Personal Life

Rediscovering Your Weird

Growing up, I was always a weird kid. If you’re neurodivergent, you won’t find this nearly as odd, but for those of you without autism or ADHD rewriting the brain script, you know the kids. I loved Ancient Egypt as a tiny child. I was obsessed and would pour over the pictures in my uncle’s books and prattle back the names of gods and pharaohs. Then the obsession switched to dinosaurs, and little Kara dreamed of being an archaeologist or a paleontologist. Since then, I’ve had many obsessions/passions, some weirder than others. For a while, I was very into Sherlock Holmes (the original books and the Basil Rathbone movies from the early 40s), anatomy and diseases (with a brief foray into poisons), Phantom of the Opera, Vincent Price, and I’m sure there have been many micro-obsessions along the way. When I get into something, I get into it hard.

At some point, adults assume you will grow out of the weird shit you like or you become a closeted weirdo. I’ve never exactly been good at hiding things or being subtle, so as much as I tried to hold the weirdness inside of me, it always trickled out. When you’re a weird person, it can be hard because you know you are one bout of public weirdness away from people thinking you’re a total pariah, so there’s a constant pressure to perform normalcy. As a queer, nonbinary person, normalcy is already a very flimsy word, but there is the eventual expectation that you will put away your black hoodie with skull print and don a blouse and slacks and let your weirdness die in an unmarked beige grave.

In graduate school when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I tried to be more normal. I wanted to be taken seriously, to be seen as professional, and on some level I was. At the same time, normal people still seemed to sense the underlying not and I was growing more miserable. By the time I graduated and started teaching, I was sailing into burnout. Trying to maintain my job, my writing, and my mask of normality was exhausting and something had to give. Writing caved first, but writing is how I maintain my sanity on a more regular basis. So I needed to get that back and employment is necessary, so I let normalcy finally slip from my fingers.

After roughly three years of letting that mask slip, I can safely say that I highly recommend it. In that time, I have embraced the fact that I am nonbinary and feel better about my body, my clothes, my persona, etc. I enjoy teaching more because I don’t feel the need to project something stiff and lofty. I can just be Professor Jorgensen who is a bit strange and quirky, but that’s what makes a good creative writing professor. I feel like a warmer person, a happier person, and a person who is, generally, more fun to be around because I’m not sitting there like a shaken soda bottle ready to explode. And the people who are put off by the real me are people I don’t particularly want to be around. If you see me referring to people are “normies” on Twitter, I mean people who are enforcers of normality who give you the wtf face for deviating at all. The normies can stuff it because I’m having a grand time and creatively, mentally, and emotionally profiting from my newfound enjoyment of life.

On top of all that, I feel like my creativity has flourished, especially once I started finding more Gothic/weird artists and authors on social media. It had been drilled into me that I would grow out of my love of black and bright colors, and that skulls and anatomical hearts are icky and to be ignored. But that’s what I love. At heart, I am a little autistic science Goth who loves learning about diseases and anatomy and how that all fits into the larger picture of humanity (those degrees in English and biology still come in handy). Now that I’ve started embracing my favorite things and consuming them in larger quantities, I can see a change in my art. I’m more excited about my stories, I connect better with my characters, and I know there’s an audience for it because I have found equally strange people online.

That’s probably the best part, finding others who seem to like me even more now that I’ve stopped hiding the strangeness. People who like my pics of bejeweled skeletons from German catacombs or are eagerly anticipating The Reanimator’s Heart because Oliver sounds adorable. People who like me for me is really all I’ve ever wanted, and in the past, I thought muting who I am would do that when instead it put me in the path of people who wanted to mute that side even more or would absolutely hate the real me. By showing who I really am online and in real life, it scares off the weak and lures in those who find my eccentricities charming. My partner always has, even if he doesn’t fully understand them, but it’s nice to have people who also like those things as I do.

The point of this really is, if you’ve been hiding your strangeness or a fondness for something out of the ordinary, this is your sign to let it out and enjoy it. Holding it in will hurt you in the end, and you might be cutting yourself off from some great friends or even art that can’t happen until you embrace who you are.

Weird has a second definition besides strange. Weird’s archaic definition is destiny or fate (wyrd in Old Saxon, Old German, etc.). I like to think of it as embracing my destiny. I am destined to be a strange person who likes strange things. I am destined to be a queer, nonbinary person. Some of us are fated to be weirdos, and that’s a good thing because we appreciate and see what others don’t.

If you’re someone out there who feels out of place or that you have always been a bit different from everyone else, embrace your weird. Embrace who you are and hold tight to it. Doing that gives you that special spark, that bit of green fire that will help you attract those who will love you for you and scare away those who would seek to change you. I, for one, plan to be hella weird from now on.

