Historical Fantasy - Writing LGBTQ+ (Nonbinary+)

I have a knack for finding new topics to think about. This week, I bring to you the question of writing nonbinary MCs into a historical fantasy where there is forms of sexism or gendered differences. I would prefer to write it as it’s own thing, I was wondering what thoughts would be on there being a tertiary gender that is accepted within the story due to a historical association of (if outdated) asexuality amongst the gods.

Then being agender might be something that is almost praised, particularly non-gendered presentation.

But really I am looking for input on how to write it, even I myself as a nonbinary person am unsure of how to approach it in a way that would feel… right? I know some people just have you select a more outward presentation of one gender or another, but I personally find that kind of … odd. I like the idea of just including a cultural form of nonbinary into the story.

For reference, the setting is loosely based off of Tang Dynasty China, a period of rapid growth and prosperity, a golden age. It was not entirely uncommon for women to host positions of power, and for them to even wear men’s clothes in some occasions (for convenience when riding on horses or otherwise).

In general though, discussion on inclusion of nonbinary characters or how to approach queerness in a way that feels grounded would be nice. (I think of I, the Forgotten One in terms of a story where it feels like the gay romance is grounded).

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Have you done much research on real-world cultures that recognize(d) more than two genders? A good way to prepare yourself to imagine what could be is to make sure you’re broadly informed about what is. You won’t necessarily want to copy any of the real-world models - many societies used the concept of a third gender basically to allow biological males to adopt what was essentially a feminine role - but it’ll give you some idea of the ways humans have tried to categorize themselves in ways that go beyond biological sex.

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I apologize in advance for machine translation (English has never been my strong suit).
Speaking of the above-mentioned question - personally, an elegant solution to Kyle Marquis’ trilogy about Pont Para comes to my mind - An example: (The shroud is the traditional attire in all three kingdoms of those who are neither male nor female.) Yes, this is not a historical fantasy - but it is a great example, and since, let’s be honest, fantasy initially has a deliberate narrowing or other conditioned deviations from historical accuracy, then it has the right to be in my dissertation
. For example, in Stevenson’s “Black Arrow 4”: At the time when the events described in our story took place, Richard the Hunchback was not yet the Duke of Gloucester; but, with the reader’s permission, we will call him so for greater clarity. (Author’s note.).
So to introduce a non-binary MCS - you just need to suggest the right background. Although I have no idea about the period under consideration - I would venture to assume that there were eunuchs (as an option - why not?), as well as wandering monks or other religious and other sects. As they say here, only your imagination limits. Well, if you use the “classic” technique - the beginning from the middle and the reader (in the animated series, the viewer), tacitly agrees with the established rules, without explanation - (at first he agreed, then returned to the beginning and to the beginning of the legends.) - thus, long-term disputes about the rules are terminated, isn’t it?).
Another option: just a glossary with notes about changes in the vision of the world - for example, here are asexual angels, or like a Plague Doctor’s mask Peter Parrish, of the non-binary deities. And people decide, and we are the worse - we are similar, or a reflection (vision) Gods.
That’s how the reasoning turned out.
And finally: at least one ancient Egyptian pharaoh is known in history, and one of the popes was actually a woman, in Japan Onna-bugeisha (female warriors) - but this does not mean that for convenience they defended themselves by someone else.
Your HungryforTales, with the wishes of all the best)! - Curtain

It’s almost universally accepted among scholars that this was an urban legend. There’s no account of her to be had whatsoever until several centuries after her supposed lifetime, when suddenly the story blew up all over Europe. The persistence of the legend probably owes more to shabby record keeping and schismatic rumormongering than anything else. The best evidence for the legend being true is that one account placed the story at a date that would have been slightly more historically plausible than that more commonly cited, and a pope that apparently had two different versions of his monogram.

As for pharaohs (I assume you’re referring to the existence of female pharaohs, specifically), there were indeed several women who served in that role, but I’m not sure how that’s relevant here. Unlike the papacy, there was no requirement that the pharaoh be male, and the women who served in that role did so openly and legitimized their authority the same way male pharaohs did, on the basis of lineage. Like the British rules of succession until about ten years ago, the Egyptian rules favored male heirs, but ultimately the lineage was the most important thing. Elizabeth Tudor, Victoria, and Elizabeth Windsor inherited crowns their fathers had once worn because they had no living brothers or older sisters, not because they were gender transgressive.

There’s actually quite a lot of evidence that the ancient Egyptians did have some concept of a third gender, but none of it has to do with the existence of female pharaohs.

