Saving the Date — Scars


Now available for pre-order.

I had a fantastic conversation with someone today that got me thinking about scars, and specifically the role of scars in Saving the Date.

When I made the choice to write Morgan as a character with violence-inflicted scars, I made the choice to also write him as someone who doesn’t have a positive relationship with them.

Why? Because my scars aren’t beautiful.

They don’t make me stronger. They’re not a map of a victory in my life, or a trophy I proudly carry. They’re twists of knitted flesh put there by violence.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had the following conversations:

“I really can’t see it.” This is the one on my chin, under the beard I always wear, revealed on the very rare occasions I shave. And while I’m glad it’s faint enough that some people can’t see it at a glance, believe me, I know where to look. If I’ve shaved and look into a mirror, it might as well be neon green.

“If people stare, let them stare. It’s their issue, not yours.” That’s…untrue. So, no. I’ll keep my shirt on, if it’s all the same to you.

“You should show people you’re not angry/upset/ashamed/whatever by your scars.” Why, exactly, is this my job? Also, you’re assuming I’m not angry/upset/ashamed/whatever. On any given day, I might be.

“They’re a part of you, and therefore special/awesome/wonderful/magical/some-other-positive-adjective.” I’m curious: would you say that about a tumour? I mean, that would be a part of me, right?

Now, before I come across too bitter or mean—too late?—I’m not a fool. I do understand these sentiments are coming from a good place. They’re meant lovingly. Our society as a whole is pretty darn critical of bodily “flaws” and scars are no exception. People who fight negative associations with scars are generally trying to reinforce how flawless=beauty=good not a good message. I completely agree with fighting the flawless=beauty=good message. But telling someone they’re wrong about how they feel about their own scars starts to feel off. Anthems about how you should love your scars, or how they’re amazing/awesome/beautiful? If I don’t feel that way, are they saying I’m wrong?

It can feel like it.

Scars also get put into terrible categorizations of whether or not they’re shameful, or tragic, or brave, or—my personal frustration—“inspiring” depending on how they were made.

Don’t even start with me with that inspiring nonsense.

So how do I feel about my scars? How did I write Morgan to feel about his scars?

Conflicted, for the most part. Or, on the best days, as close to a neutral détente as possible. I feel almost entirely the opposite about my scars as I do about my tattoos, and that’s as good an analogy as I can often offer someone: my tattoos are there because I chose to put them there, they are willfully induced memorials. When I see my tattoos, I see choice and remember choice.

My scars are the opposite. And my queerness is conflated with my scars.

Now, I can hide most of them. That little irony is not lost on me, as a queer guy. There are some—my knuckles/hands, the back of my neck—that I can’t cover, but people rarely comment on those: lots of people have scars on their hands. I sport a beard, so my chin is covered. And it’s not like having your jaw reconstructed leaves outward signs, other than having a way, way better smile and straighter (fake) teeth than I ever had before.

But my queerness is also the why.

I don’t love my scars. I don’t believe I ever will. What I have managed is that neutral détente, and it was hard won. They were put there by hate, and are an enduring, life-long reminder of that hate. I get why other people want me to think of them as a victory, or a badge of honour, or a trophy of survival, and I suppose in some literal sense they could be those things, but they’re just as much a reminder of what happened. And what happened was awful, not my choice, and certainly not worth it in some nebulous “made me stronger” philosophical way.

(And don’t dare take this opportunity to say “Everything happens for a reason.” I wrote a whole novella about that particular phrase.)

Other people will—and do—disagree with me. That’s fine. They’re not wrong about their scars.

I’m not wrong about mine.

Morgan is fictional, and as a queer man writing a queer character, I’m always nervous of accidentally putting forth some idea as “speaking for all” when I’m not. That nervous feeling doubled down with Morgan. Morgan is actively seeking out a one-night stand, through a matchmaking service, on the anniversary of his bashing. He’s trying to rob the calendar date of some of its power. He is seeking out being touched despite knowing it will be difficult. Some survivors do this.

Some don’t.

Both approaches are valid.

I did a lot with Morgan very consciously. He makes the first move in the story, precisely because he wants a good memory to associate with the date. He makes mistakes in the story, going a bit too fast and not communicating well at the beginning. He struggles with touch, even though he wants touch. He has a very mild shutdown, and works his way back out of it in no small part thanks to being with someone who can recognize the signs and talk to him. He relaxes partly because it’s a one-night stand service, clients are vetted, and the stakes and risks are low. He gets in over his head emotionally for the same reason. He makes assumptions about how the man he’s with feels about the scars. And throughout it all, he’s very aware that even a successful night won’t mean some sort of miraculous healing event has happened and never again will he be bothered by self-doubt or self-image.

But my goal with Morgan—the success of which I will have to leave up to the readers—was to show a happy ending coming to someone not in spite of how they feel about their scars, nor because of how they feel about their scars.

It just happens to someone with scars.



Saving the Date — Excerpt

Hey all! As this is the week leading up to Saving the Date‘s release, I thought I’d take today to give you a teaser of Morgan, and where he’s at before the story begins. One of the things I wanted to accomplish with Saving the Date was to show how Morgan, as a survivor of violence, was working with a therapist (and had a supportive friend network) and has been doing so for years. One of the things I find frustrating in fiction is the “magic fix” of a relationship. The reality is often quite the opposite, so I wanted to at least have it on-page that Morgan has been working for three years.


Available to pre-order now!

“I was thinking about the whole Christmas for Misfit Toys party thing my friends do.”

“Christmas for Misfit Toys?” Theresa raised one eyebrow. “Do we need to have the don’t-refer-to-yourself negatively discussion again?”

“It’s  tongue-in-cheek, I promise. It’s the party we take turns throwing for us queerlings who haven’t got a family holiday to welcome us. Have I never called it that before? That’s what we named it. It’s evolved into a pretty big party. And it occurred to me I’m ready for that.”

