Review: K. A. Cook, “Misstery Man”

What’s up everyone, I’m nonbinary! Anyway…
Man, what is that nonbinary thing about? Just when you got used to the whole idea of a gender spectrum, there’s some people who literally said “screw that” and don’t identify as…anything. Or maybe both. Or maybe something you’ve never heard of. Yikes. Add that to the fact that there are people who are convinced that “nongenders” were invented with certain social media websites (even though most of us have been this way all our lives, but whatever), and there’s all kinds of intersectional issues regarding race and yadda yada…can you imagine trying to come out in that kind of environment?
Well, I haven’t. I got a taste of that when I finally came out as queer–that’s right, not anything tangible like gay or lesbian or even bi, just queer. People have…questions. Questions you can’t answer. Questions you don’t wanna answer. And that’s only if they believe you. Sigh. I can’t imagine coming out as a non-gendered individual would go well either, so I haven’t bothered. Not to mention I dress femme and…sigh.
So what’s all that got to do with books? I’ve been on a quest to find more nonbinary sci-fi and fantasy. There is… some, actually a lot. More than I thought. But so much of it is an exploration of gender that still mostly confines itself to male/female binary and then the rest is “Ha! Aliens.” All of that is good to an extent, but it wasn’t what I needed to see. What did I need to see? What did that even look like?
I finally realized what I needed to see when I read K.A. Cook’s “Misstery Man”, from the Crooked Words anthology.
tumblr_inline_nrmnusPaRX1rumnkv_540The titular character is a new superhero in town that has, unconventionally, chosen not to use gendered pronouns to identify their self, leaving the town guessing even in the wakes of their heroism. Because gender is sooo important! But really, the story is about nonbinary Darcy and an office conversation.
This story is something I relate to a lot on a day to day basis. It’s about the sheer anxiety of coming out as something “intangible” in a world that, no matter how progressive it claims to be, still wants things pretty black and white. You’re a woman or a man and that’s all there is. You’re straight or you’re not. It’s painful to not even be able to dress how you want without people constantly misgendering you.
I even began to see a lot of aspects of my own personal approach–for example, Misstery Man chooses not to identify themselves and let’s the public make their own conclusions, which is how I handle things a lot of the time. Think I’m a man? Go ahead! Think I’m a masculine girl? Whatever. But at the same time that approach kind of sucks, as Darcy notes in eir anger at why Misstery Man won’t just explicitly come out as nb if they truly are. We all want representation to help make things a little easier on ourselves. I feel sometimes if I get the conversation started, maybe that will lead to acceptance!
But no. We watch the office conversation devolve a little further until Darcy finally stands up for eirself and demands to be respected as a person who uses different (but valid!) pronouns, and not an “it”. Ey doesn’t need Misstery Man or their approach to shirking off gender. I was very proud of this moment, because even though the story ends on an ambiguous note it still gave me hope that Darcy was finally able to be eir own superhero.
This story is pretty important to me, and even more so now when we’re struggling to have national conversations on gender that basically begin and end at “well, he was born a man so…” and that’s it. The stifling feeling of wanting to speak out but being caught in yourself because expressing your identity could mean you lose everything. Looking for acceptance but finding it’s only half there, if at all. Is there ever a time we can be our own personal heroes like Darcy, even though it hurts?
Feeling way more focused on what I want to see in my literature, I’ll continue my search for nonbinary spec fic. In the meantime, read Crooked Words on Smashwords.