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Did Trans* Vikings Exist? (Spoiler: Yep, of course!)

Ayman Eckford

“I’m a 27 year old Autistic non-binary trans* masculine person who lives in Sheffield like an asylum seeker for 4,5 years. [...] I’m originally from Ukraine.”

Instagram: @ayman_eckford

Ayman Eckford also wrote ‘Rhododendrons and Burgers’, published previously in Trans_Muted!


Did Trans* Vikings Exist? (Spoiler: Yep, of course!)

When I entered the Islamic gallery hall in the British Museum, Arby was already there, waiting, leaning to the wall, his hand crossing on his chest. He looked at me with a cocky smile, and patted his black beard. I opened my mouth to announce the big news, but the words froze on my lips. My hands were trembling when I looked around at Arby’s favourite Abbasid Caliphate era pattern mosaic. My hands were flapping in anticipation.

“Serenity!” he called me. And it wasn't advice for me to be calmer. No, it is my name, Serenity, and I got it because of him.

When I had to change my documents a year ago, Arby accompanied me with my Mum. Officially, Arby was an old family friend and my maths tutor. Unofficially, he hates maths, adores Islamic history, and wanted to get a job at the British Museum, for which I tutored him in European history. A woman in the office had asked me my new name. Of course, I knew my new name: it was Sif (yeah, I am ‘modest’ enough to to call myself after the North Goddess). But I was so excited that I was echolaling the beginning of Poetic Edda over my breath, shaking my head back and forth like in a metal gig. Arby said that I am ‘nothing but serenity’. As the woman asked what name I wanted to have on my documents, I opened my mouth, and the word ‘Serenity’ came before I could think.

I remember the blank. The old name: William. The new name: Serenity. My Mum had to sign it. For some peculiar reason, I begged her for it.

So, Serenity I am. Nice to meet you. I am a thirteen (almost fourteen) year-old Autistic trans girl, and I am obsessed with Vikings. 

What does it mean to be a thirteen years old trans girl? Well, in my case, I look like a girl, and I have felt like a girl all my life - for as long as I can remember - but everyone else doubts that I exist. There is plenty of talking about trans kids in the media nowadays, but there is not much talking with trans kids. What does it mean to be Autistic? Well, it means everything about me, because I am separated from how I think, perceive the culture, and communicate with other people.

Arby is Autistic as well, even if he is ‘better’ at masking than me. So being Autistic is about who you choose as your pals. It is also about how you treat your interests. Because Vikings are basically my life. But what does it mean to be a thirteen-year-old girl who is interested in Vikings? It means that you could spend nights and days with the exciting quest of finding some true meaning of an Old Norse word, and publish nearly a dozen historical papers on academic websites - but that, at the same time, that when you say that you are interested in Vikings, at best folks think that you are speaking about the TV show, Vikings. At worst, they think that it is about Marvel.

But now I had big news that was going to change everything. I wanted to come to Arby and tell my big news in a solemn, adult manner. 

“My book about Viking’s blot sacrifices and ceremonies is going to be published by Cambridge University press.”

I hadn’t told Mum about it yet, despite using her old account to send the book to the publisher. But I had already imagined how to tell Arby about it, asking him for a big favour. I even made a list.

Good things about the fact that my book is gonna be published:

1. My first academic books are gonna be published before I finish school.

2. It is good for my career. My new name will be recognized.

3. I am challenging stereotypes! The world will see that girls, and even Autistic trans* girls, could write about serious issues.


Bad things about the fact that my book is gonna be published:

1. My first academic books are gonna be published before I finish school.

2. No one will take me seriously because of my age and other stuff. Ppl would think that someone wrote this book for me.

3. My new name will be recognized and associated with this crap.

It felt like there was more bad than good, and it had nothing to do with the book itself. This is why I needed Arby’s help. Because no, no, no, I see it now. I am not gonna use my name. I better ask Arby if I could use his name to publish the book. He would agree. He should agree. Or at least he could ask Mum to let me get published under her name. He became almost like my Mum’s adoptive son after his parents were killed by Russian occupation forces in Chechnya, and Mum helped him, this student from uni, ask for political asylum. We are family - he is the only person in my family I really trust. And family members help each other, don't they?

I looked at him. Time was going so slowly. People were moving in the hall, staring at walls that meant nothing to them, at some mosaic patterns from some old mosques. My heart was pumping louder than the We Wish You a Merry Christmas tune coming from an old man's headphones - which was ‘arguing’ with a O Holy Night tune coming from the headphones of his granddaughter. Why do people always think that everyone is oh so keen to hear their music? Oh, because it is Christmas time and the ‘Christmas spirit’ needs to be present even in an Arabic gallery. For a moment I imagined what it would be like if I turned my music up to match their own. 

