Writing a character of nonbinary gender?

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by CassieDrey, Apr 19, 2014.

  1. Hello! I am in need of some help~

    I am a fantasy author, and I am currently working on a fantasy series. In this series, I've decided to have a nonbinary character. However, I am cis, and I was hoping I could speak with one (or more) nonbinary people about their experiences, as well as how I should build this character.

    I've already done quite a bit of research on nonbinary genders, but I don't know enough to fully flesh out the character, and I definitely think I should talk to people about their experiences and such in order to portray them accurately.

    Also, please know that I don't want to give too much away on this series for the sake of intellectual security (the first novel for this series is in editing right now so I have to be careful about what I post online or my head editor will murder me hahaha "^^), and because I wouldn't want to ruin the story if anyone who reads this wants to check it out. Therefore, I can't give away certain spoilers.

    So, some basic things:

    ~Because this is speculative fiction, I can portray things with a fantastical angle, and I definitely think their gender would factor into this, to a degree. I want to discuss this at length, and any ideas regarding this are welcome.
    ~I am not yet sure specifically what nonbinary gender (genderfluid, agender, etc etc) I would like this character to be, or if I should define that at all.
    ~Mages are a marginalized group in my story, and this character is a mage. I think this should be talked about, as well.

    Basic things about the character (thus far):

    ~Their name is Tomi Nakamura. They are my fantasy world's equivalent to Japanese.
    ~They are a shapeshifter mage, and this is important to the plot (I want to expand/play with this idea in relation to their gender).
    ~They come from a wealthy family, and their parents are supportive of their gender identity. However, my character doesn't agree entirely with their parent's worldview.
    ~Oh yeah, they're a teenager. XD
    ~They have a girlfriend, who has a child (by someone else), and they consider this child their own.
    ~I'm thinking they/them pronouns (and are what I'm sticking with for now) but not 100% sure it's what I wanna go with.
    ~They are bubbly and cute and huggable and have a huge heart.
    ~Idk that's about it that's all I can think of for now. I like them they are a babe?

    So, yes, that's about it. Any help anyone has to offer would be wonderful~!
  2. ... Can't say too much shit since my ass is cis too but



    and http://askanonbinary.tumblr.com/

    ^^^ Should be nice, kiddie-pool shallow end jumping off points. Just remember, in asking to maintain accuracy be respectful.

    From the character's points you described so far, it's smellin' a little like you want their nonbinary gender to be related to their status as a mage... to which I suggest to pay close attention in how you choose to layer these qualities. How they will overlap with one another as the character progresses through the story. How others will perceive Tomi is kind of like those multi-possibility pachinko machines. Once they see markers of Tomi, depending if mages wear certain clothes in particular or they hear a snippet of Tomi's conversation that leads to the assumption of their nonbinary gender it all coalesces together into how they end up treating them.

    EDIT: [deleted unnecessary uplifting shit about intellectual property and going along with making things because it's fuckin' damn near 2 in the morning here and my dumb ass is still awake oops]
    #2 Kooriryu, Apr 20, 2014
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2014
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  3. *Waves hand and points at self*
    Agendered person here -> \(^^)/ <-

    Everyone has very different experiences and I might not be the most interesting case to study, but I have talked with some other agendered people and can probably give a bit more than only my own experiences. So if you have any questions it's just to send me a message, or reply here ^^
  4. Hi there! I've moved this thread to the Institute, where some of the people who actively help give out feedback and advice for writing are more likely to see it.

    As to the nature of your query, I think that you're onto something interesting here. As someone who at one point identified as genderfluid, I can get on board with allegory involving feelings of discrimination, alienation, and having a fluidity of body expression. Using a marginalized group (your mages) and the literally fluid-of-form shapeshifters to express this is clever.

    My main advice is the same advice that I give when addressing any questions of "How should I portray x", whether it be a question of ethnicity, culture, gender, sex, or sexuality: Don't make it the defining trait of your character. First and foremost, they are a person. Try to narrow your mental image of them down to a two-word description of their character concept and avoid using "genderfluid"/"agender"/"Two-Spirit" or any other gender-related terms. If you can't do that, you're probably on the wrong track.

    Personally, I always preferred they/them for gender-neutral terms. These words are familiar to everyone, are neutral, are unoffensive, and read smoothly. If you use one of the many and various gender-neutral pronoun sets that people have tried to implement, you will have to hope that your reader recognizes it and doesn't find it jarring in the text.

    Congrats on getting published, by the way. That's a goal for several people in our community, including myself, and it's exciting to see that happening for someone else. Definitely give more details when you can on where to get a copy. :]
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  5. APPARENTLY I NEED TO ANSWER PEOPLE. My email has not been on the ball with its notifications. >.>

    I do want their nonbinary identity to coalesce with their powers. I like doing stuff like that with fantasy--I like that one of the staples of the genre is how metaphorical you can get with your themes in relation to the actual fantastic aspects of your story (I already have an illusion mage who suffers from mental illness who pretends everything is okay, a gay couple who are marginalized not by their sexualities/relationship but by the fact that they're magical people, so on and so forth).

