portraying gender neutral / agendered characters


Advice

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My group's about to start a new module, and I have a player interested in portraying a gender neutral/agendered character. I'm totally down with that, but unfortunately it's not an experience I know much about. I've started poking around the internet for perspectives and advice, but I always wanted to see if any Paizo folks had direct experience in this area.

This was a recent conversation, so we haven't fleshed the idea out a ton yet. However, I get the sense the player wants gender identity to be an important part of their character, but not something that's super up front or "in your face" (their words)

From the GM side, I'm unsure of things like terminology, pronoun use, or NPC reaction. My default is to treat folks like folks, and Paizo/Golarion do an excellent job of reinforcing that point! At the same time I, and by extension the world I'm portraying, would like to honor this character choice. I would like the world and its inhabitants to acknowledge this choice and incorporate it in an authentic, respectful way.

In summary, I'm unfamiliar with this subject, so any advice or experience is helpful!

Shadow Lodge

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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

The first thing you should do is ask the player what they *want* to get out of it, because that really influences everything else. I'm going to give you my sense of how I think things would go down, but not making the player uncomfortable should trump all of that.

Generally speaking, NPCs will project a gender onto the character, depending on their race/culture, and treat the character as though they were the gender they perceive them as. You can do some interesting things with this if, say, elves all think the character is male but dwarves all think the character is female. But most people don't really have agendered as a category in how they think about people, so most NPCs won't go there unless informed. (Unless this character is something like an animated statue or obviously a member of a race which is commonly known to have no gender.)

My goto gender neutral pronouns are zie/hir -- I think kids these days have some new ones, but those are the ones I learned. It takes a bit of practice to use them consistently, but isn't really that hard. You can also just go with plurals (they/them) which is increasingly becoming standard.

But again, a lot of it depends on what the player wants. I've played a couple of differently gendered characters through the years, and I had different reasons for each of them. For one, I went into a long explanation and no one in the group ever remembered or noticed. In others it was a secondary feature of something else I was doing (the aforementioned living statue). Just follow their lead, and it should be fine.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

+1 for letting the player take the lead. Ask them how much they would like their gender identity to be a focus for their character, and go with that. From your brief description, my assumption would be that they just want their identity to be something that is taken as a given, but not have to deal too much with prejudice or people not accepting their gender neutrality.

As far as pronoun use goes, asking the player is probably your best bet here. They/them is also a common gender neutral pronoun. NPCs might get it wrong at first if they don't come from a society where gender neutrality is common, but a quick adjustment once corrected should do the trick (though I'd be wary of making the player do this for every single interaction; it might get kind of tiring to have to explain every time).

They might want to (in character) add this in the character introductions where all the PCs are meeting, something like "By the way, please refer to me with [x] pronouns as I am agender."

Definitely have a talk with the player and see where they want to go with it, though. They'll give you better guidance than any of us. :-)

Contributor

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I'll absolutely follow the player's lead, good point for both of you to reinforce! I did forget to add that this is a new experience for the player as well, so they have similar uncertainties.
(This post is the product of a brief conversation last night. I told them that while neither of us knew much about this experience, I figured asking the Paizo boards would be helpful. I just happen to have an account already set up, hence I'm the one that made the post)

@Meraki: Right, I don't want it to come up in-world as a negative experience. People deal with that kind of thing enough in real life, I don't think either I or the player are interested in having to navigate it in Golarion, too.

This is newer territory for me, so I might be overthinking it a bit. I appreciate the suggestions and advice. Good discussion points for when I talk to the player later!


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Since you're stipulating that Golarion is agender-friendly, you might want to have the occasional agender NPC to reinforce that it's not just the PC.


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pH unbalanced wrote:
You can also just go with plurals (they/them) which is increasingly becoming standard.

Singular "they" is really old (according to Wikipedia, it dates back to the 14th century) and has survived attempts by grammarians to get rid of it (some of the reasons given were openly sexist). Recent pronouns don't really stand a chance against it. Also, it should be noted that "you" was originally a plural pronoun (the corresponding singular being "thou"), but is now used as both singular and plural.

Liberty's Edge

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Andrew Mullen wrote:

I'll absolutely follow the player's lead, good point for both of you to reinforce! I did forget to add that this is a new experience for the player as well, so they have similar uncertainties.

(This post is the product of a brief conversation last night. I told them that while neither of us knew much about this experience, I figured asking the Paizo boards would be helpful. I just happen to have an account already set up, hence I'm the one that made the post)

Have you looked into some of the real-world discussions around nonbinary identities? I'll be happy to answer questions about specific issues (as I'm nonbinary/agender myself).

