Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 08:50 on 26-06-2011, valse de la lune
I can't think of any asexual character I've read about either, though a lot of people consider Sherlock Holmes aromantic and asexual buuut I think that's hugely a case of "no time/interest to pursue sex or romance." A lot of writers and readers also confuse celibacy with asexuality which makes me very ಠ_ಠ so... hooray erasure! Cat Valente's Palimpsest annoyed me so much because of the whole "magic city as an STD" thing because it seems to override people's orientations and turn everyone pansexual due to obsession with reaching said city, which is done by having more sex. I went "what if one of those people is asexual" (because not all asexuals are virgins; some have tried sex and/or don't find sex repulsive, just boring, so they have sex to keep their partners happy) and I made the biggest look of disapproval IRL.

Otherwise the two leads in Tanith Lee's Saint Fire seem to be romantic asexuals, but I don't know. They are that way because they find fulfillment in religion or something.

Vermisvere: So much blatant racism in Tolkien's work, and hardly anyone is in uproar over it.

The apologists scream HE WAS A PRODUCT OF HIS TIME or quote this one little passage where one of the hobbits expresses sympathy for a Haradrim soldier, or the letter where Tolkien does that "no no no I'm not racist okay" thing we see a lot of people do today. A friend and I covered this at Ars Marginal; my take--that Tolkien's elves are white supremacists--drew a lot of fire and made it to both 4chan and 4chon. Hysterical.

@everyone: aww, thank you, I'm delighted that you're interested in reading about happy ace/bi/gay people. :D I don't know really, it's a huge monster of a thing and I'm incredibly frowny about letting anyone read it (largely because it got rewritten from the ground up... four times, ahaha).
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at 05:31 on 26-06-2011, Orion
...and I suddenly realize I typed "no relationships" when I mean "no sexual relationships," thus doing exactly the kind fo erasing we were talking about. Sigh.
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at 05:21 on 26-06-2011, Cammalot
(Stupid small keys.) Ought not to be allowed to dominate, for the benefit of the people who need something very different. The angst can help a certain type of reader realize they are not alone, while the angst free may help another type of reader realize they are not, I dunno, abnormal.
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at 05:17 on 26-06-2011, Cammalot
@Orion-- no worries on my account, really? "Condolences" is a strong word. I've still got middle class, cis, straight, western privilege to be aware of. :-) I was just explaining where some of my attitudes stemmed from.

I think the angst filled stories do havre their place and are actually helpful to some readers, at some stages of thier emotional development. It just that they oughtnt
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at 05:03 on 26-06-2011, Vermisvere
How are we defining "asexual" in this case? My first reaction was to think that there are quite a few fantasy characters who are apparently without sexuality. It's a fairly common trope for magicians, genius detectives, religious visionaries, and the like to have no relationships and no evidence of interest in one.


Indeed. I have yet to find a novel where a character is defined as asexual because they are not attracted to anyone, not because they are celibate, don't have the time or the motivation to pursue a relationship, or have problems with bonding with other people in general.

Okay, now I'm just being silly, but I find it funny that Jay Lake got compared to Sauron when even Sauron had Africans and Arabs and Asians in his army.


He did?...oh, wait you mean the Haradrim and the people of Rhun and then there are those people who got booted out of their homeland by the Rohirrim, and decided to join Sauron because he promised them their homeland back. LOTR is actually the only trilogy of novels I've read where I was openly rooting for the "Bad Guy" to kick the "Good Guys's" asses.

So much blatant racism in Tolkien's work, and hardly anyone is in uproar over it.
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at 04:27 on 26-06-2011, Orion
Pyro, best of luck with your novel. You can add me to the list of non-straights who like stories about happy people. (Although if I'm being honest I should disclaim that I have full straight privilege) Cammalot--best wishes to you too, and whatever condolences I can offer.

it's the only book I can think of that (apparently) contains an asexual character.

