Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
In the discussions that you would have seen across our Pride Month posts, you would have read how queer spaces can be precarious and fraught for queer people of colour. As evidenced by the gatekeeping by, typically, white queers and the oversight on the nuances that come with how queerness can intersect with identities, giving rise to a diversity of complex experiences, we still have far to go.
When I approached Nina Varela, author of the wonderful and heartrendering f/f fantasy Crier’s War, and asked her whether she would be interested in participating, I was so excited when she said yes. I had the pleasure of reading Crier’s War earlier this year and I loved it! Therefore, you can imagine how even more excited I was when she pitched the idea for the piece that I get to share with you all today. Quite frankly, I think her piece is so necessary, timely, and incredibly important, especially for our fellow white and queer readers out there.
But, before I share her powerful piece, I’d like to introduce to you the Crier’s War series – because if you haven’t read it, then I promise that you won’t regret giving this wonderful series a go!
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
Blurb for Crier’s War:
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, Designed to be the playthings of royals, took over the estates of their owners and bent the human race to their will.
Now, Ayla, a human servant rising the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging the death of her family… by killing the Sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier, who was Made to be beautiful, to be flawless. And to take over the work of her father.
Crier had been preparing to do just that—to inherit her father’s rule over the land. But that was before she was betrothed to Scyre Kinok, who seems to have a thousand secrets. That was before she discovered her father isn’t as benevolent as she thought. That was before she met Ayla.
When Crier’s War released, not a day went by without someone showering it with praise. Of course, when I read it earlier this year, I finally understood why – Crier’s War is a phenomenal and vividly imagined fantasy with a romance with so much tension and yearning that you’ll love. If you haven’t read this, please do! And then be prepared to cry with us when Iron Heart releases in September!
Nina Varela: If You Don’t Get It, Maybe It’s Not For You
This is an open letter to my fellow white queers, in the book community and elsewhere.
When we consume stories by queer BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), we have a nasty habit of acting like any discomfort we feel is a natural reaction to some sort of moral failure on the story’s part. Like if we’re not 100% in our element, being catered to, that means something is wrong.
Or, more accurately: we act like that means the story and its creator have harmed us, and we need to silence them before they can harm anyone else.
(To my knowledge, this happened most recently with the film THE HALF OF IT, written and directed by Alice Wu, and the YA book WE ARE TOTALLY NORMAL by Rahul Kanakia. Both were created by queer Asians about queer Asians, and both suffered backlash by white queers who didn’t think the endings were happy enough.)
White queers, we have to stop equating “I didn’t like this”/“I didn’t understand this”/“this made me uncomfortable” with “this is harmful.” We have to stop condemning stories about queer suffering—or really anything that doesn’t end with a neat little Then they got married and lived happily ever after—because we feel like white queers have written queer suffering books and that means it’s been done. It has not been done. Yes, we need the joyful books; we need the rom-coms and fantasies and gays in space. But we also need the coming-out books, the messy questioning books, the trauma books, from people who have not yet seen themselves in that kind of story. (Note: A whole other problem arises when publishing buys only the trauma books. L.L. McKinney wrote a fantastic piece about that here.)
Queer BIPOC creators telling their own stories does not harm us. Queer BIPOC catharsis does not harm us. It is ludicrous to play the victim of someone else’s truth.
A lot of the problem is that white people think that whiteness is somehow neutral, aracial. We think the white experience is universal, as is the white queer experience, and therefore if a white queer author has told a certain kind of queer story, the quota for that kind of story has been filled. We think that if white queer authors have written coming-out stories, we don’t need any more coming-out stories. If white queer authors have written queer suffering stories, well, now it’s time for nothing but queer joy, and if your story isn’t breathtakingly euphoric and #LoudAndProud then you’re being harmful. Never mind any intersecting marginalizations your story might have. Never mind that the Western concept of queer pride is just that: Western. Never mind all that.
Here’s the thing. We are not neutral. We are not aracial. We are not the default. Everything we think and feel and experience, yes including love, yes including joy, is born of and shaped by whiteness. Claiming the white queer experience is universal is like living on the ground floor of a high-rise, looking out the window, and saying, I love how everyone in this building shares the same view. It really brings us together. And when someone on the 76th floor says, Actually, the view from my window is totally different, we tell them: No it’s not. And we get angry at them for contradicting us, even though we’re the ones who don’t understand how perspective works.
There are infinite windows. Your view is yours alone.
If you don’t “get” something, if something feels “wrong” to you, ask yourself: Am I a guest in this space? If the answer is yes, act like it. If someone is kind enough to invite you into their home, you don’t start criticizing the decor. It’s not yours. You don’t live here. You didn’t build this home or furnish it or grow up in it or raise a family in it. You’ve been here for an hour, and you’ll be gone in another, and here’s where the metaphor breaks down: I wish I could tell you nobody cares what you think about this home, but that’s not true. Your voice—you, the white guest—is prioritized and valued over the voices of the people who actually live here. If you say their home is weird and made you feel uncomfortable for two hours of your life, there’s a whole faction of people who will leap at the chance to burn it to the ground. Just off your word.
And yeah, you can apologize later. You can take it all back and tell everyone you weren’t thinking about consequences, you didn’t mean to hurt anyone, you just personally didn’t like the decor. But it doesn’t matter. The damage is done.
Are these metaphors working?
I am reminding you that in order to dismantle white supremacy, we need to decenter ourselves; our individual selves. There is no room for ego here. The moment you check out of this conversation, the moment you think Well I didn’t do that, so clearly this isn’t aimed at me is the moment you become that which must be dismantled. Trying to absolve yourself doesn’t help anyone. Pretending you’re not dangerous just makes you even more dangerous; even more likely to hurt someone because you weren’t thinking.
The next time you consume any piece of media by a queer BIPOC and feel like you don’t get it, stop and sit with that. Remind yourself that you are a guest in this home. Do not, for god’s sake, take to social media to tell everyone how you didn’t like X aspect of this story which of course means it’s harmful and objectively bad. Instead, look up what people who share the creator’s marginalizations are saying. Listen to them. Remind yourself that some stories just aren’t for you, and that’s great. Remind yourself that your experiences are not universal and your concepts of harm and discomfort—and more generally: what makes a story, what makes an ending—are not universal and cannot be treated as such. Remind yourself that as a white person in a white supremacist society, all power structures are biased in your favor. No matter how small your platform, the people in power will listen to your voice above so many others. That means you need to be very, very careful with it. Always. For the rest of your life. We all do.
Thank you for reading.
Thank you so, so much to CW, Skye, and Joce for inviting me to take part in Pride Month at the Pond.
Finally, it is vital to support queer Black creators now and always. Here’s a few lists of queer Black authors to follow, read, and support, and here’s a list of Black-owned indie bookstores to buy from. Thank you.
About the Author
Nina Varela was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about weird magick, girls in love, and young people toppling monarchies. You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at http://www.ninavarela.com.
I hope that Nina’s piece have given some of you pause and has encouraged you to reflect on your own privileges and your own optics. Navigating queer spaces can be a fraught thing, but I think it’s important to pause, question your discomfort and confusion, seek out other voices and listen, and think before possibly speaking over others.
I want to say a huge huge thank you to Nina for visiting us at the Pond today and for sharing her exemplary piece with us. Make sure you add Crier’s War and Iron Heart on Goodreads – they’re phenomenal books and you won’t regret reading them.