Wednesday, January 9, 2019

No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll (transgender nonbinary fantasy)

Oh my. I have no words. Having finished No Man of Woman Born I fear I may be hopelessly infatuated with Ana Mardoll's voice and vision. This was such a beautiful, powerful, and necessary collection. I am envious, jealous even, of a generation that gets to grow up reading empowering, inclusive stories like this alongside their mass-market fantasies.

What Mardoll offers here are familiar fantasy tales of sacrifice, vengeance, justice, and love. They are simple stories, a mix of fairy tale, fable, and fantasy, which follow the genre conventions we all know and love. Some of them are explicitly about gender, with pivotal questions of identity and expression. These are the stories that follow the prophecy from which the collection gets its name, where 'no man of woman born' is subverted in some clever and entertaining ways.

That said, there are no traps or surprises here, no big reveals designed to shock or titillate the reader. There is one story - a sword in the stone story - where the reveal of gender is done publicly and proudly, but it a moment of empowerment, of claiming one's destiny. There is also a story - a dragon sacrifice story - that is all about the wishing for one's true gender identity, but for all its very public spectacle, what exactly the wish changed, if anything, remains a very private thing.

It is the other stories that I think are even more important, however. They are the stories that are not about gender, but where the characters exist in a world where nonbinary genders are simply accepted without question, without comment, without hatred, and without ridicule. More importantly, they are accepted as a state of being, as a defined gender, and not some confusing phase of transition. There is no expectation that these characters ever were or will become binary. These are the stories where, if not for the gender-neutral pronouns, most readers likely would not have picked up on the gender aspect.

There are also stories here that straddle those two extremes, suitably non-binary stories of non-binary storytelling. There is one in particular that I just loved - a Sleeping Beauty style fairy tale - where the entire castle knows the protagonist has boy days and girl days, and where that duality of gender is the key to circumventing the fairy's curse.

Gender aspects aside, I would be woefully remiss if I did not call out the storytelling of Mardoll. These stories in No Man of Woman Born flow so beautifully, are so wonderfully readable, that it is almost too easy to overlook the polished sense of style. The writing is as beautiful as the sentiments it conveys, and I will never stop recommending this to friends.

Ana Mardoll is a writer and activist who lives in the dusty Texas wilderness with two spoiled cats. Her favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. She is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and several short stories.

Aside from reading and writing, Ana enjoys games of almost every flavor and frequently posts videos of gaming sessions on YouTube. After coming out as genderqueer in 2015, Ana answers to both xie/xer and she/her pronouns. 


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