On writing non binary characters

So, you are a cis author who wants to show their support for our community by writing a non binary character. I commend you! However, when writing a non binary character, there are in my opinion as a non binary person some missteps that ough to be avoided. Let me list them here, in this handy short guide on how to write a non binary character.

Disclaimer: of course, this doesn’t want to be a perfect, sacred text. Other nonbinary people may have different ideas on the matter. Still, I think it could be helpful for cis writers to have some guidance when building a non binary character, so here I am. Now, let me begin with…

1. Do your research

This goes without saying, but before starting to write a nonbinary character you should research what it means to be non binary extensively. There are many non binary people, probably more than you’d think, and if you ask politely most of us would gladly share our experience with you! I, for example, did a blog post some time ago explaining what it means to be non binary for me.

2. Don’t make it a coming out story

Research the non binary experience, but don’t make your entire narration revolving around it. It’s not your place to write such a story, leave that to #ownvoices authors. You want to write a space opera with non binary characters? An epic fantasy saga? By all means, do it! But don’t cross the line writing a book that explores the non binary experience when you… never experienced it. There are tons of non binary writers that are trying to have such book published, the best thing you can do as an ally is step aside and let their voices reach the spotlight.

3. We’re not all afab androgynous people

The stereotypical non binary person is this sort of androgynous white elf, often afab, and while non binary people like this exist (my best friend, for example) not all non binary people strive to reach perfect androgyny. I’m personally very femme-presenting because I like make up and cute dresses. And not all non-binary people are afab – assuming so is very offensive, because it leads to lumping non binary people with women, inadvertently erasing their gender. Amab non binary people exist! Black non binary people exist! Fat non binary people exist! Disabled non binary people exist! We are as diverse as you cis, never forget this.

4. Don’t ‘reveal’ our assigned gender

Your non binary character is non binary, end of story. There’s no need for you to hint, or even reveal, their assigned gender at birth. I recently read a book with a non binary character who was constantly misgendered so that the reader would know their assigned gender at birth, and it was really ugly. I know some non binary people won’t mind, but others – such as me – may find it incredibly dysphoric. So why take the risk of making part of your audience uncomfortable? Especially if knowing the assigned gender of a character is not relevant to the story.

5. Neopronouns are valid

Don’t be afraid to use neopronouns such as xe/xem or ze/zem for your nonbinary characters. While most of us use the singular they, neopronouns are just as valid. For example, I personally prefer ‘xe’. Some non binary people will also go by standard pronouns such as he/him, she/her. Some even like ‘it’! Some don’t care at all. Being non binary doesn’t revolve around pronouns, they are an important part of affirming our gender, but ultimately, every non binary person is different and so is their approach to pronouns.

And in the end, I think this is the most important thing you, a cis author writing a non binary character, should remember: we’re not a monolith, we’re all different, we’re fully developed people and being non binary is but a part of who we are. Don’t make THE non binary character. Create a round character who also happens to be non binary, and you’ll have nailed it.