I didn’t have much of a plan when I sat down to write Dragon of Glass. I wanted to write something light and fun and silly because I had completely broken my brain writing Tropical Dragon’s Destiny and I was deep in the morbs over ending the Shifting Sands Resort series. I wanted to do something with goofy dogs and big, gorgeous, bewildered guys in a strange, alien world of toasters and televisions.
I certainly didn’t intend to write a social commentary.
But when I introduced the character of Robin, I knew I was heading somewhere new, for me. I had already written a bisexual character, with Breck, and an asexual character, Liam. I had even, cautiously, written a trangender character, in the short story Balance. And I knew how to refer to each of these characters.
But Robin...let me step back and introduce Robin.
Robin is from a world more magic than mundane, and they are made of a kind of energy that simply doesn’t exist in our understanding. I didn’t want them to be a ‘fairy’ the way that is so often depicted, a sexy, tiny flying woman, or the other direction a lot of people are writing these days, with the brave, manly fae fighter figure. It was important that this character not cling to those gender stereotypes. I wanted to emphasize that this was a creature who wasn’t binary, wasn’t constrained to our expectations, was not only not human, but not of flesh.
When I first started writing them, I referred to them as ‘he,’ trying to counter the impression of the sweet, winged fairy that comes with the diminutive size and ability to fly. It was about as successful as pinning a beard on Tinkerbell.
I could tell right away that was just wrong, and I moved to calling them ‘it,’ which was just as terrible. Robin wasn’t a thing, they were a rounded character, with a sense and depth of self. Referring to them as ‘it’ felt every bit as incorrect and disrespectful as ‘he.’
‘They’ as a singular pronoun was accepted into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary at right about the time I was writing Dragon of Glass, but I knew that it was already popular as a choice among agender people who preferred it to the other English pronoun options. It has, of course, been around for hundreds of years a singular reference for someone whose gender is unknown, and that is a big part of why it works for me.
Robin is a mystery. They are a puzzle. They defy our need to put things in tidy boxes. They are not real...and yet they are. They even look different to different people - Heather and Daniella see completely different wings when they compare notes! Heather picked up on their female characteristics first, Daniella on male features.
It was kind of a risk, putting a character like this in a romance book, even as a secondary character. Readers have certain expectations that authors have to be careful about violating, and I wasn’t surprised to receive a few low-star reviews complaining about they/their pronouns. But I received an equal number of delighted reviews and emails, and more people than I expected are hoping that Robin gets their own book. (I’m not saying either way, yet, but they definitely have a pivotal role to play…)
In other not-spoiler statements, I got to see preliminary photos of the gryphon ornament and it is looking amazing! Folks in my reader’s group get to see them first… Originally posted at Dreamwidth: https://ellenmillion.dreamwidth.org/1699532.html (I'm more likely to reply to comments there!)