I have my own one-man Black Metal band, Algiz. The music was called ‘dark and demonic’ in the last review I read. The lyrics are about old times, gods and fighting Christianity in the name of the Old way. I especially like to write lyrics during Christmas time. And yeah, I know, I am an Autistic person who is interested in Vikings and heathen beliefs - and have a one-dude Black Metal band with a ‘song recording studio’ in their Mama’s basement. Speaking of stereotypes. Maybe I am not really good at challenging them. Actually, maybe I am not very good at anything, like my school teachers used to think. Not that they see my academic papers or listen to my music, because they don’t actually care about anything except for school grades and appropriate behaviour. Being Autistic and trans is inappropriate by itself. And I don’t want to be the freak that I already am. So I kind of have a double life. 

Arby is the only one who knows both parts of my life very well and I needed him to secure it. He knows better than anyone what it means to be a teen scientist, he was one himself at my age. He should make something up for Cambridge folks, to deal with legal issues, and so it will be officially his book. He should be happy. It is good for his career. At least I hope so. But he was already busy explaining to someone with a bold haircut the basics of Islamic art.

“… By Islamic law, at least by the traditional, conservative interpretation of it, it is not permissible to create pictures of people or animals, this is why there are so many patterns here.” His eyes were shining just like always when he spoke about Islamic law, Islamic arts, and everything about Islam really.

But the person looked unimpressed. “Oh yeah. Of course. So weird,” they said in a blank manner. “What a silly, un-scientific restriction.” Suddenly, some Sia song blurted from her phone. 

She grabbed it, yelling “Oh! Sorry, I told you before, Jess! I just can’t go to the gig tonight because of my horoscope. What? Yeah, yeah, my stars tell me that this will be bad luck… yeah, don’t you dare get a COVID vaccine - it is all an Illuminati conspiracy!” I looked at Arby, and he looked at me. We burst into laughter, rolling our eyes.

“Sometimes it feels like I'm living in a sit-com…” Arby paused, “OK. So, what's the big news?” He asked me. I opened my mouth, thinking how to better say ‘I’m gonna be published’ or ‘my book is gonna be published’ when, all of a sudden, a person in a nice TARDIS coat jumped beside us, smiled at Arby and blurted “Merry Christmas!”

Arby smiled back, “oh, thank you… But I am Muslim, I don’t celebrate.”

“I’m sorry,” they said.

“It’s ok…” Arby responded. 

Then, as if expected, another person - with blond hair, blue eyes, long beard and runic tattoos - suddenly demanded, “Why should she be sorry? This is a war on Christmas! I have no idea why people now need to be so obsessive with identities… Why does this exhibition even need to be about politics, about anti-colonialism, when it is all about history!?” 

I thought he was a little drunk. Or maybe not so little. I saw how Arby’s shoulders sank when the man mentioned ‘colonialism’. 

Like I said, Arby is Chechen. His homeland is fighting a four-hundred year battle against Russian aggressors. His house was destroyed by Russia's bombs soon after Russia attacked the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1994. His parents and his sister were killed. His state is now under occupation. So, yeah, colonialism is pretty much personal for him. It is not just about history, like this stupid man thought! For some people - like Chechen and Uyghurs - it is about current events. Whatever.

So, I decided to step up for Arby, just like he used to do for me. I knew that he didn’t have the right to argue with people who came to the museum, or he would be fired. Well, hell, the good thing about not working there was that no one could fire me.

“Sorry, but history is politics!” I said. 

“Oh, yeah, and you are… A Girl… Boy?” The ‘a little drunk’ person asked me.

For a moment, I felt ashamed that my ‘passing’ was not good enough. But then I tried to get rid of my inner transphobia - at least on the surface.

“I am a trans girl,” I said with pride, despite the fact that most of the time I skip the ‘trans’ part.

“Trans girl? Is it a girl or a boy? I mean, what were you born as?” They scoffed, winching their nose. “Sorry, but these new times are so complicated with all these genders and woke ideas.” I smiled, looking at his runic tattoos. Suddenly I could barely contain my laughter.

“Did you know that queer Vikings existed?” I asked. They looked back at me as if I were the ghost of the Christmas past. Well, maybe more like the ghost of Yule past in my case. 

“Yeah, they existed,” I continued with confidence. “Because they have always existed. But we don’t know about them. For example, when you find a grave with all the warrior's goodies and women buried with them. How can you determine whether it's a woman or a trans man?”

