Skin Deep

Skin Deep

A review of Nathan Caro Frechette’s “Skin” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (2018, Exile)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Selkies are creatures from Scottish folklore (but also noted in the Orkneys and Shetlands) who are capable of transforming from seal to human by shedding their skin. In many selkie tales, female selkies are stolen from their watery home when a man steals their seal skin and then keeps the skin hidden away, forcing his new selkie bride to do his bidding. These are generally coercive tales where women (or their children) have to escape from the control of the skin thief by finding out where the skin is hidden and stealing it back to disappear into the ocean.

Nathan Caro Frechette reshapes the selkie mythos in his story “Skin”, which plays with the idea of skin and identity, turning the tale into a Trans story of self discovery and resistance. Frechette keeps the coercive element of the tale, but instead abstracts it onto the protagonist’s mother, bringing attention to the way that parents of Trans kids frequently try to control their children’s identities and prevent them from expressing their gender identity.

Using the figure of the Selkie, Frechette examines the way that Trans people are often cut off from the history and culture of other Trans people, exploring the idea that the abundance of cis-gendered (non-Trans) culture and the lack of representation of Trans culture has an impact on Trans youth, particularly as they search for a connection to others in their community.

Frechette, himself a Trans man, examines features of Trans identity through Ron that cis-gendered writers would not have the experiential knowledge of. Frechette examines what it is like to explore the world as a Trans person and examine the oppressions (whether intentional or unintentional) a Trans person experiences through things like misgendering, dead-naming, and erasure. Frechette is able to bring his real world experience of chest binding and feelings about bodily identity into the character. But this is not just a tale of gender dysphoria – Frechette examines the gender euphoria that comes when someone genders us by using our pronouns and names and accepts us for who we are.

“Skin” is a powerful story that tells a Trans tale of transformation and examines the power of folklore and fairy tales for expressing identities that have been traditionally underrepresented. Frechette writes his story to speak to a Trans audience, which is powerful since many people write Trans stories with a cis-gendered audience in mind and he proves that tales don’t need to be written for a cis-gendered audience to speak to a wider public because this tale is a tale that can speak to anyone who has examined their identity.

To discover more about Nathan Caro Frechette, check out his page at https://nathancarofrechette.ca

To discover more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, go to https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com or check out Exile publishing at https://www.exileeditions.com

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SF Versus Oppression

A Review of OnSpec #92 Vol. 25, No. 1

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

By Derek Newman-Stille

Speculative fiction is a genre of possibilities, potentialities, and change. It is therefore surprising that most SF tends to replicate patterns that support hegemonies – heterosexism, sexism, ableism, ageism, racism. When one sees how much bias can be replicated in SF, it is exciting when a volume like OnSpec #92 Vol 25, no. 1 comes along. This volume features otherwise ignored, underrepresented, oppressed, or poorly represented groups. Within this volume are portrayals of aged, queer/LGBTQ, and racialised protagonists. These characters are not portrayed as essentialised figures or stereotypes, but are rather given complexity, depth, and an essential humanity that most works of SF tend to deny the oppressed.

This volume pulled together the essential power of SF to challenge social preconceptions about people who are generally Othered or marginalised. It illustrates the potential of SF to open up new modes of thought and understanding.

With spiritual quests and ventures into other worlds and other time periods, blendings of the magical and the mundane, OnSpec #92 opens doorways. It is great to see that not all adventurers into the unknown are portrayed as white, young, heterosexual, able-bodied males. With all of the othered people are Selkies, dinosaurs, creatures from the depths, and space travelling sci fi writers.

You can explore some of reviews of individual stories at:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/sci-fi-author-in-space/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/mistaken-behaviours/

To find out more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .