Non-human nonbinary characters


#1

Now, this is something that I’ve been wondering about for a while, and having seen a similar question posted by another author (@Lorikeet’s comment here), I decided to take the initiative and ask what people’s feelings about non-human characters identifying as nonbinary?

Since I don’t know @Lorikeet’s character, I’ll talk about one I have plans for (in my currently-on-hiatus WIP Countdown to World’s End). One of the more major characters (and potentially an RO) would be essentially a robotic lifeform, who does not see themself as either male or female. However, I’m not certain whether calling a robot (or other non-human character) “nonbinary” would be seen as offensive, and I certainly don’t want to do that. If any nonbinary people could hep me out, I would be very grateful, and sorry if anything I’ve said has been offensive.

As an aside, the robot would not be the only nonbinary character. Another major character (and definite RO) would be genderfluid (and they would be human), and there would certainly be other nonbinary characters in more minor roles.

@moderators: I didn’t feel that this question fit any prior topic, but if you disagree, please feel free to move it.


#2

I don’t think anything you’ve said here has been offensive. And all this is just my personal opinion, so any other nb people feel free to disagree, but I don’t necessarily think it’s that big of a deal.

I know this is something that other people have brought up before–having more than one example of a minority doesn’t completely exempt a creator from doing offensive things, but it really helps. So yeah, one non-human nonbinary character might seem like “oh well you’re saying nonbinary is something that isn’t human, since the only character you have that is it isn’t a real person” but since you have another one, I can’t really make that argument. There’s a human one right there, of course you aren’t saying it’s inhuman, just that this one non-human character is also nonbinary.

This is a really thoughtful and considerate question so I kinda feel like I should have a more elaborate answer, but I really don’t. You’re establishing within the story and characters that you don’t feel like being nonbinary is something that’s less human, so I don’t think there’s an issue with exploring alternate gender identities for nonhuman characters as well, which is something I’m very supportive of given that oftentimes it seems like nonhuman creatures just sort of have human gender identities just because and it’s kinda dumb.

This really doesn’t ring any alarm bells at all, it sounds completely fine to me.


#3

I do tend to like playing with how gender, sex, and sexuality work for nonhumans :thinking: plus I’d generally think that different sorts of nonhumans would have different implications…

I mean, I certainly see the gender binary ascribed to robots and other artificial intelligences. I guess I would ask where their gender identity would come from? I expect some programmers would program them with human gender identities (including nb ones!) deliberately, but others might not really worry about gender identity :thinking: Or, if they’re programmed to emulate human nervous systems, they might in turn emulate the human range of identities. Then, I wonder, if a robot is created with a fairly blank slate mind, would interacting with humans lead the robot to develop a gender identity, or would the fact that there’s no hard-wired gender identity mean that the robot would effectively be agender? :thinking: I mean, gender isn’t something you choose as a human, but for a being who could influence their own programming, maybe that would be different?
(I’m also reminded of Choice of Robots… that allows you to choose what pronouns to use for your robot creation…)

Aliens could open up rather different possibilities… for example, thinking of a species with three reproductive types, they could then have a whole range of nontrinary identities!


#4

So er, yes, coming out to the forum as enby at last. And I’m terribly nervous but it’s time so there we go.

I absolutely agree with @HomingPidgeon’s take. Since you have multiple other human nonbinary characters (not even just one other but multiple! huzzah), then I don’t feel that a robot who is nonbinary is problematic.

I have a robot character in Beastie Watch who was created by aliens and doesn’t subscribe to human gender at all, because to this particular robot, human gender makes sense for humans maybe but not for their particular variety of mechanical life forms.

I would assume it varies by robot, depending on who created them and why, and on the robots themselves? But it would be a little stranger to me to assume that sentient machines would necessarily fall along traditional human gender terms, or biological gender terms of any flesh life-form, than to assume that perhaps they wouldn’t.

The two types of nonhuman nonbinary characters that might get a suspicious glance from me (and much less so if there are plenty of other nonbinary characters) are monsters, or fey. The monster/broken parallel is I think fairly plain, particularly if a monster is your only nonbinary character. Especially if Dr. Frankenstein-style monsters are identified with intersex people. (Yes, I have seen this. Yes, it was awful.)

