The Writing Process: Identity, Gender and Sex

The Eagle and The Butterfly - Maggie Shaw - Eregendal

The main character in The Eagle and The Butterfly, Eregéndal, starts the story as a disappointed youth looking for answers and feeling abandoned by friends. When creating Eregendal, I deliberately avoided gender descriptions and wrote the narrative from a first person viewpoint. This was so that every reader could feel they themselves were the main character. To a male reader, Eregendal was male; to a female reader, Eregendal was female.

In the subsequent novels, the young Eregendal returns from the land of myths to the mundane world, resurfacing as Knight Gendal. The character adopts a male role in patriarchal Germanic medieval society because that allows for more freedom of movement and career. While other characters refer to Gendal as male, because knights and heralds traditionally were male, Gendal never makes that claim. As the series progresses, readers learn more about Gendal’s background: born a changeling child in Celtic Cumbria, sold as an apprentice to a passing messenger; gifted, honest, loyal and brave: qualities which led to promotion to the heights of Knight Ministerialis in the direct service of the Imperator of the Holy Roman Empire.

This complex character is based on the foundation of an asexual person born with XXY chromosomes (Klinefelter syndrome) and autistic spectrum disorder. Such conditions were well beyond the understanding of doctors in a medieval society which still used the four humours as a basis for medicine. Gendal is just aware of being different from other people and fears being exposed and condemned again as had happened before in childhood.

Creating a character who has identity but no defined gender or sex is not as easy as it sounds. It is not simply a case of choosing an appropriate role and writing verbs in the first person. Try describing yourself in terms that give no hint of your gender or sex, and see how you fare.

Happy writing!

Maggie.

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