Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gender Gym

I've realized that so long as I'm working on a novel, I will never keep this bloody blog updated unless I write about what I'm writing about while I'm writing it. (That sentence got a little convoluted.)

I write for two consecutive hours every day; I also work full time. And then I have a happy, complicated love life that needs time devoted to it. I don't really have extra time to think up blog posts. But if I write about what I'm doing in my novel, well, then it sorta counts as brainstorming, doesn't it?

(First off, in these posts I'm going to call my novel Aether. That's not necessarily going to be the final title, but I need to pick something for now.)

What have I done recently?

I just changed my magic system. Again. This time, it's because several people whose opinions I trust have pointed out that my magic system is getting fairly unique. So I shouldn't just call everything 'magic'. Still, I think the word 'magic' is pretty descriptive, and if I call it the One Power or the Force or Mindcraft or something I'm going to feel a little pretentious, which isn't exactly what I want from this book. I'm still thinking about what changes to make.

I also gender-flipped a character several times. This is a character who I've gender-flipped before, but she keeps returning to her original female gender. Currently I think I've settled on making her a biological male who identifies as female. I think that's where she might stay. Though already I'm thinking about the possibilities of her as a biological female who identifies as male. Or someone who changes his/her gender every few years (magical character, so I can do that).

Usually I go the other direction on this gender flipping. When I first had the idea for this novel (farther back than I care to admit), most of the characters were male. Of course they were. Most sci-fi/fantasy works are populated almost entirely by straight white men. Because of this, I feel very conscious about the number of female, queer, and minority characters in what I write. There's little reason why a fantasy novel shouldn't pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors. So many of my characters started off as straight white males, and ended up queer, nonwhite, and/or female.

So why am I debating changing her gender to male? Well: I actually have too few male characters in charge of the Secret Magical Community. (She's one of them.) The male characters are mostly in the "Assimilationist" faction of the community, which means they're embracing American Christian attitudes, for better or for worse. That includes anti-queer attitudes, negative sexual beliefs, belief in a male-female Stay In The Kitchen hierarchy, plus other generally unpleasant but common things. While this doesn't make them the Bad Guys, it certainly doesn't put them on the side of our protagonists.

This is a problem, because with this setup, it can look like I (as the author) am trying to say:

A) Female leaders are incompetent, and female-led communities are doomed to failure, because in the story - well, let's just say a lot of Bad Things happen. Worse, the POV character that interacts with the community the most is male, which could make him seem like a Necessary Male Hero (here to save these womenfolk from themselves!).

B) Males are generally bad, sexist/homophobic people. More of a stretch, since I have male POV characters as well as female, and also I am male; however, 'male' is usually associated with 'straight', and the male POV characters as well as myself are pansexual.

C) Both. Females are incompetent leaders, and males are bad people. This may not initially make sense, but how many traditional conservative women have you heard say "all men are pigs"?

So the solution is easy: Make at least a couple of the community leaders male. Most of the community leader characters, however, need to be female for either some story reason or because I'm attached to the idea. The character in question has no reason to be either gender, though.

So why not make her male and be done with it? Possibly because she started out female, and I keep thinking of her like that. But more importantly, changing her to male doesn't actually make her any cooler (I have to admit that changing lots of my males to females did make their character concept cooler). In fact, I worry that she loses some 'cool' factor as a male. This isn't particularly logical, of course - it's solely based on personal preference. 'Cool' is a hard thing to quantify, so I may be thinking about this for a little while longer.