June is Pride month, and so I wanted to talk a little about LGBT representation in Sand Dancer and the sequels to come, and what that personally means to me.
Sand Dancer is the tale of a young woman who must disguise herself as a boy in order to infiltrate an Academy of noble boys to find her father’s killer. There are many stories which explore the “girl disguised as boy” trope, including the Song of the Lioness quartet by my favourite author Tamora Pierce, where a girl disguises herself as a boy to become a knight. These books are a childhood comfort of mine and helped me explore my own gender identity back in a time when LGBT and trans rights weren’t quite as openly spoken about as they are now in 2019.
Sand Dancer touches upon these same tropes, but doesn’t explore gender identity beyond my own knowledge and experience. What do I mean by this? Well, I am not trans and don’t feel qualified to write a main character who is trans. I’d be interested in reading stories which explore these tropes in a trans-positive way, for example, I’d love to read a story where a girl character disguises herself as the opposite gender only to learn that they feel comfortable in this new gender and find themselves transitioning. But this is not Sand Dancer, nor is it my story to tell. Instead, the main character of Mina shares my own experience and view point of gender identity.
When I was a teen, I was a tomboy. I still am. My friends were boys, my hobbies were masculine, and I had no interest in things I would call stereotypically girly; I didn’t wear dresses, I didn’t wear makeup, I never got my ears pierced, I preferred boys clothing styles, I wasn’t interested in crafts or cooking. Instead, I played in the dirt and loved video games. Back then, I thought feminine activities were boring and pointless. It took a quite a few years to shake off that internalised misogyny and realise that girls liking girly things didn’t make them any lesser, and me, liking more masculine things, didn’t make me any less of a girl – if that’s what I wanted to be. Some family members and friends questioned if I was straight because I wasn’t gender-conforming. And I asked myself who I was. I was straight, I knew that, but I also didn’t think I was female or male because I didn’t feel like I could relate to either gender. I considered myself to be androgynous. When I was a teen, non-binary and gender-fluid concepts weren’t common knowledge. If I was a teen now in 2019, I probably would call myself non-binary. But since then, I accepted the fact I’m a woman who happens to not follow the stereotypes associated with being a woman. And that’s fine. That’s me, and I’m happy with that. If I’d been born male, I’d probably be happy with that too.
You need to find whatever identity makes you happy.
So in Sand Dancer, Mina has a similar experience of gender. She’s a tomboy that likes masculine things, but she doesn’t feel drawn to either gender. She accepts the fact she’s a girl, but doesn’t accept the gender roles placed on her. When she disguises herself as a boy, she doesn’t feel any differently. To her, the person she is as a boy is no different to who she is as a girl. In truth, she, like me, doesn’t place much importance on gender. Her identity as a person, and her sense of honour, is more important to her. She only stops to think about her gender when other people question it. In book one, she’s more focussed on revenge and isn’t trying to deceive anyone because she feels like she is still who she says she is and it’s other people who have the problem. In fact, she reveals her secret to one close friend, and the other is more annoyed by her hiding fire magic than her gender.
In book two, her secret is out and she adjusts to being known as a girl whilst still wearing male clothes and acting the same because that is what she feels comfortable with. It’ll be later in the series that she starts to look at her gender and question what it means to her whilst also exploring what it means to be a woman. Her interests become more feminine than mine! As I write these books, Mina will decide whether she adopts a non-binary identity, so the series of will be an exploration of her growth as much as it is for me.
Whilst I could have used Sand Dancer to explore gender identity further, I don’t think either myself or Mina are the right people to explore what it means to be trans. And that is why Sand Dancer is not that story.
Though Mina is cis and straight, Sand Dancer does have a variety of side characters across the LGBTQIA spectrum because I wanted characters who reflect the diversity of the modern world. As these characters grew into life, they themselves decided who they wanted to be, which sometimes surprised even me. There is one notable character in book one, but there are more waiting in the wings that will be introduced as the series progresses, including a non-binary character, the cutest gay couple ever, a few powerful lesbian matches, a couple of bi boys, and a girl who gives up a crown to be comfortable in her asexuality, and so on. All of these will be obvious and not just hinted at, and whilst their sexuality is a part of them, they all have an important role to play in the story beyond that. I can’t guarantee all of them will make it to the end but that’s because there are so many of them! I will promise that the most important characters will find love and a happy ending, and those who don’t make it didn’t run afoul because of their sexuality or identity.
I’ve done my research as a writer and ally to represent LGBTQIA characters in my stories, but I appreciate my stories won’t be for everyone and I may not always get it right. In which case, I’m always open to learn and develop. And I’m always happy to recommend fantasy with strong LGBT representation and receive recommendations in turn!