I’ve been asked this a few times as to why Shani is identified as straight and Pania is identified as a lesbian in The Adventures of Black Mask & Pale Rider. Shani is very rough and tumble, likes a good fight, likes a good glass of whiskey, and is an expert marksman with a pistol. Pania, on the other hand, is very much a swashbuckler, likes to make herself pretty, fusses with her hair, and engages in what might be classed as “girly things”. Shani even gives her the nickname “Girlie Girl” throughout the book.
The thought is, if anything, that Shani should be a lesbian and Pania should be straight, due to their habits, likes, and attitudes. But this is placing a stereotype on the characters that doesn’t fit.
Shani is the daughter of a French knight and a Mohawk wizard. Her father was a knight in the court of an elven king, while her mother was the daughter of a chieftain and adept at magic. Shani was often intrigued by the stories of her ancestors who would protect the humans by fighting back the venomous creatures of the forests. She wanted to do that, and so she did. It can be argued, that when Shani arrived on Earth, she saw the European settlers as the poison, and their money as the venom. Thus why she became a bank robber.
Shani’s very aware, as she is often prone to say, in her rather rugged fashion, “I’ve got girl bits, I’m a girl, so don’t go tryin’ ta say I’m a boy”.
Pania, on the other hand, is a bard and a herald. She knows that in order to tell a story and keep the attention of the audience, she needs to draw attention to herself. Whether that be with vibrant colours of her clothing, the way her hair is done up, or the timber of her voice. She also got to see the greatest love story unfold before her as she grew up; that between her mother and father. Sexuality and sex was never something hidden away from Pania. It was displayed as something to be celebrated and to be embraced. So when Pania announced she was gay, her parents weren’t shocked or angry, they just accepted it. They raised Pania to never find outward beauty as the be all and end all of a person. This is why she’s sought out tales from different races of dwarves, goblins and even kobolds in the elven world.
Pania is also aware that she presents herself in a very feminine way. And it’s something she’s comfortable with.
Both Pania and Shani are emotional people. Angry, happiness, saddness, and so on. Throughout the book, they display several emotions. The two become very good friends and when one is in danger, the other tries very hard to save their friend (Pania saves Shani from the Devil’s Rider, Shani carries Pania for miles trying to keep her warm when she is mortally injured).
Both characters are created in a way to shatter the stereotypes that have been in play before. Both characters are also made to become friends. The commonly used trope of women who are “friends” only to stab each other in the back when opportunity arises was something that bothered me. Very rare is it when female characters are together that they aren’t genuine friends. Especially when they are two who are going on an adventure together.
Shani and Pania are just two examples of how women actually do exist in real life. And there is an infinite number of attitudes, looks, emotions and so on of what women appear in real life. But in fiction, we’re given very few of those examples. The most commonly used one is often used to prop up the male hero of the piece. Either being the manic pixie girl, the wife or girlfriend who exists only to die, or the badass who helps fight off the villain just enough to give the male hero time to get back into the fight (of the latter, sometimes they die in order to give that extra added bonus for the male hero to be victorious, or they watch as the male hero becomes victorious and then ride off as the male hero’s lover).
For Shani and Pania, the goal was never to have them become the love interest of a male hero, nor was it for the two to become lovers. It’s about a friendship that is like love. They are the main characters of their stories, they are not the side kicks of a male hero who comes sweeping in to save the day.