Diversifying Your Worldbuilding: a gender identity post by Claudie Arseneault

Once again, I’m giving the floor to Claudie Arseneault! You might remember her from the Wings of Renewal blog tour, where she talked about solarpunk science fiction. Today, she’s here to share some gender-based worldbuilding and some important ideas about rejecting stale norms, from her upcoming fantasy novel City of Strife. Take it away, Claudie!

2000px-whitehead-link-alternative-sexuality-symbol

Diversifying Your Worldbuilding : How I Integrated Nonbinary Identities into Isandor’s Pantheon

A disclaimer: This is not a How To post. As a cis person, it’s not my place to say how one should or shouldn’t build to include nonbinary representation. But I wanted to share a look into how I approached worldbuilding to avoid excluding nonbinary identities from the world’s history.

When I first set myself to deepening the worldbuilding around Isandor, I knew I wanted flexibility to invent and create as I went, without the constraints of a) having established too much, or b) a rigid structure. This was particularly true of pantheons, as I’ve always loved polytheist fantasy worlds where each god had a handful of domains and no more. So I started building with the following structure: six core deities (Water, Air, Earth, Fire, Creation, Destruction), and demigods (mortals who, through remarkable connection to their domain, ascended to a divine status).

As I went to design each more precisely, however, I quickly fell into old patterns.

Should the Water deity be a man or a woman? What of each race? How can I avoid reproducing stereotypes of high fantasy worldbuilding?

Well, for one, I could fling “man or woman” into a fiery dumpster and never think like that again.

I have always felt like how you build your pantheon reflects how your universe exists—what is its “natural” state, and if gender is a social construct, it makes little sense for divine beings who existed at the dawn of times to start with one.

So, Decision #1 : all six core deities are essentially agender. There are gendered representation and titles for them, as varying cultures have focused on different aspects of each of the six core deities and their vision of them evolved through time. This is why Myrians refer to Keroth as ‘Firelord’ and imagine them as a thin white man, despite the much more common depiction of them as large and black. Decision #2: all of these six core deities use singular they/them, no matter the depiction.

This normalized the use of gender-neutral pronouns in my universe, or at least opened the door to it. I worried about dismissing neopronouns but quickly realized I had the rest of the pantheon to build, and demigods would all have been actual people before.

Decision #3: include nonbinary demigods with neopronouns to legitimize those, too. The first of those became Ren, the Luck deity, who comes up a lot in City of Strife (one of my central character is xir priest). Ren is bigender; xir gender switches between man and woman, and xe is known to have described it like the flip of a coin–you never know which you’ll get, or how long a stretch can last.

 

Beyond Ren, I knew I wanted to keep race-related deities. An elf watching over elves. A halfling for those. But since I didn’t want to build a pantheon for each race, I decided these demigods would be the very first leaders of their race. Thus, when the elves were created (elves of all skin colour), their leader was Alluma, the Elven Sheppard, and since this is the beginning and genders weren’t a thing, Alluma doesn’t have one either. The point here is that when I decided there would be no gender binary at the dawn of time, I naturally created space for nonbinary people. It’s even the most logical step!

I didn’t want my only nonbinary representation to be deities, though, so Decision #4: City of Strife also features a nonbinary character. They have a minor role in the first book, but the two other novels give them more pagetime.

Finally, Decision #5: there are at least two cultures in the world that have a completely different relationship to gender than male/female binary. They’re not really in Isandor except for brief mentions for research (I need to do more) and practicality (Isandor happens all in the same city and it’s FAR from them) but it seems to me that, if everyone started from the same no-gender ground, there was no way they’d all construct the same dichotomy–not unless it was imposed (lo and behold, the regions who have it all fell under one of two Empires through history).

It’s easy to worldbuild based on what we’ve always known and read, but it’s such a wasted opportunity to do better. Inclusivity isn’t just a single character. It goes deeper than that, to the very root of your universe.

This exercise taught me to question my worldbuilding reflexes. We live in a racist, homophobic, cissexist (to name a few) world. We’ve all read racist, homophobic, and cissexist fiction. The universes we create are, by consequence, racist, homophobic, and cissexist. Undoing that takes time and energy, it requires long reflexion, a hard look at yourself, and constant listening to the communities you’re trying to do right by.

And even then… Chances are I missed something. I’m still learning–I will always be learning. But building the structure of Isandor’s pantheon and diverging from the binary was fun. Breaking apart cissexist tropes opened great possibilities while still keeping some aspects of old-school high fantasy I wanted, and I hope the end result is a universe where my nonbinary readers will feel not only acknowledged, but welcomed.

