Tender Normalcy

Exploring the non-binary representation in Citizen Sleeper.

I didn’t notice that Sabine was non-binary until they were already long gone.

As Citizen Sleeper’s resident back-alley doctor and supplier of my character’s life-saving medication, their sudden disappearance was fatally inconvenient. Tracking Sabine down instantly became my top priority.

While searching for clues, it took a while to notice that other characters referred to Sabine with gender neutral pronouns. When that puzzle piece fell into place, an entirely new dimension of the game’s setting, the space station Erlin’s Eye, opened to me. I realized that the station had people like me on it.

What’s special about Citizen Sleeper is that the Eye does not just contain some non-binary people. Sabine and Peake instead represent a way of being in the world as a non-binary individual. Seeing these vibrant characters helping friends, holding down a job, and dealing with their baggage really made me think that maybe I, too, can make this work. Maybe there is a place in the world where I can carve out a life of my own.

Some of my favourite moments in Citizen Sleeper happened in the downtime. Slinging drinks, buying delicious spicy shiitake, or feeding a stray cat. I built a ramshackle apartment with my bare hands from scraps of metal and grit. I grew mushrooms that would sustain my mechanical body, nesting and thriving in the once hostile and mysterious ecosystem of The Eye. Just occupying space on the Eye alongside Peake and Sabine made me believe that living in the real world as a non-binary person could be just as relaxed and purposeful.

While seeing visibly non-binary characters is always a breath of fresh air, Citizen Sleeper shows us a world where non-binary folks live and struggle like everyone else. It’s a tender normalcy that struck a resonant chord with me.

It’s maybe only natural then, that leaving the life I never lived on Erlin’s Eye behind was so bittersweet. The ending I chose saw my Sleeper jet off into space with a friend, blasting off into uncertain and independent newness. It stung to leave the normalcy of the Eye behind, but I take comfort from knowing that my Sleeper and I will both carry the lessons of that place into whatever possible futures await us.

There is no word for suddenly feeling reflected and present in a fictional world. But that’s what good representation does. I felt proud of my identity. In the company of Sabine and Peake, Erlin’s Eye acknowledged me.

By Evan Ahearne

Evan is a world-class coffee chugger and thoroughly decent writer, working tirelessly to realise their plan to talk about video games until they literally drop dead. Say hi on Twitter @BacklogReviewer or check out their writing at

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