DiversifYA: Lucinda Murray

Photo on 26-07-2014 at 15.26This week on Diversif YA, we’re taking a brief break from our other scheduled interviewees to put our newest team member, Lucinda Murray, in the hot seat. Lucinda is a librarian-in-training, creative writing teacher and easily distracted writer, also known as a Busy Person. She’s passionate, articulate, writes gorgeous fix-the-world fantasy, makes the best cups of tea, and is indescribably lovely. Today, she’s pausing all her other jobs to talk about being queer, discovering identities, and waging war against the boxes society tries to fit people into.

How do you identify yourself?

If I’m identifying myself, the first label to fall from my tongue is usually “queer” (see also “hella queer” or “queer as fuck”). I love the word queer because it contains so much within it… alternative sexualities and diverse gender identifications, an essential subversion of heteronormativity. It feels like a rebellion. It’s a very political word – both because it is so inclusive and because it’s a reclaimed slur – and I love that about it. I know it’s not a comfortable word for everyone, but for me it’s an identity that encompasses community and a flag to fly. I feel safest when I can carve a space out for myself as a member of the queer community.

If I want to be more exact, or if I’m feeling brave, I might identify as bisexual as well. I find this badge harder to wear sometimes – I’ve definitely internalised some biphobia* over the years – but it’s still there and it’s still mine. And sometimes I make a point of laying claim to it because I want to dispel stereotypes and remind myself that I exist.

But, of course, we always carry more than one identity within ourselves. Then there’s the fact that I’m (mostly) recovered from an eating disorder, have some sort of as-yet-undiagnosed depressive disorder which I take medication in a desperate attempt to manage, and tend to react to stress by developing IBS. I’m not really going to talk about these areas today, though I might come back to them in the future, but they’re still there. Threads in the tangled identity tapestry that combine to create me, and influence the way I live my life.

2. What did it feel like growing up queer/bisexual?

When I was younger – when I was growing up – I was pretty much oblivious to my sexuality. I had always lived my life inside stories, and so I let books lead me through this part of my life without stopping to wonder why typical teenage romance never really worked for me. There were out gay kids at my school, but they seemed to fit the moulds in ways I didn’t, and so I never imagined their labels might fit me too. Instead I developed safe crushes on the prettier boys, based mostly on liking their hair or their taste in music. I cried over them because that was the way it should go, rather than because I was genuinely heartbroken, and, if I’m honest, imagined myself as a younger sister rather than romantic interest for all my fictional crushes. When it came to girls I was similarly blindsided: I cared far more for almost all my friends than I worried they cared for me and was genuinely heartbroken whenever friendships fell apart. I measured my looks and myself against them – too naive to know whether I was wanting to be them or be with them – and my friends the centre of my world.

It was only later, when I inevitably stumbled across fanfiction, that I started thinking about queer narratives and seeing myself through that lens. The notion that best friends might be in love too resonated with me, and led to my first real semi-relationship – with a girl in the youth group at the church where my mum was a curate (yes, you heard that right. Clergy kids really are the ones to watch out for). I tried to fit back into more traditional moulds as an undergraduate, but they didn’t stick, and by the time I was in my early twenties I was identifying as gay. I didn’t want to identify as bisexual, which myself and everyone else seemed to see as gay-lite, and so I ignored the parts of myself that had been happy with my uni boyfriends, or occasionally did find men attractive. I felt very much as though I could either be straight or gay, normal or queer. I’d internalised a lot more biphobia than I knew, and it ate away at me in ways I didn’t fully realise. I was actively adverse to dating men, as if it might rub my gay away.

Fast forward to now, and I make a point of calling myself bisexual as well as queer, because I still feel as though I need to remind myself of it. I need a way to remember that my attractions are valid regardless of gender, and that being attracted to men wont invalidate my queerness. That’s also why I call myself bi rather than pan, even though I use the bisexual terminology of “being attracted to more than one gender”: I don’t feel as though I need to fight to be accepted as pansexual, but being bi does cause me problems and confusion. I feel as though I’ve danced around the question of defining myself a lot, trying to avoid waving my bisexual flag, and I’m tired of that. I found it easy to label myself as either/or, so now I’m hanging up that hat and labelling myself as all, instead. 

