Tag: Among

Marieke reviews Down Among The Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – The Lesbrary

Susan reviews The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia

Marieke reviews Down Among The Sticks And Bones by Seanan McGuire

For any of you not familiar with Seanan McGuire’s work, she is a veritable master of remixing fairy tale tropes and patterns (and other genres too), on the same level as someone like Neil Gaiman, while of course giving it her own twist every time. In this case, the main two characters are twin sisters Jacqueline and Jillian, who later take on the names of Jack and Jill. In this review, the name used for each character is the name they used at that time in the story. I personally am not familiar with the nursery rhyme and so can say with full confidence that you don’t need to know it in order to enjoy this book, but I expect many of its strands are woven in throughout. On top of that, McGuire draws from classic horror fare, as the main chunk of the story sees the two siblings in a world ruled by a vampire and a mad scientist facing off in a personal rivalry from across the Moors. And so the stage is set.

McGuire is excellent at invoking specific visuals and scenes we are all familiar with: the castle in the marshes, Dracula’s brides, the lightning coming down from the thunderous clouds to power the scientist’s experiments in his remote and ramshackle wind mill. She manages to ensure these classic elements don’t overpower the story by providing the two main characters with a very modern world background: their parents wanted a classic son and daughter. When they ended up with two daughters, they forced the twins into extremely strict binary gender roles. This means that both sisters could just embody half of their identity, with Jillian only being allowed tomboyish behaviours and Jacqueline always being dressed in extravagant dresses she is warned stringently against dirtying – to the point of developing germophobia and mysophobia.

When they fall through a portal into the world of the Moors, they are for the very first time offered a choice on this aspect. It shouldn’t surprise the reader that they choose the opposite of their experience so far, with Jack joining Dr. Bleak as his apprentice in resurrection and Jill staying with the Master to become his eventual daughter / bride. This still feels like a choice between two strict gender roles though, and it’s hinted throughout the text that the only way for both sisters to fully become themselves is to be allowed through their own choice to embrace their whole selves rather than mashing these two sides against each other.

Another way that McGuire manages to set this work apart from more traditional pastiches and celebrations of the horror genre is by humanising the genre’s traditional background stock characters: the villagers. During her apprenticeship under Dr. Bleak, one of the creatures Jack helps to resurrect is the inn keeper’s daughter, Alexis. During her second chance at life, the two grow close and form a romantic attachment to each other.

This is an important point in Jack’s character development, as it’s a type of love she hasn’t experienced before. One character does describe the relationship between the two girls as unnatural, but it isn’t made clear what their thought process is in context: instead of low-key homophobia (mixed with the usual worries around not being able to have children – an argument swiftly put down by Jack as she refers to her resurrection skills), they could also be referring to any type of love being unnatural in their eyes, or to the fact that technically Alexis is undead. This is the only overt negative comment directed at them – Jill quietly isn’t happy about the relationship either, but that’s mostly because she feels possessive of Jack’s attentions.

Jill’s unhappiness is an important counterpoint to the relationship between Jack and Alexis, because on top of the romantic upheaval their attachment also introduces Jack to Alexis’s village life. She meets the inn keeper and his wife, as well as other shop keepers and tradespeople as she accompanies Alexis on various errands. In contrast, Jill is denied this type of socialising during her education under the Master, who instead nurtures her jealous and possessive tendencies. It is this difference in upbringing that serves as the catalyst at the end of the tale, bringing the strands together.

This story really serves as a prequel to the first book in the Wayward Children series, which I will be re-reading to see how the relationship dynamic between the two sisters develops as they are forced to rely more on each other. As it stands, I would recommend Down Among The Sticks and Bones to anyone interested in the remixing of genre tropes and gender roles within the horror / SFF genre.

Content warnings: murder, death, blood, toxic relationship, emotional abuse (most of these are the result of the story featuring a vampire)

New Study Looks at Experience of Pregnancy Loss Among Trans/Masculine and Nonbinary People

New Study Looks at Experience of Pregnancy Loss Among Trans/Masculine

A new, peer-reviewed study looks at the experiences of trans/masculine and nonbinary people who were gestating but experienced pregnancy loss.

Flower on Gray

Men, trans/masculine, and non-binary people’s experiences of pregnancy loss: an international qualitative study,” by Damien W. Riggs, Ruth Pearce, Carla A. Pfeffer, Sally Hines, Francis Ray White, and Elisabetta Ruspini, was published Monday in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, and is the first empirical paper to come out of the broader Leeds University project, “Trans Pregnancy: An International Exploration of Transmasculine Practices and Experiences of Reproduction,” according to a tweet by Riggs. Although growing numbers of men, trans/masculine, and nonbinary people are becoming gestational parents, the researchers say, “very little is known about experiences of pregnancy loss among this diverse population.”

For their study, the researchers recruited a convenience sample of 16 participants, ages 23 to 49, who had experienced a pregnancy loss. Six of the participants had experienced more than one; 15 had experienced a live birth either prior to or following a pregnancy loss. The researchers then conducted interviews averaging 100 minutes, asking a general question about experiences of undertaking a pregnancy and specific follow-up questions about pregnancy loss.

While the experiences of the participants bore some similarities to those of cisgender men and women who had experienced pregnancy loss, there were also some points of difference, the study found, including “the importance of inclusive healthcare (i.e., asking about pronouns, refusing to accept misgendering within healthcare systems), the specific meanings that trans/masculine and non-binary people may bring to the experience of pregnancy loss (i.e., in regards to concerns about testosterone and pregnancy), and the ways in which marginalisation may negatively impact on available support (i.e., in terms of unsupportive family members).”

Another distinctive finding was that participants “spoke about pregnancy loss as distressing, but also as a sign that their bodies were working.” While some participants had been concerned that previous hormone prescriptions might have meant they would not be able to conceive, these concerns “were to a degree allayed by eventually becoming pregnant, even if for some it ended in a pregnancy loss.” Therefore, the researchers suggest:

Clinicians will best meet the needs of trans/masculine and non-binary people who have experienced a pregnancy loss by focusing on the emotions attached both to the loss and to the possible desire to attempt another pregnancy, rather than focusing on pregnancy loss as a means to infer that trans/masculine, non-binary and men’s bodies should not be pregnant.

To many of us who know trans/masculine and nonbinary people who have been pregnant, that may seem obvious—but as with much of the research about LGBTQ parents and youth, sometimes it’s useful to have research to support the obvious. It can help guide clinical practice, among other things. The researchers advise, for example, that hospital staff and those providing grief counselling for pregnancy loss should receive training specific to this population:

This should include a focus on the importance of asking about pronouns, advocating for system change in terms of ensuring that names, pronouns and gender can be correctly recorded, and ensuring that medical experiences following a pregnancy loss do not further compound the potential grief experienced by men, trans/masculine, and non-binary people and their partners.

This paper feels like a good step towards helping people of all genders get the reproductive care that they need. The full paper is available free online.

Bonus note: Cited in the paper is Christa Craven’s Reproductive Losses: Challenges to LGBTQ Family-Making (Routledge, 2019), which takes a wider look at gestational or adoption loss across the LGBTQ spectrum. I reviewed it here.


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