Confession: I’m a little bit of a perfectionist. And I agonized over this site a lot. I wanted something professional enough to be the site of a Serious Writer, this site being an attempt to convince my subconscious that this is the real deal, that I’m actually going to put the work toward having a career, not just producing the odd bit of fiction to try to impress my friends with. And legibility was a huge concern, of course: if words are what I want to be known for, any layout would have to be clear and uncluttered, would have to put my words at the center of things, while still having room for showing off my future book covers in the sidebar. (You know the principle of dressing for the job you want? I’m attempting the website version thereof.) But I also wanted something fun and bright and reflective of my personality, something that would set me apart from just another boring professional website template. I spent months trying, tweaking, and eventually discarding WordPress themes. And then I found this one, which I rather liked, and which let me customize the font and color choices without having to dive headfirst into the stylesheets and override every single instance of a font or color I disliked.
But I like colors other than pink. I could’ve used red as my accent color. I like red just fine. I could’ve used a dark purple, one of my favorite colors, which would be less girly by far. Because that’s what pink is, you know: girly and frivolous. It’s the color you’d see on the website of someone who wrote romance novels or chick lit or girly YA books, all that stuff that’s less serious and important than SFF, because anything that’s written specifically for women can’t possibly be worthwhile literature, right? It’s the color associated with those girls — the girls all the awesome and bad-ass women who are “one of the guys” and “not like other girls” are so much better than, those vapid, shallow, fashion-obsessed bitches who toy with men’s emotions and are interested in stupid things like makeup and shopping, and couldn’t have a legitimately geeky interest if their life depended on it. It’s the color of the skinny, pretty girly-girl that we’re taught to dismiss, and yet which most people who are socialized female are pressured to be, at one time or another… which, if we don’t already fit the mold of traditional femininity in one way or another, just makes us resent it more. There are plenty of women who find pink infantilizing, who think if they’re serious adults, they should be represented with serious adult colors. I respect that. Hell, I used to think that way myself. We’ve been trained to see pink as a color that’s for little girls, for people who are okay with being trapped in restrictive gender roles. It’s not supposed to be a color worn by grown-up, competent human beings… unless, of course, cancer is involved.1
And if I put pink on my website, some cisgender straight dude who might otherwise be interested in my brand of storytelling (which leans toward the dark and mindscrewy) could take one look and decide this girly stuff wasn’t for him, that I only wrote about princesses and unicorns, and his testicles might actually shrivel up and fall off if he kept reading (O NOES).2
So there I was, with the conviction that no one would ever take me seriously if I made my site too pink and girly-like, and and the equal conviction that expressing myself, and giving some form of comfort and reassurance to girls who are messed up like I was (and, in a lot of ways, still am) is a huge part of why I’m writing in the first place.
And I realized that spite is an awesome motivator.
I like pink. Not the pastel Barbie shades (though if those are your thing, more power to you), but bright, in your face, eye-searing pink. I like it a lot. It’s one of my favorite unnatural hair dye colors, and shows up frequently in my jewelry, when I wear it. I have shiny pink stompy boots, even. For a long time, I thought I was too edgy and deep and gender-non-conforming to like something as stereotypically girly as pink. I thought pink was a box people were trying to shut me in — and you have to understand, I’m a large woman, in both the amount of fat on my body and my bone structure (broad-shouldered with a big damn ribcage), and I’ve been told I make a pretty good-looking guy on the occasions I decide to wear my gender-fluidity on the outside. I’ve also heard people say things like, “That’s not a girl — that’s a football player in a dress!” about me when I tried to be conventionally feminine… and though that was literally fifteen years ago, when I was a teenager, it still stings.
So on the one hand, I was told I had to be girly as a consequence of having been assigned female at birth, and on the other, I was told that even at my thinnest, I was too big and awkward to ever be properly girly, and it was funny when I tried. I decided that being a girl was a loser’s game, and that the only way to win was to scorn all things feminine and hate those girls who pulled off the complicated dance of socially acceptable femininity with every fiber of my being. I did that for a while, before it slowly dawned on me that not only was I allowed to be unconventional and sometimes gender-bending and still like feminine things, but that in my hatred of those mythical other girls I’d turned into a perfect example of internalized misogyny.
