I am preparing for a performance for Archaeology Day: I'm going to be telling Ossetian Nart sagas at a museum with a great Sarmatian collection (Sarmatians were nomadic people of Iranian origins who lived across the border from the Roman empire, and Ossetians are also people of Iranian origins who live in the Caucasus, hence the connection). I have a dress made and everything!
One of the stories I am working on falls into the tale type called the Shift of Sex (ATU 514), something intriguing I mentioned before when I talked about diversity in storytelling and also about LGBT+ related traditional stories. Now that I am actually working on my own version of telling it, I am doing some serious thinking about how to frame the story.
In most versions of this folktale I have encountered, the basic story is the same: Family's without a male heir, so their daughter goes out into the world dressed as a boy, and does many heroic deeds. Eventually she rises so high in the favor of the king/community that she is given a leading position/becomes heir. In order to fulfill her role, she is offered a wife, which throws a wrench in the plan, since her secret identity would be outed on the wedding night. Eventually, through blessing or curse, the girl turns into a man, marries the princess, and lives happily ever after.
These folktales were told and recorded decades, often hundreds of years ago. How do I tell the story to make it ring true to people of trans/queer identities today?
In its current format the folktale suggests that the protagonist can only be accepted and happy if she physically transforms into a male body. Also, because of the different time these stories were born in, the physical transformation is necessary for the marriage to happen. In all versions the intended wife is kept in the dark, and is only presented with the resulting male body, without knowing about the transformation, or having an opinion about it.
1. Build up to the sex change, suggesting it was the girl's own identity/wish/hope/goal all along. Make the male identity (and expression) a personal choice rather than a disguise out of necessity. This is not unprecedented in the tales: At least one version quotes the princess saying "men's clothes have always fit me better anyway." In this case, probably call the protagonist a boy after initially stating that they were born female.
2. Leave out the sex change / male identity and tell the tale as a lesbian love story. This would need more fiddling since the story is still set in a time and place (the Ossetian version anyway) where the protagonist couldn't come out as a girl AND marry another girl at the same time... probably. Female warriors do exist in Ossetian tradition, though.
3. Tell the tale as in option 1, but leave out the actual physical sex change. Have the protagonist come out to the chosen wife and be accepted (and loved). As far as everyone else is concerned, there is no change from what they know.
4. There are probably other options as well. I would love to hear comments and opinions on this.