They on the Brain

When I start I book, I often spend the first few chapters gathering clues about the protagonist and any other major characters so that I can imagine them. It makes it easier to “see” the plot play out if I have mental images of the characters in my head. I don’t think I’m all that different from other readers. I can tell by the comments on the Internet whenever there’s news about who got cast in the latest adaptation of a favorite novel or series.*

Henriette Browne

Recently, I’ve started to see more novels that feature non-binary characters. After reading two in quick succession, I realized just how often I fall into the habit of imagining characters as either men or women. I also realized that I often defaulted to imagining characters as white until something in the text told me they were a person of color. I’m a little ashamed to admit this. I can only blame my own biases as a white cis-woman. I’m still trying to decide what it means for me to realize another bias in how I picture characters I meet in fiction. My ideas of gender expression and norms clearly need some evolving.

One thing I can say for certain is that I like seeing more theys in fiction. I love the way the non-binary characters force me to pay attention to the way that these characters interact with others, how they make me question what parts of gender are cultural and what parts come from identity, and even how we have to rethink how the English language treats gender. Perhaps, best of all, I can learn about non-binary characters from fiction (hopefully from an own-voice author) so that non-binary people I meet in my day-to-day life don’t have to educate me.


* To be honest, I’m still a little salty about the casting of Catriona Balfe as Claire Fraser in Starz’s adaptation of Outlander. Balfe is a wonderful actress; she just doesn’t match the picture I’ve carried around in my head for years.

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