Hello readers and welcome to our next Furry Writers’ Guild spotlight for Pride Month! Today we’ll be interviewing Den Leinir Turthra Jensen! Their pronouns are either they/them or it/its. We could tell you more about them, but why when they could do it themself? Let’s get to the interview!
FWG: Tell the guild and our readers a bit about yourself.
Leinir: I’m originally from Denmark, but moved to the UK about a decade ago, as my better half is from there and it was easier for me to relocate. We now live together with a good friend, and our pet two legged rat in a doer-upper bungalow in the English Midlands. Usually, I’m a pretty relaxed sort of person, and quite enjoy cooking a bit of food. Especially for people who enjoy it, which luckily is the case most of the time.
I’m not a full time writer, so my everyday thing is being sponsored to work on free and open source software, primarily in the KDE project, where I work primarily on the KNewStuff, Calligra Gemini, and Peruse projects. Recently, I also became involved with The Tail Company (guess what they make… no, not just tails, but yes, also those), for whom I maintain their Android app, for controlling their DIGITAiL and EarGear animatronic gear.
FWG: What is your favorite work that you have written?
Leinir: Oh no, the scary question! They’re my babies, I couldn’t possibly chose… One of my favourites, though not only for the story itself but also everything else surrounding it, is probably my story about a society where we have carnivores in a modern society very similar to our own, and the kind of effects that might have on society. It is set in a Denmark, where the first pack of wolves in over a century recently established themselves. That is to say, that has happened in our world, but it functions as the catalyst for the story as well. This story started out really just with that in mind, and without any proper plot behind it, the way most of my stories do.
What developed as I wrote was a bonding tale that made one beta reader tell me, whatever else I did to that story, to not change the ending as they thought it had made them a better person. If I never make another person think that, I will be contented to know that i at least made one person feel that way. The story, and the recipe that goes with it, can be found in The Furry Cookbook, which exists only as a frankly glorious hardcover version the creation of which I am proud to have been a small part.
FWG: What do you think makes a good story?
Leinir: Characters. Believable ones, with more depth than you encounter in the story itself. The ones that leave you wanting to know more, about them, and about their world. The ones who can keep a conversation that isn’t necessarily just for the plot.
FWG: How long have you been in the guild, and what changes have you seen with regards to how writing is handled since joining?
Leinir: I’m a brand spanking new member, with my actual membership proper less than a month old. I have, however, been hanging out in the guild spaces for several years now, and I have seen the guild go through a couple of series of changes. When I joined, the guild seemed in a little upheaval, and since then it has pulled itself together substantially. When I joined, it was really mostly to hang out with a bunch of people who also write, but what I found was not only friends, but encouragement and help with building skills that have come in more than a little handy since.
Until joining, I had no real desire or plans to attempt to write anything for publication, and here we are now, with several stories in a variety of anthologies, a small set of contributor copies on my shelf. Even a recipe to go with one of those stories, thanks to The Furry Cookbook I mentioned before.
FWG: You are agender correct? Can you explain what that means to you to the folks reading this interview?
Leinir: Certainly can! Usually, when describing this, I will just say that it means I don’t have a gender, but of course that is something of an oversimplification. Gender, it seems, is a case of multi-dimensional geometry. The simplistic view on it tends to be the idea that there is just one axis with male at one end and female the other, which at least on many companies’ websites sees to be interpreted as absolute values, so you can only pick one of those.
My own version, which also is a simplification, but which catches at least a fair bit more of the nuances of reality, is to have three axes: The male/female axis, to put you anywhere between the two. An inclusive/exclusive axis, which lets you suggest whether your position on the first axis is a mix of either extreme, or an absence of the one to which that position is nearest. And finally, the strength axis, which lets you position the strength of affiliation with the position on the first axis.
Given that bit of geometric fiddling about, for me, I fall fairly in the middle on the first axis, and on the second axis somewhere fairly near to the exclusive side, which puts me at more or less having an absence of gender, rather than having one. And then we get to the strength axis, which is where I feel occasionally like a bit of an impostor. Not in a terrible way, not really, but more because the strength of my gender identity is not particularly high.
What this means is that while i was born with male primary sexual characteristics, I do not really suffer very much from dysmorphia, or even dysphoria. That is to say, I would prefer not to have these things, but from there to actually being disgusted by them like some are, or it having any kind of effect in my day to day life outside of everybody calling me him a lot, it doesn’t affect me any great deal. That is not to say that it doesn’t have some semblance of effect, because of course it does – see for example my textual facepalming above about binary gender choices in random web registration forms and the like. It simply means that, really, for me, day to day, it is at most an inconvenience and a disappointment that the world is so stuck in a binary, when the real world is so much more fuzzy.
FWG: You’re also asexual! What part of the asexual spectrum do you fall under and what does that mean to you?
Leinir: This is a slightly more… new discovery in myself, so I’ve not thought as deeply about how to describe it as i have with my gender… But, with that in mind, there is a similar thing going on here with the axes, though I’m not sure how to label them. However, one thing that made me think I was not asexual in the past was that well, I do occasionally do the sexy stuff, and I do enjoy that when it happens. I greatly enjoy wearing slinky clothing, like spandex and the like, and I have been a rubberist for longer than i can remember. Rubber being, of course, one of those materials that seems to have all manner of sexual connections, with people having this funny idea that if you wear rubber, it’s a sex thing. For me, then, being asexual is not really a case of being repulsed by sex the way some are, or anything like that, rather for me it means that it is not something I desire, not something I seek out.
I am a highly tactile person, and those materials I mentioned earlier play into that. My entire thing is about hugs, cuddles, stroking, brushing and raking hair, that sort of thing, in that kind of way which means it could involve sex or not, and I really could care less about that. The same for the various aspects of kinkiness that you might encounter, like bondage, even vacuum beds: Everything that I actually do seek out, such as those things, are not sexual in any real way, they are, in effect, about comfort. They are about calm, relaxed pleasure. Nothing more, and nothing less. Sexytimes? Sure, that can be fun, I guess, but I just… don’t really care, i guess.
FWG: What does Pride mean to you?
Leinir: Pride to me means, well, a few different things.
For us, now, where we live, at least to a degree, it is mostly a celebration that we have for the most part arrived at a point where we are not discriminated against in any real kind of big way. There is more to be done, but this seems to be mostly a kind of reluctance to just remove legislation wholesale which has some semblance of reasoning, without having something more reasonable to replace it with. And I kind of get that. Blood donations for gay men, weird requirements about self identification, and other nonsensical things like that notwithstanding.
It also means fighting, and solidarity. We may well be sort of mostly okay where we are, but that does not mean it is like that for all. Pride for me, for us, is then also a way of showing our support for people who do not share the privilege we have for living in a country that at least tries to do these things with some semblance of humanity in mind. Where we are considered people.
With that in mind, it also means memory. It means that pride today, where we live, is remembering that those who came before us fought for our right to be who we are, without having to apologize or hide, without having to fear for our lives.
FWG: Was there a bit of a journey or story to you uncovering your identity? If so, would you be comfortable sharing with us?
Leinir: Unlike the story told by so many, my journey has been a calm one, supported by those around me. Going through thinking I was bisexual, and even gay, and finally discovering that it is… not quite straightforward enough for that kind of labeling. Because what’s it called when your husband married someone they thought was male, because they didn’t really know any better at the time, and who doesn’t really seek out sex anyway? Gay doesn’t perhaps seem to fit that, but there’s not much in the way of terminology to match, and so queer, in its vagueness, kind of fits. But even that feels not entirely right, and so I simply keep discovering and learning. Maybe that is where my own little part of this huge journey is a little different: I do not feel these things strongly enough for it to be something that stops my life, and with those around me supporting me, it is much easier to explore it, and simply let the discoveries happen when they want to.
FWG: How do you think being agender and asexual has inspired or affected your stories? Have you written agender or asexual characters into your works?
Leinir: I imagine it must have a strong effect on my stories that I do not seek sexual gratification, and that I am tactility… if not obsessed then certainly attached. My stories tend to have a lot of affection in them, but while I have had a whole range of different types of relationships in them, they are never strongly seeking, they are never fiery passionate, not in the way that one might see them in a lot of popular work. Not even going so far as some of the various almost-porn (with which there really is nothing wrong, don’t @ me 😉 ), it just is not really something that tends to pop up in my mind as a motivation point for the characters.
