I’m thrilled to welcome A.E. Ross to the site today to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart: writing a character who’s questioning their identity when you happen to be questioning yours. Their book, Run in the Blood, just released on Christmas, so once you check this post out, check the book out too!
Some people have that one crystal clear moment where it hits them like a silver spoon travelling at high velocity towards the surface of a crème brule. One solid crack and they just “get it.” For me, it came in the form of seven words. “It’s okay if you don’t like it.” I had been agonizing over the why and the who and the how for so long that I hadn’t stopped to just accept that things were fine — that i was fine — the way I am.
Some people figure out their identity quickly, and experience little fluidity. Others will spend their entire lives trying to get to the bottom of who they are. These are just two extremes, with a million unique experiences in between, but I belong closer to the second group. When I wrote my fantasy novel, Run in the Blood, I was questioning pretty much every part of my identity and I was desperate to find any kind of reflection to reassure me.
In my experience, you mostly find questioning characters in coming out stories. It’s a brief stage the protagonist goes through before accepting their identity, for better or worse. In Run In The Blood, I really wanted to include a character who maybe didn’t quite figure it out over the course of the narrative. Not a romantic lead, just someone woven into the story who was realizing that maybe there were some big questions they needed to ask themselves. After all, we’re all out there, just going about our daily lives and at the same time, wondering why there are specific parts of us that just don’t make sense when held up against societal expectations.
In Run in the Blood, that character is Del. He’s a soft-spoken, humble scout with a big heart. His sexual identity isn’t even a question for him until he reaches that moment that many LGBTQ people come to over the course of our lives, where we find ourselves in a situation that just doesn’t feel the way it’s supposed to. The main representation of a long-term relationship in his life is his parents’, and it’s a deeply unhealthy one. It’s given him a certain expectation of how his own future relationships will work, and the moment reality clashes with expectation, he hears that tell-tale crack of the spoon hitting flambé’d sugar. The surface shatters and then suddenly all you can see is the pieces, and not the way they ought to go together.
The reason it’s important to me to see questioning characters in queer literature is that it normalizes the uncertainty of dealing with fluid identities. It reassures me that it’s okay to understand that there is an inherent disconnect between who we are and who we see ourselves as, and that it’s okay to investigate that chasm. Just make sure you bring a flashlight, rope, and maybe some snacks: it could take awhile. The most difficult part of questioning my identity has been asking myself “Why don’t I like this? Why isn’t this working” and coming up empty on answers. There was no representation in media where I could see my struggle reflected. All I could find was people who had figured it out, but no indication of how they got there. When we see these questions reflected in the stories of literary characters, it helps reinforce that validity.
For Del, I didn’t want to resolve his questioning over the course of the book. He wasn’t the main focus of the plot, and I didn’t think he needed a “eureka!” moment, I just wanted to leave him on a hopeful note. If I write a follow-up, he’ll get to explore what his feelings mean and what questions he may still need to find answers to.
I am a different person than I was when I wrote this book. I’m deeply grateful to know more now than I did then, but there are so many things I’m still trying to figure out. Regardless of when or how I get those answers, what I do know is that If you’re questioning your identity, that’s a positive thing. You’re asking yourself the hard questions, and trying to get a better understanding of who you are, and that’s admirable no matter how long it takes. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing your identity immediately, and there’s nothing wrong with never really being sure. Whether your identity is static or fluid, it’s valid. If you’re not sure what your identity is, and you’re still looking for answers to those questions, you are valid. The “eureka!” moment doesn’t have to be a solid and unwavering realization of your identity. For me, it was as simple as the realization that I am fine just the way I am, regardless of how long it takes to figure out who that is.
A.E. Ross lives in Vancouver, B.C. with one very grumpy raincloud of a cat. When not writing fiction, they can be found producing and story-editing children’s cartoons, as well as producing & hosting podcasts like The XX Files Podcast. Their other works have appeared on Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Netflix (and have been widely panned by 12-year-olds on 4Chan) but the projects they are most passionate about feature LGBTQIA+ characters across a variety genres.