Good Omens: What Onscreen Canon Nonbinary Representation Looks Like
Good Omens gave us an amazing representation of nonbinary romance in mass media, but it’s been months and many people still haven’t realized it. We need to talk about that.
When Good Omens released on Amazon Prime, nonbinary people were surprised to receive unexpected representation. It was a wonderful chance to gasp a breath in a world that rarely acknowledges our existence. In fact, it was important enough that we addressed it in an article back in August. (Corellon contributed to it but hadn’t yet been brought onto the Geekiary team.)
It shouldn’t surprise us that nine months later, we’re still explaining the nonbinary representation in Good Omens, nor that people are still denying it. After all, they deny that nonbinary people exist every day.
The most frustrating part of it all may be the claims that the angels and demons cannot be truly canonically nonbinary as it was supposedly never presented on screen. It slowly began to dawn on us that this was because people didn’t understand what on screen representation of nonbinary people really looks like.
This also shouldn’t have surprised us. People don’t know what nonbinary people look like in reality either. Good Omens handles nonbinary representation so well that, much like real nonbinary people, the cisgender population doesn’t seem to notice it.
One of the comments on the original article especially threw us for a loop:
It makes me so happy when people are able to see/find themselves in pop culture Terry and Neil made a beautiful thing, and Neil carried it out beautifully. The world is a better place when we acknowledge everyone in it, and everyone should be allowed their self-validating headcanon especially if the rest of the world hasn’t caught up to validating them
Except…it wasn’t an article about self-validation. We didn’t see or find anything that wasn’t already meant to be there. It wasn’t an article about headcanons and personal feelings or interpretations.
We COULD have written about personal feelings and interpretations. We have enough of those to fill a whole article series and then some.
Corellon: I could tell you about Crowley’s scarf (worn in place of a traditionally masculine necktie) and how, in the months leading up to the release of Good Omens, I reacted to the promotional photos with a magnetic sense of euphoria even before I knew exactly why. I could tell you how I was looking for a nonbinary style just like Crowley’s and eagerly watched every photo and sneak preview as it was released.
Caspian: I could give you specific examples of Crowley’s behavior. How he spoke, his body motions. Where he opted to reveal his name and so much more. There is no right way to be nonbinary, but there is a certain attitude out from it. We tend to find each other, not because it’s obvious to most people as to who we are but because we act differently. When you live outside the binary, the arbitrary rules it makes for you no longer apply.
We could write a book about feelings. But we didn’t need to. Our articles was based on receiptsssss. And there are a lot of them to choose from.
We clearly didn’t choose enough last time. So let’s revisit them in greater detail first.
A popular tumblr post in late June brought up quite a few gender-nonconforming / nonbinary aspects of Good Omens including:
- Crowley presenting female to disguise himself as a nanny.
- Pollution’s they/them pronouns and “sir” honorific.
- Michael being played by a woman.
- Lord Beelzebub’s androgyny.
- Aziraphale not hesitating to share Madame Tracy’s body and Crowley complimenting him for it.
- Crowley’s strongly androgynous gender presentation.
And Neil Gaiman responded with a resounding yes! “That was definitely what we were going for. I’m not certain we always achieved it – or at least, people didn’t always seem to see that was what we were doing.”
Earlier in mid-June, he had already confirmed several other gender related questions.
Q: What are Beelzebub’s pronouns?
Q: What do Michael, Uriel, and Sandalphon identify as?
But it wasn’t until July that he really hit his stride, laying out with no possible room for disagreement that Crowley and Aziraphale “Don’t identify as males,” and merely “mostly present as males.” In fact, Crowley and Aziraphale (and every single one of the 20 million demons and angels) are unquestionably nonbinary.
Would it have been better to put some of that language in the actual show? Of course. God herself could have said the word “nonbinary” in a cleverly written interlude, and we would have fallen off our sofas in absolutely awed delight. It would have been a beautiful add-in to further solidify what Neil had already established through many obvious artistic choices.
But spelling something out in crayon shouldn’t be necessary to canonize something that was clearly Meant, especially when it’s so obvious to so many fans. So let’s bring out those feelings and interpretations again. One might even call this “film analysis.”
