Genderless character

by J

Hi! So long story short, my main character is basically genderless and I can't figure out how to convey that through POV and pronoun usage. any help would be greatly appreciated!

Answer: Many people these days wish the English language had some gender-neutral pronouns (other than "it"). Unfortunately, while there have been plenty of suggestions, none has actually come into widespread use. "They" is probably the leading contender, though some grammarians hate it. That may change in another generation or so, but that doesn't help you much today.

I do note that the Oxford English dictionary has recently included the title "Mx." as an alternative to "Mr.," "Ms.," "Miss," and "Mrs." However, you may find that many readers have no idea how to pronounce "Mx." (I believe it's "Mix.")

Many children's books feature genderless main characters and get around the pronoun obstacle by always referring to the main character by name or some other neutral tag such as "the tree" or "the shepherd." You might experiment with this approach.

As for point of view, I think you could probably write in first person and never actually mention the main character's gender. This would create a mystery in the mind of the reader, especially if the character's sexual orientation is equally ambiguous. Of course, at a later point in the book, you could let the reader know how the main character views his/her gender. (Readers like to find out if their guesses are right.)

Of course, gender identity is not just about how a character sees him/herself but how other characters respond to him/her (see, I have trouble with the pronoun issue too). You might consider having characters respond differently to your main character according to their judgements about whether this character is male or female.

To take a crude example, one character could hold a door open for the main character, while another waits for the main character to open a car door for her. Keeping the evidence evenly balanced, would create ambiguity regarding the main character's gender.

If you don't write in first person, or write from another character's viewpoint, then your narrator will likely form an opinion about your genderless character, and that opinion may say something about your narrator.

Sorry that's not more definitive, but society is in an awkward phase right now.

Comments for Genderless character

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Sep 02, 2015
great advice!
by: J

Thanks for the speedy response! having another character as the narrator is a great idea! :)

Oct 12, 2015
keeping the pronouns
by: Anonymous

would it be possible to just come out and say that the character is genderless and ditch gender-neutral prounouns?
i have a genderless character (though i think they're still trying to come to terms with what they feel) and the story is best written from their point of view. (3rd person limited)
could i get the point across through their inner dialogue and the actions of those around them? could i still call him "he" in my writing without creating confusion for the readers?

Oct 12, 2015
by: Glen

You might be able to outright describe your character as genderless and use male pronouns to refer to him, but it depends on the situation.

For instance, this might work for a robot or non-human character that really is genderless. In this case the male pronouns would be presumed neutral.

Or you might have a character born with a male body or who has had a male identity up to a certain point when he starts to acknowledge feeling more androgynous or female.

Where it gets tricky is...

* if you want the reader to feel what it's like to not have an assigned gender by putting them in the shoes of a character who doesn't have one.

* if want to distinguish between biological gender and gender identity. For instance, if you have a transgender character, someone with male anatomy but who identifies as female or androgynous, then s/he might find it invalidating or offensive to be called "he" by other people.

* if you want your narrator to present your character to the reader as androgynous despite what anatomy they may or may not have. For instance, if the anatomy says male but the pronouns say something different, that might help get across the idea of gender neutrality.

Oct 12, 2015
keeping the pronouns
by: Anonymous

oh, i hadnt even thought of that! as someone who struggles with gender identity, I personally do not find it demeaning or offensive to be called by a pronoun i don't identify with, but it is certainly not my intention to invalidate anyone who feels the opposite!

so my character is a human male, who, on his life path discovers he doesn't really think of himself as being male, or any gender for that matter. And as he lives in a setting where the concept of gender neutrality is literally unheard of, would it be wrong of me to keep his male pronouns? the concept of gender neutral pronouns would be unheard of to him as well.
Possibly another point I'd like to get across with this is the idea that true identity comes from within, not based on the opinions or actions of others. And the struggle of a man in a world that would never understand him.

ahaaa sorry for rambling and thank you for responding!

Oct 12, 2015
by: Glen

Well quite. So your character would be used to being called "he" by others, and they will be quite used to calling him "he."

But what happens as he starts to grow less comfortable with that identity? What happens as he tries to change his identity? Will others be willing to accept his transition and call him "she"? Does he want that? What form will his change take? How important to him is other people's acknowledgment and acceptance?

Consider some of the dimensions of gender...

Physical: Is this body male, female, asexual, or hermaphrodite?

Attraction: Is this person attracted to males, females, both, or neither?

Identity (internal): Does this person see themselves as male, female, neuter, or something else (perhaps a 3rd gender)?

Identity (external): Does this person present themselves to the world as male, female, or androgynous (by dress, mannerisms, social behaviour, etc.)?

Brain gender: Is this person a linear or holistic thinker?

Bear in mind that there may be many combinations of the above dimensions, and some may be more fluid than others. For example, some people's attraction and identity may change throughout their life, but they may never change their body except superficially. Other people may be more fixed in their identity but not attraction, and vice versa.

Oct 13, 2015
keeping the pronouns
by: Anonymous

thanks for all the food for thought. I have a lot more to reconsider before i fully develop my character. thanks for the helpful insight!

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