Leo X. Robertson

News of my latest publications, events, and episodes of the Losing the Plot podcast!

Harsh truth 4 (of 8) for writers

You can’t do everything at once

I’ve thrown some daunting-ass figures at you, and perhaps muddied the water of what exactly your task is as an author.

Here is a short example of how I better identified/quantified my task as a writer.

I’ve become interested in science fiction of late, though it’s the genre that I find the toughest to write in. I’ve just never been sure exactly how much science I’m supposed to know, or use, or how realistic my stories are supposed to be.

Is the reader to believe this is possible, or are they happy for a non-existent premise if it reveals something new about the human condition?

(It’s a spectrum, is the answer—but I had limited knowledge of what that spectrum looked like!)

I started off by reading The Best Science Fiction of the Year. As I did, I thought about films and books I’d read growing up, and realised that my favourite type of science fiction was near-future, on Earth, and soft: Ballard, Lem, Clarke, Dick, Le Guin, Ellison, Delany.

(Very straight white American and male for sure, but we are talking the history of sci-fi lit…)

Having figured this out, I Googled “What life will look like in the year 2040.”

Surprise surprise, I’m far from the first person to have wanted to know the answer to this. There are whole societies dedicated to predicting technological advances and the like. They’re also willing to explain, through articles and videos, how these new concepts would work.

Finally, the more science fiction I read, the more I noticed technologies and concepts repeated by authors, and even between authors. They borrowed ideas from themselves and one another!

To summarize what I learned, then:

  • It isn’t my task, when I write science fiction, to invent every kind of future—rather, to imagine a particular type.
  • It isn’t my task, when I write science fiction, to invent every new technology that appears in the world or is made use of. Given the wealth of science fiction stories out there, of every variety, it’s very unlikely that I would even be able to do this, or have to. Rather, focusing on a small subset of technologies and how they influence the world (number depending on story length—one is fine for a short story), and introducing the rest as “window dressing” for world-building purposes, is the best way to go.
  • It isn’t my task when writing in any genre to even know how to explain that genre to someone else. Each original story, if it’s any good, will sufficiently redefine the genre that it works in. That takes a strong authorial voice, which knows its shit, demonstrates a wide breadth of reading. But not all-encompassing, because that’s impossible.

Somehow I wanted my task to be tougher than it is. In my weakest moments, I have a predilection for unnecessary suffering (nothing more pointless or less brave.)

It was/remains important for my own writing that I define the curriculum I use to learn what I want and need to know. Writers are much like PhD students in that respect—just as lacking in reward for our daily work, except with less chance of achieving something at the end.

I still need to be imaginative, of course—but not quite as imaginative as I thought I had to. Had I embarked upon the task without having done my research, it would’ve been more painful, and I would have been incorrect about how inventive I had been.

Writing to some extent is constant improvisation. It’s “Yes, and”—ing the material that already exists. To pretend otherwise is to be deliberately uninformed. The existing body of literature doesn’t go away just because you pretend it will.

This idea of using pre-existing conventions applies to literature in many other ways. For example, read litmags and you will find a plethora of three-act structured stories, list-based stories, multiple choice stories and, on occasion, those that seem to proceed with entirely their own logic. (Like “The Metal Bowl” by Miranda July. She’s clearly a genius.)

There are many, many successful writers out there who never deviate from traditional story structures. You might think that’s safe of them, but it can be just as tough to adhere to a traditional structure as it is to use one of your own

Dan Harmon, co-creator of Rick and Morty, uses his own narrative model that he created from Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell formulated the hero’s journey narrative from his extensive research into mythologies from around the globe. The reason people keep using these structures is because they work. (Traditional structure is not the same as predictable. Or maybe the predictability of form is advised where wilder content is to be presented. Rick and Morty’s pretty wild, right?)

Decisions in writing, and life incidentally, are like a set of principles: there are actions that, if taken, will work over 90% of the time. That means you will mostly find yourself using them, but not always. But if you don’t use them, you need a reason not to.

You may know what that reason is or you may not. If you don’t, you’re rolling the dice and saying “I will implement Choice 4 here!” Where a master of the craft, in the same scenario, might say, “Based on my extensive storytelling skillset, I have devised that Choice 4 is the best way to proceed here.”

