Literature for building an inclusive society: Ungendered narrative and its impact on the daily life of queer individuals

Bhagirath Jetubhai Khuman, Madhumita Ghosal

Abstract


When a reader encounters a character, fictional or not, in any medium (print or electronic), that reader will mentally add the character to the scene by first cataloguing gender, and gradually adding appearance, attire and mannerisms. But what if the author were to keep the character’s gender secret? The result would certainly be a more disorienting reading experience than usual, in which the reader would be barred from a complete image of the character. Even if the author chose to use inventive gender-neutral pronouns (which the reader may or may not know) to introduce the character, it would likely only further complicate the matter. We are conditioned to think of gender as of utmost importance in learning about a person in any situation. Gender non-conforming and queer individuals face stigma, discrimination and rejection, owing to their ambiguous gender expression. Hence, once the reader overcomes the initial confusion, reading ungendered narrative can help to generate a gender-inclusive environment by forcing the reader to ask, “Does gender really matter?” If readers were able to come to terms with ungendered characters and familiarity with gender-neutral pronouns in fictional narratives, perhaps it would not matter whether the person sitting next to them on a bus were transgender or a gender-fluid person. The person would be simply a human being, deserving of the same respect and care as any other. We might then become sufficiently comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns in our daily conversation. Thus, ungendered narrative holds significant promise for queer individuals, and its popularity and wide reach among readers could bring greater acceptance in real life of individuals with non-normative gender.


Keywords


pronouns; identity; readers; queer; gender; language; narrative; character; stereotypes

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