The Occidental Other

I don’t like to be referred to as ‘the Other’. I dislike it intensely, with a real passion. I know the function this term serves – ‘writing the Other’ urges the privileged to take some care when writing those of color, those queer or non-binary or trans, those disabled or neurodiverse – but though it’s a convenient shorthand, it also centralizes the assumed default: white, cis, het, western.

It was with this in mind that I wrote ‘The Occidental Bride’.

At breakfast, everyone convenes to see the foreign bride.

She sits like a mannequin of frost and plaster, consuming porridge and condiments as solemnly as a funeral meal. The Lan children gawk at her openly; one of Heilui’s youngest nieces whispers—audibly—speculating whether Kerttu’s pallor might leave white smudges on the utensils and tea-bowls; whether it might rub off on the furniture like icing.

It’s not the only thing in mind when I wrote this, to be sure. I was also thinking of mail-order brides – an industry of human trafficking that we’re trained to think of as a transaction between the white western male and a woman from either Eastern Europe or Asia (often East Asia, to play into the ‘submissive china doll’ stereotype). The usual narrative of this frequently ignores the woman’s voice entirely, one way or another, especially when she isn’t fluent in English. Some stories she is silent entirely, leaving the stage to the men in her life and having them narrate her misery, the men’s negligence, the men’s pain.

I didn’t want to write a story that merely turns that around – an Asian woman ordering a white husband, say, because it’d still adhere to heteronormative standards. Instead I chose to do it with two women who have different expectations, different cultures, different upbringings: one dysfunctional and detached from a lifetime of being treated as intellectual property, the other brought up in a loving family and earnest in her feelings. It’s especially important to me that the bride, Kerttu, gets to have a voice and an interiority – that her motives can be discerned, even if they aren’t explicitly declared.

I worded the story’s description like that in a very intentional way: terrorist is a loaded word, a racialized one. It wasn’t arbitrary that I chose to make the terrorist in this story white, western European (Finnish, to be specific). In our world, someone like this man will not be profiled or checked at airports. In this story, he’s a top priority for the authorities to capture. He lives on the run. Those with features like his stand out as other, as foreign. As people of interest.

When Aaminah very kindly interviewed me, I told her:

“I want diverse to disappear,” she says of the genre. “I want us to simply be normative rather than a token (whether token queer or token woman of colour), more than flavour. So that’s what I do in my fiction: including people like myself – and like my friends. I always make sure to make us simply there, simply reality.”

This, in a nutshell, is what I want to do with my fiction. It will not erase the harm done by outsiders appropriating us for profit – it can’t even begin to minimize it. But it’s there, and I’m not the only one, and inasmuch as anything is being achieved the fact the stories I want to tell can be told will have to be enough.

For now.