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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Monday, 3 December 2018

The Free Speech Fallacy

In the wake of the sudden and catastrophic announcement of Tumblr's new policy, I found myself startled by the collapse of something long-assumed in discussions of free speech. "Female-presenting nipples," "sex acts," and "depictions of genitalia" between consenting adults or adult characters are among those being banned, but erotica is still okay to write. Ostensibly, the purpose of all this is to protect the internet from child pornography - but as usual, the cure is almost worse than the crime. Plenty of artistic photos are getting annihilated in the purge. 

Obviously, child pornography is Bad, but banning all depictions of sexuality has sent Tumblr's stock plummeting and already devastated the community. But is it even working?

Predictably, since an automated ban system is being used, both hilarious and troubling results have been reported - on my dash, a building with three windows, a lumpy slime shape, and pictures of black men smiling were all flagged as containing "sensitive content." Obviously, this is ridiculous, but more nefarious and concerning is that posts about activism and LGBTQ+ issues were also immediately flagged. 

As we speak, the exodus from Tumblr to Newgrounds, which does protect NSFW content, has already begun. So have the floods of sarcastic (but very funny) memes.  The rest of the users are panicking or trying not to panic, and often staggering between the two emotions haphazardly.

I'll have more honest and cutting thoughts about this below, but for the time being, here's a visual pun about free speech.

Yes, I did create this silly, mediocre art just for the blog post. Learning to make art is hard. 

Censorship - like, actually

Hate speech and sexy speech - and art - are often thrown together, as if they were one and the same or shared the same traits. Anyone who wants to support pornographic or artistic works for their own sake - such as myself - is often forced to accept their nastier cousins, hate speech and violent speech, as part and parcel of the ban list. 

There's been some caterwauling about liability in lawsuits, revenge porn, and other such things, but the answer to that is not blanket banning. It's lazy, ineffective, and tars consensual and voluntary work with the same brush as harmful acts. If it's hard to understand why that's a problem, please watch this video about consent.

Lessons from the Exodus

However, this event shows that all forms of controversial speech are not, in fact, created equal. This has long been an argument, but - given that hate speech is surviving this purge easily enough and that nipples, of all the ridiculous things, are not - we can now officially divorce the two. The one is being attacked without any impact on the other. As much as they have often been companions in the penalty box, they are not the same issue, and we ought to be more honest about this, rather than letting Nazis take shelter behind our protection of sex workers and sexy content.

Hate speech, which I personally do not believe should be protected, is visual, verbal, and written expressions encouraging violence towards and harm of marginalised groups. The impact of hate speech and discrimination is directly dependent on how much harm they cause towards people. So for instance, a Muslim woman is subjected to far more prejudice than a white man on a regular basis, so she might be more in need of protection than the white guy. BUT - that does not mean that the white man doesn't need protection from individual acts of violence, such as a mugging or domestic assault (because men are abused, too, and our lack of men's shelters is criminal).

However, advocating for acts of hate using coded language, such as the ((( ))) technique used by alt-righters to distinguish Jewish people, or references to the Fourteen Words and that sort of thing, can be harder to pick up on. Do we silence those too?

On one hand, people should be allowed to exist freely. On the other hand, if those people decide their existence is predicated on harming others, the conflict that arises does not need to be defended. It does not materially benefit or even defend, for instance, the European cultures being talked about. If one demands that the existence of presence of others be punished merely at their whim, that person is wrong.

I can see someone saying, "BUT SJWs OR NPCs [Social Justice Warriors, or our new nickname, non-player characters] DON'T PERMIT THE EXISTENCE OF PEOPLE THEY DISAGREE WITH!"

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the position. What "we", broadly speaking, want, is to be tolerated and accepted as we are. We often have family members or friends who are or were centrists, right-wing, or even alt-right. It's their beliefs that are the problem. You might say, to put it in Christian terms, that we love the sinners and hate the sin.

But in all seriousness, "white pride" parades and groups have never done anything to actually preserve great works of art or literature. In fact, a lot of preservation work that's been done by various societies - such as by Muslims during the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire - was done in a spirit of tolerance and sharing. In addition to that, questioning something is not the same as destroying it. I've talked about this stuff before, and it's a huge topic, so let's get back to Tumblr specifically and the future of the arts and queer community on it.