If you want to check out the novel itself, it comes out this February 22nd! (LINK) And if you want more authors who do great things reinvestigating certain worldbuilding tropes, I suggest B.R. Sanders. Their novel, Ariah, contains rich cultures with various forms of family structures and approaches to romance and sex.

Feel free to share any cool ways you broke a problematic trope in your worldbuilding, too!

 


 

Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her long studies in biochemistry and immunology often sneak back into her science-fiction, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. The most recent, City of Strife, comes out on February 22, 2017! Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!


The inspiration behind Wings of Renewal

Today’s post is a guest post by Claudie Arsenault, editor of the upcoming anthology Wings Of Renewal. It’s a collection of solarpunk dragon stories — and hey, any interesting spin on dragons has my full attention! But what was the inspiration to combine eco-positive science fiction and dragons? Take it away, Claudie!

 

2015-08-12 solarpunk anthology front titles

 

The Inspiration Behind Wings of Renewal

Ever seen an image so stunning you just had to write something about it? Read about a new technology that sent your mind spinning with possibilities? I think most writers have felt the thrill of sudden inspiration at one point or another, the solid desire to produce fiction, right there and then, based on something heard or seen.

solarpunkimages

Solarpunk does this to me all the time. Might be why I love it so much! There’s something about the Art Nouveau aesthetics, the incredible sustainable techs, and the marvelous gardens attached to it I just can’t get enough of.

So today I wanted to present three of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology I curated with my friend and co-editor, Brenda J. Pierson.

 

China's Great Green Wall

  1. The Great Green Wall

Let’s start with a cool, currently-occurring African initiative, shall we? The Great Green Wall is a project to plant a long and wide line of trees all along the Sahara’s southern edge. Its goal is to prevent further desertification, and to help communities in the area. The initiative goes well beyond planting trees and includes programs on ecosystem management and the protection of local heritage. As a whole, it seeks to mitigate climate change and improve food security for the local communities. The picture is of China’s very similar initiative, called the Great Green Wall of China.

And I mean, when you look at it, the Great Green Wall is huge undertaking by eleven African countries (Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and Chad), aiming to create a more sustainable and stable world for the communities involved. You hardly get more solarpunk than that! It’s no surprise, then, that defending the Wall against a terrible forest fire is at the center of Fighting Fire with Fire.

 

Fog Basking Beetle or Darkling Beetle (Onymacris unguicularis) drinking, Namib Desert, Namibia

  1. Darkling Beetles and water condensation

Did you know some beetles can condense dew onto their body and get their daily hydration from it? That’s how the darkling beetles manage to live in the desert! Now give this to a creative writer, and suddenly it’s not a tiny beetle with this ability, but a huge dragon! How much water could one create? Seven? A dozen? Enough for sparkling oasis with a thriving ecosystem? Why yes! That’s the setting in Lost and Found.

 

natasha-long-prosthetic-leg-by-melissa-ng

  1. 3D-printing

Solarpunk isn’t all about adding greenery to the desert. A lot of it revolves around making cities sustainable and accessible living places. 3D printing is a huge part of ‘accessible’ as it allows prosthetics to be created at low costs and high speed. And nothing says these can’t be beautiful and badass! So as a personal fan of everything 3D-printing can bring to a solarpunk universe, I was thrilled when the protagonist from Summer Project not only had prosthetics, but worked in a shop building some.

If you haven’t heard of E-Nable, watch this video! It explains how the organization uses volunteers with 3D printers all over the world to bring cheap (as in, low-cost) prosthetics to people who couldn’t afford it otherwise.

 

dragonsight-by_Donato_Giancola

  1. Dragonsight, by Donato Giancola

The last is not so much solarpunk inspiration as a painting at the center of Wanderer’s Dream, one of the last short stories featured in Wings of Renewal. But it’s a perfect example of what I mentioned at the beginning: sometime an image has a story, or a setting is too charming to refuse. And that’s what happened with Dragonsight and Maura Lydon.

 

So those are some of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, but there are way too many for me to fit all today! I mean, what about vertical gardens? Beekeeping? Tree-shaped solar panels? Everything else I’m forgetting? Between, stunning aesthetics, world-changing goals, and sweeping technologies, solarpunk has all the inspiration you need.

Wings of Renewal launches on October 25th, 2015. You can preorder through Nook, Kobo, and iBooks right now, or add it on Goodreads. Amazon ebooks and paperbacks will be available on launch day.