“…before you go on, yes, most likely whatever you’re about to ask is very rude. If you’re wondering about what’s under my clothing, it’s very rude. If you’re wondering about my genetics, my hormones, my biology… there’s a pretty damn short list of people for whom any of that is actually relevant. Having said that, for the sake of simplifying things: you and I would not be able to have children together, for example, unless we were to adopt or employ some extremely invasive medical science…” Ellis’ face showed that ey was unperturbed, perhaps familiar with impolite questions, and this was a well-rehearsed litany. –Superdome by Casca Green, page 83
The protagonist of my newly-released book is intersex and agender, which was not something I expected. I sat down to write Superdome with a few rough ideas in mind: one of my major characters was bisexual like me, but I wasn’t sure yet if I would even find a way to state or demonstrate this in the text. Prior to er current characterisation, Ellis’ role was filled by three different characters over several drafts, and problems with that role were the reason I kept discarding drafts. First I had an asexual, aromantic girl named Metal as protagonist. Metal was simply too angry to be relatable; she was so consumed by her desire for revenge that she was difficult to write, and I imagine she would have been difficult to relate to. My second draft replaced Metal with Aaron, who I felt was simply too traditional: while was a nice guy, he was fundamentally no different from any other genre-adhering superhero, white, male, and straight with unassailable morals. His mere presence made Superdome feel more like a genre piece than a deconstruction, and he bored me.
Slowly, Ellis started coming together: different powers, different gender, different personality and ideals. Ellis was unlike any other character I had ever written. An intersex, agender person with Antisocial Personality Disorder? There were times when I wondered if I was biting off more than I could chew, but Ellis developed into such a strong personality, demanding er share of the page, and I couldn’t deny em. Ellis’ romantic interest in every draft was pansexual; nothing about these character changes would interfere with the characters’ relationship dynamic in any meaningful way.
Part of the challenge of writing Ellis was placing em in a cultural context that wasn’t a crude extraction of western gender norms. How would the Dome culture handle Ellis’ intersexuality? What about Ellis and Ellis’ family? How would I handle pronouns, and would it be realistic and acceptable to allow other characters to arbitrarily assign a gender to Ellis, before meeting em properly? Ellis broke the floodgate on my hesitation, and my cast quickly evolved to include two lesbians, bisexual, asexual, and pansexual women, a man with a totally unidentifiable sexual orientation, people with disabilities and mobility devices, people with speech and communication disorders, and a Deaf man, all falling across various races and neurotypes. I doubted I’d find a publisher. I doubted I’d find readers.
The only thing I did not doubt was that I wanted this. It stayed true to my desired deconstructive tone and my need to be integral and honest in my writing. The people closest to the “typical” heroes still aren’t “typical” by any definition, and I reject the idea that superhero stories must intrinsically exclude disability. 15% of the population of the real world has at least one disability. One in four people in the US has a mental illness or atypical neurotype. The world of the Dome involves violence and significantly mutated DNA and genetic problems, so filling it with able-bodied, neurotypical, binary-gendered, heterosexual people wouldn’t make sense. Cities in particular have especially high populations of minority races and marginalized demographics; the Dome is a strict archetypal city which does not ignore this fundamental truth.
Why do I try and write marginalized characters, you might wonder. That’s reasonable; content creators should be scrutinized for how their own intersections of privilege and marginalization occur and touch the page. For the record, I have never been “normal.” I knew I was into men and women both, since I was eleven, even if it took me another seven years to admit it, and even longer to learn that non-binary genders exist and offer me no less attraction than binary genders. I’ve struggled with my own assigned gender for the past three years, and still I haven’t reached enough of a conclusion that I would be willing to call myself one gender or another. I was assigned “female” at birth, but I feel displaced from and alienated by much of what that word entails in western culture. I have more than one diagnosed mental illness and chronic physical problems.
I hope to continue to represent MOGAI (LGBT+) individuals and their life experiences in my books, which means Superdome is not the end of my efforts in this regard, but is in fact only a starting point. As of its release, I have yet to write male-male non-platonic relationships or transgender characters, but I do have plans to include both in my future works. My life has compelled me to deeply empathize with marginalized people, no matter the form of marginalization; I have no justification not to represent them, and myself among them, in my writing.