How are we defining "asexual" in this case? My first reaction was to think that there are quite a few fantasy characters who are apparently without sexuality. It's a fairly common trope for magicians, genius detectives, religious visionaries, and the like to have no relationships and no evidence of interest in one.

Which isn't to say that there isn't a failure of asexual representation--the characters without sexuality are usually marked as eccentric and other in some profound way. They're rarely protagonists and rarely do we see the issue of asexuality directly addressed. But I'm surprised to hear you say you aren't familiar with any at all.


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at 04:24 on 26-06-2011, Michal
Okay, now I'm just being silly, but I find it funny that Jay Lake got compared to Sauron when even Sauron had Africans and Arabs and Asians in his army.
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at 01:44 on 26-06-2011, Wardog
Elizabeth Bear's Dust is on my tbr list because I believe it contains several non-heterosexual characters, at least one asexual character and I believe a trans character. However, given she was at the centre of racefail and I didn't think much A Companion to Wolves (which I think she was involved with, or was that someone else) I am leery. I mention it because it's the only book I can think of that (apparently) contains an asexual character. Your mileage may vary.
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at 01:30 on 26-06-2011, Fin
Oh, man. When I write my silly fantasy novel where pretty much every POV is asexual, bi or gay--apart from the token straight dude I threw in just to maintain my Politically Correct quota--I keep wondering if it's unrealistic that none of them suffers because they aren't straight/have to angst endlessly because of their gayness. And I'm like, gosh, is this cheapening the experiences of real bi/gay people or something and is it terribly fake to have asexual people find each other and make friends (though on that count I've made friends with people before being aware of such a thing as asexuality, and then I end up finding out we're both asexual! Cool). Because pop culture has taught us that if you aren't straight then by god you will suffer and that all stories have to be about this sufffeeerrrrring. Ugh.


I'd like to second Kyra's enthusiasm for a book about cheerful non-straight people. Particularly because of the inclusion of asexual characters. :P I'm probably just not very well-read, but I can't think of a single book that acknowledges asexuality as a valid orientation, let alone one that realistically portrays what it's like to be asexual (or aromantic, for that matter), let alone (let aloner?) a happy portrayal.
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at 00:45 on 26-06-2011, Melissa G.
I'm not saying angst is per se a problem, it's just nice for it not to feel like a required component of a non-straight character.


I can see that. And I keep rationalizing that in my case it works because the monster character considers his gayness a complete non-issue and has a much more "I am who I am and anyone who doesn't like it can go f*** themselves" attitude. I'm sure whether the angsty gay trope works is more of a case-by-case basis sort of thing. Like anything, if it's handled well, it can be fine. I just hope I'm handling it well, lol.
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at 00:31 on 26-06-2011, Wardog
I'm not saying angst is per se a problem, it's just nice for it not to feel like a required component of a non-straight character.
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at 00:20 on 26-06-2011, Melissa G.
I keep wondering if it's unrealistic that none of them suffers because they aren't straight/have to angst endlessly because of their gayness.


And I thought it was genuinely *lovely* to read about non-straight relationships, and being non-straight, through a lens that was not SUFFERING ANGST DOOM


Hmm...this makes me concerned (again) that my protagonist suffers too much from gay angst, but it's kind of the whole driving force of the novel and as the source material is Frankenstein, I think dark and dreary was kind of inevitable....
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at 23:38 on 25-06-2011, Wardog
Uh ... wow, much happened while I was out of the house :)

When I write my silly fantasy novel where pretty much every POV is asexual, bi or gay--apart from the token straight dude I threw in just to maintain my Politically Correct quota--I keep wondering if it's unrealistic that none of them suffers because they aren't straight/have to angst endlessly because of their gayness.


