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Archive for April, 2010

I don’t have a clear memory of the very first time I wondered if I might be gay. I know that the question crossed my mind a few times while I was in high school. I had been a serious tomboy growing up, but many of my feelings during that time were tied up in what transsexuals describe going through, that there had been some cosmic mistake and I was intended to be born a boy. Somewhere around puberty I outgrew that sense of wrongness.

There’s no way for me to know, or even guess, how much of what I had felt when younger was a true gender identity crisis or if it was my immature brain’s way of making sense of the fact that I was lesbian and knew on a subconscious level that I didn’t fit into society’s expectations for females. I suspect that it was probably some of both.

When I had those first few “I wonder if I could be” thoughts wandering through my head as a teenager I didn’t have a frame of reference to help me answer the question. It wasn’t like I had been going around thinking about kissing girls at school and what few crushes I’d had I didn’t recognize to be crushes. Everything in our culture, including all the fiction I read, told me I was supposed to think about kissing boys. It should have been a hint that the last time I had an actual crush on a boy was in sixth grade and I had no emotional or physical desire for any of my male classmates as a teen.

My teen years were in the 1970’s. It was the dawn of the gay rights movement, and it was the era of Anita Bryant. It seemed like it was always gay men people were talking about or showing in the media. So I was living under this impression that lesbians must be much more rare than gay men. And if that was true, it was really silly for me to think that I might be something as rare as that. I guess I was equating rare with special, and I didn’t feel I could be special like that.

The other major stumbling block to self-understanding was that almost all talk of homosexuality focused on sex. The word sex was right there in the label! Homos are homos because they want to have sex with the same sex. Homosexuals were talked about as if they all had lots of sex and they had it promiscuously, without much regard for or interest in emotional attachments.

If someone, anyone, had explained to me that being a lesbian wasn’t about a raging desire to have wanton, frequent sex with strange women everything would have been so much clearer to me so much earlier. Because you see, I did know that I very, very much liked girls. I even thought the idea of becoming a nun sounded attractive, spending my life in a community of women. I wasn’t Catholic.

It took me a few more years before I finally had access to the frame of reference that I needed to answer the question, “Am I a lesbian?” Several things combined within a year’s time to bring about that final “Yes!” answer, none of which was having sex with, or even kissing, another woman. I was out as a lesbian for several months before I kissed a woman for the first time. (And oh yes, it was very, very nice.)

What on earth does all that have to do with biology and a cure for homosexuality?

Well for one thing, it’s very clear to me that even if I didn’t know it, or wasn’t sure of it, I have always been gay. Once I could confidently apply that label to myself so much of my life retroactively made sense, when before it had been like a bunch of jigsaw puzzle pieces forced together in ways that didn’t really fit. I could think back to examples very early on in my childhood that made it obvious that it was always a part of me. I did not, at the age of 23, decide to be a lesbian. At the age of 23 I affirmed that I was, and always had been, a lesbian.

While I agree with the notion that human sexuality is flexible, and that all sorts of things combine to help a person define who and what they are, I strongly believe that sexual orientation is innate. It may be partly genetic, it may be partly biological due to influences in the womb. I don’t totally discount that an individual’s life experiences can push them to identify one way or the other. But my experience, and scientific evidence from the past couple decades, prove to me that it’s not a choice, it’s an inherent part of an individual’s nature.

I’ve always thought that was a good thing, for science to study the subject to determine the potential reasons and causes for homosexuality in humans. It becomes much more difficult for fellow citizens to actively discriminate against gay people when there is irrefutable evidence that an individual’s sexual orientation is predetermined to at least some extent and has nothing to do with morality. That being gay is as natural for some people as being straight is for the majority.

But, taking things to their logical conclusion, if there are known genetic or biological causes, it means that it’s also possible for science to discover potential “cures”. That’s frightening. Despite the fact that I took several years to figure things out, I never struggled against the idea that I am gay. I didn’t hide from the truth, wrapping myself in layers of denial. I was just confused.

