Fiction Fragments: Jewelle Gomez

Last week is spoke with poet, lyracist and writer Donna Lynch about the quiet horror associated with growing up in the suburbs.

This week, I have the pleasure of chatting with one of the writers who has inspired my work, and whom I admire as a scholar, a writer, and an activist, Jewelle Gomez.

Jewelle Gomez (Cape Verdean/Ioway/Wampanoag) is a writer and activist and author of the double Lambda Award-winning novel, THE GILDA STORIES from Firebrand Books. Her adaptation of the book for the stage “BONES & ASH: A GILDA STORY,” was performed by the Urban Bush Women company in 13 U.S. cities. The script was published as a Triangle Classic by the Paperback Book Club.

She is the recipient of a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; two California Arts Council fellowships and an Individual Artist Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Her fiction, essays, criticism and poetry have appeared in numerous periodicals. Among them: The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Village Voice; Ms Magazine, ESSENCE Magazine, The Advocate, Callaloo and Black Scholar. Her work has appeared in such anthologies as HOME GIRLS, READING BLACK READING FEMINIST, DARK MATTER and the OXFORD WORLD TREASURY OF LOVE STORIES.

She has served on literature panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council and the California Arts Council.

She was on the original staffs of “Say Brother,” one of the first weekly, Black television shows in the U.S. (WGBH-TV, Boston) and “The Electric Company” (Children’s Television Workshop, NYC) as well as and on the founding board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). She was an original member of the boards of the Astraea Foundation and the Open Meadows Foundation.

Twitter: @VampyreVamp
Website: jewellegomez.com

Three Questions…okay, Five Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, Jewelle. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you as a guest on my blog. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being a source of encouragement and inspiration. And, thank you for being supportive to me as a new writer. When I reached out to you back in 2019 to ask if you’d be willing to blurb my novel, Invisible Chains, I took a risk not knowing if you’d respond. One of the sayings that drives me to take risks, is that if you never ask, the answer will always be “no”. What risks have you taken as a writer, and what advice would you give new writers about taking risks in order to create their most authentic work?

JG: Writing The Gilda Stories was taking a risk of sorts because several lesbian feminists and African American writers insisted that it was going to be insulting to women and lesbians. They thought Gilda would be just another predator reinforcing negative stereotypes. But I think an even bigger risk was when I asked Audre Lorde to read the manuscript which at that stage was just the short stories. She responded that she didn’t care for short stories much or vampires but she agreed to read it. I held my breath the entire time she talked until she said yes! Her response was really positive and she was the person who first said it must be re-edited and presented as a novel. That was a choice my publisher, Nancy Bereano agreed with enthusiastically! I’d recommend that beginning writers stay open to listen to critiques of their work. Sometimes criticism is meaningless but sometimes there are important things to hear–like my book was really a novel. Don’t be afraid that others can tear down your work, only you can do that. And don’t be afraid to imagine the lives of characters who don’t look like you and do the work to make them real. If I hadn’t done that there’d be no vampires in my oeuvre!

GMM: Until recently, I didn’t realize The Gilda Stories was your debut novel. I think it’s interesting that as black women writers, we both chose to write vampire novels that deal with slavery and its affect on the American psyche. Your novel and Toni Morrison’s Beloved were inspirations to me. What inspired you to write The Gilda Stories? Where did this narrative come from and why did you decide to make it a vampire novel?

JG: It’s heartbreaking how this society hasn’t begun to address the ripple effects of slavery on our present-day culture. It seems more important to dismiss history as irrelevant while the police kill black people with impunity as if it were 1860 and not the 21st century. The novel grew out of an incident on the corner of my street when I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I’d gone to the corner to use a telephone booth (remember them) one evening and two drunk black men walked by and stopped to harass me with lewd descriptions of what they’d like to do to me (more ripples). I became furious, asked my friend on the other end of the line to hold on as I set the phone down. I turned to the men and screamed at them like a wild thing! And I wouldn’t back down. Finally one brother said to the other, “Let’s get out of here man, she’s crazy!” And I did go a little mad; if there’d been a weapon nearby I would have used it. Meanwhile my poor friend heard the screaming and worried she should be calling the police to save me. I hung up, went back to my apartment and was shaking with fury at that verbal assault that I and other women endure every day. Adrenaline was coursing through me and I sat down at my typewriter and began the first Gilda story. In the early draft Gilda does kill the guy and toss his body in the Hudson River. After I calmed down and went back to look at the story I wanted to explain her superhuman strength, and I’d always read vampire fiction so I thought that would be the character’s secret.

