The story that got me into the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop was about a nonbinary prostitute called Tolly. Thomas Disch, one of my Clarion instructors, was extremely disappointed when he met me and my gender didn’t match his expectations, based on the spelling of my name and the subject of my story. The same story, when written by someone who presented as a woman, meant something completely different to him.
At the time, I didn’t have the language to describe Tolly. I saw him as a boy who was more comfortable dressed like a girl. Once, decades later, I saw the term nonbinary, I knew that was how Tolly would describe himself.
In this story, which was originally drafted in the early 80s, I’d never heard of nonstandard pronouns. Because of that, Tolly uses masculine pronouns throughout, because that is what was available to him in the world he lived in. I like to think that wherever he and Doug end up, there are wider options available. Masculine pronouns have never encompassed all that Tolly is.
WilyWriters.net invited me to kick off their new reading series. Since it’s Pride Month, I asked if I could read the LGBTQ+ story closest to my heart, the one I chose to end my story collection, Unsafe Words.
This is “With You By My Side, It Should Be Fine.”