Interview: Phoebe Barton

Today we’re joined by Phoebe Barton. Phoebe is a phenomenal science fiction author who specializes in hard science fiction. She enjoys writing women-centered fiction and has published a few stories online. Her work has a lot of relevant themes and sounds positively fascinating. It’s clear she’s a dedicated and passionate artist, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

Portrait 1-sm [Philippe McNally]
Portrait by Philippe McNally

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I write science fiction; people have tended to describe it as hard science fiction, and while I don’t agree with the way “hard science fiction” is often wielded as a hammer to invalidate peoples’ work, I do try to get things as correct as I can with the knowledge I have access to. If I can’t believe the accuracy of something, what business do I have expecting a reader to believe it?

I prefer writing stories that centre around women, and some of my favourites are the ones that include no men at all – even before I knew I was a trans woman, I knew that was what made it more comfortable for me to inhabit the story’s world. Since I started being published I’ve only written from two masculine perspectives, and one of them is a character in my still-unpublished, desperately-in-need-of-redrafting novel. Themes of isolation come up a lot in my work as well, with stories set in places like the rings of Saturn or Earth orbit or the fringes of the known galaxy, which owes a lot to my own isolation growing up on the suburban edge of Central Ontario.

What inspires you?

Thinking about all the wide and diverse possibilities of what the future could hold, of what could become of us if we’re wise enough to know what we’re doing while we reach for it. A lot of my characters are genetically engineered or technologically enhanced in some way or another, and I’ve always been inspired by how the vast canvas of science fiction can allow us to look at new things in new ways, as long as we’re careful to not fall into familiar pitfalls.

I’ve also been inspired to write stories as rebuttals to obscure, nearly-forgotten science fiction stories from decades ago. There were a lot of problems with the genre back then – there still are, to be honest – but I think that building something modern on its foundation is beneficial.

Sometimes, too, it’s just things that jump out at me in the course of ordinary reading that sends me on trajectories I never would have expected. Sentences in Wikipedia articles have unfolded into stories, and Foz Meadows’ Manifold Worlds books got me thinking about new story possibilities I might not have considered otherwise.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in science fiction – I grew up with a library of Star Trek VHS tapes and tie-in novels – and I’ve been writing for about as long. My earliest breakthrough was in high school, when my Grade 9 English teacher gave me a 10/10 for a short story that, honestly, wasn’t very good, but it was the first time I’d ever got a hint that there might be something to stringing all these words together. I never thought of pursuing it in an organized, focused way until fairly recently, though.

When I was a teenager, I read the Writer’s Handbook 1998 Edition over and over, as if it contained all the secrets for success I’d ever need to know. My original copy disappeared in a move, so I bought a used copy a little while ago and still read through it occasionally. I think it’s good to be aware of your personal journey, where you started and how far you’ve come.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I enjoy building puns into the framework of a story, but mostly the sort that don’t immediately present themselves as such. The entire concept behind my story “One to Watch,” for example, was derived from a multilingual pun.

Beyond that, all my stories take place in the same setting, in different points of space and time. There’s something calming and focusing about gradually building something intricate out of ordinary parts. The unifying threads can be hard to see sometimes, but they’re usually there.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Don’t wait until everything feels perfect. Press on with what you have, and keep pushing. Some of it will taste pretty sour after you’ve been at it for a while, but that only means you’ve learned and grown as an artist.

Be curious, and be aware of the context your art lives in! I didn’t even know that there were markets for short science fiction when I was just starting out. The more you know, the more you’re capable of.

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I identify as a sex-repulsed grey-asexual. It took me a long, long time – we’re talking decades – before I realized that, no, this is not the way everyone is. Most people don’t think of sex the same way as that Fear Factor challenge where they put you in a giant tank and then fill it to the brim with wriggling mealworms.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’ve been fortunate to not encounter very much of either. Granted, it’s not something I talk about much either, so it may be that my luck comes from not bringing it up.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

That it’s not a thing that exists.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

You are valid and you are not broken. As much as this culture might want to justify it as “being a late bloomer,” sex is not the be-all and end-all of life. You are not the only one going through this, and you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I’ve recently opened an author website at www.phoebebartonsf.com with a bibliography, links to my online fiction and non-fiction, and some other bits of interest. Some of my stories are available to read for free online at www.curiousfictions.com. I also maintain an older blog, www.actsofminortreason.com, where I run a couple of science fiction review series, among other things. Additionally I’m active on Twitter at aphoebebarton.