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Well, at least this is a reason for reflection, which, by the way, is also not bad. However, shouldn’t we go back to the main question? After all, whether it was or not does not give an answer to how to come up with a concept and introduce it into the lore. For this reason, I believe that any legend can be used, if not as a cornerstone, then as one of the many bones in this type of genre.
By the way, where is this head-washing about samurai maidens (yes, yes is the wrong term,)?
Your HungryforTales, with best wishes)! - Curtain

To be honest, I’m not a fan of this idea: one of the things I love about being non-binary is that the cultures I’m from either don’t or refuse to acknowledge my gender, which frees me from any expectations or roles specific to who I actually am. But it’s an interesting concept. The only thing that comes to mind is the obvious: whatever the traditional assumptions about men and women in your fictional world are, nonbinary folks could be presumed to be a balance of the more ‘extreme’ or ‘negative’ or ‘niche’ traits/roles. The concept of people being naturally balanced between certain personality traits strictly based on gender would be very limiting, frustrating, and dehumanizing in an almost pedestal-way. Like you’re expected to transcend trivial humanity despite being completely human yourself.

I can also see how non-gender conforming nonbinary folks in this context (embracing your story’s standards for masculinity/femininity or being fluid in identity or presentation) would have a weird expectation to be androgynous or to constantly monitor their emotions. That’s some bullshit we already do sort of navigate IRL tho, so :man_shrugging:t5:

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Response to @hotmess.exe :
I find myself a bit confused in where you believe that nonbinary would have to become a mix of androgyny, instead of it being its own thing.

I feel like there is a lot of assumptions made here about what it might look like, but I was thinking of something more spirit related. There could be a principle, for example, related to the belief of rebirth and connection to the earth, that means that sex is something that culturally some people believe only really matters within the current moment and so it does not truly matter, and the exploration of that philosophy evolved into a third gender that directly absconds from the expectations of the other two.

I am a bit confused about your sentiment that, due to the fact that they would dress differently, it must inherently mean they would seek to be androgynous instead of a tertiary thing of their own. Like I said in my original post, I myself am nonbinary, and I also don’t conform to the idea of becoming ‘perfectly androgynous’ so people can be confused enough to gender me correctly.

Response to @HungryforTales :
Eunuchs do exist in this world, serving as the Imperial families servants. I originally played with the idea of the gender originating from them but I felt there would be a cultural association with sexlessness that I would find unappealing. The whole ‘point’ of castration for them was to ‘remove sexual desires’ so they were safe working around the courtly women, I presume, so I feel it would be strange.

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Um, I don’t think it would have to, I thought the original post was fishing for brainstorming fictional sexism? That’s what my brain stormed. I don’t believe any of the ideas I stated actually apply to sex, gender, or presentation irl. Maybe my assumption was that this was supposed to have tones of bigotry and misinformation, specifically since you wanted it to be due to a historical association of outdated god mythology?

It’s possible I just don’t understand your original post. Feel free to ignore me.

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I’m open to there being some forms of bigotry with nonbinary characters, since I myself face it and would love the chance to write an angry retort. But I would not place the root of that bigotry upon not being ‘androgynous’ enough. It would probably be related to disagreements on the core belief of the existence of nonbinary in and of itself, or the idea that removing sex as a result of the fact that it is only an aspect of yourself with your current incarnation.

I do think it would be weird for there to be forms of sexism for men and women but none for nonbinary people. The point of the post was trying to discover other peoples thoughts of how to write that and not to just not do it at all. Historical fiction exploring forms of this is normal, usually people just write out the existence of nonbinary people when they do try to explore it, I am trying to broaden the horizons I guess?

Response to @HungryforTales :
Thank you friend for the reply! I hope you rest well :slight_smile:

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And then, in my time zone, I was going to sleep - when everything suddenly became interesting - (oh, horror).
Well, since we are all people, we are struggling about metaphorical years, like a metaphorical fish, was it worth waiting for an answer (brilliant or not) on such a complex - almost fundomental question)?
But we all deviated from the goal, didn’t we.).
Yes, in Chinese mythology, you can definitely find something related to spirits, ghosts and gods, which would allow you to set the desired framework for an expensive autor.
With eunuchs, monks and others, we need to remain open-minded, restrain our anger and try to be unconvinced if this gives us some kind of clue - use it!).
Yes, this is a lot of topics for reflection, (wow, I’m going to have another restless dream​:innocent:), but again, no one climbs into your head and can’t impose on you any style that you wouldn’t like (you don’t like it, and all that​:grin:), but if the gears in the motor start moving, it’s good (:worried: I hope it’s good, - please let it be good.). So I hope at least a little something helped, let’s stick to the first-night road and all together we’ll get ahead with our aunt before our roads part.)
Your HungryforTales, with best wishes)! - Curtain

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On another note, just wanted to pose the fact that making gender selectable romances feels impossible in a setting where gender really does matter. I am feeling like 2 of them will be gender selectable and the rest will be set because otherwise I’ll be stuck writing a lot of extra stuff, holy shit.

