We’ve been pretty quiet on the blog lately while our lives transform and evolve in interesting, sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult ways. Now that I think (hah! she says) that the worst is over, I want to come back here with a vengeance, talking about stories, queer stories, random and sparkly things, and announce a lot of new and wonderful projects. We also want to start giving space to other voices.
My mission, Jenn’s mission, is to bring great feminist lesbian stories into the world, stories with young lesbian heroines who kick ass and fight monsters and fall in love with monsters and live and love. But there are a lot of other writers and creators and makers out there, each with projects that we want to support, that we’d love to showcase here. So the next few posts are just that–guest posts from authors and artists who are doing amazing work. Queer work. Feminist work. (And if you’re an author of something queer or feminist or QUEER AND FEMINIST! [huzzah!], please drop us a line and we’ll see what we can do about getting you to guest blog on Muse Rising. <3
Queen Shulamit never expected to inherit the throne of the tropical land of Perach so young. At twenty, grief-stricken and fatherless, she’s also coping with being the only lesbian she knows after her sweetheart ran off for an unknown reason. Not to mention, she’s the victim of severe digestive problems that everybody think she’s faking. When she meets Rivka, an athletic and assertive warrior from the north who wears a mask and pretends to be a man, she finds the source of strength she needs so desperately.
Unfortunately for her, Rivka is straight, but that’s okay — Shulamit needs a surrogate big sister just as much as she needs a girlfriend. Especially if the warrior’s willing to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other women who might be open to same-sex romance. The real world outside the palace is full of adventure, however, and the search for a royal girlfriend quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.
Many times when talking of feminist retellings of fairy tales, we decide that the solution is for the “damsel” to rescue herself. Why not send a woman to rescue another woman? That’s often how it works in real life, anyway–friends rescue each other in little ways all the time. There’s nothing inherently unfeminist about needing to be rescued; it’s only when the rescuer is always male and the person in distress is always female that we’ve gotten stuck in tropes. In my storytelling, I wanted to talk about the beautiful phenomenon of women rescuing each other–in some ways, a radical idea that those in power would rather we ignore in favor of the narrative that all women stand in competition with each other for male attention.
The Second Mango is a feminist fantasy novel about a gay woman, a straight woman, and a dragon. The main character is Queen Shulamit, a young woman who’s inherited her father’s throne unexpectedly when he dies in an accident. She’s lonely and isolated because she’s the only queer person she knows (which means she doesn’t know where to find a girlfriend), and she’s beset by debilitating digestive problems that everyone in the palace just think she’s faking–just as in real life, where sexism causes many women’s invisible disabilities to be treated with skepticism and disbelief.
Enter Rivka, or “Riv”, as she calls herself–a tall, brawny foreign mercenary and bounty hunter whose native language is Yiddish and whose horse can transform into a dragon. To Shulamit’s great disappointment, Rivka is emphatically straight. But they start to bond anyway, and Shulamit decides that if she can’t have Rivka as a girlfriend, she can have her as a bodyguard for her journey around the country seeking love. Before long, however, they discover a group of women who badly need their help, and the adventure expands beyond the simple quest for other queer women.
I invented Shulamit because I came to realize that the only way I’d have anything close to a Disney Princess fairytale experience with someone queer and Jewish was if I made her up myself. (And then I saddled her with my dead father and my spouse’s gluten intolerance, but at least I gave her my determination and my spouse’s encyclopedic brain to make up for it!) I invented Rivka because I wanted a female, Jewish answer to Siegfried; someone from my ethnic group who can kick ass but also love with a nurturing protectiveness, and baby, this Siegfried doesn’t kill dragons–far from it. Imagine how foes flee when they see the great warrior allied with the dragon!
The book contains plenty of lesbian content, of course, including Shulamit’s runaway girlfriend (who is bisexual–like me!) But it’s not just a book about romance. The central relationship in the book is the sisterly bond between Shulamit and Rivka. It was important for me to write about a queer person participating in platonic friendship–and about the other ways being queer can affect someone’s life beyond just the romantic angle–because so many of the voices of privilege think our queer identities exist only in our underpants.
It saddens me when I see fans using “but you’re robbing the world of celebrations of platonic love” as an argument against slash fanfiction. It saddens me because it makes me realize that fiction in general is dominated by hetero romance, and that friendship and same-sex romance are left to squabble over what’s left. In reality, all types of love are important, and all should be represented. In order for same-sex romance to flourish in fandom, it has to “steal” in some cases from platonic friendship, leaving those who want to support platonic friendship and make sure it gets screen time and respect feeling cheated.
I can understand what they feel, but same-sex romances, or even just LGBTQ+ people in general, are underrepresented in genre fiction, too! Anyway, I’ve never seen anyone who uses that type of language against slash recognize that and say, “look, we’re not asking for a gay-free universe; we’ll make these background characters a couple, or how about making this other person gay which wouldn’t affect the main character’s platonic friendship?” What it winds up sounding like is “the existence of queer characters interferes with the ability of fiction to celebrate platonic friendship.” Ouch.
So, since platonic affection and same-sex romance are both very important to me, I wanted to create a universe where they could co-exist — just like the real universe in which I live — where the two types of love don’t threaten each other.
The platonic friendships in my life are deep and complex, just like my marriage. My best friends are absolutely a part of my family. I also really want to celebrate the complicated idea of “family of choice”, in which who becomes a part of our heart and our extended family is partially blood, partially by marriage, and partially by deep friendship.
The Second Mango is a very female-centered book, and completely by accident the only scene with a conversation between two major male characters is in Rivka’s backstory, which takes place in a more traditional, less diverse setting in general. However, it does have a heterosexual romance subplot involving Rivka, but without spoiling anything I just want to emphatically assert that it’s still got all of my feminist sexual politics wound up firmly inside of it. The hetero romance in my book is everything I always wanted to read or watch but nobody could ever give me. Remember Little Women, where Dr. Bhaer gets Jo to cease her writing of sensationalist fiction to pay the bills? Remember Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, where in order to be with the man she loved, she’d have to stop the work she loved? I remember, and I reacted.
As for the bisexual character, I don’t want to give too much away, but she’s not depraved or amoral; she’s not flaky; neither is she doing it for attention.
We, the queer women of the world, are good enough to be in fairy tales and adventure stories, stories where we get to ride dragons and hang out with warrior women and enter creepy castles and cursed temples clutching the ends of our scarves with nervous excitement. Stories where we exist. For a long time we’ll probably have to make them up ourselves, but then–isn’t that the best way to have the greatest adventure of all?
Support the awesome queer work that Shira is doing, and get yourself a copy of The Second Mango!
(Artwork in this post by Jane Dominguez and Erika Hammerschmidt.)