Today – right now in fact – there is an exhibit being put on by the Multi-Faith Centre at UofT, displaying science fiction and fantasy art pieces exploring futures and realities where the systems of oppression that hold us back today weren’t in place. I have a short story in a paper zine form on display, a prototype of a zine I hope to continue publishing into the future.
Due to financial reasons, I wasn’t able to print off enough of these zines to allow for visitors to keep. Since the short story is definitely not one that can be read to completion quickly, I’ve decided to make a digital version available, for free.
On the Varuna follows Arya as they begin an internship at a new, state-of-the-art underwater research facility. They are a disabled nonbinary character living in a world that refuses to hold them back or limit their opportunities. This is an excerpt from a novel I am writing that will continue this story across more themes to do with race, gender, and ability.
This is the first time I’ve written a nonbinary character before. I had a lot of anxiety sitting down to write this character, a pressure on myself to keep the character female and cis. But I knew I would be letting myself down if I didn’t even try. And once I started writing it, it felt so right. At times the pronouns were difficult to navigate, but not more so than writing a story about queer women.
I purposely chose a gender neutral name that had roots outside of Europe. I was tired of nonbinary or androgynous characters with names like Avery, Sam, Charlie. I wanted a name that would fit on my skin, in my culture. I also named the facility, the Varuna, after a Hindu god of the ocean and the underwater realm. There are enough allusions to Greek and Roman gods in literature.
This is the first piece of science fiction I have written in nearly a year. In it I got to explore marine biology in a way that welcomed my body’s limitations, and gave me hope that one day I could once again pursue that dream. I learned that diving can be a very fulfilling and less limiting activity for disabled people. For so long I thought the partial paralysis in my legs would keep me from ever diving. But the water is more forgiving than the land, and there are courses and equipment and companion divers to make it possible.
Writing this story gave me hope. It gave me hope that stories about people like me would be interesting and captivating. It gave me hope that there exists a future where being disabled doesn’t mean that you’re incapable.
I hope it gives you hope too.