Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Vance is a contributor to TheGreatBlight.com and also creates content for YouTube and runs a Podcast. Make sure to check out his creator page and follow him on TheGreatBlight.com for his next blog. This work is an opinion/theory piece. The views represented are the author’s own.
Spoiler Warning – This article will contain major character, world-building, and metaphysical spoilers for The Wheel of Time.
Greetings all! I am Vance (he/him), The Bard of the Red Hand. I want to discuss why and how transgender identities can exist in the world of The Wheel of Time. This is a hotly discussed topic in the community often utilizing arguments based upon the duality of the metaphysics and the gender essentialism they “promote.” This article will examine, using the metaphysics that Robert Jordan developed, why this approach is oft misappropriated and misconstrued in attempts to exclude transgender (and other LGBTQ+) identities.
Statement - Death of the Author
I want to acknowledge that while Jordan was fairly progressive for his time the cultural zeitgeist in which he wrote the books did not work to include LGBTQ+ representation. What few depictions do exist from the time are often problematic or outright offensive. Transgender identities have existed throughout all of human history, but are underrepresented in the modern age. While Jordan did not expressly create his cosmology to include transgender identities, it does not matter that they were not initially included, the metaphysics of The Wheel of Time provide the mechanics necessary for them in the story.
DISCLAIMER: I am by no means an expert on this topic. I fully recognize that I occupy a place of privilege as a CIS white male and my intent is to provide connections between a few disparate sources from the books, interviews with Jordan, notes, and reference texts so that a more inclusive view of the series can be shared. I studied gender, sex, and sexuality in college as part of my Sociology degree, however, I might not be up-to-date on everything. I researched for this article to brush up and provide enough information to give a general overview. I do not mention gender-fluidity and non-binary identities in this article. While related to the discussion present in this article and able to stand on the foundations built here, they deserve their own dedicated piece. Further, this article is specifically about the metaphysical mechanics underlying The Wheel of Time and therefore, is fiction. It does not reflect real-life experiences, but if you are looking for that please see Sylas K. Barrett’s fantastic piece over at TOR.com.
Sex and Gender
Sex is used to describe the physiological differences and is generally broken down into male and female. Gender is a term used to describe specific roles, traditionally enforced based upon sexual characteristics and usually assigned to identities at birth, based upon societal expectations and conceptions. Now that these non-exhaustive basic definitions are established let's dive into Jordan's cosmology a little and why it does allow for transgender identities to exist.
Sex denotes one's physical anatomy and characteristics. Gender denotes either one's social roles or chosen identity. Cosmology and Metaphysics
We all know that the basic premise of Jordan's cosmology and metaphysics revolve around The Wheel of Time. A mechanism constructed by the Creator, which utilizes the two halves of the True Source as power, that turns and generates the Lace of Ages also called the Pattern.
We know that the Creator built the Wheel to act in a programmatic fashion, similar to a software-defined machine learning-based algorithm, which allows it to spin out the required threads to hold the pattern intact. The Wheel's ultimate goal is to maintain the integrity of the Pattern by any means necessary, hence the famous phrase "The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills." The Wheel can place almost any soul in any body its logic determines is necessary for balance or maintaining the pattern.
Spiritual Dimorphism – Gender and Sex as related to Souls
I often hear from the fandom that the souls are "gendered." I know that this was Jordan’s descriptor, however, this is incorrect terminology. Stating that souls are “gendered” implies that the soul determines an individual’s identity at a spiritual level. Since we know that RJ said souls carry no personality characteristics from any of their previous lives into the next and we know that gender is a socially constructed institution. Then it stands to reason that using the terms "gendered souls" is incorrect. It is more accurate to describe them as sexed. Why then, if they aren't gendered, are they sexed?
Because they each have attributes that set them apart, whether or not they can channel Saidin or Saidar. Now, not every soul has the ability to channel The One Power. We also know that souls with the ability must be born into a body that is biologically capable of channeling. This body-soul bridge is either a physical or metaphysical organ that allows bodies born with souls that can channel to touch the source.
It is evident that through this framework if a "Female Sexed" soul that cannot channel was willed by the Wheel to be born into a male body there would be no issues according to the metaphysics. Whether or not this individual would be a transwoman in their life or if they would live their life out as assigned-male-at-birth depends on them and how they end up feeling throughout their life. The soul would have no bearing on this since previous lives lived as a woman would be forgotten.
There we have it, transgender identities can exist without issue in the world of The Wheel of Time. BUT WAIT! WHAT ABOUT CHANNELERS?
What about them? The same metaphysics apply, though with some caveats.
We know that channelers are divided into two camps when it comes to discovering they can touch the source. Sparkers and learners.
Sparkers are identities born with the ability to channel the One Power who will start to channel during adolescence regardless of their awareness. Learners are identities that can be taught to channel with the assistance of a mentor after being tested for the ability. Sparkers will always eventually channel. But Learners cannot without help.