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

I’ve touched on this already, but I do think self-identifying has been one of my biggest challenges to date. It sometimes feels as though both mainstream society and the QUILTBAG community require you to pick a side, and so it took me a long time to realise that I didn’t have to play by those roles at all. Unfortunately, not everyone has caught up with this yet, and so there are quite a few people who disagree. It sounds shallow but I find dating hard because (apart from having blue asymmetric hair) I code as straight when I’m generally far more attracted to women. It’s hard to carve out a space to belong in fully, which is probably another reason why I feel most at home labelling myself as queer.

On the other hand, I’ve met some really, really incredible people who I might not have met otherwise. I’ve had to think far harder about identity, diversity and labels, and I think that’s made me more aware of other people and their situations. It’s definitely made me more aware of power structures, social hierarchies, and the anatomy of privilege. Being queer has introduced me to the concept of intersectional feminism – a feminist framework that recognises the multiple aspects of identity that can enrich our lives and experiences, but that can also influence and add to oppressions and micro aggressions – and that’s another vital part of my identity. Through learning about myself, and my identity, I’ve learned a lot more about other people’s too.   

4. What do you wish people knew about being queer/ bisexual?

A lot of the time sexuality is a spectrum, and for many people it is fluid. I think a lot of people are unaware of the amount of thought a lot of queer people have put into identifying and articulating their identities. I don’t know anyone who has woken up and decided to be queer… we’re all trying to make sense of our desires and attractions – and sometimes lack thereof! – in a world that all too often treats anything out of the ordinary as a threat.

I wish more people knew that LGBT teens are among the most likely to be homeless, that bisexual people are the most vulnerable to mental health problems due to sexuality, that suicide is disproportionately high among QUILTBAG teenagers. Mostly, I really wish that people were able to recognise their ignorance when they don’t know things, and to take time to google, to read sites like DiversifYA, to ask their friends, and to find out more.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Ready? Let’s play bisexual myth busters…

First, of course, we have the common or garden variety, the “slutty bisexual”. She (and it’s usually she – bisexual boys in fiction are rarer, for reasons I wont go into now) is attractive and is always portrayed in a very sexual manner. She is likely to sleep around, might kiss a few girls to up the ratings if it’s a TV show, but will usually end up with a male partner, or end up dead. A lot of the time her sexuality is treated as a joke or a punchline, but this only disguises the fact that she represents a real fear in the lesbian community – the fear of dating a bisexual who might decide they miss men/want kids/cant choose and so will abandon or cheat on their more faithful partners to get what they want…

Shockingly, this isn’t true. Most bisexual people are perfectly capable of committing to a partner and are no more slutty than their mono-sexual counterparts. I myself, a bonafide bisexual person, am in my late twenties, single and apparently not hideous. Yet I have had a grand total of 9 sexual partners in my life and have never felt the need to cheat on them, or to abandon one gender for another’s genitalia because I “missed it”. Weird right?

The other cliche I want to look at today is sister to the “slutty bisexual”, and often shares several traits with her. This lady (and once again, she is usually gendered as female) is less often played for laughs, but still makes my blood curdle. Let’s welcome… the “crazy bisexual”.

The “crazy bisexual” is more beautiful, and less sexual. She may suffer from a genuine mental disorder, or may enjoy causing pain. She uses her sexuality to manipulate people – usually to screw** with some poor innocent straight boy/ young lesbian – and then waltzes out of their lives again. There have been several otherwise excellent QUILTBAG books that I had to stop reading when this character sauntered in, because they made me angry and anxious at the same time. This trope is particularly horrible because it’s biphobic and ableist, and clearly neither bisexual people nor those with mental illnesses deserve to be vilified in this way.***

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

I’m fairly sure I’ve already said it in this interview, and I know it’s been said before, but DO YOUR RESEARCH. It doesn’t matter if your character is a colourblind dragon, a bisexual teen trying to navigate the British secondary school system, or a Samurai in Medieval Japan… the more you research, the more your characters and stories will come to life. DiversifYA is a great place to start with this, but I’d advocate finding out as much about your diverse characters as you can. Then, once you understand their cultural context, you need to push all that knowledge to one side and remember that a good character is a person first. I just read a wonderful quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that argues “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” So really get to know your character and all the facets and fragments that make them who they are, learn to translate their tangled threads of selfhood until they feel real. For me, that’s where the story starts.


* Sidenote: It interests me, in typing this, that my word processor doesn’t believe biphobia exists…

** phraseology deliberate

*** It’s also worth being aware that both of these stereotypes are deeply embedded in sexist rhetoric and heterosexual expectations. But, looking at the length of this interview so far, I fear that may be a rant for another day

One Response to DiversifYA: Lucinda Murray

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