Both/neither, past/future

Yesterday was International Transgender Day of Visibility, and I’m delighted to have just sold a short story with a non-binary-gendered character. (I know ‘transgender’ and ‘non-binary’ aren’t synonymous, but they have some strong connections and so the coincidence feels fitting.)

I don’t have a gender identity myself, but it was Alex Dally MacFarlane’s recent articles which prompted me to finally write an obviously non-binary character. (And the rush of responses to the first article pointing out that I don’t exist. Obviously, I write from a place of pure joy and possibility, but an afternoon of livid seething did help me knuckle down and tackle the potential pronoun problem. )

I only have one worry: will my character’s non-binary gender be read as one of the SF elements? The ‘novum’, the cognitively estranging MacGuffin? Might SF accidentally imply that non-binary people don’t exist yet? (Suggesting that in the future there’ll be more than two genders has the same benefits and drawbacks as suggesting that after 2050 we’ll all be bisexual: it shackles an identity to a shaky progress narrative; it erases human complexity; and it sounds smug as a bug in a rug.)

I didn’t include my character to signify the white heat of futurity. The story’s a very near-future fiction (in fact, I hope it gets published soon or reality will catch up with it and trip over its extrapolations). It has a dozen not-futuristic bits – including students who work in bars and apply for rip-off internships – and the ungendered character is one of those now-bits. I’m not sure how to signal that.

I’m not a very futuristic person. I’ve got tweed trousers on while I’m writing this. If I have to wait until the future to be my (frankly humdrum) self, I’ll be peeved.

So yes to more gender diversity in SF. And it needs to be in all the other genres, also. Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility.



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One response to “Both/neither, past/future

  1. >em>I only have one worry: will my character’s non-binary gender be read as one of the SF elements? The ‘novum’, the cognitively estranging MacGuffin? Might SF accidentally imply that non-binary people don’t exist yet?

    It’s tricky. It’s like the trope where we can have non-binary or non-gendered robots, AIs, aliens, posthumans – but never humans, never us. When the alternative is not writing non-binary people, we’re in a bit of a difficult place, but one thing I want to do is ensure I start writing non-binary people in all genres: not just science fiction, but fantasy and literary as well. I think the only thing we can do is keep talking – whether through fiction or nonfiction, directly or via other means – until people stop seeing us as science fictional concepts.

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