GMM: It’s been almost 30 years since The Gilda Stories was published. It has been adapted for film and the stage, and it celebrated a 25-year anniversary with an expanded volume. I’ve been stressing out because people keep asking me when the sequel to my novel, which was released just last year, is coming out. Why did you decide after all this time to write a sequel to The Gilda Stories? What stopped you from writing the sequel sooner?

JG: I spent three years adapting two chapters of The Gilda Stories for the stage (along with Toshi Reagon) for the Urban Bushwoman Company and then toured with it for a year. So I was a bit burned out for a while. That experience sent me back to the stage and I’ve been writing a trilogy of plays for the past decade commissioned by New Conservatory, the queer theatre here in the Bay Area. Cheryl Dunye optioned Gilda for a limited TV series last year so I’m hoping we get to see that soon. But all along I did write new Gilda pieces for different anthologies. I kept in mind they’d be for a new book which I call Gilda Interposed because rather than a sequel the new chapters take place in between the current novel’s chapters.

Don’t be distressed that people ask about the next book…it’s one (unfortunate) way they have to express their admiration for the current work! I’d worry when they stop asking!

GMM: You have accomplished a lot in your career(s) as an academic, as a writer and as an activist. Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of, and what accomplishments do you still have your sights set on for the future?

JG: I feel very strongly that the different aspects of my career are all facets of my activism; I’m most proud of that. As a teacher and director of the San Francisco State Poetry Center and Archives; the 30 years I spent as a grantmaker for government and private foundations; writing the many essays, short stories and plays–I looked at each position through my lens as a lesbian feminist of colour and was conscious always of how I could affect the institutions and the people who were being touched. Holding on to that political perspective means a lot to me and it wasn’t always simple.

As for the future I look forward to seeing Gilda Interposed (which is both darker and funnier) find a publisher and fans. About ten years ago I finished a comic (non-vampire) novel, Televised, about a group of African Americans attending their college reunion and experiencing the effects of their youthful black activism. Again the ripple effects of slavery are alive in the racism they faced on their college campus in the 1960s and are still there decades later when they return. I think this is a good time to finally find a publisher for that. And I have two more plays outlined: in one I give new life to lesbian characters who’ve been demeaned in the work of others, also a comedy. And the second is about the Native American girls basketball team in 1904. If I’m still alive after that, who knows!

GMM: Aside from the fact that you wrote one of my favorite vampire novels of all time, I think the one thing that stood out to me the most in your bio was that you were on the staff of the television show “The Electric Company”. Growing up, I loved that show more than “Sesame Street” and wondered what your role was in creating one of the coolest, most diverse shows on Public Television.

JG: I’d been a production assistant in Boston at WGBH TV (1968-71) on one of the first weekly, black television shows so was hired for the production staff of “The Electric Company” right out of college. It was a job I was ill prepared for because of the complexity of the unionised environment in NYC and the rush of creating pilot shows. Again ripples of racism…for optics they needed to hire a person of colour and didn’t consider how I might not be up to the task. I had little to do with shaping the show but learned so much from working with the educators and writers about how to imbed effective messages in silly little skits. I was inspired watching some of the most immense talents of the time perform. And I made one of my dearest friends there. I’d met Morgan Freeman earlier when he’d done a TV drama in Boston and in the NYC studio he was my one friend. When I was fired he and his (then) wife, kids and I became very close. His encouragement staved off my deep depression from being unemployed in NYC; abandoned in an expensive apartment by a roommate when she realised I was a lesbian; and the death of my great grandmother who’d raised me. His support helped me decide to get my MS in Journalism from Columbia. So I’d say “The Electric Company” gave me more than I gave it.