Thank you, Phoebe, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: Wolfberry Studio

Today we’re joined by Jay at Wolfberry Studio. Jay is a phenomenal visual artist who works in digital illustration. Their work is mostly in the science fiction and fantasy genres and features people of color, who are underrepresented in such genres. Jay’s work shows extraordinary attention to detail and the images evoke such an amazing sense of imagination and beauty. It’s clear they’re a very dedicated and talented artist, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to them for taking the time to participate in this interview.

Kadal Kanni
Kadal Kanni

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I am a digital illustrator who works mostly in vector. My fantasy and sci-fi illustrations focus on people of color who are under-represented in these genres.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by legends and myths from around the world. I enjoy exploring the differences and similarities between stories from different cultures. Stylistic influences include Chinese classical painting and Japanese animation.

In addition to visiting museums and galleries regularly to gain exposure to a wide range of styles, I do live drawing outdoors. Nature can inspire, even if you are not a nature painter.

Cables
Cables

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing. I was one of those kids who got reprimanded for doodling in class in elementary school. I saw drawing as a way to tell stories. I drew comics about my classmates.

As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of the role of visual art in disseminating social messages. I had observed the lack of diversity in certain genres. One day, I realized that instead of complaining about other artists not drawing what I want to see, maybe I should draw what I want to see. That was when I decided to pursue formal artistic training.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

My studio signature is consists of the Chinese characters for Wolfberry Studio.  Wolfberry is another name for goji berry.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

It is OK to feel disappointed with your work sometimes.  The fact that you are self-critical is a good thing. It shows that you are ready and willing to improve. In art school, I saw that the artists who improved their skills most quickly were the ones who were the most open to critique.

Regarding how to deal with the gap between where we are as creatives and where we want to be, Ira Glass of This American Life says it best in a 2009 interview:  (http://www.mcwade.com/DesignTalk/2011/04/nobody-tells-this-to-beginners/)

He was talking about video producers, but his comments can apply to just about any field.

We are all on a journey to getting better. It never ends.

Lattices
Lattices

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

Gray-A. Aromantic.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

Not in professional relationships, since the subject has never come up with clients.

I do want to say that I am pleased by the presence of out asexual artists of all levels in online communities. Their visibility paves the way for the rest of us.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

Some people think that asexuality is pathological, and that aces would be happier if they weren’t asexual.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

There is no need to fit yourself into someone else’s concept of a happy, fulfilling life.  What’s right for others might not be right for you. You are the only one who knows what’s right for you.

People shouldn’t be giving you a hard time for being asexual any more than you should be giving than a hard time for being allosexual, or for being a football fan, or liking ice cream, or being into whatever else they’re into but you’re not into.

You’re the only one who has to live your life. You’re not living it for anyone else. Seek out people who respect you and accept you the way you are.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

https://wolfberry-j.deviantart.com/
https://wolfberrystudio.blogspot.com/
https://www.instagram.com/wolfberrystudio/
https://www.redbubble.com/people/WolfberryStudio/portfolio.

Autumn Kitten
Autumn Kitten

Thank you, Jay, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: Jenn Basel

Today we’re joined by Jenn Basel. Jenn is a phenomenal asexual writer and performer who writes both original work and fanfiction. They write mostly gunpowder fantasy, which is similar to steampunk. For fanfiction, they write a number of stories set in the Elder Scrolls universe. They also blog about writing and publishing. When they’re not writing, Jenn is a performance artist who works with a  theater trope that primarily does living chess shows at Renaissance Faires. Jenn’s a stunt fighter trained both with a sword and in unarmed combat. It’s very clear they’re incredibly passionate about what they do, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to them for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a writer. I do a bit of blogging and I’ve got a pet Skyrim fanfic I update every couple of weeks, but the bulk of my work is original fantasy. I tend to write for adult audiences, and some of my favorite projects to work on are political stories filled with court intrigue and subterfuge. I primarily write gunpowder fantasy, which is sometimes called steampunk’s younger cousin–basically, gunpowder fantasy is fantasy set in fictional worlds with a level of technology equivalent to the real-world 17th to 19th centuries.

It’s very important to me to write about the characters I needed when I was younger, so my work tends to be very focused on the stories of queer and disabled people.

I’m also a performer. I have some experience acting in more traditional stage shows, but my real passion lies in improv theatre and performing as a living chess piece at my city’s annual Renaissance faire. Our shows are based around choreographed fights with a variety of weapons. I’m currently trained in unarmed combat and swordfighting.

What inspires you?

At the end of the day, I think what really keeps me going is the knowledge that I can be the person I needed when I was younger. I can write and perform queer, disabled characters being awesome. It makes me feel good to know that there are people out there who have told me how happy my work has made them, and how good it felt to see something of themselves.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I started telling stories when I was pretty young. I was an only child for twelve years and we lived out in the country, so I spent a lot of time by myself. I liked playing dress-up and acting out stories based on books and movies I loved. It wasn’t much of a leap to inventing stories of my own, and it didn’t take me long after that to start writing them down.

I don’t think it occurred to me that I could write down my stories to share with other people until a little later, but once that idea got lodged in my head, I took to it with gusto. My first attempts at novels were in middle school. I still have a lot of fondness for those stories.

The acting came pretty naturally out of my games as a kid, too. I wanted to be a stage actor for a long time after taking drama classes in middle school, but only recently did I finally get the opportunity. I’m very glad to have stumbled across my current acting troupe.

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Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I’m not sure if I’ve developed a signature in my writing yet, but in my acting and stage combat I’ve really gravitated toward sarcastic, sardonic characters and quick, witty performances. I like campy humor and characters with a sharp tongue. My fighting style is settling into a fast-paced whirlwind interspersed with one-liners, which I hope is just as fun to watch as it is to perform.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Make goals and stick to them as best you can, but also know your limits. I’ve hurt myself in the past by pushing myself too hard when what I really needed was to take a step back, rest, and take some time for other interests. It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “oh, if I don’t create something every day, I’m not a Real Artist,” but that’s not true at all. Follow your passion and your goals, but take care of yourself while you do it! It’s not a race, and you’re not in competition with your fellow creators. You can take your time, pace yourself, and take breaks when you need them.

This goes double if your art is in any way physical, like performing!

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ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I identified as demisexual for a while before learning about grey-asexuality. There are times I feel what I think is sexual attraction, but I have to have a very strong emotional connection first, and even then it’s pretty unpredictable and fairly rare.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’m fortunate to be in very supportive communities surrounding my fields, so fortunately I haven’t really encountered it there. But I have experienced prejudice and ignorance in other areas of my life, and it can be hard. In online spaces, where I’ve experienced the most backlash, I make liberal use of the block button, and I make it very clear when I’m done talking about a subject. When I find myself getting particularly overwhelmed, I get off the computer and go hang out with friends or play my go-to comfort game, the Sims.

Fortunately I haven’t experienced a lot of ignorance offline. The few times I’ve had to deal with ignorance, it’s been from people who were willing to listen to and carefully consider what I had to say.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

The most common misconception is probably that sexuality is all-or-nothing, and asexuals can only ever be “nothing.” In addition to identifying as grey-ace, I’m also grey-romantic, bi, and polyamorous. Sometimes I feel sexual and romantic attraction, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I experience one but not the other.

There are times I have sex with my partners, but that doesn’t make me any less asexual. And even if I never felt sexual attraction at all, attraction and action are different things. Plenty of asexuals enjoy sexual activity. Plenty don’t. But you can’t tell that just from somebody’s orientation.

