“We are Perfect Peacocks of People with piercings on our faces and tattoos on our necks, fingers and wrists,” says the Sixsterhood. “We are an undulating sea of Purple Hair Dye and Septum Piercings and Mesh Shirts and Mullets and Leg Hair and Matte Lipstick—every body a Good Body and everyone a Babe.”
The Sixsterhood is a queer Collective bound by compassionate cooperation and Emphatic Capitalization. When doxxing renders the apartment of We Are Watching Eliza Bright’s eponymous Eliza unsafe, they take her into their vibrant, secretive warehouse community.
The Sixsterhood is one of two voices created by nonbinary author, educator, longtime Autostraddle writer and community member, and serial D&D player A.E. Osworth to narrate their first novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright. The story follows Eliza, a coder for a game called Guilds of the Protectorate at prestigious Fancy Dog Games, as she faces harassment that spirals into a nightmare.
Eliza Bright details the clashing and unravelling of its characters’ lives after Eliza reports sexist harassment by her colleagues, and is fired. As the harassment mutates, moves offline, and finally boils over, Eliza’s friends and fellow Fancy Dog employees, Suzanne and Devonte; her initial antagonists, Lewis and Jean-Pascale; and Fancy Dog founder, Preston are all ensnared.
Eliza Bright is told from two collective perspectives. The first we’ll get to later, but the second is an unmistakable love letter to queer community in all its breathtaking, maddening, unparalleled glory.
”I want to make sure that people know that,” says Osworth. “That’s for us. […] And it’s given me a really great appreciation for the strength [and] moral insistences of my community.”
Their narration style is a masterpiece of burbling run-on sentences (Osworth assures me that, “There is not one period in any of the Sixsterhood chapters!”) and other instantly recognizable, somehow distinctly queer linguistic choices.
“This place is wild,” Devonte says the first time he visits, and the Sixsterhood narrator preens with delighted agreement (even as it swears it isn’t eavesdropping): “Yes! it is and We can tell he is Unused to living with Community or he might speak a little bit quieter [and] now they are Part Of The Thrum and Hum of our Heart-Place and We Absorb their sounds.”
As a safe space for Eliza and Suzanne, and a contrast to the book’s other narrators, the Sixsterhood feels incredibly natural. However, it didn’t come to Osworth so organically.
“I do that!” they say of the run-ons, unexpected capitals, and other quirks that make up the Sixsterhood’s narration. And yet, they, “didn’t think to put it in a book, which is sad […] I have internalized whose voice should be narrating.”
We live in a culture that defaults insistently and aggressively to straight, white, cis, male perspectives. When queer voices—especially those of trans people, and Black and brown people—are so frequently ignored or actively silenced, centering a narrator made up of them turned out to be an active effort.
To define the voice of the Sixsterhood, Osworth and their editor clarified the voice of its counterpart. “We made a list of all the things linguistically they’re doing, then [I] made the opposite.”
The distinction is crucial, because the chapters of Eliza Bright not told by the Sixsterhood are narrated by a many-headed swarm of internet evil, forged from the worst parts of Reddit, 4Chan, and other murky digital corners. Osworth created it through a research process they refer to with a shudder as, “giving the internet a proctology exam.”
“[It was] really painful to do,” they say. “I don’t entirely recommend it as a practice.”
This “Reddit narrator” is maliciously unreliable. It molds events into shapes of its choosing, discarding or fabricating entirely when needed. Its vitriol congeals in The Inspectre, a prolific Guilds player and self-fashioned sleuth whose sense of entitlement and desperate need for recognition culminate unsurprisingly in violence.
The Reddit mob musters its best and brightest to attack a dog, harass Suzanne, endanger the lives of Devonte’s family, and relentlessly stalk and threaten Eliza herself. As predictable as they are hateful, they concoct the scenarios you’d expect: Eliza is sleeping with Preston. Or, Suzanne is sleeping with Preston. Or, they are both sleeping with Preston—at the same time? The mob can only hope. How else would they have gotten their jobs?
Shrouded in comfortable anonymity, the mob lionizes the members who commit acts of IRL violence, like The Inspectre and, to a lesser extent, Lewis. When pressed, they hide comfortably behind the widespread conviction that what happens on the internet has no effect on real life.
The mob describes its behavior online as, “imaginary, consequence-less.” I remember boys who made me shrink back with fear when I was young, think of men on the news who make my blood boil and run cold today.
The mob says there is a “sweetness to their face-splitting cruelty,” and calls it a “product of boyhood,” reaching for innocence and grasping blunt truth. In this society, where we are marinated in misogyny from birth, they are absolutely right.
Much of the premise of Eliza Bright will be familiar to anyone who paid nauseated attention during the 2014 GamerGate scandal. However, although it was in part inspired by those events, Osworth says We Are Watching Eliza Bright is not strictly a GamerGate book.
“And that sucks, by the way. [I’ve] written a book about internet stalking and harassment and doxxing, and I can’t say it’s a GamerGate book. It’s far bigger than that.”
