Thursday, February 6, 2014

How To Write Non-Binary Gender Characters

It became patently obvious to me that I was taking this business of non-binary gender characters in Science Fiction completely wrong. And I thank the delightful Sarah Hoyt for this insight.

In simple easy to understand terms the answer is: Don't write Cardboard Characters.

Now, if you are unable to understand what it is to be a human being, and what it is to reflect the multiple internal tensions at play in the typical human heart, then you cannot depict the manly man who has a soft spot in his heart for his mother's knitted hat.

If you can't depict a character as humans are in real life, then you have to create some mash-up of all the stereotypes associated with the victim group you're trying to bean count. Oh, i need more gays in my story, so I'll make one of the women a softball player, and make one of the guys a hairdresser. I've railed against this sort of insulting stereotyping earlier.

While writers I follow were having too-much fun writing about non-binary gender characters in Science Fiction, I was writing a story wherein the POV character has to deal with an astrophysicist named A. Dankhopf. As you can probably guess, this sets up the POV character who expects to meet a German man, when the character later proves to be an Indian woman.

The mistaken identity trick has been done by writers since well before Shakespeare, probably the Ancient Greeks.

Then it occurred to me how Schrodinger's cat can help the Science Fiction writer in search of a non-binary gender character.

If you nodded off during Quantum Mechanics class, you may have missed a gedanken experiment wherein a sealed box is populated with a cat, a vial of poison gas, a hammer, and a radioactive source. Then some fiddly bits are added to cause the hammer to break the vial when the radioactive source emits a particle. The magic of Quantum Mechanics is something called "superposition" wherein the cat is both alive and dead until you open the box and look in.

Now, you'd think that, nine-lives notwithstanding, a cat is in a binary state of being either all alive or all dead. But in this experiment the cat is half-living and half-dead until you observe the system. I used this gimmick in my anthology Finding Time.

In this same Quantum Mechanical sense I was writing a non-binary gender character because until the hero observes A. Dankhopf, s/he is half-boy and half-girl. I feel so Politically Correct.

You can, too, just put your manly man in a girly hat, maybe name him Jayne, and until that character is actually observed, you can rely upon quantum superposition to maintain that you have a non-binary gender character.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Those more worthy than I: