In 2016, we were introduced to the first canonical non-binary Star Wars character: Eleodie Maracavanya aka the Pirate Ruler of Wild Space. Featured in an interlude in Aftermath: Life Debt (and then subsequently in another in Aftermath: Empire’s End), Eleodie is seen leading a crew of galactic misfits who take control of a New Republic Corvette, filled with Ithorian artifacts (probably including some holy grasses and, like, a tree or something – never change, Ithorians!), and recruit new civilians into the pirate gang.
Also. Eleodie uses zhe/zher/zherself pronouns.
As a nonbinary fan of Star Wars, there’s a special kind of thrill when you first encounter a new character that shares, at least to some degree, your gender identity. Reading a sentence with a “zhe” pronoun fills me with a rush of excitement, fueled by the shared connection I suddenly feel to this individual.
But the thing is…I am more than my gender identity. Luckily, so is Eleodie! But where Eleodie is a confident and charming space pirate, I am……decidedly not those things. My similarities with Eleodie begin and end with our gender identities. So while I may relate to one specific aspect of this character, to say that I see a reflection of myself in this character isn’t true.
For years, we’ve heard a certain subset of Star Wars fans bemoan the “woke-ification” of the Star Wars franchise. “I don’t mind diversity, I just don’t understand why it has to be shoved down our throats,” they’ll tweet, as if a single character in a single chapter of a book who is doing nothing more than existing as zher authentic self is suddenly interrupting the opening crawl of the newest saga film with a heavy-handed PSA about trans sensitivity. Meanwhile, they feast upon a buffet neurotypical, cisgender, heterosexual, white, straight-sized, male, able-bodied characters, all of whom have complex personalities and roles, outside of those singular labels.
Per Wookieepedia, there are now 17 non-binary characters in the Star Wars canon. Altogether, still an embarrassingly small number (and being buffered by such fan favorites as Unidentified Black Sun Agent and Unidentified Slicer). But it is 17 more non-binary characters than we had in Star Wars when we recorded our first episode of Rogue Podron in 2015.
Reading about Eleodie was cool. As far as token representatives of an entire group of people go, you can do a lot worse than Badass Space Pirate. And since that time, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the stories of Taka Jamoreesa, the Traveler, and Ceret & Terec. Every time, though, I felt a similar experience to reading about Eleodie. As Jake Peralta would say, “cool [non-binary character], still [not really me, though].”
But then, I read Midnight Horizon by Daniel José Older and Kantam Sy entered my life.
Kantam Sy has a love and respect for the natural worlds around them, deeply in tune with the plants and animals and other living beings.
Kantam Sy tries to gain wisdom by listening to their elders.
Kantam Sy loves a good bar brawl, from time to time.
Kantam Sy can sometimes feel overwhelmed by decision-making, and otherwise insignificant decisions can feel daunting and disproportionately impactful.
Kantam Sy feels pressure to have their entire life planned out and the thought of not knowing what comes next fills them with anxiety.
Kantam Sy finds meditation to be frustrating, sometimes.
Kantam Sy feels emotions intensely and revels in them.
Kantam Sy has a deep well of inner strength, a resolve that they draw on to help steady themself through their darker moments.
Kantam Sy is a loyal and reliable friend.
Kantam Sy makes impulsive decisions for love.
Kantam Sy is non-binary, and uses they/them pronouns.
Unlike Eleodie, it isn’t just the gender identity that Kantam and I share. Do all of these above traits manifest exactly the same way in me? Certainly not! But I sure do find myself nodding along as I read this list – you could swap “Kantam Sy” for “Danni” in pretty much every sentence and it would still be a truth. That that character also shares my gender identity, sees the world through that similarly complex, at-times-frustrating-but-always-beautiful non-binary lens makes that connection all the more special.
There’s something unspeakably profound about seeing yourself reflected back at you in a fictional character. It’s a common experience to see shades of ourselves in this character or that; it’s much rarer to see a character who is you, who radiates you with every sentence they say, every action they take. And seeing yourself in a character, especially a character that is good and complex and flawed and heroic and funny is a powerful experience, one that opens a door for self reflection and invites an opportunity for self love.
That’s an experience everyone deserves. And an experience everyone can have, if we continue to populate our stories with characters as richly diverse and beautifully expansive as the people who are reading about them. Even the space pirates.
Danni (they/them) is Rogue Six on Rogue Podron. While they’ve never participated in a good bar brawl, they certainly like to think that they’d enjoy the idea of doing so. They tweet things at @dannipurrgil.