Well, it's not really an 'answer' (because there isn't one) but I personally really loved Boy Meets Boy - basically it's set in a sort of delicious utopia of tolerance, and although there is some angst it not *about* sexual orientation, it is about things like falling in love and dealing with trust and betrayal and friendship and that kind of thing. And I thought it was genuinely *lovely* to read about non-straight relationships, and being non-straight, through a lens that was not SUFFERING ANGST DOOM. It was actually pretty liberating, actually, to remember that your sexuality is not, and should not, be a constant source of despair and alienation. And that although my sexuality has caused me some identity-related angst, and some people have treated me badly, and I've had some non-ideal experiences, I've also met wonderful people, and fallen in love, and flirted with pretty girls, and flirted with pretty boys, and discovered beautiful, meaningful things, and had beautiful meaningful experiences as well. And they are just as important and relevant components of being non-straight as sufffffering...

In short: please write a book about cheerful, non-straight people. I, for one, would love it :D
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at 22:49 on 25-06-2011, Melissa G.
This conversation reminded me of something that happened in an X-men comic once. There's a character named Darwin (black male) whose mutant power is adapting to survive. Like, if he was trapped underwater, he'd grow gills, or if he about to be crushed, he'd turn to ooze or something. And one time, I forget where they were, his powers turned him into a white guy. I was always torn about whether this was epic fail or a well-thought out recognition of the way the world is for people of color. Any thoughts on this, ferrets?
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at 21:30 on 25-06-2011, Robinson L
Ye gods, we've had a Ferretfrenzy!

I just want to say "Thank you" to everybody who's participated in this conversation so far. I want to thank Cammalot especially for sharing so many thought-provoking and heartwarming comments. Also *waves to fellow New Yorker*

Cammalot: And yet I still get the "Why are you so mad? Don't get mad!" treatment when I try to bring up certain points.

I was at a meeting of a local anti-racist group recently where we watched a video from an Undoing Racism workshop. I think it was in the video that the workshop leader was talking about some of the current realities of racism in the US and brought up in passing something about "white people asking us (black people) 'Why are you so angry?'" If I remember correctly, there was some discussion of the (white-dominated) city council in my hometown reacting similarly to ongoing activism against racism in the city government.

Personally, I've always liked that bumper sticker slogan: "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." Given the reality in this country and the rest of the world, the more telling question for me is why some people aren't angry.

Cammalot: Things kept shifting towards being discussed from a white point of view.

This, I think, is especially helpful to me in thinking about my writing, because I feel like I often slip into white-default without quite realizing it.

Vermisvere: I think it's a rather prevailing notion amongst western (read: white) authors that depicting African-American/Non-White races as suffering through repeated hardships against an oppressive society in fiction is somehow supposed to be empowering to African-Americans/Non-Whites because it goes to show that the author recognises all the crap that people of those ethinicities had to go through

As a white person, I've identified in myself an urge to depict the hardships and suffering of people of color because I feel it's important to hold myself and my group accountable for our past and present mistreatment of people in other groups. Some of that, I think, comes from a legitimate desire not to minimize the effects of racism and all the other -isms past and present, but part of it also has to do with me thinking about my hypothetical readership as white people first and foremost, with people of color as something of an afterthought. I can see this is something I'm going to have to work on.

Pyrofennec: When I write my silly fantasy novel where pretty much every POV is asexual, bi or gay--apart from the token straight dude I threw in just to maintain my Politically Correct quota--I keep wondering if it's unrealistic that none of them suffers because they aren't straight/have to angst endlessly because of their gayness.

Yeah, I struggle with similar questions about depicting the suffering of people who (in my case) are almost always less privileged than myself. (Incidentally, I think I'd be interested to read that.)

Cammalot: And even then there will be actual members of the groups in question who disagree quite vehemently with each other as to whether you suck or not.

The question that bothers me is "this being the case, how do I work out which criticisms to heed in order to do better next time?" (Why yes, I am a worrier, how'd you guess?)

On a lighter note:

Michal: Also, in awesome news: Charles R. Saunders leaves a "thank you" on my blog. You don't know how happy this makes me.