(You and the master came to the same conclusion in this example—but you got lucky! The odds are against you, and not her, next time!)

I’ve come very close to getting into exclusive mags a handful of times. But even when I submitted something else to the same mags, there was never a guarantee that the next story would fare as well. (Quite the opposite in most cases!) That may mean subjectivity blah blah, but what it probably means is, I haven’t always known what I did right.

Over time, I’ve accrued more acceptances and more rejections with added “please think of us for your next story.” I’ve been rolling the dice less and using my skillset more. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever necessarily be published by any particular venue, but it does mean I’m maximizing my chances of that happening.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!



A Pulser Sunsetting by Rebecca Grandsen



My father took me down to the stream and tore my denim dress. The sun tinkled on the water while I tasted it, all fish scales and mud. He stepped along the downy bank, between high scarlet grasses, broken from the wind. Eyes veined. His neck contorted with the strain of watching me float, tendons rigid.

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Harsh truth 3 (of 8) for writers

You will spend a lot of time reading material that’s better than yours

Reading more fiction will make you a better writer.

To deny this is to deny the very purpose of fiction—it’s to deny believing in the thing you supposedly love and want to get better at.

Nebulous as fiction’s purpose is, one function is to improve thought, advance it, increase awareness of life. Alice Munro stories have been scientifically proven to make people more psychologically astute. Fiction works.

I tell you what’s great: reading the litmags you want to submit to.

Most of us don’t do this when we start out. We have what we believe to be good reasons for it at the time. We sought out the mags we wanted to get published in after writing the thing we wrote. We’re so very sure the thing is finished that we doubt reading the mag will give us any pointers at all. Or, we’re so assured that we’re better than the other authors in there, that we don’t think we have to.

(You shouldn’t submit to places that you think are beneath you—how great do you think it’ll feel when they reject you? Or even if they accept you?)

This kind of arrogance is pitiful. It occurs when we’re not well read enough to evaluate our writing’s quality, or anyone else’s. We pretend we know we’re good enough already. This protects us from the possibility of reading a story so amazing that it destroys our confidence. Well, then we wouldn’t submit—so that’s not to our benefit, right?

This wrongly assumes that the success and quality of other people’s writing affects yours—or rather, affects yours in a way that should be anything other than:

  • Positive, improving your writing, or:
  • Inspiring, showing you more than what you thought was possible—or, better than you can currently produce. (Not fun in the moment, sure, but ultimately for the better.)

You should read as much material like this as you can bear before it makes you feel completely incompetent. (It shouldn’t—no one ever wrote or will write the last story—but it does sometimes anyway.)

Writing more will make you a better writer.

To deny this is to deny journaling as a therapeutic tool, to deny that introspection produces insights. It’s to deny fundamental aspects of your brain and, well, existence. Writing more works.

Reading and writing may only work temporarily. I don’t know. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What you’ll do is read and write so much, either every day or something close to it, that you will minimize those parts of reading and writing that are ephemeral.

Since we know other writers are better than you—at the very least at some aspects of storytelling (though quite probably overall!)—you have something to learn from studying their stories. Since we know other people are writing too, those stories aren’t going away.

I don’t know about you, but the way I act influences the way I feel and vice versa. If I spend a Sunday binge-watching Netflix, I feel like an anxious shut-in waste of space (because I am, that day at least.)  If I show up at work early and complete all my tasks, I feel important and confident (because I am, that day at least.)

We’re rarely worried/angry about what we think we’re worried/angry about. The emotions are real but the underpinning reasons often aren’t. So when it gets to the frustration with our own lack of progress compared to others, a spitefulness between one another, anything petty and time-consuming that’s beneath us, the real reason for all this disappointment is a failure to engage in the richest life available.

If you do rewarding work and are useful/generous/all that good stuff, I find that the worries melt away. There also seems to be an oversaturation of self-deprecating comedy in the culture, which is great for normalising all kinds of foibles–but because of how aware we are of how widespread the bad habits are that we share, I’d argue that we’re too reassured that they’re okay to have and not work on.

