Having deciding on what I wanted to do, I still needed to work out how exactly to go about doing it. The technical side of swapping all the HE’s for SHE’s, and other pronouns, was fairly straight forward but it turned out there was so many other things to consider.
My original intention was to keep everything grounded in our own history. By this, I mean I want the novels to still be a product of our male dominated history even though the majority of characters would be regendered to females. This proved to be hard to achieve than I thought and in a few cases I’ve probably completely failed.
For instance, I decided historical figures that weren’t actual characters would remain unchanged. So many of the novels I’m regendering are set in the Victorian Era, which has a fairly unique and specific feel to it, not least due to its namesake, Queen Victoria. Changing her to King Victor would fundamentally alter the whole world the stories were set in, and undermine what I’m trying to achieve. Having decided this, it made sense to extend this to other prominent historical figures, such as Horatio Nelson.
Names of characters proved to be tricky also. For better or worse, many names are closely associated with one gender or the other. So, after regendering the character, a change in name was usually warranted also. I did decide that when a name was regularly used for both genders, I would keep it the same. So names like Sherlock and Billy remained unchanged even as their characters were regendered. When I did have to change the name, I decided to go with ones that were as a close to the original as possible. So Dr John Watson would regender to Dr Joan Watson.
General terminology was probably the harder part and the one that had the great effect on changing the feel of the world as a whole. So many of our everyday terms have become gendered, such as referring to policemen and postmen as a default, though it’s slowly changing. More subtle are conventions like considering ships to be female. In trying to keep the novel grounded in our own historical reality, I’d need to keep these terms unchanged, yet many of them would no longer make sense when used for female characters. In such cases, I decided to change the terms, but when they were used in more general and abstract ways, I would continue to use the male default version.
Then there were the truly abstract concepts, such as using ‘Mankind’ to refer to humanity. I thought long as hard about these ones since I found it pretty interesting to read the novels that used ‘Womankind’ instead, but in the end decided it felt too much like the alternate history I was trying to avoid.
Perhaps the biggest change I had to make was in the form of gender specific elements, such as beards or dresses. I had originally planned to ignore them also but it felt really bizarre to descriptions of characters that had been regendered to females having beards. Similarly, reading passages featuring men wearing dresses didn’t feel historically accurate. So in the end, I decided I’d need to take some liberties with how these were handles.
It was pretty apparent at this point that I wasn’t going to be consistent with how I handled any of these decisions. While I had originally intended them to be rules to follow, I decided they would work better as guidelines and that I’d needed to be flexible enough to change them as needed.
The final decision I made was the name I used as the author of these works. Using L.E. Smart seemed to work on so many levels. It made it easier to differentiate from my wholly original works, where I use my full name, Leif Smart, without hiding behind a pseudonym. It also mirrors what so many female authors have had to do, which is to hide their gender behind initials in order achieve commercial success. Finally, the initials, when spoken, sounds like the name ‘Ellie’, a typically female name. It feels almost like a regendering of myself.
One last point before I finish. While I’ve been working and thinking on this project for some time now, I can’t help feel appropriate it is for the #heforshe movement put forward by Emma Watson. Not only is my work aiming to aid in gender equality but it is literally the swapping of he’s for she’s.
No doubt people with disagree with the decision I have made. I myself continue to um and ahh about them. No doubt I’ll continue to adjust them going forward, so feel free to share your thoughts with me. So I’ve found the regendering process to be even more elightening than I thought it’d be. I hope you all find the experience as eye opening as I have.