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When I was a small person who read nearly everything, my cousin gave me a handful of hand-me-down fantasy paperbacks. Three of these were the start to David Eddings’ The Belgariad, a fantasy epic that in retrospect sparked my ongoing love for secondary characters.

And one was Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong.

I came into Pern by way of Half-Circle Seahold and Menolly the Harper-to-be. My first dragons were her nine singing fire lizards. Menolly left the harsh constraints of home when her father beat her for composing music. She immediately imprinted on a clutch of tiny dragon eggs, foraged and hunted for herself and her beasts until the Ninth Fall caught her outside. Her story ran parallel to the main Pern trilogy, filling in the gaps to a greater epic. (Secondary characters. They’re my favorites.)

Menolly named her gold fire lizard Beauty, an apt enough name but not one I wanted for my draconic gold binder. I went with Faranth, leader of the first clutch to defend Pern’s human colonies from the Fall. (Distant sci-fi backstories being another weakness of mine.)

I wish, I wish Pern fandom had been allowed to flourish. Like Menolly, fandom ached to create, created brilliant things in spite of all the restrictions set around it, and was beaten down in turn. McCaffrey was desperate for a film deal, and she and her publishers were convinced that derivative works would set a fatal precedent for the story to be taken from her. She had an active legal team which sent C&D letters to fanartists and fanfic authors for decades, had fan websites shut down, and enforced a series of draconian (ha) content rules on the few that were allowed to survive.

Like her fictional society, McCaffrey was also heavily and violently invested in strict gender roles. Straight women to gold and green dragons. Straight men to bronze and brown. Gay men to blue. Lesbians do not exist. Bisexuality is not real. These were not only canon standards; she explicitly forbade fanworks that transgressed any of these rules. Her lawyers enforced these on the fans - literal children, in many cases - who most needed an outlet for gender nonconforming fiction. 

(If any trans character made it into fanwork, that fan creator hid it well. There was never even an explicit prohibition.)

Queer fandom will never forgive McCaffrey for this. We’re all older now, and we remember.

The Faranth binder is a gold dragon for transmasculine people. It is at once a salute to an old fandom full of dragonlore where many talented creators began, and a middle finger to the canon where we did not exist.

If the McCaffrey estate comes after me for this, I’m renaming it Mokhachane.

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lectorel

November 2016

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