Pronouns: There's a lot of options. This site gives some popular options and shows their declension. Go with what feels best. (I have a wayang occultist that uses xey/xem for pronouns because otherworldliness is a big part of how I play that character).

Terminology: What specific areas are you looking for? Nonbinary is the general term for identities outside of the binary of man/woman. This includes genderqueer, genderfluid, agender... depends on the specific identity under discussion. So, how does that character see their gender? It'll determine a lot of things.

NPC reactions: This is your ball game! You get to decide how this fits in. Will this character's gender be part of a cultural tradition? Will it be in opposition? Where does the player want to take it? (If you want, I can talk about what I see as a positive response v negative response, depending on how you want to craft this).

Anyway, I may not check this thread since I don't typically look in advice, so if I don't respond, feel free to PM me.

Sovereign Court

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Dorian is a half-elf. His race is very important in that it has a large effect on how he relates to the world. Like many half-elves he doesn't feel like he belongs as either elf or human. To compensate, he disguises himself as human among elves and as an elf among humans. He doesn't need NPC reactions to his race for that aspect of himself to play an important role in his character.

A similar situation would work just as well replacing gender for race. But, it does depend strongly on how the player wants to play it out.
1. Character could struggle with self-identity and work out issues within the party while passing as male or female in public.
2. Character could be openly agender, but NPCs aren't used to that. Character starts out casually correcting NPCs until the party is somewhat famous and word spreads, but no one takes issue with the correction.
3. Character could be openly agender, and NPCs are cool with that, but character still has personal insecurities to work through.

There are plenty of ways this could work, the player just needs to decide what kind of narrative arc appeals to them. From the topic they are looking to brooch, I can only assume the player is mature enough to tackle it.

Shadow Lodge

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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

Hey, in this case we have a player and a GM who have both agreed to do this thing, and the question at hand is HOW to do it.

Could we pretty please not have the discussion devolve into WHETHER to do it? That decision has already been made.


I think you might end up with problems with other players.

At least in the groups I play in we have problems not referring to each others characters as anything other than the player's gender or even referring to other character's by the player's name. It's too easy to see your familiar friend and not call them by that.

It may also be a issue in the sense that most players don't want to investigate the nuances of gender identity in a communal game setting. It's something that would focus greatly on one individual player, which is something I try to avoid doing as a GM since that's usually very boring for everyone else at the table.

If the goal is to have it be important to the character, but not dominate the narrative then personally I wouldn't bring it up, except maybe when the character reacts to PCs or NPCs statements. Let it gradually be added into the story, don't force it.

These are just the thoughts I have at this moment, hopefully it's useful.


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We always deal with players who misgender characters. Hell, in PbPs, it's sometimes flipped—people start referring to a player by the same gender as their character. And in real life, my halfling cleric, Dandelion, was referred to as a dude fairly frequently at first.

It just takes frequent corrections.

"We just need Rowule the Wizard to pitch in. If he—"
"They."
"If they can cast web..."


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Kobold Cleaver wrote:

By the way, if I make a kobold bard, and say I want them being a kobold to be a "major part of the character", that's not me trying to be in-your-face or "drama bait". Maybe that character's experiences as a kobold have just had a big role in shaping the character here-and-now.

A character's gender identity can be an important part of who they are without forcing the entire group to talk about "gender issues". People build aspects of their characters to be more or less prominent, and there's nothing wrong with talking ideas out with a GM.

And how exactly does one prominently incorporate an asexual gender identity in a non-invasive way? Either you make a big deal out of it, or it's not particularly important and you just play the character normally. I'm not saying the player is attention-whoring; I'm just saying it doesn't seem properly doable.


Kobold Cleaver wrote:

We always deal with players who misgender characters. Hell, in PbPs, it's sometimes flipped—people start referring to a player by the same gender as their character. And in real life, my halfling cleric, Dandelion, was referred to as a dude fairly frequently at first.

It just takes frequent corrections.

"We just need Rowule the Wizard to pitch in. If he—"
"They."
"If they can cast web..."

That's not really "a major part of the character." That's just clarification.


In most games, we don't call important character traits "invasive". That's like calling dingos "invasive". Sure, there's a hypothetical situation in which maybe they could get out of hand, but in practice, they're generally just an important—if rarely-seen—element of Australian wildlife.


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Hi nonbinary person here.
Ask how the player is planning it on portraying the character, and how important genderstuff is to the character.
Also include some NPCs that are nonbinary for the reason of just...having nonbinary people exist. Even if the character wasn't agender, it's still a good thing to do because like...nonbinary people exist, they are out there, both in golarion (most likely) and in real life. It's pretty simple though- make golarion as inclusive as possible to gender stuff (save the bigotry for the fake things like elves or mages). Correctly use the character's pronouns, and just have it be something that is by nature clear to everyone for some reason. I personally use they/them pronouns (which are most definitely gender neutral singular), but you should ask the player how their character would like to be referred. Ze/Zim? Org/Orig? Accommodating the character is your job as a GM, regardless of whether the subject is gardening or gender.


