Gender in Romance is a series of posts focusing on the various experiences and perspectives of some of the top voices in queer fiction. Read more from this series here.
Gender is such a strange thing. I’m non-binary, so I don’t fit into the man or the woman box neatly. I feel tied to both and excluded from both. Sometimes I feel utterly myself and whole, but sometimes I feel adrift and lost.
I crushed on men and women growing up, but not just sexually. I can point out which people I also wanted to be like—and inevitably, there was something fluid about them from a gender point of view. I want to be in between. That’s who I am. Neither, both. Betwixt.
It’s an odd space to exist in, I think, and I live in it every day, so I feel I can say that. I suspect there will still be people mad that I have said it, though. Such is life.
Because when you are something that isn’t typical, you have to be The Example. And when you are The Example, you have to be perfect. Except—life is not perfect. Living is the art of falling down repeatedly and getting back up. It’s making mistakes and learning. It’s finding your way without a map.
Life is not neat or perfect at all.
There is no ideal or one true way to be NB. Heck the community can’t even decide if it’s NB or enby or if we’re trans or not trans, and we’ll yell at each other about those things, even while other people who aren’t us try to tell us who we really are.
I’ve said on Twitter a couple of time that I’m afraid of writing a non-binary main character. It’s true. I am.
What’s not true is that I’ll never write one. I will. But it will be with great trepidation, because more than anything, I fear getting myself wrong.
I want non-binary characters on the page in romances. I want to see people like me. I want to identify with MCs and know that, I too, can have an HEA.
I recently beta read a manuscript for a friend specifically for input on a non-binary main character.
Most of my notes were along the lines of “OMG YAAAAS,” because the author understood. There were some things that niggled at me, and I pointed those out, but they were so minor in comparison to seeing someone like me on the page, and represented well that they felt like mist on a warm day—refreshing.
I want good representation of non-binary characters. This was. It is. I can’t wait for people to read that book.
It’s hard to write outside your lane, I know it is.
But when you’re writing your own gender, and that gender is a minority, the writing can also be fraught with danger and anxiety. For me, even before I’ve started writing a character like myself, I have to overcome my fear that I’m fake.
Am I doing NB correctly? Am I too masc or fem or do I not “switch” enough? Am I really NB? I don’t have boy days or girl days like some NB characters written by cis authors do. I have me days that shift between shades of fem and masc and on those days I am still neither woman or man. What if I write someone like me, someone with my experiences, and then I find out that I’m wrong? That my experiences are not truly representative, or that they’re hurtful or phobic?
I’ve seen this happen with other authors and their identities, and I know it’s devastating. Imagine being told your description of your journey is harmful to other people like you. It’s a punch to the gut.
That’s what I’m afraid of. Because sometimes the deepest hurts come not from outside the queer romance community, but within.
But—and here’s the big but—if I want to see someone like me get an HEA with an understanding and supportive partner, I can’t just be content to beta read for others.
I need to write, too. Because writing romance is just as much about overcoming our own fears as it is the characters overcoming their own.
Because there are other people like me who deserve to see themselves on the page, and there are other people like me who need to see that NB people are allowed to write NB characters that are like themselves.
I deserve to be able to write a character that is representative of myself.
So I will write. I will write. I will.
Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.
Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.
Please note: all opinions and statements expressed are those of the author and not of Open Ink Press or its affiliates.