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Today’s guest is speculative fiction author SL Huang! Her short fiction includes the novelette “The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist,” a science fiction retelling of “The Little Mermaid”; the science fiction story “The Woman Who Destroyed Us,” which was selected for the recently-released anthology The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 13; and the dark fairy tales in the Hunting Monsters series, “Hunting Monsters” and “Fighting Demons.” She’s also a writer for The Vela, a collaborative space opera serial that just began releasing season one episodes last month, and the author of the Cas Russell series, which has a protagonist with a math-based superpower. Zero Sum Game, the first of these science fiction thrillers and her debut novel, was published last year and will be followed by book two, Null Set, on July 9!

Null Set Cover Zero Sum Game Cover

Being a Woman

When I was a child I hated the color pink.

Pink, society told me, was a girl color. And it wasn’t that I didn’t like being a girl—I did—but I didn’t want to be a girl the way I was told. Anything I was told was “girly” I automatically rebelled against.

This might have been a defense mechanism, considering how out of step I felt with my own gender in so many other ways. It’s not been an uncommon experience in my life to be insulted or mocked for “not thinking like a girl” or “not understanding women.” I’ve been flat-out told—usually by women, and usually not as a compliment—that I shouldn’t “count” as one of my own gender because I didn’t interact the way I was supposed to. On the flip side, I’ve long felt comfortable and welcomed in male-heavy spaces, so I tried to find some pride in that.

Of course, much has been written about how problematic the “not like other girls” narrative is. And I completely agree with the objection to denigrating anything feminine as somehow lesser. But in my case, even after I struggled past such cultural influences, feminine things and women-centric environments often still felt . . . uncomfortable. Like an ill-fitting shoe. Not for me.

Worse, when it came to the representation of women in books and movies, sometimes the pendulum would swing from “more strong female characters!” to “stop writing women as if they’re men with boobs.” Though the latter is a good thing to consider to a point, too often I saw people’s arguments devolving into telling people to stop writing exactly the women who were most like me, framing them as “not real women.”

I found myself in the rudderless place of feeling alienated from my own gender, but feeling like it was sexist to identify that way. Of wanting to see more women like myself in books, but hearing this was somehow bad representation.

(Once I read a list mocking the traits “strong female characters” have as shallow and unrealistic, and I fit every characteristic on that list. Not the most fun moment.)

To people well-versed in feminist criticism, the answer here might seem obvious: all manner of binary declaration, essentialism, and extremism is a false solution. We need to respect and value all women, of all stripes—women who are more stereotypically feminine, more stereotypically masculine, or not even along those axes at all. But it took me quite a while to work through all this in my own emotions and in my relationship to both my gender and to the culture surrounding me. And though gender presentation doesn’t have any sort of pure causal relationship with gender identity—plenty of women feel all sorts of ways about traditionally feminine activities or women-centric initiatives—in my case, a big step to figuring all this out was coming to question whether I was a cis woman at all.

It took coming out as genderqueer for me to feel comfortable with also being a woman.

I currently identify as both. And I’ve never been prouder of the latter half of that identity. Genderqueerness somehow not only fit me in a way that felt well-tailored and correct, but understanding that part of me ironically made the “woman” part fit a thousand times better. As if acknowledging that I’m not entirely female made me able to claim the female pieces without so much guilt and conflict.

This is far from a universal experience of people who identify off the gender binary, many of whom reject binary identities entirely. Where I do feel similar to many nonbinary people is that my gender is still something I’m figuring out—but so far, in my case, my journey with gender has oddly helped me stop being so uncomfortable when people identify me as female. I no longer feel my previous ill-fitting cringe when people recommend me as a female author or a woman to watch. I no longer feel out of place in female-centric spaces the way I used to, and when included or recognized this way it feels much more whole and correct, like it’s okay for me to be a part of them because being a woman is part of me.

And I’ve become very, very comfortable saying we do need more women like me in media, whether or not those characters share my complicated and evolving gender identity. Because if I’ve learned one thing from my personal relationship with gender: it’s all individual. And it’s all fine.

I now wear shocking, eye-searing shades of pink whenever I feel the urge. And I try to write more and more women in more and more infinite varieties: women who kick ass or don’t, women who are kind and generous or women who are jerks, women who are fashion mavens or family matriarchs or whip-smart nerds or all of the above. Queer women, trans women, older women; women who think differently from their peers or question their own identities; women from a broad richness of cultures and backgrounds. Women who intersect with all variations of the human condition.

There’s no limit to the number of deep and true ways we can represent women. And there’s no limit to the ways in which we can be one, either.

SL Huang Photo
Photo Credit: Chris Massa
SL Huang is an Amazon-bestselling author who justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. Her debut novel, Zero Sum Game, came out from Tor Books in October 2018, and her short fiction has sold to Strange Horizons, Analog, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016, among others.

She is also a Hollywood stuntwoman and firearms expert, where she’s appeared on shows such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “Raising Hope.” Her proudest geek moment was getting to be killed by Nathan Fillion. The first professional female armorer in the industry, she’s worked with actors such as Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason Momoa, and Danny Glover, and been hired as a weapons expert for reality shows such as “Top Shot” and “Auction Hunters.”

She’s currently on a film hiatus in Tokyo, but you can find her online at www.slhuang.com or on Twitter as @sl_huang.