“Oh, here we go again.” They rolled their eyes.

As if in tandem, someone with what looked like TERF badges on their bag added, “You shouldn’t deny strong warrior women their history.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” I said, thinking about what I wrote in my book. “I've always wondered why there is no question about a man being a warrior when a male skeleton is found with weapons, but there are always questions when a woman is found with the same stuff."

“You see,” they smiled victoriously.

“Yeah, but I also see that you shouldn’t deny the existence of queer people. Trans people have existed as long as humanity itself - so, just statistically, there should be some trans Vikings.”

The badged person snorted and walked away. But the runic one wasn’t ready to give up so easily. 

“There is no Old Norse word for ‘trans’” they began.

“Yeah, as far as we know. And there are definitely no ‘bonobo monkeys’ in the Old North.”

“Why are you talking about bonobos?”

“And why are you talking about words? You know, bonobos existed even if Vikings didn't know what they were. As well as gravity, atoms, and autism. And trans people, of course,” I sighed. 

“Do you know the story from Þrymskviða?” I asked them. A blink in response.

“Þrymskviða?” they questioned. And blinked again, as if wanting to be sure that I wouldn’t disappear.

“Yeah, from Poetic Edda.”

“Of course!” they said seriously. “In this story, Thor was dressed like a chick to get his hammer back. And he hates it! He said it out loud. He hates all that queer stuff like any normal man would.”

Arby smiled, knowing the trick I used. But I tried to look as serious as the stone statues in the nearest hall. 

“You are absolutely right,” I said solemnly.

“You see?” The blond, blue eyed person asked with a smirk.

“But what about Loki?” I asked.

“What?” They stared at me and blinked again - now, I think, desperately hoping that I would disappear.

I sighed and quoted the poem by heart in the original Old Norse, the place where Loki agreed to be dressed up as a woman. 

“He dressed as Thor’s maid. He could have avoided it, but he didn’t,” I added.

“It's bullshit! Are you saying that Loki could be queer?”

“Me?” I looked innocently. “Saying that the god who became a mare and gave birth to a foal could be queer! Oh, how dare I…” I feel like a trickster myself. And I like this feeling.

“You, you…” they began. “You're just a kid! You know nothing!”

Do I? Ok,” I say, looking at their arm. “What does the writing on your tattoos say?”

“Dave!” They said with pride. “This is my name.”

“No. DLGR.” I said.

“I said, Dave,” the person said again, making every sound of his name more distinct.

“Well, maybe you are Dave, but your hand is saying DLGR. Here,” I snatched the phone from Arby’s hand and found the letters I needed to show them. A simple transcription, on a page that I could find even in my sleep. They stared at the screen - then at me - and then blinked. I thought, now they must be dreaming of waking up. I noticed that Arby wasn’t the only one watching us. I noticed that Dave - oh, sorry, DLGR - was staring at my phone.

“It is pity that the boy with such a potential is a fucking fa**ot,” they said. “Disgusting…”

“I must ask you to leave,” Arby began.

“Disgusting!” They repeated, still looking at my screen.

“I will call the security,” Arby stepped forward.

“It’s OK. Let DLGR speak,” I said.

Algis!” DLGR suddenly exclaimed looking at my phone. “You are listening to Algis!” I clapped my hands in delight.

“You too?” I asked with hope. The only thing that could redeem him in my eyes now is the fact that he is a fan of my music.

“Yeah, of course! Cool dudes!”

“Thanks. Actually, dude,” I corrected him calmly. “It is me. It’s my band.”

DLGR looked at me now like they were ready to slap me. Eyes widened, they erupted:

“No, YOU are not the singer!”

“Yeah, I always have been. From the very beginning.” I gestured to Arby, “Arby helps me to change my voice a little and…” 

“But Algis isn’t about this kind of stuff. I mean,” DLGR added, looking at Arby. “Tell him, please, tell him that it is not ok. You’re Muslim, yeah? I am not a fucking fan of this kind of shit, but Muslims hate queer stuff, in your religion folks kill transgenders, yeah?”

I took a deep breath, mentally giving Arby my Trixter mantle. Because I know what is going to come next.

“Actually,” Arby said, “in Islam there is a term for people who are not fully ‘woman’ or ‘man’. For example those who may need some operations. They are called Khuntha. This term has been known to exist since the times of the Prophet, peace be upon him,” Arby said, switching to his Islamic Scholar™ mode. “Actually there is a fatwa permitting transition from one of the oldest Islamic universities in the world…”

Didn’t I tell you before? Arby is not just a maths teacher who somehow got a job in the British Museum. His first education was in Islamic science.

