Introducing Agender Characters
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative! These last couple weeks, we’ve talked about some of the dos and don’t of writing agender characters. This week, we’re going to focus in on introducing agender characters to your stories. The list below talks about some good (and not so good) ways you might introduce the fact that a character is agender to your story!
As always, this is the best method of introducing agender characters. Giving your character agency over their own identity and allowing them to explain their gender in their own way is beautiful. Since agender folx exist along such a wide spectrum, this also gives you the chance to delve deeper into how your character feels about their gender identity — whether they experience only a partial connection to gender, a lack of gender, or simply don’t want gender to be the primary thing that defines them.
This also works well in fantasy or historical fiction, where a term like “agender” might not be setting-appropriate. Introducing agender characters to these sorts of stories by allowing them to explain their gender keeps them from being in an erasure-esque, vaguely undefined non-binary space, and helps your audience connect with your character’s experience!
Everything is far too gendered in media (and the world, frankly). Sometimes you can get away with introducing agender characters by just simply not making a thing of their gender.
This might involve using gender-neutral or neopronouns for them, or it might simply look like everybody in a space just casually acknowledging that the character has no gender. This can be cool, but it runs the risk of erasure or misunderstanding, since it’s easy to lump “this person’s gender is unimportant” into a larger “nonbinary” box. However, folx who resonate with this attitude toward gender might really connect with your character, regardless of their label, and that can be a very powerful thing!
The Friend Explanation
I’ve talked about this previously, but this is basically when someone else takes on the task of explaining an agender character’s identity (and, oftentimes, the very concept of the gender binary). This is useful because it serves to educate the audience, while also demonstrating that the burden of education should not fall solely on the shoulders of the queer person in question.
Introducing agender characters this way isn’t always ideal — sometimes, only a queer person can speak their own most authentic truth. It is a lot better than a lot of other options, but just be sure you do your research!
You can signal that a character is generally non-binary through the use of gender-neutral pronouns for them, but this is rather inexact. If you’re aiming for a specifically agender character, then eventually their gender is going to have to be explained — there simply isn’t an agender-specific pronoun set.
The only pronouns that you might be able to argue are agender-specific are nameself pronouns — which, if you’ll recall from my previous post about neopronouns, refers to when a person doesn’t use any third-person singular pronouns. Still, this will likely necessitate an explanation — either because the characters surrounding the character in question don’t understand why they can’t use pronouns for the character, or because the difference between using and not using pronouns might be too subtle for your audience to catch, especially for a minor character.
I touched on this in my tropes post, but a common part of the “Mysterious Stranger” trope is that their gender is unknown. This could be a cool opportunity to play into a trope, and then turn the trope on its head a bit and just out and say that the mysterious stranger, even after being revealed, doesn’t have a gender.
I personally think there’s a lot of space for this, but be extremely careful that you don’t turn the mysterious stranger’s gender identity into the butt of a joke!
Introducing agender characters by making them too aloof or noncommittal to even care about gender is kind of missing the point. Agender characters are likely to care deeply about how their gender is perceived, because it shows whether or not they’re being seen for who they are.
Equating genderlessness with a simple lack of caring or passion is dehumanizing and reductive toward agender folx. Not to mention, too, that aloofness and laziness are pretty universally coded as negative traits. An agender character can certainly be uncaring, but don’t make their gender the result of that character trait.
I’ve talked about this one a lot, so I’m not going to belabor the point. Gender ≠ Human. Not all humans have genders.
Agender people are human. A non-human character might not have a gender — that lack of a gender does not define them as human. It’s rude to imply that gender and humanity are intrinsically linked, because plenty of completely human people around you don’t have genders!
When introducing agender characters, bear in mind the general guidelines for introducing non-binary characters, and be sure that you’re familiar with the tropes that surround agender characters. Overall, though, just do your research and treat your character with respect!
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with some more queer writing advice, but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!