In the Groundbreaking Award Winning Traumatising War Anime That Somehow Only Ever Got Produced As A Series Of Scholastic Young Adult Fiction Science Fantasy Novels, Animorphs, there’s this character, and his name is Ax. Well, his name is Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, which you may recognise in the middle as ‘what you get when you slap your hand on a keyboard and then try to make it look like you actually a word,’ but he’s called Ax, by his friends and cohort of fellow pro-human
terrorists freedom fighters, and he’s from the other evil empire of the Andalites, a force in contest with the series’ longstanding villains, the brain-puppeteering Yeerks.
Because everything in this setting is meant to give a teenager some form of prolonged anxiety, rather than being a small slug that crawls in your ear, and flattens across your brain and takes over your body so perfectly nobody will ever realise it’s happened to you, the Andalites are instead, a race of purple centaurs with scorpion tails, the ability to read minds, and developed technology that lets them shapeshift into literally any living creature around you, including dangerous ones and unnoticeable ones, and you just have to deal with that.
Man, Animorphs was a trip.
When Ax joined the group, being a big ole centaur with a scorpion tail and no torso, read the description the cover art is a lie, there were some things he couldn’t readily do, like socialise and visit the mall and wear overalls and scrunchies (as were the style at the time), because his body as structured didn’t have it. In order to partake in Human Society and its Important Social Bonding times, Ax used the Andalite shapeshifting technology to take DNA samples from all the other Animorphs, and merge them together to make himself a new identity that mixed together the phenotypes of all four available humans. The result was someone the story described as –
And I am talking about a teenaged character here, and whose memories and relationships and feelings I have from when I read it, as also a teenager so don’t go getting weird on me here –
in essence, he’s described as hot, but kinda unsettling.
Ax takes on a masculine gender, despite being composed of two human boys and two human girls, and, because I can’t check the books right now one must assume zero hawks. And this is one of those things back in the 1990s that makes no sense in hindsight, because in the 1990s media was doing its damnedest to pretend that queerness existed in exactly one of two ways: A single gay man you could keep at arm’s length but deem yourself enlightened for tolerating, or someone who crossdressed and didn’t get run out of town for it. I’d love to say ‘it was a different time,’ but no, it was that time, and it sucks.
See, okay, it’s one thing to point out that if you were an alien making a human identity out of mashing up four chunks of human DNA, on the spot, by shapeshifting magic nonsense science, the idea that you’d get a strict, simple binary identity is weird. These days it’d be a perfect opportunity to have Ax have a nonbinary gender, especially since so much of gender is social.
But also, and this is now like, a secondary to pride thing about Wasted Opportunity To Express Nonbinary Icon Ax, Ax does a lot of things that uh, kinda just read as autistic? Not to us – not to the readers necessarily – but to other people, he does things like get obssessed with reiterating and replaying words, stimming with the way different words work, or being overwhelmed with eating things – and like, the same specific thing. Ax eats something and then he eats it again and then he eats it again, because he really, really wants to experience that over and over again.
Now part of this is just the nature of a written book. When you read a character’s inner dialogue, one of the side effects is that a character is always describing their thinking as if they are describing their thinking. It’s not visual, it’s typically detail oriented, and it often involves a character working out an explanation for how characters are behaving. Bonus, in Ax’s case, he routinely misunderstands the focus of a question, and needs someone to clarify what they are focusing on.
There’s a lot of complicated questions about what ‘male’ in one culture means vs ‘male’ in another culture, so it by definition is pretty challenging to say that, in our society, what Ax is what we would assign male at birth or assign female at birth, because Ax was Andalite Centaur At Birth (ACAB).
There’s a question about what kind of hormonal or environmental changes that are allowed to happen to the body that morphing can inherit, too? Like despite the fact these kids are shifting back and forth out of human bodies all the time, there’s no notable difference in how they age, which suggests that these bodies are maintaining some sense of what’s happened to them, their overall age and the like. But also we know that shapeshifting lets you regrow lost limbs (because this is a series that gets metal as hell), which also implies that the bodies are able to differentiate between some changes like injuries versus epigenetic changes like the byproduct of quantities of hormones distributed across the body. We also know that allergies can get involved, so systems on the layer above DNA are doing stuff. And we also know the people that mix up the soup that makes Ax includes a black girl and a biracial Hispanic kid.
Anyway, point is that Ax has every room to be a nonbinary trans autistic culture mix alien icon and we missed it because the culture was wasting its time with ‘a gay teenager? What would that even be like?’