In conversation with Eris Young, writer-in-residence at Lighthouse Books

Eris Young is a writer, bookseller, events programmer, book reviewer, and all-round bookish person who has just released their first solo book, They/Them/Their: A Guide to Nonbinary & Genderqueer Identities. Eris moved from California to Edinburgh to study for a Masters in Linguistics and, after seeing how ‘active and diverse the writing community in Edinburgh is’, decided they didn’t want to leave. In a free moment within Eris’ bookish maelstrom, The Student caught up with them to talk about the new book and their hopes for the genderqueer community.

 

How would you describe what Lighthouse does, and your role as their Writer-in-Residence?

“[Lighthouse is] a radical bookshop, so they are specifically curated towards a politically radical, socially aware, diverse readership. They make a conscious effort to programme events which challenge the status quo. That aligns with my own personal politics really nicely and is something that I wanna cultivate in myself. I love them.

“[My role] mainly involves events programming and virtual residency. I write a blog post for them and I do workshops in the space. The freedom to do weird and wonderful events [is] one of my favourite things about Lighthouse.”

You’ve been published in a fair few anthologies. What is it that draws you to this format?

“Short fiction is, from a practical standpoint, practical. There are already people writing queer, diverse, challenging sci-fi and fantasy, and short fiction is where it’s happening. Magazines like Uncanny, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons [are] publishing the kind of writing that I wanna do.

“The anthology F, M or Other from Knight Errant Press contacted me to ask if I wanted to participate. I’m still developing, and I really like writing on a prompt. There’s an anthology [called] We Were Always Here which has some amazing writers in it. That one [followed on from] participating in a mentorship scheme, the Queer Words Project Scotland. I’ve got an upcoming [piece] in a project called Uncanny Bodies which is being edited by Pippa Goldschmidt, who is a scientist and science fiction writer.”

You’ve written a book. Could you give an outline of what it’s about, and your inspirations?

“The book is called They/Them/Their. I wanted it to answer questions non binary and genderqueer people might have because there aren’t a lot of resources for us collated into one place. I wanted it to be something for us, but also something for cisgender allies to read and find out about our experiences and our needs, without us having to explain ourselves over and over again, because that’s something we have to do a lot.”

Where do non binary and genderqueer identities fall in the LGBTQ spectrum?

“Non binary and genderqueer identities mean people who don’t identify [as] a man or a woman. I personally identify as genderqueer, because it carries this connotation of ‘queering’ gender – challenging the underlying structure that has created gender and trying to undermine or subvert it, which I really like. It’s what I try and do with my writing as well. We’re adjacent to the wider transgender community, and within that [under] the wider umbrella of LGBTQ.”

Your book has a lovely mix of academic writing and personal insight, from you and others. Why is it important to blend these two styles?

“There have always been people writing about gender, but the work has been by and large academic, and strongly theoretical. [There is a] tension between needing advanced language to articulate what’s going on with gender, and [the fact that] trans people are a systematically disenfranchised group, and we’re not always equipped to understand writing that’s about us. I’m concerned with how people are living their lives right now. Theory pushes forward; [without it], it would be harder for us to articulate why we need change. But I saw a gap in the market for a book about us, for us, by us, that we could read.”

In the book you mention ‘global categories of gender identity that don’t have a Western analogue’. Could you talk a bit more about this?

“We’re taught to think of gender as this immutable, permanent, ancient ‘thing’, but before the Western Enlightenment, we thought of gender in a totally different way. A person’s social roles were pertinent to how that person was categorised; their body… was incidental. Then it switched because it became economically expedient to oppress women and keep them in the home, and we [needed] an excuse to do that. By including non-Western or historical gender categories you can step away from that, you can start to articulate ‘wait; it’s not the same all over the world, it doesn’t need to be this way, there are places for people like me.’”

What sort of impact do you hope your book will have? And what are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ community?
“[The genderqueer community is] part of real life and doesn’t get enough visibility. I think it’s important to write about any marginalised or ‘othered’ perspective; to represent ourselves and demand space. I have tried to give readers an opportunity to start thinking of gender as more flexible, more mutable, more impermanent. And hopefully have that permeate the rest of their lives; the way they think of themselves, their assumptions about other people.

“I want to have whole-group solidarity, and collective action to challenge the systems that are oppressing all of us. Less infighting, more full integration with other marginalised groups in terms of race and class, more awareness of how our attempts to get rights for ourselves affect the environment.”

Are you writing or working on any new creative projects?

“In late October, I’m doing a fantasy writing workshop for anyone who’s interested in writing fantasy fiction, short or long. In mid-December I’m gonna do a queer writers showcase. I’m getting as many queer writers as I can to read something new they’ve created and talk about their plans for the next year. It’s gonna be a rapid-fire, hopefully fun, casual, inspiring thing.”

“The Uncanny Bodies project is coming out from Luna Press in 2020. It’s a combination of both fiction/poetry and academic essays about the uncanny. I want to write a novel about eunuchs. I want to give them magic, just because it’s fun. And I’ve decided that my next book from Jessica Kingsley is gonna be about asexuality.”

 

Image: Manvir Dobb

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