I don’t have to tell you that the first half of 2020 has been rougher than any recent year in memory—and that’s saying something in these seemingly apocalyptic times of increasing authoritarianism and devastating climate change. We started the year with wildfires in Australia, locusts in Africa, and Kobe’s helicopter crash, but even these events were soon overshadowed by the COVID-19 global pandemic. In the US, since March, more than 100,000 Americans have died while schools and businesses have closed and unemployment has skyrocketed. When a video of a white Minneapolis police officer brutally murdering George Floyd, a Black man, went viral a couple of weeks ago, we seemed as a nation to hit our collective wall.
Just as generations of Americans have done before us, we are now taking to the streets to express our outrage, sorrow, and frustration over the deep-rooted systemic racism in America that leads our government to privilege white lives over all others. As a recent article in Time magazine details, civil unrest has long been used as a tool to bring about positive change in American politics, beginning all the way back with the Boston Tea Party. In her W&W post from June 3, Andi Marquette reminds us that Pride marches commemorate the Stonewall Riots in New York City, a 1969 uprising against longstanding police brutality levied against queer communities.
For my family, the list of adversities in 2020 includes my mother’s death in mid-February. She had a good, long life, and we were able to be with her right up until the end, but in the months leading up to her death and in the immediate aftermath, I found it difficult to write. I’d been working on a queer revision of Jane Austen’s Emma to accompany my first queer revision, Gay Pride and Prejudice, but after my mother died, I couldn’t seem to work up interest in Emma. Finally, I shelved it and turned to another project on my list: reworking my 2016 Supergirl fanfiction into an original novel.
My interest in Supergirl started when I heard that the show had an awesome new lesbian couple, Alex and Maggie. I binged season 1 on Netflix and caught up during season 2 just as Katie McGrath showed up in the role of Lena Luthor. The chemistry between Kara (Supergirl) and Lena was inarguable right from the moment they met, and soon a whole new ship was sailing the seas of Tumblr and Archive of our Own: Supercorp. For the first time, I became inspired to write fanfiction.
While my original story was inspired by someone else’s creation, my new novel Drum up the Dawn diverges from the show—and my fanfiction—significantly. The novel still features an Earth where aliens exist among us, and my two main characters enjoy (is that the right word?) a Romeo and Juliet storyline, only without the whole tragic death thing. But in the DutD universe, main character Kenzie Shepherd comes from a nomadic spacefaring people who left their home planet centuries earlier. After an accident orphaned her as a pre-teen, Kenzie was placed on Earth by the Alliance, a coalition of civilized species who work together to maintain peace and order throughout the Universe.
All is not well on this Earth, either. The human-alien question remains a controversial issue, and off-world refugees meet with hostility and violence even after decades of peaceful coexistence with their human counterparts. Ava Westbrook, the other main character in Drum up the Dawn, respects off-worlders, but she descends from a notoriously anti-alien family. Her father founded the US government alien watchdog agency, Panopticon, while her brother ran Panopticon’s military arm until he was imprisoned for crimes against Earth’s alien refugee community.
When Kenzie and Ava meet, the attraction is immediate. But can an alien and a Westbrook even be friends, let alone anything more? And what are those other Westbrooks up to, anyway?
Submerging myself in an alternate Earth over the past few months not only allowed me to take a mental break from the pandemic and grieving the loss of my mother, but it also gave me an opportunity to explore real-world issues. In Drum up the Dawn, the theme of alienness mirrors issues of alienation among LGBTQ+ and other people in our current culture. I can’t possibly know what it feels like to be a person of color, of course, but I do know what it feels like to be a non-binary lesbian in a world that doesn’t exactly celebrate either identity. Writing an urban fantasy romance allowed me to delve into the idea of difference in a familiar contemporary setting—and still plan for a happy-ever-after for my LGBTQ+ characters.
Another subplot of Drum up the Dawn involves the systemic abuse of power by a government police agency, a reality queer people in general and LGBTQ+ people of color in particular are well acquainted with. I was living in New York City in 1994 when the NYC Pride march celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It was a beautiful summer day, and my girlfriend and I marched proudly up Fifth Avenue behind the mile-long Pride flag, surrounded by love and acceptance. The one moment that marred the march was when we encountered Fred Phelps and his Westboro Church delegation cordoned off on a Midtown corner with their usual “God Hates Fags” signs on display.
We had encountered Phelps and his family in DC the year before at the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights, but this time, I wanted to do more than simply glare and yell “Shame!” as we walked past. I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and we ran over to the Phelps’ corner, stopping within spitting distance. But we didn’t spit at Phelps and his hateful progeny. Instead, smiling at each other there in the safety of thousands of other pro-LGBTQ people, we embraced and kissed—an act of love, as we said later, in the face of abject hatred.
We had only been kissing for a few seconds when I felt it: One of the uniformed NYC police officers who were separating Phelps and his group from the crowd reached out and shoved me, hard.
“Move along,” he said in his tough, accented voice as my girlfriend and I stumbled apart.
I spun around, outraged. How dare he put his hands on my body? But before I could sputter out more than a few curses, my girlfriend tugged me away. As a woman of color, she understood the risks of raging against a police officer more than I, a white girl from a small Midwestern city, ever could.
And here we are, back at the beginning, once again discussing police abuse of power against historically marginalized Americans.
Still, there’s a difference in the current protests from those of the Civil Rights era. We’re on week two, and the crowds are still growing in cities and towns large and small, even in other countries across the globe. As President Obama pointed out in his recent online town hall address, today’s protesters come from a diverse background and represent a far broader array of Americans than in the past. Already progress has been seen—George Floyd’s murderers have been arrested and charged for their crimes; Breonna’s Law has been passed through the public safety committee in Louisville to regulate no-knock warrants; a bill was introduced in Colorado to address abusive law enforcement policies; and LA and New York lawmakers are reconsidering funding of their police departments, to name only a few recent announcements.
2020 is still a veritable shitshow, but perhaps the pandemic will bring about positive change. For without our stalled economy and the restlessness and frustration that come from sheltering in place for months on end, it seems fully possible that the national response to George Floyd’s murder would not have been quite as far-reaching.
In the meantime, I’ll be out here in Western Washington supporting the protests and sheltering in place with my wife and kids for a while yet. Good thing I have the sequel of Drum up the Dawn to work on, not to mention book 6 of my Girls of Summer series about lesbians on the US Women’s National Soccer Team combatting entrenched sexism within the global sports world. But that, my friends, is a different story.
Stay safe. BLACK LIVES MATTER.