Awards season has well and truly started and we hope you will forgive us a moment of vanity as we ask for your support.
Our own Joan De La Haye (Shadows, Requiem in E Sharp, Oasis, Burning) is up for an award in the South African Indies for ‘Burning’. We couldn’t be prouder and if you had a moment to support that would be very wonderful of you. Voting is open now.
Also at the moment the British Fantasy Society are taking suggestions for their shortlist. We were surprised and delighted to be shortlisted for Best Anthology and Best Small Press last year and if you like what we are doing we would be really pleased* to have your nomination this year.
* massive understatement.
You can check out when our books were published here.
Fairy Drag: Or, How I Wrote The Changeling by Tracy Fahey
You don’t mess with the fairies in Ireland. They are malignant force, older than humanity, who live by their own laws. Unlike their elegant Victorian English counterparts, the Irish fairies are Other, different in every way; both in looks and in character. They’re tall and pale, with a warlike approach to life and an immense propensity for revenge. Country life, until well into the 20th century was ruled by a series of invisible boundaries –folk who lived there didn’t cut down the whitethorn, didn’t build a house on a fairy path, didn’t meddle with the forts. These sites, demarcated by fairy behaviour became forbidden zones
As with all stories, the writing of this started as a result of several unaligned thoughts coming together – the persistence of supernatural rituals in rural Ireland, a gruesome murder in Northern Ireland, and the old belief that you needed to disguise the sex of a baby to save it from been ‘swept’ or ‘fetched’ by the fairies. The fairies, it was said, would steal away an unprotected baby and replace it with a sickly fairy child who would dwindle and wither away, despite all human efforts. I became fascinated with the idea of ‘infant drag’, where clothing, hair and adornment function as a protective, gender-masking disguise. The idea of drag in this story is a double-edged sword. It is a catalyst for concealment, transformation, but also for revenge. I began wondering how this experience might translate into later life…and so this story came to life.
The story has an unhappy ending, but then, all fairy stories do. They end in tears, in partings, in kidnappings, desolation and death. Our poor changeling fares no differently.
Two things happened at once. I saw the call for submissions for Drag Noir in a Short Mystery Fiction Society newsletter and a young lady announced to me that she was transgender. Pretty soon her long, curly blonde locks were gone. She swore off wearing dresses. All she wore was men’s clothing. Sports jerseys, mostly. She asked to be called Paul. It gave her a sense of control. She openly pursued a couple of young women at work. She showed up at a wedding with a very cute young woman. Paul wore a vintage three piece, pin stripe suit. Paul had a black eye. I didn’t ask her about it but I knew I had the start of a story. I have no idea if Paul ever played blackjack in her life or if she even went to any of the Detroit or Windsor casinos.
What Drag Means to Me
I have a very good friend who operates a very successful stage theater here in Detroit. When we were kids, we did a Saturday Night Live type of variety show at our high school. I wrote sketches that put Joe in drag quite often. He seemed very comfortable in a dress. Now, thirty years later, he’s graced his stage several times in shows like Die, Mommie, Die and Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy where he out Close-s Glenn Close. When I think of drag I think of my good friend Joe and his campy, hilarious performances. He’s so comfortable in that skin you forget he’s Joe and not actually Joan- as in Crawford. I put on a dress and just look ridiculous. Joe comes alive.
Kiki and Me Chloë Yates
One night in the dim and distant long ago, I was working the graveyard shift at that notorious punk drag dive, Axolotl Snot, on the grimy lower east bank of The City. The night outside was cold and inside the clientele wasn’t much warmer. One moment I was wiping down the ever-sticky bar for the hundredth time, the next I was slack jawed with awe as the infamous drag queen Kiki Le Shade sashayed into my world. She was a dame and she had balls. One look into those hypnotically glacial peepers and I was spellbound. She bent me to her will and I thanked her for every displaced vertebrae… At least that’s how I wish it had gone, but I’ve never worked in a bar and I’ve only ever admired drag queens from afar. I have, however, been in love with them since I was a kid.
Ideas of gender have always fascinated and appalled me. The way we step into the construct of gender identity at birth and then stick to it as though it’s all perfectly natural and right when it’s clearly absolute bollocks has plagued me my entire life. Arbitrary rules of behaviour and “deportment” (ugh) that depend upon whether or not you have a tallywackle or a witch’s cackle have never made the least bit of sense to me. I never understood why I was supposed to do this or that because I was a “girl” or why my friend couldn’t wear this or act like that because he was a “boy”. I just wanted to do the things I wanted to do because I wanted to do them. I believe that’s how everybody feels, deep down at least, but all too often life teaches us that stepping out from the baaing masses is fraught with castigation and derision – those wicked sharp whip licks of social control. Well, fuck, as they say, that shit.