“You mean…” DLGR began.

“Sorry, I have not introduced myself. My name is Arby Magomedov, I have studied Fiqh - I mean, Islamic law - in  Al-Azhar University in Egypt. I will be giving a lecture on gender and family law in Islam next week - do you want to join?” Arby said whilst offering the poor, unfortunate, drunk DGLR his card.

“I - sorry, I -” they took several steps back, as if Arby’s hand were on fire. Suddenly, the man dived towards the hall. I blinked. DLGR had disappeared. I heard the applause. Arby and I looked at each other, before bowing as if we were on a stage.

“Well done,” someone said.

“Thanks for that,” a person with bright green hair piped up. “My younger sister is intersex - and trans - and…” They frowned, growing quiet. 

“Mine as well,” Arby said, looking at me.

“It’s so good that someone is ready to stand up to bullies.” They smiled. 

Seriously, Arby agreed. “Yeah. It is.”

I wanted to know who he was thinking about - about me? Or about his younger sister? Seda. The Khuntha. She was murdered by Russian soldiers during the Second Russian-Chechen war. She was the reason why he, Arby, went to Egypt to study Islamic law many years ago. And the reason why he stood up for me when I came out to my parents. I remember how ignorant I was then. How it was weird for me, that Arby - the most religious guy I knew out of both of our families - was the one who stood up for me. Now he, a Chechen guy, is teaching British parents, especially Muslim British parents, why ‘corrective’ operations for intersex kids are bad. An Autistic geeky kid from a culture where speaking about gender and sex issues is worse than thinking ‘DLGR’ says ‘Dave’ as in Old Norse.

“How are you?” I asked, forgetting that Arby was one of those people who actually answered this question.

“Fine,” he smiled. “You know what? More than fine. My literary agent said that my book will be a success. And I am going to dedicate it to you. And to my sister Seda.” He is writing a book as well. About the war in Chechnya, and about how it was ignored by Western governments. About how little it has changed for Chechen people even after Russia attacked Ukraine.

“Also, Kadyrov’s people finally let my Dagi and my Aunty go! They are home again,” he announced.

I took a deep breath, feeling so weird from Arby’s so-Chechen manner of speaking about persecutions in occupied Chechnya. It has always been like: “how are you doing?” and he would say: “Today is good weather. I lost my purse. And yeah, my old neighbours have been kidnapped because their son joked about Putin in school… No, no one knows where they are.” Literally. I hate him speaking about it like it is just another part of life. Maybe for him it was. About a month ago, his Aunty and cousin Dagi, whom he didn’t see for years and years, were kidnapped. Kadyrov’s people - the Chechen occupation regime - then photographed them nude and tortured them on camera. All because Arby was writing about Russian crimes on social media. And because of his book. Pro-Russian forces used to do it, kidnapping whole families, falsely portraying it as a part of Chechen culture. But now his family is home again. But for how long?

“Wow! It’s… It’s wonderful” I said.

“Yeah” he smiled shyly. “And so, what is your big news?” I looked at his face, and suddenly my big news didn't feel so big at all. But at least I knew what to say. Not the stuff I was going to say, not that stuff at all.

“My book is going to be published by Cambridge. And I'm gonna to use my real name, Serenity, for it. Will you ask your agent to help me with legal issues, since I am a minor and all of it?”

“Oh! Of course! It is marvellous!” Army exclaimed.


“I am so happy that you decided to speak for yourself as well,” he said.

“Of course! What else? I have a great teacher!” And it’s true. Of course, this teacher doesn't know my fears. He wouldn’t know.

We are starting to plan our non-Christmas Eve Costa celebration. Each year we have some Christmas special drinks and make a toast on the 24th of December. It is our small family tradition.  I already knew that I wanted to make a coffee-toast. Many years ago I read an article titled ‘The Risks and Bravery of Being First. I don’t remember what the article was about, but I know the feeling. And this will be my toast: “for the bravery of being first.” First Chechen to speak about intersex kids and at the same time wrote books about political turmoil at home no matter what. Or the first thirteen years old Autistic trans* girl to write about Vikings.

“They will say that colonialism is not only about the past,” I said, pointing at people around. 

“They will get used to Autistic kids and trans* kids playing Metal and writing history books and doing, well, everything,” Arby rethored, like he could read my mind. My Autistic “sibling” who is not connected with me by blood. Because he understood. This is how changes in society begin. Sometimes you should just start, and the others will continue. 


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