    It's lots of fun because I can make political statements without giving an obvious chance for people to take potshots at the political statements . . . for the mostpart. I'm mostly doing that with the way I'm enforcing oppression and marginalization in this case, but the diversity of my cast is an obvious and blatant political statement, it's just, none of them are (legally) marginalized for their sexuality/skin color/gender, but for their status as magical people. That being said, I am still playing with the non-legal oppression they could experience because of those things.

    One can't tell someone is a mage just by looking at them. Mages are oppressed via a compulsory (because they literally have to learn to control their powers OR IT WOULD BE BAD) magical education system which registers them with the government into young adulthood (it goes from middle school to higher education). Once they move on to a career, they are required to work in an 'appropriate' profession that specifically uses their powers (which they can function without using once they learn to control it) and continue their registration. Any mages who don't pursue a 'proper' career and don't register are considered to be rogue, and are barred from several rights.

    There's also the whole 'magical people can hurt us' and 'magical people are dangerous and unstable' thing. So . . . yeah.

    And wow I totally went on tangents there. It is 4 am I guess that's what happens. XD

    As for how Tomi would be oppressed, my entire main cast is magical people, so they would not discriminate. However, I was thinking it would be very veeeeery interesting if their parents were nonmagical (mage bloodlines tend to build up and create specific lines but it skips sometimes). Tomi definitely screams 'rebellious and fed up with bullshit' so far, and I think that would be a way to reinforce it. Especially with rich parents IT WOULD BE REALLY FUN. They can throw fancy parties of spite it will be great.


    To be quite honest, I am not sure what questions to ask (especially without feeling like I'm gonna be weird about it I get deeply fascinated by humans and sometimes don't realize I'm asking awkward questions >.>). I've known a few nonbinary friends (who were all apparently too busy to help me go figure), so I know basic things about mostly genderfluid and agender people--that genderfluid people fluctuate on a spectrum and a lot of how they feel day to day may stem from their mood or sometimes their environment. I know agender people just reject the binary altogether, and to be honest, I always kinda imagined it as this sorta blissful 'welp I am what I am I guess and that's cool~' outlook on it (I'm sorry if that's not accurate but that's what I got from it ""XD).

    I get that being nonbinary seems to especially be more in the head than the body (or that's what my impression is SORRY IF I'M INACCURATE THIS IS OFF OF WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE TOLD ME). That whole thing is where I get unsure of the shapeshifter aspect, as I wouldn't want to invalidate that aspect of nonbinary . . . ess (??) by making their identity more of the body. So . . . yeah. Idk.

    So I guess that's my two cents and about where I am at with the whole nonbinary thing overall. Yeah. |D

    Oh, why thank you~ I appreciate it. ^^

    As I said above, the whole fantasy and metaphors thing is REALLY AWESOME and I am a giant nerd about it and it could be its own essay but that is not a tangent I am going down tonight. |D And as I said, Tomi's powers are absolutely important to the plot. So, yeah.

    I knew for a while I wanted to have a non-cis character, as most my other characters are, and Tomi came rolling in yelling and sassing people and fawning over their girlfriend and I had my non-cis character. Most of my characters come with personality first, and then I have to ask them about their sexuality/gender/so on and so forth. I learned pretty early on not to define a character by just race/sexuality/gender partly because that's boring and also because that's just not how people are built, and my goal is to portray humans as realistically as possible. To be honest, most of them just kinda pop out of nowhere (I am a devout Christian so I tend to think it is Grace and God being witty in equal parts because dear God these characters are all little shits who never do what I want).

    I like the they/them pronouns a lot. I feel like a lot of the other terms are not adequate enough to describe the nonbinary gender well, just as general terms. English is silly and so weirdly gendered in ways other languages aren't (OH ENGLISH I LOVE YOU BUT YOU ARE SO DUMB). My only concern with the they/them pronouns is that it would get confusing. I have a large main cast (cause I'm a masochist and wanted a five man band hahahaha ""^^), so most of my scenes contain a lot of 'they/them' already just for referring to who's doing what. That is my only hang up with it, though.

    Oh, why thank you~

    It's still so weird, but also mundane. It's mostly just sitting around waiting for my editor to Get Shit Done and then preening when he praises me and devouring his feedback like it is food from Eden. ""XD We've been delayed though cause he got sick for like two weeks, poor guy. ;__; Right now I'm waiting to hear back from him so I've been kinda skipping around doing random other things. It's also hard to be patient I REALLY WANT A FANDOM TO LOVE AND TROLL OKAY.

