Here is a confession that surprises everyone I tell it to: if I were a character on Tremontaine, I’d be Rafe.
I’ve been aware of it since I first read Episode 2 of Season 1. At first it was an uncomfortable familiarity I felt, but that soon blossomed into complete, blissful amusement and self-recognition.
In writing season 2, I didn’t get any Rafe POV scenes until the very end, just because of how the plot spread out over episodes, and so one of my goals in season 3 was to put him in every episode I wrote. (I succeeded, too, though his POV scene from “The Siege of Riverside” was cut for length.)
My final episode this season hinges on Rafe taking a bold step to compromise his ideals and needs in order to move forward with his school. It’s a strategy that took me a very long time to learn, possibly because I didn’t have a handsome mentor guiding my thoughts.
Though I’m a (slightly) cooler-headed thirty-seven now, better able to hone my arguments and control my temper, when I was twenty-two and in graduate school I was a hot-headed idealist who dove into every single idea before I figured out if it was a good one or not. My favorite hobby was arguing about…anything. (Which was good, because as it was grad school, I had no money, so gathering with fellow students in cheap coffee shops or more often our tiny living room was the only real entertainment to be had)(and I did eat a lot of pizza). While I can throw a punch, my weapons have always been words. I, too, am super queer, and I, too, like to make out with everybody.
I also did not get along with the vast majority of my departmental professors—to the point where I angrily quit my program without a degree.
This was in 2004-2005, and though it feels ridiculous to say here in 2017, 2004 was an incredibly divisive and terrible election year. America was at war on multiple fronts (we still are, of course—the Afghanistan War is the longest war the USA has ever been part of. There are teenagers now who have never lived in a peace-time America), and the government was lying to us all the time about why and how we were invading. As the daughter of a Navy Captain, I’ve always been more tuned into our military-industrial complex than most of my middle-class white peers could be, and when my dad was sent to Al Anbar province in Iraq with the Marines my awareness of the hypocrisy and the danger he was in skyrocketed—but nobody in my grad program seemed to care. (Nobody in the entire country seemed to care.)
And as an openly queer young woman in a conservative state at a conservative university, under a “compassionate conservative” war-mongering government there was plenty to be angry and passionate (and terrified) about. Gay marriage was being used constantly as a culture war rallying point in the media, as if the fate of our country would turn on whether or not people like me were worthy of desire and God.
The Bush v Kerry election seemed like it would be the hardest I’d have to live through (LOL, I know) and when Bush was re-elected I was crushed because it had been such a Dark Side v Light Side choice to me, and America was willingly going the way of the Empire: genocide, xenophobia, structural racism, etc.
It should have been the ideal time and place for me to channel my feelings into an MA in feminism. That’s why I was in graduate school: to learn how to fight to make the world a better place. I’d argue professionally, in politics or lobbying, get myself right in the thick of things to change the world! That’s what I wanted, what I’ve always wanted. (Just like Rafe Fenton.)
But the system wasn’t letting me. The department I was in clung to old ways of thinking and analyzing (one of the professors claimed—in 2004!!!—that there was no 3rd Wave of Feminism) and our class split into factions: those willing to participate in the rampant White Feminism of the program, and those of us who rejected it. I furiously rejected the entire program and for the rest of my time there took whatever classes I thought would fill up my dry, cracking well of hope.
I asked myself again and again how I could change the world if I couldn’t even survive graduate school. If I couldn’t compromise my ideals even a tiny bit to just write a damn thesis and defend it, how could I imagine I’d be able to get anywhere in Washington D.C.?
(Surely you can see by now why Rafe is my Tremontaine doppelgänger.)
I did think about teaching, but I don’t have the patience for it (and I’d argue neither does Rafe). I thought about law school. I finally thought to ask myself what had made me so ardently feminist, what had first taught me to question power and people and motivations. The answer of course, was books. Books I’d read during my formative years, my growing, most angry teenage years. Books like Swordspoint and Howl’s Moving Castle and The Last Herald-Mage and Dawn and even The Vampire Lestat.
Though I’d been writing fiction since fifth grade, it had never been a professional goal until that fateful year I dropped out of grad school. When my world was on fire.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that year in the last few months, because the world is on fire again, because I am a professional writer now, and because Rafe Fenton reminds me constantly what it’s like to feel idealism so intensely. Rafe is frustrated by his world and the people of his City because he believes so much in goodness and the possibility of making the world better that whenever he hits a challenge he has a meltdown. It’s a hard way to exist—but it’s harder to get through it without losing the core of hope. Some days I can barely feel my way through the anger and bitter fear to remember what it felt like to know I could make a difference.
Rafe, for all he’s a disaster sometimes, helps me remember that I still want to change the world.