Where do we go now? 

Well, Mastodon seems to be an option. I've heard Newgrounds, as mentioned, is a possible haven. 

At this point, I think it's time for businesses to be more honest about sexual content compared to other banned content. This purge is timed to match with December 17th, the day to end violence against sex workers. I have gone on record many times as being in support of sex workers, and have occasionally tried to talk about the difference between trafficking myths and trafficking facts, as well as other related issues. Sex workers and creators of sexual content (including writers, artists, cam girls, photographers, and etc) are all being harmed by this foolish and ill-judged, puritanical move - and nobody is being saved from actual hate speech, things that could, in fact harm adults.

Maybe we can talk Tumblr down from its terrible, foolish decision. Maybe not. But I'm making a profile elsewhere just in case, and I'll keep posting and sharing there - and on Tumblr - for as long as they let me.

Queer people are not a mistake, nor filthy.

"Filth" is not necessarily even harmful.

We don't deserve to be erased.

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partners-in-crime and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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Sunday, 25 November 2018

Bad, Broken, and a Seed of Hope: How Dark Speculative Fiction Works

After I'd spoken to a client yesterday, I found myself binge-watching (and listening) to a number of short video essays about Greek and Roman history, and a bit of Egyptian history, on Youtube. The purpose was to help research and enhance our Dungeons and Dragons campaign's storyline and setting - which I should probably write about at some point - but it yielded a most unexpected fruit.

Last night, I found myself lost in a very enjoyable dream with a cohesive and interesting plot; as soon as I woke up, I did as I sometimes do after such a dream, and took notes as best I could, in hopes of capturing the story. But the story's setting was decidedly post-apocalyptic - not Greco-Roman in the least, at least not on the surface.

How did the one result from another? Well, I do have a developmental and line-edit of a post-apocalyptic book on the queue right now - a third installment in the superb and bold (and inclusive!) Eupocalypse series by Peri Worrell. (Other platforms to snag books can be found on a drop-down menu on the book's GoodReads page, so I'm including those henceforth.) Dealing with a potential future in which all plastics and petroleum products suddenly break down, the series is an enjoyable, elegantly written, and ultimately hopeful story about a tremendous, world-shattering catastrophe - as well as a cautionary tale about our reliance on plastics and petroleum products.

In my free time, I have been working through The Odyssey at a pace slightly slower than continental drift, but I recently read Emily St. Mandel's Station Eleven, and I'm currently reading Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea, a trashy but incisive work of dystopian cyberpunk (which may, admittedly, be a redundant phrase, as cyberpunk is seldom cheerful).

Now - how does all this fit together?

Well, here's the key - civilizations on Earth have gone through phases of development, growth and expansion, internal struggle, and ultimately, either collapse or transition. It happened for the august and remarkable Egyptians; it happened for the Greeks, and it happened to the Romans. Yet all of those peoples persist to this day, and while their populations have changed or interacted with invading or arriving forces, their cultures, ultimately, are not dead.

We have the benefit of thousands of years of history as a mirror, and perhaps it is unsurprising that we cannot but ask if we are participating in the same patterns. The answer is "probably yes, somehow" - but the conclusion is decidedly hopeful nonetheless.

The way we run through potential scenarios and hypothetical risks (not unlike the brain while we sleep at night, busily creating its illustrative dreams from scraps of our experiences) is through storytelling and fiction.

Surprise! I'm a writer, not just an editor 

As long-time readers may know, and as newer readers may not be aware, I myself write primarily in two genres - dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction, both of which fall into the broader categories of science fiction and speculative fiction in general.

Where speculative fiction broadly encompasses all fiction a) including at least one element changing the setting or reality from our own and b) subsequently asking, "What if?", its subset science fiction accomplishes these aims primarily by taking inspiration from biology, climatology and the earth sciences, technology, astronomy, psychology, and medicine. Magical, non-Earthly, or transhuman elements may also sneak in there. Fantasy does so by pulling both from history and (arguably) from non-scientific or trans-scientific ideas, usually based on magic (which is about going beyond the boundaries and limits of science).