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I think that one thing to be aware of is that our cultural understanding of what life was like in the past is not actually what life was like. For example, Medieval Europe is generally seen as very homophobic, but it really wasn’t, at least when compared to the later Renaissance period (when Britain and the Holy Roman Empire started executing people for homosexuality)… which is also why we view earlier periods as being just as homophobic, even though they weren’t.

On the whole, the Medieval Catholic Church didn’t really do anything about homosexuality, and while some religious leaders were definitely not fans, others saw it as perfectly normal, or, at worst, only worth mild chastisement. Indeed, there were even “brotherhood” ceremonies which were used as a Medieval form of gay marriage. Now, there would definitely have been issues, especially for powerful men who were expected to marry and produce heirs, and being a king’s boyfriend was definitely a way to make powerful enemies in court, but it’s certainly far more complex than just “history was homophobic”.

Granted “gay men in Medieval Europe” isn’t exactly the same topic as “nonbinary people in Tang China”, but I feel that a similar outlook should work here: what we view as “historical accuracy” is often wrong, and usually errs far more in favour of bigotry than what was actually true.

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Yes, history does tend to be predisposed to extremes, I suppose. Would you be open to discussion in private? I’d like to expand on this a bit with some more detail.

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Well, that’s a good point of view. But then again, what’s great about the fiction genre is that we’re free to tell any authenticity to go to hell.
Well, now it became interesting for me to follow the progress of this work - let it someday see the light.
Your HungryforTales, with best wishes)! - Curtain

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I definitely wouldn’t mind talking, although I don’t know how much help I’d be (most of my knowledge comes from Wikipedia… :sweat_smile:)

Completely agreed. I just find that often that “authenticity” isn’t even authentic in the first place. :sweat_smile:

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I have found it a little jarring sometimes in CoG games where like, you are in a rural viking-themed setting in a hamlet of about 6 people and your younger sibling at 3 years old tells you that they are nonbinary and would like you to refer to them by these specific pronouns now, when irl in the modern day I didn’t even fully understand what being gay meant or that I was gay until I was almost 20 because I was from a small town

But on the other hand eh, it isn’t going to be improving most people’s experiences if that sort of thing was changed. I would be interested in the rare game now and then where you can work through a more angsty historical lgbt experience but not if such a game existing would upset a lot of people

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I think for me it is always about the fact that there is not a real effort to truly integrate those things into a story beyond it being accepted. Like, I’m developing an in universe reason for why nonbinary people are just a thing in the universe, but most of the time for historical fantasy they just say it’s always been accepted. It always feels weird for me when people write gendered differences, then nonbinary people just get shafted usually by being unacknowledged or put in an awkward spot. If the woman gets questioned about her being a soldier, and the man gets questioned for crying publicly after a bad battle, then what the hell does the nonbinary person possibly face shegrin for other than their own existence?

While I, the Forgotten One doesn’t go fully into depth over the oppression of the MC if they romance Obren, I think that might be an element in time regarding their public perception if the blooming relationship becomes known.{Obren is the gay romance option, who can develop a slow romantic connection with the MC.}

Anyway, I think for a culture where it is accepted generally, there would still be some forms of oppression. Even now there are oppressive elements for queer people in modern western settings let alone other places.

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While I don’t necessarily disagree with this, I do dislike the idea that making a queer character (or another minority) is essentially a “bigotry switch” whereby playing as yourself will make the game much harder than playing as a cishet (or white, etc) character. I’m not saying to not write about bigotry, but I feel that in interactive fiction, such stories generally work best if the MC is always a target of bigotry, or if the choice to face such bigotry is separate from choices involving gender, sexuality, and skin colour.

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I don’t really think that there would be a ‘switch,’ no matter what gender you are, trans or cis, enby or binary, there are going to be oppressive elements that seek to define you regarding your gender. Being explicit about the presentation of those things in your own narrative and not condoning it though are two essentials in order for it not to be cringe.

Originally, I was going to have a ‘filtered’ mode to allow it to play without any forms of sexism or the like but I realized I am not really sure I want to write a story where it doesn’t matter. The nature of the story would mean sometimes, what you present yourself as does matter, be it your class or your gender. Sexuality I see playing a much less significant role overall, everything being considered (in that it is generally not public knowledge the way your gender or class would be.)

I can’t think of a straightforward way of answering your question, but maybe my thought process as to why I feel that way might give you some ideas on how you want to write your story.

If in your society, there is an accepted third gender, then you would not have a binary anymore. It would be tertiary. And I would assume that the people who are part of that third gender would have some expectations from society on how to act, dress, and speak (the same way it would be for men and women). Non-binary in this world (or to be consistent with the lore, non-tertiary) would be people who do not fall between the spectrum of these 3 gender pillars.

So if you want your 3rd gender to be spiritually related, like a monk or nun, you could take inspiration from the real world and start there. But I feel that in how you described what you want to create, non-binary and third-gender would be different things.

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