The Ingenious Mechanical Devices Series · Writing

The Hadley Problem

If you’ve read The Earl of Brass or The Earl and the Artificer, you know Hadley Sorrell (formerly Hadley Fenice). If not, here’s a little biographical information: Hadley is an inventor and artisan who ends up creating a new prosthetic arm for Eilian Sorrell (her future husband). She’s described as having henna red hair, blue eyes, freckles, and prefers trousers to dresses as they are far more suitable for her purposes and overall, she just likes them more.

Nothing there sounds too out of the ordinary, but the “problem” arises when Hadley dresses as a man repeatedly in the story and seems totally fine being treated as such and enjoys it. So much so that she decides to keep her hair short in future books and wears a faux bun when in the company of people who might complain (consider the story is set in the early 1890s).

Now, back in 2013 when I was writing this book, I had just figured out I was queer. It should have been blatantly obvious by how much of a rainbow covered ally I was. I already knew I was asexual, but I was beginning to realize I was biromantic as well. At the time, I had never heard of being nonbinary. My only exposure to trans people was Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars and a vague knowledge of Christine Jorgensen, who was a famous trans woman who happened to share my last name. Every trans person I knew of was still a man or a woman. Despite not knowing there was such a thing as being nonbinary, I was still grappling with very complicated gender feelings.

I have never felt like a woman, ever. As a teen, I rejected purses, nail polish, getting my hair done, and the idea of putting on a dress and being done up for prom made me feel ill (what I recognize now as dysphoria). I ended up skipping all the fancy, “fun” stuff at the end of high school because dressing like that felt wrong. My body and brain didn’t mesh, and I constantly felt like I didn’t fit, especially when my family tried to foist it on to me. Eventually they gave up, but during college when I was writing The Earl of Brass, I poured my feelings about gender and not fitting in into Hadley.

Hadley is physically strong from years of helping her brother and working in the shop with heavy ceramics. She has a good grasp of what we’d consider mechanical engineering today, and she can create complex mechanisms and workings as well as the artistic flourishes that come with them. She cuts her hair short, adopts the name Henry, appears to be a young man (younger than her actually age and slightly effeminate), and goes on an adventure with Eilian Sorrell.

The “problem” now is that it’s blatantly obvious to me that she should be nonbinary, agender, or genderfluid. Those words didn’t exist back in the 1890s, so part of me thinks it’s a moot point to bother getting worked up over it. There were people we could consider transgender during that time period without using our modern terminology. Even in the second book Hadley’s in, we see her struggle with expectation and get anxious about not fitting in or being another. Still, there’s nothing said explicitly about it.

I once stumbled across someone on Twitter asking if Hadley was nonbinary or if the portrayal of her going in disguise was the usual transphobic, oh they automatically pass as a man, type deal, and it was hard to sit with that because she encapsulates so much of what I was feeling before I realized I was nonbinary. She was a stepping stone in me realizing there was something outside of the binary where I fit, and in her portrayal in The Earl of Brass while disguised, she is seen as a queer man by outsiders. A character outright says she’s a young gay man who is Eilian Sorrell’s boyfriend (his affection is pretty obvious), and she uses he/him pronouns in the book when acting as Henry, switching back and forth depending on who she is with. So does she pass as a cis straight man in the story? No. She’s inherently seen as queer when living as Henry, and it makes me laugh now because back in college, I used to tell people that I felt like a gay man in a woman’s body. What I really meant (now that I can parse it out better) is that I am very queer and mildly masc leaning. I will always be slightly effeminate even if outright femininity makes me squirm, so seeing men act feminine felt more akin to how I felt internally because I didn’t feel comfortably being wholly femme or masculine. I consider myself agender/genderless, but the definition above is one that I apply to myself only.

It’s complicated.

Being queer is complicated. Gender is aggravatingly complicated, and putting those feelings into words is messy because they can be interpreted a myriad of ways, some of which are nowhere near what you feel. I have been hesitant to write this post because so much of it is laying my own feelings regarding my gender on the table for others to pick over.

Hadley is my first character that explored gender expectations, norms, and ultimately found there were pieces of each side she knew that she wanted to use. By writing this, I was sort of hoping I could figure out what I wanted to do with Hadley in the future. I would like to write another book with her and Eilian, and I’ve put off doing so because I think her feelings regarding gender should be a part of that book but wasn’t sure how people would react. Just because you consider yourself cis at 24, doesn’t mean you won’t be nonbinary by 28. I didn’t adopt that label until about the same age despite those feeling brewing for years, and I think if Hadley comes out as something like agender or genderfluid, it isn’t retconning her character. The blueprint and evidence was there, it just takes years sometimes to figure out what those feelings mean and how you want to live your life going forward.

I have nothing particularly clever to end with, just that I hope people will still cheer for a character who figures out their identity a little later in life and that we will give them the same grace we give people who don’t come out as teenagers. Hadley is a huge part of how I figured out my own identity, and in the future, I’d like to see her figure out hers too.