Undisclosed gender in fiction
Undisclosed gender in fiction is when some characters have their gender and sex hidden and not told about. This might be kept a secret for the entire story. Readers and viewers can only guess about the character's gender, or they can be comfortable with not knowing. This can be an interesting device in fiction that makes us take notice of our assumptions and stereotypes. However, it isn't really the same thing as representation of nonbinary gender identities in fiction. A character whose gender is never explicitly stated could be nonbinary, especially if their gender expression involves going to great efforts to make sure nobody knows their gender. However, they could just as likely be female, or male. What makes someone nonbinary is if they identify as nonbinary. However, in this case the viewers don't get to know how that character identifies. Also note that looking androgynous doesn't mean that someone identifies as an androgyne.
Animation[edit | edit source]
- In Adventure Time, a fantasy series, a recurring side character, BMO (Beemo), is popularly seen by fans as genderless, but canon is less than clear on this. BMO is a tiny robot resembling a video game console, with a high, childlike voice (by actress Niki Yang). Nothing in the canon states outright that BMO is female, male, or otherwise. However, a strong clue for the latter is that in "Fionna and Cake," an alternative universe gender-swap episode (meaning all female characters are shown as male and vice versa), BMO is the only character with no visible change, apart from his controller. As seen elsewhere on this page, it's not uncommon for robots to be written as genderless.
- BMO's pronouns: Other characters often use pronouns for BMO in the canon. BMO is called "he" by Finn, Jake, Sleepy Sam, and Cuber in the episodes "Rainy Day Daydream," "Guardians of Sunshine," "Return to the Nightosphere," "The Creeps," and "Five Short Graybles." BMO is called "she" by Charlie in "Daddy-Daughter Card Wars" (saying "she sank straight to the bottom"). Fans claim that characters have always alternated between calling BMO "he," "she," and "it," but specific canon evidence of the latter still wants to be recorded here.
- BMO's titles and descriptions: Though Finn has often referred to BMO as "he," Finn called BMO "M'lady" in "Conquest of Cuteness." This may have been facetious. In "Daddy-Daughter Card Wars," Charlie does a Tarot reading for BMO, and says lightheartedly, "this card means you're a man," which amuses BMO.
- BMO's make believe: BMO often plays make believe, and takes on male or female roles or characteristics in these fantasies. For example, in "Davey" (describing himself as "a little living boy," and simulating peeing standing up by pouring a cup of water into a toilet), and in "Five Short Graybles" (describing his mirrored persona as "a real baby girl"). In "BMO Noire," BMO role-plays as a masculine detective (appearing in one scene with facial stubble), but the episode title uses the feminine form of "noire," rather than masculine "noir." The masculine form is standard in the phrase "film noir," the name of the detective movie genre parodied in that episode. In "James Baxter the Horse," BMO carries an egg around and sings, in part, "BMO, how'd you get so pregnant? Who's the mother? Oh, who's the father?" It's not clear if the egg scene is BMO playing make believe, or if the song describes an actual event. Stranger things have happened in the magical Land of Ooo, so it's not always clear what's real and serious or fantastic and facetious.
- Soul Eater includes the character Crona Gorgon, the child of the antagonist Medusa Gorgon, who is referred to by exclusively neutral language in the original Japanese manga. Other characters often question whether Crona is male or female due to an androgynous appearance, and none of these questions are ever answered.
- Attack on Titan character Hange Zoë's gender is never confirmed, and manga author Hajime Isayama has asked the English-language publisher to "avoid gendered pronouns when referring to Hange, or at least to use he AND she with equal frequency."
- Ouran Highschool Host Club features the character Haruhi Fujioka, who is assigned female at birth, but "happened to be" dressed in a masculine manner. When their friends discover their sex, they ask, "You're a girl?!" to which they reply, "Biologically, yes." They later state that they do not think a person's gender is important, which many fans see as a sign that Haruhi is agender or genderblind. They typically are typically referred to using traditionally feminine pronouns such as "she", though Haruhi has shown no preference.
- The character Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV ("Ed" for short) in Cowboy Bebop is androgynous, and Ed's father is unsure if they are his son or daughter. The director Shinichiro Watanabe said in an interview that "[Ed's] gender is meaningless, we don't need it. [...] I wanted to create a character that surpasses humanity. I personally think that he might not even be human."