But how do dystopias and post-apocalyptic fiction actually work? How do we define them exactly? A fair bit of digital ink has been expended on this topic, but I think it comes down to two very specific iterations of the question.

The question is, "What if everything changed?" In the case of a dystopian book, the question is, "What if everything got worse?" In the case of apocalyptic fiction, it's "What if everything broke?", and in the case of post-apocalyptic fiction, it's, "What do we do after everything breaks down?"

How these questions are answered, and how they change in specific instances - for the much maligned YA romances set in post-apoc or dystopian worlds, the question is, "How do we love after everything breaks/when the worst possible thing happens?"

But the more I thought about dystopian and post-apoc stories in broad strokes, the more I came to a conclusion that surprised me: dystopian books, even the famously grim 1984 by George Orwell, always posit that change is possible. So in a sense, what the two genres have in common  - apart from literally meaning "bad world" and being about "a broken world" respectively - is that they both aim to answer, "and now, what do we do next?"

"It's not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder, when the death of your civilization precedes you."

To cope with the loss of one's civilization is an almost unimaginable task, but that is what these types of fiction set out to do - and in the process, to ask, "How will we rebuild, and what will we create?"

And from that, as grim as it may seem, we can look to history and feel a sense of hope. As much as Percy Shelly wrote about Ramses in "Ozymandias" as a king's statue broken and abandoned in the desert, we still know and speak his name to this day. We know he was an exceptional and fecund king who brought peace to the Nile kingdoms and built great and beautiful monuments that have outlasted even Time itself. And we are learning more each year about our ancestors. So as much as the Egyptian civilization - which lasted five thousand years and was so old that Cleopatra lived closer to the discovery of flight and space flight than to the building of the pyramids - has fallen to ruin and dust and the sands of time, it's also fine. 

We remember. We speak the names of the fallen. And as Terry Pratchett, author of the magnificent Discworld series put it,

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
Even if the worst possible things happen, these dark and dire settings are about what we remember, and ultimately, what we rebuild. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian books aren't about the end of the world - they're about a disruption in civilizations and our worlds, and how we carry on and return to greatness.

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partners-in-crime and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Conversation about "Partisan Divisions" is All Wrong

I need to scream somewhere. Every media outlet I like, and probably some I don't - today, it was Vox, which I usually like enough - has done a "gee I don't understand why there's so much partisan division going on right now owo *shrug emoji*" type of piece.

Look - we can't have a "civil conversation" when part of the platform of the party is about not accepting the human rights of the other people.

The screaming - is this real?

It feels like the world is gaslighting me, trying to remember when legislators would disavow the KKK and mean it. I know those elements were lurking. This is probably my white privilege talking, at least to some extent.

But we can never have "civil partisan conversations" or "reach across the aisle" until we, as a society, stamp out fundamental intolerance's validity as a political position.

I miss conservatism that was rational and reasonable, a time when it meant caution. Yes, the racism and prejudice were in there, lurking and growing, but there was a time when they were at least openly disavowed.

Now, in the face of a fractured center and left, trying to explain this feels like a sort of strange nostalgia for an imagined thing. Was it ever really so?

Nostalgia mode: engage

I miss conservative conversations where we could talk about how much spending and actually have reasonable discussions. But conservatism has been usurped by fascism and nationalism. I mean sure, it was always there, somewhat, but I'm pretty sure there was a time it wasn't okay.

I hope for the rise of conservatives again - but that can only happen safely if they are willing to flush bigots out of their ranks. Until that happens, we can't have conversations safely. Until we accept that some respect for people's fundamental rights must be at the core of an argument, and that the question is not always "whether or not," but sometimes "how much," politics will not be safe for those who are disenfranchised. We have spent too many years debating whether First Nations people (in Canada and America) or Black people (mostly in America) deserve upgrades and full rights that we've accepted that as normal - instead of a heinous and terrible argument in the first place.

We cannot legislate away fundamental human rights, something both Canada and America have done for decades and centuries, and consider that an acceptable casualty rate of democracy and negotiating across the aisle.