I Brought You Into This World 1892
for Toni Morrison, who showed me the power of death 

Samuel looked into his wife’s deep brown eyes as he squeezed the life out of her—or at least he thought he had. 

I’ve heard several versions of this story but wasn’t sure how close to truth any of them came. I understood, though, that one beloved woman, abused as a child, had grown up to seduce and manipulate others to be as destructive as the uncle who’d destroyed her childhood. I suppose it was that history which made Eleanor’s cruelty almost invisible to me. Over the subsequent centuries, tales of abuse of children never ceased to wring my heart with a barbed pain. But people had begun to speak of Eleanor and Gilda in one whispered breath infused with romance. All began to unravel for me in Eleanor’s salon where she held sway over the almost elite citizens of the still rustic Yerba Buena. And over me.

This evening, I was rejoining Eleanor, eager for the intimate warmth emanating from her presence. I noted how the green velvet of the draperies matched the green of her eyes and was thrilled at the manner in which her voluminous gown was caught so tight in her corset it made one wonder how she could breath. Of course, breathing was not an ordeal for either of us. It was then that Samuel, an early conquest of Eleanor’s, burst through the door and marched toward her. He was not uncommonly tall nor short and quite fit. His tailor must have worshipped him because he was never less than exquisitely turned out. Except tonight it was all slightly askew.

“I’ve finally come to you a free man, my darling,” he said in a low, tremulous whisper as he arrived at the small table where Eleanor sat. With our preternaturally acute hearing it almost sounded as if he whispered in my ear as well as Eleanor’s. He noted the table was set with places for two. “And I see you’re expecting me.”

“No, I am not,” Eleanor’s voice was unmistakably unwelcoming. Please leave my salon and make an appointment if you wish to see me on a future evening.”

From my place by the curtains I could see rage pass over Samuel’s face and I thought to step out and be prepared to defend Eleanor. Fortunately, I remembered that although she was diminutive in size, Eleanor was not of meager strength herself. Additionally, she had been the one to bring Samuel into our dark life so he would not risk hurting his maker. 

I use the phrase ‘dark life’ not to denote negativity. In fact, dark to me means rich like fertile soil; warm as were the dark faces of the family I lost to slavery; or unbounded like the night sky. I know so many, even in this unruly place of Yerba Buena, look upon the darker races with scorn—free Africans, Chinese railway workers, Mexican vaqueros, the indigenous tribal peoples—are no more than paving stones on the White’s path toward riches. For Whites he have little value beyond what our sweat can produce or to serve as receptacles for their lust or anger. I knew Samuel to be one of those who felt this way so tried to avoid his company.

He moved closer, towering over Eleanor as he said. “She’s dead. I did it for us.”

“Should I ask who?” Eleanor’s icy tone almost frosted the glass in her hand which sparkled with the effervescent wine that was gaining popularity.

“You know who.”

“Does your wife have no name?”

“She doesn’t need a name now.”

“Please cease your nattering and remove yourself or I’ll have you removed.”

At that I stepped from the shadow of the drapery and faced Samuel. I too am of medium height and build, although my shoulders are of extra width because of my labour on the plantation when a child. My physical vessel is complimented by my finely tailored wool and silk purple jacket and split skirt. I wear my thick hair in a braid wrapped as a crown on my head and my dark skin now shines with a mist of angry perspiration. The hatred in his eyes was a fire he would not contain but for the audience around us.

“Good evening, Samuel,” I tried to employ the even, musical tones that often served Eleanor so well.

“Ahh,” he barely glanced in my direction as his voice raised in pitch. “You are interviewing for a new maid. I’m so sorry to interrupt. We’ll talk at another time.” He must have seen the flame in my eyes because he turned so quickly, he was barely visible as he left the salon.