The writing equivalent is: you must keep writing. In doing so, you are acting as if there remain other stories to tell. In doing so, more stories become available for the telling. It’s self-fulfilling and can remain unspoken.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!


Harsh truth 2 (of 8) for writers

Other people are doing this

As you’re reading this, someone is writing right now. They may be finishing a novel they’ve worked on for 10 years that is about to blow the world apart. And maybe you’ve never even written a full poem yet!

Maybe you weren’t thinking about this. If you are now, somehow it still doesn’t bother you.

Good! It shouldn’t.

All but one person is a lesser writer than the best writer. They all do it anyway. That’s true for, by our calculations last time, 100 – 0.00004 = 99.99996 % of authors who aren’t George Saunders. (As we go, it’s becoming more absurd, I hope, the notion of there being a “best writer.”)

And that’s in terms of writing quality. If it’s to do with money made as an author, imagine how small a percentage that puts JK Rowling or Stephen King into. It’s very, very likely you will never accrue the wealth or fame that they have. It’s legitimately like winning the lottery.

You don’t act as if you’re going to get struck by lightning seven times every day, so you shouldn’t act as if you will never be happy unless you become that rich or famous. Rowling has more money than any other author has ever had in the history of time!

Something else drives writers.

One of the reasons is of course that they’re all writing different things. There is space for them! But surely even the top writers pray their favourite writers don’t attempt to write about the same subjects as them. (Sometimes.)

There is, however, a more comforting way to explain why you should keep writing.

Authors are inclined to give reasons for their drive, but I think the question is too big for them.

“Questions that are too big” are a thing I’ve thought about a lot recently. Sometimes when I get into discussions/arguments with people, they’ll throw these types of questions at me: “Okay, Leo, well if you believe I should take my feet off the table in polite company, can you explain to me how we know the table even exists? If you can’t, how can you prove I even did what you’ve accused me of in the first place? Gotcha!!”

I believe when a question is clearly too big (or evidently impractical), we’re absolved from having to answer it. We may give our answer on occasion, acknowledging that it may not be anyone else’s answer. But we can may choose to redirect our energies elsewhere, or reduce the scope of the problem that we’ll set about solving.

“Okay, maybe I can set about proving that the table exists later, but in the meantime, I’d appreciate it if, in mixed company, you keep your feet off the object that we, for all intents and purposes assume is there, and which we refer to as a table, while the pope is over for lunch!”

People write and they don’t know why. It’s so much bigger than them that they can’t explain it. All writers do, even in entire lifetimes, is chip off but a fraction of the block of the unknown, or of imagination’s infinite potential. It’s a compulsion, but a healthy one, and doesn’t really need to be questioned.

Something else drives writers, and they don’t even need to worry about what it is. The question—much like the literary world—is just too big for any one person to have much of a grasp upon it.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

Harsh truth 1 (of 8) for writers

As a Scotsman, I enjoy hard truths. (My people recently learned that there are other kinds, though it has minimally influenced our usage or acknowledgement of them.)

Other cultures prefer an attitude of perpetual positivity. I’ve tried. I hear it so often that I was almost convinced there was no other way to be. But eventually you’re just lying yourself away from anything negative.

Perpetual positivity isn’t the worst stance to take. It’s way better than join-me-in-the-murkers. But I’ve always been a realist.

There’s always a middle ground. I think it’s essential to see the upside of everything, but you must look at the thing first and then identify its upside, rather than turning your head and cycling off on some road made out of candyfloss, which’ll melt in the rain and leave you even more lost than ever before.

So I hope you enjoy this series, in which I will probably say things you already knew or expected, but hope to bring them out into the light so you can look at them and be totally cool with what they look like 😀

Here’s harsh truth #1!

Other writers are better than you. Kinda.

I’m about to do something that may make you feel defeated if you take it seriously. Doing so would be close to deadly. So don’t. (I’m hoping the exercise in itself reveals how ridiculous the idea is.)

Here we go.

I recently read Best of McSweeney’s—or I had way back when I wrote draft 1 of this whole spiel!—and my favorite piece in it was by George Saunders.

I know that every other piece was about something else, but Saunders’ piece seemed to do more and say more than any other.

