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LGBTQ Nation: Marisa Crane’s new novel is a queer dystopia, but they’re dreaming of a queer paradise


This week is Lesbian Visibility Week, which raises awareness about the issues facing lesbians and celebrates their achievements. We’ll be publishing articles throughout the week to bring more attention to the people who put the “L” in LGBTQ Nation.

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself – the debut queer and dystopian novel from author Marisa Crane – follows protagonist, Kris into the near future, where wrongdoers are given second shadows to remind them of their misdeeds. After Kris’s wife dies in childbirth, their baby receives a second shadow and becomes a “Shadester,” like Kris herself. Together, the pair navigate grief, shame, and discrimination as they strive for a better life.

Crane grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania and played college basketball in Philadelphia. They told LGBTQ Nation that they moved to San Diego – where they now live with their wife and young child – for a “very gay reason, involving an ex-girlfriend.” 

LGBTQ Nation chatted with Crane about kink, queer utopias, and which lesbian icon they’d want to battle on the basketball court.

LGBTQ NATION: Sex and kink show up prominently in your book, and you write about them in such a refreshing, candid way. Were those scenes fun to write, and why was it important to you to include them?

Marisa Crane: They were really fun for me to write, especially knowing that so many conservatives would hate those scenes. They felt like a big f**k-you to homophobes and people who judge kink or think kink has no place at Pride (I’m so sick of that conversation that comes up every year).

I saw this TikTok about how an author was offended that readers asked if there was “spice” in their dystopian book, as in, they thought that was inappropriate or perhaps not the point of a dystopian novel.

I was really confused by this person’s perspective because things like sex and desire don’t magically stop under fascism. People still love and f**k and date and break up and express themselves however they can and want. I see these expressions of desire as even more necessary under fascism. We need pleasure and joy and orgasms. We need our own private revolutions. 

LGBTQ NATION: There’s a theme in the book of oppressive predetermination, of being judged before you even have a chance, and it made me think about the queer experience, especially now when LGBTQ+ rights are under such coordinated attacks. How did your experience as a lesbian shape the stakes your characters face?

MC: It shaped the stakes in pretty major ways. I’m nonbinary and a lesbian, and I obviously have a lot of privilege as a white, cis-passing person, but I used to dress very femme and try to be as straight-passing as possible — because of shame, societal influence, and misconceptions about desirability — but in the past seven years or so, I’ve been embracing being masc and that’s opened me up to a lot more judgment and hatred, especially from cishet guys. 

Even the spaces I’ve thought were safe, some of them have harmed me and discriminated against me. It’s made me realize just how othered I am in certain settings, even amongst my immense privilege. It puts me on edge sometimes, especially when meeting new people or entering new spaces. 

But you know, when it comes to my book, I know what it means to have to come out, to face scrutiny, and it’s like for Kris, she has to “come out” all over again, except this time it’s to tell her dad she’s a Shadester and initially, he rejects her and they’re estranged but they eventually finds their way back to each other. And I know how it feels to be nervous or scared about entering a new NoShad-dominated space. To constantly be reminded of the fact that you might be judged, feared, or discriminated against. 

The only difference is, I can take my “shadow” off, if I want. I can wear my hair down, put on makeup, dress femme, and refuse to hold my wife’s hand in public, and most people will think I’m a cishet woman. Kris and the other Shadesters don’t have that option. They’re constantly wearing a mark of shame for something they may or may not have done wrong. They’re not given the opportunity for healing, growth, or restoration.

LGBTQ NATION: Having a second shadow brings shame and prejudice, but we see the kid embracing hers and claiming it. She’s a source of so much hope. What gives you hope?

MC: The kid gives me hope. Kids in general give me hope. I know there tends to be this sort of tension and criticism between generations but I think Gen Z and Gen Alpha are rad in a lot of ways. 

As long as we allow ourselves to dream, to plan, to come together in community, then I have hope. Being a parent gives me hope. Having the privilege to witness this small person become. Having the privilege of growing along with him. Honestly, so much gives me hope, even in the face of turmoil and fascism. Abolitionists, organizers, the magic of queer and trans people. Being in love with my friends and family, falling in love with books and words and people I’ve never met, probably will never meet. Reading work that excites me, gives me hope. And that hope keeps me alive, it really does.

LGBTQ NATION: You started your writing journey with poetry. Was that something you were drawn to as a kid, and when did it evolve?

MC: Yeah, I started filling notebooks with bad rhyming poetry when I was around 11. I used it to process a lot of my feelings at the time, you know, typical angst plus my repressed queerness and anger I didn’t understand. But it never occurred to me that I could be a writer, like that it was something I could actually do with my life. I was also so focused on basketball, on getting a scholarship to college, that I let poetry stay in the background. It wasn’t until I graduated college that I started writing and reading more seriously. Then I eventually got the nerve to start writing and submitting short stories. And when I discovered literary journals, my whole world opened up.

LGBTQ NATION: In your Twitter bio, you mention being on the “jock to writer pipeline.” How has basketball impacted your writing ?

MC: I used to think of basketball and writing as very separate, especially when I graduated from college and lost competitive basketball as I knew it. I was grieving— something I’ve only just begun to refer to as grieving, honestly. I think for a while, I used writing as a replacement for basketball, throwing all of my energy and devotion into it. I guess I probably still do. But I’m finding a way to blend them, to understand how they affect each other, to let them coexist within me. I’m also trying to understand balance and moderation because my entire life has been run by obsession, by a singular focus.

But the more I write, the more I tackle big projects that sometimes feel impossible, the more I understand how playing basketball has helped my work. It allows me to handle criticism, it allows me to push through slumps, and doubts, and fears. It has helped me to understand that there are a million ways to write a novel; basketball, and all sports, in my opinion, are forms of art. They’re creative, people learn from each other but nobody does any one thing the same. And there is always room for growth and innovation, for imagining something new.

LGBTQ NATION: If you could play one-on-one against any lesbian icon, who would it be?

MC: Okay, I think I would play Tegan and Sara at the same time, which I realize is 2 on 1, but they’re the first ones I thought of so I’m just gonna go with it, and I’ve loved them since I was very young, when I was first coming into my queerness. It feels like they were the soundtrack to my self-discovery and early dating days, just stumbling my way through, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted.

I would also play a game against Jane Lynch because I think it would be so much fun—plus, she’s 6 ft. so it would be a challenge for me, at 5 ft. 4 in., to shoot over her. And sorry, I really can’t just pick one. I’d also play Samira Wiley, simply because I’m obsessed with her.

LGBTQ NATION: You wrote a dystopian novel. What would utopia look like to you?

MC: I think my utopia would look something like the utopia in the book, The F***ots & Their Friends Between Revolutions by Larry Mitchell, which is a beautiful and charming ode to queerness, love, imagination, and community. The f***ots and their friends live it up and don’t let the cishetero patriarchy get them down. They have sex and make art and live communally. They embrace joy and live fiercely.

I love the idea of responding to scarcity with abundance. Queerness, a queer utopia, feels like abundance, a too-muchness, an unruly, delicious field of wildflowers.

LGBTQ Nation