ALDIA: A World Where Gender Is Meaningless
Wyvern is a kids book by author Kyle McGiverin, featuring illustrations by trans artist Toby Medeiros. The story is as much about a kids journey through the world of Aldia as it is about visibility. I interviewed Kyle about the book and his personal experiences with the trans community.
Raymond: How much of your own childhood is in this book?
Kyle: I see the most of myself in the other main character of the story, Teodor. Wy (Teodor) belongs to a race of wyverns called ethereals, and they have the unique talent of being able to turn invisible. They are also near-universally hated among the people of Aldia, mostly based on prejudices and never based on who they actually are.
This is where little Kyle comes in, because Teodor is likely the character I have the most reason to identify with. There is the obvious conclusion that “being invisible” is a metaphor for being in the closet, which is very true whether you’re referring to being gay or trans… But there’s also the isolation and loneliness that result from Teodor’s situation, the fear of people, and the clinging to the few lifelines one has. In that, I find a deep connection to being bullied in school, for no better reason than I was short. Then you add the fact that I understood “gay” to be something terrible and wrong before I even knew what it meant, and you also have a nice helping of unavoidable self-hatred that also seeps into the undertones of Teodor’s character.
Raymond: Tell me about the first time you were aware of meeting a trans person?
Kyle: The first wasn’t directly meeting someone who was trans, but rather, attending a presentation by the mother of a trans man. She has since stopped her public speaking out of respect for her son, but she told a compelling and truly lovely story of their journey as a family. I had known at the time, roughly, what being transgender meant – but it was my first real exposure to/understanding of the realities involved.
I can also tell you that when the first trans person in my life actually came out to me, I wasn’t the greatest ally. It wasn’t out of discomfort, or even ignorance, but it’s still true. I had trouble referring to them by their pronoun and I was defensive about it. There were other things too… it woke me up to confronting the “weirdness” of it, which I put in quotes because it’s only “weird” to me because I’m cisgender, and I have the privilege of seeing the world that way. It made me realize how important it is to put those initial instincts aside and focus on validating the person.
Raymond: Can you describe where you were and what you were doing the moment you realized this was the book you wanted to write?
Kyle: I had known for some time that I wanted to write another story; I was in my first year of teaching and had just finished an epic-length (and awful) fanfiction crossover series, and as much as I enjoyed writing fanfiction (because I’m a sucker for character), I did realize that I’d strayed from my childhood ambition of authoring an original story.
Meanwhile, I had also been involved with my former partner (we’re still very close these days) who is FTM (female-to-male) transgender. It was the first time I’d been involved in a romantic relationship with someone who was trans, and I can tell you that it was a learning experience unlike any other.
I also abandoned all pretense of adult fiction and realized that I wanted to write for kids. I mean, hey, I’m a teacher. Kids are my life. And, most importantly, the number of trans kids in fiction is very, very low. Trans kids have so few characters to identify with that play central roles in their stories, or any roles at all. So, now I needed a medium to fill that purpose: introduce kids to someone their own age, who also happens to be transgender.
Having said that, I want to directly acknowledge that Quinn’s experience in this story does not come from my own experience and I honour and recognize that. Even having done LGBTQ+ work for as long as I have, I could never personally identify with the realities of someone who is trans. The writing of this book came with vast research and conversation with FTM friends and friends-of-friends, along with their feedback. It was a story I knew I had to be very, very careful writing, because the worst thing I could do would be to create a character that was not loyal to a truth.
Raymond: How is this book unique from other trans books in this category?
Kyle: What I do know is that the market of LGBTQ+ fiction is flooded with, as my friend refers to them, “after-school specials”, by which I mean stories where the driving plot element is that character’s identity as gay, or trans, or what have you. And these are important. We need those stories. But this trend is followed by a dearth of stories that, while still putting an LGBTQ+ character in the lens, have a plot driven by something more.
So I knew, going in, that I wanted to create a book that didn’t hammer the reader over the head with trans-this, trans-that. I wanted it to be a little subversive, which is where we come back to the fantasy. See, the great part about creating a new world from scratch is that you can defy every convention of the existing one, if you want to. So, bearing that in mind, I made a decision: if the problem Quinn faces in life is that he’s bound by our own inflexible definitions of gender, let’s just go ahead and get rid of those definitions entirely.
Thus, Aldia, which is the world Quinn is brought to. The titular characters, wyverns, are genderless, and they go by a pronoun of their own (wy/wym/wys). Already I know this is something that stands out in fiction, and I suspect even in transgender fiction, although I’m not qualified to say that for sure. Regardless, the pronoun was a detail I wanted to include because it strikes at the heart of the “weirdness” cisgender people feel when trying (and sometimes failing) to adapt to change. Get kids (or anyone, hopefully) to read through an entire book littered with a third, unique pronoun, and maybe it’ll feel a little less “weird.”
This all has the lovely effect of taking Quinn, who is the odd one out on Earth, and making him the odd one out on Aldia, for entirely different (and, to pat my own back a little, nicely subversive) reasons. On Earth, he’s weird because his body doesn’t match who he is, in a world where your gender is decided for you at birth. On Aldia, he’s weird because those restrictions and roles simply don’t exist, and he has to learn to let go of them – which, in the long run, helps him accept the boy he is.
At its heart, though, Wyvern is driven by a story that embraces and celebrates Quinn’s identity, but is an adventure on its own, and that’s where I think the most significant difference is between this and other trans fiction. This is not a story about being transgender, it’s a story about breaking an ancient curse, starring a character who is transgender. Or, it’s both, or neither.
Raymond: Do you have any advice for young people considering their writing their first book?
Kyle: I’m hardly the voice of expertise on the subject, but if I had anything to say it would be in the following points:
- Write. Accept that you’ll have false starts and that a lot of it will suck, but write anyway. Write for yourself. Write lots of different things. Step outside your comfort zone and see what fits. Experiment.
- Read. You learn so much about variations of style, voice and character by reading the work of others, both within your own preferred genre and out of it.
- Look For Criticism. Don’t just accept it; seek it. Find someone who will utterly destroy your work, because that’s the only way to make it any better than it is.
AVAILIBLE IN eBOOK FORMAT
About the Author
Raymond Helkio is an author, director filmmaker, and graduate of Ontario College of Art & Design. He currently lives in both Toronto and New York. His most recent play, LEDUC, is now available in paperback. www.raymondhelkio.com