Writing Genderless Characters in a Fictional Dystopia

First off I want to preface this post by saying that I’m not an authority on either biology or gender studies. I read a couple of books on gender studies back at university and a solid amount of material on gender representation in fictional texts and the media. I’m learning new things every week and I like to keep an open mind to new information. So, if I’m off the mark, please let me know.

The second thing I want to mention is the context of my current WIP. It’s a YA fiction, dystopian novel that’s set two-hundred years from now in a society that’s recognisable — but different in a lot of ways. One of those ways is the lack of prejudice surrounding sexuality, race or gender. Everything is about class structure; A society through the lens of Wall Street in the White House, instead of elected officials.

Due to the specific makeup of my fictionalised society — one that’s eighty years removed from the end of a major overpopulation crisis — immigration hasn’t been a thing for a long time, and non-heterosexual relationships were encouraged back in the day, due to heterosexual relationships being the leading cause in people.

So, as a result of all of this, gender roles aren’t something that’s understood or accepted by my characters living in 2200s. Class roles very much are, and so people are still treated in abhorrent ways for something that’s out of their control. My protagonist, she comes face to face with gender roles from the old-world and shows how she feels about them.

She. I’ve used my first pronoun to describe a character. Now — It’s my understanding that sex and gender are two completely different things. Sex is biological and gender is a societal construct based on acquired understandings of what it means to be either masculine or feminine — or both or neither or somewhere that floats sporadically between the two.

For the ease of writing a piece of fiction with a multitude of characters, particularly characters who’re predominantly teenagers, I use the pronouns of that characters biological sex — but they very much do not conform to any kind of gender role. The easiest way to describe it in modern-terms, would be that I write all of my characters as ‘agender’. Even though that’s not a term my characters would use.

Because again, labels are not something that this society has had to think about for a long time.

Now, this doesn’t mean I have trans-erasure in my current WIP. I’ve read a lot of thoughts from different trans activists on how biological sex is up for debate in the same way as gender theory — of which I’ve read both sides of the argument from trans people, and don’t know enough yet to know where I stand beyond, “people should be who they want to be and I’m no authority because I don’t have a full understanding”.

My novel doesn’t really deal with those issues, as my fictional society became accepting on trans people a long time ago — if I have a character that’s labelled ‘she’, she could easily also be read as a trans woman.

It’s my personal opinion, based on what I’ve read about gender studies, that we’re all technically agender. If gender is a social construct and we want to remove the idea that a colour, item, clothing style, toy etc is associated with a specific binary gender, then we need to start stripping the power gender has to control and type someone.

I also understand that even though I personally believe that every single human is a genderless canvas to be painted or not-painted upon, because I don’t think that any of things listed above should be described as either masculine or feminine — we currently don’t live in a society that shares those views. And so I understand why people identify specifically as agender (or another synonymous word) because they’ve faced prejudice for being who they want to be in this world, and a label helps people who won’t be hostile, recognise who you are.

I’ve had the fortune of being able to be who I want to be, regardless of the perceptions of that action, without receiving any hatred for it. I’m a biological male, and I’ve had regular comments throughout my life about something I’ve done being “feminine” or “girly”, but I’ve always taken them as compliments that my own perspective in this world can’t be gendered.

That’s my own experience — I would never begrudge anyone who would shift their labelled identity as a result of how they feel, as that’s the best part about gender — it’s a construct. It’s all as equally valid as it is invalid — in my opinion.

My fictional society assumes that the prejudices are no longer there. It has its own, screwed up problems — but nobody hates another person for doing/wearing/being something that is perceived as masculine or feminine; Everyone does what they want because they can.

So in that, my characters are written as gender-neutral, as far as outward appearance, hobbies, behaviours and characteristics go. I’m still using gendered pronouns to refer to their biological sex, which means (again, to clarify) that if I’ve written ‘he’, that person could easily be a trans-man.

I’ve been told by a lot of people that my female characters are stronger than my male characters, as far as accurately portraying thoughts and feelings goes. I’ve also read that people who identify one way, shouldn’t try and write the perspective of another identity, which I disagree with, as that’s one of the core skills of being a writer; Empathic to other world views enough to portray them as accurately as possible. Otherwise all stories written by women would feature only women etc.

I haven’t even touched on sexual orientation in this post, as that’s something else entirely, maybe I will another time.

Dystopian fiction is about finding a broken part of modern society and taking it to the Nth degree. I chose wealth inequality for my WIP. As a result of that, and given that two-hundred years have passed, gender isn’t really an issue in my world. At the same time, I understand that it’s a topic which is hotly debated in modern society.

The best fiction is relatable to the reader in the time that they’re reading it in — So my hope is that by having genderless characters, any and all readers will be able to relate to them in some way.

This has been an open discussion of my thoughts on writing fictional characters in 2018 that live in a dystopian 2219. I’d love to know how anyone feels about this, as I believe the subject and dialogue should be as fluid as gender is.

Today is Tuesday, August 7th and ‘Agave Maria’ is the name of my debut album for sure.

Tip My Jar?

If you like what I write and can spare a dollar, then it’d be a greatly appreciated act of kindness! If you like what I write and can’t spare a dollar then I greatly appreciate you! If you hate what I write and also can’t spare a dollar, then why are you still reading this?


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