Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot
and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing
on the black earth. But I say it is
what you love.
When I was in twelfth grade, a boy asked me to prom. I said no; I barely knew his name and I didn’t want to go to prom at all—it would be too many people, too much noise—and prom as a first date, as my first date, didn’t really seem the thing.
When I was in eleventh grade, a girl and I were in AP Latin. Her translations were always a little more poetic than mine. She was pretty—she wore red so well. I didn’t think about the pretty a lot, but I still envy the poetic.
When I was rooming with a friend, two years after high school graduation, I realized I am autistic. When I was rooming with that (sadly straight) friend—so many dreadful / superb puns, and damn can she spin a tale—I realized I am queer.
Astonishing, truthfully, that I hadn’t realized either sooner.
He seems to me equal to gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking
Melissa, first protagonist of my novel-in-progress with the working title Stagecraft, has grown up in a high-class, high-society, high-formality environment. They can navigate any social situation provided the scenario, or something like enough to it, is discussed in Lady Margaret’s Etiquette.
Ciara, second protagonist of Stagecraft, is an actress with a tiny theater company at a tiny theater. She can navigate any social situation provided she knows how a character she has previously portrayed would react to the scenario—and which character she needs to be playing at that moment.
Lady Margaret’s Etiquette does not describe how to respond to the belated realization that one has fallen in lust with, is falling in love with, the pretty actress. And which of Ciara’s repertoire could cue Ciara how to react to the abrupt discovery that one is falling in love with the theater patron one befriended?
Easy to make this understood by all.
For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
left her fine husband
behind and went sailing to Troy.
It’s hard to talk of Stagecraft as an f/f novel, though I suspect that’s where it will be shelved. Though both Melissa and Ciara are AFAB and Ciara is certainly a woman, it’s simply not f/f! Melissa qua Melissa has a gender but it is hard to name, except for when they have no gender at all; Melissa qua Nicholas is male. Melissa qua Catherine is female, but Catherine is not the largest part of Melissa, not the mask Melissa most often wears.
How are we to describe Stagecraft, then? I contend it is sapphic—the fragments of Sappho quoted here are the bulk of why, they and the Sapphic reputation that led some wiseass ancient poet to name her husband Kerkylas of Andros, a name that translates roughly (per Holt Parker) to “Dick Allcock from the Isle of Man”. But “sapphic” is not a category that booksellers recognize. Even publishers of queer fiction, who carefully separate f/f from m/m from queer-led f/m because lumping it all under LGBTQ pleases approximately no one who carries that umbrella—even they do not seem to have any category label that would suit Stagecraft. “Nonbinary”, perhaps, or “trans”, because Melissa is genderqueer and genderfluid, but that downplays their and Ciara’s sexuality and intimacy in favor of Melissa’s gender alone.
Or one might categorize Stagecraft as autistic fiction, downplaying sexuality and gender both in favor of highlighting the protagonists’ neurodivergences. How limiting it is to label our art, ourselves, under the assumption that of any given set of labels (some of which haven’t anything to do with any of the others), only a very few will apply.
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me
And yet, how freeing these same labels are! I am no ice princess, no freak, not even bad at being a girl, though I remember hearing I was all of these in high school. Instead, I am an acey, aro-ish autistic lesbian, with no gender to speak of—except when I am gendered, and (I am not making an ‘attack helicopter’ joke, I promise) said gender is bookwyrm dragon.
And there are other people like me. People who might see themselves reflected—as Junot Diaz speaks of mirrors, of how monsters have no reflections—in Melissa and Ciara in Stagecraft.
As of this writing, I am planning to pitch Stagecraft to NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press. The editor who will review my pitch is a person of color (like Ciara), a trans man (like Nicholas-Melissa), an autistic person (like both). I’m already working with him on a poetry collection, Ella Chose (planned 2018 publication), and a different novel I have already pitched. Should this editor like this pitch, should this publisher and I sign a contract to publish Stagecraft, perhaps—categorically speaking—perhaps it will be enough to say “Stagecraft is polytheistic political fantasy with a genderqueer protagonist and a Victorian England aesthetic, published by NeuroQueer Books”.
reminded me now of Anaktoria
who is gone.
I would rather see her lovely step
and the motion of light on her face
than chariots of Lydians or ranks
of footsoldiers in arms.
And—I’m terrified of how Stagecraft will be received. Will it fail as autistic fiction because of Melissa’s etiquette book and Ciara’s stage training? Will it fail as queer fiction because of Melissa’s and Ciara’s autism? Will it fail as fantasy because the protagonists are disabled, or as political commentary because it is so plainly fantasy, or as ekphrastic ars poetica for any of those reasons or none? Who will find it looking for nonbinary characters in f/f, or looking for sapphic fiction in the NB/GQ section? Who, truthfully, will care about characters as thoroughly, multiply marginalized as I am?
But all is to be dared
About the Author:
Alex Conall writes poetry and short fiction at Sunbow Publications and Never Unmindful, and posts art for sale at Sunbow Arts on Etsy. They are an intersectional-feminist disabled queer activist and a clergy education student under the auspices of Hellenic-polytheist organization Hellenion, who keeps themself amused with fanworks exchanges—and they are not turning their 2017 Yuletide assignment into a novel-length fanfic, they are not, they have Stagecraft to write!