With my recent finishing of a novel proclaimed to have amazing non-binary and transgender representation, I’ve started thinking more and more on what people think is appropriate non-binary rep. Now, automatically I’m going to say that if you’re a non-binary author writing a non-binary character, this has nothing to do with you. My problem is with cis authors trying to be inclusive and write non-binary characters, but ultimately fail on the most important aspect: making them non-binary.
Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion. This is not a how-to on writing a non-binary (enby) character, but what one sole enby has to say about some of the recent rep I’ve read. While I have discussed at length some rep with other enbies, that does not mean that this post is the end-all-be-all of writing enby characters. Other non-binary people may disagree, and that’s fine.
The rep I most often read of enby characters is probably the most annoying and infuriating that I have to deal with. You can usually tell a cis author is trying to include a enby character when they have a character with neutral pronouns (they/them) but nothing more than that. Are pronouns really enough to determine if a character is enby? Let me ask you something: if you change the pronouns to be he or she, would you have to change the character’s personality to fit? Would you have to change entire scenes to fit the changing pronouns?
If the character could be cisgender, are they really non-binary?
I’m not saying that every non-binary character has to have their gender written into the book. I’ve read some fantastic novels with enby rep that doesn’t ever say “non-binary” or another ID in the pages. What those novels did include, though, is an obvious tell. For example, Linsey Miller’s Mask of Shadows never uses the word “genderfluid” inside the pages. On the back cover and synopsis, yes, but never in text. Why do I love the rep in Mask of Shadows? Because Sal says this: “I dress how I like to be addressed–he, she, or they. It’s simple enough.” Sal’s words make it clear that they’re genderfluid, leaving no questions. They make it clear how they want to be addressed. Throughout the book as well, it’s made clear that Sal is genderfluid, hearing remarks from other auditioners, the Left Hand, and nobles. Sal’s pronouns change in the book as well, making it obvious that they’re genderfluid, even if they don’t have the term ‘genderfluid’.
Other novels, however, believe that having neutral pronouns are enough to proclaim a character as enby. Did you know that you can have whatever pronouns you want? You could ID as male, but prefer they/them pronouns. You could be non-binary but prefer she/her pronouns. They/them pronouns do not mean that the character is non-binary. And, frankly, books that use this are insulting. No, I am not satisfied with that rep, and no, I will not be giving your book a good rating, because from my point of view, it’s lazy writing. If you can take the time for a character to say their entire backstory before the book started, then you can take the time to solidify a character’s gender ID.
Because, believe me. It’s really not that hard.
If you’re unsure, or if you want to make sure you’re not being harmful, there is such a thing as sensitivity readers. Oh, and (shameless self-promotion) I do sensitivity reads.