A plea to the right

I address this essay not just to people on the left, but more so, to the people who probably don't read my articles and posts - to the families and campaigners who dislike or are frustrated by us. People in the Manosphere, people in the center, family members who just don't understand why we don't like Trump - this is for you. I come not to insult you or belittle you, but to beseech you.

Conservatives who still believe that, say, trans people deserve to exist and black people shouldn't be shot - I don't mean to alarm you, but you are now basically liberals. At least compared to some of your comrades or fellow soldiers, or however you might wish to be addressed.

Please, those of you who identify in the centre or the right - I ask, nay, beg of you: flush out your ranks. I realise it can be tempting to ally with someone to get legislation pushed through, but those of us facing a true fight for our rights have no wish to harm you. We on the left, we children of abuse and of plural identities - we wish only to exist in safety and comfort. This need not threaten or remove your comfort, not on a fundamental level.

Sure, there are scary conversations that might make you upset or even angry - things we have been through ourselves, and go through still - but all of us want to be housed, alive, taken care of medically, and to have full bellies. And we actually want that for you, too.

We want everyone to be called by the gender prefixes they prefer and identify with, to marry who they love, to have families by their own choice, to be fed, and to have access to an education. We want running water and heat and air-conditioning and safe living conditions for everyone. That includes you.

Please, when it comes time to vote - ask yourself who cares about the fundamental human rights issues. And then tick off their name.

All we have left is to strip away the technicalities and subtle arguments, and beg you for our lives. 

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Solidarity and Other Dreams

One of the most subtle and painful things about the internet age - perhaps any age - is finding out that someone you admire has acted in a far less-than-admirable way. Reconciling that with continued affection can be tricky. For example, I've heard some mega-questionable things about Amanda Palmer, wife of Neil Gaiman - who has been thoroughly castigated ad nauseam in public and private.

And so it goes for many celebrities and important figures around the general Leftist/leftist/liberal community. You can probably think of someone you like who's done or said something insensitive, ableist, transphobic, racist, homophobic, misogynist, or otherwise disappointing. Someone who didn't take a strong enough stance, or too strong a stance, or said something that made your skin crawl.

Have I been this person? Probably. I try to hunt down and deal with my own mistakes, relying on the trauma-survivor skills of micro-self analysis. I count my sins and errors and mistakes like pre-reformation Scrooge with his money. I do not forget or forgive myself. This is not necessarily a character strength, either, nor something I recommend to others.

And of course, many of us do that with others.

But recently, after ditching a friendship that was bad for me, I went to my "blocked users" list on Facebook and really had a look at this. I remembered most people on it. Some were casually encountered, but some had become friends - who had, at one point or another, said something I really, really didn't like.

And I considered...is it really worth keeping someone blocked if you can't remember the exact nature of their infraction? 

What makes someone unsafe? 

I've seen my share of panicky, touchy arguments on Facebook, including one where an activist I looked up to accused someone else of "gaslighting" them for having a different opinion about interpretations of a Steven Universe character's race. I've been in those arguments, too. (Not that one in particular, but similar situations.)

Part of the problem for those of us on the left is that calls for solidarity usually result in a backlash of people saying, "we have to work with those we don't like? But that means supporting abusers!"

Well - sometimes it doesn't. It's tricky to talk about abuse, because those of us who've survived it in various ways tend to be extremely gun-shy - sometimes excessively or even unhealthily so.

And in the moment, it can be hard to tell if someone's comments about, say, a given woman or actress represent their feelings about All Of Womanity, or anything else.

Do we tolerate mistakes? 

This is such a tricky problem. Obviously, as a white woman - even a queer, plump, neurodivergent, partially disabled one - I have a giant swath of privilege that affects how I'm coming at things. I'm cisgender, and I'm white, and even femme - all things that can, in certain circumstances, give me a free pass that would not be afforded to others. Obviously, kyriarchy - hierarchies and power that exist outside of patriarchy - is a thing that exists. Dealing with it sucks. Some people get forgiven for their screw-ups a lot more readily than others, and the people forgiven are usually white. The people who don't get away with things are usually black, or other people of colour; men also tend to get away with more than women.

