WRITING LGBTQIA+ FANTASY FOR NORTHERN IRELAND

Throughout February, we’re getting people from all over Northern Ireland to contribute personal pieces in the run up to the election on March 2nd. 28 days in February for 28 different voices.


Ziv Gray

I write LGBTQIA+ fantasy novels.

Yes, that is a mouthful, but I think it’s a mouthful worth saying. Why? I would love to tell you just that.

I’m a rare species in itty bitty Northern Ireland: the elusive non-binary. What does that mean, exactly? I don’t identify as either male or female. Most people scoff at that. You have to be one or the other, not both or neither. To be blunt, I don’t care what people think any more.

I’m not androgynous – that’s a different thing entirely. I have a female name, and to look at me, you would think, that’s a woman. That’s part of the reason I write what I do: to educate people that the LGBTQIA+ spectrum 1) exists, and 2) isn’t always easily defined.

My books are very queer. My main character is asexual/aromantic, another major character is non-binary like myself, and there are two gay princes. The books are all about the fantastical element as well: there’s magic, and the characters aren’t humans. They’re not human-like in any way. They’re mammal-reptile hybrids, and this was a deliberate choice on my part. I didn’t want anything remotely human, because what I want to portray is, ironically, alien to the human experience: equality.

In the world of Rise of the Darkwitch, different cultures are dominated by different genders. There’s an acceptance of a third or non-gendered people, and there’s open acceptance of “non-straight” characters. None of the conflict in the book comes from gender or sexuality.

What you have instead is conflict within families, and conflict between cultures. The Masvams want to dominate all other lands, and the Metakalans and Althemerians are (understandably) resistant. There are cultures that are primarily dominated by females, and those dominated by males. There are marriage pacts, insults, squabbles over thrones and borders.

There are also friendships, tight bonds tied together by tragedy and hardship. The main trio, Emmy, Zecha, and Charo – a “strange-looking” creature of different colours, a questioning non-binary character, and a former slave – are taken from their homes and their lives by Masvam invaders, only to find themselves thrown into a bloody war that threatens them all. Emmy, always the outcast, finally realises why she is different, all with the help of a mysterious sorceress, who gives her a task that will change the world. And there’s more. There’s budding romance, there’s magic, there’s murder.

But may I please repeat: none of the conflict comes from gender or sexuality.

This is vitally important. I’m tired of coming-out narratives. I’m tired of the tokenistic LGBTQIA+ character. This isn’t reflective of real life experience. Not everyone has a coming out story. I don’t. I just decided one day to start accepting myself for what I am. There was no, “Mum, Dad, I have something to tell you…” There was no, “I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!” There’s just been a gradual shift in the way I think about myself, and I hope how others think of me.

But that’s the most important part: I’m still me. I’m not a different person now as a twenty-nine year old non-binary person than I was as a questioning sixteen year old, or a tomboyish eight year old wearing their older brother’s hand-me-down clothing. I’ve always been myself, me. It’s just the way I think about myself that has changed.

That’s one of the most important reasons I write the books I do. One of the repeating phrases in my first novel is the question: “Who are you?” It’s a question all people should ask themselves, and it’s a question I think needs addressing within writing in general, especially the LGBTQIA+ sub-genre.

Why?

Because I am not a token. I am not a curiosity, thrown into life to tick the diversity box. I’m a person, just like Mr and Mrs and Mx Anybody Else. I might not identify in a conventional way, but that doesn’t mean I can be used to “spice up” someone’s otherwise failing narrative. I am me, and that should be enough.

In my novels, being gay or bisexual, non-binary or asexual, is accepted as the norm, because it needs to be accepted like that somewhere – and the real world isn’t doing a great job at accepting us. Especially in Northern Ireland, where my marriage is only accepted on the basis of the arbitrary gender written on my birth certificate. We need change. We need acceptance – especially here.

Marriage equality is something I’m passionate about, and I’m tired of the faded old dogma we’re used to. I’m tired of the so-called Petition of Concern. Most of all, I’m tired of the line I keep getting on my doorstep, “Because of my deeply-held beliefs, I cannot…”

Fair enough. Don’t. Don’t get married to another man or woman. Don’t approve of it. But equally, don’t stop the rest of us from getting on with our lives.

At least in my novels, it doesn’t matter what gender you are – male, female, or other – because no matter what, you can marry the one you love. I wish that it was that way in real life. Here’s hoping that with the Assembly Election looming, that we get some kind of change, and some kind of equality.

That’s why I write LGBTQIA+ fantasy. It is a mouthful, but it’s definitely a mouthful worth saying.


Ziv Gray  is a teacher from Belfast and currently lives in Lisburn.
Follow Ziv on Twitter.

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