Today we’re joined by debut author Cynthia So, whose short story “The Phoenix’s Fault” is included in LGBTQ+ young adult anthology PROUD, published in the UK this month. In her guest post, Cynthia explores the magic of seeing yourself represented in fan fiction and why that inspired her to write her own stories that represent her identity on the page.
A stirring, bold and moving anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, giving their unique responses to the broad theme of pride. Each story has an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Compiled by Juno Dawson, author of THIS BOOK IS GAY and CLEAN. A celebration of LGBTQ+ talent, PROUD is a thought-provoking, funny, emotional read.
“The Phoenix’s Fault” is a lesbian Chinese Fairytale: Jingzhi the lantern maker is forced to question why she doesn’t want to marry the Emperor, and examine why she is drawn to her best friend.
Contributors to the anthology include: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White.
On fantasy and the magic of LGBTQ+ fanfic
When I was 11, two things happened within the span of half a year: I discovered fanfiction—more importantly, queer fanfiction—and I had my first crush—on a girl. Before fanfic entered my life, I didn’t really know that queer people existed, and then a few months later, I realized that I myself was queer.
I’m sure I would’ve found out about the existence of queer people eventually, even without fan fiction, but in the narrative of my own life, what those two sequential events made obvious to me is that it’s hard to be something if you don’t know (1) that that thing exists and (2) that it’s okay to be that thing. I didn’t struggle with my sexuality initially, because the first thing that fanfic taught me was that it was normal. I read fanfic about straight relationships and I read fanfic about queer relationships; as a child, I didn’t really know to think of them differently. Even though I had never (to my knowledge) met other queer people in real life, let alone seen an out queer couple—so you would’ve thought I might have been like, “Hang on, but why don’t I know any queer people if it’s so okay to be queer?”—the moment I found fan fiction and learned about queerness as a possibility, I didn’t think to question it at all. I just accepted it.
It was only when I tried to talk to other people about it that I realized that the world around me wasn’t as accepting, and my sexuality became something more difficult to deal with, for a while. But I never lost what I had at first, which was the understanding of myself that fanfic gave me, the understanding of queerness as something both possible and completely, absolutely okay. So when it came to writing a fantasy story, I wanted to create something that would give my characters that same wonderful understanding.
The beauty of fantasy is that you can imbue that something with magic and power, make it extra special so that the readers who need it will know that there’s nothing wrong with the things they feel and the way they are, and that there is, in fact, a sparkling magic in those feelings. And that’s partly where “The Phoenix’s Fault” came from. If I were to title the story of my own life in the same fashion, I’d call it “The Fanfic’s Fault.” And by fault I assign not blame but unending gratitude—the same way that, when the person you love asks you why you’re smiling, you might say in reply, still grinning uncontrollably, “It’s all your fault.”
Cynthia So is bisexual and proud to be queer. She is Chinese, born in Hong Kong and now living in London. She studied classics at university. Her writing has appeared in speculative fiction magazines, including Anathema: Spec from the Margins, which publishes work by queer people of color.
Follow news about PROUD on the #ProudBook hashtag @stripesbooks.