If you’ve followed along at all in The Aldersgate Cycle, you’ll have seen some immediately obvious instances where gender matters significantly, mostly noticeably in the shortage of women spoken about in the first few chapters. It’s this shortage of women that’s driven Queen Maelys to retrieve all the young women from the Continent and bring them to Hartleigh Castle in Queensland for safekeeping. I don’t think this was a particularly overt feminist statement on my behalf, rather a situational fact that helped drive the story along, and answered a question I had: What if there weren’t enough women? I still ask plenty of related questions, and I’m not certain I’ve answered them all yet, but I’m working on it. In fact, the entire structure and culture of my novel is, in many ways, directly connected to that main question.
I don’t think feminism is a good descriptor of how I view the world. It isn’t as simple as that. Through my travels, friendships, and experiences, I’ve come to see gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation in a rather different light than I once did. I decided, in light of the difficulties still existent in our world, to say something important on the subject, but in a decidedly fantasy setting.
You see, it isn’t just the lack of women that drives much of the novel. Because, laying in bed at night some year or so ago, asking myself many of the questions related to the shortage of women (why so few women born? what do people think?) I came upon a surprising answer. It’s not that children are any less frequent, but that something else is being born. Fraternal twins are a common occurrence in Earena, and boys often grow up with brothers their same age. However, it isn’t always the case with girls.
More often than not, twin births of the non-male variety end up with one girl and one ungendered baby. And by ungendered, really I mean non-sexed. These babies are literally lacking in any distinguishable sex characteristics.
Being inspired by high-minded Victorians and their like, the unsexed children–called Sibs, short for Siblings–are not considered citizens in any capacity, regardless of rank or relationship. Society has deemed that any human incapable of furthering the species is a non-entity. For three centuries this led to an entire class that bordered on slavery and, in some cases, worse. This is also tied to theories of the construction of the Other, of course, but that’s another post altogether I’d think.
What the Sibs are now, and where they reside is something of a mystery (at least to those of you who aren’t me, or who’ve read the first draft). But their story is at the heart of The Aldersgate Cycle, an undercurrent that propels much of the narrative, but often unseen.
You can imagine the questions I have to ask myself when writing the Sibs. But it’s something I take time to do, because I want to do it right. I don’t want it to be comfortable, because it isn’t–but I want to do it justice above all. (And this is not to mention, of course, the culture at large’s general acceptance of homosexuality–considering there’s such a surplus of men, you can see how that might be convenient.) The Sibs as a culture are probably my proudest achievement to date, in some ways being the ultimate steampunks (complete with tattoos and plenty of amazing inventions).
I also had to consider how to refer to non-gendered people in terms of language. I spent days researching, and finally turned to Middle English for inspiration. I ended up with the following:
he = she = hea
him = her = hean
his = hers = heas
In the third case, it’s pronounced “HEY-ah”. At first it was decidedly awkward to write. In spite of my attempted unbiased approach, I found that I would still think of individual Sibs as either more female or more male, and slip into the usual pronouns. But now, as I work through the second (and in some cases third) draft, it has become quite natural and comfortable. I’m quite happy with the results.
I do believe in the power of literature, especially that which requires we suspend our disbelief just a little. It’s one “what if” removed from our own world, true, but one that lends an important voice to my narrative. My opinion may not be agreed upon by everyone, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I try not to come across as pedantic or judgemental in my telling, and rather, simply want to put the question to the reader and ask: “What would you do, in a world like this?”
from Chapter Ten: Below
“They’re Sibs,” Emry chimed in from next-door. “Or so they’ll have us believe.” He hardly sounded convinced, and Cora wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“And we have names, and proper pronouns, thank you very much,” replied the Sib. “My name is Ezz. And you can call me hea. Not he nor she but hea. Not his or hers, but heas. Not to him, or to her, but to hean. That’s the basics. Heas, hean, hea.” It sounded like “Hey-ah”.
Cora frowned, trying to process Ezz’s little grammar lesson. “So you’re neither…”
“Neither male nor female,” Ezz replied, folding heas arms over heas chest. “Which I’m sure is terribly difficult for you to even conceive.”