McSweeney’s as you probably know is a very exclusive litmag. Having read the “best of” and determined who I think the best author in there is, I wanted to do some crude maths so we can better understand what to make of this:

  • Best of McSweeney’s came out in 2004, and the mag, a quarterly, started in 1998. That means the book is the best of 6*4 = 24 issues.
  • A more recent issue, McSweeney’s 50, has 50 authors in it, and is 300 pages long. Not to say that’s the same for every issue, but let’s assume it is. That means the pieces in the “best of” were selected from a pool of 24*50 = 1200 writers. (Assuming they were all different authors. Mags may publish the same authors multiple times. But I’m not gonna go through every issue of McSweeney’s just to polish this number a bit for you!)
  • Best of McSweeney’s is 624 pages long, so it probably contains about 100 authors (I don’t have it to hand.) It therefore represents the top 100/1200*100= 8.3% of authors who have been published by McSweeney’s.
  • Saunders is the top 1% of the Best of McSweeney’s, therefore the top 1/100*8.3 = 0.083% of authors published by McSweeney’s.
  • From Duotrope, McSweeney’s has an acceptance rate of 0.1%. (Assume Duotrope ranking, tabulated from its users, is an accurate representation of all writers submitting to McSweeney’s. It’s good enough for this example.) That means of everything sent to them, only 0.1% of pieces are accepted. (Let’s assume again that the number of pieces submitted is equivalent to the number of authors submitting. Not necessarily true, but good enough.) That means at the date of the “Best of” publication, assuming a constant acceptance rate, 1200 authors were published from a pool of 1200/(0.1/100) = 1,200,000 authors. And George Saunders is the best out of all of those. (The top 1/1200000*100 = 0.000083%.)

That’s only of the authors who submit to McSweeney’s. I never have, nor, I don’t believe, have most authors I know. I don’t think there’s a way to quantify how many have submitted to McSweeney’s or not. So this is as far as we can go: George Saunders ranks as in the top 0.000083% of authors out there (writing literary fiction, I guess.)

If you trust that I’ve read enough contemporary American literature—one of my favourite types!—we could say that he ranks better than anyone who’s ever been published in McSweeney’s. Therefore, of the full 50 issues to date, he ranks:

  • 50 authors x 50 quarterlies = 2500 authors
  • 2500/(0.1/100) = 2,500,000
  • 1/2500000*100 = top 0.00004%

(On good days I’ll include David Foster Wallace too, who was also in the Best of. So when you think about it that way, Saunders is only in the top 0.00008%. Better?)

I know this is bullshit and so do you. But why?

Here are some exceptions to the assumptions I made along the way, and some caveats to the conclusions made:

  • Many brave authors, following many McSweeney’s rejections, keep submitting. Some of those may get accepted.
  • Many stellar authors get accepted by McSweeney’s more than once. And they’re not always fiction writers.
  • Many, many people disagree with me that George Saunders is even that great.
  • Saunders himself doesn’t win every battle. Last year, Amazon Studios passed on the pilot TV episode adapted from his short story “Sea Oak.” Trust authors when they tell you that rejection is part of it. It’s not necessarily an indicator of quality. (It probably is, but you can’t prove that. Best way to handle it is to improve the thing if you can and send it back out again. After all, all you can offer is your best at time of submission.)

Writing is highly subjective. I get that. Highly, but not wholly. My maths is a bit off, but not completely.

Where am I in these rankings? I’ve never submitted to McSweeney’s, as I say, though I don’t think I would be that high up. Duotrope tells me that with my 11% acceptance rate for what I do send out, that I’m above average. That’s nice! I’ll interpret it as this: it’s more likely than not that I wrote something worth reading. That’ll do!

Don’t let this panic you.