“Gilda, I am sorry for that. Samuel is impossible.” Eleanor looked up at me with a smile that felt like sunshine; the sunshine that those of our nature could never fully enjoy. Ringlets of crimson curls caressed her handsome face as if she’d not a care in the world. “He’s famous for his fabulist nature. He’ll say anything to get my attention.”

“Even confess to murder?”

“I suppose.” Eleanor responded. “But murder may have to brush closer to him than just his wife.” 

I gasped and Eleanor said with the sweetest of tones, “Dearest Gilda, let’s not speak of death when we have so much life to live together.”

The initial stoniness inside her voice and the ease with which it melted into honeyed tones sent chilled ripples through my entire body. Without her speaking another word I understood she was opening a door she expected me to walk through. A door to the true death for her former lover; her creation which she wished to discard…for me.

***

Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Doctor Who

On Monday I wrote about my fondness for Mr. Spock while I was growing up, and mentioned that I was still waiting for a dark-haired stranger from far away to whisk me off on an adventure through outer space. Well, Mr. Spock isn’t the only alien welcome to share my heart and bed. The emotionally complicated Vulcan will always remind me to be proud of who I am and never allow anyone to tell me I’m less of a person simply because of my mixed ethnicity. Difference makes us interesting. Being different teaches us to be strong. Embracing our differences gives us the power to do anything we set our minds to. So, once again, thank you Mr. Spock for making me want to be a better human.

While I was watching Star Trek and daydreaming about joining Star Fleet Academy and smooching Mr. Spock, I was also watching public television and developing a life-long love of the BBC. I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts that I would sometimes pretend to be sick so I could get home early from school to catch a glimpse of another of my favorite aliens. An alien with a space ship that functions as a time machine. Or is it the other way around? Either way, it’s bigger on the inside and despite the fact that its chameleon circuit is broken, the TARDIS can still take you just about anywhere you wish to go in space and time.

February 24: Doctor Who

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The Doctor cosplaying the Doctor.

I have a confession to make. I’ve been putting off writing this post because I’m worried that I’ll never be able to say all the things I want to say about this fan-fucking-tastic fictional character who has been a part of my life since I was a girl. When I was younger the only people who talked about Doctor Who were nerds and weirdos, and since they were usually male, they didn’t think I had anything to say on the subject of regenerating Time Lords with an unusual dress sense. So, for most of my life I was a closeted Doctor Who fan.

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Guess what? I’m out of the closet. Fuck you, misogynistic losers. I’m here to talk about the Doctor!

Which Doctor? Well, you never forget your first Doctor, and mine was the fourth. Tom Baker traveled the universe from 1974 – 81. I loved him so much that I never really got attached to the actors who came after him, and pretty much ignored the sixth through eighth regenerations. Does that make me less of a Whovian? You can think whatever you like, but most fans of the show have their favorite(s) and don’t need to apologize about liking one over another. Until 2005, I loved only one Doctor.

Look at that face. Handsome, yet a bit goofy. Gorgeous curly hair. A big toothy grin. And those clothes are simultaneously scholarly and hedonistic. He kind of looks like an over-educated hobo.

As a kid he reminded me of a live-action cartoon character. He’s an adult with a unique skill-set and an unwillingness to grow up. And he wears many hats. He’s an astronaut. A time traveler. A scientist. A detective. A gentleman of education and leisure. An advocate for people’s rights, no matter what planet they live on. An anarchist. A trouble-maker. A charmer. A hero. A friend. And with each regeneration, his personality becomes a bit more complex and interesting.

In 2005, something wonderful happened. The BBC brought Doctor Who back to our living rooms, gave it a bigger budget, and made the character much darker than I ever remembered.

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This Doctor is scary.

And his companions are pretty damn hot.

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Hi. I’m Jack. Who’s up for a threesome?

Should the companion be sexier than the Doctor?