With fey, it always harkens back a bit to that old awful ‘changeling’ idea, which identified children who didn’t come in line with the norm as somehow broken replacements of humans, and not actual people. -_- That said, if a book were full of nonbinary humans, monsters, and fey it wouldn’t necessarily be problematic then. (That actually sounds rather fun…)

Sorry though, I’m blathering and basically saying the same thing as everyone else has said. But I’m excited about a book with multiple nonbinary characters. :D


#5

This is less about about the robot thing, but more thinking along the lines of aliens, or potentially fantasy creatures… could be interesting to look at how some of the nonhumans here on Earth are like, and then consider what they might be like if they were expressing their identities :thinking: there is some pretty phenomenal diversity out there.

Like, I’ve seen science fiction that deals with alien species with a system similar to a bee hive, with workers, queens, and drones… but say we apply a little of our LGBTQ thinking here… if they’re able to express their identities, you might get, say, a designated-at-birth-drone feeling more like a queen, or a designated-at-birth queen feeling more like a worker… and could have individuals that don’t identify with any of those categories… or maybe someone who identifies as queen-and-worker, which would both seem female by our human categories, but would be a nontrinary identity to that species… or going off of some ants, there might be some with a soldier category as well… so… lots of identity possibilities that don’t even match human identities :thinking:

Then I’d wonder what would happen with a species where it’s normal for physical sex to change due to environmental conditions or due to age. I guess the cis-equivalent would be for the gender identity to shift as well, but maybe some would maintain the same identity, or a mixture of the identities, and be equivalent to trans and/or nonbinary as a result :thinking: Perhaps they would consider having a single gender identity across one’s whole lifespan to be “queer.”

I think it’d be interesting to consider stuff like that when portraying aliens, but I do worry a bit about whether there could be some Unfortunate Implications in there when compared with Earth people… but I would be interested in seeing what sort of possibilties the universe would have to offer, and aliens shouldn’t really work like humans… they should seem alien… so it would be bad to imply that there’s something alien about nonbinary identities, but could be interesting to look into what alien nonbinary identities could be like :thinking:

Congratulations on coming out, and thank you for telling us :slight_smile: what pronouns would you like?


#6

They/them; thank you!

Yes, I agree! I was studying sea life when thinking through alien species, especially seahorses and bdelloid rotifers but also others, and wondering what it might be like to take an entirely separate set of premises to gender, sexuality, and so forth. Although as you say, a good deal of care would need to be taken so as not to imply anything unfortunate. Having a diverse cast of humans along with the aliens would help, of course…or possibly having an all-alien cast? (Again of course, thoughtfulness required.)


#7

I’m kind of exploring that a little in a way in my wip? Not really monsters/fae/aliens but the spirits in it are semi-inspired by trickster-type spirits and fae and most of them look pretty monstrous. Though maybe not so much in-depth exploring but more like??? It’s kinda there??? And maybe talked about sometimes???

It’s kind of weird since they’re not really born since they can’t reproduce so even the ones called male or female usually can’t be cis or trans (though I feel like those wouldn’t be entirely like the human version of male and female and more like the closest equivalents that could be explained in human-like terms???)? Saying usually since there’s one with a very minor role that was created by a human and then called a “he” so that’s a little like being assigned a gender at birth

There’s also one scene that I’m thinking about having where one spirit is asked about gender/pronouns and just answers “I don’t understand this question,” points out that it’s more or less a sentient mass of concrete and steel, and points out how humans tend to try to gender even inanimate objects

From thinking about all this (and some more that I haven’t typed down because that would make this post too long) at once, my human characters (both binary and nonbinary) are feeling so much simpler…

I really wish nonbinary identities (or really alternate systems I guess) were explored more in sci-fi and fantasy in ways besides “horrifying squid monster” or having human gender binary qualities forced onto them though. I’ve read a few that I’ve found really cool but some things felt kind of… ‘eh’ at best…