Tag Archives: Lori Selke

Outlaw Bodies, edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad

Debbie says:

Lori Selke is a friend of mine and a regular commenter on this blog, so this is not an “objective” review (of course, there is no such thing as an objective review).

I have been reading science fiction for over fifty years (!). I have been hanging out in the science fiction/speculative fiction community for nearly forty years. And I’ve been a body image activist for about thirty years. But I can’t recall a single anthology or collection focused on the body, except for a few focused on extremely narrow conceptions of the body (such as androids or sexuality), let alone one which prioritizes the unacceptable body.

 [ Issue 2012.25: Outlaw Bodies; cover art © 2012 Robin E. Kaplan ]

Thus, Outlaw Bodies is not only as appropriate and exciting, but also relieving, offering me the sensation of finding something I didn’t know was missing.

Outlaw Bodies is an anthology of fiction about (to quote from Selke’s introduction)

any body that defies social norms and expectations. An outlaw body is not necessarily the same thing as an illegal body, although illegal bodies are certainly outlaw. …

Outlaw bodies can also simply defy social and cultural expectations or move into spaces that the law does not accommodate. genderqueer, gender-nonconforming and transgender/transsexual people live in outlaw bodies. Individuals with physical disabilities may experience their bodies as outlaw as well. Plastic surgery performance artists join athletes who have changed their physique using performance-enhancing drugs. If a body must belong to a state, then stateless people become outlaw bodies as well.

Selke gives more examples, but that’s a pretty good taste. I’m not sure I agree with this definition of “outlaw bodies,” in part because I don’t see how it differs from “transgressive bodies” or “marginalized bodies.” I’d be interested in seeing some work that was specific to illegal bodies (and, perhaps separately, the question of whether or not a body must — or even can — belong to a state). But those are other anthologies. For this one, I’m happy to go with the editors’ definition of what they’re doing.

The anthology has nine stories, plus an afterword by Kathryn Allan. Looking for themes, I find six that are somehow about artificial or constructed bodies (including artificial constructs which replace the body), one about intense voluntary body modification,one future erotica story which sharply redefines gender,  and one about profoundly anomalous infant bodies. Obviously, all of those are shorthand descriptions that oversimplify the stories, but especially since the six about constructed bodies are extremely different from one another, that’s a taste of the variety in this slim volume.

All of the stories are at least good, and most are excellent. Flipping through the anthology to write this review, I kept getting caught in bits of prose or conceptual moments, enough to make me decide to re-read at least most of the book soon.

Perhaps most memorable is “Mouth,” by M. Svairini. Although there’s plenty of speculative erotica, it is rarely showcased with other forms. “Mouth,” a story about a private sex party, is not for the faint of heart even among erotica readers. In the world of this tale, the major division among humans, rather than gender, is preferred sexual orifice; let your imagination (or M. Svairini’s) take it from there.

Other particularly notable stories include:

“Good Form” by Jo Thomas, in which the narrator is supposed to be training a newly created android to be a companion, but instead becomes the android’s champion (oddly closely connected to the anthology’s “Elmer Bank” by Emily Capettini, in which the protagonist is uncommonly kind to his “paper wife”). “Good Form” creates a powerful empathy between reader and protagonist that echoes the empathy between protagonist and android; “Elmer Bank” offers some particularly haunting images.

“Millie” by Anna Caro, which grapples with the question of disability and technological separation of the person from the body. Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang (a novel that disability activists rightly hate) tackled this theme in 1969. James Tiptree, Jr.’s brilliant “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” approached it from a different angle in 1974. In 2012, the unnamed protagonist of “Millie” has a very complex decision to make because of this separation.

“Frankenstein Unraveled” by Selke, which brings a Frankenstein whose stitches are coming unstitched into contact with the contemporary U.S. medical scene, with both humorous and ironic results.

Outlaw Bodies is an excellent choice for anyone who wants a variety of explorations of where we and our bodies might go in the near and far future and the world of the imagination. Although it is satisfying in its own right, it also whets the appetite for more.

Butch Mom, Wearing Words Any Way They See Fit

Debbie says:

If you can’t blog your friends really good posts, what’s the point of having a blog at all? I’m a frequent visitor in Lori Selke’s household, so I can confirm that when they (Selke’s preferred pronoun) say, “I am a butch biological mother in a queer parenting threesome in which the other two members are male-assigned and I would probably have to arm-wrestle at least one of them for the title of ‘most butch,'” it’s no exaggeration.

Selke is responding to a Lambda Literary Review article in which Sinclair Sexsmith interviews Jack Halberstam. (Jack Halberstam, until recently, has been better known as Judith Halberstam: in either identity, a prominent and interesting gender theorist). Here’s the Halberstam quote that got Selke steaming:

Sometimes I get really irritated when I’m around other queer couples where one person is kind of clearly butch and the other is clearly less butch, but the butch partner is still called “mom.” I think, what’s that about? Why do you want to be called mom? Nothing could be further from my desire, in parenting, than to be called mom. So, we’re doing this queer parenting thing, but the roles of mom and dad have remained completely stable? Only women can be mom, only men can be dad? What’s that about? It’s another frontier where we need better and more interesting ways of thinking about how gender interacts with social functions like parenting.

And here’s Selke’s response (well, part of it):

The idea that because my kids call me mom, I believe or support the idea that only women can be mom and only men can be dad is ludicrous. Now we are using the word “mom” to determine who is hip and happening and genderbending and questioning and exploring how gender and parenting interact, and who’s not. Apparently, by not chafing at the label M-O-M, I’m not.

Even though they also call me “Mister Sir” (and sometimes “Mister Sir Mommy Sir”)? Not making that one up.

… I want to open up the word “Mom” to be as inclusive as possible. Butch moms, femme moms, none-of-the-above moms. Stud moms. Trans moms. Mister Sir Mommy moms. Male moms.

I want other words, too. New words and coinages, and the repurposing of old terms, both obscure and forgotten and otherwise. I want to rip vocabulary from the clutches of the hegemony and wear words any way I see fit. I want to mix codes and confuse the masses. And even if I didn’t want that, it happens in my wake regardless. I’ve watched the ripples of consternation follow me all my life, both before and after I became a parent.

And I see using “mom” for a butch parent as very clearly a repurposing. It’s not a word for everybody, and if Halberstam had stuck to “I have absolutely no desire to be referred to as ‘mom,’” I wouldn’t be writing this. But please. If I can be called a Mom, that lights a fuse to a lot of stereotypes about what Moms can and can’t do, look like, be.

I’m right there with them, all that range of Moms. Just the concept makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

But I have a question (more for Halberstam than for Selke, and also for anyone who wants to answer): where are the dads in this article? Is it different to talk about femme dads, and sissy dads than it is to talk about butch moms? It’s one thing to be stuck in the binary of “mom” and “dad” the same way we’re stuck in the binary of “male” and “female,” but it’s something else again to have dads go completely invisible. Halberstam talks some about butch dads (by which he means dads who have also been coded female, presumably by birth and phenotype, since the context rules out dads who have been coded female by femme behavior and dress). Selke talks about the male-assigned parents in their household.

Dads, who aren’t butch, whether they are cis-male dads, trans-female dads, genderless dads, are completely invisible in the conversation. And perhaps because I am so taken with Selke’s desire to mess with vocabulary and codes and confuse the masses (and the words they use to describe that desire), I miss the presence of the range of dads that I’m confident both Halberstam and Selke can imagine.