Bloodrealm wrote:
Kobold Cleaver wrote:

We always deal with players who misgender characters. Hell, in PbPs, it's sometimes flipped—people start referring to a player by the same gender as their character. And in real life, my halfling cleric, Dandelion, was referred to as a dude fairly frequently at first.

It just takes frequent corrections.

"We just need Rowule the Wizard to pitch in. If he—"
"They."
"If they can cast web..."

That's not really "a major part of the character." That's just clarification.

I think you're misinterpreting my post. I wasn't addressing the "Don't Do It" Brigade. I was talking to Claxon, who had chosen to contribute to the thread's main purpose by suggesting that other players might not get the gender right.

Shadow Lodge

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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber
Bloodrealm wrote:
Kobold Cleaver wrote:

By the way, if I make a kobold bard, and say I want them being a kobold to be a "major part of the character", that's not me trying to be in-your-face or "drama bait". Maybe that character's experiences as a kobold have just had a big role in shaping the character here-and-now.

A character's gender identity can be an important part of who they are without forcing the entire group to talk about "gender issues". People build aspects of their characters to be more or less prominent, and there's nothing wrong with talking ideas out with a GM.

And how exactly does one prominently incorporate an asexual gender identity in a non-invasive way? Either you make a big deal out of it, or it's not particularly important and you just play the character normally. I'm not saying the player is attention-whoring; I'm just saying it doesn't seem properly doable.

Do you read Order of the Stick? The way V is treated there is a good example of how you would do that.


189birds wrote:

Hi nonbinary person here.

Ask how the player is planning it on portraying the character, and how important genderstuff is to the character.
Also include some NPCs that are nonbinary for the reason of just...having nonbinary people exist. Even if the character wasn't agender, it's still a good thing to do because like...nonbinary people exist, they are out there, both in golarion (most likely) and in real life. It's pretty simple though- make golarion as inclusive as possible to gender stuff (save the bigotry for the fake things like elves or mages). Correctly use the character's pronouns, and just have it be something that is by nature clear to everyone for some reason. I personally use they/them pronouns (which are most definitely gender neutral singular), but you should ask the player how their character would like to be referred. Ze/Zim? Org/Orig? Accommodating the character is your job as a GM, regardless of whether the subject is gardening or gender.

The thing is that you don't generally call out something like an NPC's gender identity or sexual orientation unless there's a reason to. If you do, it's just awkward/clunky. The only thing you can really do is the pronoun thing, used casually as normal. If the players point it out, THEN you can start.

Saving the bigotry for the fake things is good advice. Logically, in a world where there are many different sapient species within cultures, things that are hot topics in real life kind of fall to the side because there's not really much difference, comparatively.


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@Bloodrealm: by calling out gender, i mean "the druid turns around and goes to get their weapon" or "the high priest cackles and raises xir arm, lightning firing out as xe grins"
So it's not awkward, or difficult. In fact, its no different than saying "the druid turns around and goes to get her weapon"

Sovereign Court

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber
Bloodrealm wrote:
189birds wrote:

Hi nonbinary person here.

Ask how the player is planning it on portraying the character, and how important genderstuff is to the character.
Also include some NPCs that are nonbinary for the reason of just...having nonbinary people exist. Even if the character wasn't agender, it's still a good thing to do because like...nonbinary people exist, they are out there, both in golarion (most likely) and in real life. It's pretty simple though- make golarion as inclusive as possible to gender stuff (save the bigotry for the fake things like elves or mages). Correctly use the character's pronouns, and just have it be something that is by nature clear to everyone for some reason. I personally use they/them pronouns (which are most definitely gender neutral singular), but you should ask the player how their character would like to be referred. Ze/Zim? Org/Orig? Accommodating the character is your job as a GM, regardless of whether the subject is gardening or gender.
The thing is that you don't generally call out something like an NPC's gender identity or sexual orientation unless there's a reason to. If you do, it's just awkward/clunky. The only thing you can really do is the pronoun thing, used casually as normal. If the players point it out, THEN you can start.

GMs mention gender all the time. "A woman with robes and a holy symbol", "A man in leather armor with a greatsword", "A person in wizard's robes with long, purple hair. They don't appear to be either man or woman."


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All words sound silly when used for the first time. Also all words are made up. Feels weird to call someone's pronouns silly sounding and made up on a forum where we routinely say "halfling" and "aasimar"..