Both before and after confirmation, fan spaces had been exploding with nonbinary ideas, theories, and observations. Let’s talk about the list of over a dozen indicators we compiled that led us to pick up on Crowley’s nonbinary coding. Let’s talk about how many of the biggest Good Omens fans are nonbinary.
We mentioned above how nonbinary attitudes tend to attract nonbinary people, and as the fandom grew we were pleasantly shocked and surprised to see the high concentration of fans just like us.
When we wrote the first article detailing the nonbinary representation, the most amazing responses were those from other nonbinary fans. People were reaching out telling us they were crying. That they felt seen. That they thought they had been merely imagining things, and that the confirmation shocked them. They had accurately seen themselves, but been too afraid to claim the representation. (Perhaps because fandom at large is so quick to discount any interpretation outside the cisgender heterosexual default without overwhelming evidence?) But the evidence WAS overwhelming.
Let’s start with Crowley. He’s played by a cisgender man, so on the surface, viewers might assume he’s also a man…but anyone paying attention will start to notice that he’s more complex than that.
First of all there’s the obvious feminine examples of Nanny Ashtoreth and his Biblical robes. (It was nice to see Neil confirm that Crowley was presenting female at Golgotha, but this was already obvious to everyone in the fandom who was familiar with the clothing of that era.)
Where most binary men would wear a tie, Crowley wears a thin fashion scarf with blingy chain tassels that looks like something you’d find at Claire’s. His “flash bastard” antichrist-delivery vest appears to be a women’s cut. Both modern day designer sunglasses (the tortoiseshell ones and the pair with the iconic side shades) were sourced and found to be women’s styles.
His makeup is slightly “too much” for a male character. In every era, his outfits are often reminiscent of androgynous rock stars, and his hair is almost always slightly longer than the popular “men’s” styles. In fact, one tumblr user even pointed out that the Roman front curls were exclusively women’s fashion.
Even his name change is reminiscent of trans / nonbinary experiences, and while not undertaken for the exact same reasons, his struggles to assert himself and hesitation to share the addition of “Anthony” with Aziraphale is an extremely relateable experience we can find strength in.
While we focus heavily on Crowley, that doesn’t mean that evidence wasn’t there for the rest of angel and demon kind as well.
While Crowley dances around gender presentation and preferences, Aziraphale continues to solidly present masculine. Despite this, there’s a simple observation in the Good Omens cosplay community that not that many cisgender men are cosplaying Aziraphale.
Unlike Crowley who is regularly trying women’s styles, Aziraphale’s outfits ought to be more comfortable for most cis men, right?
So why is our softest angel being neglected by cosplayers? It’s not in clothing but personality. Aziraphale’s representation is not as flashy as Crowley’s, but it does not mean it’s not present.
Much of Aziraphale’s personality falls under what would be considered more feminine traits. As Crowley plays with gendered clothing, Aziraphale blatantly ignores anything resembling gendered behavior. He is believed soft not because he’s weak, but because he favors a different kind of strength.
A century ago, about the time our favorite angel was visiting his discreet Gentlemen’s Club, this would have had him simply labeled as gay. But having a sexual preference isn’t a gender identity, and the only canon relationship we ever see him in is with an obviously nonbinary demon.
While this can still be labeled a queer relationship, we’ve learned to look beyond the label of “gay” as an explanation for any sort of gender questioning behavior.
While we don’t get to explore the side characters as heavily, it doesn’t mean their gender presentation is any less nonbinary.
Beelzebub is never addressed by any specific pronouns in the series, and the Lord of Hell presents magnificently androgynously. So much so that people were headcanoning zzzzzzir as nonbinary in fanfiction and other fan places before we had official confirmation and even afterward by people who haven’t seen it yet. Neil’s confirmation about zzzzzzir gender and pronouns is just a wonderful addition to who zzzzzze already is.
While all the angels and demons of Good Omens were cast without regard to gender, it is wonderfully nonbinary to see Michael portrayed by a female actor and using a masculine name.
While Gabriel’s presentation is not all that discernible from the average cis man, his appreciation of fine suits and overall mannerisms even evoke some of the nonbinary spirit. It’s also important that not every character be androgynous when writing a group of nonbinary people.
It’s even more important to remember that while we’ve occasionally been using “nonbinary” interchangeably with “gender nonconformity,” nonbinary can look like anything. While many, and most of the more visible, favor a more androgynous look, we come in every appearance, every behavior.
