Today marks ten years since the beginning of the in-person portion of my relationship with my spouse. We met on the internet — through creative writing, actually — and spent most of a year talking on the phone before meeting in person for the first time, on 1/29/2004. Back then, xe (female-bodied; identifies with neutral pronouns) was my strictest and harshest beta, incapable of pretending to like something that didn’t make sense or struck hir as poor quality. But xe was also, as a beta-reader, committed to make sure that what I wrote was something I liked, helping me achieve a better version of my own vision, and not someone else’s.
Like many writers, real-life events and emotions inspire my fiction. The humble beginnings of my marriage — flirting over fictional characters on USENet, a relationship that started out as a complete accident — are reflected in the way the lesbian relationship develops over the course of my Mangoverse novels. Shulamit’s relationship with Aviva became much deeper and much easier to write once the female couple progressed from their awkward early stage into a committed couple. Contrast this with Rivka and Isaac, whose story is strong from the beginning.
The thing is, Rivka and Isaac’s relationship is very “epic” and dramatic — like a legend; remember that Isaac has magical abilities and Rivka’s warrior talents seem superhuman — and to some degree, they represent the way fictional characters (in my case, opera characters) can comfort us in our times of trouble and anxiety. So, in a metaphorical sense, Shulamit and Aviva are one step closer to real life than they are, and that’s why their relationship got easier to write as they moved toward the level of commitment and family that Spouseling and I enjoy today.
It also got a lot easier to write their intimacy as Shulamit stopped being purely my author avatar and began taking on more traits of my spouse. She’d always had my spouse’s wheat problem and attraction exclusively to women, but other than that, she was all me — her femme presentation, her love of pretty clothing and pastels, her insecurity and anxiety, and her grief over her dead father. It was when I began to add personality traits of my spouse, not just superficial traits, that their relationship felt more real on paper, because then I could slip comfortably into the role of Aviva.
My spouse has a great brain, and reads voraciously on a million nonfiction topics just to know. Once on a train in Austria, we struck up a conversation with a German man who kept getting Florida — our home — and California mixed up. I kept repeating that we were from Florida but he kept asking questions about California politics, ecology, and current events — and because Spouseling could answer all of his questions articulately, I don’t think he ever really understood that Florida was a different state! Coworkers and casual acquaintances frequently assume hir college degree is in whatever topic xe’s currently infodumping about, because who else would have so much knowledge? So Shulamit became a lover of books, but not romances like many fictional heroines. She reads non-fiction. She wants to learn about her kingdom, so she can be the best ruler possible, but she also wants to learn for the sake of learning.
My spouse also has a great heart, focused on justice. As a union local president, xe is the one who gets the panicked phone calls at all hours from employees who have been targeted unfairly by management. Hir leadership duties and the struggle to improve things at hir workplace are a constant presence in our lives. This is the queen I’ve created for my stories — a queen who sees her role at the top of the food chain as a responsibility to help others, not as a sign she’s a better person or that she deserves better than anyone else.
My spouse respects manual labor and hard work. Servers at restaurants get a fair tip, even on a small bill; xe knows that people working in low-paid service jobs deserve quality of life. My second book, Climbing the Date Palm, is heavily focused on worker’s rights, and in the third book Shulamit defends the unglamorous work of farmers, who are the reason her country has prospered, to a boorish nobleman.
And, like Aviva, I’m the one who tiptoes through the food allergies to find something awesome for dinner, something that I can bring to hir in the middle of work. Like Aviva, I look upon all these traits with admiration and love, sometimes amazed by the hero I married.
This post was crossposted to the Torquere Press blog.