Rose is an interesting young woman in need of adventure. She’s bored with her daily routine. Even though she loves her mum and best friend Mickey, something is missing from her life. When she meets the Doctor it doesn’t take long to convince her to go traveling through space and time. Shortly after her adventures with the Doctor begin, she meets one of the most fuckable fictional characters of all time, Captain Jack Harkness.

Okay, I have to stop talking about Jack. For now.

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The ninth Doctor had only one season before he regenerated. But in that short amount of time a lot happened, and some of my favorite episodes were created. The first Christmas episode of the 2005 reboot, “The Unquiet Dead”, features Charles Dickens and some very scary aliens. Nothing says Christmas like a good ghost story. It  is one of my all time favorite episodes, because it amplified the element of horror in an already well-established science fiction landscape. And I’ve always believed that science fiction and fantasy need a good dose of horror to make them even more compelling.

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Number 9. Number 9. Number 9.

I really enjoyed watching the episodes with the ninth Doctor, but the fourth Doctor was still my favorite. And then came the tenth Doctor.

I already mentioned how I feel about David Tennant. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch the episodes he appears in, my heart always flutters when he appears on screen. He quickly became my favorite Doctor.

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Rockabilly Doctor Who

Much like the fourth Doctor, he’s handsome and little goofy. His dress sense is a bit more respectable since he’s essentially wearing a skin-tight pinstripe suit that is reminiscent of something between Rockabilly and 1940’s Hollywood gangster. He’s funny, irreverent, intelligent in a way that makes you realize that he’s irritated if you aren’t keeping up, but also weirdly forgetful and scatter-brained. As always, he’s a hero, and he inherited the scariness of the ninth Doctor and takes it up a few notches.

And those glasses. I often make passes at Doctors who wear glasses. Instant sex appeal. What can I say, I like geeky science-obsessed types. You have to admit, he really is adorable. He sticks his tongue out when he’s concentrating really hard, and from time to time, he licks things to figure out what they are. Oh, and kissing. He likes kissing. A lot. It’s one of the few things that distracts him to the point of confusion.

When he isn’t making out with Earth women, he’s usually saving the universe.

Or flirting with famous playwrights.

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Or possibly having a nerdgasm over a new kind of technology he’s never seen before.

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When things get crazy, the best place to be is at his side.

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But whatever you do, don’t piss him off.

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Of course, if you’re a sassy bad-ass lady you can push his buttons to your heart’s delight.

The tenth Doctor has his fair share of companions. All of which are wonderful characters who compliment his eccentricities with just the right amount of love, friendship, and a willingness to trust a madman in a blue box.

And then there’s Donna Knoble.

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Get in the box!

Speaking of gingers…

Gingers

David Tennant manned the TARDIS from 2005-10, and when it was his turn to regenerate (um, the second time) I mourned the loss for nearly a year. I was so upset that I refused to watch any of the new episodes with his replacement.

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But then one day a friend convinced me to give the new Doctor a chance.

The eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, made me laugh and helped dry my tears. He was funny, but in different ways from David Tennant. The tenth Doctor was cool and sexy, but Matt Smith somehow managed to make geekiness sexy in a way that I never thought possible.

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Befuddled, easily embarrassed, a bit narcissistic, and deeply loyal to the people he cares about, he makes all things uncool seem super cool.

Remember what I said about glasses? Yep. Men become instantly more attractive when they put on a pair of specs. Weird hats are cool too.

You know what else is cool? Just about everything this Doctor does. Like helping his artistic friends who suffer from crippling depression see the value of their creations.

But seriously, though.

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I will never not cry while watching this scene.

Or the intimate relationship he has with his time machine that places us somewhere in the Uncanny Valley.

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Anthropomorphic time machines create unsettling sexual tension for Time Lords.

Or the fact that he falls in love with and marries a psychotic archaeologist who happens to be the daughter of his companions in a weird wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey plot twist. SPOILERS, SWEETIE!

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Fuck Nazis!

Best. Companion. EVAH!

River

Okay, these companions are pretty freaking fantastic, too.

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Mum and Dad

Oh, alright. These companions aren’t too shabby either.

