The sound of the door crashing shut came through the wall, followed by a muffled “oops”. Morgan lowered their tablet and set it on their chest, then pushed themself up to a more proper sitting position on the couch. The stiffness in their back told them they had been slouching lower and lower this entire time.
Minsoo came into the room, still wearing his bag. “Hey, Morgan,” he said cheerfully. “How was your day off?”
Morgan levered themself up to a proper sitting position as Minsoo plopped into the big stuffed chair. “Pretty good,” they said. “I went to that big book sale by the Marina, got some ice cream.” They paused. “Only checked my work e-mail once. Twice.”
“You went to a book sale,” said Minsoo.
Morgan squinted. “Yes…”
“You went to a book sale and now you’re reading on your iPad.”
Morgan laughed. “Yeah, yeah. Rub it in, but I was in the middle of this one already.”
“I’m not saying anything.” Minsoo held up his hands, “I’m just saying—”
“‘I’m not saying anything but I’m just saying’?” Morgan laughed again.
Minsoo tried to glare but grinned instead. “Okay, fine.” He finally pulled his bag off over his shoulder and set it on the floor next to the chair. “Are we still going to Kelly’s thing tomorrow?”
“Hm.” Morgan thought for a minute. “Yeah, I don’t think I have anything going on.”
“That’s good,” Minsoo teased, “considering you spent all of today doing nothing.”
“Hey!” Morgan shot back. “I walked there.”
Minsoo raised his eyes. “Really? I stand corrected.” He grinned again. “I sit corrected.”
Morgan groaned. They moved the tablet from the couch to the end table, then sat back against the cushions. “And how was your day?”
“Really weird, actually!” Morgan raised their eyebrows at Minsoo’s animated voice. “I had to talk with a coworker today that I’d never met before.” Minsoo paused and Morgan looked over. “And I gotta say…she was hot. Like, to the point of being distracting while I was looking at her screen.”
“‘She’?” Morgan tilted their head in mock surprise.
“I know, right? It’s not like this has never happened with guy coworkers, but this is the first time I’ve had it with a woman.”
“First time ever?”
Minsoo absently rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand. “Not the first time I’ve ever been attracted to a woman, no. I mean, come on.” He gestured in Morgan’s direction. “It’s not like I’m shocked or anything. It was just surprising. I haven’t felt that way in a while.”
Morgan shook their head. “Dude, why are you telling me?”
“Because she was hot?” Minsoo grinned.
“All right,” Morgan said, getting up. “See you tomorrow then.” They headed for the hall and heard Minsoo snigger behind them.
So Morgan being genderqueer has actually been known/planned all along. There’s a common criticism of non-default characters being included in stories, that they’re added as a “token gay/black/trans character” and aren’t really people (i.e. full characters) in their own right. The fact that I deliberately chose to make Morgan genderqueer very early on in designing the character makes me at least partly guilty of this.
The reason I did it, though, was so that I, the writer, could practice using singular “they”, not in an active sense of one character referring to another, but in the passive, background, unquestioned voice of narration. Calling Morgan either “he” or “she” would be incorrect, and “it” can’t be used for sentient beings in American English. People have tried to come up with alternate pronouns, but none of them stick. Ergo, “they”; that’s who they are.
(I’ve written about pronouns before, but it was before I even knew non-binary gender identities were a thing. Even then, however, “they” seemed like the inevitable choice.)
I’m at a point where I’m completely comfortable using “they” for an abstract person, like “the user should not have to enter their password” or “knowing when you have a good roommate: they make food for you”. When it comes to a specific person, however, I still find it a bit awkward. So this scene was practice…and yes, it still doesn’t quite feel natural. I kept finding myself using
normal binary pronouns for Morgan instead of “they”, and “themself” still sounds weird even though there’s not really anything better.
So, more practice necessary. If you tell me you prefer they/them, however, I will use they/them to refer to you from then on. And since I think it’s the way we’re going, and should be going, you can refer to me as they/them as well if you like.
Also, Morgan using they/them has been planned all along…but the two roommates didn’t actually give me any more story ideas after the inaugural “Writer’s Block”. The point of making these characters reusable was so that I could practice using “they” in the narration, but that just didn’t happen. So I’m glad I managed to get a bit of an idea before the end of NaCreSoMo.
Oh, and if you didn’t figure it out there Minsoo generally identifies as gay, which is why him noticing a female coworker is unusual.
The part of the story that’s actually story—Minsoo’s part—actually happened to me today, though for me it was a man catching my attention.1 It was an interesting experience simply for being unusual; noticing a coworker this way has happened to me before but only with women.
Of course, attraction isn’t a binary thing, something that should be obvious given people who identify as bisexual. (Or asexual, for that matter. Side note: “asexual” has the best nickname, “ace”.) But even for people who identify as “straight” or “gay”, some attraction outside of those boundaries seems entirely reasonable. Well, as much as you can apply “reason” to human attraction at all.
I remember being surprised when a friend who calls herself “lesbian” said she’d been on a few dates with men recently, but she pointed out that (a) the lesbian dating pool isn’t necessarily that big, and (b) attraction isn’t binary; she was sometimes attracted to men as well. In retrospect that matched my own experiences just fine.
(I don’t want to say “attraction is a spectrum” because of people like Morgan. An awful lot of people fit into the Western gender binary; most of them are cis. But there are still people who don’t, and pretending they don’t exist would be wrong. And certainly people can be attracted to them.)
And no, this is not why middle school Morgan was wearing a hoodie, although maybe it should have been.
Part of NaCreSoMo 2015.