The Brilliant Death is a book about Teodora and Cielo, two characters who don’t fit in the box of “cis boy” or “cis girl”.
It’s a nonbinary love story.
It is, in many ways, my story.
But in the world of Vinalia, there are no words or definitions of gender outside of a limited set that fit a rigidly constructed binary.
I struggled with writing a book that takes place in a world that doesn’t easily give voice to my own queer and nonbinary nature. It’s a fantasy, I told myself. There are streghe who change people into shoehorns and music boxes! Even if it’s based on a historical time and place (specifically, late 1800s Italy), it has a wild plot of my own invention.
The transformation magic I found in Italian folktales, many of which are horribly misogynistic, could just as easily and sublimely be used for magical gender exploration, for empowering queer, nonbinary, and/or trans folks.
So why not add words to my fictional world? Why not invent them? Import them? Make Vinalia a better place for my characters?
In some of my stories, I do just that.
But I didn’t have words for my queer and nonbinary nature when I was younger, even if they did exist somewhere in our world. And this is, in many ways, my story. So with Vinalia, based on a long-gone time and place, I chose to show another important reality. People who live outside of two narrowly defined gender options are always there. In every time and place. (Magic or no magic.)
The lack of words doesn’t actually change who we are.
What it can do is make people lonely, scared, powerless. It limits peoples’ fates, pushes them further into the margins of society. It makes it easier to treat people poorly, to fear and discriminate. It can put lives in danger. It can keep folks from finding each other or realizing who they are in the first place.
Many of these things happen to Teo and Cielo. They’re in constant conflict—not just with fantasy villains and occasionally each other—but with a world that doesn’t make room for anyone outside of two boxes.
There are people who want to do that in our world. Right now. They want to take away hard-won words. To force everyone into the narrowest possible boxes of definition.
It’s not always easy to live outside of those definitions. It’s also immensely freeing. It allows so many more possibilities—for what power looks like. For what people of any gender (including cis men and women!) can do or say or wear or be. For what love stories can hold.
For making a new way forward when so many of us are ready for change.
In the story I wrote, Vinalia is in a moment of convulsive change and entrenched patriarchy that I wish looked less like our own. I was hoping that by the time this book was published, it would feel like a relic: a magic-inflected way of looking back at the ground we’ve made.
We write with our eyes firmly fixed on a better world.
But if we want to live in that world, this fight belongs to all of us.
As the story goes on, Teo and Cielo break long-held silences. They speak openly about who they are. They harness truth, cross boundaries that seem uncrossable, and open doors for themselves and others.
But they can’t do it on their own.
And neither can trans and gender nonconforming folks right now.
Here are some things that everyone can do. Help raise funds for good causes—give money if you can. Read and share trans and gender nonconforming stories of all kinds. Get out the vote, and if you’re over eighteen, VOTE to protect people whose civil rights are in danger. Don’t agree to leave anyone behind in order to keep moving. Remember that gender policing is about keeping everyone in line.
As a white AFAB person who presents as somewhat femme, I have a lot of privilege in our society, which is important to acknowledge. This is a moment to reach out to those who are most affected, to support with your actions and your dollars and your words.
Even when it’s hard: don’t be silent.
Words are power. Words are possibility. We can’t let them be stripped away.
Here are some great places to give:
Also, if you want to be part of increasing representation in kidlit in YA, we are currently raising funds for scholarships to the Rainbow Writers Workshop. This professional workshop for advanced writers is co-founded by me and Cori McCarthy and hosted at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. For more information and how to contribute: http://bit.ly/2SypbKG