Here are some further disclaimers:

  • None of this means that no one else’s work is worth reading. 2% or more of fiction produced is probably astounding, life changing even—it’s also way more than gets published by the biggest mags. Some of these mags receive 10,000 stories a year and will publish between 3 and 24. There are literally thousands of writers who get rejected from these mags who have successful careers.
  • Say a McSweeney’s takes 8 hours to read. Well, there’s way more time in a person’s life—between then and waiting 3 months for the next quarterly—for them to read something else. Many more things!
  • Extending that argument, Saunders is almost 60 and has 8 books out. I’ve apparently read 38 books this year (at time of writing this.) (One was his.) (I forgot to complete whatever this point was, but I suspect you’re getting tired of them anyway!)
  • Have you ever lost excitement at the prospect of reading a new book? Have you ever had a week go by without learning of something else you might want to read? Me neither!
  • There’s time and space for more. Few things make me happier than anticipating a new book. Those people who write them make my life more exciting. It’s a very good thing.

Though I don’t want to lean on the subjectivity of fiction too hard, because I think there’s enough said about that. It’s harder to imagine that someone can get better as a writer if it’s really all just chaos—so it’s not even that consolatory an idea.

Even disregarding subjectivity, we know intuitively that thinking like this is pointless. You can feel it right now, I’m pretty sure. I didn’t just kill the thing you want to improve for the rest of your life in one blog post.

Phew! You made it! Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

New Losing the Plot, with Austin James!

Austin James is an author of obscure and uncomfortable fiction—Not “weird and uncomfortable” as I erroneously described it in the intro!

His latest book is The Drip-Drop Prophet and Other Stories, published by NihilismRevised.

We talk about genres, LItReactor and stealing ideas from yourself!




The Drip Drop Prophet and Other Stories

As always, if you’re a reader, writer, creative type, someone with something to say, you can always get in touch with me using losingtheplotpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Marshall, who provided Losing the Plot’s intro music, has a new album out! Check out “MARS HALL” at Captain Crook Records!

How to be a man? (3/3)

In the last post, I tried to work out why masculinity is so difficult to talk about.

Maybe it’s no revelation at all to straight couples. It’s kind of chilling when female strangers try to use their sexuality to get something from me. I probably feel as much attraction to them as they do towards me when they say things like, “You look like a strong man, can you help me carry my suitcase up these stairs?” I don’t feel seduced, I only feel the pure manipulation of it. The concept of caring about one’s masculinity was probably as alien to her as it was to me. But, to have understood that it was important to men, and to then cynically game it like that—it’s creepy.

Moments like these that I’ve collected are the evidence I have that heterosexual couples are more aware of the masculine competition than I am. And maybe you guys are all discussing it at length behind closed doors, whereas in my house, we don’t even think about it.

To generalize, admittedly, it’s my impression that women and gay men share a depth of curiosity about how other people’s minds work.

I recently listened to a interesting episode of LBGTQ&A with Alexander Chee, where the interviewer (he’s really good!) said, “Gay people develop empathy early on because we’re not represented in most of the stories we consume. We have to constantly relate to “the other.”’

I’d never thought of it like that, but it makes perfect sense. Most times that any art explores the differences between men and women, I’ve been like, “I’m out.” (Literally lol.) It’s somehow implicit that the differences or interactions between men and women have something to do with them being attracted to one another and forming lives together. And that’s fine, and I can still take something from it, and I don’t even need a gay guy jumping around in the background saying “I’m here also!” I probably just need something else to supplement that artistic diet.

Some people are inclined to think of the mysterious motivations and desires of other people as an interesting topic of conversation. Others, like poker players, see this information as something to hoard rather than to share, so that it can be used against others as a way of getting what you want.

I’m not interested in playing games with others. I want all cards face up on the table. And if anyone starts a game, I’ve always held the belief that the easiest way to win it is not to play it at all. Sometimes you talk to people who are irritated with coworkers or friends and such, and they say things like, “She only said that because she wanted me to think she thinks…” etc, Their faces screw up like their minds already have. They’re trying to learn the shape of the board and where all the pieces are so they can make their next best move. Whereas if they just got up from the table and lived their damn life, the game inventor would be like, “This game sucks, people don’t want it, defo don’t Kickstarter this one, back to the drawing board.”

I want to know what masculinity means to men for whom it is important, and why it is so important to them. Not so I can use it against them (I can carry my own damn suitcase up the stairs!) I just want to help, or at least stop accidentally threatening it. Again: that’s never my aim, because I personally don’t care!


