Guest Blog by @DillWerner ~ Writing #OwnVoices : Exploring Gender Identity and Sexuality

I met Dill Werner several months ago through a blog we both wandered onto. We became critique partners and I quickly realized that there was something special with this one. Not just with their writing (which, let me tell you guys, you’ll want to remember their name!) but with them as a person. Through Dill’s platform on Twitter, I have witnessed hours of encouraging statements, calls to action, and a firm solidarity and love for the LGBTQ+ community. The latter is not only very prominent in their professional and personal life, but is also reflected quite masterfully in the writing I was privileged to get a peek at.

 “It’s not as simple as labeling a character ‘bisexual’ and thinking they’ll be interested dating only male or female characters.”

Because of this, I have asked Dill to guest blog for me. After all, this blog is (mostly) dedicated to becoming an author and all that entails. In the era of #OwnVoices and the voracious appetite agents are—finally—starting to get for diversity in literature, Dill is a shining example of how to successfully and authentically embrace LGBTQ+ both professionally and personally.

Dill Werner on accepting, exploring, and representing Gender Identity and Sexuality:

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to my literary agent telling her the truth: I was genderqueer and preferred to use the pronouns “they/them.” It was important for me to make the transition before my debut novel came out and avoid any misgendering in the public eye. She understood and said she supported me no matter what I chose to do. Luckily, I’m with a literary agency that promotes diversity and protects its authors. It doesn’t hurt that I’m also signed to the president, senior agent, and a NYT bestselling author.

My agent knew from the very beginning that I identified as queer and pansexual. In our first phone conversation, we discussed sexuality, gender, and how I wanted to incorporate LGBTQ+ themes and characters into my work. It’s something I included in my query letter, that “it doesn’t matter what genre or age group I’m writing for, there are always LGBT+ elements and characters in my manuscripts. It’s a part of who I am as a writer.” But writing queer fiction isn’t for everyone. (Note that I used the word queer because I am comfortable with it. Not every LGBTQ+ person is. It’s a word we’re taking back and using to empower ourselves. However, people outside of the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t use it unless they’re referring to the community or an area of interest, i.e. queer studies.)

Writing from multiple gender point-of-views and incorporating more than two pronouns is something that comes naturally to me. I’ve also had extensive training and education in LGBTQ+ terminology. I know which terms to use with which characters and who prefers to be identified as what. Sometimes, I’ll get it wrong or someone won’t agree with me. That’s their right as a reader. As an author, I expect both positive and negative feedback. It’s impossible for

me to get everything 100% accurate all the time. Even when speaking from my own voice, there will be discrepancies. My experiences may differ greatly from another genderqueer person’s.

If you are preparing to write LGBTQ+ fiction, you must do your research. It’s not as simple as labeling a character “bisexual” and thinking they’ll be interested dating only male or female characters. Bisexuality has evolved to mean something much more. It’s when a person is attracted to someone of the same gender as themselves and to people of one or more different genders. If the character isn’t attracted to their own sex but is attracted to multiple but not all genders, then you might identify them as polysexual. Pansexual broadens bisexuality by saying that a person’s sexual attraction is not limited to gender identity. See? Not so simple.

As someone who is demisexual panromantic, pansexual is the term I prefer to use. It’s less gendered and allows me to connect with a person on a more intimate basis. Bisexual never felt right for me because I didn’t feel included as a genderqueer person. Pan is like holding up a sign that says, “non-binary and trans people welcome.” These are the little things that need to be considered when developing characters, characters who represent real people and real experiences.

Each sexuality comes with its own hurdles. Someone who is bi undergoes different discriminations than someone who is gay/lesbian, poly, or pansexual. This is why speaking from one’s own voice is important. In my current adult manuscript—working title, ZIRKUS—I was thrilled to be able to explore my own sexuality and gender identity through characters who are pansexual, trans, and demisexual. ZIRKUS takes place in an international aerial circus where

performers are gifted with supernatural abilities based on their natural talents—think Cirque du Soleil with magic and an all-queer cast.

Kass is my first on-the-page demi character, and his sexuality is crucial to his development and exploring the relationship he has with his boyfriend, Taras. I was finally able to express myself and bring light to a sexuality that rarely gets any page time.

Taras knew the truth of my sexuality. Not only was I homoromantic, but I was demisexual, too. It was the opposite of love at first sight. For me, emotional intimacy had to come before any sexual attraction could take hold. I wouldn’t allow someone to explore my body unless we held a deep, emotional bond between us. The first time Taras kissed me backstage, it was a disaster—two teenagers fondling each other in the dark. I’d felt nothing because there was nothing to feel, not until we knew each other. Once the connection between us blossomed, it developed into an intensity that raged like a brush fire each time his fingers skimmed mine.

Then there is the beta reader favorite, ringleader Nez. At the beginning of the manuscript, Nez isn’t able to voice the particular name for his non-binary gender identity. He doesn’t know what it is it until he talks it out with his love interest, who supports him unconditionally. His journey mirrored the relationship I have with my spouse and how it helped me discover my gender identity. Nez’s plotline is a thinly-veiled exploration of my own gender identity and was a way for me to cope with the dysphoria that comes along with being trans and non-binary:

“Give me a minute, love. I’m having one of those strange–” [Nez] shook his head, eyes pinched together. “I don’t know, really.”
Dysphoria. The one thing I couldn’t understand. “I get it. No. What am I talking about? I don’t get it. Mensch! That was stupid. I’m sorry.”
“Sadie–”
“What’s the right thing to say?” I asked him. “Because I have no idea.”
Nez hooked a stray curl behind my ear, a gentle touch that reminded me he was there. He was there for me, and I needed to be there for him. “Don’t say anything. Listen.” 

I am fortunate to look past something called the “cis gaze,” an unseen the privilege cis people have that encompasses their unawareness to trans and non-binary struggles within their cisgender world. Simply put, someone with “cis gaze” isn’t aware of everyday trans and non-binary difficulties and often doesn’t think they have to be.

Being genderqueer allows me to look at the world from more than a male, female, or non-binary perspective. I am treated one way by outsiders, but I take bits and pieces from each gender and make them part of my identity. However, I will never know what it’s like to fully transitioned from one gender to another. It’s vital that I understand my limitations and realize some stories aren’t mine to tell. Nez’s story is about coming into one’s gender labels but not about transitioning. My trans siblings have covered transitioning much better, and I will continue to promote their works.

If you’re thinking of entering the world of LGBTQ+ fiction, be mindful. Listen first. Be prepared to take criticism. Know your boundaries. Understand that no matter how much you research and how hard you try to be sensitive to the issues, someone won’t like your work. Learn from your mistakes, listen to concerns, and apologize. We’re all human. Lastly, good luck!

dill-werner

Dill Werner is a LGBTQ+ young adult and adult author signed to The Knight Agency, whohas been featured on The Gay YA and the Daily Dot. When not conspiring to take down the gender binary, they cheerlead amazing people in the queer community and edit their Own Voices narratives about feminist sci-fi heroines and heroes and mystical queer circuses where no one is targeted for their sexual orientation. Find them on Twitter [@DillWerner] or check out their Blog for more ramblings about gender, sexuality, and book reviews.

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