The long and the short of it is I’m a fan of chutzpah, if you’ll allow me the indulgence. Bold, in-your-face, no apologies types are my number one poison, my idols and my role models, and who’s better at in-your-face than drag queens? Undoubtedly I have a romanticised view of them, but it certainly seems to me that drag queens make no apologies. More often than not it is their opportunity to act out, play up and throw their besequinned shit in the face of folks with wild abandon – and they seize it. Drag has never seemed like a mask to me. It is, rather, a medium for liberation. An excuse to be fearlessly bold, a ticket to kick the world in the tits while sticking your tongue out and wiggling your glitter-encrusted arse at it. That beautiful bright light of subversion being thrown so boldly in the face of a generally conservative world that pouts and frowns at “otherness” like we don’t all have secrets, fears, desires and frustrations that torment and thrill us, tickles me in all the best places.
Needless to say, I really wanted to write a story for Drag Noir but, after whacking my brain into inanimate object after inanimate object, I was stumped. Not because I couldn’t think of a million and one scenarios, but because I couldn’t think of the right one (some might argue I didn’t do that anyway but they can kiss my big fat bellend). Then I came across the song ‘Let’s Have a Kiki’ by Scissor Sisters. I can’t remember if it was on the telly or if someone posted it on Facebook, but it stuck in my head like only the most vicious of earworms are wont to do. It did the job though, one of those mental switch thingummies. I listened to that fucking song about eight million times while sitting in front of my screen and not once did my fingers stop typing. Kiki was pretty much born in one go, but she felt like she’d always been with me. First came the image of the faded drag queen, a shadow of her former self that long ago night at the Axolotl, sitting in a parking lot on one of those awful white plastic chairs, inches long ash clinging to a still blazing cigarette, lipstick smudged, wig askew. And I wondered what she was waiting for, because she was definitely waiting for something. Turns out, it wasn’t what I expected… which is just how I like it.
Paul D. Brazill
It goes like this: A rainy night in Soho, thrown out of The French House and off to Ronnie Scott’s til dawn. Then a gypsy cab driven by an Islamic fundamentalist over to the East End and a dodgy pub near a meat market. Go for a slash on in an alleyway near Crucifix Lane and get lost just off Druid Street. Follow a group of old women into a pockmarked terraced house and realise that they’re having a séance. A tall Polish woman with a turban gives me a message from beyond. And that message becomes A Bit Of A Pickle.
Pick up Drag Noir today by clicking on the picture below and get your glad rags on.
Regardless of the social progress made in recent years, our world is still not yet kind to the subversive: women who love women remain the target of stares and lewd comments; men who love men have blood which is considered unclean by the majority of the planet’s health authorities (because ‘AIDS was invented by homos’); whilst men who dress as women are still victim to physical and verbal abuse. Public acceptance may be on the increase, but as every queer person and drag queen knows, we have a long way to go.
Meanwhile, a different yet parallel rights movement is fighting for its own social and legal equality: rights for the disabled. Those with cerebral palsy are still the target of stares and verbal abuse; those with mobility needs are still denied access to the majority of the planet’s public transportation (back of the bus? You’re not even getting on!); whilst closed-circuit hearing loops are still absent from most public spaces. Progress has been made, but as every blind or autistic person knows, we have a long way to go.
Of course there are more similarities between disability and gender nonconformity than my structuring two similar paragraphs on each. Firstly, each has the ability to make the public uncomfortable, as each causes us to question our own identities: whether the shaky and often-transitional nature of our perceived gender, or our immortal able-bodiedness. Each presents us with a deviation from the norm which a great number of people still feel uncomfortable with, and which presents this difficult truth: that the privilege one receives for cis-heterosexuality or able-bodiedness is a result of random chaotic chance.