I know how I'd feel if an author dropped by to comment on one of my (positive) reviews. Congratulations!
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at 20:34 on 25-06-2011, valse de la lune
Uh guys, one of the search queries that reached my wordpress today was... "ferretbrain"?

lol

And even then there will be actual members of the groups in question who disagree quite vehemently with each other as to whether you suck or not.

This too, we aren't a monolith etc.
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at 19:16 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
I keep wondering if it's unrealistic that none of them suffers because they aren't straight/have to angst endlessly because of their gayness. And I'm like, gosh, is this cheapening the experiences of real bi/gay people or something and is it terribly fake to have asexual people find each other and make friends

I am arguing myself into a million different corners wondering the same stuff in my own writing. I think this is the part where we just have to go "nobody's perfect, try your very hardest, and fail as little as possible, and do better next time." And even then there will be actual members of the groups in question who disagree quite vehemently with each other as to whether you suck or not.
I've often made the argument that characters should "just happen to be X" when you write about them, but what I mean when I say that is that an author shouldn't make an X character and then have that character's whole identity be about X.

I like to think I can generally tell when people are using that line properly and when they're being lazy. In my opinion, you have the correct interpretation here. It's just, we have to clarify our shorthand, I guess, especially on the Internet.
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at 18:56 on 25-06-2011, Melissa G.
so that people who take issue with the idea of people just "happening to be black/gay/trans/etc" wanted to make sure that this was clarified (i.e. no they don't "happen" to be anything, there are a whole wealth of experiences such people are going to have that are going to shape their thoughts and reactions and you as a writer can't assume your feelings and outlook are universal).


I've often made the argument that characters should "just happen to be X" when you write about them, but what I mean when I say that is that an author shouldn't make an X character and then have that character's whole identity be about X. I get annoyed with that when I run across gay male characters a lot. It's like every other word out of the character's mouth is about "Project Runway" or things being "faaaaaaabulous" or "interior decorating". Yes, gay men may talk about these things, but it's not all they are. I just want minority characters to be as fully formed as straight, white, male ones. Obviously, you most definitely have to give thought to what their X-ness will mean to them as a person and let that form them as a character, and it's NOT OKAY to just write a white person and essentially in a literal way draw black face on them. But I don't like when a one-dimensional character's one dimension is their minority status. I'd like that to be a part of who they are, of course, otherwise as I've said, the author hasn't truly written a minority character, but I think it's important that the character also have hobbies and interests and worldviews that shape who they are just as much as their minority status does. At least that's what I mean when I say a character should "just happen to be X". Basically as Cammalot said here:

It is unpleasant (and objectifying, I think) to relentlessly have one identifier be your whole identity.


Unless I misunderstood your point, and if so, I apologize and please correct me. :-)

To use an example I can speak to personally, I was really happy when I watched Everwood and the family happened to be half-Jewish. They celebrated Hanukkah during the traditionally Christmas season, but didn't make a big deal out of it. They just had a scene where they lit the menorah and said the prayer and then went on with the rest of the scene just like they would have if they'd been sitting under a Christmas tree. I loved this because so often Jewish characters are very much stereotypes or a big deal is made of their Jewish-ness because Christianity is such a major default here in the US even though it shouldn't be considering how diverse this country is. I mean, I've had people give me looks of pity when I tell them that I don't celebrate Christmas. Whatever, dudes, I get eight nights of presents, I'm doing just fine.
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at 18:49 on 25-06-2011, valse de la lune
On a different note I can't believe the sheer amount of words and time I'm devoting to dissecting a couple of mediocre YA novels. I stopped typing for a minute and gazed in horror at the screen. So many minutes--hours--of my life I'll never get back.

Same as women don't want to read about rape every two seconds (and "It happens!" is not the best counterargument), and Melinda Lo wanted to write a book where lesbianism was finally not a source of angst and oppression and Teaching the Reader Lessons about Being Nicer, but an attribute of some regular people who have other things to think about occasionally. It is unpleasant (and objectifying, I think) to relentlessly have one identifier be your whole identity.


