James (elven_wolf) wrote,

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Trans* Characters in Science Fiction/Fantasy

As you know, I write all-inclusive fiction. My characters are white, black, green, straight, poly, bi, trans, cis... I don't have to repeat that diversity is what makes life (and fiction) interesting.

Writing about transgender folks, though, is not the same as writing about gay or black folk.

Duh, you say, but have you tried it?

I tend to write two different kinds of stories: stories where being queer is no big deal, and stories where it is a big deal. This post is about the former, because it's proven more difficult for me to write about it.

My intent in those stories is to normalise differences. Show that on whatever fictional society I've created, being different is no big fucking deal. And that's where I run into trouble.

It's easy to show that a person is gay, just plunk them next to their significant other and have the surrounding characters act like there is nothing at all interesting about it. Issues of race and colour are often represented by different species (Vulcans, elves, Tok'ra, mutants...) and is also something that's seen on the surface of a character. Even when it's not being discussed it can be part of the description. A point of view character will see this person, see who they are in love with, and react to it in whatever culturally-
appropriate way the character has developed.

Being trans in a society that doesn't think it's a big deal becomes a non-issue. The trans person becomes invisible. The issues that are part of a trans person's life (medical transition, operative status, hormone therapy) are private things. Cisgender people don't usually discuss what medication they are on or what surgeries they've had on a first meeting.

One can always show these things in fiction, sure, but how is it really relevant to the story? Writers are told time and time again that every scene in a literary work must count for something. Showing something that's irrelevant to the plot, and maybe only tangential to the character may end up being little more than filler. In a society where being transgender is no big deal, there would be little reason to bring up something akin to a birth defect corrected long ago unless something were to go wrong with the correction later in life.

I'm not saying there's no place for transgender characters in speculative fiction. I'm trying to talk through my difficulties here, because I certainly don't want to feel that I'm shoehorning anybody in here. If you know me well enough, you know that's not what I'm about.

I had toyed with the idea of a science fiction story set in a near-future where we have space travel and a new off-world colony. One of the main characters was meant to be a transman. In my mind, he is a transman and if I ever actually develop that story idea he will be a transman. But then what? Part of me doesn't want to pull a JK Rowling and go "Oh yeah, that guy? He was trans the whole time!" after the fact. It felt like a cop-out to me and I don't want to do it. Maybe I'll introduce a love interest for him - that's the only way I can think of to make it relevant, at least in the subplot.

I have no conclusion here. Maybe I'll revisit the question later, after I've done some more writing.

If anyone's done this before, PLEASE let me know so I can read it. :D

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