Nonbinary character in a fantasy Victorian-esque setting?

Hi everyone, I’m thinking about writing a story set in a more LGBT-friendly version of Victorian England. I’d like to give players a nonbinary MC option, but I’m not sure how to write it in that setting.

  • What could be a good alternative to “My Lord/Lady” when servants speak to the MC? I was considering “My Liege”, but that sounds feudal, so I’m not sure.

  • Should the player have to choose between “feminine” lifestyle (tea parties, dressing up, a focus on marriage & kids, etc) vs “masculine” lifestyle (combat training, politics, business, etc)? Or would it be better to make the setting more liberal, and let all the characters freely choose their interests?

  • Wealthy Victorian fashion was very distinct for men and women - long elaborate gowns vs. trousers, vests, and coats. Is it better for the nonbinary MC to choose between the 2 traditional styles, or give them a more customized option?

Any help and opinions on these ideas are much appreciated!

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This may come over as a little bit of a copout, but if you want to be inclusive and LGBT friendly, give all the options to all the genders! Let a male MC wear gowns if he wants! Let the female MC wear the tailored suits! If you want to provide commentary, then you could sprinkle in a little reactive dialogue from other characters about how MC doesn’t dress in a gender conforming way, but on the other hand, it’s a fantasy setting; who’s to say the gender norms are the same? (or exist at all).

I’d definitely recommend not gendering the interests/lifestyles in that case.

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One thing I’d love to see, but never really have, is a world in which gender roles do exist but people who deviate from them are seen as mildly offbeat/refreshingly different rather than outright deviant.

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I like “Lairde”, which I found in a blog, but I don’t know how accepted that is.

I might actually be persuaded to play a female MC if that’s an option. (What can I say? I looove tailored suits.)

Seconded. (Also I’ll definitely need to go for that if I ever make that fantasy wolf game I’ve been pondering, so thanks for pointing that out! But I digress.)

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Hello! This is something I have done in my Crème de la Crème series which is not set in the real world but in an early-20th-century-flavoured non-heteronormative setting.

There is some interesting discussion in a variety of directions on the below thread which may be worth taking a look at:

As well as this post onwards on another thread:

I think it’s fine to offer a variety of options, but it depends on what you feel like doing really. There’s some fun gender-non-conforming costuming in the Gentleman Jack TV series which might be inspiring, for example, or Sarah Waters adaptations.

There is “your Grace”, “your Honour” or similar, or a made-up title. I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer there.

This is an interesting one - again I don’t think there’s really one right or wrong answer but it’s worth putting thought into how strict social norms/rules about masculinity or femininity would interact with a culture presented as LGBT-friendly (especially as the way some Victorians talked about being gay, for example, overlapped with how we might talk about being nonbinary today). I don’t think it’s impossible but it does complicate things.

As well as what @AletheiaKnights mentions, it’s also interesting to see settings that include gender norms/roles while departing from the structures that exist in the real world. A setting where men are expected to exert their power through afternoon tea etc, maybe.

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I know right? Back then, damn. The Gentlemans had good clothes…

Sigh if only lol

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That’s true about not necessarily having rigid gender roles. Since one of the key conflicts of the story would be classism, the social classes would need to be rigid, but the gender and sexuality aspects of the society can be flexible.

Thank you for the post links and the detailed reply! These are interesting discussions to read.

I really like that idea of someone refreshingly different. That’s an attitude I’d like to try to incorporate into the story.

Oh, Lairde is one I haven’t heard before but it sounds good. Also yes to tailored suits for everyone. And beautiful ball gowns for everyone. :slight_smile: This society likes its fancy, tailor-made styles.

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Since this is your world that you are building out, I suggest unmooring it from the “historical” (which changes with our evolving understanding every day) and creating your own traditions and protocols.

An off-the-cuff example: tea parties. In your world, perhaps, the tea party had further evolved into a necessary function of closing business deals and contracts and all business matters could not be completed without a tea service being done formally, by the main participants.

This would take tea parties out from one binary (if it ever was) and place it outside such a construct. The tea party then would be a tradition for all, as defined however you desire.

Taking research into such Victorian Age “realities” is only the beginning. It is what you do with what you find out that helps you make your setting and world building.

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“Liege” is what I ended up going with for an NPC (I liked keeping to the L-word theme and wanted a non-invented word), but I’ve seen people propose “Lairde” and “Layde”. There isn’t an exact real-world gender-neutral equivalent, unfortunately.

For a PC, you have the option of offering a choice of address and/or custom input. Maybe you could offer Lord, Lady, Leige, one or more invented words, and an option to fill in your own?

Unless the worldbuilding you’re going for is non-binary people are treated as a single, distinct gender, I think this is probably what a more LGBT-friendly titled society would converge on anyway. Forms of address (for the nobility, at least) become something people are simply expected to learn on a per-person basis.

English titles are already such a tangle of rules, inventions, and specific carve-outs. If Alan Brooke can be styled as Lord Alanbrooke/The Viscount Alanbrooke, I think something can be arranged for non-binary (courtesy) peers in LGBT-friendlier Victorian England.

