In a story Lightspeed bought from me (hopefully it'll come out soooooon) I initially made the gender of the narrator non-specific. It's told in first person, so it felt like a reasonable move to me...and I wanted it to be able to read as any gender because I felt the story was about an experience that could be universal to any iteration of gender. So I admittedly wasn't trying for a character of explicitly non-binary gender, but rather one that readers could identify (hopefully) with their own identity. Anyway, from my experience with beta readers and my writer's workshop, there were basically two reactions: 1) The readers would choose a gender, either male or female for the character. In this case most leaned toward male, probably because the narrator is a soldier. (Or potentially because male is still the "default" character setting for most people.) 2) The readers got pretty annoyed with me. Not because I was being cute about not mentioning the gender--it was all pretty natural--but because they found it distracting. I agree with your assessment. I think as the world currently is, if you don't specify the gender, people are going to read a gender into it...just like when you don't specify a race for a human character, people tend to read a race into it (commonly white). Unless the character is doing something people will think of as typically "female" I imagine they'll end up reading the character as male whether it was intended or not. :/ As for the story, I ended up putting a few little bits in here and there to indicate the character could be read as female (refering to theirself as "Phoebe's little sister" once, being called "lady" by a guy on the train)--and I still had a couple readers after the changes who got confused because they initially wanted to read the character as male. I'll be curious to see how it all washes out when it's finally published.