The second similarity is that both gender nonconformity and disability have been heavily medicalised by both public discourse and institutions. The very term ‘homosexuality’ was coined in an attempt to diagnose a mental condition; trans people are subject to intense physical and mental scrutiny by medical professionals who pass ultimate judgement on their personal identities; the disabled are also still viewed through this same medical lens. Are deaf people merely a medical condition, or a culture with its own language and social groupings? The nonconformists share a history of dehumanising medical discourse. Both groupings have been the target of eugenics programs. It is this similarity which prompted me to write my sci-fi short story ‘Straight Baby’.
It is this shared discourse lies at the heart of the story. In a world in which parents have (or believe they have) genetically engineered every aspect of their children, the disabled and the queer face the same threat of marginalisation and persecution. This shared struggle is embodied in Thomas, a disabled homosexual who faces intense persecution because of the random chaotic chance of his birth – a deviance which can never be truly eradicated, regardless of technological advancement.
Yet the story also examines the interplay between his identities as a gay, disabled man. Whilst other gay men are beaten and arrested when caught with other men, Thomas’ physical disability has, thus far, allowed him to escape the clutches of the heterosexist legal system. In this future, as in our own time, the disabled are frequently viewed as asexual. Thomas’ physical state covers his deviance as a homosexual: his disability is his drag.
Yet Thomas’ drag is not merely external. He manages his position in society via an internal drag, mentally conceiving of himself as a female femme-fatale – a perspective which allows him to navigate his affairs with married men. In short, Thomas is a sexual being in the ‘asexual’ drag of disability, perceiving himself in female terms. Each ‘deviance’ contradicts and reinforces the other. He is a threat masquerading as harmless.
At its root, the story is based in the fact that every struggle is a shared struggle. Gay men and wheelchair users, lesbians and the blind, drag queens and the autistic have all been marginalised by social and medical discourse. Without solidarity and recognition of our shared fight, we risk a future in which society once again uses technology in an attempt to eradicate the nonconformists – a future in which no drag can save us.
A port stop during a cruise disembarked us in Mexico, facing a row of tour vans and buses. Most of these were staffed by sign-wielding native folks with weary, worldly-wise faces; obviously they did this job for the living it provided and not because they found it fun. One of the tour guides was a lesbian, white-skinned, aging none too gracefully, and it was evident from her accent that she’d begun life as a North American Midwesterner. She looked and clearly felt, however, more akin to her brown-skinned career associates than to the flocks of North American tourists who surrounded her. We wondered what, or who, had led her to this path. And of course, romantics that we are, we wondered whom she went home to when her day of tourist-wrangling was over.
I wanted to be Jim West. The hero of the television programme Wild Wild West played by Robert Conrad epitomized cool as far as I was concerned as a kid. He looked slick, fought bad guys and lived in luxurious style in a train caboose with his pal Artemus Gordon—every week a new location and a new adventure.
But more than that, the look: that snugly fitted suit, short jacket, broad shoulders and black boots. Sure he did spend a lot of time shirtless and tied up, too. Somehow at the advent the androgynous glam rock look of the 70s and the nascent punk scene, anything at all seemed possible—at least until my body betrayed me with the double-whammy of adolescent hormones and a thyroid that tipped over into overdrive, hitting my rangy frame with unexpected curves and bewildered loss of identity.
I grew up with two brothers, four baseball diamonds and a football field behind my house, so I played a lot of sports. Yet when I started school I was expected to wear dresses. I wanted to be the boy in My Side of the Mountain but it was a revelation to see Karen Carpenter play drums because it was a thing girls weren’t supposed to do. I was a guileless and mostly unaware child so it came as a bit of a shock when I realised there was a great deal of anxiety attached to who I was supposed to be. I failed so much at being a girl that I was sent to charm school, a racket run by the local department store.
My adolescent discomfort sprang largely from being forced into a category that didn’t fit me, as much as it did with being trapped in one place when I wanted to travel the world. Academia belatedly taught me an essential term: slippage. Our brains like to categorise things into distinct pigeon-holes, but nature just bleeds into the margins. I like slipping between categories (as these noir mash-ups show). Then as now I hated to be pigeon-holed. On my website I quote Kierkegaard: “Once you label me, you negate me.”
It’s no wonder that I took to gender studies like a PI to trenchcoats; it explained the discomfort I had struggled with for so long—and proved I wasn’t the only one. It gave me so much more to think about when I considered my own childhood (not to mention two men living together in a caboose—hello!). Judith Butler showed me gender was constructed by culture, just as I’d always intuited. She instilled in me the love of playing with those conventions consciously, testing people’s reactions, and teaching students to be conscious of them as well.
