Since I’ve been talking about gender identity and pronouns this week, I wanted to go back and share a scene about Vilqa when they first appeared in Riwenne & the Bionic Witches. If you don’t know the character, Vilqa identifies as a non-binary lesbian who prefers They/Them/Theirs pronouns. The other characters accept them, but they faced difficulties in their past life because of their identity.
Gender identity is an on-going theme in this series in part because of how it ties to magic. The official temples of the Arqan Empire teach that only women can be priestesses and use magic. They define ‘woman’ as anyone who identifies as a woman and presents themselves as feminine, but there’s no room for non-binary or gender-fluid individuals. This is challenged in the first book when Deryt, a cis male, is granted magic by a god. It continues to be challenged as more characters who identify across the gender spectrum become divine warriors and demonstrate magical abilities.
In this scene, Vilqa has recently become a divine warrior as the champion of Sawycha. Riwenne used to be Sawycha’s champion but has now lost all of her powers, so she felt jealous of Vilqa and tried to make up excuses why they shouldn’t be the new champion. Like saying only lesbian girls should follow Sawycha.
Vilqa’s Choosing Day
Vilqa sipped their milk. “I have no idea if I’m up for this. I mean, I wasn’t happy in my old job, but I never thought about joining the rebellion.”
“Me, neither.” I let out a half-hearted laugh. “But Deryt would say that’s because I was lucky enough to live in a city and I was ignorant of what my pampered life cost others.” After seeing where Amena and Deryt had grown up, I knew why they wanted to change things. But Vilqa hadn’t complained about living on the mainland. “What was your apprenticeship?”
“It’s not an apprenticeship. My job was packing sardines on the cannery line, and I learned everything I needed to know about that boring work in my first week.”
I tasted my sweet milk and thought about Janera complaining when she’d been chosen as a temple guard instead of a baking apprenticeship like she’d dreamed about. Choosing Day was supposed to put everyone in the best position for their abilities, but it seemed like the ceremony could be manipulated. My parents had both used the process to fight over me. If the results could be altered, or even make mistakes, maybe some people got the wrong assignment. “What did you want to do instead?”
Vilqa shrugged. “I don’t know. In Damondytti, most people ended up either catching fish or canning them. The cushy jobs all go to people who got trained somewhere else.”
The image of Vilqa protecting Sawycha’s temple flashed into my mind. “I would have expected you to be chosen for a priestess since you have so much magical potential. Sawycha even called you to her temple.”
Vilqa’s face darkened. “They’d never allow me to go. A teacher asked me, before our last exams at school, if I’d get over this ‘phase’ and commit to being a girl full-time. I said no, and then I ended up in the cannery.” They leaned back and sipped their milk. “Have you ever seen a non-binary priestess before?”
I had to shake my head. Every novice and priestess in I met in Damon Temple had had long hair and used feminine pronouns, so they at least outwardly identified as girls. “But it shouldn’t make a difference. You’re at least part girl.”
“If it didn’t make any difference, then boys like Deryt would be priests. He obviously has magical potential that no one trained. But you even said I shouldn’t serve Sawycha if I wasn’t a lesbian.” Vilqa folded their arms and stared at me. “Did you have to prove your identity to serve a god?”
That stung. I hung my head in shame at my own words. “I’m sorry.” I cleared my throat. “I guess you already know Sawycha chose me first, so I was jealous when she said you were her new champion. I hoped she could take me back, and someone else could be the one responsible for all the big stuff.”