“You’d like to have a party? On the fifteenth?” Theresa’s tone had softened, which gave him confidence.

“Yes,” Morgan said. “Well, no.” He shook his head. “Not a party. But…I want to go out. I want to do something else. I don’t know. Basically?” He leaned forward, knowing he wouldn’t shock Dr. Macedo. “I’m ready for a date. Preferably a sexy date.”

Theresa tapped her chin. They’d discussed all manner of personal details in the last three years. Morgan’s body image after acquiring scars noticeable enough to garner comment. The conflicted emotions around sex and attraction, given the kind of man Morgan found attractive, conflated with the image of  the man who’d beaten him.

“So, you’re organizing a date?” she said.

Morgan shook his head. “No. I guess I figured I’d hit a bar. Dance. I’m not going to drink.” He held up a hand, forestalling that particular objection before she could make it. “But I want an organic opportunity to meet someone, and maybe—if it goes well—take them home.” He shrugged. “Then, next year, when the day rolls around, maybe I could remember the date instead of the bashing. Or at least as well as. What I want out of this is a stronger memory.”

Theresa leaned back in her chair. She tapped her lips with one finger She smiled.

Morgan felt a tension he’d been trying hard not to show release from deep within his chest. His shoulders relaxed, and he found himself smiling back at her.

“I’m proud of you,” she said.

Morgan wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but those words weren’t it. His eyes filled, and he had to swallow, hard. “You are?”

“Morgan, you’ve worked your butt off. First your physical recovery, and then even harder through your emotional recovery. It’s safe to say I’ve never met anyone as willing as you to face your demons and do what you had to do. I’m pleased to see you taking this step. You’ve got a healthy awareness of your own limitations, and I happen to agree. This could be a decent way to rob the anniversary of some power.”

Morgan grinned.


His grin evaporated.

She held out her hand. “No, hear me out. I’m not disagreeing.”

“Sorry,” he said.

Her smile returned. She leaned back and opened the top drawer of her desk. “I’m not sure a random potential hook-up is the way to go.”

“Okay.”  Was it weird to hear the sixty-year-old woman say “hook-up”? Yes. But more to the point, if a bar night wouldn’t cut it, then what? He didn’t want to use an app. Too many  built-in assumptions about where the night would lead. He wanted the opportunity to bail.

Just in case.

“As you know,” Theresa said, “I do a lot of work with sexual assault survivors, and I’m also involved with sexual advocacy work for persons with disabilities.”

Morgan nodded. It had been one of the reasons he’d been referred to her. He’d never had a surfeit of positive body image, always felt too skinny, and the less said about being a freckled ginger, the better. Toss in scars, physical therapy, and the reality of having the crap beaten out of him and being left to bleed in the snow by a guy who’d inspired the thought, “Wow, he’s hot,” prior to the attack?

Well. Sex had become a minefield.

But Dr. Macedo had walked him out of it, with only one or two explosions along the way.

From the drawer, she pulled out a small, elegant business card, tapping it once on the top of the desk before offering it to him. Morgan took the card and read it.

“Madame Evangeline?” He raised his eyebrows. “Madame? As in…?”

“It’s a matchmaking service,” Theresa said. “But if you’re asking for a memorable night, trust me when I say you’d be far better served this way. It’s better than leaving things to chance, no?”

Morgan looked at the card. “There’s no phone number.”

“It’s a referral service. Word of mouth.” She smiled again.

“So you’ve…?” Morgan wasn’t sure where to go with his question.

“Madame Eve is how I met my husband,” she said.

“Wow. Okay. Not trying to get married, though,” he said. “Like you said, I know where I’m at right now. I’m figuring out how to be good in my own skin.”

“I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit. Again.” She nodded. “But yes, it’s a date. And with Madame Eve at the helm? Definite potential for a sexy date.”

He nodded, glancing down at the card.

“Okay.” He felt a thrill in his stomach. “Yes.”

Theresa smiled. “I’ll connect you. There’s a bit of a questionnaire.”

“Is there a checkbox for ‘Please no violent bigots’?” he said.

“I promise you, that’s not something you’ll need to worry about.”

Morgan held the card, heart thudding.

Thing was? He believed her.

Conversion Therapy, Revenge Porn, and Criticism

I always feel like I need to start blogs like this with a caveat: I’m not telling someone they can’t write something. I will never tell someone they can’t write something. Much like my latest “Why You?” post over at SpAN, or previous discussions over Pseudonym vs Identity or Gay-For-You, I want to be super clear on this point, again, just in case: I’m not suggesting a limitation who can write what. At all.

What I am suggesting is there are topics that need a tonne of forethought, and that some topics are definitely going to get critical feedback. This? This is critical feedback.

So. A book crossed over to my radar yesterday which had multiple plot threads that gave me pause. I only ended up talking about one of them because I had spoons enough for one go, but I’ll touch on more today likely.

Now, this book hit my radar because of a review, and between the review and the blurb, I knew enough to know this was not a book I was going to read. The set-up is this: a gay man who is the sun of a reverend who runs a conversion therapy camp is outed viciously by another gay man who will stop at nothing to bring down the conversion therapy camp, so he films them having sex and releases it to the public. Years pass, and the man who released the video is now a war veteran returning to the same town, the conversion therapy camp is still running, and the man who was outed speaks at the camp in support, while dating a woman and trying to defeat his gay demons. Oh, and then they fall in love, forgive each other, and the religious fellow finds balance in his faith and his queerness.

And, deep breath.

Now, where I got frustrated yesterday was with the framing of the conversion therapy camp. The review made it clear that while the camp isn’t successful, and the story in no way says “it works, you can be cured!” and even touches upon how damaging it is, the father is presented as not-a-monster, someone who is misguided, who really does love the kids in his care, and that’s a really big problem, and is the first part of my criticism.

RTC - Nathan Teaching

I talk about writing queer stuff at conferences often, and questions of “real life stuff as plot bunnies” comes up a lot.

With respect: there is no loving way to support conversion therapy, and presenting a scenario any other way humanizes a dehumanizing, violently homophobic practice that kills queer people. I get this is fictional, and the character(s) of the father and son (who, again, works/speaks at this camp) might be written as otherwise amazing and compassionate, but no. One of them owns/runs a conversion therapy place, the other works there.

Conversion therapy kills queer people.

This strikes me as similar to the “redemption of the homophobic parent who kicks out the queer kid” plot I struggle with, but—frankly—all the worse. The review read very much like the character is perhaps “meaning well.” Like, somehow the father believes these children will truly be cured of their queerness and that would be better for their souls. Certainly, there are religious elements out there who feel that way. But framing it as coming from a loving place? That’s not loving, not at all. It’s somewhere in the Venn diagram of bigotry, gas-lighting, and brainwashing, just done super politely and with an “amen.”

It’s an imperfect analogy, but maybe compare this plot set up to any story where children die because the parents believe faith means they should use maple syrup rather than any form of medicine. The important thing isn’t whether or not those parents meant well otherwise, or aren’t outwardly abusive, no? It’s that the kid needs the medicine and if the child dies, that’s neglect/abuse/murder. You don’t see empathy levelled at parents who let their children die, nor would a redemption arc be welcomed.

Now, within the book review were mentions of suicide attempts, and mention was also made that this may have been a turning point for the reverend character. A person running a conversion camp is literally, actively, completely responsible for that. Deconstructing their motive as loving/not-so-bad/not-intentionally-awful?

That’s a poor choice. There’s no mention of whether or not the camp is shut down in the review, or whether or not the reverend goes to jail, or whether or not the rest of the children in his care are rescued and removed from their parents or, or, or… But the review did make it clear that care was taken to paint the reverend as a complex man who truly does, gosh darn it, love and care for his son.

No. No he doesn’t. He can’t. Not if he’s involved with conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy is abuse. Supporters of conversion therapy are abusers. They are not loving, misguided parents who just need a NOH8 face sticker and our empathy so they see their institutions are bad. Those places need to be fought to a standstill, outlawed, and torn apart. They still exist. Today. They run. They’re not fictional. They’re awful and evil and kill queer people.

But, like I said, maybe the book does all these things to make it clear the man is evil, the organization is evil, and the queer kids are rescued and the institution is burned to the ground and the reverend ends up in jail. Maybe I’m misreading the review and the blurb, but it sure sounds like these characters are presented as “bad, but y’know, they do love them in their own way.”

And, again: no. All the no.

Conversion therapy kills, maims, tortures and destroys queer folk. Even if it’s wrapped in some “we love you, but pray hard to be different!” snuggie, it’s still all of the above.

So. I said all of that yesterday, and then stopped because I didn’t have more in me, but I also want to talk about the other character, too.

He videotaped himself having sex with the reverend’s son and then released it to the world to out the son. That’s… reprehensible. And, like conversion therapy camps, this is a scenario with a similar occurrence in reality. A young gay man, Tyler Clementi, was outed via a web-cam as a victim of homophobic cyberbullying. He committed suicide. His tormentors were charged, though one got community service.

I imagine the intention was to spin motivation as a key factor. The gay man in question is trying to destroy the conversion therapy camp, which is a solid goal. But to do so by violating and assaulting the closeted gay man is abhorrent (and let’s be clear, he did not gain permission for this act—this is assault). Revenge porn—even to bring down a hateful conversion therapy camp—is abhorrent.

And this character is a romantic lead.

Because, yes, this is marketed as a romance. A happy-ever-after (or -for-now) is in the cards for these two men.

And this is the second part of my criticism. I’ve mentioned this before with the whole “redemption of the gay basher who turns out to be gay” thing, but I struggle to imagine a romance scenario where a man would violate and assault a woman in the same way—film his taking of a woman’s virginity for any reason, without her consent, and air it to the world—and would still be considered redeemable as a hero for a romance novel.

And that’s just considering him a worthy romantic lead. Going one step further and pairing a man with the very person he violated and assaulted publicly? Putting the abused with the abuser as a romantic happy-ever-after or happy-for-now narrative under the umbrella of “forgiveness” is worrisome. Surviving (and thriving) after violence, or assault, or any form of traumatic victimization is in and of itself a lifelong effort. Pairing the survivor of trauma up with the person who traumatized them?

That’s a choice. And framing it as romantic is another choice. If those who’ve survived trauma criticize this choice was abhorrent, and dismissive, and adding to the struggle and stigma that already exists around surviving trauma and the pressure of “forgiveness” from others, I don’t think “it’s a romance” or “it’s just fiction” will really cut it. It’s similar to the whole “gay-bashers-aren’t-hot” discussion I had recently.

Anyway. This is already too long.

Conversion therapy is hateful, violent, and kills queer people; people involved in it cannot be allies or claim to love queer people.

Revenge porn is abhorrent and a violation and an assault; no one has to forgive someone who violates and assaults them.

It’s unfortunate that has to be critical feedback.

Queer Isn’t an Opinion

The other morning, I bumped into this tweet:

Screenshot 2018-01-10 06.37.48.png

“Can someone not agree with homosexuality & still respect those who are homosexual and individuals?”

On the surface, this seems pretty respectful and polite, right? She’s not swearing, she’s not calling for the eradication of queer folk, she’s just asking: can she not agree with homosexuality, but still respect homosexual individuals?

Nope. Nope she cannot.

And, in fact, she’s doing damage.

“Not agreeing with homosexuality” is still (albeit nonviolent and not as obviously impactful) homophobia. It’s still outright telling me I shouldn’t be entirely who I am. That’s not respectful.

And most importantly? It’s not the same as disagreeing with a choice.

