When YA Interrobang contacted me about writing a guest post for them about The Seafarer’s Kiss, my first idea was to write a happy post about LGBTQIA representation in classic fairy tale retellings and how great it was that so many were published in 2016.
Then the election happened. And as my state of disbelief transformed into anger, I decided I wanted to write about something else.
I’m not emotionally capable of writing a happy LGBT post right now. I wish that I was, because I know that lots of queer teen readers are scared in today’s political climate. And I’m not going to lie: as an openly bisexual and polyamorous person, I’m scared too. I’m glad that I live in Scotland, and have an ocean-sized safety barrier between my day to day life and Trump, even though a huge part of me wishes I was back in the U.S. so I could do more.
At its heart, The Seafarer’s Kiss is a book about activism. In Ersel’s glacier home, the new King has changed the laws. A ceremony that used to represent a joyful right of passage for the mermaids has been transformed into a brutal grading where the mermaids are evaluated for fertility and paired off. Ersel has always resisted this – and has spent most of her childhood making alternative plans with her friend Havamal, dreaming about the day when they can run away.
To cut things short and not give too many spoilers, Ersel does not get what she wanted. Forced into a situation where she can lose her freedom, and end up one of the King’s prisoners, valued only for her fertility, she makes a deal with Loki.
It’s only much later that she releases that while she may have saved herself from a bleak fate, she left all the other mermaids behind to suffer. Ersel comes to understand that it’s not enough to save herself. She has to fight back to change the system itself.
Of all my protagonists, Ersel is the most like me. She’s bisexual and fat. She’s an animal lover. She’s jaded and impatient and a little bit introverted. She has a serious weakness for heavily tattooed Viking girls. Ahem.
But in the end, she’s a hell of a lot braver.
I know that as a cis, white bisexual person, I have a level of privilege most people in the LGBT community don’t have. I’ll be going to Atlanta next Spring for Seafarer’s launch and RTcon, and I’m bringing my GQ partner who uses male pronouns with me. I know that as we drive around the South, we will be perceived as a cishet white couple. That in itself provides a certain level of passing privilege and safety, that makes me simultaneously incredibly relieved and also self-conscious. Why should I be relieved that I can hide? What does that say about me?
At the time of writing this post, I’m in final round edits with Seafarer’s Kiss. It’s striking to me how much this protagonist is like me, and maybe, since I would call this “the book of my heart,” it’s unavoidable. Especially post-election, the book’s central theme really hits home with me as I’m working on it. Because I don’t think it’s enough to save myself either and it’s something I’m continually working on, even when the impulse to bury my head in the sand is really strong.
I guess I hope that is what my readers take away from this book when they read it. Standing up for your autonomy over your own body, your own identity, like Ersel does, is so important, but it can’t come at the expense of other people.