They call me “the gay dragon lady.”
It’s an accurate nickname. All five books in The Sun Dragon Series feature protagonists who are LGBTQI, and several of them happen to be half-human, half-dragon people. See, that’s my thing: I write young adult novels with LGBTQI protagonists that are, for the most part, centered on the fantasy journey or epic battle instead of the fact that the character is LGBTQI.
I didn’t intend to write young adult books about gay dragons; I didn’t intend to write young adult novels at all. But when I visited a group of LGBTQI youth at Rainbow Room, a program through Planned Parenthood, to talk about being an author, they told me over and over again that there was no fiction on the shelves that represented them. That told a story first, and happened to have an LGBTQI main character as the protagonist at the same time.
So I wrote them one.
And a five book series.
It wasn’t until Starsong, the third book in The Sun Dragon Series, that I realized just how much my degree in Women’s Studies was influencing my work. Starsong takes place on Draman, an alien planet filled with intersex people (though they do not learn that word until they visit Earth) who are forced to pick a gender at age ten as part of their naming ceremony. Same-gender relationships are banned, so the decision also affects who the person can love from that point forward.
Could there be a better example of gender as a social construct?
During my time at George Washington University, I was enthralled, as most women’s studies majors are, by Judith Butler. I had never thought of gender as a performance, as something to be subverted. But years later, as I watched the chapters of Starsong flood the blank pages in front of me, I realized just how much Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter had affected me.
And Dramanian society gets subverted pretty quickly. One child, Skelly, refuses to pick a robe, throwing all of the Dramanian royals into an uproar and forcing Sara Lee, maid to the Princess, to help them flee the planet. Here is an excerpt from that moment:
Soon, the last child took the floor. Nothing about the shoes, the shape of the clothing beneath, or even the facial features gave him or her away, and after years of ceremonies, I was an expert. Finally challenged, I sat up in my seat and watched this one with interest. Their eyes were an intense green, extremely rare for the darker complexion of Dramanians. There was a focus in every movement of the limbs, a calculation not often found in children, though the limbs of this child were much smaller and daintier than their age would suggest.
“Red or black, dear?” the master of ceremonies prompted. The hour was late, and our guests had not yet had dessert. After that there would be dancing, and I was sure Aduerto would insist on parading me around the room on his arm.
The rest of the book is told through Nimue’s, Sara Lee’s, and Skelly’s perspective, and intertwines with the other books in the series through a battle with evil robots from the second book and a time jump back to the first.
Even though the circumstances in the beginning of Starsong were intentional, please don’t think that I go into every book with a theoretical agenda. I typically like to set things up and then watch them fall as they will, following the characters as complex individuals who make their own decisions more than following any specific plot I’ve cooked up. I am just as shocked as the reader when someone dies, or when someone falls in love with the wrong sibling. Some writers outline their stories, but I’m not one of them. Even in Starsong, the question of gender performance is never exactly answered, and later, in books like Luminosity, gender performance will again play a large role in the identity of the main character.
In my opinion, my role as an author of fiction is not to make those decisions for the reader. It’s not to preach, or to further an agenda, or to say what’s right or wrong. It’s to make the reader think, for a few hundred pages, in a new way. To ask themselves a new question, and to determine the answer on their own.
When my first adult novel, Cairo in White, came out shortly after I graduated from the writing program at Johns Hopkins University, a very socially conservative reader emailed me to say that the story of an Egyptian lesbian who is forced to marry her lover’s brother had changed her mind about the topic of gay marriage. No one should be separated if they are in love, she’d decided, and my book had been the thing to change her mind.
It had forced her to think, for a few hundred pages, in a new way.
I hope the same thing happens with Starsong. I hope it asks the right questions rather than gives the right answers, and that it helps readers see the world through someone else’s eyes.
Especially when those eyes are in the head of a really cool bone dragon.