It’s the “disagree” that makes this sound so polite, but it’s not polite. Disagreement is  for things like flavours, types of movies, or, say a favourite colour. Subjective stuff. Saying “I respect you but I disagree with you being gay” is like saying “I respect you, but I disagree with you being forty.”

It’s a state of being. It’s not something you can disagree with.

If it helps? Substitute other groups of people into statements about queer people, and you’ll likely see it right away.

Would you say “I respect deaf people but I disagree with deafness?” Or “I respect adopted people but I disagree with them being adopted?”

Of course not. It doesn’t make sense.

Now, I got what the initial poster probably meant when I saw the tweet. They likely meant “I don’t hate queer people, or want to make their lives more difficult, but I don’t agree that men should sleep with other men or women with other women.”

And, lo: here it is, in a reply:

Screenshot 2018-01-10 06.37.59

“They just don’t agree with men being with men and women being with women. They only find it okay for women and men to be together. That’s their belief. It’s just that simple. No hate. Just disagreement.”

And, again: Nope, that doesn’t work either. There’s definitely hate there, it’s by no means simple, and just because it’s hidden behind some “politeness” and isn’t as overt or obvious doesn’t make it less harmful.

Why not? Because voicing that opinion does make queer lives harder/adds hate/is queerphobic. When someone “disagrees” with queerness, they’re telling queers that they don’t get to have (or they would prefer queers wouldn’t have) consent based relationships with other adults because…

Well, because “ew.” Dress it up politely, it’s still “ew.”

And the range of “ew” ends with the individual. You don’t think men should have sex with men, or women with women? Don’t do it yourself. But vocalize that you don’t think other people should? You’re not being respectful, kind, or polite, nor are you “entitled to my opinion, don’t hate on me, LOL.”

When you’re publicly vocal about “disagreeing” with queerness, even when you caveat as much as you want about how you respect queer individuals (though, to be clear, what you’re doing is not respect at all), you’re adding to a cultural bias that already exists and persists under that “it’s just an opinion” fallacy.

You make my life harder. Because you saying “disagree” gives approval to those who disagree with my existence with their fists and boots and discrimination. You’re feeding the flames. To those who want to eradicate queer people, you’re standing there and saying, “Yes, I understand your opinion, and I share it.”

You’re just doing it politely.



Soap Bubble, from PixaBay.

I only know my own part, but that’s all any of us can say. But before I begin, I need you to understand one thing above all: I was rescued twice, not once, but I was never kidnapped.

But I should start at the beginning, which I guess is the garret.

For most people, if you live in a garret you get two views. One is the view through your window, where you can see the whole city, up high like a bird. The other is the way people view you, which is the complete opposite. Us poor people lived in the garrets, where even as young as I was when all this began, I had to duck down on one side of our room so I wouldn’t hit my head on the slope of the roof.

And in my case, I had a third view but it had barely started. A glance in water, a moment in front of the small mirror my mother kept, or catching a glance at the side of a teapot.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

I did have a grandmother, but I lived with my parents and brothers, too, all of us in our two rooms with one window, but if people talk about my family they only talk about my grandmother. I had friends—we garret kids had the top set of stairs to ourselves, after all—but mostly there was Gerda.

Gerda didn’t live in my building. Her family was in the one next door, but if I scarpered out my window I could climb into hers, and between the windows her papa built a box where my grandmother grew vegetables, some herbs, and sometimes even a flower or two.

They weren’t roses. You don’t grow roses in garret flower boxes.

I guess that’s the first thing you’ve been told that’s wrong. They were pansies. And it’s more important than you’d think. Pansies are tough.

It took me quite a while to figure that part out for myself.




It was my grandmother that told me about the Queen of the Snow. When winter came, and the last of the things that grew in the box were gone, she’d tell me stories by the light of the window, or read to me from the only book we had in our rooms. My parents worked most of the day—my father chipping away deep in the stone of the earth, my mother keeping one of the great houses fed without being seen. Two of my brothers were already working with my father—I imagined that would have been me, too, if not for everything that would come—and my third brother was out selling, carrying his tray-box around his neck and stomping his feet in the cold.

My brothers always looked at me like I’d done something wrong being born last. Like somehow, staying home with my grandmother and holding the yarn while she knitted, or cleaning the floors while she cooked up a stew from bits and pieces was a great life they’d missed out on for having been born before me.

Me? I watched them climb down all the stairs every day and go out into the city and walk through the streets and thought they had freedom.

We were both wrong. They were no more free than I was, they just got a different view and had more people to talk to.

I should say my Grandmother never meant to be cruel. When they say she loved me, I suppose in her way, in a fashion, she did. Same with Gerda, really. But there’s love and there’s love. So when my grandmother warned me about the Snow Queen, she thought she was doing me a good deed.




I heard the same stories year after year—my grandmother only had so many—but when frost started to draw patterns on the glass of our window, that was usually when I’d hear about the Snow Queen. The frost reminded her, I think.

“She’s a queen like bees in their boxes have queens, my boy. You have to watch the snow. Sometimes what seems white and pure and delicate isn’t—that’s her.”

My grandmother would trace her finger on the glass, pressing it against the surface until the frost melted.

“Watch for the snow. Sometimes it’s not snow. When you see the snowflakes gathering in the light make sure they’re not hers. They’re more like bees, my boy. Like bees made of ice so sharp and fit to cut you like glass.”

After that, she’d knit for a while in silence, and I’d watch the ball of yarn grow smaller and smaller until the candles grew dim and it was time to start the evening tea, and I would go down all the stairs to fetch water or sweep the room and after I’d look at the frost on the window and wonder about bees made of glass.

“Beware her kisses, my boy. One kiss and you’ll be as cold as she is, two and you’ll be as heartless, and if you allow a third…” Here she would pause, and look over her glasses at me. “A third is death.”