Audio[edit | edit source]
- The audio drama series Bernice Summerfield (a Doctor Who spinoff) features a character named Chanticleer in the episode The Tub Full of Cats. Bernice Summerfield and Margarita Matsumoto Braxiatel have a conversation about Chanticleer's gender, in which they both admit to not being able to tell what gender Chanticleer really is. Neither Benny nor Maggie want to ask Chanticleer about the matter, and at the end of the episode it's left uncertain. Chanticleer is referred to by he pronouns and is played by a female actor.
Books and literature[edit | edit source]
- Anne Leckie's science fiction novels Ancillary Justice (2013) and Ancillary Sword (2014) were set in a futuristic society that is indifferent to gender, so all the characters are called by gender-neutral "she" pronouns, leaving their actual gender and sex undisclosed. Leckie says she had an assumption at the time that gender is binary, so these are likely not nonbinary characters.
- In the Choose Your Own Adventure series of interactive fiction books, the player's character is always written with no implications about their gender. The idea was that the main character of the book was the reader, who could be any gender, so the character was described as little as possible. The illustrators were sometimes able to make the player's character look androgynous, such as by showing them in shadows, or wearing costumes that hide their face. This was all intentional. However, in some of the books they simply drew the character as looking like a boy, even though the player's character was still written about in only a gender-neutral way.
- In K. A. Cook's short story "Misstery Man" in Crooked Words, an androgynous-looking superhero by that name has never disclosed their gender, resulting in rude speculation in the local newspapers. This frustrates the unrelated nonbinary main character, Darcy, who thinks it would be easier to come out if only someone famous like that would come out or otherwise make the newspaper gossip stop.
- In Alastair Reynolds's science fiction novel On the Steel Breeze, one character is called by gender-neutral "ve" pronouns. The novel never gives any exposition about this character's sex, gender, or pronouns, and ver gender-neutrality doesn't influence the plot. The lack of remark gives the impression that a nonbinary gender is unremarkable, but this is also why some readers thought the pronouns were a misprint. The lack of discussion about the character's gender also means that this is an example of undisclosed gender, rather than nonbinary representation.
- Atsuko Asano's No. 6 contains many androgynous characters, including Inukashi, who Shion, the main character, is unable to tell their gender due to their long hair and thin body. In the english translation, Inukashi is referred to by male pronouns.
- In Maïa Mazaurette's french novel "Rien ne nous survivra - Le pire est Avenir", one of the main characters called Silence is never called by either male or female pronouns. The whole book managed to avoid gender qualification for this character. (French is a very binary language; even furniture has a gender, so it's quite an accomplishment)
- In Pew, by Catherine Lacey, the citizens of a small town find "a person of indeterminate race and gender" asleep in a church pew. This person, who becomes known as Pew, refuses to speak or identify themself in any way. At first the townspeople are simply curious, but eventually they start to distrust and mistreat Pew.
- Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff tells the story of two homeless teenagers, Kid and Scout. Kid's and Scout's gender and orientation are never specified.
- Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson, is narrated from the point of view of someone with unspecified gender.
- Sphinx, by Anne Garréta, is a romance between the narrator and their lover "A***", which is written entirely without gendering either one of them. It was originally published in French in 1986, and an English translation came out in 2015.
- The Cook and the Carpenter: A Novel by the Carpenter, by June Davis Arnold, is written using na/nan pronouns, and the protagonists' genders are not revealed until near the end.
- Hello Now, by Jenny Valentine, never reveals the gender of Jude.
Comics and graphic novels[edit | edit source]
- Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew - Webcomic parody of Dungeons & Dragons. One of the main characters is an androgynous-looking elven mage named Vaarsuvius. Their gender and sex are never explicitly revealed, and they are referred to using male and female pronouns by other characters, but the author has said that these are the views of other characters and may not reflect the reality. We later learn that Vaarsuvius is married and has two adopted children, refers to their partner with gender-neutral terms, and that the children (translated from Elvish) call the two adults 'Parent' and 'Other Parent'.