You see, I very, very much like women. I like that I like women. Yes, a large part of why I feel that way is because I’m a lesbian. But I have never once not wanted be a lesbian. I like being a lesbian because it means I get to have all those lovely feelings about women. I feel sorry for straight women because they don’t get to experience the wonderfulness of women the way that I get to. (And really, it’s a constant puzzle to me that straight women don’t “get it”. Yeah, I know that’s because I’m a lesbian too. I don’t get them either.) It’s all inextricably tied together. The idea of science unraveling it to make me “normal” and have “normal feelings” for women makes me want to shriek in horror.

If and when we get that far, the cure debate is going to be bigger and bloodier than the debates over civil rights and morality. I see it as tampering with the natural order of things. I am not ill, I am not immoral, and I am not disabled by being a lesbian. All problems that I’ve had due to my sexual orientation can be laid at society’s feet, not a fluke of nature. It’s a fluke that I embrace, and if society were accepting, anyone else born that way would embrace it also.

Here’s a link to an interesting article in The New Yorker about some of the more recent research and what it may, or may not, mean: http://nymag.com/news/features/33520/

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Space – The Final Frontier

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In a couple blog posts last summer I talked about my memories of some of the big events from the NASA space program in the 60’s through the 80’s. I mentioned that I was fascinated with humans going into space and inspired by what it all could mean for the future of humankind. Linked to that has been my love of science fiction. Near future SF can be interesting and intriguing, but I admit that my favorite books tend to be of the space opera type, with starships traveling at superluminal speeds between distant worlds populated by humans and aliens.

A bit earlier I was reading a blog post and other reader’s comments about President Obama’s new proposed plan for NASA (see here) and it shocked me when I realized something about myself. A discussion was going on about the appropriateness of returning to the Moon in preparation for an eventual trip to Mars, which included mention of a permanent Moon base as an important step in the process.

What I realized, despite my starry eyed visions as a youth, is that I haven’t really believed in recent decades that humans will have a permanent Moon base, much less a base on Mars. It’s one thing to send out unmanned probes and vehicles, it’s entirely another to send actual people and support their ability to live in such hostile environments at such extreme distances from home.

In my youth and teens it seemed inevitable. But somewhere along the way in my journey through adulthood it appears that I lost that sense of the inevitability of it. And I had no idea that I had. Earth is plagued with problems that I suppose in my optimistic youth I believed would be well on their way to being solved by now. But as adaptable as humans are, we’re stubborn and resistant to change that is good for us. Especially if it requires changing ingrained ways of life. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. I’m lazy. Changing lifetime habits is difficult.

So while I have still been reading about the Vattas and their multi-world financial empire and about humans fighting the alien Kreelan Empire for their very existence, somewhere along the way I lost the idea that those stories aren’t just fantasy, divorced from any possible link to future reality. I’ve been viewing humans as completely Earthbound, trapped here by the needs and critical problems of our people and planet. Yet, if we can establish a sustainable human base on Mars, the stories aren’t just fantasy. A future in space, traveling to distant worlds, is inevitable for humans.

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In order to obtain that future we have to quit dithering, which is what I believe Obama is trying to accomplish. The last thirty years of the US space program have not been pretty ones. Research and development have been horribly underfunded and goals, along with detailed plans of how they will be achieved, have been non-existent, too much in flux, or too nebulous.

Reading about this topic again has reaffirmed in my mind that a future for humans in space isn’t just science fiction fantasy. It is an obtainable future, even with the technology we have and are developing right now. But in order for it to become reality we have to set realistic and meaningful goals, plan a detailed timeline of the steps needed to achieve the goals, have leaders who will fund and commit to the goals, and a citizenry willing to get behind it all.

Should we do it? Well, that’s a whole different debate, isn’t it?

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I added a SimHollows page with some screen captures from my latest Sims 2 family, Rachel, Ivy, and Jenks from Kim Harrison’s Hollows urban fantasy series. Click on the tab at the top.

