Fantastic Usmu

Usmu appears in my historical fantasy world as a truly liminal deity, with the ability to shift his physical appearance and assume both male and female guises. As I developed his fictitious character, I was inspired by the gender-bending attributes of Inanna/Ishtar, and by Enki’s creation of sexless beings who could cross the borders of the Mesopotamian Underworld undetected. In Inanna’s Bargain, Usmu serves as a mentor to one of my young protagonists, a queer cross-dressing gala priest named Kianu. This excerpt from Chapter 6 offers a glimpse into Kianu’s understanding of the messenger deity.


Legends have described Usmu as two-faced, and artists have often portrayed him that way. But I knew from personal experience that Usmu actually had many faces, and that he could appear as either male or female, in a range of adult ages. He could also change the structure of his face, and even the color of his eyes. His normal voice was neutral in gender, though he could speak in male and female voices if he chose.

I’d always viewed Usmu as more male than female, perhaps because I associated him with my divine father. But like most messenger gods, he was truly an androgynous deity. While I recognized Usmu easily in all of his guises, I was never entirely sure how I could do so. Perhaps it was something in his gaze, or just the sense of his divinity.

Ever since I was a small child, I was fascinated by Usmu’s shifting appearance. I was especially interested in watching him change from male to female and back again. His body shifted along with his face, and in his feminine guises he even appeared to have breasts. I was amazed by his sexual fluidity. I’d always admired Usmu, and I tried to imitate him in my gala state. But how could I compare myself with a deity?

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