Oh, man. When I write my silly fantasy novel where pretty much every POV is asexual, bi or gay--apart from the token straight dude I threw in just to maintain my Politically Correct quota--I keep wondering if it's unrealistic that none of them suffers because they aren't straight/have to angst endlessly because of their gayness. And I'm like, gosh, is this cheapening the experiences of real bi/gay people or something and is it terribly fake to have asexual people find each other and make friends (though on that count I've made friends with people before being aware of such a thing as asexuality, and then I end up finding out we're both asexual! Cool). Because pop culture has taught us that if you aren't straight then by god you will suffer and that all stories have to be about this sufffeeerrrrring. Ugh.
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at 18:09 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
without anyone actually pausing to ponder that maybe most African-Americans/Non-Whites DON'T want to read about that in fiction novels about non-white characters, because it's basically a retelling of their own history to some extent.

Not only that, but due to the publishing industry being kind of fucked up, it's the only sort of story that people of color seem to be allowed to write themselves. And they hand-wringingly wonder why it's so hard to get black teens to read (which I don't think it is, really, more than anyone else, but whatever). You look at a reccomended U.S. reading lists for them and it's all about slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights. These are important things that must not be forgotten, but your average 12 year old sometimes wants to read, and occasionally be the hero of, a story about, dunno, wizardry or adventure or, just basically happy and not forced-to-bottom-rung people, something else for a change. (And school librarians actually have a hard time finding any other sort of book, starring kids of color, that they can recommend to the purpose.) Same as women don't want to read about rape every two seconds (and "It happens!" is not the best counterargument), and Melinda Lo wanted to write a book where lesbianism was finally not a source of angst and oppression and Teaching the Reader Lessons about Being Nicer, but an attribute of some regular people who have other things to think about occasionally. It is unpleasant (and objectifying, I think) to relentlessly have one identifier be your whole identity.
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at 17:57 on 25-06-2011, Vermisvere
But 1. You have to get through more than one book to get that payoff, and 2. The reason I didn't use that in argument during Racefail is that this discounts people having triggers. Some people simply don't want to read about that situation, and considering the lives people of color lead in the West and the habitual grinding-in of certain stereotypes about us in our media, it's a valid point to not want to encounter that sort of fictional situation at all, which I think I lot of people failed to get. (E.g., I personally do not think I will
ever finish the Octavian Nothing books, which are really, undeniably good, and people who are not African American should read them, but are about the systematic dehumanization of an African slave in the American colonies. I don't find this a relaxing read when it winds up with me hyperventilating, and I don't think I would recommend them to my black colleagues. Not a leisure activity.)



I think it's a rather prevailing notion amongst western (read: white) authors that depicting African-American/Non-White races as suffering through repeated hardships against an oppressive society in fiction is somehow supposed to be empowering to African-Americans/Non-Whites because it goes to show that the author recognises all the crap that people of those ethinicities had to go through, without anyone actually pausing to ponder that maybe most African-Americans/Non-Whites DON'T want to read about that in fiction novels about non-white characters, because it's basically a retelling of their own history to some extent.
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at 17:47 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
Oh now I remember what I deleted -- I think there was a serious "gaze" issue, even in Bear's original postings, and certainly in much of the debate that followed. Things kept shifting towards being discussed from a white point of view. The writing advice was to white people. In the discussed novels, the viewpoint characters were never the ones of color; even when awesome, the characters of color were not POV characrers. And so on, and so on...
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at 17:38 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
:-D :-D :-D Thank you, Pyrofennec. I'm actually okay at the moment! But I am really thinking, due to this convo. I don't think I'm inclined to change my communication style — I think I was born conflict-averse, and will be, regardless of the racist and sexist experiences I may have had. But I am looking at the tone argument somewhat differently now.