- Username: Evie by Joe Sugg - Sci-fi graphic novel about a teenage girl's adventures in a virtual universe. One character, Unity, has an androgynous appearance and was coded "to represent every man and woman here". Other characters seem to be unable to gender them (e.g. "I've seen that guy before. Or is it a girl?").
- In the Sailor Moon franchise, across the various comic and animated adaptations (not counting bowdlerized English dubs), there are some characters who aren't gender conforming.
- One such character is Haruka Tenoh, whose heroic alter-ego is Sailor Uranus. She looks like a masculine woman, and is in a lesbian relationship with Sailor Neptune. Japanese has several different first-person pronouns (equivalent to "I, me") that speakers can use to express their gender. Sailor Uranus uses the informal masculine first-person pronoun "boku" for herself. She alternates between feminine attire (including a uniform with a skirt) and dressing in such a masculine way that other characters think she is a man, so she is gender nonconforming. Because all Senshi are women, she is necessarily a woman, at least in some way. However, some dialog in the canon talks about Haruka's gender, and fans disagree on how to interpret these remarks. In the manga, Sailor Neptune tells Sailor Moon, “Uranus is both a man and a woman. A soldier of both genders, with strengths and personalities of each.” This line also appears in the animated adaptation, in Sailor Moon Crystal. In the manga, when Sailor Moon (in her alter ego as Usagi) directly asks Haruka if she is a man or a woman, Haruka responds, “A man or a woman… is it that important?” (Or, depending on the translation: "Man, woman... why should something like that matter?") Fans have variously interpreted these remarks in the canon as meaning that Haruka is a butch lesbian woman who is in touch with her masculine side, and/or physically intersex, and/or that her gender identity is not strictly male or female. This is with the understanding that in the 1990s in Japan, we did not have the widely-known familiarity with or terms for nonbinary identities that we have today, but people with nonbinary identities did exist in that time and place. The characters in Sailor Moon are all based around astrological symbolism, so it's relevant that Uranus is a planet associated with gender nonconformity and same-gender attraction. These associations with the planet Uranus in astrology are so widely known that in the 1870s, one of the first movements for LGBT rights referred to themselves as Uranians.
Movies[edit | edit source]
- In "The Incredibles," Kronos' files briefly show a superhero named MACROBEAM who is described as "oddly androgynous," and they are referred to with both "he" and "she" pronouns, saying that their sex and gender are unknown. This is only on the screen for a few seconds, and you can only see it if you pause. The character doesn't appear in person, and has no dialog.
TV[edit | edit source]
- The recurring Saturday Night Live character and series of sketches Pat from the early 1990s. Pat is an androgynous character who everyone tries desperately (but politely) to gender, but whose neutral preferences and gender expression defy classification. This is played for laughs as Pat is oblivious to everyone else's discomfort. It even spun off into a (badly received) 1994 movie, It's Pat, in which Pat falls in love with another character whose gender is also unknown. The character is highly androgynous in appearance and personality, but Pat's assigned gender is unclear, which is the basis of the joke. See Wikipedia's Pat article
- The children's TV series Lloyd in Space features an episode ("Neither Boy nor Girl") that focuses on a genderless character named Zoit. After being initially confused about their gender, the characters learn that in Zoit's species, children are raised genderless until they reach their 13th birthday, at which point they choose whether to become a boy or a girl. The other children fight over which gender Zoit should pick on their upcoming birthday. At the end of the episode, Zoit proudly tells their friends that they have chosen their gender, but want to keep their choice to themselves - it is left open whether they decided to be male or female.
Video games[edit | edit source]
- In Borderlands 2, a large part of Zer0's story is the lack of information surrounding him. He uses he/him pronouns, but the information provided alludes to him either being agender or having a non-human/alien gender identity.
- Cryptic Stitching, an interactive novel by Ursula Vernon about stuffed animals living as hunter-gatherers in a magical Ice Age. When creating one's character, the player can choose to be female, male, or "fuzzy," which isn't any gender in particular, "Given that you're a sentient stuffed animal and all."
- In Fallen London, you can choose to play as "a lady," "a gentleman," or a character whose gender isn't specified. There are multiple smaller characters that are genderless, including party members (the Irrepressible Cannoneer) as well as regular NPCs (the Alarming Scholar and Isery). This is also true of Sunless Sea, which is set in the same universe.