And don’t even get me started about Mark Sheppard.

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Dr. River Song (Melody Pond) appears unexpectedly, but not randomly throughout the Doctor’s timeline, and is always full of surprises. Like when she meets the tenth Doctor.

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Would kissing the tenth Doctor count as adultery?

But the eleventh Doctor is her Doctor.

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On your wedding day, the greatest gift a bride can receive is the name of her groom.

And this. This. I can’t even. MORE SPOILERS, SWEETIE!

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It’s true. I totally have the hots for the twelfth Doctor.

But before I start talking about the twelfth Doctor, let’s talk a little bit about one of my favorite days ever. “The Day of the Doctor.” Not one, not two, but three Doctors in one story line, and a glimpse at the Time War on Gallifrey. Shut the front door! We meet the War Doctor and witness his actions the day he stole the TARDIS. And, the legend begins. Or ends?

Back to the fact that the War Doctor is joined by ten and eleven in this feature-length episode I got to see in a MOVIE THEATER! It was like a mini Doctor Who convention, and I will cherish that memory forever. This episode was a love letter to fans all over the globe to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.

I have a lot of favorite scenes in this episode, but the tenth Doctor’s reaction to the new interior of the TARDIS is priceless.

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His expression reminds me of something…

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Ten and eleven showed off a bit more to remind us just how cool they are.

Oh, and then there was this thing that made everyone get a little choked up.

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And even this guy showed up.

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Let’s talk about this guy.

A lot of people were skeptical about Peter Capaldi’s ability to man the TARDIS, but this wasn’t his first time at the Doctor Who Rodeo.

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I’m the fucking Doctor.

Some people were upset about the fact that he wasn’t as young as 10 and 11.

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The thing about older men is that they used to be young men. If you’re lucky, they mature into handsome devils like this one.

Okay, perhaps he did seem a bit senile after his regeneration.

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But all of the Doctors go through a period of confusion as they readjust to their new bodies and personality quirks.

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Some are just a bit funnier than others.

Seriously, this Doctor is totally whacked out. But, as funny and cranky as he is, he also has some good insight and wisdom that comes with age. As an older Doctor, he’s still energetic and fun and interesting, but he’s a little darker. A little more jaded. And seems hesitant to grow too attached to people. He makes it clear that he is not like the eleventh Doctor. A fact that makes Clara a bit unhappy. Unsettled.

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The twelfth Doctor is a bit more serious. He seems to be doing a lot of quiet reflection. At times he seems more alien than human as we’ve often come to perceive him.

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Maybe he is old enough to be her father, but still sexy.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he observes people a bit more closely. He’s watching. Gathering data.

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I love a man of science.

He’s more of an introvert.

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Socializing is overrated.

The point is, I love this Doctor just as much as I’ve loved the others. Sometimes a bit more, because I know how the other personalities and experiences have shaped him. It’s appropriate for him to be an older man. After all the things he’s seen and felt, perhaps we need to listen to his wisdom and think about where we’re going in our own lives. Besides, as I get older, older men seem even more attractive now than they did when I was having inappropriate thoughts about them when I was still jailbait. Now there’s no harm in having inappropriate thoughts about them.

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I’m speechless, too, River.

Loving a fictional character with many faces and personality quirks has been exciting and rewarding. I’ve learned that I don’t have one particular type when it comes to appearance, but no matter what face the Doctor is wearing (so far), I fall in love with him time and time again. It’s his values and beliefs and intelligence and heroism and dark sense of humor that make him so attractive. So positively fuckable. And while each of the five actors I’ve mentioned (six if you count the War Doctor) is uniquely attractive in his own way, it’s the character that makes me weak in the knees and giggle like a school girl and cry like a baby. Doctor Who has been setting the bar for me since I was in elementary school. If I’m lucky, some day, I’ll meet a man half as amazing as he is. He doesn’t even need to own a TARDIS. But it would help if he had a sonic screwdriver and maybe a nice suit.

Fetishism, Sweetie.