Some of them certainly turn out to have desires, and those do get fulfilled – even if usually after fading out, or perhaps refused because motivation and no you don’t always get to have the thing – but it is usually a motivator in the story. I sometimes wonder if this reduces the scopes of what stories i can tell, but also, as such motivations don’t really work for me as a person, I would feel uncomfortable trying to work them in. It would feel, perhaps, a little disingenuous. In other words: Yes, my asexuality has most certainly affected my writing, and being agender means I have, well, a few characters with either entirely unspecified gender, or explicitly no gender, and a bunch of varieties on that whole handwavy thing.
FWG: Do you feel like the issues that affect the outside world involving your identity affect your writing within the fandom or not?
Leinir: Frankly i am not sure. The parts of my writing which are, I guess, sociopolitical in nature tend to focus on other things than sexuality and gender identity, and for those it rather has a tendency to sneak in, because, well, in my head there just isn’t anything wrong with it. That is not to say no conflicts arise, because they do, but it tends to not really be a main motivational factor for any antagonist, or even protagonist, it just is a thing which is there.
In my less deliberately commenting work, conversely, it does seem to sneak in more often. Not so much the gender related ones, but rather the asexuality ones I mentioned just before; the hugs, just casual cuddling and contact. With the social distancing that is currently so front and center (and likely will be with us for a very long time, and rightly so), it feels like maybe I need to think very carefully about how to frame that in the future.
FWG: If you could convince everyone to read a single book, what would it be?
Leinir: Well, that is a question and a bit! A couple spring to mind, I’m sorry, I cannot do only the one.
One being the Helliconia Trilogy by Brian W. Aldiss, which was my first proper entry into serious, highly conceptual sci fi. The thing is nearly as old as I am, but that doesn’t stop it from being the thing which made my young mind go all funny with idea. That it is also the book I was reading when our house burnt down in 1995 might have had some effect in cementing it in my mind (and no, that was a long time ago, we’re all out the other side and all we lost was belongings, everybody was safe, including the animals).
The other book is The 40,000 At Gehenna, by C J Cherryh, which is not as religious a book as the title suggests. It is, without going into it too deeply, a story about a colony of artificially grown and, effectively, hypnotically programmed humans who were in essence dumped on a newly discovered planet and, due to some social upheaval at the other end of their supply lines, ended up having to fend for themselves on a world where life already existed before they landed. The programming included some base stipulations to ensure they would love and take care of that world, and the book explores what that means and how that kind of broadly termed instruction might be interpreted.
Finally, I will mention that i am right now utterly engrossed in a book by fellow FWG member, JFR Coates, whose space stoats and the immense hardships they live through in Reborn and the sequel Traitor are currently bringing me as close to tears as anything has for a long time. I am not yet through book two yet, and already hunger to spend more time in this world, and consequently am delighted to know there is a third book on the way. It is astonishing, and if you haven’t grabbed copies yet already, you absolutely, definitely should go and do so right now. Perhaps finish reading the interview first, but definitely go and grab that.
FWG: Any last words for our readers and guild members?
Leinir: You should be immensely proud of the wonderful, supporting place that is the Furry Writers’ Guild, and furry in general. When I joined in the late 90s, this was a much maligned community, which mostly just ignored the trite commentary by others about these weirdos and their fluffy or otherwise animal things with human type stuff also going on. As time passed, I got to watch, and experience in person, how this evolved into one of the most welcoming and aware communities out there.
When the internet went insane and people realized just how prevalent, shall we just say certain political thoughts, were, we were able to look around, frown, and be a bit confused, all the while the world outside praised us for being the one place that had really not allowed that lot to spend any amount of time with us outside of a few, scattered, and decidedly tiny and unwelcome parts. It is a wonderful thing. Be proud. Furry or not, just the fact you made it to here means you have some interest, and have at least some awareness of that fact.
We would like to thank Leinir again for this wonderful interview! You can find a list of their published works on their Goodreads account and follow them on Mastodon. Stay tuned for next week when we feature another member of the guild for pride! Until we meet again, may your words flow like water.