#1856

Moth: Darker, Realer, and (Way) Gayer than The Hunger Games


“Five years ago, I wrote a YA novel. Like all my novels, it had a lesbian MC. But this one was different from anything I’d done before. With this novel, I got an agent. It was put out on submission & every editor who read it said it was awesome. But. Well written. But. It was too controversial. Something that they said, and I quote, “American kids wouldn’t believe.” … I wrote it because I was angry. And anger, right now, is SO important. Anger will save us. Anger will give us strength, help keep us brave. I’m releasing the book editors said was too controversial. The book that made them uncomfortable. The book American kids “wouldn’t believe.” I told this story for all of us. For every pain I’ve suffered. For every pain you’ve suffered.  Stay angry. Stay brave. Don’t fall asleep.” – S.E. Diemer

Back when The Hunger Games fandom first exploded, the books were recommended to me by my sister when I told her I was looking for more fiction with “badass women”. I read the books, mildly enjoyed the first two, and rolled my eyes through much of the third. I didn’t hate them, but they didn’t speak to me like they did to so many others. In the end, I think that’s because the world they’re set in, an unspoken but clearly post-apocalyptic-style future North America, didn’t feel realistic. The story was good – dark, but full of hope; real, but just fantastical enough to keep you reading – but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe Panem was once my America, and so the terrible future in the books never felt like a real threat.

Cut to the recent US election. Cut to the quote I shared above. Cut to Moth, a book about a future America where being black, queer, non-Christian, dissenting, outspoken, even just a little too rebellious can get you sent to re-education camps to be burned, electrocuted, and brainwashed (if you’re lucky) – or simply killed. This book, like The Hunger Games, is YA. It’s meant for teenagers, for the exact audience editors apparently didn’t think would buy its setting. Let me tell you – I buy it. Because this isn’t post-apocalypse, this isn’t mutant monsters, this isn’t crazy sci-fi technology and vast conspiracies…

This is North Korea. Now. Everything that happens in this book, everything our heroine experiences, has happened or does currently happen in countries across the world. It’s not impossible to imagine queer kids being forced to undergo traumatizing, sometimes deadly attempts to “fix” them. That happens. It’s not impossible to have a character whose father is killed just because his skin is dark. That happens. It’s not impossible to learn about an underground railroad ferrying kids up to Canada (the border of which is soon to be blocked by a giant “freedom” wall), nor that the European Union has cut off all aide to the country. Those things happen all the time, and have throughout history.

This is an America ruled by a dictator who claims to speak the very will of God. There are no mutants or science experiments here – just fanatical people who think the world should run their way because They Are Right. I don’t know about you, but these days that doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched future.

This book has its little flaws, like all books do, but no major detractors. More importantly, what it has at its core is the anger and fear not of someone looking into a possible sci-fi future hundreds of years from now, but someone living right here with us who sees a path our country could easily take. As much as we’d like to pretend democracy is unassailable, our form of government is as vulnerable to corruption and dissolution as any other. Will we ever become a totalitarian dictatorship in which we gleefully watch children murder each other for food and fame in gigantic stadiums full of technological death traps? Probably not. Will we ever become a theocracy in which dissenters are “re-educated” to fit the Christian model of good citizens? Maybe, yeah.

So read this book. It’s worth it.

(For those who need it, here are the book’s major trigger warnings: Homophobia, racism, physical and mental/emotional abuse, suicide, violence)

#1846

Dear Xavier,

I don’t know what memories you will recall from age three. Maybe they will be snippets of moments, sharply focused on insignificant details, or simply blurry colors and sensations. I doubt you will remember this weekend and how you took hold of my hand and your aunt’s, pressing them together so our engagement rings kissed. I doubt you will remember how she asked you to be her best man, or how your family asked me so many eager questions about the ceremony. I doubt you will remember eating apple pie in celebration.

Above all, I doubt you will remember the following Wednesday, a day that will remain infamous throughout the annals of history. I doubt you will remember the day your birth country elected a spiteful, bigoted, xenophobic man as president.