BUT - there are also times when we have to question whether conflicts or errors are as important as the general need to fight for our rights. And perhaps we need to be more honest about how dangerous or not-dangerous specific people are.

As one of my found-family siblings, Iskara, put it,

The left are collectivists and the right are individualists. We know this. But you can't use those traits to compete with others who have the same trait, you're pretty equal. So to establish a hierarchy within their respective groups, they use the opposite approach. The left will attack individuals who are below them to prove that they are the wokest. The right will attack entire groups of people who don't have the right values as individuals. Therefore, the right is willing to unite with people it disagrees with because those disagreements are part of the life of an individualist, but collectively they hate this other group more and they have that in common. Meanwhile the left is trying to figure out which single persons belong in or out of the collective which makes us far more likely to attack our allies over trivial matters, because we consider the purity of the person beside us to be a reflection on our own purity.

The hidden rules

The thing is - and trying to put this politely is difficult - white people who are queer tend to engage in this purity-testing a lot more often than others. Black people and people of colour, and those with multiple intersections of disability, are already used to forgiving others a lot or gritting their teeth and bearing things. As members of a visible majority in North America, we feel confident in our ability to reject others and replace them as need be. We're inherently comfortable, a lot of the time, in the belief that someone else will come around and fill the empty seat, because there are just so many white and queer people. This can be less true for transgender people, but the squabbles I've seen online suggest that the sense of white social complacency is still basically applicable. 

This is not to excuse myself. When I was a teenager, and even in my early twenties, it seemed a lot more important to be strict about whom I interacted with, within the left, and how they perceived things. As much as micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions both matter, and as much as both can grind us down - those of us with the emotional resources and privilege to do so need to be aware of our padding. (That's not just a pun on my own weight, but hey! I can't resist a punchline.) 

Forgiveness and calling in 

Since our family expanded to a third person, our housemate and queer-platonic partner Kit, we've had a lot more small discussions about being offended and annoyed. Honestly, instead of making fights or tension worse, it tends to disperse them. Anyone who lives with someone else will be familiar with the struggle of doing dishes, making food, handling laundry, cleaning the house, dealing with work duties, and arranging transportation. But being clear yet tactful about one's feelings can handle conflict far better, and keep it from becoming "a thing."

The same is true of our long-running D&D group and some of my various friend groups. Learning to filter my communication to people, talk to them after the rush of emotions, and avoiding that ever-so-tempting duel of witticisms that is the Facebook philosophical fight, have all been really good for both myself and the people around me.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves - what are we trying to accomplish? If the answer to that is "protection of people's human rights," then the only people really worth kicking out are trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), sex-work exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs), and people who have exhibited a pattern of abuse without repentance.

Everyone else? Well, maybe we need to be honest about our hurt feelings, cool off a bit, and try to talk stuff out in private.

Does that mean we need to forgive abusers? 

Ooof. Even with a counselling degree and many years of sad-violin life experience, I don't know if I'm equipped to answer this one. Apart from saying, "it's a case-by-case basis, but worry about the people who aren't just rude, but really dangerous," I'm not sure what to recommend. 

Maybe we just need to stop sanctifying and demonizing people, and present them - both celebrities and individuals - as complex people with tokens on both the good and bad sides of the scale.

I do think that there are cases where people can reform. I hate to be mealy-mouthed or seem indecisive, but if internal politics were easy to handle, the left wouldn't be falling apart like an improperly-chilled gelatin dessert. 

Ultimately, all I can recommend are emotional self-validation, politeness, patience, and forgiveness with each other. We are stronger together, and since we, in multiple countries, have to fight to maintain our very existence, we need to defend each other's existence.

Maybe this means forgiving someone you're still mad at. Maybe this means going to apologize to someone. But with actual far-right activists, neo-nationalists, anti-choice activists, and violent racists and transphobes in the streets, and more active and internationally validated than ever, we simply can't afford the ephemeral and impossible luxury of complete ideological purity.

Does this mean allying with people we disagree with? Well, as long as they're not advocating for killing us...maybe yes. But again, my tired and beleaguered siblings and family, those of us who are white need to do the work on this. Reach out to others. Offer comfort. Give forgiveness - after you're done being mad. Sleep on things.

