Researching Gender Fluidity & Representing it in Fiction

I’ll be honest, Gentle Reader, I wrote The 5th Gender, basically in the space of one week without internet. So while I was writing it. I just let it come…

So to speak.

But after that, I did a ton of research, as indeed I did for Custard Protocol, San Andreas Shifters & other Tinkered Stars books. (I muck around with gender all the time… anthropology background + friendship group, I suspect.)

Here’s a bunch of research all to do with:

Researching Gender & Gender Fluidity and Representing it in Science Fiction & Fantasy

In The 5th Gender I’m dealing heavily with a completely alien culture.

I wanted to represent Tris and his people as very different from humans in every way. That includes modern approaches to gender identity, but isn’t limited to them. I should add it’s not a utopia either. Like any culture the galoi have some positives and some negatives about their society and its 5 genders.

Part of my reasons for doing this is the profound neglect early science fiction writers (particularly those of my youth) had for social structure.

SF is eager to embrace a future with advanced technology but frankly poor at conceiving how culture might change. When, in fact, social structure, languages, identities, syntax, and definitions shift almost as quickly (if not more so) than technology.

Before you jump down my throat:

Yes there are good examples of this kind of sci-fi (especially NOW), but statistically they’re the outliers not the norm.

You’ll have to read The 5th Gender to find out the complexities in biology, identity, personality, socialization, and restrictions that surround Tris and his people, the galoi. It’s part of the story. Tristol’s human lover, Drey, has a journey of discovery throughout the book that ties the murder mystery to galoi social structure.

I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m not going into detail as to how I’m playing with these concepts in the context of an alien culture.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do research into modern human society in order to be aware of the now when dabbling in the future.

I’ve dated, loved, and grown up with gender fluid lovelies. But I don’t identify as gender fluid myself, and I’m an academic so… research!

Gender Fluidity Research

10 Articles, Books & Lists on Gender & Gender Fluidity

  1. How to write non-binary
  2. Understanding and Navigating Gender Podcast Ep 172 of Stark Reflections on Writing & Publishing
  3. Two-Spirit / Indigenous LGBTQ Books
  4. The Trans Generation by Ann Travers
  5. Trans Figured by Brian Belovitch
  6. You and Your Gender Identity by Dara Hoffman-Fox
  7. Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker & Julia Scheele
  8. 20 Books About Gender Identity, Fiction & Nonfiction
  9. Non-Binary (Genderqueer, Genderfluid, Gender-Unspecified, etc) Fiction & Memoirs
  10. Fiction Books that Feature Gender Fluidity & Varied Sexual Identities

8 Historical & Anthropological Research Sources on Gender & Gender Fluidity

  1. A brief history of singular ‘they’ from the Oxford English Dictionary and more on they also English’s Pronoun Problem Is Centuries Old from the The New York Times 
  2. The Forgotten Trans History of the Wild West – Atlas Obscura
  3. Female Impersonation Galleries
  4. The Bugis people (the most numerous of the three major ethnic groups of South Sulawesi, Indonesia) recognize five genders: makkunrai, oroané, bissu, calabai, and calalai. More from a university researcher.
  5. Muxe
  6. Hijra (I read Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India as an undergraduate, and that’s where I originally heard of the Aravani. I’m not sure if this book stands up to the test of time or advancements in cultural anthropology research, but it was my introduction.)
  7. History is Gay Podcast #44 Reclaiming Two-Spirit Histories
  8. 7 Transgender History Books

A quick word on gender and sexual fluidity in the historical & archaeological record:

(Gail pops 2 Anthropology Masters Degrees on her head.)

Without question there is a historically verified presence of homosexual and gender fluid individuals in the past (and this archaeologist will FIGHT YOU WITH SCIENCE on this matter). However, pan, bi, ace, grey, and many queer+ are really difficult to trace accurately in the distant past and archaeology-only record. Without question they were present, but it’s difficult to see them given the imposition of researcher bias, physical preservation or organic matter, nationalist agendas, and so forth. (I’m looking at you, Egypt. “Tomb of Two Brothers” my arse.)