I wish I knew what the future holds for you, little X. Will you grow up in an America striving to better itself? Will you grow up feeling this is undeniably your country, your home, even if your family came from somewhere else? This place can be beautiful. This place can be a beacon of hope. But it takes a lot of struggle, a lot of perseverance, a lot of small victories and big losses. Right now it’s my generation fighting the good fight to preserve equality and peace – some day it will be yours. This day that has left so many millions of people reeling, both across America and across the world, you’ll read about in history books. It won’t feel entirely real to you, even though you’ll know you were technically alive for it. When your aunt and I talk about it, it will be with immense bitterness. When you ask how it could possibly happen, we’ll say, “It’s complicated”.

Part of me hopes you will remain in the safe majority – that you will grow up to be straight, cisgender, and pale enough to pass as one of the “good” minorities. You have been part of my family since you were born, and I would do anything in the world to protect you. At the same time, though, I know that’s not in my power. No matter what world you grow up in, you will still be a minority of one kind or another. You will still come from an immigrant family. You will still have queer relatives. You will still be full of love and goodness, and there will still be people in the world who want to crush that.

I hope you don’t let them. I can’t know what the future holds, but I can promise you I will keep fighting to make that future worthy of you. Freedom, equality, clear water, clean air – everything I fear we’ll lose might be truly lost in my generation, and in yours. But I will fight for every scrap of that future until the very end. Don’t read about this in your history book and think it happened because no one cared. We care. We’re still fighting.

– Tita Elyssa

#1845

Mother, I fear.
Mother, I grieve.
Mother, I rage.
Mother, I hurt.

I want to keep hoping but reality’s too bleak. I want to keep dreaming but I can’t deny the truth. All my life I have watched humanity poison its home and wondered, even as a young child, if I would live to see the end of the world. Back then the wars that needed fighting felt overwhelming yet hopeful; now they just feel impossible. Hope dies under the tread of police vehicles. Hope dies from pesticides and poisoned air. Hope dies in jail cells and refugee camps and factory farms. Hope dies at the stroke of a pen. Hope dies to applause, and I feel so old.

You have seen the earth turn for countless ages, Mother, and can look into a future that makes me tremble. What I can only feel approaching like a stormfront, You watch with the clarity of divinity. Do You fear, Mother? Do You grieve? Do You rage and hurt and weep for this species that is so determined to be its own undoing? Yet I feel Your spark burning in my breast and I know that even as You weep, You stand tall. Even as You rage, You teach me how to direct my anger like Your shining, burning arrows to pierce evil’s darkness. Your spark pulses inside me and I remember I am, above all else, a Daughter of Bast. Lady of the Flame, Lady of the Truth, Your strength and wisdom and ferocity are woven deep within my soul. Like You, I will love. Like You, I will fight. Like You, I will use my teeth and claws and righteous anger to protect my home. My home, this earth. My family, every living thing upon it. I am a Daughter of Bast and I do not bow my head.

In the face of darkness, Mother, help me be a source of light.
In the face of chaos, Mother, help me be a force for good.
In the face of surrender, Mother, help me be a source of strength.
In the face of bigotry, Mother, help me be a force for love.

In the face of tomorrow, Mother, help me survive today.

#1844

Hail Inanna, Queen of Heaven
She Who Makes the Fields Red!

Lady of Dawn, Lady of Dusk
hear your children as we cry out in fear!
Lend us your protection as the world turns on us
lend us your guidance as we find ourselves lost!

Lady of Life, Lady of Death
answer your children as darkness descends!
Lend us your wisdom as we face ignorance
lend us your love as we do battle with hate!

Lady of War, Lady of Slaughter
stand with your children as we cry out in pain!
Lend us your fierceness as battle approaches
lend us your fury as we fight for our lives!

Hail Inanna, Queen of Heaven
She Who Makes the Fields Red!
Hail Inanna, Triumphant in Battle
She Who Descended and Arose Again!