Bloodrealm wrote:
The thing is that you don't generally call out something like an NPC's gender identity or sexual orientation unless there's a reason to. If you do, it's just awkward/clunky. The only thing you can really do is the pronoun thing, used casually as normal.

In the context of your reply to 189birds, this is basically saying: "The thing is that you don't generally call out an NPC's gender identity, except when you quite easily do."

189birds said, "It's important to feature other agendered characters in the world." Again, you're acting like everyone is replying to you and demanding that their posts correspond to your complaints. We're just giving advice on how to do what the OP wants to do.


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pH unbalanced wrote:
Do you read Order of the Stick? The way V is treated there is a good example of how you would do that.

I agree, in that some NPCs will assume the character is a she, others a he, and still others will recognize the character as "non-binary". What these possible outcomes lead to between you and your gaming group.

Personally, if I were GM I would leave it as small a part of the campaign as I could. Amongst the players I have gamed with over nearly 30 years, the genders of the players and characters match 80-90% of the time. When they don't match it is not addressed in game. The only time it comes up when the player slips out of character and starts RPing their own gender. There might be a chuckle from another player, the same as if a player who loves dwarves decides to play an elf and slips back into role playing a dwarf. Regardless of the players' and characters' identities, greater focus should be given to the adventure being shared by the PCs.


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Kobold Cleaver wrote:

We always deal with players who misgender characters. Hell, in PbPs, it's sometimes flipped—people start referring to a player by the same gender as their character. And in real life, my halfling cleric, Dandelion, was referred to as a dude fairly frequently at first.

It just takes frequent corrections.

"We just need Rowule the Wizard to pitch in. If he—"
"They."
"If they can cast web..."

I think this is because it's what you see or deal with most often.

In PBP you see the character most often, you sometimes don't know the player's real name, gender, or other identifying information. So when you address the player, you might instead use the character's information because that is what you deal with most often.

Alternatively, people playing in person most likely know the individuals they play without outside of game sessions so you will more likely use the terms that fit the player rather than the character.

And I think it's just hard to break the habbit of what you use most often when dealing with the individual, even if it's the individual's alternate identity.


Tossing a proposal out there: the agendered person probably knows who they are at this point. They're...Sam, or Giana, or whatever. When an agendered tells you, "I am Sam" or "I am Giana," that is what they mean.

The only confusion would be on the parts of other people, and that is where the drama comes in, if any. Since Golarion isn't gender-unfriendly, it's not that big of an issue. So yeah, some confusion might arise, but a simple correction would do.

In the real world, the hardest thing to communicate is that from the agendered's view: "I am me, myself." From THEIR point, it is the outside world who makes too big a deal about gender.

So their response could be: "Just let me be me. I'm a doctor, a lawyer." For a binary person, they're a "male doctor or a female lawyer" and gender is intrinsically part of that makeup. In contrast, the agendered is saying, "...let me be that doctor or that lawyer, instead of saying I must be a female doctor, or female lawyer."

Ofc, on Golarion, we don't have to worry about that. I suspect it'll be less of a thing with the millineal generation coming forward, too.


Here is another method: Basically, instead of assuming an agendered person likes knitting or sports, ask what their interests are instead of assigning a template.

In a lump sum, that's what they're asking you to do. Granted, that's what more men and women are doing these days, so in the larger scope, it is less of a deal.


SquirrelyOgre wrote:

For a binary person, they're a "male doctor or a female lawyer" and gender is intrinsically part of that makeup.

Since when?


The gender is literally in the "job description".


Kobold Cleaver wrote:
The gender is literally in the "job description".

Whose description though? In all of my employed life, I've never heard someone use their gender or sex to describe their profession.


Asside from the whole "ask them" advise, I would also look into their outfit. It would certainly be easier for a person to project their denial of binary gender if they ware a very concealing outfit. This would also cause different people to use different pronouns based on cultural bias.


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Captain Battletoad wrote:
Kobold Cleaver wrote:
The gender is literally in the "job description".
Whose description though? In all of my employed life, I've never heard someone use their gender or sex to describe their profession.
SquirrelyOgre wrote:

For a binary person, they're a "male doctor or a female lawyer" and gender is intrinsically part of that makeup.

While people don't outright introduce themselves with gender (because cis people see it as self-evident), it still comprises a huge part of our identity. We just don't really notice it is because of how thoroughly ingrained our gender norms—specifically, our norms of having gender—are at this point.

EDIT: Actually, while these are two topics I'm admittedly pretty uninformed on (for your standard cishet reasons), I would guess it's sort of similar to how only asexual/aromantic people tend to notice just how obsessed our culture is with sexuality. Just because we don't notice it doesn't mean it's not there.

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