There’s this thing called femmephobia. It exists. And it’s an easy trap to fall into when femininity is either forced on you or held out of your reach as something that’s only acceptable when done by people other than you. Or both.
In climbing out of that trap, I’ve come to terms with a lot of really poisonous ideas, including the idea that girly things aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and I’ve had to confront a lot of my self-hate. I’ve had to make the conscious decision to be as feminine or as masculine as I want to be, and to do it proudly, and to challenge anyone who thinks less of me for it. And sure, I could leave that off my Serious SFF Writer website, where I’m not even going by my legal name anyway… but why should I have to?
Having pink on my website may hurt book sales at some point in my future. It may drive off people who’d otherwise be interested if only the packaging had been just a little less covered in girl-cooties. But, honestly, I knew I was going to be making choices that might hurt book sales when I made the decision to write as Anamaria Perea. I chose a name that reflected my heritage through my mother’s side of the family, rather than my father’s, because of the overwhelming whiteness of SFF3. Because while white readers might feel more inclined to take a chance on a new writer who fits their mental image of someone like them, I still remember the quiet thrill that ran through me when I first read the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter books, featuring a protagonist whose ethnicity reminded me of my own… or more recently, the way my breath caught in my throat when I read Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older and the short story “Yuca and Dominoes” by José Iriarte, as I realized these were stories not just with [email protected] in them, but people of Cuban descent, stories filled with all the little details that remind me of home, of my abuelita’s cooking, of all the things I grew up with and then learned to be ashamed of because they didn’t fit into the white culture I found myself surrounded by… and suddenly, it was like someone had opened a door and said, “You belong here. Look, we’ve made a place just for you, and you don’t have to pass as anything you’re not to be welcomed.”
Using my mom’s family name, being out as a queer writer, using my beloved eye-searing pink on my website… all these things are fueled partly by a desire to reach out to people who feel as out of place and ashamed as I did and let them know they’re not alone, and partly by the kind of pure, bloody-minded spite that makes me determined to succeed despite all those little things which might drive readers away.
If they can be driven away by a Cuban name4, pink accents, or a curly font face, they’re not my target audience anyway.
And really, it should just be that simple, and I should be able to do all this without posting almost two thousand words of ranting and explanation for the choices I’ve made. But we live in a culture designed to make anyone who departs from the norm feel defensive about it, and I’m more neurotic than most. So yeah… even when you’ve done a lot of hard work towards being okay with who you are, even when you feel like you should be able to do so without comment, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you’ll feel the need to explain yourself before someone can question your right to exist in a space. It happens. It’s happening to me right now.
But hey… if there’s anyone out there feeling the same, I’m here. I’m writing. And maybe one of these days, someone will read something I wrote, and they’ll have that same feeling, like I’m holding the door open for them and saying, “It’s okay. You belong here.”
That’s why I’m doing this.
- Others have written far better than I could about the problems with cutesy pink breast cancer awareness campaigns, and how pink ribbons do more to make people rich than they do to find an actual cure for cancer. Even if none of that was a problem, I’d hate pink breast cancer crap because I’ve known trans guys who were made to feel incredibly uncomfortable and dysphoric being surrounded by pink everything while they waited for treatment, and that’s just not cool. [↩]
- This is meant as humorous exaggeration: there are plenty of awesome cishet guys out there who will think I’m not giving your gender enough credit, and you may be right, but I promise you, if you’re thinking that, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about that guy. You know that guy. Everyone knows that guy. And sometimes that guy’s an influential voice in comics or SFF, and his hypothetical disapproval can be terrifying for those of us trying to make a name for ourselves. [↩]
- If you’re a white SFF reader, I’d like to pose you a challenge: how SFF writers of color can you name off the top of your head? Can you count them on one hand? Two? How many white writers? …Yeah. While some of you may be able to list off writers of color with no problem, some will be stuck at, like, two. If that. [↩]
- Though properly it should be Ana Maria with a space in it, no one ever gets that no, both of those are a first name, not just Ana, Ana Maria, dammit… And since Ana’s my mom’s middle name, despite her having a different married name these days, she frowns on me being Ana Perea, anywhere, ever. Sometimes you have to pick your battles, especially if your mom is as otherwise awesome as mine is. [↩]