- In Final Fantasy VI, the optional character Gogo's gender is never revealed. The description given of the character says, "Is this a man? A woman? Or should we ask?"
- In Final Fantasy IX, Quina is treated a genderless character who is referred to as "he/she". This is true for his/her entire species.
- In Harvest Moon: Magical Melody, Jamie, your antagonist, is depicted as neither male or female, and the only thing that alludes to their gender is what happens when you marry them. If you play a female character and marry them, they will wear a tuxedo at the ceremony, but if you play a male character and marry them, they will wear a wedding dress. Their pronouns are not stated.
- In Undertale, the human protagonist Frisk and the human called Chara are never referred to in binary terms, and are referred to with "they" pronouns. Their gender is never revealed. Some other characters also go by "they" pronouns.
- In Pokémon Go, Blanche - the leader of Team Mystic - is gender-ambiguous in appearance. Yūsuke Kozaki - the game's character designer - has stated on Twitter that Blanche's gender is "whatever impression or feeling you get from the design". Third-person pronouns are not used in-game to describe any of the team leaders. In addition, the game does not ask the player about their gender, but instead asks them to "choose your style" when creating a character.
- In Dishonored 2, a noble named Wyman is mentioned several times, being the lover of main character Emily Kaldwin, and is never referred to with any gendered words. Wyman does not appear in-game but does appear in the novels Dishonored: The Corroded Man and Dishonored: The Return of Daud. The novels' author, Adam Christopher, stated on Twitter that "Wyman is gender-neutral." However, in a Reddit AMA the next month, Adam was more vague, saying "Wyman's gender is purposefully left unsaid, yes. Let your headcanon go wild :)", and also saying that Arkane Studios had the full character details which could not be revealed yet.
- In Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the protagonist character can be customized with a "classified" gender, in which case the game's voiced dialogue will refer to the protagonist with singular they pronouns. The announcement of this drew criticism from many people.
- In the visual novel Charade Maniacs, the character Iochi Mizuki has an androgynous appearance and their gender is never specified. Mizuki "often teases about whether they're a man or a woman." Mizuki is voiced by a cisgender woman and uses the masculine pronoun "boku" for themself.
See also[edit | edit source]
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References[edit | edit source]
- "BMO's Pregnant Song." Adventure Time Wikia. http://adventuretime.wikia.com/wiki/BMO%27s_Pregnant_Song
- Romano, Aja (16 January 2014). "'Attack on Titan' creator gets the last word in debate over character's gender". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
- Rizzo-Smith, Julian (23 November 2017). "The Many Inspirations of Cowboy Bebop Director Shinichiro Watanabe". IGN. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
- Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, "Sci-fi's hottest new writer won't tell you the sex of her characters." October 11, 2014. Wired. http://www.wired.com/2014/10/geeks-guide-ann-leckie/
- K. A. Cook, "Misstery Man." Crooked Words. Unpaged.
- Outis, "Gender-neutral characters and pronouns." November 20, 2013. https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1580481-gender-neutral-characters-and-pronouns
- Bufferd, Lauren (August 2020). "Book Review - Pew by Catherine Lacey". BookPage.com. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
- "Brooklyn, Burning". goodreads.com. Retrieved 9 October 2020.
- "Esmée D'Costa's review of Hello Now". goodreads.com. 3 December 2020. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
- SailorSoapbox, "Setting The Record Straight: Haruka’s Gender & The Prince Uranus 'Scandal'." The Art of (Overanalyzing) Animation (blog). January 29, 2014. https://overanalyzinganimation.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/setting-the-record-straight-harukas-gender-identity-the-prince-uranus-scandal
- Anonymous said: DID YOU SEE that the "he" pronoun in regards to wyman in that book was a typo!
- I am Adam Christopher, novelist and comic writer, and author of the new book DISHONORED: THE CORRODED MAN. Ask me anything!
- Hurley, Leon (August 2020). "Black Ops Cold War character creation will let you craft your own agent and includes gender neutral VO". gamesradar. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
- Milton, Josh (31 August 2020). "Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War will let users play as a non-binary imperialist war-hungry killer". PinkNews. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
- estearisa (13 August 2020). "Charade Maniacs – Review / Summary". Otome Adventures. Retrieved 19 November 2020.