Language in Genderqueer Fiction & Smut

typingI’m genderqueer, and when I wrote Behrouz Gets Lucky, I was determined to write about pronouns, sex, and naughty bits the same way that I live them and think about them in my personal life. I knew that the majority of my readers might find this confusing at first, but hoped that they would become enthralled enough in Behrouz and Lucky’s courtship and story to get on with it and learn how to translate this unfamiliar language.

Like many genderqueer people, I am comfortable with any pronoun; they, she, and he. I also think of my body in a multiplicity of gendered terms, depending upon my mood, what I’m doing, who I’m with, whether the moon’s full, and what I’m trying to express. Sometimes I have breasts and sometimes I have a chest. I have a cunt, a cock, and a clit. despite my wishes, I don’t really have it all.

I never have a pussy or balls. To me, “pussy” is reminiscent of 1990s Penthouse magazines; pink, airbrushed, neat flesh attached to women with massive blond hairdos and excessive manicures. “Balls” remind me of the stinky, hairy fragility of that delicate body part…hardly an appealing image. I know plenty of people that adore “pussy” and “balls”, but see “cunt” as demeaning. I love “cunt”; it’s directness and strength, I know one transgender men that calls his breasts his chesticles, because sometimes we need to invent words when the available ones are insufficient (although I didn’t realize this was an actual colloquialism until I typed it here and spellcheck let it be!) To my total dismay, my gynecologist once called my cunt a mangina, I nearly slipped out of my stirrups. I know transmen who use mangina comfortably.  Many transmen call their vagina their front hole. There’s a galaxy of terms for naughty bits!

We’re all different and our choice of vocabulary is not attached to ethics. In other words; cunt is not bad. Pussy is not bad. Balls is not bad, and so on. Since my protagonist Behrouz was genderqueer, I assigned most of my personal preferences to them, although to my regret, Behrouz was never comfortable with female pronouns. Everyone is different though; I’m not representational of all genderqueer folks. My way is not the only way.

I was fortunate with my readers. One was a middle-aged gay man, the other was my 84-year-old lesbian aunt, and they had differing responses. This was helpful.

My aunt is vanilla and a retired librarian, writer, and editor. She used to be a lesbian separatist, thinking that dildoes and vaginal penetration were patriarchal tools to devalue women. I shuddered to speculate what her views on BDSM might have been back in the sex-negative, conservative 1970s. My fears proved to be groundless. She loved my book, but had questions about both the pronouns and way the vocabulary for naughty bits changed from scene to scene. Based on her feedback on pronouns and the way genitalia are named in the story, I chose to write a foreword for my book talking about my linguistic choices.

My gay male reader is also a close friend and a co-worker, so I’d broken him in to my flexible pronouns and views of my anatomy over the course of several years. He adopted quickly, not letting the unfamiliar get in his way of enjoying the book. I felt encouraged by his ability to incorporate my linguistic flexibility into his understanding of the characters and the narrative.

After Behrouz Gets Lucky was published, I ended up getting enthusiastic feedback from Bay Area genderqueer folk about my language. They were grateful to see themselves reflected in fiction, specifically in how I named the body.

To my bewilderment, my book was heavily promoted by my publisher to straight romance blogs, despite the fact that it features an almost all queer cast, and contained a significant amount of kinky sex amongst the courtship and domesticity. A straight romance blogger from Romancing the Book reviewed Behrouz Gets Lucky. The reviewer confessed that she started reading my book nervously, not sure what to expect, “OK, lets get the whole gender identity, male, female, ying, yang thingy out of the way. This book pushes boundaries and forces the reader to let go of what they feel is male-female and throws traditional values out the window. My values and how I feel were never threatened, but they were gently challenged.” Other reviewers were not so kind; Behrouz was confusedly identified as a gay man by one reviewer, and several were disgusted by the queerness of it all.

My advice to other queer writers is to be bold. Write how you are in the world. White how you wish to be in the world. Despite the current wave of conservatism, don’t forget that there is a corresponding wave of resistance. Be the resistance.

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About Avery Cassell

Avery Cassell is a genderqueer San Francisco writer, poet, cartoonist, and artist who grew up in Iran. They live with their Maine Coon cat, Lulu, and bake yeasted waffles every Sunday morning. Behrouz Gets Lucky is their first novel. You can find their erotic short stories sprinkled in various anthologies, including Best Lesbian Erotica 2015 and Sex Still Spoken Here. Avery is currently working on a book of more of Behrouz and Lucky's shenanigans, a memoir, and an illustrated early reader children's book about a eight year old transgender boy and his family.
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