (emphasis on the last two syllables) over and over until I stopped.

Except I was like, ten years old at the time (if that)….

Okay, seriously now (and please pardon this ageist language) but GROW THE HEL UP!

What’s even more disturbing is that words like “vagina” and “menstruation” are MEDICAL terms. It’s not like someone’s going on about their cooch or their love box or even their jade step (if you know where that one’s from, I will give you a cookie) nor are they talking about going on the rag, rebooting the Ovarian Operating System, or worshiping the Blood Goddess (this last one is from Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother, and actually refers to *cough* something in addition to menstruation). No, no, these conservatives flip their shit over even using the proper MEDICAL terms to refer to perfectly normal parts and processes in a woman’s–not just women, actually, trans* men, intersex people like my one friend who went through female AND male puberty (he says they both suck, FYI), you get the idea–body.

Actually, a better term for the female genitalia is “vulva”, which encompasses organs like the clitoris, oh, sorry, I forgot, women aren’t supposed to experience sexual pleasure, because gods and goddesses forbid that she should have the opportunity to experience something as awesomely transcendent as orgasm. She might start getting ideas in her pretty little head, thinking that she can have this pleasurable thing all the time, and who knows what she’ll want next? Equal pay for equal work? The ability to breastfeed without being harassed? OH GOOD LORD NOT EQUALITY! ANYTHING BUT EQUALITY!

It’s times like these that I take comfort in the fact that as a lesbian, a Pagan, and a feminist, I piss certain conservatives off merely by existing.

An Open Letter to Slash Fandom

Dear fellow slash fans,

My introduction to slash (actually yaoi/boys’ love, which is the specific term for male/male relationships in Japanese animation) was via the Angelique series, specifically Clavis x Lumiale:

Clavis (on left) and Lumiale (on right)

Angelique is one of those fandoms where it’s ridiculously easy to slash characters: there’s no need to eliminate Angelique herself, she just becomes Queen of All Cosmos Queen of the Cosmos of the Divine Bird and the Guardians are free to carry on with each other. There’s that little thing where Guardians are supposed to be maintaining order in the Cosmos instead of being distracted by mansex love, but it’s okay, gay relationships don’t count! Amirite?

Okay, seriously now, liberties with established worlds aside, we have a couple major image problems:


Gods and goddesses help you if you are a woman in a slash fic.
The fact is, a woman can’t do *anything* in slash media without someone calling her a bitch, a slut, or a whore.  She can’t open her mouth without being called a bitch and she can’t so much as peck one of the leading men on the cheek without someone calling her a whore, or a slut, or someone crying that “SHE’S GETTING IN THE WAY OF THEIR MANSEX PERFECT RELATIONSHIP!” This is why we have things like Slash Misogyny Bingo Cards, note that it says “fangirl” because the majority of slash producers are women.

(Yes, people who aren’t familiar with slash, you read that right. The majority of producers of slash media of the male/male variety are straight women, writing for other straight women. The opposite is true for femslash/yuri.)

My point, fellow slash fans, is that you have an entire genre where women spend time making disparaging comments towards (or sometimes just outright obliterating) other women in order to support a relationship between men.

How is this not internalized misogyny? How is this not supporting the kyriarchy?

Now, you might be willing to concede my point about misogyny, but then you might say: “But Gef! Society is so homophobic, aren’t more relationships between men (and women) a good thing?”

Well, yes, but that brings me to my second issue….


What? This can’t be right! How can an entire genre based on depicting same-sex relationships be homophobic? Allow me to demonstrate with pictures:

This is fiction.
This is real life.

How many of you went “Awwwww,” to the first image and “Ew!” to the second one? If you did, you are part of the problem.

Let’s do the same thing for women:

Real Life

Herein lies the problem, my fellow slash fans. The problem is that we glorify (nay, fetishize) fictional same-sex pairings but we don’t give a shit about actual gays and lesbians.

TV Tropes has a couple of tropes for this phenomenon: Girl on Girl is Hot and Guy on Guy is Hot. Most of the time, it refers to the phenomenon where an insecure straight white male (and the ones I’ve seen are most often male) who rant about how two men together is just disgusting, but lesbians are okay, because see the above trope. I’ve lost count of how many times homophobic men will go on and on about what gay people do in the bedroom and how gross it is but turn into drooling idiots the moment someone mentions lesbians. (It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.) Homophobic women, I’ve noticed, tend to just hate both equally, but see below. The slash fan version tends to be “relationships between fictional guys are hot but gay men are EW!”

Go back to that slash bingo card, you’ll see that one of the squares reads: “I ship yaoi to support the gay rights movement”.

Shipping one male character with another male character and writing crappy fiction about it on the interwebs is not “supporting the gay rights movement” it’s writing crappy fiction on the interwebs!

Do you know what is “supporting the gay rights movement”? It’s not voting for politicians who want to deny rights to gays and lesbians. It’s not being silent when your friends make homophobic remarks. It’s certainly not making homophobic remarks yourself (as you draw more Cloud/Sephiroth fanart).
You can patronize businesses who have expressed support for us:

Give these companies your money.