Racefail: As I saw it, as it unfolded, the primary failure was an over-focus by (let's just say it ) the whites in the conversation on modeling the correct way to have the conversation and be an ally, rather than actually having the conversation and being the ally, which made later apologies eventually look extremely insincere, especially when, much later, it ballooned large enough that tempers flared and real self-defensive feelings came out. (And too many people tried to speak rationally with he-who-shall-not-be-invoked. Very inflammatory. Nothing good came out of that offshoot.) There were people actually trying to do the right thing from the get-go (not entirely successfully), and there were people who actually did not give a shit and never will, and I think the second group got away far more unscathed. And there was a lot, a lot, a LOT of white self-congratulation, which more than anything else put me off the whole thing.

I'm still amazed that the whole thing stuck to Bear's reputation more than it did to, say, John Scalzi's, who outright called the whole discussion stupid, and then apologized (or had others in to apologize) in various extremely US-centric ways. I firmly believe he emerged more unscathed because he is a man, and therefore allowed to be more brash, abrasive, and in-your-face, and then rescind it. It's men's "nature" after all. (Note: I'm actually not mad at Scalzi at the moment. I'm using him as an example; there were worse ones. But I that dichotomy very disturbing at the time. And some of the things said by supposed "allies" on his blog, I found equally unconscionable, like "Wouldn't it be racist to have a black character playing the cello when we know black people never do that! That's appropriation!" I am so forcing my kids to play the cello when I get 'em.)

I actually disagreed with some stuff. First, the criticism of Bear's book (I had a different criticism, but I won't go into that here). In short — a coded-African man is magically entrapped by a coded-white woman, soul-stripped, and used sexually. (Bear did not consider the woman white, but that was not strongly enough suggested enough by the book itself, for many readers.) The thing is, [SPOILER, and part of me wishes I'd just spoiled and said this earlier, during the actual Fail] the white woman's actions upset the balance of the entire world, which was en route to destruction, until she undid them, and she lost her own son in the process as penalty.

But 1. You have to get through more than one book to get that payoff, and 2. The reason I didn't use that in argument during Racefail is that this discounts people having triggers. Some people simply don't want to read about that situation, and considering the lives people of color lead in the West and the habitual grinding-in of certain stereotypes about us in our media, it's a valid point to not want to encounter that sort of fictional situation at all, which I think I lot of people failed to get. (E.g., I personally do not think I will ever finish the Octavian Nothing books, which are really, undeniably good, and people who are not African American should read them, but are about the systematic dehumanization of an African slave in the American colonies. I don't find this a relaxing read when it winds up with me hyperventilating, and I don't think I would recommend them to my black colleagues. Not a leisure activity.)

I also disagreed with the interpretation of Bear's "Writing the Other" list that started the whole thing — she said something along the lines of "people of color are just like you," which I read, based on other thing's she's said, as meaning "They are not aliens, nor are they magical sources of epiphany for whitefolks, and the whole noble savage thing is disgusting so stop it, and stop making all your noble warrior races into expys of the Japanese." But the entire list was lightheartedly written, so that people who take issue with the idea of people just "happening to be black/gay/trans/etc" wanted to make sure that this was clarified (i.e. no they don't "happen" to be anything, there are a whole wealth of experiences such people are going to have that are going to shape their thoughts and reactions and you as a writer can't assume your feelings and outlook are universal).

Basically the birth of Racefail was more complex from within than I think it appeared from without.

Ack, longwinded!
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at 17:07 on 25-06-2011, Vermisvere
Gah, this reminds of a couple of years back when I used to have full-blown beard, and, due to the fact that I have a Middle-Eastern background, a lot of my "white" "friends" (when I say "friends", I mean it in the sense of them being formerly close acquintances - but it's been ages since I've seen any of them, so...) used to make jokes about me looking like a terrorist i.e Al-Qaeda or Taliban or something like that. They often meant it as just a friendly joke, and I used to pretend to laugh along with it just for the sake of maintaining cordial relations with those guys, whilst on the inside I was secretly fuming and showering them with every swear word available in the English language.
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