Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Y Chromosome a guest post by Carmen Webster Buxton

Y is for the Y Chromosome

In humans, the Y chromosome is unique to men, as they do have a single X chromosome, while women have two X’s but no Y. Since a normal human has 46 chromosomes, you might be surprised that one little chromosome could cause such a big difference, but somehow it does.

I happen to have two X chromosomes and no Y, which means when I write science fiction, I am outnumbered by male writers. But every good writer is an observer of humanity, and I have had two grandfathers, one father, one husband, two brothers, a son, three nephews, and lots of male friends in my life, so I have had lots of male behavior to observe from close hand, and at different ages.

When I write a story, I often find myself writing from the point of view of a male character because he has something interesting happening to him. I enjoy writing from the male point of view, and I don’t subscribe to the view than writers can only write convincingly in their own gender, but it is a challenge to write a male protagonist. Because I write fantasy and science fiction, I can control the circumstances completely, and create cultures with different gender norms than we currently have on earth. I find this liberating and exciting because I can address the issue of how much of the difference is inherent in biology and how much is learned behavior.

One part of the opposite-gender writing challenge is the most obvious. If the story gets down to body parts I don’t actually have myself, how do I write about them? To some extent, I follow the same rule I do for women characters; I tend not to write specifics about the more intimate body parts of either gender because I don’t especially want to read about intimate body parts. Also, I think that sex is only part of who we are. People don’t have sexual feelings in a vacuum; those feelings mix in with what we feel from our senses, from our memories, and from our hearts. When I create a character, I do my best to make him or her a whole person, with a backstory and a reason for the way they feel and act the way they do.

In my third novel Tribes, I set myself the task of reversing gender stereotypes, to some extent, by creating a male and a female character with circumstances opposite to what might be considered normal in our world. To do that, I created a world called Mariposa, where the culture evolved from prison gangs into gender-specific tribes. Everyone is in an all-male or all-female tribe, with the rare exception of men whose fathers can’t or won’t claim them, and so they become slaves. The protagonist is a man named Hob, who was raised as a slave and forced to work in a brothel. Jahnsi Han-Lin, who rescues him, has been raised in a tribe of women mercenaries. She has had security all her life and is used to a certain level of respect. Hob is used to having nothing and getting nothing. The challenge lay in making Hob convincing as a man who has grown up with no rights at all without making him wimpy. I think that I succeeded, but Hob is still a very different character from the other men in the story.

Tribes was a fun book to write because creating all-male and all-female tribes allowed me to make the culture more gender-neutral than any I had ever created. On Mariposa, a tribe provides a person with everything he or she needs, but their obligation is to their tribe rather than to their family. There is no such thing as marriage. Mothers have to surrender boy babies to the father’s tribe, so even parenthood is more uniformly applied.

In my latest release, a fantasy novella called Where Magic Rules, I deal with gender by having a modern-day man get trapped in an alternate world where magic is real. Joe is the only POV character in the story, and it is his perceptions of the world around him that inform the reader of what is happening. Joe rescues a young boy named Phillip only to discover Phillip is actually a woman (no Y chromosome at all!) posing as a man. In this case, it’s magic (and the lack of it) that provides the difference in background, because Phillip’s pretense of maleness is founded in enchantment. Joe was interesting to write because he was the classic fish-out-of-water character, but he was the one whose background was closer to the reader’s, regardless of the reader’s gender.

In the real world, half of humanity is female and half male, but every writer is usually one or the other (excepting transgendered folks who might have experienced both). Ergo, one thing every writer needs to learn is how to write about the other half of humanity. It’s all part of the challenge of telling a story.

Another challenge for writers, especially self-published writers,
is finding a way to let readers know your story is out there, and I’d like to thank Scott for providing a place to do that in this blog. Go Indie Book Blog!


  1. Wonderful "Y" post. I thoroughly enjoyed your take on being female and writing male characters. And "Tribes" sounds like a book I am heading to Amazon to look for. :-)

  2. As a female science fiction writer, you may be in a minority, but you are in VERY good company. Keep on writing!

  3. Looks really good. Read the excerpt. Now on my Kindle :-)

  4. Hi...I'm hopping over from the A to Z Challenge. Can you believe the challenge is almost over? Lovely blog...good luck with future posts!

    Donna L Martin

  5. Thanks for you comments everyone! I appreciate your interest. It was fun to write this post and think about the reasons I like writing spec fic. the A to Z idea was very clever.