Recently, you can add Amazon and Electronic Arts to the list (although, if you ask me, EA is still pretty evil).

No, you don’t have to march in your local gay pride parade, but there are simple things you can do to show your support, but one of the best things we can do, as fans, is call out misogyny and homophobia when we see it. Don’t just write it off as “it’s a part of the culture” bigotry in any form shouldn’t be a part of ANY culture!

One last note, could we PLEASE stop using the “but I have friends who are gay/black[insert minority group here]” defense? The fact that you have friends who are members of a minority group does not automatically grant you immunity from making disparaging comments about minorities. I don’t have any friends who are gay or black, but you know what the difference between me and a “but I have friends who are gay/black” homophobe or racist is? I don’t make homophobic or racist comments! If you aren’t racist, homophobic, or whatever, don’t make comments and then backpedal by using the “best friends defense”–don’t make those comments in the first place! If you find you can’t say anything nice about someone without using that line, maybe it’s time to take a good long look at yourself.

I believe that the fandom can still have the likes of Clavis/Lumiale, Kirk/Spock, Haruka/Michiru, and Willow/Tara (and well, a billion other pairings) without putting down others or ignoring issues that affect real same-sex couples, but this head-in-sand policy towards misogyny and homophobia in the fandom is definitely not helping. Think before you ship.



Dating Sims

Recently, during the Steam Summer Sale, I came across the game “Magical Diary” a game I’d never heard of from a developer I’d never heard of (Hanako Games), I read the synopsis, took a look at its page on TV Tropes, and decided “What the Hel, it’s only $10. I’ll give it a try.”

I’m glad I took the risk.

Sure, it is a blatant knock off of Harry Potter, the gameplay is simplistic (part dating sim/school sim, part adventure game), it’s very text heavy, and the cutesy anime graphics may turn a lot of people off, but this game is amazing, seriously. Name another game that can not only address themes like colonialism and abusive relationships, but gives you same-sex relationships (between your character and someone else or between other characters) and even a sex ed class where your professor mentions species and entities that are non-binary gender? (Sadly, no such characters appear in this game.)

Seriously, go pick this game up, it’s $15 on Steam right now, or, if you’re not sure you’ll like it, try the demo:

Here’s Hanako Games’ website:

This brief plug for “Magical Diary” is meant to be a segue into discussing a kind of game that doesn’t get a lot of exposure outside of Japan: dating sims. The goal of a dating sim is for your main character (usually a girl) to form romantic relationships with one of several possible love interests (usually all boys, but not always). At this point I feel I should point out that the type of dating sim I’m talking about is usually labelled “otome” and marketed to a female audience (otome games usually don’t contain explicit sexual content the way ecchi games do).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But Gef, how can you criticize romance novels–a genre that is all about landing a man–but like dating sims–which are all about landing a man?” And my answer to that is: “Romance novels don’t actually let me PLAY as the heroine!” 🙂 Okay, you got me, you know that post on guilty pleasures I just wrote today, dating sims are my gaming equivalent of a guilty pleasure.

Now, before my fellow feminists gang up on me to take away my feminist card, I should say that “true” dating sims don’t get a lot of exposure outside of Japan (because of the perception that games that are marketed to girls won’t sell. In recent years, XSEED published Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom for the PSP, which is pretty much the closest thing the North American market has to a dating sim in recent years, though a few recent games have a dating sim component (the recent Harvest Moon games, Persona 3 & 4, and Princess Debut  are examples). Personally, I think dating sims are at least a step above all those vapid fashion/makeover and parenting sims, not to mention the “Zelda for girls” game from 2005. What’s wrong with the *real* Zelda games? Sometimes it’s like developers think that girls are too dumb to understand games like Zelda, so they need their own knock-offs. Yeah, right.

Now that I’ve done a horrible disservice to feminism by attempting to defend what is possibly one of the most anti-feminist genres ever, here’s a personal anecdote:

The first true dating sim I ever played was the first game in the Angelique series, which I played using an emulator with no English patch (even though there was one available). The game is simple enough to figure out once you learn to pick out character names and the option to say “Yes” when given a choice.

The plot, in a nutshell, is that you have a Queen who rules the cosmos with the help of nine men who represent the elemental forces of Light, Darkness, Water, Wind, Earth, Fire, Steel, Green (plant life), and Dream. You play as Angelique Limoges, a young woman who is one of the two candidates with a chance at becoming the next queen (fun fact: the current queen is also named Angelique, see where this is going?). Your fellow candidate is Rosalia de Catargena. In order to determine who will make the best queen, you and your rival are each given charge of a continent, whoever succeeds in fully populating their continent first becomes the next queen. This is where the nine Guardians come in, as you need them to “bless” your continent with their particular affinity in order for it to grow (or, alternatively, to hinder your rival).

