Links on Genderless, Non-Binary Pronouns and Honorifics

Please note that this article is not a guide. It is a starting point to help you with your own consideration of the topic. If you have improvements to suggestion, please DM me on twitter or telegram. I’d love to include them.

In response to a question about what honorifics (Sir/Madam) to use to refer to a non-binary deity, I did a little research. There’s four methods I’ve seen commonly used and two possibilities I can currently think of.

By far the most common method is to use singular they and skip any gendered honorifics. If anyone thinks singular they is a grammatical error, I invite them to read the linked wikipedia page and learn otherwise.

The second is to use “Ser” as a genderless honorific in fantasy. It has the advantage of being close enough to existing English conventions to be immediately understood. But it also has the huge detraction of being very close to “Sir”. Indeed, some writers use it as an exclusively male honorific.

The third is to use titles instead of honorifics. For example, “Captain” is gender neutral.

The last method I’ve seen is to make up your own honorifics. For example, Darth Vader. In Star Wars, Darth does not imply gender. Likewise, a Sith Lord is a title. There are female Sith Lords in the canon. If someone used Sith Lady, I’m pretty they wouldn’t live long enough to say it a second time. You will call her Lord and hope you never merit her notice. (I’m aware of the connotation of using Lord as a genderless title. I recommend not using an existing gendered title this way.)

The first possibility is switching which linguistic gender is used to refer to the deity based on context. There are historical examples of this in mythology. I strongly recommend not using this unless you’re extremely careful with it because you will be explicitly referencing existing gender roles.

The last possibility is using existing, real world genderless pronouns or honorifics. This is a great opportunity to normalize their use but it also risks confusing or tripping up the reader.

Links used:

Researching Edo Period Japan

I’ve been working on a fantasy story set in Japan in the 1700s, known as Edo Period Japan. There’s a lot of stuff on the internet about that era but most of it is depressingly topical. You don’t get a lot of feel for the culture.

As an entry into your own research, I’m going to recommend a book, a documentary, and a Wikipedia article to start with. Together, they made it possible for me to imagine a fantasy Japan set in the late 1700s. I’ll also cover some additional internet resources that you can use to flesh out your own story.

Everyday Life in Traditional Japan (Book)

This is basically a small textbook. It’s pretty small at 208 pages. Easy finished in a couple of evenings. It’s a bit hit or miss topic wise.

Starts off with some history and then dives into the different social classes, and then meanders into random facts. There’s a lot of nice little details on how farming was done, how houses were laid out, and some details on the food of the time. I found meals to be especially interesting. Ideally they are silent, quick, and boring affairs. Talking during a meal in the Edo Period is rude. This isn’t medieval Europe with roaring fires, groaning banquet tables, and busty tavern wenches!

Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire (DVD)

Made up of 3 hour-long documentaries, it’s pretty easy to set through. The voices of the narrators, readers, and professors are pleasant to listen to unlike some other PBS productions.

The documentaries evenly cover a mixture of history, politics, and culture. It paints with a much broader brush than Everyday Life in Traditional Japan. At the same time it covers topics the book doesn’t mention in detail such as the toll roads and geisha.

Shinto (Wikipedia)

Neither the book nor the documentary really cover the Shinto religion in any great detail. It’s a huge influence on Japanese both now and in the 1700s. I recommend reading this after seeing the two resources above. This wikipedia article fills out some of the gaps in understanding specific rituals like the tea ceremony.

Reading about the tea ceremony without a cultural background isn’t going to do much for your story. It’s not just having a beer on the porch!

Other Resources

Now that you have a baseline to start from, here’s some articles I think you would find useful or at least interesting. You can skip the food ones if you don’t plan on covering meals in detail. Remember, meals are boring!

Female Characters

Women in the Edo Period weren’t valued as much as they were in previous or later periods. They really don’t have much information on them. I was forced to look at other eras for what a woman in my story could look like.