GamerGate was seven years ago, but the violence and sexism that drove it were around long before that, and are with us still today. Just months ago, in a conversation for Lyz Lenz’s newsletter, journalists Lenz and Talia Lavin discussed the terrifying experience of being harassed by a mob of men online—and what it’s like when the attacks leak past the screen. And that’s just one example of many. In an age of ever-increasing connectivity, the problem isn’t going away.
“I want to be really clear, that is the world,” says Osworth, reaching out to pull me back from the conclusion that the only way forward is to burn down the internet. “That is white nationalism, misogyny. It is the underpinning of so much of our thinking. And that is not about the internet […] that is about existing here in this particular society. […] Misogyny exists everywhere. We just happen to have this digital space where it’s really loud.”
If we ever hope to correct the issues digital spaces can exacerbate, we’ll need to acknowledge that the internet doesn’t create the hate it hosts. It’s just a sponge—it absorbs the poison we soak it in.
As Osworth says, “I love the internet…and I hate the internet.” For someone who writes extensively about technology, conducts a class on digital storytelling, and spent their early career teaching new tech to “business people [and] lovely little old ladies in New Jersey,” this makes sense.
In addition to getting personal with the butthole of the internet to shape the narrators of Eliza Bright, Osworth also plumbed less aromatic digital crevices. After the unexpected departure of a cast member from the popular Dungeons and Dragons podcast Critical Role, Osworth describes how the DM, “looked into the camera, and told the internet not to speculate.”
“So,” says Osworth, “I popped a big bowl of popcorn, and sat down and watched the Critters, which are the fandom surrounding Critical Role, melt down. And the particular way they melted down was to speak like they [knew] these people. [It’s] an entirely parasocial relationship.”
To the Reddit mob of Eliza Bright, Preston isn’t just the creator of their favorite game. He’s their idol, someone simultaneously aspirational and relatable. A bastion of the white, straight male superiority they brandish and cling to. For his part, Preston remains blithely ignorant of his slavering fan club—as unaware as he is of how his decisions visit violence on those around him. “I did it really intentionally,” says Osworth. “He doesn’t think, because he doesn’t have to. His power puts him in a position of safety.”
The Critters, Osworth is careful to clarify, are, “actually lovely.” But, their possessive reaction to events between people whose work they’ve invested hours of their lives in is common, including among less lovely fandoms—like the Reddit mob.
In addition to being a Critical Role fan, Osworth shares that their, “heart is [in] tabletop games. Specifically, Dungeons and Dragons.” They have DM’d and played in dozens of campaigns.
Whether it’s in virtual reality or a tabletop game, playing a character has always been an opportunity for people to step outside of themselves. Osworth has watched friends, “play with gender, [has] watched someone change their name.”
“Every single person who is playing a game is playing through something. They are figuring something out, because that’s what play is for. […] I have been participating in other people’s games [and] I have created a bunch of characters in the last year of pandemic that [are] certainly things I’m working through.”
The same is true for the characters of Eliza Bright, whose avatars provide richer windows into their true selves than any speculation from either of the book’s narrators.
“It was actually my thesis advisor that said, “Sounds like Suzanne’s working through something about gender.” [And] It’s not just gender, it’s about what it is to be monstrous. And what it is to be optimal,” explains Osworth.
When Devonte, a Black man, creates a white avatar and has a changed experience playing Guilds, Osworth says, “that [is] me loving to hate Ready Player One, [and] the flattening of Aech’s emotional response. […] I don’t know that it was explored with the care that I wish it was. And I don’t know that I can be the person that explores it, too. [But] I’m gonna write in opposition to it and I hope that someone writes in opposition to me.” It’s moments like this, like casual invitations for collaboration and conversation, that lie at the heart of Eliza Bright’s message about community.
Osworth explains that when computers need to determine whether a statement is true, they use something called a logical operator. As the Reddit mob grapples with and fabricates truths throughout Eliza Bright, it functions using a type of logical operator called an “or operator.” Under this condition, only one statement can be true at a time—information meted out in finite, miserable morsels.
The Sixsterhood, on the other hand, uses an “and” logical operator, which necessitates that multiple statements be true at once — possibilities cascading upon one another endlessly, with ample space for all. This open worldview creates space to breathe, to be. While the members of the reddit mob bristle and turn on one another at the slightest sign of agitation, the members of the Sixsterhood coalesce easily around those in need, confident that there will always be enough.
As Osworth describes, the Reddit mob is, “operating from a position of scarcity,” and the Sixsterhood, “true to my experience of queer and trans community, [is] operating from conditions of abundance.”
“We have kicked the reddit people out,” says the Sixsterhood narrator by way of formal introduction to the reader. “though We are a small group, We are mighty and the others have no concept of this place—they Cannot Imagine It.”
“[M]ost people aren’t Us,” the Sixsterhood muses later. “They don’t have the Capacity to set about wanting what We have.”
“I’ve had people [try] to figure out if [Eliza Bright] is a queer book, if it’s a trans book,” Osworth says, “And that’s a weird conversation for me to hear, because—”
“Of course it is,” we say together.
“That [Sixsterhood] narrator is for us,” they continue. “That is my love letter to us.”
Ooh, I love this interview, now I’m even more interested in the book
This interview made me even more excited to start this book! My partner is currently reading our copy and I’m eagerly waiting my turn.