There really is no better time than now, here in Smooch Month, to talk about something I made that is meant to be Smooch Media. If I’m going to stand here and talk about smooching and media about smooching, and characters I want to see smooching it seems a bit hypocritical of me to act like I’m outside this space and can make big, sweeping impartial statements.
Because I, dear reader, have made smooch media. Most of it, you don’t know about. But for now, let’s talk about a specific piece of smooch media I co-wrote, and let’s talk about the smoochy part of it I have the most opinion on: the boy.
In 2018, as part of Light Novelber, I wrote, with Caelyn Sandel, a short (50~ pages) light-novel style story called Moon Light, Moon Knight. This short story is about a trans magical girl who heals monsters made up of broken sadness with a shotgun of silver, and her werewolf boyfriend.
We wrote this novel in a very direct way; we blocked out a few story ideas, then just put together a really rudimentary story structure (meet, develop, resolve), and filled in scenes with characters talking to each other. Sometimes we back-and-forthed individual scenes, sometimes we did longer form passages of worldbuilding solo. There were revisions and there were notes. We’re both very experienced storytellers, so none of what we did was, to us, hard. Maybe I’ll tell more about the process of how bits of the book got made some other time.
Let’s talk about Tristam.
Tristam is the secondary protagonist of Moon Light, Moon Knight, and a bunch of stuff about him was there to fit the story’s needs, and some of it was just there for the flair that it’s stuff I liked. See, one of my beefs about boys in most of these Smooch media is that they are either too much the focus (like in many rom-com movies, the boy is the only person whose life is changed, and he’s usually only achieving the high emotional level of Not Lying To The Girl So Much Any More) or the boys are awful unsmoochables who you shouldn’t put up with at all.
With that in mind, let’s talk about Tristam.
First of all, let’s talk aesthetics. Tristam is a slender boy, a bit gangly, with long blue hair and pale skin. This visual aesthetic was inspired by Chloe Price, from Life is Strange, and from this artwork by Lunaris. I tend to like boys who are a bit closer to gender androgyny – longer hair, less focus on musculature, more open expressions. Especially in his case, if he’s going to become a big muscular werewolf, that contrasts even better with his non-wolf form. If I was going to render my ideal art of him, it’d probably make sure that the werewolf form still had some softness to it – that it was big and not just a muscular body shrink-wrapped.
The aesthetic plays into expression, too: that Tristam can’t keep his emotions off his face unless he’s a werewolf is part of why he likes the werewolf form. It’s not just the physical prowess (and you might notice, the story doesn’t dwell on him being able to show off how strong that form is, just how mobile it is) The werewolf represents freedom to him – it lets him go where he wants and it lets him survive being hurt.
What I wanted Tristam to convey was the importance of vulnerability – and when you are strong, what that strength lets you do is accept others’ vulnerability. Tristam could afford to risk being hurt in his interactions with Rose, because he was strong.
One of the things I tried to do in my side of the story was never involve explaining through narration what Tristam was thinking – I wanted this story to be centered on Rose as she got herself a friend, then a werewolf friend, then a hot werewolf boyfriend, and therefore to use her inner voice for narration only. Tristam is therefore conveyed through his emotional expression in action, the things he says, the tone he takes as Rose perceives it. This does mean there are some inner life details that are a little hard to catch.
Tristam is bi. To him it wouldn’t be a problem if Rose liked or disliked the body the Moon Knight transformation gave her. Tristam was attracted to ‘Yeushva’ and to Rose. Just phrasing that idea proves challenging, which shows how hard it can be to talk about these things even if you show them in a story.
Now, as the expressiveness and emotionality suggest, Tristam is not immune to toxicity in his masculinity. There’s some traits he has that are definitely about his own emotional safety – the talk about blackmail is an attempt to assert some control over his surroundings, and to set himself up as a cool bad guy in contrast to the squares around him. That’s performative, it’s about control and it’s also very silly. That’s part of why nobody in the story takes it seriously, not even – really – the extremely naive pre-name Rose.
Tristam’s sign language was extremely hard to describe. I’m not fluent in sign language, and I wanted to try and describe it to Rose, who was also not fluent. Caelyn did a lot of work to reprocess what I wrote there.
This stuff all comes from an explained point in his past, though. See, if it wasn’t obvious to you as you read it, Tristam’s family life sucks. When he arrives in the first scene, he is in your classic I know, mom conversation, but he’s also being dropped off without any shoes. Then he demonstrates he’s very aware of the way support groups work, and he’s also uncooperative – he even has a spiel prepared to rattle off. Later you find he’s been in six different support groups. That shows that he’s not being ‘cured,’ but despite this, his parents are still sending him to them, and trying to keep him from avoiding them.
You don’t see his own personal life; you don’t see him hanging around at home as a werewolf, because it makes him feel safe, and you don’t see his parents mad at him for displaying that element of himself in their home. You don’t get to learn about why he cares about being strong, or why he can sign. The reason, which isn’t included because it is unnecessary and a bummer, is that Tristam had a sibling with whom he spoke in sign, and that sibling then passed away. His parents responded to the loss by becoming more controlling and more religious, and he responded by being afraid of what they were becoming.
In the end what I wanted to render was a boy who could be both a desireable partner for a queer girl to want to kiss, and have some depth and complexity that was at least tangible in how it shows in this little story space. He’s not a prop but he’s also not central – his personal emotional problems aren’t the focus of the story, and they’re not a thing to be fixed. They’re part of who he is, and growing together with Rose and the rest of his new friends is going to be part of coming to terms with that.
When we made this story, knowing we were going to release it into a queer space, Caelyn tried to reassure me quite extensively about the idea that a heterosexual romance wasn’t dead in the water. It has been, I’m told, appreciated by fans of the genre and that I am extremely grateful to hear.
You can get Moon Light Moon Knight here, it’s free. C’mon, it’ll take an afternoon to blitz through.