The Guardians themselves are what you might expect from a group of potential love interests: Julious is the workaholic, Clavis is the aloof, mysterious one, Lumiale is the sensitive artist, Luva is the bookworm, Randy is hyper very active and sociable, the “jock” of the group, Zephel is angry the “tough guy”, Oscar is a shameless womanizer, Marcel is jailbait sweet and innocent and the youngest of the group, and Olivie is the eccentric cross-dresser. Each of the Guardians has their best friend and the one person they just can’t stand (Julious and Clavis dislike each other, their best friends being Oscar and Lumiale respectively) so start going to one to help with your continent, and don’t be surprised if the people they don’t get along with show up to help your rival! (Usually the Guardians would end up being pretty evenly split between myself and my rival, with Randy and Zephel hating on me in almost every game.) It’s important to cultivate relationships with as many Guardians as possible, as when you are periodically evaluated by the queen, their “votes” determine if you get enough “hearts” which you can then spend to get the Guardians to help with your continent.

There are a bunch of possible endings in the game, ranging from you becoming queen (with or without Rosalia as the Queen’s Aide) to falling in love with and living happily ever after with one of the Guardians. Here’s the kicker, though: you can’t choose both–yes, it’s the old “career or love” chestnut, and is, I would argue, probably one of the most problematic elements of the game, besides all the man-chasing, but, in spite of the fact that I now see that, yeah, the game (and the genre) is problematic (at least from the perspective of a white Western feminist) I enjoyed this game, and I would still support any effort to bring at least one game in the series to North America, because even though it has its flaws, I had fun playing it.

I liked calling Zephel “a little bastard” for promising to help me and then turning around and helping my rival instead. I lost count of the times I exclaimed “Why do you keep showing up at my door!?” when a Guardian I wasn’t trying to snag showed up on my doorstep–for the fifth time. I liked comparing notes with my best friend “So, which ending did you get? How many times did so-and-so show up at your door?” She liked Randy and Oscar, I liked Lumiale and Luva.

It probably doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but in this day and age, it’s a nice break from all the gore-fests that currently dominate gaming. It’s a lot like cotton candy, sweet, maybe not very substantial, but a nice treat.

Strong Female Characters

I’m on the rag feeling a little under the weather today, so I decided to draw a random card from my “pick-me-up” deck, the Mythical Goddess Tarot.  The card I drew was the 7 of Fire (Courage). (Click link for image.)

I’m not sure what it has to do with my current situation, but it does remind me of today’s topic: strong female characters.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like the phrase “strong female character”. It seems like it’s trotted out to describe any female character who shows an ounce of personality beyond that of a doormat. We never talk about “strong male characters”. Why? We don’t because we assume that male characters will naturally be well-rounded and interesting, and I think that is what many people mean when they talk about “strong” characters. They want characters who are interesting. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all female characters need to kick copious amounts of ass to be interesting. A character who tries to carve her own niche in a rigidly patriarchal society can be interesting without having to resort to epic sword fights.

Here I’d say a few words about “Mary Sue” characters, but I would refer you to this excellent post about the Mary Sue as a sexist concept.

I think that everyone has character types that tick them off. For me, I hate when we are told a female character is skillful, experienced, and an all-around kick ass chick–only to see her spend the entirety of a series needing to be rescued, or the writers somehow downplaying her skills so the (usually male) main character can still be the focus of the story. TV Tropes has a term for this, the Faux Action Girl. For a good example of this concept in action, I’d recommend reading this post on Anna Valarious from the movie “Van Helsing”.  I also can’t stand perpetually angry characters. There are characters who get angry, and then there are characters like Kratos from God of War, who is so angry the second game could easily be called “God of Anger” and it would be correct.

One other accusation that is brought against female characters in fiction is that they are “men with boobs” and (as you might expect) I don’t agree with this concept either. It seems to me that it’s always applied to women who are aggressive, intimidating, or just plain angry. In short, women who exhibit traditionally “masculine” characteristics. Female characters can kick ass, but not too much ass, because kicking copious amounts of ass is a man thing, women, being smaller and weaker than men, can’t realistically take on twelve baddies at once, even if your world has dragons and people have the ability to throw fireballs. Also, because all women have the same body type and no access to combat training.

Look, just go read Badass of the Week. Not only is it highly entertaining, you might learn a thing or two. The Badass of the Week as of this writing is Hawa Abdi. You will find plenty of gun-toting badass women I talked about earlier on that site, but IMO, you try facing down 750 Somali pirates and not crapping your pants, BTW, you’re unarmed, and they have machine guns, RPGs, and mortar launchers.  Good luck!

Anyways, I guess what I want to see is more interesting characters in general. I want characters who are strong, smart, funny, charismatic, villainous, conniving, playful, pious, tough, sensitive, and weird regardless of the bits between their legs or the boxes they choose to check off. I want characters I can root for and I want characters that I love to hate, that’s it. Give me something interesting, dammit!