Writing Trans Characters

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I had this idea I wanted to put together a guide to writing trans characters. But the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t really sure such a thing is possible. There are an infinite number of possible trans characters and trans stories, and having that variety represented is as important as anything else. So I’m just going to write about what I’d like to see in trans characters, and maybe it’ll be useful to others.

Here are some thoughts I’ve had recently about writing trans characters:

Transition isn’t the only story. Much as I loved The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a kid, I don’t want to read it over and over for the rest of my life. I want to know what awesome adventures that beautiful butterfly has when it’s done stuffing it’s face with saveloy and fruit. For me, it’s really important to tell stories that aren’t just about transition. Part of the reason for that is because sometimes it feels like there is no life beyond transition, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only trans person who’s wondered if they even have a place in the world. Stories of what happens next are more important than telling the same transition story over and over. (Also, as a side note, trans stories that read like surgical manuals are particularly tedious. The few programmes about trans people I saw on TV growing up were mostly just about surgical procedures. It scared the hell out of me.)

Trans people could exist in any environment or genre, not just realism, Bildungsroman or high school. Trans people could have adventures in space, or kill dragons, or fight clockwork robots, or solve crime, or get eaten by eldritch horrors, or act as a spy during the 18th century, or really just anything. Having looked pretty hard, I’ve noticed some more genre fiction emerging with trans characters. Which is really cool. But I’d love to see more of that stuff, and just more variety in general. I read pretty widely, in genre and literary fiction, and I want to be able to give my book geekness full expression.

Trans people don’t exist for non-trans people to get their tragedy jollies. Does the story really present a believable human being, or is the character really just an object which serves some cathartic process for others? I’m not saying the story has to be happy (I don’t write happy fiction), or the character has to be the main character, but does the character’s transness exist only as a symbol of something else, or to milk an emotional response? (Clue: if people say things like “her tragic struggle for acceptance taught me so much about what it means to really be your true self”, you’ve probably written something overly sentimental and should try harder next time.)

Trans people aren’t always part of the mainstream. Not all trans people want to be. Trans people can be queer in different ways. Not all trans people care about passing, (some do, and that’s fine too). Not everyone transitions, and if they do, their transition is unique to them, and doesn’t necessarily fit some formula. Trans people don’t always fit into a binary model of gender. Trans people can be part of subcultures other than LGBT ones, and might also be part of a queer social network.

Trans is not the whole character. This should go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t—being trans is just one part of a big and complex character picture. It can dominate a person’s life at times, and at others, become irrelevant, but the point is, it’s just one part of a person. You’ve got to write all the other parts as well, or you have a flimsy character.

I have a sequel coming up to my vampire novella, with a trans character in. And my plan is the third and final part of the trilogy will be from his point of view. He’s gay and goth, and a vampire (and kinky as hell). So I’ve hopefully managed to fulfil some of my own wishes for a decent trans character.

Recommendations for good trans fiction welcome.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Trans Characters

  1. I have a question. I would like to include trans people in my writing, but I sometimes struggle (thanks, unhelpful guilt-at-privilege) with how to express that they are trans without waving a flag that says *trans person here*, when story wise they’re people doing people stuff. I would be interested in your point of view, and apologies if this is one of those annoying cis-person questions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the question. I guess you mention it if your point of view character notices it/thinks about it (if the trans person isn’t your p.o.v. character), or if it comes up in conversation. You could make a relevant reference to the past where it comes up, or there might be something physical. (I went completely unsubtle with my recent thing, because my guy gets his top off and has scars. But in another thing I’m working on, it starts off as subtle details about a character’s past, and builds up, drawing in his relationship with his family and a whole bunch of other stuff. But he’s the p.o.v character, so that makes it easier to do). I’d probably avoid doing a big dramatic reveal, because it’s a bit naff. I read another guide the other day which made the point that the big reveal suggests that trans people are otherwise deceiving others, and now here’s the “truth”, ta da! Which is problematic, obviously. I thought that was a good point. I think there are lots of possibilities, and it depends on the characters — how big a deal to them it is, what sort of relationship the trans person has with their transness, how open they are.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suppose if I’d gotten past the neurosis around approaching this from my position of privileged ally who knows some Trans people, but really has no actual understanding personally (I’m cis-male and can honestly say I’ve never felt any other way, not even a fleeting moment of gender uncertainty that I can remember at any rate), then maybe, just maybe I would have arrived at your very sensible and useful thoughts on the matter. I was actually reading the piece thinking “Crap, how am I ever going to write a Trans character?”, and also feeling bad that I was oscillating between feeling intimidated by the idea and then guilty that I’ve never done it, and then I was relieved that someone else asked the question. I honestly reckon I could have a stab at it now – thanks 🙂

        If I do can I get you to have a read..?

        Liked by 1 person

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