But it was Ru Paul who cut to the essential: “We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.”
Manufacturers seem to have doubled down on building the great gender divide; all you have to do is look at the ‘girls’ aisle in any toy store—a throbbing pink ghetto. Toys that were bright primary colours a couple decades ago now receive a varnish of glutinous pink. The ‘princess’ industry is reinforced 24/7 on the Disney media empire of television and radio. Maybe it’s the last ditch backlash against a broadening culture that not only recognizes the rainbow spectrum of genders, but increasingly celebrates them. I’m all onboard with the Pink Stinks camp, but maybe princess power isn’t as monolithic as I sometimes fear (given my tomboy self). I was pleasantly surprised the other day when the Executive Toddler (3) and her brother (9) were on scooters, which he reminded her both belonged to him, when she told him imperiously that she liked ‘boy things and girl things’. I leaned over and said, ‘I’ll tell you a secret: there aren’t really “girl things” and “boy things”—there are only “things”‘.
You can spend your life trying to protect the divisions between categories, but nature bleeds through the barriers. That’s why we have parthenogenesis. Nature will find a way. Try too hard to maintain those artificial borders and you’re bound to fail.
Of course noir is all about failing, but it’s also about shadows, surfaces and a lot of grey areas. Hiding and revealing, deceptive appearances, buried truths: the stories here run the gamut. So do the writers: some I knew already, others I didn’t at all. I was disappointed to have so few drag king stories, but maybe that leaves room to revisit the topic. I had no idea what I would get, but I was pleased with the results. I hope you are too.
Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets — faboo artist S. L. Johnson tells us how she came up with her latest eye-catching design for the cover of Drag Noir:
When I was asked to create a cover for the “Drag Noir” antho, it was quite a challenge. “Drag” is a full-on gender-bending costumed performance role, meant to be seen and heard, while “noir” is dark and nefarious, and hidden. Resolving these two ideas in visual form led to a lot of dead-end ideas, and my desire to represent both male & female gender conventions in drag further muddied the creative waters. After several false starts, I decided I would take one face and split it down the middle, with the idea of that the face could be seen as the woman or the man in drag. I felt this was the obvious solution, but in such a graphic, flat form, it would work well. It’s shadowy, a la noir, but with bright red half-lips, and a green face that represents the very made-up faces of drag queens, yet could also be corpse-like in the pulpiest way.
It works, for sure!
Be sure to check out Johnson’s other work which runs the gamut from book and CD covers to posters and more! Including her other noir covers for us.
In the run up to the release of Drag Noir, we’re featuring a few spots to drum up the excitement because, well — we’re so excited! Here’s a story from skulk member Graham Wynd to give you a sense of the flavour of the collection. Consider it a “bonus track” for the anthology.
by Graham Wynd
Content alerts: salty language, guns, drugs, sexual shenanigans
I desperately turned every door handle along the corridor while swearing a blue streak, trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong. The image of Bomber’s face covered with blood still haunted my vision though I tried to push it aside long enough to think straight.
“We have to seize the means of production,” Bomber had said. I laughed at the memory of his words and gripped the handle of the French horn case even tighter. There had to be a way out of here.
At last a handle moved under my sweaty grip. I pushed through the door. A supply closet: stacks of cocktail napkins, swizzle sticks and whatnot filled the shelves. Dead end, I knew. But maybe I could hide out here while things calmed down.
I threw the case in the corner and shoved a few bigger boxes together to make a leaning tower of booze boxes, then ducked down behind it. I willed my breath to slow down, but the ragged rasp of it continued. The bellows of my lung threatened to give me away if anybody tried the door behind me.
Maybe no one had followed me down the corridor.
Bomber’s gory face swam into view again and I cursed his name. ‘Means of production,’ my aunt Fanny.
Both of them.
“What do you mean, ‘means of production’?” Moaning Murdoch had asked him. He’d had that unfortunate moniker since back in the kiddie days when we were wet enough to let girls drag us to Harry Potter films. No matter that he outgrew the round face, that the big specs were replaced by contacts and Murdoch himself landed a scholarship playing for the Danes as a fullback. He was still Moaning Murdoch.
Bomber smiled in that way he had that suggested he knew the inside track. His smugness had only grown since he switched his major to business. The original plan to be a rapper had been scuppered due to his inherent lack of talent (which we all could have told him before but never mind that, he wasn’t listening).
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