The other day a long time friend of mine posted a link on our Facebook group dedicated to another writing project that I’m a part of. The blog post talked about ways in which common tropes can stigmatize men and contribute to the concept of patriarchy, the systematic construct which caused the rise of feminism. Whether you agree with the concepts the post expounds or not, you have to agree that the tropes it lists actually do exist in fiction, and that society does tend to see men a certain way.
Reading that post, however, made me realize that Virsune really is somewhat unusual in in his behavior and bearing. This isn’t something I did on purpose, possibly because of the way that I write characters. and for that reason it took me off guard. That prompted me to write this response, exploring the ways in which Virsune breaks the expectations of those who wrote the post, and in some ways, my own expectations.
Below the cut, there are spoilers for Virsune’s backstory that might affect the way you go into the first novel, though most of them are revealed throughout that book’s course and none of them spoil future plots. If you’re fine with knowing more about my character, just keep in mind that one of these topics is rather sensitive in nature and touches on matters of sexuality and consent. I don’t want anyone to be triggered, especially not considering that I have triggers myself.
First of all, Virsune does have many close relationships. I didn’t want to shy away from this aspect of his character as a large part of Virsune’s personality and how he interacts with the world is through his sense of sentimentality and compassion. He wouldn’t be who he was if he didn’t become attached to people and pour all his energy into trying to help those people. Virsune may try to maintain distance from others, but he’s never quite as successful as he wants to be, and has spent his entire life trying to care for the needs or the galaxy instead of caring for himself.
In fact, he cares so much for others, is so selfless, that he has actually developed a martyr complex. This is something that he needs to work on resolving, and is one of his major character struggles. It didn’t make sense for me to explore my world solely through a character who kept his distance from others, and though one of my other point of view characters is emotionally distant, it’s because he is simply different from others, not out of a sense of masculine pride. Virsune serves as the warm heart of my protagonist trio, the sympathetic spirit who learns about his world through the people he interacts with. It would run counter to his character and everything he stands for to isolate him from others, even if he does struggle with intimacy and how to properly express his emotions.
Without getting too much into spoilers, Virsune is a father. He has four children, three biological and one adopted, and most of them have already reached adulthood. I am not shy in saying that Virsune was a neglectful and emotionally distant father, and that at first glance he would appear to reinforce this trope. When I think about him and the fact that he neglected his children, I think about how he had his reasons, and how his relationships with them as adults change.He is a mentally ill character with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who I endeavored to write realistically. I didn’t want him to be some kind of super dad in spite of his mental illness, so I wrote him drawing away from them, even if he loved them.
The thing is, though, that he changes and gets better with time. Virsune subverts this trope because he isn’t bad with his children simply because he’s a man. Actually, with his adopted son, he was an excellent and nurturing presence, warm and caring, and affirming. His children suffered because of him, and I would never seek to stigmatize what they went through, especially since I love his children a great deal, but his struggles with them serve to make him more human, especially because he acknowledges how harmful he was to them many years later. Seeing him grow, watching him interact with this children, is part of what makes writing him so incredibly fulfilling.
As briefly as possible, Virsune possesses traits that both the “losers” of fiction possess, as well as their athletic, attractive, and successful “winner” brothers. He is quiet and academic, and is not very good at interacting with others socially in spite of his understanding of people simply because he is autistic. This makes his manner unwieldy and direct. On the other hand, he is eloquent, rich, and has had many sexual partners. The things about him that make him “too much” or “too intense” in certain situations actually aid him in others. He has learned to use his handicaps to his advantages in some situations, and is a fairly complex individual.
This next topic is rather sensitive, so much so that the author of the blog post suggested simply not using this trope at all, which is a point of view that I understand. However, just because a topic like consent and rape may be difficult to approach respectfully does not mean that we should bar them from fiction entirely. Virsune is a victim of reproductive rape over an exposed period of over a decade, which contributes to his PTSD and his emotional distance from his biological children.
It is so formative to who he is as a person that I cannot possibly imagine removing it, especially because I struggle as a victim of lifelong abuse. I take his consent, and his recovery, extremely seriously. I would never inflict anything like what he goes through on even my worst enemy, and I would certainly never use sexual assault and rape as a tool just to emphasize how evil someone is, but sometimes terrible things happen to good people. In fact, they frequently do. Virsune struggles because I have struggled and because others have struggled, because he has experiences just as we have experiences.
Lastly, Virsune is actually a fairly effeminate individual by most (modern) standards. He is upper class, and though it is always acceptable for upper class men to be more well dressed and refined than the rest of the male population, Virsune lacks even the interest in things that might make him seem more acceptably male in the eyes of society. His interests lie in reading, in writing, in dressing well and watching programs that he finds interesting. He enjoys music and food, and has a discerning eye for architecture as well as interior design. These are all things that are considered “feminine” in our society, things that would get him mocked by many others, especially considering his lack of interest in spectator sports.
And yet Virsune is a strong individual. He is excellent at giving speeches, fighting, and a variety of other things. He is competent and powerful. I had never even considered, while I was writing him, how his pretentiousness about clothing, food, and interior design might make him look to an audience. I also hadn’t considered how characters like him are usually portrayed in fiction, either the well-dressed villain in action movies, or the well-to-do busy body best friend in romantic comedies.
Over all, I think all this really proves is that Virsune is a complex character. I’m not trying to win a representation competition. And though I did deliberately set out to make him autistic, I tripped into the rest of this by accident. He is outwardly stoic and reserved, but he is also deeply compassionate, strong willed, and enduring. His passion can be overwhelming, but it can also be inspiring. Sometimes he knows what to say, but when it comes to people speaking to him on a personal level, he is often at a loss for words.
I am proud of Virsune. He is exactly what I wanted him to be, and as much as this caught me off guard, I couldn’t be more glad to have had a chance to write this character.