That winter, the winter they talk about, I barely slept. I lay by the fire in my blankets, shivering with a cold that had little to do with the drafts of an attic room. My grandmother had started to ask about my friendship with Gerda.

My eldest brother would soon be married, and he would leave us in spring.

I knew what she was asking, and I knew I couldn’t answer.

I gave up trying to sleep and paced the small room, wishing the movement and stoking the fire would warm me inside where the cold of fear was settling. To the window. Back again. In the other room, the rest of my family slept. I tried whispering rhymes to myself—Gerda had a silly rhyme about pansies she liked to sing to me—and sometimes that would help.

But that night it didn’t.

The cold inside me only grew worse the more I thought about the days ahead.

So I went to the window.

It was just a glimpse. A woman, tall and beautiful, in a cloak as white as freshly fallen snow. She was walking through the street, and the angle between the two buildings from our garret window meant my glimpse was brief.

But she turned, and she met my gaze.

Her smile seemed kind.

I pulled away from the window, went back to my bed by the fire, and pulled the cloth over my eyes. I should have been terrified.

Instead, for the first time in months, I finally felt warm.

That night I realized I liked the stories of the Snow Queen better than the ones from the book, which so often made my insides twist, desperate and terrified, even as my grandmother swore we’d all be welcomed in paradise. She said she knew our hearts, and we were all worthy.

I knew better. I only had to see a mirror to be reminded.

And I knew better than to say so.




For all the warnings my grandmother made in winter, it was in summer it began. I had brought a bucket to the plant box between our garret windows and Gerda had a picture book. I don’t know where she got it, but it seemed like a very beautiful thing to me. There were dancing ladies and men in great coats and so many birds.

I was using a ladle to water the plants. If that seems silly, understand: if I could, I didn’t want to have to go get a second bucket of water and carry it all the way up all the stairs to the garret. With a ladle, I could be careful, and water each vegetable enough with just one bucket.

“Look at these two,” Gerda said. She pointed to a group of pipers, each man playing music. Her voice was hushed, as though she was telling me a secret.

I looked at the picture. Two of the pipers were holding hands.

Heat and cold warred inside me, despite the summer day. I opened my mouth to say something, glancing down at the bucket, and I saw Gerda’s reflection.

She was recoiling from me, pulling away and shaking her head. Disgusted, or afraid, or just pitying. It was hard to tell on the surface of the water, but I was sure of one thing: like every reflection I happened to look into, it was telling me a truth.

It was a warning.

“It’s a terrible thing,” I said, meaning one thing, but knowing Gerda would hear another. She gave me a little nod and closed the book, and helped me water the rest of the vegetables.

I watched as every ladle lowered the water in the bucket. Gerda seemed to get further and further away.

“Gerda,” I said, before there wasn’t enough water left to show her face. “Are we friends?”

She smiled at me. It was a sunny smile, as warm as the day. “Of course we are.”

Her reflection shook her head.

I poured the last of the water into the garden. The pansies were bright and pretty, even though the wind had been strong for days many were a little beaten down. I wished I had half the courage they had.




It was easy to catch my grandmother’s reflection, too. Between the basin where we washed the dishes, and the small mirror in the garret, it just took a little forethought. When I allowed myself to think of myself as I was, and whisper a word out loud, her reflection would turn from me. Or raise both hands to the heavens, pleading and afraid. Or weep.

That was the worst.

After, I kept my own counsel, and I tried to avoid anything that reflected, but it wasn’t always possible. My grandmother noticed. So did Gerda. And my grandmother even noticed how little Gerda and I spoke, and that gave her more concern.

“Have you argued?” she asked me, one autumn afternoon.

“No, grandmother,” I said. I was always respectful. I did nothing to give her any reason to worry about me. But I knew it couldn’t last forever. Her face was full of concern.

“Good,” she said, but I knew she felt it was anything but. Her stories turned to tales of those who didn’t allow love in their hearts, and the various cataclysms befalling them. Every story seemed to begin with someone who lost love from their heart and become cruel, and ended with someone who loved them bringing them back from some dark place.

I learned to close my eyes when I passed the garret mirror, and keep my gaze above the water when I washed plates or watered the plant box.




By winter, the tales my grandmother told were once again of the Snow Queen, and I was barely sleeping. I could not find enough blankets, and I singed myself by sleeping too close to the fire. Nothing thawed the fear every mirror, window, or pool of water revealed to me: if they knew, they would turn away.

And worse, I knew if would eventually be when.

After a particularly heavy snow, and a productive morning, my grandmother suggested I go outside with my sled. I knew she wanted me to go with the others my age, and especially Gerda, but I took her to her word and no further and carried my sled outside by myself. Between the fear in my chest and the snow that was still falling, I was soon chilled through, though I did ride down the slope of the lane a few times.

It was there, at the end of our lane, I saw the carriage sleigh. It was beautiful: its wood painted white, trimmed with fur and bells and somehow stately in a way I couldn’t explain. And on it, as though she were waiting for me all this time, was the beautiful woman herself, in her white furs and smiling her kind smile for me.

Children would hitch their sleds to carriage sleighs like this, to have a ride. But this was her carriage sleigh, and I looked around and saw no other children and the snow in the air seemed to swirl in and on itself in little circles, less like snow and more like bees.

My grandmother’s warnings conjured nothing. I should have been afraid. I shivered, but it was not born of fear of this woman.

I tied my sled to the carriage sleigh, and her smile stole any shred of worry I might have had.

The ride out of the city was incredible. There were no crowds of people in our way. Everyone seemed to step aside just in time, and I found myself laughing as the snow itself blew into people’s faces and made them turn, or twist, or pause. We flew through the streets, and when we came to rest outside the gates, I was panting from laughter.

I untied my sled, and went to thank her.

The woman on the carriage sleigh was no longer just a beautiful woman in white fur. She had cast aside her fur coat, and beneath she wore snow and ice gathered like a fine gown. Her eyes were the palest blue I’d ever seen, and I could see my own reflection in them.

And just for a second, I saw myself smiling, and happy.

“You are the Snow Queen,” I said.

She nodded once. “I am.”

“Are you here to hurt me?”

Those pale blue eyes filled with a sadness so familiar I ached for her. “Do you think I am?”

I shook my head.

“Most people can’t see me,” she said.

“I see things,” I said. “In mirrors. In glass. In water. In…”

“Ice?” she said.

I nodded. “Reflections.”

“You see a person’s heart, then?”

“I think so.” I swallowed. “Yes. Truths, I think. Words in my head make truths in reflections.”

The Snow Queen waved her hand, and snow whirled in a circle beside us, a swarm of flakes that wove the air itself into ice so perfect and smooth I could see both of us on its surface.

“And what do you see of me?” she asked.

I looked at the reflection, and I allowed myself to imagine telling her more of myself. Not just of the things I could see in mirrors.

In the ice, the Snow Queen opened her arms in welcome, and I stepped into her embrace.

“I do not love,” I said. “Not as they want me to.”

When the Snow Queen embraced me, she kissed my forehead. And finally, the cold fear that had lived inside my heart was gone. My grandmother was right: I was as cold as she was.

It was just that she wasn’t cold at all.

“They’ll never understand,” I said. It wasn’t a question.

And so the Snow Queen kissed me again.

I was not made heartless, either. The second kiss drew a distance in my thoughts and memories, though, and a clarity to know I could not be what they expected. It wasn’t heartlessness. It was understanding that some hearts could not be pleased.

Enough understanding to know it was time to leave.




There was indeed a magic in reflection, and I could touch it. The Snow Queen took me to her palace, tucked away in the northern woods where snow and pines reigned around us in a peaceful and beautiful rest. She had friends, people like us, who would visit a while from time to time, but mostly she lived alone, content and happy with her own company.

She took me to a lake frozen mirror perfect, and began to teach me.

“I work with snow and ice and memory,” she said. “You work with words, reflection, and potential. I’m not sure how much of what I know might guide you, but for me, it always comes to a thought—a word as a truth—and the magic takes the rest.”

It was like that for me, too. I had only to imagine words of truth on my lips, and I could see the reactions that those words would bring in the reflections of those around me, but to do so with a purpose beyond discovering how others would react?

We started with simple things.

The Snow Queen would speak of winter, and for her, the snow would shift and twist and fly around in squalls about us, covering the world in a layer of white that no longer left me cold.

And so I spoke those words, and beneath us, the surface of the lake showed me winters around the world, where people woke and shared greetings, or where those who were alone would gaze out upon the snow-covered beauty of the season, and perhaps see something in it worth knowing. And, a few times, I even saw others like us—a valiant antlered deer who seemed to be fighting off wolves with a blazing light, and a woman who could pull time taught and hold it steady, and a young slight man who drew patterns of frost on every surface he touched with his bare hand—and I knew that even in the simplest words and truths there was much to learn.

I would often spend the whole of the night outside, for it seemed to me that the reflections I saw in moonlight were different from those in sunlight, and besides which, I had no fear of the cold thanks to the Snow Queen’s first kiss.

If I was not happy, it was not that I was unhappy.  If I was alone, it was worth saying that I was not lonely. The Snow Queen would visit, and she would see what words I had uncovered, and often join in for a while to speak them herself and see what, if anything, they would do when she used them.

When I said “home” under the sunlight I saw my family, who believed I had drowned in a river. When I said “home” under the moonlight, nothing would appear beyond swirls of light and colour.

When I said “escape” under the sunlight I could watch myself hitch my sled to the Snow Queen’s carriage sleigh, and ride off to the freedom I now enjoyed. Under moonlight? The same word showed me myself, sitting on the lake, speaking word after word, trying to find the right one.

One morning, the Snow Queen came to me, and draped a beautiful white cape across my shoulders. I tied it closed. “Thank you,” I said, though I was confused. “It’s lovely.”

“It’s a day for giving gifts,” she said, and I realized just how long I’d been working my magic on the lake.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I keep thinking there is a word I’m missing. Something I could say that would show me where in the world there is a place for those like me.” I smiled at the Snow Queen. “And yet here I sit, in a place you’ve brought me to that is place enough.”

“This is mine, and it is perfect for me,” the Snow Queen said. “But for you? I’m not sure. I think you’re right. There’s a word you still seek.”

“I’ll keep trying. But, for you?” I gestured to the lake beneath us. “Gift,” I said.

I kept my eyes away from the ice, for it felt private, but seeing the joy that crossed her face at whatever it was she watched play out beneath us a gift in and of itself. Her laughter made beautiful snow zephyrs dance around us.

“You’re talented,” she said, once the vision had ended. “Perhaps tonight you will join me for a dinner?”

I said that I would, and I did. But come the morning, I returned to the lake and the hunt for my words.

And just before sunset game Gerda.




“The pansies wouldn’t die,” Gerda said.

She stood facing me. I had no idea how long she had been there, watching me conjure magic from the reflection in the lake, but when I finally saw her, the expression on her face was exactly as I’d seen it in the bucket. Disgusted. Afraid.


Now she knew, and I knew I’d been right not to tell her.

As victories went, it was hollow.

“How?” I said.

“The pansies… and then I went… I went to see a woman. She… She was like you, but I thought, to save you, it was worth the risk… She tried to stop me, but the pansies, again…” Gerda was shaking her head. “They broke through and I knew it meant you were okay.”

A coach stood by the edge of the lake. I hadn’t even heard it approach. It must have been how she’d come here. I never did find out if the thing about the Prince and Princess was even a little true, but this much was: her adventure had served her well, even if my “rescue” was not at all to be at her hand.

And she did look so fine, dressed in beautiful winter clothes. She couldn’t feel the cold in those layers of beautiful cloths and furs.