Now with this information, we can take the same example from above: a "Female Sexed" soul born into a male body by the will of the Wheel. This soul has the ability to channel Saidar and the body is physically capable as well. Let us now look at an individual that is a Learner. This person would likely never be able to channel the One Power because they would be unable to find a teacher. I would argue this is due to Third Age societal norms and customs regarding who gets tested. An Aes Sedai would likely skip over this person and Asha'man would not be able to sense the ability for Saidar in them, only if they were actively channeling it.
A sparker presents a different scenario. We will flip the soul and biological sex around for this example.
The Wheel has determined that a male sexed soul should be reborn into a female sexed body. This person has the spark and will begin to channel around the time they hit puberty. Physiologically this individual has female sexual characteristics but channels Saidin instead of Saidar. We can come to this conclusion based upon the evidence established earlier. 1. The soul has the ability.
2. The biological body has the “body-soul” bridge
3. The individual has the Spark. With these conditions met, the biological aspect is irrelevant.
Those bound to the Wheel
This begs the inevitable question, can the dragon be female? The answer is no. Robert Jordan was adamant that the Dragon is always born male. He said that if the pattern needs a female equivalent of the Dragon then Ameresu would be spun out. This keeps with his theme of those most closely bound to the Wheel are the least able to have their circumstances change greatly over the pattern of ages. It is highly unlikely that many of our main cast could be born with the opposite sexed soul given how closely tied to the Wheel many of them are.
However, should the Wheel ever deem that a transgender Hero of The Horn was needed and this person needed to be an Assigned-Male-at-birth transwoman then they would be spun out?
I think that the show will have no problem including transgender people whether they can channel or not. As I stated earlier gender identity is socially constructed and therefore malleable. It is ultimately an individual's choice and irrespective of their assignment at birth.
A call for further discussion
Another aspect of the argument that I see pop up from time to time states that transgender identities would not exist in the Third Age because of the One Power. Specifically that it could be used by Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah to change a person’s physiology to math how they feel psychologically. This is an interesting line of thought and one that I hope is continually explored in the fan community. Further, I encourage the community members who identify as LGBTQ+ to share their experiences with us. Sylas K. Barrett’s article on TOR.com was a fantastic look into this experience. I hope that we begin to see more content like it!
Do I think the show will have transgender characters? I hope so as this could be a vehicle for new and fresh takes on the third age. Having diverse characters provides more avenues for thought-provoking scenarios and might challenge our Emond’s Field crew’s personal biases. Further, transgender identities exist in our world. Increasing the visibility for this group of identities can help in removing stigma, prejudice, and ignorance in society. Representation in media is one avenue for this.
There are a few characters that could be transgender that allow for interesting conversations about what it means to be transgender in the Third Age:
Arrela Shiego of the Cha Faile Nalesean of the Band of the Red Hand
Amathera, the Panarch of Tarabon
Each of these characters has large enough roles in the story to make an impact and not be brushed off as pandering. Further, each fulfills a specific role with command structures. Arrela leads a force of bodyguards and spy network, Nalesean is a Banner-General in a mercenary company, and Amathera is a political leader of a nation. Each of these characters provides interesting platforms for stories about the Trans experience in the Third Age. And ultimately that is what we are all here for, great stories about interesting identities.
First I want to thank The Badger Reborn. Previously he discussed this topic and got me thinking about this idea. If you haven't checked out his video please do! Second I want to thank Lezbi Nerdy. We discussed this and several related topics at length and ultimately it was these discussions that lead to the creation of this video and article. Further, she has written up a fantastic article about gender essentialism in The Wheel of Time over at Dragonmount, be sure to give it a read!
Special shout out to fellow YouTuber Riddhima for her feedback on my script and Zuul from The Wheel Reads Discord for their input on my article and video script.
Lastly, thanks to Innkeeper Hatch. Many of you may know him as the webmaster of Theoryland and the Innkeeper over at The Dusty Wheel. His videos on the metaphysics of the series contributed greatly to this video by helping me make sense of and make connections between the books and various interview statements.
Interviews from Theoryland Driving Mr. Sanderson – Entry 15
ACOS Signing Report - Erica SadunBlogs – Entry 29
KOD Signing Report - Chris – Entry 3
TPOD Signing Report - John Hamby – Entry 3
COT: 'Glimmers' Ebook Q&A – Entry 16
DragonCon Report - Matt Hatch – Entry 7 Blogs Robert Jordan’s Blog: ONE MORE TIME – Entry 16 Dragonmount’s Version of ONE MORE TIME – Entry for Papazen (This entry is missing on Theoryland or tagged incorrectly) Gender Essentialism and The Wheel of Time – Fantastic article by my friend, Lezbi Nerdy.
Siuan Sanche and Finding Transgender Experience in The Wheel of Time – Sylas K. Barrett
Videos The Dusty Wheel - WOT DEEP DIVE: THEORIES OF THE WHEEL OF TIME POWERS: One Power, True Power & Others!
The Badger Reborn - Should Wheel of Time Have Trans Characters?