The Skeptic’s Guide To Writing [Gender]

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There was an actor I knew named Geoff. He was a singer and dancer, too, and I think he became a teacher after he graduated. As I was thinking about what to write for today’s post, I was thinking about gender, which is one of those things I like to write about, and Geoff turned up in my brain.

Geoff And The Other Guy

There was another actor who had the same general look as Geoff, but the two had very different experiences in performance. I mean, so far as the reaction they got from the audience. Geoff was light-hearted and generous, energetically, but flippant. He was funny, but not particularly original. The other actor, the Not-Geoff guy, was very serious, and his work was excessively rich. I mean, you watched the Not-Geoff guy, and it was like your inner world was expanding because of how vulnerable and true he was to the life of the character.

Good Acting Isn’t Everything

I would say, on the whole, that Geoff was received better than the other fellow. So far as gender went, Geoff approached performance with the hardened facility of an old hand, while his counterpart brought a freshness and an authenticity that irritated old actors and turned crusty folk into rabid, negative persons.

Jealous? Cranky? Jaded?

The other fellow was the better actor, but Geoff didn’t get mauled by the theatre community. And now that I have set the scene, as ’twere, let’s talk about clumsy lending-out of the soul.

Penny, The Actress

There’s an episode of The Big Bang Theory when Leonard’s mother comes to visit, and she tells Penny that, as an aspiring actress, she probably suffers from an exterior locus of identity. Geoff didn’t suffer from an exteriorized identity, but the other fellow did, and angry old people went to town torturing him for it. You see, if you suffer from an exterior locus of identity, you become peculiarly vulnerable to manipulation from authority figures, like directors or established actors. If all the older people in a community are bored and frustrated, and you don’t have a free-floating, gender-based system of performance, you’re toast.

But What Does Gender Have To Do With This?

Everything. You see, each generation has a basic gendered template, an idea of what normal is. When one individual, say, from a younger generation, departs from that norm, the established folk have a script, and they gang up on what they perceive as an aberration from normalized behavior. Spiritual cannibalism ensues.

Eat The Actors!

Geoff had a clumsy, homemade floating system of gender. He blended easily into both the hetero- and homosexual communities, and attacks by the crusty elders on his identity rolled away from his closed energy self.

Vulnerability To Attack

The other fellow, the Not-Geoff actor, came from a background of severe emotional neglect, and he was a sizzling-hot straight guy with a similarly-hot wife. Everybody piled on him, all the time, and because he never created a performance identity isolated from and independent to his actual self, every slight and barb sank right into his genuine person, and imploded on his real soul.

Don’t Be Like The Other Guy

Geoff wasn’t the shiniest, sexiest actor in the universe, but he created a more-than-competent shell of performative gear around his work, and was therefore able to respond and adapt readily to feedback, whether it was positive or negative. The other actor, alas, took every criticism as a personal comment on his intrinsic self, and if you try to change yourself, you will find that it takes more than five minutes, and sometimes more than a life, to change the fundamental composition of your inherent self. Try rehearsing with a fellow who can’t change his behavior without a psychological crisis, and you will get the idea that a free-floating, independent psyche is a useful thing to own as a performer.

But What Does This Have To Do With Writing?

Nothing, really. I was just thinking about it today. But let’s apply it to writing, and see where we go. Presumably, many of your characters carry some manner of gender identity with them, and also presumably, this identity shapes much of their behavior, and influences all of their romantic endeavors.

Examples

Bland Writing:

She wasn’t thinking of him this morning, which was a wonder, because Harleg had haunted Marlene’s every waking moment for nearly a month now. I’ll have to do more runs like this, she told herself, as she carved the motored skiff through the ruby waters of the shark-infested Bleemen Sea.

She knew better than to confront the reptilian natives of her adopted land alone, but Harleg’s taunts about her ineptitude drove her on. It didn’t count as thinking of him, she had decided, if she was only pondering things he’d said to her.

She saw the beasts before they saw her; their blind eyes and cruel lips were turned towards the water, and their spears were raised.

Better Writing:

Marlene shifted into high gear, and raced over the building waves of the shark-infested sea. Her heart pounded! Her palms felt slick! The red water hissed up in long, shear sheets to either side of her personal craft.

Whoosh! The black-pebbled land came into view. She hardened her spirit against the nagging fear of what-may-come. I won’t give up! she thought.

Before too long, she reached the shore, and dragged the motorized skiff onto the black beach. The natives didn’t come out, but she heard their spears rattling far within the trees. Not today! she thought, gritting her teeth against the awful danger.

Skeptical About Gender?

The gender of your characters, and their psycho-social development in terms of recognized internal self, establishes the relationship the reader will form with the fictional being, and also directly determines the quality, artistically, of your writing. Make a deliberate choice about the gendered behavior of your characters, and your fiction will improve for it.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Ajalia is groomed by her father to be a prostitute, and Delmar is used as a surrogate spouse by his mother; this leads to their understanding each other quite well. My oldest child is contemplating a career in the performing arts.

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