This is Fernberry. Full name Fernberry Montana Excaliber Ginko Gumption, the smart and curious kid who stars in my new book series, Thunder-Lizard Ranch. They live on a dinosaur farm with their five scientist grandmas, and they like to help with all the dino-chores.
You'll meet the grandmas soon enough, I'm going to do a profile on all of them as the Kickstarter continues.
You'll notice I said 'they' for Fernberry, rather than 'he' or 'she' - this is a calculated choice, as Fernberry is gender neutral. I'd like to delve into what that means, for me and the character.
We went through a lot of design changes and names for Fernberry before we settled on what you see now. While they are clearly based on my son Wellington, they were initially even closer-- with blond hair, and a name that started with W. My actual son is very much a little boy, but we're slightly hippy parents, and so he has long hair, and we don't care what color shirt he wears-- and he's got a really cute purple tie-dye one.
This has led to a lot of confusion on behalf of other people, mostly in the park and grocery store, who think he's a girl, or don't know, but need to know.
He's 3. It's not a big deal. I'm know a lot of parents who don't strictly dress their kids in pink or blue (themselves arbitrary colors) who have this issue. It's weird.
Welli is a bundle of potential, more than a fully formed person. So when he says stuff like 'I am feeling very beautiful' I always am very encouraging. Some people would feel the need to correct him with a word like 'handsome' or say that boys can't be beautiful. That's just how I feel. He loves Unicorns and Butterflies, but also and Sharks and Dinosaurs. Who am I to tell him what he can and can't be interested in? Animals are for everybody.
We still call him a boy, at the time that was just the easiest thing to do, and it stuck. In the future, when he's old enough to think about himself philosophically, if he wants to be addressed differently, we'll be very supportive. At the moment, says he's a boy, and he totally does little boy things-- any stick instantly becomes a sword in his hands, and he starts whacking things. I didn't teach him this, it just happened.
When I was younger, before I accidentally grew a beard, I got asked whether I was a boy or a girl A LOT, and it was always very annoying. I'm not sure why, being thought of as a girl isn't insulting, girls are cool, I guess it's just not being recognized for what you think you are that's annoying. I've always identified as a man, I didn't put any thought into it, I just didn't feel like I wasn't, so having other people not seem to know (again, mostly in the grocery store and on the phone where I was called 'Ma'am' or mistaken for my mother at least half the time.) was very frustrating. I've always been overweight, and I guess I look pretty curvy. Combined with the fact that have a fairly high-pitched voice because I am, in all things, a human cartoon character. I never felt the need to prove that I was manly, almost any activity you could define as manly seemed kind of stupid to me, but I never felt like I was not "a man".
This was before I was on the internet and didn't yet know anything about the wider world of the various intersecting movements relating to identity. I've always been very lucky to feel pretty dang secure with the body that I have, (although I certainly wouldn't mind losing like, 200 pounds) and the decisions I make for myself about how I use this body. One thing we're trying to teach Welli is 'My Body, My Rules'. People don't get to touch him how he doesn't want to be touched, and he doesn't get to touch people how they don't want to be touched. It hasn't sunk in yet, he still does surprise tackle hugs when you least expect them, and I've been kicked in the kidneys dozens of times. But we're working on it. His long and wild hair seems to bother a particular type of person, which I think is all the more reason to let him keep it. If, when he's old enough to know what he's asking for, and asks for a mohawk, I'll be fine with it. Hair is decoration, it only means something if you decide that it means something.
In this day and age, I'm lucky to have multiple friends and collaborators somewhere on the non-binary spectrum. And they're all cool and interesting people, whose pronouns don't really define what they're about. My sibling is Gender-Neutral, which is the most complicated aspect of all (really just in my language). I fully support them in that, It's great and fine and cool and normal, just the rolodex in my brain still has the word 'sister' written on it in permanent marker, no matter how many sticky notes with the 'sibling' update I've mentally taped to it - I'm forgetful, but I'm trying. I'm able to correct myself before I speak rather than after, which is an improvement!
I think essentially, there's a lot of baggage that goes along with being a man or a woman, and a lot of current people are saying 'let's reset that, I don't like being told what I can and can't do.' And I am with them.
I'm in charge of discovering my limitations, and being the sort of person that I want to be. But, like, in a lazy way because I already basically am? I love having a big beard and mustache, and I grew them on accident because that's what my body does when I'm not paying attention.
So, back to Fernberry. They are gender neutral. It's not a big deal. But maybe it is a big deal for someone, who needs to see that it is a normal thing to be. It's not the point of the story (the point of the story is that DINOSAURS ARE COOL, which is the subtext of all my books) but it is a fun side detail. The 5 grandmas are actually based on my son's cousins, my wife's sister's kids, who genuinely did have five grandmas for a time. (Step mom's on one side, gay moms on the other. Family is a rich tapestry!)
When my wife Michelle pitched me the idea that Fernberry was gender neutral, I was a little hesitant at first, but I've been doing some thinking, and now I'm totally onboard. Taking a step back and doing some thinking is always a good idea.
Anyway. I'm rambling. If anyone has any questions relating to this, I would love to answer them. I don't have all the answers,I make everything up as I go along, but I do know that talking about things almost always makes them better.
Big hugs to everybody. See you down on Thunder-Lizard Ranch. Y'know, if you back the Kickstarter and get the books.