7 Modern Approaches to Gender & Gender Fluidity

  1. Here is an EXCELLENT article on: Collecting Transgender-Inclusive Gender Data in Workplace & Other Surveys
  2. A Cree doctor’s caring approach for transgender patients 
  3. The Trans Language Primer
  4. The History and Future of Singular They (in English)
  5. 4 tips for supporting a coworker who is transgender
  6. Queer Book Talk from Book Riot’s #OwnVoices
  7. We See Each Other: A Black, Trans Journey Through TV and Film by Tre’vell Anderson

9 Podcasts & Audio Articles on Gender & Gender Fluidity

  1. Science Vs podcast: The Science Of Being Transgender
  2. More or Less Behind the Stats podcast: Intersex Numbers
  3. Hidden Brain podcast: The Edge of Gender
  4. The Allusionist podcast (linguistics) describing trans genitalia and identity and the history of the word “pride” and also the history fo the word BISEXUAL on Two or More
  5.  Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast: The Spectrum of Sexuality
  6. Gender Bending Fashion from the Dressed podcast
  7. Jacob Tobia on the Homophilia podcast talking about gender fluidity, sexual identity, and the gay dating scene for a self identified sissy
  8. Understanding Transgender Health & Identity from the Anthropologist On The Street podcast
  9. Understanding and Navigating Gender panel discussion podcast Ep 172 of Stark Reflections on Writing & Publishing in which a straight white dude guides the discussion and asks all the questions most wouldn’t dare

Follow these wonderful humans!

Fantastic own voices and fashion bloggers:

Course you can take!

Writing for Trans and Non-Binary Narratives 

Gender Fluidity Fiction Ashley Writing The Other

Gender Fluid Characters In Gail’s Parasolverse


I’ve blogged about Madame Lefoux extensively elsewhere, which is why I’m not addressing her in depth here. If you want a modern definition for her, I would call her a gender fluid butch lesbian. Her sexual preference is for women, and she (mostly) identifies as a woman, with a performative aspect to her masculine attire, so perhaps she might also identify with drag king on occasion.

Genevieve & Imogene by Ace Artemis Fanartist


Anitra is first introduced as a child in Timeless.

  • Anitra’s drifter parents refer to her as female. She’s gender identified as female by Alexia, but remember that Victorian children during this time period are already dressed and thought of with a kind of gender amorphia.
  • Later Anitra is identified by Rodrigo as aravani. This is a word he picked up on his travels, probably on a mission to kill someone, it sort of correlates to third gender.
  • However, Anitra identifies herself as a woman. She was raised within Drifter culture – that culture is essentially binary but in an opt-in way. (Remember Ay from Imprudence who tried to marry Primrose had a male identity. And yes, Ay’s brief appearance was absolutely a foreshadow for Anitra’s reveal in Competence.)
  • Anitra eventually ends up marrying (and reforming) Rodrigo Tarabotti. As is often the case, questions pour in about Rodrigo and his sexual identity as a result.
  • Under modern terminology: Rodrigo would likely identify as pan.


A brief segue into sexual fluidity (I KNOW it’s not the same thing as gender fluidity, but I’m forestalling questions). It is cannon in the Parasolverse that preternaturals are all pan or at least bisexual. Alexia, Alessandro, Rodrigo, and… others. Why? Because it’s my universe and I WANNA. So there.

Seriously though? It ties into my thoughts on the fluidity and adaptive state of being soulless. Preternaturals are simultaneously very stiff and ridged in their emotions – practical and pragmatic, but also fluid in their morality and ability to adapt and change, not just in what they think is wrong or right, but what they think is hot. They are… flexible. It is the nature of their bond with the universe. They’re born this way.

(And for those of you who are wondering, at this juncture, if my use of the term progressive to define the political parties who accept the supernatural element in British society as a reference to the acceptance of queers… OF COURSE that’s what I’m doing. Sheesh.)

Vixen Ecology free ebook mana lovejoy san andreas shifter GL carriger

In the San Andreas Shifter books


Mana, of course, required a bit of both the present and the past. (Mana = Manifest Destiny later to become Mana from Heaven is a long lived kitsune drag queen in the San Andreas Shifter series.) She is trapped in an immortal body that repairs itself and cannot be changed. For someone born with male biological sex characteristics who identifies as female, that’s an intense burden. I believe, however, at this stage in her long life, Mana is comfortable in her own skin, even if it’s not the one she would have choose had she had the option.