How to be a man? (2/3)

In the first of these posts, I explained how “masculinity”, whatever it means to those who care about how much of it they have or who is threatening it, doesn’t seem to matter to me at all. In this post I’ll explain why I still want to understand it.

Is it a relief or is it a shame that I have instilled in myself the belief that I am not like other men? Is the solution to dissolve the competition entirely or to make people like me feel accepted into it in future?

I really don’t know the answer to that one. As a rule of thumb, if there’s a thing people typically enjoy doing, I don’t do it. But if I then said, “The answer here is that everyone should stop doing things I personally think are dumb and participate in the things I only enjoy,” I’ve gone too far, and maybe shouldn’t even have started.

Maybe the principle is this: if people are enjoying themselves (the unrelatable joy of masculine competition), leave them to it. If we can use each other’s lives as examples of how to stop caring about things that add suffering to our lives, yes, let’s do that.  But playing someone else’s game when you don’t care about it is a waste of time, for reasons I explain later.

See the thing is, it’s not even the fault of other men that I don’t feel part of the competition. A lot of them still think I’m in it, in fact. But men so rarely talk about it, so how was I supposed to notice or even formulate, until now, my thoughts on what it is and why it doesn’t matter to me? And how were they supposed to know that there exist men who don’t care about masculinity? And how was I supposed to know what a threat to masculinity looks like and when I was making one?

Me threaten your masculinity? We really do live on different planets, mate.

It’s a weird backwards compliment if I ever get accused of trying to be more masculine than someone else. It’s a bit like someone saying, “You have a small face!” with enthusiasm. You think, “Do people actually care about face size? Interesting. I’m not going to start, but it’s nice that from their perspective, they just gave me a compliment.”

So, thus far I haven’t cared about being seen as masculine or not. But, if masculinity is something someone else respects, and thought I had it, I took the compliment.  Only so I didn’t insult them.

The insult is probably like this:

You compliment someone on their lovely eyes.

They say, “Thanks, but I never really thought that mattered.”

And you think, “But I’ve always thought my eyes were one of my loveliest features. In her world, that doesn’t matter. Does that mean she sees me without the loveliness of my eyes? I’ve relied on that so heavily that I don’t know that the rest of me is sufficient.”

I meant to end the example there, my point being, it’s mean to reject the compliment, and that’s why I haven’t rejected it so far. But what if you extend the implications of this apparent insult?

(This is where I wish I’d chosen a more substantial example than “lovely eyes”, but it’s sufficient for you to get my point anyway!)

You’d probably get the following: “Even though she has dismissed the loveliness of my eyes, perhaps there is some loveliness to me, some other quality of mine, that she values as highly as I value my eyes. Some aspect of me, currently hidden, that others appreciate, and that I can feel proud of. Just as I value eyes and she doesn’t, I’d bet she has some equivalent feature or property that she values highly—whether I ever find out what it is or not. But, I would like to know what it is, so that I can learn what matters to her and give her compliments and encouragements in the areas of her life that she cares about. And I would like to know how I fare in these previously hidden arenas. Because, perhaps those times I was beating myself up about not measuring up to my own chosen criteria, other people saw me excelling in areas I hadn’t even seen. Once I discover and reveal these previous blind spots, perhaps I will see that I was more competent than I thought. There is also the possibility that I am less competent in hidden arenas also. But the more information I have, the better I can be and the richer the life I will lead.”

A strange kind of humbling and enriching experience, then. This is the interesting challenge of hanging out with people who aren’t like us, and the benefit of talking openly about our experiences and remaining curious about one another.

That’s the apparent double bind of masculinity, then. If I were a straight man who valued my masculinity, who would I talk to about it? Other men? They’re my competition! And maybe not my girlfriend, because if she laughs at me, that’s a threat to the masculinity. Or what if she learns what I value and exploits it?

I can’t talk on the female experience of masculinity. Of course that’s not here, and it’s worth pointing out. Not only don’t I know much about masculinity myself, but a gay man writing about masculinity was never gonna pass the Bechdel test, was it?

And by the way, as always these blogs, and basically everything I do, are invitations for you to contribute, and a female perspective on masculinity is indeed missing.

