In the September/October 2017 issue of the Cicada magazine, they ran a story by Nino Cipri, entitled "A Silly Love Story". (Published online by the author (who also goes by Nicole).)

The story focuses on Jeremy - our main character, a man - and Merion, a bi-gendered character, who are in a relationship.

We see the story of how Jeremy and Merion met, and we see that Merion has an encounter with a girl who is curious as to whether Merion is a boy or girl.

Jeremy was eating kalamata olives when a tall brunette with Bettie Page bangs approached Merion. "Sorry," she said. "I just have to ask, are you a girl or a boy?"
Merion glared at her. "I'm Merion."
"Like, as in Maid Marion?"
"Like, as in fuck you," he spat. Jeremy's heart had sped up. It was an odd thing to fall in love with somebody's ferocious vulnerability...

Why does Merion react so strongly? I understand that they are not one specific gender at all times, like the brunette seems to be insinuating, but why not just say 'I'm bi-gendered'? Why immediately blow up at the girl?

  • 5
    Perhaps it's a question Merion gets all the time and is sick of. Perhaps people who feel they have the liberty to question strangers on personal matters, and don't take the first hint to naff off, deserve to be blown up at.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 24, 2017 at 19:11
  • 2
    The answers below emphasis the fact that the response is to being gendered, but it is also a response to a lame joke that the character probably heard many times before. See also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maid_Marian Sep 25, 2017 at 9:33

2 Answers 2


There are two questions looped into one here:

  1. Why, within the text, would Merion react this way?
  2. Why was the story written with this scene present?

In this case, these two have distinct answers, because the motivation for writing it doesn't simply amount to "that's what Merion would do." So it's important to start there - why was this passage added?

The exchange is operative on this line:

It was an odd thing to fall in love with somebody's ferocious vulnerability, but that was the position Jeremy found himself in.

This snippet of a scene is written specifically so that line is emphasized. In order for that thought to have such an impact as it's written, it has to proceed a moment where Merion exposes some kind of vulnerability, which means one of those moments has to be written in just before it. This is pretty early in the story, as well, so it's intended to highlight an important point of their relationship dynamic.

In my opinion, this is a crude way of writing this in, but it's definitely functional. The scene feels abrupt, and for that reason, the cause of Merion's irritation becomes obfuscated. I also don't see evidence that this snippet was intended to convey exactly why Merion responds this way, beyond Jeremy's vague conception of vulnerability, though, which does make it stick out in an odd way.

Which is a nice hook to the first question - why, within the text, would Merion react this way?

To tell you the truth, there's no real way to know what the author had in mind, because the passage is so short. The most I can really say on this point is that I can empathize with the character's frustration. I have had similar experiences in the past. I don't have the same identity as this character, but it's similar enough.

I have to be very careful about what I say here, and please be careful as well, for two reasons. First, because my emotional experience is one experience, and I can only speak from what I know, and definitely not for all NB-identified people. And second, because all things equal, if it does matter to you, in my experience it's better to be open and ask than it is to assume, and I want to make that pointedly clear up front.

But, the frustration with being asked repeatedly how you identify is... also real. While I'd probably put Merion's response at "not constructive and not deserved," I'd also add on a hefty, "but it's still understandable." That question, asked out of the blue, can feel like (and mean) a lot of things it's not intended to. Just a couple reasons I'd identify...

The fact that the question was asked at all means that, well, it does matter to the asker. Especially if it's the first time we've met (as is in-context for the story), it means they're not just going to treat me differently, but are intending to treat me differently, depending on which one of the two Acceptable Options I pick for them. That's a really uncomfortable position to be in.

And on top of that, it can be tiring. Being asked persistently about this leads to a feeling where, well, I really wish the answer just didn't matter (see above).

Both these reasons are why I present cis at the cost of what I guess would be unexplored self-expression.

All this to say, especially when asked at the wrong time, this question can really cause people to bristle internally. Merion being written this way... reflects that frustration, at least for me. But I would have liked to see the author describe it in a bit more detail, because as it's written, it's just hard to understand.

  • "The scene feels abrupt, and for that reason, the cause of Merion's irritation becomes obfuscated. I also don't see evidence that this snippet was intended to convey exactly why Merion responds this way, beyond Jeremy's vague conception of vulnerability, though, which does make it stick out in an odd way." I think this paragraph needs to be elaborated, especially since in the second section of your answer, you provide an explanation for why Merion responds this way. As of right now you haven't really cited any support for this paragraph.
    – user111
    Sep 24, 2017 at 22:50
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    @Hamlet Could I possibly ask you to space these out a bit? I've received four separate requests for clarification on basically everything I've written in this answer, and I've barely had time to respond. I'm doing what I can here, without writing an essay of extensive length, and there's really not a whole lot I can do with this feedback. Also, in this case, one is textual and the other is experiential - I'm not going to edit this; they're in different contexts as-is.
    – user80
    Sep 24, 2017 at 22:59
  • I'm sorry if I've overwhelmed you with comments. The above is my last comment about this answer; I've read the answer three times and made my decision about how to vote (I downvoted the answer, largely for the reasons explained in my last comment). Thank you, however, for editing to respond to my initial (now deleted) comments. And I'm sorry if I pushed too much regarding the second, more personal half, of this answer.
    – user111
    Sep 24, 2017 at 23:04
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    I tried to be succinct in looking at the text. If you'd like to expand I'd encourage you to write your own answer. I really don't know what kind of support or citation you're looking for for a passage like this, especially as my comments are observational and I do already state what leads me to my observations, but I'd love to see your crack at it.
    – user80
    Sep 24, 2017 at 23:08

Because Merion's being forced in their view to fit into the gender binary - when they're not. (And I'll be using the singular they here - it's much less confusing, and it's correct no matter what gender they are.) Merion doesn't quite fit the gender binary, and as such, this is seen by them as being impolite. It's an imposition - an attempt to force a irregular polyhedron into a round or a square hole

Its not all that much different from deadnaming a trans-person - innocent or not, it is a denial of identity.

The author's notes go into that better than I can (at the end of the story!) - though from the viewpoint of someone who's not gender binary:

Gender is weird. I don't pretend to understand everything that goes into what makes someone say, "I'm a man," or "I'm a woman," or, in my case, "I don't know."

Ambiguity freaks some people out. (The question that a stranger poses to Merion: "I just have to know: are you a boy or a girl?" I've been asked that, many times.)

This story is what it says it is: a silly love story. In particular, it's an expression of my love for nerds, and for ambiguity. Uncertainty keeps life interesting.

  • Some irregular polyhedrons can fit perfectly well into round or square holes: a polyhedron can be irregular even if its projection onto some plane isn't. Did you mean polygon? </pedant> :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 25, 2017 at 11:32
  • I think the odd 3d shape in a 2d hole was the image I was trying to convey :p Sep 25, 2017 at 11:33

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