Nobody else is going to fight for our lives.

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Elegy for a Mistake: My Toxic Friendship

My usual post style and topics tend to encompass writing techniques, analytical bits and riffs on TV and movies, or even the odd podcast. Once in a while, I turn my attention inward and try to offer lessons by example from my own experience. Today, I find myself talking about a humbling and painful, yet freeing experience: the release of an unhealthy friendship.

Normally, I'm a peppy, jocund, and self-assured writer, with solutions ready at hand by the time an article is ready to go. In public and private, I am known for my likeable and kind personality - though I would privately describe myself as a haplessly bumbling, well-intentioned blowhard.

Let us presume that both cases are simultaneously true. This time, I have only an ouroboros of self-doubt and a cautionary tale. Bear that in mind: this essay lacks an easy or blithe answer to the questions I've posed and struggled with.

A word of warning 

To protect this person's anonymity, I will call them "Micah." I have changed their gender pronouns for this article to enhance their privacy as well. I won't talk about their personal circumstances at much length, either, for the same reasons. Figuring out their identity from context clues in my personal life and my blog is possible, but ultimately, unimportant.

For the same reason, I will not be including screenshots or "proof" or other receipts. I don't want to roast Micah's books or sabotage their career. (For reasons I will outline below, they do a great job of that on their own.)

Another big issue with Micah was my long-term working relationship with them. No matter how much you like someone and trust them, never work for free. More precisely, never work for free. or for exposure, or work trades if you find yourself shouldering a very unequal load.

I did this. I knew better - but Micah (and my own affection for them) let me talk myself into it over and over. And that was far from all that went wrong.

"Everyone has dead people," insisted Rocket Raccoon in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Everyone has their share of mistakes, ghosts, demons, and regrets. Perhaps Micah had more demons than most. But at the time, I saw them as a dammed fine writer and a tough person, a marvel of endurance.

That's still true, but their coping techniques to maintain that survival were another matter. Micah had ways of judging people and justifying their reactions to relatively small incidents that, over time, caused a lot more harm than I realised at first.

The warning signs I ignored 

The thing is, Micah had a thin skin and a very sharp tongue. They were happy to nitpick and harangue anyone and everyone - usually in the safety of our private messages. This included people who thought of them as a friend and authority.

Everyone has gripes with friends from time to time, nitpicks about media, and qualms about significant industry names. Micah had all of those - and a long memory to boot. Eve their partner was far from exempt from critique and bewailing.

Yet I was, until the end of our friendship, the one person almost always exempt from these critiques. Not that I always got praise, but the mildest compliments were gold in the context of their otherwise unceasing criticism.

Surely this seems like an unflattering picture, but consider, reader, the burden of guilty pleasure that lies at my feet. I did not think I was complicit in their unhealthy patterns of criticism; I would sometimes softly defend people, but always in private.

On many occasions, I took the brunt of a fight to defend their honour - from a person who often had no idea Micah was offended. But I got to be the one good person in the world, who measured up - until I didn't.

But even before the change in tenor and tone, things were starting to go wrong. I was avoiding my favorite social media platform and my many friends there, because I dreaded the gloom and pain in Micah's messages. Our primary mode of communication was inevitably draining and depressing. Nobody has to be happy all the time, but unceasing misery is simply not okay.

The problem 

While Micah and I do struggle with similar mental health issues, they had many severe physical issues to boot. I let this excuse their temper, their dark moods, and sometimes arbitrary coping mechanisms fat more than I should. They refused to deal with their mental health issues with medication or supervision - even though said issues were life-threatening.

And I, who normally would have spoken up about that, kept tolerating it.

Micah went to no small effort to convince me they knew best for themselves...even though the benefit of hindsight makes me question that deeply.

The problem is that Micah's depression was thick in their writing, and I think - I know - it sometimes negatively affected my own. Refusing to write happy or happier stories that were "not true to their experience, " they chased off potential fans and professional allies with endless cutting and overly specific arguments.

But I found their positions and their writing eminently defensible. They were very good at articulating arguments which I found persuasive.