The other misconception I think I run into the most is that if you’re ace, you’re automatically also aro. I happen to be both, but not everyone is. Asexuality and aromanticism are their own distinct identities, and even if they sometimes overlap, it’s inappropriate to lump them together as one.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

I felt deeply broken for a long time. There was a point I heavily considered going to the doctor, because I thought I was sick. It took me a good while to accept that there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

What I think helped me the most was finding a community. That is admittedly easier said than done, but I think it’s really important. I started following as many discourse-free positivity blogs as I could find, and I relied (and still rely) on the support of my partners when things are really rough. I found people who validated me and had similar lived experience, so I stopped feeling so alone. Again, it really is easier said than done, but it’s so much easier to push through the bad days if you can find people who have done it before and are doing it alongside you.

I highly recommend fuckyeahasexual on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. They share a lot of great content from a lot of great people, and they’ve done a lot to help me feel a little more connected. Another thing that’s helped is finding positive representation of asexuals in fiction

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

As for my writing, I can be found on Tumblr as at jennbasel. That Tumblr has links to my other social media, including Twitter. My main blog can be found at jennbasel.blogspot.com. I post fanfiction on AO3 as JennBasel, and my original fiction can be found on Medium at https://medium.com/@JennBasel. I also have a Patreon at patreon.com/jennbasel.

My theatre troupe, the Thieves Guilde, can be found at thievesguilde.org. We perform at events throughout Florida, most notably the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.

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Thank you, Jenn, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: Hale

Today we’re joined by Hale. Hale is a phenomenal artist who does both visual art and fanart in the form of cosplay. She has degrees in graphic design and fine art. Hale is also a great cosplayer who has an admirable love for bringing characters to life. She’s an incredibly dedicated artist, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

DChuntress
DC Huntress

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

Right out of high school I started as a graphic designer. I got my Associate of Science in Graphic Design, so a lot of my art from back then is focused on design principles. During the rest of my undergrad (Art History Bachelor’s with a minor in Fine Art) I took other fine art classes, but I still stuck with shapes and forms that were more simple or geometric – meant to advertise an idea or be a backdrop rather than a focus. Now that I’m going for my Master’s in Business Design and Arts Leadership, I make a lot of presentation graphics. A lot of the projects I work on take lengthy case studies or papers and turn them into design works that are understandable or fit a brand image.

Outside of school, I also cross stitch, take photos, and I cosplay. The cross stitches I make are usually based on old 8-bit graphics from video games. I tend to cosplay as video game characters, as well, though I enjoy anime cosplay, too. I’m currently interning at a photography business, so I’m learning to take portraits of family and weddings. This is informed by cosplay photography, but it’s also something that I just enjoy as a hobby. I took several photography classes at school, but they were more fine art focused rather than portrait focused. I like going down different avenues of thinking or going through different art worlds for my work, so it varies a lot.

What inspires you?

When it comes to the art I make as a student, I get a lot of my ideas from Pinterest. I don’t directly copy from them, of course, but I first get an idea of the brand that currently exists (or if I’m working on rebranding, the brand that I want to exist) and then search for images on Pinterest that fit that idea. For example, I might type “plants” into Pinterest to get an idea for a logo for a farming agency that hasn’t already been done. Or if I’m working on a case study write up about Etsy, I might type “orange” into Pinterest, since one of Etsy’s brand colors is orange. Making mood boards helps me get into the right mindset of the project I’m working on and sends me down different avenues I might not have thought of if I just had a sketchbook in front of me (sort of like the 2-D art version of the Youtube wormhole)

I find that RPG video games inspire me the most in both cross stitching and cosplay. For example: Pokemon, Dragon Age, and Ace Attorney are all games that I’ve used in my work. Usually when I cosplay from an anime, it’s because I’m doing it as a group or because it’s meaningful to a certain point in my life. I don’t usually just pick from an anime because I enjoy a certain character like I do with video games.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

