A little while ago, a non-binary person who I know and respect (AKA That Asshole Who I’m Dating) wrote and posted a short rant about some of the issues and assumptions that they have to deal with. In this week’s post, I’m going to use an excerpt from that post to get at a few key ideas about writing trans characters.
…I present differently in public and in private. Why do I do this? Because I just want to have normal interactions with people. I am afraid that my dress will derail or otherwise distort my everyday social interactions…. I would much rather talk about robots than my dress, because here is the bottom line: I am not wearing it for you. I am wearing it for me. I do not want the attention, the same questions get pretty annoying after a while, and ultimately, while my gender is undoubtedly part of who I am, I do not think it is terribly interesting….
…So I am not non-binary for attention, and neither am I non-binary for political reasons. I am not trying to make a statement about gender. I am simply trying to live my life, and my gender is just one small part of my experience of life…I am political out of necessity because I am non-binary. My gender is not what it is because I am political.
Please, let us just talk about anything else. (The full article can be found here: https://tachibanatech.com/chris/snowflake/)
Some Thoughts for Writing Trans Characters
Below are three ideas for applying some of these sentiments to your writing, and how you might improve your representation of trans characters.
1. There isn’t a single trans narrative.
There is not a universal trans experience any more than there is a universal queer, POC, immigrant, or disability experience. Hell, there isn’t a universal trans experience any more than there’s a universal able-bodied cis/het white male experience. There are certain experiences that are shared by many people in the trans community, but there is more than one way to be trans. Lots of trans people experience dysphoria, but not all do. Lots of trans people medically transition, but quite a lot don’t. Some are binary and some aren’t. Some trans people come out when they’re young, and some come out when they’re older. Some don’t come out at all.
Think about who your character is, what their background is, and how they experience transness. Transness is one facet of a person’s identity and often intersects with lots of other factors. Likewise, its worth consider how their circumstances, occupation, and community impact their gender presentation.
Another thing that may be useful is to educate yourself about some of the different ways that people experience and express transness. This can help you represent a broader spectrum of experiences and to write them more believably.
2. Trans people don’t always want to discuss trans issues.
Like your cis characters, trans characters should be unique, well-developed individuals with complex personalities. Transness may be an integral part of someone’s identity (again, for some it is and for some it isn’t), but it isn’t a personality unto itself. One common pitfall writers encounter when crafting trans characters is related to a writing problem that Fangs for the Fantasy refers to as “lesbian sharks”—queer characters who exist in a story solely to remind the reader that they are, indeed, queer. You definitely can (and should) let readers know that a character is trans, but you should make sure that you’re also putting time into developing that character’s personality and interests.
Another thing worth noting here is the importance of information flow. Trans people–both real and fictional–don’t owe anyone an explanation of their gender identity, transition, physical appearance, or really anything. Consider which parts of your character’s experience they’re actually comfortable discussing and who they’re comfortable discussing it with (if they would discuss it at all), and how much of this information is relevant to their characterization.
It’s also bears mentioning that not every story about a trans character has to focus on transness as a central theme. Things are starting to get a bit better, but there’s still a dearth of stories about trans folk just living their lives and going on adventures. Trans people do so much more than coming out. If we only allow trans characters to appear in stories that center on “trans issues,” we lose out on so many other narrative possibilities. Trans characters deserve a fair shot at diffusing the bomb, slaying the dragon, or falling in love.
3. Trans people need to be represented in fiction.
The first step towards writing a good trans character is deciding to include trans characters in your story.
As I’ve said in other posts, erasure makes a political statement of its own. The simple act of including trans people in your work is a huge step towards normalizing positive representations of trans folk, starting important conversations, and encouraging acceptance. It allows readers who might not have a lot of contact with the trans community a chance to take the first steps towards fostering empathy with trans folk, and builds understanding. And representation gives trans people a chance to see themselves reflected in literature, which is important in and of itself.