I’m Tori Curtis, and last year I published my debut f/f fantasy novel, Eelgrass. It’s a coming of age story about selkies, a beautiful (and terrifying) mermaid, and how brave you have to be to protect your friends.
In Eelgrass, a lesbian reimagining of Irish folktales, Efa and Bettan spend their days roving the sea and shore. The other selkies in their village say it will soon be time for them to settle down and find husbands. Then Bettan disappears into a rainstorm. Despite the other villagers’ reassurances, Efa can’t shake the certainty her friend’s been taken.
To rescue Bettan, she must leave behind the shallow waters of her home and find the fishwives. These half-human fish seduce men with song and devour them with sharp teeth. She doesn’t expect to find Ninka, an outrageous young woman who makes her feel giddy and who might be the key to unlocking her own courage.
I have never been good at self-restraint in the face of true love.
The first time I fell in love with a girl, I spent six months crying into my pillow, posting poems about how I yearned to be in her strong, softball-playing arms on Fictionpress. I contemplated that possibly, after ten short years on this earth, I would have to die of a broken heart. I told everyone in my 200-person middle school that I was a lesbian now.
I also told my parents, who I think must have been a little amused when I tearfully confessed that MAYBE it was possible that I was actually bisexual, but probably it wouldn’t come up, on account of no feeling I could ever feel would be as strong or as true as what I felt for my beloved.
(She knows who she is, and she deserves to be unbelievably smug.)
The first time I fell in love with a fictional gay character, I lied to my parents about staying after school for homework, jumped the turnstile, took the 1 and 9 train twenty blocks downtown to Barnes and Noble, realized that Barnes & Noble DIDN’T HAVE THE BOOK I WANTED, took the train back to the 72nd street station, and ran ten or fifteen blocks uptown to the next nearest Barnes & Noble, which also didn’t have the book I wanted.
This had a happy ending: I didn’t get my ten-and-a-half-year-old butt kidnapped, and my One True Love bought me a copy of Magic’s Pawn for my birthday. (Disclaimer: Please, if you’re ten and obsessed with an LGBT fantasy novel but too shy to ask your parents to buy it for you, talk to a librarian or do ANYTHING other than spend two hours running up and down Broadway without a cell phone while your parents think you are safely working on your math homework.)
CW: References to transmisia and anti-lesbian slurs
It’s impossible to talk about the LGBT characters I have loved – desperately, earnestly, without reservation – without running into… dilemmas. Because so often, the characters that I’ve held in my heart for years didn’t get that kind of care from the stories they were written into. My wife read Magic’s Pawn this year – the same copy I got when I turned eleven, the same copy where I highlighted entire passages in pink magic marker – and we were both horrified not just by the things I remembered (like the main character’s soul-bonded boyfriend dying horribly) but by things I took for granted as a child.
“Wait,” she said, “so we’re supposed to believe Valdemar is a perfect utopia ruled by magic talking horses, but also there are religious orders where they will take gay teenagers and forcibly brick them into caves for the rest of their lives? And no one stops this?”
Falling in love with LGBT characters as an LGBT person is complex in a way that, I assume, falling in love with cis, straight characters as a cis, straight person isn’t. In some ways, it grows harder as we create better, more representative work. When we have the romance between Chiron and Kevin in Moonlight, what are we supposed to do with RENT’s representation of Angel and Collins, who are pushed aside to provide development for the more-important white and straight characters, who can’t get either a set of preferred pronouns or a single scene in which Angel isn’t the butt of a transphobic joke?
What are we supposed to do with characters whose writers couldn’t make up their minds: the Albus Dumbledores (Harry Potter) of the world, the Janis Ians (Mean Girls), and the Grace Polks (Joan of Arcadia)? It’s not representation to write a character all your tiny lesbian viewers identify with, make sure she gets called a “dyke” at least once, and then make ABSOLUTELY SURE that she expresses interest in men. But the heart wants what it wants.
When we talk about LGBT characters and LGBT representation, we have to worry about the personal and the political. As a writer and a feminist, nothing is ever going to be perfect, and I don’t ever want to settle. But just between us, when we’re hanging out in the cool kids club, we deserve some time for the characters we fell in love with even when it wasn’t perfect. Even if they’re Dr. Frank-n-Furter or a one-line side character in a 700-page fantasy novel. Or that novel-length Star Trek fic I almost wrote for Sulu and his husband (I’m not sorry).
If you’re LGBTQ+ this Coming Out Day 2017, I’m so glad you’re here, and I hope you get to spend the coming year with the characters who make you excited to be a part of this community.
You can get a copy of Eelgrass here: link
Visit my website at toricurtiswrites.com
Or follow me on twitter @tcurtfish
And Sapphic Book Club is going to be reading Eelgrass for November 2017, so I hope you get the chance to be a part of that.