What I do know is that those who are aware of the importance of masculinity can and do exploit it. I’ll give an example in the next blog post.

How to be a man? (1/3)

Seriously, I’m asking. For a friend. That friend is you.

Only on occasion do I ever hear men alluding to “what makes someone more or less of a man” or what they consider a threat to their masculinity etc. But just because I don’t hear it often, doesn’t mean it isn’t a more widespread consideration.

Quite the opposite, I’d guess. A preoccupation that is kept secret because the vulnerability of admitting it is a threat to masculinity.

In these blog posts, the type of masculinity I’m interested in isn’t one I consider “toxic.” If I have anything to comment on that at all, it’s not here. Anyway!

Masculinity isn’t something I have ever thought about. To grow up gay was, to me, to be something so outside the traditional notion of masculinity that I felt completely disqualified from the competition. Though honestly, I probably just didn’t even notice that it was going on!

Is it that I don’t care about my masculinity, or is it that I’m comfortable with it therefore I don’t notice it at all? I don’t know.

I do know that it remains common for straight men to tease each other for being gay because it implies, “I respect your masculinity, which I will show by pretending you are something less masculine: a gay.”

You hear it in their company sometimes because they assume you’re straight until proven otherwise. Again, for better or worse, that’s something I’m used to. “Why wouldn’t they assume? Most people are.”

The joke itself doesn’t really insult me. It’s like an alien language. It’s a joke amongst heterosexual men: I don’t think it’s that it necessarily insults gay men, we just don’t even compute in that specific language. The joke contains no real gay people, just imagined gay versions of people who are definitely straight. It’s not the cleverest joke, sure. It’s the “talking about sports” of jokes.

Is this what they call internalized homophobia? Maybe.

In that case, here’s an associated problem I have. I’m a weirdo. Almost everything I do say and think makes perfect sense to me, and almost everyone I meet seems like a complete weirdo to me, but they don’t seem like weirdos to each other. That makes me the weird one!

(It also means weirdos are my favourite people. When we meet each other, we sigh the relief of having carried a weight most people can’t even see. And because they never acknowledged it, we began to deny it ourselves. We were just like, “Hahaha, I’m genuinely having fun in this bar and my chest hurts for some reason!”)

That makes me think two things:

  1. I wouldn’t have it any other way but weird—but is that only because I’ve become accustomed to the way things are?
  2. When people relate to you as poorly as others relate to me and vice versa, you have to choose the boats you want to rock very carefully if you want to make a change, or they won’t consider you worth the effort at all. Again, maybe that’s unfortunate, but that’s just how I perceive it.

Just so you know what bias is at work, here, before I go on: I’m a master accepter. Come to me if you need help with accepting something, and we’ll accept the fuck out of it! The world needs many other types, but I’m good at accepting things—so I accept that too!

If you’re gay and someone has assumed you aren’t, you can wait until it arises in conversation that you are, and pay close attention to how they react. I have to say, I’ve yet to have someone who makes “haha you’re gay” jokes treat me differently. So, whether or not it’s insulting, the people I’ve met that do it didn’t mean it that way.

I was once at a party and this guy asked me and my husband how we knew each other. When we told him, I saw the look on his face and I think I was like, “We’re gonna go round the room and make sure we say hi to, uh, other people.”

I cringe when I think about that look even now because I feel bad for that guy that he had to meet us!

“Sorry for my gayness” syndrome seems very close to internalized homophobia. However, there’s no non-gay version of myself to compare myself to, but if one existed, I kinda imagine he’d find something else to feel equally bad about.

Mine was just a gay-flavoured shame void. I almost completely left it behind at 23 when I moved to London for a year. London may or may not be a homocracy, but I acted as if it was, and now whenever I meet new people I assume they’re okay with the gay unless informed otherwise. Almost everyone has been—or silently became okay with it. Whatever prejudices remain seem like background noise to me.

That’s why I think it’s so important to represent yourself honestly. It’s like passive grassroots activism: your honest existence is how you stand for what you believe in.

Anyway, wasn’t I talking about masculinity? We’ll get back to that next time when I explain why masculinity, or any property others value but that we dismiss, is still important to understand.

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