When Micah excoriated me on a thread in public, in private, and on Twitter at various points, over a variety of issues, I began to question the state of our friendship. I think it's pretty fair to say that most of us know it's not good form to rip a buddy a new one "in public" or in private, as it were. Especially when, say, you actually agree on an issue, but have failed to state things in the exact way they require and prefer - and when that is an offense meriting a hard scoldin', it's a sign that something's awry.

 Unfortunately, smart people can talk themselves into anything.

The fallout 

I was unable to complete a dark and melancholy book for Micah, and they had a mental health crash - which was,  by that point, indistinguishable from their usual state. They said they wanted to talk less to me because they were deeply hurt that I hadn't recognized the toll of their books on my own mental health - even though I told them as soon as I realised it was a problem, and had found a reasonable way to articulate it. (That took probably 36 hours, for the record. I was unable to criticize their books to myself before that point.)

They were deeply upset, and I blamed myself - for their mental health crash, just as they wanted me to. Realising that I could no longer work for free or be fast enough, I found myself questioning many things about their books - and even Micah themselves.

I even asked a celebrity (whom they'd caused me to pick a fight with by complaining at length about her "horribly offensive, ableist" perspective that writing books too fast and immediately publishing them does not result in good books) for her insight.

Jenny Trout was kind enough to hear me out, and even warn me that a friend like Micah may not be a real friend. That really made me think. Ms. Trout was so eminently reasonable, and I thought about how repetitive Micah's books had been lately, and I just couldn't disagree with her point.

When we continued discussing the topic, Micah had the temerity to refer to artistic writers (as opposed to commercial writers) as "blowhards". When I admitted that had offended me, they took the tack of insinuating that ghostwriting, editing, or enhancing are "not real" writing, or part of a shadowy underground industry, not deserving respect as part of the industry (even though ghostwriting and editing have been present in writing for as long as books have been made.)

Frustrated and upset beyond communication, I had to get my partner to write the message saying I needed a break from Micah.

I spent the next two weeks in agonizing tension, worrying about the future of our friendship. About twelve days into the proposed three-week hiatus, I messaged Micah to check in, hesitantly extending an olive branch.

They ripped into me, accusing my partner and myself of unhealthy and unsafe behaviour towards them - for sending a short, clipped message in the middle of a hard mental health crisis.

As I stared at the screen and skimmed through their messages, I had to face the facts: I would never be good enough for Micah.

I was bound to bump into their exacting rubric of communications and requirements eventually. It had finally happened.

But when I realised I needed to end things, I felt almost deliriously free. I spent a good week smiling and laughing more, and enjoying a generally great mood. But then I had to think about everyone I had blocked or critiqued or mocked with Micah, and the way they encoraged me to shred others. In all, it is almost a wonder that through my relationship with them, I kept the vast majority of my friends.

 How does one proceed? 

Having patience for friends with mental health issues and complex disabilities is vitally important. Learning to talk about people and vent in private, rather than picking fights or airing the pettiest of grievances, are both important. How do I use the best of what Micah taught me while critiquing their perspectives after the fact? Is hard to say what would be different if we had never become close, but there will be no escaping their impact on my music taste, writing, and memories.

There are no tidy answers or how-to charts to figure out whether a friend simply has complex needs, or is facilitating and enabling your bad habits. Unhealthy friendships can also involve a lot of mentorship, support, and intimacy. If they were straightforwardly awful, they wouldn't last.

 but at present. I seem to be, for the first time in my life, unencumbered by any toxic relationships. I have more energy and time for my friends and chosen family, and even my partners (my original partner Andrey, and our queerplatonic housemate Kit).

All I can do is try to wrap my head around both how much and how little I really lost, and apply my lessons to improve my friendships with others, ensuring they feel heard and cared for. At the same time, I must remain safe and self-critical enough to avoid perpetrating the abusive cycle and behaviors all survivors must constantly guard against.

At the end of the day, they left me with conjecture,. and not much else. I thought we were the closest of friends....yet I never heard their voice, met them - or even knew their given name. And there is only so much you can love a friend who won't share their true self with you.

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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