So Why Are You Writing About a Disabled Transgender Inuk?

This is the kind of question about Psann that has a long answer, and a short answer.

TLDR: I didn’t write him in order to be some sort of most-in-one stand-in.

The long answer:

I started out writing him white, able-bodied, and cis male. Which, as I will tell you, ended up making no goddamned sense.

You see, I wanted to write a story about gods going to the equivalent of a University, to learn about godding. They would be young, inexperienced gods, offshoots of religious pantheons dying off in the distant future but being replaced inexorably by younger beliefs.

And because of the education I received in high school and college, what could be more natural than making them all white, Greco-Roman gods? Oh, sure, I learned, very briefly, about the gods of other cultures as well, but they weren’t front-and-center in the modern West. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was my first real exposure to gods of cultures not my own.

(I am Vietnamese, but I’m first and foremost an American, even if some people would say I’m not because of my skin and the epicanthic folds around my eyes. However, my own self-image is problematic, a fact which haunts me every time I look in the mirror.)

Before I was more than a couple thousand words into my NaNoWriMo work, I realized something. What I was writing made no goddamned sense. There are other cultures out there—Eastern European, Northern European, Asian, South Asian, North American, South American, African, Middle Western, Australian cultures. Just about every culture historically has gods (and no, cultures are not defined by continents). Not including them was stupid.

Not including their cultures as they are, and not some Grecian-Romanized version,, was also stupid, on so many levels.

I took a look at my main characters. Lysithea became Lisao, a Chinese spirit who isn’t an overachiever (she’s about Harry Potter level of smarts, and not the HPMoR version). My generic warrior with no name became Vidor, with her own weapons with their own history, rather than ones taken from Thor, Limi and Laufsblaud. And Siarnaq….

Siarnaq is complicated. You see, because so many moons are named after Greco-Roman figures from mythology (gods and demi-gods and mortals drawn into their intrigues), I thought Siarnaq was one of them, and the name sounded male, so I made the obvious conclusions.

As I researched the name for character material, I found that I couldn’t be more wrong, or more stupid. Siarnaq is one of the many names for the Inuit goddess more commonly known as Sedna.

A short history of one of the many myths of Sedna: she was tricked into marrying an abusive spouse who happened to be a bird. Her father came to rescue her, but the powerful bird-wizard created a storm that nearly drowned them both until her father sacrificed her to save his own sorry self (and thus… defeated the purpose of his coming at all). When he tried to throw her off the boat (my impression is that it wasn’t a kayak but an umiaq, a larger boat used for hunting bigger game like whales), she grabbed onto the side like any sensible person. So he sliced her fingers off with his knife until she let go. Her fingers became the animals of the sea, and her own sacrifice caused her to become a great and pissed-off goddess. Despite having no fingers, she rules the seas and has the power to make life very difficult for the Inuit. Which she often does, because she has never stopped being pissed, and who could blame her?

(She’s also, quite possibly, bisexual, because of who she lives with down there; but that’s my own interpretation.)

Lots of non-Inuit people don’t know about this myth, and she was not included in American Gods, or indeed, pretty much any of the mythopoeic literature I devoured. Inuit myth and folklore, for all its epicness that equals any other mythology you could name, is just downright ignored.

If I wanted to keep Siarnaq… and I did… he needed to be rebuilt as a character from the ground up. And I decided to start off with building on the original myth.

First step: he’s an Inuk. Obviously. Second step: he’s a daughter of Sedna, also called Sanna, hence his original name, which means that he began life as a transgender seal who was, for lack of a better term, magically uplifted by the bird-wizard into a human. Third step: almost the same thing that happened to Sedna happened to him, which is how he gained the status of immortality that’s a requisite for attending god college, which means that he has no fingers.

(Contrary to popular belief, people without fingers get by. Even without prosthetics, which somewhat help, but he would, I decided, have steampunk-like ones that help a lot, because this is the future goddamn it.)

I suppose someone could say, why didn’t you just change his name and make him a Greco-Roman god because now you’re lacking one as a main character? To which I say, screw you. There’s way more cultures that are not Greco-Roman, so the chances are higher that the third member of my team would from some other culture. And why not one that is ignored by my own culture?

Wouldn’t someone say, he’s a god or in the future, surely he could just regrow his fingers and/or science could do it. To which I say, screw you. If the mother of the seas could not regrow her fingers, why should he be able to do it?

Maybe someone else says, you’re denying feminism by not changing his gender or, worse, making him a transman. To which I say, screw you too. Pretending that transgender people don’t exist is stupid, especially when you have an opportunity with a myth like that.

So that’s how I ended up with Psann. I will add that he’s not a cardboard Inuk, because that would be as stupid as my other errors. He hated the name the bird-wizard gave him, for freaking obvious reasons, and in rebellion changed it to something strange and male—a perversion of his original name, but one that he could own, and that no one else did. You’re not supposed to end any Inuktitut word with a double-final.

Psann (ᑉᓴᓐᓐ) started off as a shallow fop, but that didn’t match up to the depth of the other characters. And that wouldn’t do anymore, or even in the first place.

So, subconsciously at first, I gave him some of my neuroses. He pretends to be shallow, as I so often do, because that was how the bird-wizard taught him that human women are. He hates his visage in the mirror, as I do, but for more justified reasons (on one level, he sees a woman, where there should be a man; on another level, he sees a human where he should see a seal). His desire to be elegant is making the best of his situation.

And he’s stuck in a species so different from his childhood (and one that preyed on his species; no matter how much water you give to the seal you killed to appease its spirit so it won’t go thirsty, it’s still dead), and worse, there’s no going back, even if he could learn enough to change back into a seal. The experience still happened, it was there for a long time, and it changed how he thinks about seals, and not for the better.

Yes, Psann now merits as much backstory as the other main characters do, so now here I am, writing Seal Tales, which is turning into a novella or even a novel. It’s difficult going, because his (forcibly) adopted culture is not my own, so I’m doing research past and present Inuit culture alongside the writing, and which I then have to project into the far future.

In my fictional world, the future of the Inuit is turned by an educational revolution started, importantly, by themselves. Their future is so bright through their own efforts that they gotta wear shades. But this also lead to… well, a long ongoing culture war two hundred years old, between what one may call the futurists and the traditionalists, and people are at different levels between the extremes. More to the point, this affects how people view the gods, or God, since Christianity displaced a lot of traditional beliefs for some. You have futurists/traditionalists who are atheist/agnostic, futurists/traditionalists who are one of the many varieties of Christian, futurists/traditionalists who have taken to other religions and/or gods, futurists/traditionalists who still believe in the old gods but not in living off the land, traditionalists who do one or the other, and numerous other blends.

There are even best-selling authors who make a fortune playing up the futurist/traditionalist new/old/no religion culture wars.

This background is not the focus of the novel(la), but it informs the setting to a certain extent. Like many writers, there is much I’ve written up that will never make it overtly into the story. (For the curious, I’m… well, I believe printers and fax machines have vengeful spirits, but that’s the extent of my religious beliefs these days.)

Against this complicated background, a love story is supposed to be happening. A love story! I would never write such a thing. I want explosions or at the very least murder or… well… that’s another post. I’ve got gods and a vengeful bird-wizard, that should be enough.

If you want to get a current glimpse of Psann, there’s an impromptu flash fiction called Christmas in a Strange Place, which needs a better title, but I couldn’t come up with one. There might be an additional short story in the near future, depending on how my workshop experience works out. There will be more, and I am so excite for it all.