When I first got into all three of my degrees, I didn’t really know what I was getting in for. I just kind of went for it. I never really considered myself an “artist” because I am not as good at drawing or painting as some of my artist friends. I enjoy art and always wanted to do something related to art, but even now I feel some hesitation to call myself an artist. With all three of my degrees, I sort of took a baby step into the field first and then just jumped in without considering all of the consequences. For example, I started college as a PSEO student, meaning I took college classes as a high schooler for credit. I took Graphic Design as an elective, and then after graduating high school, decided that would be my career path. The same thing happened with Art History where I took an art history class as part of my Associate’s and decided to jump into it as my Bachelor’s. I took a year off in between my Bachelor’s and my Master’s where I tried to decide what I wanted to do. I still didn’t think I was an artist, but I had an art degree (kind of). I didn’t want to work on commission, and I had a vague idea of working in a museum, but didn’t really know how to get there. I went for my BDAL Master’s with the idea that it could get me headed in the direction of a nonprofit organization without needing to pick a certain area (Museum Development or Museum Studies seemed too specific)

I guess I was always destined to be involved in art in some capacity. I’ve always surrounded myself with other artists as friends and peers. I feel like artists get better critiques and feedback from their friends, especially if those friends are also artists. Friends got me interested in video games, in anime, in design; I wouldn’t have become an “artist” (in the loosest sense of the word) without my support. That being said, I don’t think the traditional categories of painter, writer, sketch artist, etc. necessarily make sense anymore in today’s digital world. Art doesn’t have to fit into one category to be art, so although my friends may fit into those categories better than me (and for a long time I didn’t consider myself an artist because of it) that doesn’t mean that what I do isn’t good art. It just means the ways in which my art gets critiqued needs to be different. I have always wanted to do what I do, I just didn’t always consider what I do to be “art.”

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

Not so much in the art I’m making now, but I focused on stars quite a bit when I was starting out professionally. I said earlier that I use a lot of geometric shapes, and a star is more visually interesting than a simple circle, but I’m come to appreciate simplicity a little more than when I began. Otherwise, my signature is more literal. Especially in designing case studies, you get credited for “visual layout” or for creating charts that better convey the information. So my unique signature in my more recent art is literally my signature. I don’t do anything like that for the art that I consider to be more of a hobby (cosplay, cross stitching, etc.) and I use the basic metadata info for my photos and digital art.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Try lots of different areas of art. Even if you’re a painter, and you’re always going to be a painter, there are lots of unexpected avenues you can find by trying something new. I never considered myself a sculptor, but my school required me to take a 3D class and some of what I consider to be my most unique art (if not my best) was 3D. It was hard, and not something I particularly enjoyed, but it broadened my horizons.

I would also say, study art history (and especially non-western art history). There’s no better way to learn about your own art than to immerse yourself in art. If you can’t immerse yourself physically by making something, learning about the ways that ancient people (or contemporary people) made art is just as informative. A lot of contemporary artists make works to continue conversations that artists of the past were having. We speak of art like it’s a visual narrative of an individual’s life, but it can be a conversation with another artist or political movement. It’s easy to get inspired by other artists around you, so it should be just as easy to get inspired by artists who made works long ago.

Print
Print

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

Grey-asexual and Grey-aromantic. I can’t picture myself having sex or dating anyone in particular, but I can imagine myself having sex / dating in general. I don’t find anyone (or I haven’t found anyone) that I’ve met sexually or romantically attractive, but I can still picture myself doing the action in a more general sense.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’ve found that most artists are fairly accepting of asexuality. Ignorance is vastly more common than prejudice, in my experience. I know that there are many female artists that define their work as feminist art and engage in feminist conversation by either pointing out gender roles as necessarily sexual or making art that is intentionally sexual and thus provoking. There are also artists that focus on sexuality and gender as a social construct and assume that the conversations they want to convey apply to all people within their audience. I’ve run into the conversation in critiques where the artist will explain sexuality as a “universal experience” while they, in the same breath, explain that gender roles are not universal. I usually just question their beliefs further and try to understand why they came to that conclusion or how they justify their ignorance. In terms of prejudice, I find it much more common to experience prejudice against asexual individuals from home, or when I was in college, at the dorm, rather than directly at work in my field.