“Aren’t you cold?” she said. It was like she was reading my mind.

“No,” I said. “It’s part of…” I bit back the words. “It’s part of all of this.”

“Will you come home?”

“Home.” I repeated the word, and the magic of it escaped me. Beneath us, the lake showed us my family in their garret, gathered for a meal. Gerda gasped, stepping away from me, her eyes on the magic.

And then the sun set, and the lake changed to the swirls of light instead.

“Why are you doing this?” Gerda said. Then, angrily, “Why are you like this?”

Snowflakes began to swirl around the edge of the lake. The Snow Queen, protecting me.

“Gerda,” I said, not sure what else to say.

“Come home with me,” Gerda said. “Come back to us. We’re your family. We love you.”

“Say that again,” I said.

Gerda frowned, but repeated herself. And when she said “We love you,” I caught her words and let the magic free.

Beneath us, she saw the truth of her words reflected in the ice. She saw my grandmother weep and pull away, my brothers full of scorn and spit, my mother turn her back, my father’s anger… And her own disgust.

“It’s not true,” she said, shaking her head. “We do love you. If you just free yourself from her. From what she’s done to you.”

Around the lake, the snow swirled faster.

“She rescued me,” I said.

“No!” Gerda stomped her foot, as if wishing her fancy new boot would break the ice and drop us into the frigid water deep beneath. “No, you are not… This isn’t you. You’re not…”

“A pansy?” I said.

She turned away. “You don’t have to be.”

“But I am,” I said. “And I always will be.”

The ice beneath us filled with the swirling light again, so bright that the snow swirling around the lake seemed like lace curtains in motion. Gerda took my hand, frightened.

“It’s okay,” I said. I tried repeating the word that had set the magic in motion. “Always?” The light flared. It wasn’t quite the right word, but it was of a family with the one I’d been seeking all along.

Gerda was crying now.

“It’s okay,” I said. She buried her face in my shoulder. I tried another word. “Forever?”

Closer, still.

“Please don’t,” Gerda said. “Kai. It’s like her. It’s the snow. It’s the Snow Queen!”

“It’s not,” I said. It was so close. Almost the right word. I could rescue myself, I could find the way to a home, if I just got it right. “It’s not her. It’s me. It’ll always be me. Forever. It’s…”



Light again, a moment between breaths, and then we saw all the places where I belonged.




In the story you were told, we came back together changed, adults in the space of the fallout of a single magical word. And I suppose, if you look at what happened a certain way, that might be true for me at least. But it took me time to go to all the places I saw, and it took me a bit longer to figure out what it was I was looking at.

And Gerda went home without me.

The lake showed me a pretty house in the woods, planter boxes on the windows, but also a row of stone houses in a city much bigger than the one where I’d grown, each colourful door with a basket hanging above. And a farm. And some docks lined with barrels. And so many gardens, one even by a palace.

I thought one of those places might be where I belonged, and so I went to them. It took days, then weeks, then months. I grew stronger, and taller, and in each of those places my magic was welcomed by one or two people, and I used it to help them speak truths and see things they didn’t yet know.

And I would say the word “Eternity” and I would see all the places I had been already before the rest. Sometimes the order was different. Sometimes some of them were gone, replaced by others. It was a different kind of riddle, but as I traveled, I met others like myself.

It’s possible you’re wiser than I, and have spotted what it took me years to notice myself.

The pansies.

Pansies in flower boxes or baskets. Pansies on the hillside of the farm. Pansies on the docks. Hardy things, those flowers. And they’re everywhere. They make it even when the wind breaks them down. They bloom, and grow, and thrive wherever they can.

It’s possible all the various mirrors who’d shown me where I needed to go to find a home where I could belong could have been a bit more clear, but, well.

They reflect. It’s what they do.

People come to my home from all of those places: the city where I was born, the farms, the row of stone homes, villages, and ships. Over water or glass I help them find the words they need, and outside, I hang a mirror. Each morning I stop, face it, and say the word.


The mirror is there for people who need it. People who need to look and see a truth they might not know themselves.

There have always be those like us.

There always will be.

And where we belong?


You’re tougher than you think.

Just like pansies, children who live in garrets, and the Queen of the Snow.







I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You Queer Bashers Aren’t Hot

Yesterday I clicked and read a freebie book on my phone, and it made me so very angry. I clicked it because the blurb made it sound like a “gay guy goes back to small hometown where he grew up and swore he’d never return” story, and I generally like a second-chance romance. I like the stories where the gay guy comes back to the place that made him feel small and wrong and shows them that he is neither, and falls in love along the way, probably with his “arch nemesis” (described in the blurb).

That’s what the book sounded like. But the blurb was way, way off.

It went to incredibly off the rails on nearly every level. If I’d just looked at some of the other reviews first, I might have avoided it (I say might because this book has mostly positive, gushing reviews about how lovely the romance was), but I was on my phone, I didn’t, and there’s a lesson learned.

Instead, I got a book where a former bully is a romantic lead, which… okay, that’s one way to consider an “arch nemesis.” The guy tossed him into garbage cans, for one example, but I’m supposed to buy him as the romantic interest, which is iffy enough.

It didn’t stop there. The book doubled and then tripled down on how it treated abuse survivors.

  • Give the main character an abusive, alcoholic parent who kicked out the queer guy but who deserves forgiveness and a second chance? Check!
  • Main character wasn’t just bullied, but was nearly beaten to death, including broken skull among other bones and long-lasting trauma over the past five years (including passing out at random)? Check!
  • The man who nearly bashed the main character to death turns out to be a closeted gay? Check!
  • Surround the main character with “friends” who constantly suggest he needs to check in with the abusive father who kicked him to the curb? Check!
  • Those same friends non-stop questioning the main character for not being over it (it was only five years ago he almost got beaten to death, but hey, get over it) and telling him the town has changed since then? Check!
  • Main character has a moment of “realizing” that tolerance has to go both ways? Y’know, he needs to be more patient with the “you are sin” crowd? Check!
  • Massive amounts of forgiveness to everyone all around—including inviting the closeted gay guy who nearly beat him to death to come live with them once he’s out of jail, and forgiving his father within moments of being given an AA chip and an apology? Check!

