I have recently read Every Day by David Levithan, a book that seems to be on everyone's lips this year, and I thought it would make for an interesting discussion.
Have you read it?
If not, it is about 'A' who has no body, no gender and no sexuality - each day A wakes up inhabiting a new body of a 16 year old and has to spend the day impersonating them, trying not to interfere with their lives. A does this every day and has no reason or understanding of how it happens or why. Then one day A wakes up in the body of Justin and everything gets turned upside down when A falls in love with Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon and starts to break the rules one by one.
I was really intrigued when I first heard about it and I really commend David Levithan on it - although it sounds quite simple to explain it must have been so complicated to pan out and make into a coherent plot with a little loopholes as possible. It's an interesting subject as a whole, the idea that this person (well not really a person, entity really) exists without any physical identification or gender.
I don't know about you, but my brain couldn't quite get itself round the fact that A was genderless, it kept trying to attribute it to one or the other. Levithan says himself that the majority of readers instantly fall into the trap of calling A a 'he', which I am guilty of myself*, maybe because Levithan is a male writer, or because the first body in the book is male. Who knows, but I think it is instinctive for our brains to try and assign these unknown qualities that in real life are second nature to one or the other.
Did you automatically imagine A as male or female? Or did you stick with knowing A as genderless?
How important do you think gender is to a story? It's an interesting message that Levithan is trying to put out there with a genderless main character. Should we spend more time focussing on more important things in life and love? Would the story have been different if A was defined to being either male or female? Of which would also then define them by being straight or gay for falling in love with Rhiannon. I think it is so easy to go through a story and so subconsciously notice the gender or the character - especially when told in first person - that you don't really think about it, but with Every Day Levithan is making you 100% aware of the lack of gender - to the point where it becomes a discussion point between A and Rhiannon. It is quite ironic really, in order to portray the potential message that gender doesn't have to be the focal point of a character, he has to highlight the gender (well, lack of it).
*However, I also want to bring your attention to a little thing I picked up on, which probably aided in my mental assumption that A was a guy, that both UK and US covers have pictures of guys on the front (although the UK cover has a girl on it too, I was under the assumption that that was Rhiannon, rather than a double version of A). It's hard not to be presumptuous, but surely having a picture of a male on the cover of a book about A who is genderless, makes it slightly redundant?
Should characters and plots be defined by their gender and sexuality? Or should they take a leaf out of A's book and be open-ended and unattached to any physicality which could define them, and instead focus on the mind and the powers within?
If you haven't read Every Day yet, I would strongly recommend you read it, even just to see what all the fuss is about!