It took me about a week to realise that the subject header of my last blog post was a Perfect Strangers reference. I could have gone with something highbrow and literary. But no. I went with Balki and Coosin Larry.
But that wasn’t the important part. The important part was that Paladero: The City of Night Neverending was out and available to buy/borrow/definitely not steal. And it even continues to be so!
Reviews are just starting to come through now. Waiting for feedback on a book is always a tricky time for any writer. You don’t dare trust the good reviews, you feel exposed by the bad ones. Either way, you try not to let them sway you too much.
That said, the review that’s probably meant the most to me so far has come from Tina Healy of Gender Diversity Australia (or GenDA for short). Keen-eyed readers will note that Tina is thanked in the book’s acknowledgements after she very generously went to the effort of reviewing the unpublished manuscript to ensure that the depiction of transgender characters was handled sensitively.
In asking her to do this, I provided her with a comprehensive listing of all the relevant sections of the manuscript to use as a shortcut. But she went the extra mile of reading the whole thing to ensure she had a full understanding of the story, and then went the extra extra mile of providing the following review:
For trans people, being trans is a major influence in our lives, but not the whole story. Most of us just want to live our lives in the shade of gender with which we identify. Steven Lochran is a master storyteller. He has written a gripping fantasy story which includes a transgender character, with an amazing insight and feel for the lived experience of trans and gender diverse people. His exploration of the impact families have on the lives of trans people touched so many memories for me. I know they will resonate with others in my community.
It’s great to see stories being written where gender diversity is a part of the context of the story, rather than the focus. Thanks so much for the opportunity to review “Paladero Book 2”. I recommend it.
Now to be perfectly honest, as proud as I am of that review, I was hesitant in posting it. The last thing I want is for anyone to think I’m trying to pat myself on the back. But Tina went to the effort of reading the book and writing this critique, and I thought it was only right that I share it.
Because it was Tina who was one of the main inspirations behind the book and its inclusion of a transgender storyline. She and I met when she was first starting to publicly transition, and I found her openness and courage inspirational. At the same time, I remember reading articles and seeing news reports about transgender kids taking their own first steps in transitioning, and it led me to think about where those kids could find representation in fiction. After all, as fellow Hardie Grant Egmont author Melissa Keil wrote in an article for The Guardian:
Everyone deserves to see themselves as a hero – to see their life, their reality, in all its complexity, reflected in their books. For young people, at a time in their lives that can be isolating, and fraught with questions of body image, sexuality and identity, this representation can be vital.
Thankfully, the issue of representation – while still far from perfect – has seen some improvement over the last few years. Traditionally speaking, however, transgender characters (let alone transgender heroes) have been few and far between.
In 2013, when I was first outlining what would become Paladero, the major examples that immediately sprang to my mind were Viola from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Mulan, both of whom were forced to present as male rather than personally identifying that way. I also thought of Grant Morrison’s version of DC Comic’s Shining Knight character, who was originally conceived in the Mulan mold as a girl masquerading as a boy to fit into a patriarchal society, and only later evolved under writer Paul Cornell into being a true transgender character.
My idea was to have a character who identified as transgender from the start, and that I would use the inspiration I found from talking with Tina as a guide in achieving that. The challenge was to present this character in a pseudo-medieval setting without any of the modern terminology we have to discuss these issues in a sensitive fashion. It was here that I relied on the insights of sensitivity readers, with Sally Goldner of Transgender Victoria very generously helping with The Riders of Thunder Realm. But I was keen to get Tina’s insights, given the role she’d played in setting me on this path.
Unfortunately I had lost touch with Tina in the intervening period. But I didn’t need to worry about that for too long, as she had gone on to become an active campaigner in the LGBTIQ community, which enabled me to reach out to her. And she was just as kind and generous as I remembered her being, happily agreeing to read the manuscript and offer her insights.
So for all this – from the initial inspiration she provided through to the feedback and encouragement – I wanted to take the opportunity to publicly thank Tina, to highlight the fantastic work she’s been doing, and to let those readers out there struggling with their own issues of identity and acceptance: you are not alone. There are places you can go, people you can talk to, and a thousand unending chances that tomorrow will be better. You can be the hero that you’re looking for.
Now, having gotten quite serious there, I think it’s only fair that I leave you with the thing that’s been whirling around in my head ever since writing the intro to this post…
Because if I have to suffer with this, then so do you.