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So, I recently finished reading through the Hollows series by Kim Harrison again (seven books and three of the short stories) in preparation for number eight’s upcoming release as an ebook. It was the first time I’ve reread them, and thus the first time I’ve read the series straight through, one right after the other. It was great! What a roller coaster ride.

But. When I finished I had a serious case of the post-good-book-blues. Know what I mean? You have that high from a great reading experience, and then you come down, knowing that whatever you read next probably won’t measure up. The Book Blahs. Nothing sounds right, yet you can’t stand to not be reading a book. On rare occasions I’ve had a string of three or four really good books in a row. But that doesn’t happen very often.

I tried starting three different books. (One of the joys of the Kindle, I had over 100 to choose from with all the freebies and cheapies I’ve acquired.) All of them fell flat and I quit them about 20-30% in. Some of it was the fault of the books for sure, but some of it was due to the book blahs. Chances are good I won’t start reading them again in the future, as I rarely ever go back to a book that I started and didn’t finish, regardless of the reason for not finishing.

I paged through my Kindle menu looking for the next victim when I realized I was in a Starfarers mood. The Starfarers Quartet is a science fiction series written by Vonda N. McIntyre in the late ’80’s and early 90’s. At the end of last year she made them available as ebooks and I’d bought the set, but hadn’t been in the right mood to read them yet.

Within the first few pages I was absorbed. It was a perfect fit and I slid easily into the story. How much of that was due to good writing and how much due to me having previously read the books at about the time they were published, I’m not sure. Even though I remembered very few details I was still familiar with the setting.

Thinking about that I realized that science fiction and fantasy readers face an issue not usually present in other genres. No matter what type of story it is, from the Vatta space opera series by Elizabeth Moon to the Markhat fantasy mysteries by Frank Tuttle, the reader has to learn about the world setting in order to become fully immersed.

Some authors make this a much easier process than others. But even for the same author it can vary from book to book or series to series. There is an initial adjustment period which can make the story difficult to follow at first. The reader has to learn anything from the level of tech present, to what the political powers are, to what magic and creatures exist. And they have to learn how all this interrelates.

In some books this adjustment to the fantastic world is a relatively painless process. Such as in Starfarers or Dead Witch Walking. In some books it is difficult, arduous, and confusing. Some so much so that the reader never gets past it and never gets into the book. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson is one such book for me. People have raved about what a great book it is. But to me the beginning was slow, dry, and uninteresting. I gave up and will likely never give it a try again.

The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff is a book that got off to a very confusing start. As a reader I had no clue what was going on and it was frustrating to feel like instead of getting into the story I was constantly playing catch-up to figure out who the people were and what the world rules were. Yet sticking with it and continuing to read was amply rewarded. Soon the pieces fit and the world began to make sense. Since I was already a Huff fan there was a trust established between us as author and reader that it would get better, which helped encourage me to continue.

And in the case of The Enchantment Emporium I believe the difficult beginning actually enhanced the book, as odd as that might seem. I didn’t think so at the time, but looking back on it I can see that it helped keep the family of witches feeling truly alien. Even though I liked, cared about, and empathized with several of the characters, there was always an underlying sense of unease. That was a good thing, and I believe that much of that sense of disquiet was created by the difficult start.

So why do science fiction and fantasy fans put up with the extra effort needed in order to be able to enjoy a book? Maybe this is one of the reasons these genres turn so many people off? Some readers just can’t take trolls or superluminal space travel seriously. They need to be grounded in reality. But maybe some just can’t deal with, or at least don’t have the patience for, that initial period of confusion or adjustment.

For me, I think my lifelong love affair with science fiction and fantasy is as simple as being in love with make-believe. As a child much of my play with friends was centered around make-believe, and I never really grew out of needing that in my life. As I got older I could no longer run around back yards, sometimes half-naked, being a jungle boy, one of Robin Hood’s merry band, or an Indian on the warpath. Books with fantastic worlds create that back yard of the imagination and allow a mental freedom not experienced in other ways as an adult.

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