There have been a few experiences in cosplay where I have been hit on or flirted with because I was in costume (despite the ‘cosplay is not consent’ banners everywhere), but I tend to view those as one off experiences that I ignore rather than something that I personally need to address. I handle them the same way that I would handle someone flirting with me were I not in cosplay, which is usually to find a group of friends and avoid contact with the person flirting. I haven’t found any of the flirters to be particularly aggressive once I’ve left, though ignoring the problem is obviously not addressing the deeper issue, it works in those one off situations.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

I get the misconception that there must be something wrong with me quite often. I was in a pretty dangerously sexual situation as a child that many people who know about the situation think informed my ‘decision’ to be asexual, but honestly I have never experienced attraction, so I don’t think it has anything to do with that– or there being anything wrong with me. I’ve been lucky that most people have been pretty accepting, although there have been a few of those “oh you just haven’t found the right person yet” replies that get under my skin. Still, the biggest misconception tends to be ignorance more than anything else. The fact that people in my area just don’t know what asexuality is or refuse to believe that a person may not experience attraction is the most prevalent conversation that I’ve run across.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

I would just recommend doing your research. If a label makes you happy, use it. Don’t feel like you have to keep it forever. I’ve gone back and forth between ace and grey-ace forever in my head and just decided that in the end, it makes no difference to anyone but me. If you’re comfortable with labelling your orientation as something now, then label it. If later you decide that it doesn’t really fit, you can change the label. I know that when I first researched asexuality, I was thinking that it might fit me, but I was hesitant to agree because what if it didn’t fit me sometime in the future? What matters is your comfort now and finding supportive people might start with a label, but it might not. You should find people that support you no matter what your orientation is. That might mean seeking out a support group or forum for asexuals, or it might mean just finding a group of people that don’t care what your orientation is. It’s more important to reflect on yourself and to know your boundaries and morals when it comes to sex and romance than it is to find a label that perfectly fits you. It’s just as important to find a group of people that will help you to keep those boundaries rather than pressure you into something you’re uncomfortable with– whether that’s because you’re ace or just uncomfortable with the situation. It feels cheesy just to say “don’t worry about your orientation, the label will come when you’re ready” but the best way to find supportive people and figure yourself out is to do your research.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

The three social media areas I update on a regular basis are-

My online portfolio: behance.net/halebi
My cosplay Facebook: facebook.com/puppyrock32
and My Society6: society6.com/puppyrock3
My personal Tumblr is: puppyrock3.tumblr.com
It has my art, process images, cosplay, etc. but also just things I enjoy, so it can be a lot to sift through. I only link it here because you can send me an ask on Tumblr as a form of contact, and I can link you to other social media pages that I update less frequently or to process images on certain pieces of interest.

godproject
God Project

Thank you, Hale, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: Hana Li

Today we’re joined by Hana Li. Hana is an exciting first for Asexual Artists: she’s a burlesque dancer. She specializes in nerdlesque and queerlesque, as you’ll soon read. Hana has written on her blog a couple times about how asexuality factors into her art. Aside from burlesque dancing, Hana also participates in drag performing. She has so much passion for her art and I learned quite a bit reading this interview, as I’m sure many will. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

black-glasses-hana-li-by-brandy-lynne-photography
Black Glasses Hana Li photographed by Brandy Lynne Photography

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I am burlesque dancer. For those of you who don’t know what it is, burlesque is striptease for a broad audience rather than one individual tipping.  It often has elaborate costumes and a storytelling element.  My specialty is nerdlesque, a sub-genre that references pop culture and fandom, and queerlesque, burlesque from a queer POV.

I also perform drag as Tony Fo-Hawk.  He’s my failed self-cloning experience since my tagline is “lab teched my way through striptease school.”

What inspires you?

