gaila: hot green chick

Meta: Why I love Gaila

This was #5 on a list of five words thistlerose gave me to discuss, but Gaila demanded her own post, so here it is. There are some brief, non-graphic comments about teen prostitution in India if that's trigger-y for anyone.

I read somewhere that all writers have Mary Sues but some conceal it better than others. I have to fess up: Gaila is my Mary Sue. It's not so much that I make her do things I wish I could (well, except for Captain Kirk), but that I put a lot of myself into her characterization. I'll start with the most obvious one: SEX. You guys, sex is awesome. Sex makes you feel relaxed and wanton and happy and carefree. It solves all kinds of problems, most notably stress and boredom. You can do it to have wild, exciting experiments or to feel comfortable and reassured. And the best thing is, you can tailor it exactly to your needs. So long as you are both consenting adults, nothing about it is wrong. There is no need to feel shame about something that has so many positive effects on your life. And you don't necessarily need a partner to have it either. Having a fabulous sex life with yourself is awesome and highly recommended. And maybe all of this is more than you wanted to know about me, but guess what? I'm not ashamed. Wanting sex is like wanting food; it's a normal, biological urge that is 100% healthy to satisfy. Not only should we all have more sex, our society should loosen up and talk about it a lot more freely. That would probably solve some of the shame issues and help people have better sex in the bargain. Gaila totally agrees with me on this.

But Gaila is also important to me because of an amazing book I read this year, The Blue Notebook by Arthur Levine. When the author went to study prostitution in India, he was shocked to find a teen prostitute locked in a cage on the street, writing in a notebook. He interviewed her extensively and used her story as the inspiration for his novel. The book was beautiful and haunting, and it left me thinking about the preciousness of our freedom to choose whom we have sex with and what we do with them. As a teacher, it stung me because so few of my students use this freedom meaningfully - perhaps because our social and educational culture forbids frank discussion of sex. Using that freedom meaningfully doesn't have to mean prudishly; it's about individual people making decisions that are right for them. When I write about Gaila, I think about that book often because I want to convey the gravity of the life she escaped from, that she truly has overcome it, and that sexual freedom isn't just about hedonism for her -- it's a real expression of who she is and a celebration of her liberation from slavery.

Many of my Gaila stories also deal with the difficulty of adapting to a new culture, and those are informed by my time in Japan. No matter how enlightened our world becomes, our first exposure to very different cultures will probably never be easy. While it's easy to learn customs (take off your shoes before you enter a home, don't stab things with your chopsticks), understanding a completely different world view is very difficult. That's because few of us recognize that many of our so-called truths are assumptions, and even when we do, letting go of them is very hard. I wasn't ignorant when I came to Japan; I knew to expect some big differences, like that Japanese people are very reluctant to say no and unlikely to address problems as directly as Americans. Even so, I couldn't quite give up my belief that the American way was the better way and Japanese people would adopt it if I could just show them how much more pleasant and efficient it was. My biggest learning experience came after I got promoted to head teacher at my school. Naturally, since I was new to the job, I made mistakes, some more significant than others. The secretary always noticed them, but instead of telling me, she called my boss, the Japanese equivalent of a superintendent. Let me tell you, I was pissed. Not a day went by that I didn't think of her backstabbing evilness and long to smack that cheerful grin off her face. Months later, I realized that she probably thought she was respecting me. In Japan, hierarchy is very important, especially in the work place. Because she was both a junior member of the staff and younger than me, correcting me to my face would have seemed very inappropriate to her. We'd both lose face -- me because I was corrected by a subordinate, her because she didn't know her own position. The best way to solve the problem was to tell a superior whose job was partly to correct my mistakes.

That's the exact situation I imagine between Uhura and Gaila in The Proper Treatment of Sexorexia and between Gaila and the random cadet I invented in Whore. In Sexorexia, Gaila's common sense tells her that people who are not having sex are as unhealthy as people who don't eat, and she feels equally obligated to address both problems. Uhura's sensibilities suggest the exact opposite because human culture is different. Sex is optional, and if you don't want to have it, that's totally your business. Both of them will grow into more open-minded, respectful people eventually, but since this is their first year at the academy, neither have imagined that people from other cultures could think so differently. In Whore, the situation is a little more serious. As an escaped sex slave, Gaila thinks that having sex with whomever you want is the ultimate freedom, so she doesn't even consider that monogamy exists on earth. Then, when she sleeps with another girl's boyfriend, the girl gets pissed because in our culture, it's pretty much universally understood that sleeping with another woman's man is an act of betrayal. In both situations, nobody's really wrong so much as ignorant and unprepared. That's the truly hard thing about interacting with people from very different cultures: training manuals and textbooks can only teach you so much, and you still react emotionally when you have to confront serious differences for the first time. Mistakes and pain are inevitable, but I know from my own experience that you can rise above it. The opportunity to show that journey is one of the biggest reasons I write Gaila.
This was really an interesting piece of meta, and a neat look into how you write about Gaila. I agree 100% on the awesomeness of sex, btw. ^^
I think about that book often because I want to convey the gravity of the life she escaped from, that she truly has overcome it, and that sexual freedom isn't just about hedonism for her -- it's a real expression of who she is and a celebration of her liberation from slavery.

This made me punch the air, because it's just so true. I'm fascinated by Gaila for many of the reasons you are, and for many of the reasons I loved Starfire aka Koriand'r in the DCU (another vibrant, exuberant, warmly sexual redheaded former slave), and I'm definetely saving this in my files and reading your Gaila tag as soon as I get the chance.
I don't have much to say except that this is really insightful. I really like the politics (not quite the word I want...) that come through subtly when you write about Gaila.

Also, I now have a song stuck in my head, and I am not unhappy about it. :)

Ooh! Thank you for the comment and the song. "Sex is Not the Enemy" would make a lovely title for a Gaila fic...
Fascinating! It's like you took a look at the vague ideas swirling around in my head about Gaila and solidified them into a comprehensible and moving piece of meta. ;-) Love it, especially the bits about the advantages of sex and adjusting to a new culture. Thanks so much for writing and sharing this! She's a great character and I am of the firm opinion that she's not dead. *lalala*
She's definitely not dead! She was in the background at Kirk's promotion ceremony at the end of the film.

I'm glad you enjoyed the meta!
I really liked this. I thought how you've portrayed her is really brilliant and I found how you explained how much Gaila would value that freedom to choose very interesting. I do think sex is you know sex and amazing, but it can really screw people to, because of other people, because of society. Having Gaila rise above it in a way (she still does have sex, where some people would flee from it) is really heartening, and is indicative of her culture. So yes, very good meta.
Thank you for this comment! It really helped focus some thoughts that needed to be in the next Gaila story I'm working on :)