In the world of Good Omens even the gender of God herself is refreshingly outside the binary. She is voiced by a woman and referred to with she/her pronouns by Aziraphale, they/them pronouns by Crowley, and “Father” by Jesus, God clearly wanders the genders as She sees fit. (And Neil confirmed last December that, God is extremely NOT binary.)
Pollution was the only character no one ever contested as nonbinary. With they/them pronouns used by God herself, their gender was much harder to deny.
And of course…there’s always the source material. Neil has repeatedly specified even before the show’s release that the line from the book, “angels are sexless unless they specifically make an effort” refers to angels and demons being agender, which falls under the nonbinary umbrella.
Clearly everyone who knew what they were looking for was able to notice overwhelming evidence of Good Omens‘ intentional onscreen nonbinary representation.
So why do people still question it?
Despite all these receipts. Despite things seeming utterly obvious to those of us within the nonbinary community. Despite the fact that we had a running list going of “is this evidence” before Neil confirmed what we already knew. Despite all this, the fact that Crowley, Aziraphale, and the rest of angel and demon-kind of the Good Omens-verse are nonbinary has been missed by the cis population on the whole.
In fact, there’s even been discussion on whether this nonbinary representation is truly canonical because it’s never specifically spelled out on screen. Because Neil Gaiman only happened to say “nonbinary” on Twitter and not in the Good Omens script.
But what does spelling out on screen even look like? If R.P. Tyler hadn’t shouted that Crowley’s car was on fire, would that have reduced the flames to a non-canon hallucination? Nobody ever said “nonbinary” when referring to Pollution, but their gender isn’t disputed on the same level. The only indication to their gender is other characters using “Sir” and they/them pronouns. It doesn’t seem logical if they’re the only nonbinary character allowed to be canon just because their pronouns are more androgynous than the others’.
Caspian: On any given few days I will go to a variety of places and locations. I will see strangers and loved ones. I am utterly and completely open about my gender identity, in fact to the point where I try to introduce it to people and normalize it. And yet I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are still a multitude of people who will see me and class me without any knowledge as to my actual gender. And I don’t really feel the need to remind my spouse on a daily basis of my gender identity. That doesn’t mean I’m not nonbinary. It just means that society’s perception is off.
We don’t question whether Captain Marvel is a woman or point to Wonder Woman as being a “more canonical” representation for women just because her superhero name happens to contain the word “woman.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as things are right in front of us whether we would see them or not. It was meant and intentional. It was canon.
Fandom can be understandably wary about unexpected offscreen author comments after the announcement that Dumbledore was gay, but this was hardly unexpected. This is the equivalent of Dumbledore festooning his office with pride flags and going off to the Discreet Wizard’s Club every weekend and the author just happening to only say the word “gay” on twitter.
Corellon: I’m nonbinary, and yet there’s no way to accurately signal that via my gender expression to a majority of people beyond any shadow of a doubt, even in queer spaces. Am I merely cis, gay, and especially fashionable? Am I binary trans? All I can do is express who I am and then clarify as many times as it takes. That doesn’t mean I’m not presenting “nonbinary enough.” It just means that nonbinary expression overlaps a lot with other kinds of gender expression, and clarification is often needed to point out what was already there.
Fans were made to doubt, but it wasn’t due to the lack of representation, and it wasn’t due to the representation not being “canon enough.” Canon representation fell into a cis normative society that ignored it much as they do the nonbinary people living in it every day. People could not see what was right in front of their eyes.
Caspian: I’m going to go to the store tomorrow. And I’m not going to shout that I’m nonbinary. But I’ll be there. Maybe right in front of your eyes.
Nonbinary representation looks just like nonbinary people. We’re here. In every shape and size. Of every race. Using all the pronouns you know and some you do not. We’re right here, every day.
That doesn’t mean you see us.
But we’re going to keep pushing for representation. Accurate and positive nonbinary representation like you see in Good Omens is rare. We’re not going to give it up simply due to your lack of imagination.
Author: Corellon Johnson and Caspian Casillas
Caspian (left) and Corellon (right) are two feral nonbinary Crowley cosplayers who have a lot of thoughts about Good Omens and nonbinary representation. If you’re seeing this joint bio instead of one of their individual ones, you’re probably reading an article about one or more of these topics.
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