As a burlesque dancer, I’m inspired by my fellow Asian performers, past and present.  We are often out of control of our bodies and sexuality with our culture wanting us to be modest and reserved while Western media depicts us a exotic flowers and dragon ladies.  Learning about the dancers in Chinatown’s Forbidden City and about my contemporaries gave me the courage to start performing.  I’m also inspired by good stories, characters I connect with, music that makes me want to move, and action sports.  I’m an X Games fanatic and the “go big or go home” attitude that the athletes live by push me to always give 110% and take risks.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

In my adolescent years, I was drawn to sensual forms of dance.  I was actually a belly dancer first, but when I got my own place, there weren’t any classes near me.   Before my partner moved in, I took classes at a studio near his apartment, and that was where I decided to try burlesque.  At that time, I had seen performances at a show and was really inspired by the confidence of the dancers.  The teacher, Ginger Valentine, later moved to the Ruby Room, a burlesque studio that I could get to.  By then I had seen some shows sand was getting interested in the history of burlesque so I signed up.  I never intended to be a performer, but the community was so welcoming and the teachers at the Ruby Room were so encouraging that I got sucked in.

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Hana Li photographed by JD Morgan

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I don’t really have something in all my acts, but I have what I call “ace pride” socks that have made a couple of appearances.   I wore one in my solo debut act since that performance was supposed to embody me.  Then I decided to add them into my gender-bending Tuxedo Mask number for the Texas Queerlesque Festival as a statement that we do belong in the queer community.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Stay true to yourself while remaining open to change.  It’s easy to get caught up in doing what sells best, but you have to believe in what you do.  Although I studied classic burlesque, inspiration pointed me in the direction of nerdlesque.  I fought that label since nerdlesque wasn’t too popular, but I figured out how to incorporate my classic bump and grind skills with nerdy themes.  The same happened with drag.  I figured doing queerlesque was enough, but one day it wasn’t, and I decided to hand over some routine ideas to my drag self.

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O-Ren Ishii Hana Li photographed by Miracle Bennett

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I’m grey-asexual.  I’m heteroromantic, but my aesthetic attractions are primarily towards women and androgynous individuals.   Aesthetic attraction plays an equally important role in my identity, as I feel that’s what shifts me from being strictly ace to somewhere in the grey area near ace.   It’s hard to explain so I tend to tell people I’m a “genderqueer grey-a”.  I do wish there was more conversations about all the forms of attraction, not just sexual and romantic.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

People don’t think that I can be ace and a burlesque dancer because in their minds, burlesque is sexual. Depending on the situation, I’ll either wave them off or educate them about the difference between “sexy” and “sexual”.  An on-line conversation, plus some encouragement in a burlesque social justice forum, led to me writing my thoughts out in this blog post: http://hanaliburlesque.blogspot.com/2016/02/burlesque-for-me-is-not-about-sex.html

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

The number one is that aces don’t have a libido or engage in intercourse.  For a while, I bought into the idea that I was “too horny” to be asexual.

I do have to bring up another misconception I frequently encounter: that my grey-asexuality is the result of either my day job or my culture.  Both make me go WTF?! because they lump me into a stereotype, and it’s actually kind of offensive.  I did have a conservative upbringing, and I suspect that at least one of my parents is ace (unfortunately I don’t have the vocab in Mandarin to talk to them), but that doesn’t mean Asians are asexual.  Likewise, working in science doesn’t make me ace, just like doing burlesque doesn’t make me sexual.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

Know that there isn’t a simple definition.  Yes we say “lack of sexual attraction” to make the conversation easier, but there’s an entire spectrum and sometimes exceptions happen. I’ve known lesbians who became attracted to a man and pansexuals who don’t love all orientations.  You don’t have to have a check list to fit into an orientation, and you shouldn’t let people try to make you feel like you don’t belong.  Sometimes I still wonder if I’m “queer” enough even though I perform and produce queerlesque shows.  It’s important to recognize your privilege, but not at the cost of denying your identity.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I blog about my shows and experiences here: http://hanaliburlesque.blogspot.com/

You can learn about upcoming appearances and see performance (and cosplay) photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr:

https://www.facebook.com/hanaliburlesque
https://www.instagram.com/hanaliburlesque/
http://hanaliburlesque.tumblr.com/

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Thank you, Hana, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.