Depending on how much Victorian and how much -esque you want in your Victorian-esque England, I would probably stay away from “Your Grace,” as that is used to address dukes and duchesses. “Your Honour” is a solid choice if you’re only needing a third option in “My Lord/My Lady”, somewhat less so if you want a third option for “Lord X/Lady X”.

IRL, a man referred to (in writing) as The Honourable John Smith is lower in the pecking order than a man referred to as The Lord John Smith. Both of them are of course lower than a man referred to as Lord Smith, who is in turn lower than a man referred to (again, all in writing) as The Lord Smith. (Things are somewhat less complicated in speech. But only slightly.)

Explanation

“Lord” and “Lady” are often lumped in with other titles like like “Mister,” “Doctor,” and “Professor,” but in the English peerage system they work quite differently.

Doctor John Smith and Doctor Smith are the same person, but Lord John Smith and Lord Smith are very much not. (This is something a lot of media, including many COG titles with English nobility, get wrong.)

It’s pretty complicated, but generally “Lord” and “Lady” are used to refer to (1) people with titles or (2) people without titles who are married to/descended from a titled person. Aka, courtesy titles.

People with Titles

English titles have the form [Rank] (of) [Title Name], like Duke of Westminster or Earl Spencer. All peers lower than the rank of Duke or Duchess are referred to (informally) as Lord/Lady [Title Name].

James Doe, 4th Earl of Wellbottom is Lord Wellbottom. Seymour Branch, 2nd Baron Branch is Lord Branch.

Lord Doe, Earl Wellbottom, and Lord Seymour Branch are all wrong.

People with Courtesy Titles

Horrendously complicated, but the very basic version is wives and heirs apparent (usually eldest sons) of titled nobility can be called Lord/Lady as if they had a title of their own, and non-heir children of high-ranking nobility can be called Lord/Lady [Forename] [Surname].

Tangent about Spouses

Note that only wives of male peers get courtesy titles. Husbands of peers and wives of female peers do not, though you can certainly change that in your own world. One obstacle I ran into was that while the wife of Lord Blowhard could be Lady Blowhard, the husband of Lord Blowhard couldn’t also be Lord Blowhard.

I ended up deciding a spouse with their own (courtesy) title would continue to use their own or hyphenate, and untitled spouses would use Mr/Ms/Ind/etc in front. So the husband of Jane Doe, Countess of Greenshrub would be Mr Lady Greenshrub or the Mr Countess of Greenshrub.

I thought it fit a less gender-discriminatory but still highly classist society.

Suppose John Smith, 11th Marquess of Backwater, 8th Earl Highhorse, 9th Viscount Rugburn has an older son named John II and a younger son named John III. And John II has a son named John IV, who himself has a son named John V.

John Smith, 11th Marquess of Backwater, 8th Viscount of Highhorse, and 9th Viscount Rugburn is Lord Backwater, for reasons explained earlier.

John Smith II has no title, but as heir apparent he can “borrow” one of his father’s unused ones, and be styled John Smith II, Earl of Highhorse, or Lord Highhorse.

His own heir apparent (John IV), could borrow his grandfather’s third title and be styled as Lord Rugburn. There isn’t another title for John V, but as the family has no barony, there’s a practice where John V could be styled as Lord Smith, as if the family held a barony with the title name of Smith.

Meanwhile, John Smith III, as a non-inheriting son, doesn’t get any pretend titles. But as his father is a Marquess, he is referred to as Lord John Smith, or Lord John out of courtesy. If his father was instead an earl or lower, he’d only be addressed as Sir or Mr Smith to his face, and The Honourable John Smith III on envelopes.

And this is how you can have 5 Johns Smiths, all with different names.


So to return to the initial point, if you see ___ on an envolope:

  • The Honourable John Smith – implies a younger son of an earl or a son of a lower-ranking peer
  • The Lord John Smith – implies a younger son of a high-ranking peer
  • Lord Smith – implies recipient is a courtesy baron (higher ranked courtesy nobility would have mail addressed to [Courtesy Rank] (of) Title)
  • The Lord Smith – implies recipient has a barony called Smith (higher ranked nobility would have mail addressed to The [Rank] (of) Title)

Can you tell I’ve gone deep into this rabbit hole for my own project? If you find this stuff interesting, you can read more at

You don’t have to follow real life, of course.

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That was super interesting! Now I want to make a game in that kind of system just so that I can use it.

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Wow, that is a complex system! It’s cool to learn about. I’ve thought over the options, and I’m thinking to use a created title for the nobility. “Sol” or “Lux” or something along those lines, in place of Lord/Lady. :slight_smile:

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If you want an excellent example of how clothing can be handled, check out The Play’s the Thing. It’s more Renaissance than Victorian, but it posits a world where certain clothes are recognized as pertaining to masculinity or femininity, but it’s not unusual or frowned upon to wear whatever you want.

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