Now, I’ve talked before about the whole how reconciliation with a family that kicked out a queer kid is not a happy ending before and is such a misstep if you’re crafting queer characters, and I’m not going to reiterate it all again, but it’s here if you want to read it.

I should also mention that when we see, over and over, forgiveness as the only path to peace for survivors of abuse that we’re doing a massive, massive disservice to actual survivors of abuse. Moving to a peaceful, happy place and thriving after surviving violence does not require the forgiving of the abuser. Some people do. Many don’t. If only forgiveness is shown as the path, that’s a problem. Say that as many times as it takes until it sinks in.

But, back to the bashings. That’s right, plural, because this novella doubled down, but I’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s talk about the main character’s history—again, the blurb gives no mention of this, just “bad memories”—which has left him with trauma. He was so violently bashed he had multiple bones broken, including part of his skull, and has fainted a few times over the last five years since thanks to said trauma.

As someone who has bled on a sidewalk, I cannot tell you how infuriating it was to watch his friends be surprised he hadn’t “gotten over it” and how much of the narrative centred around the character himself buying into this narrative. He starts to berate himself as a coward for leaving town, for letting it chase him away. Are you shitting me? You do not stick around when people try to beat you to death. Especially when you’re kicked out by your parent. If you can possibly do it, you go, you find somewhere safe, and you never look back. Or at least, you do if you’re an actual, living, breathing queer person who has somewhere to escape to—and he did, he got away for school. But instead, by the end of the book, this character is written to consider that “tolerance goes both ways” and he should be more patient with the people who want to cleanse his soul.

Queer people do not have to tolerate the intolerant. It is not bigotry to oppose a bigot. For crying out loud, this is basic stuff. If someone calls queer people sinful, you don’t have to listen to their freaking beliefs and be patient about giving them a chance to “explain their side.” That’s not a free-speech moment or a rational debate, that’s someone deciding you are less than human because you are queer. That’s just wrong.

But I mentioned bashings plural. And this is the real point I wanted to make today, though it’s taken me way too long to get here, and I’m mad, and this isn’t coming across anywhere near as calmly as I’d like (but see the previous paragraph about not having to be okay with people treating you as less than human): I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: abusive hate, bullying homophobes, and violent bashings aren’t romantic lead fodder.

So, in this book, the main character—who survived a violent bashing, as I mentioned—has one real good gay friend in school. That friend is an athlete and studying to be a teacher, maybe phys-ed or something. Near the end of the book, said friend is bashed nearly to death. His hip is so damaged he will likely never walk again without a cane, and—wait for it—the hero of this book berates himself because it’s not the first time this friend has maybe hit on someone he shouldn’t have, and if only the hero of this book had been around to make sure he didn’t do that.

Did we really just blame the guy who might die from brain swelling, the guy with the shattered hip, the guy who was nearly beaten to death by some random homophobic sociopath for being nearly beaten to death? Yes. Yes, we did.

But wait, there’s more!

The hero of this book asks if his friend can come live with them for recovery, and of course his redeemed bully of a lover agrees and that in and of itself would be decent (because, again, this man’s family has also disowned him), but then we find out that the man who beat the hero of this book nearly to death is also going to come live with them because, after he went to jail/came out, the redeemed bully character said he could come stay with him once he was out of jail.

And his victim is okay with that. Because forgiveness.

If I had only bumped into this “former homophobic bully/abusive asshole” redemption-as-love-interest notion once, I’d maybe have tossed it aside. But I keep bumping into it in book blurbs. And after reading this one? I just… I just need to ask.

Why is this okay?

Why is this a trope in romantic fiction about gay men? It makes zero sense, it certainly isn’t respectful of queer men, and personally feels like someone going out of their way to punch me in the stomach and say, hey, that trauma of yours? It totally made me think sexy thoughts.

A man nearly beat another man to death. He is not a hero. That is not sexy. And when he shows up in book two, he’ll be paired with the best friend from college who has been beaten just as badly as this man beat the hero of the first book. The storyline next time is about a survivor of a hate crime hooking up with a person who went to jail guilty of the same damn hate crime.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss how many fellow survivors I’ve met and how many of those survived at the hands of someone who later came out as a gay person and turned their life around. Respectfully? Dozens, and none. Do closeted queer people make the worst homophobes? It’s up for debate—there are studies out there where arousal responses correlate with more vocal homophobes, but whether or not they make for the most violent homophobes isn’t known, and anecdotally, I can’t think of a single instance, like I said, where after a violent bashing someone (a) came out, and (b) turned their life around, so why is this such a propagated falsehood in what’s supposed to be a romance?

And that’s key. This is supposed to be a romance. I’m supposed to want this man to have a happy-ever-after. I’m supposed to look at a man who was beaten nearly to death by a man because he was queer, and want him to spend the rest of his life happy with someone who beat another man nearly to death because he was queer.

That’s… I don’t even know what that is. But I do know what it isn’t. It’s not romantic. And it would never fly if it wasn’t queer men.

I mean, I can’t imagine this storyline would ever, ever hold up in a heterosexual romance: a woman is nearly beaten to death by a man who can’t control his feelings for her, and the next book in the series is about him finding love with another woman who has survived nearly being beaten to death by a different man, all while they stay together in the same house while this second woman recovers from her assault and the man just got out of jail? Do you see how ridiculous that is? How harmful and hateful and not romantic? No chance. Not redeemable as a romantic lead.

But somehow it’s okay—not just okay, but romantic—because… why? Because it’s gay men?

There is so very much wrong with that I don’t even know how to begin.