[ I will not sorrow today. Today I will rage. Today I will embrace wrath. Today I will dream of vengeance and make blood promises. They will not take this world without a fight. ]

#1843

Sometimes history’s repetitions are comforting, the knowledge that others have come before to fight this fight, to suffer this suffering, to stand with arms linked until the tanks or the tear gas or the water cannons mow them down. Sometimes it is enough to know this moment’s horrors aren’t unique, that we will never be the first to want these things and can never be the last to die before they are won. Sometimes being able to stand back and watch the great wheel turn, turn, turn through all of humanity’s existence offers the necessary perspective, the needed distance to see the wisdom of the larger picture.

And sometimes the wheel’s inevitable turning crushes us beneath its rim, presses us into the mud to join the bodies of those who came before. Sometimes knowing the wheel spins in place, ever turning and yet going nowhere, is a cruelty we cannot bear. Sometimes fighting the same old fights, suffering the same old sufferings, facing the same old tanks and bigots and bullets is just too much, and we wonder if there’s any point when those who come after us will face these things as well. Maybe we haven’t figured out how to learn from history yet – or maybe as long as the wheel spins in place, we can’t help but repeat the past.

#1839

It’s the middle of the night or just about and I’m awake and haven’t written anything in days and no one really gives a shit so here’s a list of things I’m afraid of because why not. I’m afraid I’ll be at work when the mega quake hits and I’ll either die in the initial building collapse or I’ll be trapped in the rubble for days and smother to death. I’m afraid I’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m afraid the house will catch fire when I’m not home and all the animals will die. I’m afraid my cat’s spirit won’t visit me because he knows i made the choice to put him to sleep. I’m afraid everything i believe is a lie I’ve carefully crafted to make myself feel special and not crazy. I’m afraid I’m a shitty daughter. I’m afraid I’m a shitty friend. I’m afraid I’m a shitty lover and my girlfriend will one day leave because I’m asexual and have no libido and she’ll realize sooner or later that i can’t give her what she needs and deserves. I’m afraid she’ll die before me. I’m afraid my boss keeps delaying my promotion because she thinks I’m too incapable to do anything harder. I’m afraid my performance issues aren’t caused by anything physical or mental and I’m just bad at my job. I’m afraid I’m of painfully average intelligence and only the sub par public school system convinced people otherwise. I’m afraid my carpal tunnel will keep getting worse until i can’t type or write. I’m afraid I’m going to be alive for the end of the world. I’m afraid there’s nothing i can do to delay that fact. I’m afraid humanity is going to destroy every living thing on this planet. I’m afraid I’ll be alive for world war 3. I’m afraid donald trump will be president. I’m afraid someone i know will read this and want to have a Conversation about it. I’m afraid there’s nothing after death. I’m afraid that i already believe that and just can’t admit it to myself. I’m afraid I’m bad for my girlfriend and she doesn’t realize it. I’m afraid my life will always be compartmentalized. I’m afraid I’ve already written everything of value and will never create anything good again. I’m afraid I’ll eventually accept that fact and so many others and let apathy replace any drive or hope i have left. I’m afraid that nothing ever change and I’ll die in the same shitty world i was born into and the same shitty world i live in now. and now my fingers are going cold and tingly because my body is a piece of junk so i guess it’s time to go to sleep so i can wake up and pretend this counts as writing it really really doesn’t.

#1822

You haunt me, monstress! First my dreams and now in literature. What do you wish of me, why do you call to me from your prison in the dark depths? You make the saltwater in my blood rush like the tide; you stir the wreckage of ships and ocean liners buried in the silt of my stomach. Do you need your story told, perhaps? Has your tale been so twisted through the years that you crave retribution, if only in the form of the truth written somewhere, anywhere, for someone to find? There’s so little trace of you left in song or myth after all these years, so you must fill in the gaps for me. I am good at telling the monster’s story, and I will tell yours if you need. I am not afraid to be pulled down into the whirlpool if you are not afraid to show me your true form.