Mana is very old and has lived in many places and times which has given her iron backbone and the ability resist perception while accepting what she cannot change. Also, nine tails.

Mana owns to the moniker drag queen because she feels an affinity to that identity in this time and place. She’s also sexually active and a Dominant who is now comfortable with her birth anatomy. Her lover, who identifies as a straight male, sees her as wholly female.

I’ve had a bit of a confusion from readers in how to reconcile this.

I’ll put it graphically.

Is a woman who happens to have a cock and use it (whether biological or strap on) any less a woman?

Is a straight man who likes to be pegged by his girlfriend any less straight?

Perception is a tricky beast.

Humans are complex, and complicated, and wonderful.

Regardless of her parts, Mana is female.


Kitsune are tricksters and meddlers, wise but not entirely to be trusted. I’ve always written my immortals as capricious, possibly because I grew up with an over abundance of Greek mythology.

It is interesting to think about what immortality would ACTUALLY do to the psyche.

  • To watch everyone you love die?
  • To watch humans make the same mistakes over and over again?
  • To know humans as prey and to think of them as inferior?

This too effects identity, gender, sexuality, and beyond.

Mana is MANY things as well as gender fluid. She is power and unity and grace. She is the grey space and she embodies it. She embraces all parts of herself without care to what others may think. Especially not what piddly humans might think.

“She’d managed to shift from fox to human without anyone the wiser and was back to being fully clothed and entirely made up in a way that Isaac suspected had something to do with savage mage-craft because no one could just shift into false eyelashes like that. No one.”
~ The Omega Objection

The Omega Objection San Andreas Shifters

Also, here’s a fun little hint… pay werry werry close attention to Mana’s 3rd Form. For Kitsune, it’s all about the tails.

Final Thoughts

Before you ask, yes, I had Mana, Anitra & all of The 5th Gender read for sensitivity by self-identified gender fluid delicacy readers. Everyone, however, experiences gender differently whether now, in the past, or in the future. Time is, after all, also fluid.

My characters are written as individual examples unique to themselves, not as judgmental models of behavior.

I’m hoping they broaden readers minds, optimism, and willingness to accept all the glorious possibilities life has to offer us without constraint. I want to offer possibilities, not dictate certainties.

Fluidity in all things… if you would.

Also, seriously, check this out…

Yours (trying to be better with pronouns),

Miss Gail

Note: This resource is ongoing & updated, if a link doesn’t work or if you have other resources to offer (remember this is for fiction writers) please let me know? 

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The 5th Gender (A Tinkered Stars Mystery as G. L. Carriger)

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Audio is coming. 

Sci-fi queer romance meets cozy mystery in which a hot space station cop meets the most adorable purple alien ever (lavender, pulease!) from a race with 5 genders.


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Posted by Gail Carriger

3 Responses

  1. Rhiannon Lynn said:

    Love your pronouns in 5th Gender!
    Actually, this post is really useful! I’m trying to find ways of subtly hinting (or not so subtly; subtlety is…not my strongest suit in writing) that certain of the characters in my fantasy novels aren’t exactly binary, or at least don’t have an obviously-gendered appearance…not that their societies have an issue, it’s simply the lack of good pronouns to use!
    I’ve resorted to heavy use of “they” and hoping that it works. Still, it’s only 1st draft– maybe there’ll be better pronouns around by the time I redraft it! (it’s the third book of four, so plenty of time).
    Please write more Tris and Drey; they’re adorable!

  2. The WOL said:

    Seems to me that one of the main themes in the San Andreas Shifters series is being honest with yourself and with others about your sexuality. That’s one of the things I like about the series. There’s a lot of self actualization going on. There’s also a lot of communication going on. One of the greatest things is the way you model interactions/negotiations between consenting adults regarding the nature of and expression of their own unique sexuality in the context of a relationship, and the way you model acceptance of individuals by peer groups. Positive role models are in short supply.

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