    Our head editor originally projected for May, but with the delay and the fact my editor takes a Godawful long time, I would say it'll probably be closer to June or July. I will most definitely be shamelessly plugging it from the moment preorders are open though, I guarantee you~ ;D
    #5 CassieDrey, Apr 22, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2014
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  6. Well, if you figure out some questions, don't be afraid to ask them. I don't mind awkward questions that much, I usually become like that myself on certain topics (That might or might not have to do with human and animal sexuality *innocent whistling*)

    I wouldn't say that we reject the gender binary, it's more that we can't understand it. At least to me it's not so much a rejection as it is simply hard for me to put myself into the category girl even though I biologically am. I can't put myself into the category guy either because I don't feel like I would need to change my body just because girl doesn't fit my feelings. I guess it has a lot to do with gender stereotypes, and we usually don't feel like we can be put into what society says a girl or a guy should be. Of course that's only one part of it, as many of us also feel like we don't belong in our own bodies.

    As I said before, an agendered person usually won't feel like changing their biological gender to become the opposite sex, as that still wouldn't feel 'right'. As you said, it's a little bit of 'I'm me, and that's cool' kind of feeling, but there's also this feeling of 'my body isn't what I want it to be, and I can't change it into what I want it to be because there's only male and female'. I have noticed especially among females that there are those who makes a complete sex change just out of convenience. If an agendered female doesn't feel like ever getting children and menstruation feels like a pain in the ass, then it happens that they decide to become male just because there aren't anything inbetween.

    Personally I have thought about getting rid of my reproducing organs as I won't need them, and I'm thinking about taking away my breasts too as I'm slightly afraid of getting breast cancer, and feel like they're mainly in the way. With other words, I pretty much wants to do half the sex change just out of convenience. The problem is of course the money. If I decided to do a complete sex change and a psychologist concluded that I were a boy trapped in a girls body, then the operations would be payed for with the taxes, but since I don't really feel like doing all the operations I will most likely be declined and thus have to pay for it myself. Thus it becomes an inconvenience and I simply have to let it go until I either get the money or start thinking that the extra operation that I don't really want is worth it.

    There was an agendered person on tumblr whose blog I stumbled on a few months ago that had decided to do the full sex change since it felt more convenient for him to do so than staying in his previous female body. He was in the same situation as me, either had to pay for the parts he wanted or do the whole thing and only have to pay the psychologist visits during the year when they figured out if you are serious about it.

    Others stay in their original bodies all their life's and never even think about that it might be more convenient to get rid of certain parts.

    I hope this text made some sense ^^'
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  7. Springhole.net uses 'xir' as a genderless pronoun; you could consider using your own take on a him/her blend, or just make up a word :3
  8. Lol, okay. I suppose the biggest question I have, in terms of if I were to make Tomi agender, how that would affect their shapeshifting powers. Like, would they want to use their powers to change their body? I know one's genitals are pretty important to general human health, and you can't just not have them. That wouldn't go very well. ""XD Then again, it's fantasy, so I also can pull the I Can Do Whatever The Hell I Want Because FANTASY~ card. So Idk. What do you think?

    Ahh, gotcha. I've always heard it phrased as 'rejecting the gender binary' but that makes sense, since technically all nonbinary people essentially reject the binary/don't identify with it and so on. And not fitting into gender roles makes sense, too, as does not feeling quite at home in your body. Thank you for the insight. c:

    As I said above, I am a bit unsure of how I should address Tomi's powers in relation to their body. So . . . yes.

    I have thought about using something other than they/them. It would especially make sense for me to come up with my own word, since this world is self contained and doesn't have the influence of our world. But I am a bit unsure, mostly because I don't wanna confuse my readers or turn them off from my work. I'm a new author, so I have to make sure I'm making this accessible to as wide a readership as I can, and that they will want to read more after this series. >.<
  9. That depends on how much you want Tomi to be aware and care about their gender. If Tomi is the kind of person whom doesn't care at all then they might just leave it alone completely. Or they might use it to change their body depending on the situation. If they need to seduce a straight man (if such a scenario ever came up) a woman's body would be the most fitting alternative at that point, and they might unconsciously go between the genders, one day finding themselves in a woman's body and the next in a man's.

    If they are very uncomfortable in their own skin because they don't feel like they're fitting into their sex, they might want to experiment a bit, either by going between genders or trying to find some kind of middle ground between genders. That might just make them more aware of themselves and how wrong their body is, though as there isn't a non-gendered body state, it could be a set up for a big inner conflict on where they should eventually put their body on the gender scale.
    #9 redblood, Apr 25, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
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  10. I'm kinda with redblood. I've seen it done with other characters of "unknown" gender who happen to have shapeshifting powers. I even remember one character in a cartoon series who couldn't remember his original form (though "he" never lost his gender identity, even when he shape-shifted into a mailbox). Really, with such a character as yours, the sky really can be the limit. Depending on shape-shifting ability... as in, can "he" assume the form of "inanimate" objects? ... only living things? ... can "he" blend the two? ... can "he" assume whatever form "his" imagination can come up with?

    These are the considerations I can think of, just off the cuff.