Goddamnit. I just smoked my last cigarette.
Everything is about to become horrible.
Well, I mean, the state I’m already in is well beyond horrible already, but, you know, like… EXTRA horrible!
By the way, I think I totally need to draw a comic called Spiroman vs. Doctor Testostopus.
Anyway… I have some requests!
It seems people would like to know how someone writing a trans character in work of fiction can do so without totally fucking it up.
I suppose one of the first things to do is to think of the character as a person, a human being with their own thoughts and attitudes and perspectives and ambitions and fears and quirks and things. Not just as some symbol or function of the story. Well-written characters are three-dimensional. Every aspect of their identities and interior lives exist. They have a gender, a background to that gender, a history, a sexuality, motivations, flaws, strengths, idiosyncracies and so on.
Remember that no one is ever JUST trans. Everyone is trans in an individual way. Our transitions are individual, what brought us to transition is individual, our “tells” are individual, our fears are individual, our shame is individual, our narratives our individual. There is no generic or average trans experience. Know what the character has been through. Know how they differ from other trans people. Know how they feel about that. Were their family and friends supportive? How did they respond to HRT? Have they had SRS? Why or why not? How do they feel about that? When did they come out? How old were they when they began medical transition? What happened that made them make that decision? Is there anything their ashamed of that they don’t tell other people? What doubts did they have? What did they tell themselves when they, if ever, were in denial? If they didn’t transition early in life, but also weren’t ever in denial, what produced the delay? How did they earn the money for whatever treatments they’ve had? Have they ever been attacked? Harassed? Sexually assaulted? How did they cope? What scars linger? What scars are lingering from the transition itself? Are they confident? Are they scared? What lessons have they learned from being trans? How do they feel about other trans people? Do they have trans friends? If so, who, and what motivates the friendship?
These are just a tiny range of the kinds of questions you can ask to make sure your character is more than just a “trans character”.
Remember that self-perception is often very, very different from external perception. Trans people don’t, for instance, walk around thinking of ourselves as “the trans person” all the time. We may be intensely self-conscious of being trans, yes, but it isn’t who we are and there are depths to us, even depths to our identities as trans, that go far beyond simply the external, presented identity. Perhaps most importantly in this regard, remember that what being trans means TO US is something quite different from what our being trans means to other people, or to you, or to your story.
It’s also worth thinking about how other people see this character. Do they conform to stereotypes or deviate from them? If so, how does that effect other people’s perceptions of them? And in turn, how do they respond to those perceptions?
What is their gender expression like, and why? What are they trying to convey about themselves? What do they end up ACTUALLY conveying about themselves?
And of course, there’s immense amounts of any trans person that have absolutely nothing to do with being trans. Those should be richly defined as well. What OTHER interests do they have? Certainly they don’t just walk around all day thinking about nothing but hormones, surgery, gender expressions and the latest act of grue insensitivity. There MUST be more to them than that.
And read other works of fiction featuring trans characters that have been received positively. Read Doom Patrol and Deathwish and Game Of You (but DON’T uncritically accept that final scene with Death) and Demon Knights. Read Luna and Almost Perfect. And watch documentaries about real trans people too, especially ones where we were able to present our OWN narratives, and frame them in our OWN terms, such as She’s A Boy I Knew. Read trans blogs. Make trans friends. Listen to their stories. Ask them questions. Let them tell you which questions they think are important to ask in order to understand who they are, deep down, and then ask those questions of your character. Know what trans people are really like as opposed to what trans people are like only in fiction and the imaginations of cis people. Learn to understand us as human beings, exactly as complex and fucked up as all the rest of us.
Don’t make it easy on yourself. Don’t make it easy on the reader. And don’t place “not pissing anyone off” as your top priority. Place writing a compelling, believable, three-dimensional, human character as your top priority. No matter WHAT you do, or HOW you write your trans character, some trans person somewhere is going to find it flawed and hurtful and be angry with you. That’s not important. What’s important is that for some reader, somewhere, some perfect trans reader who you want to reach, it feels true and real and meaningful, that they feel understood and see themselves reflected in your work. THAT’S what counts.
I hope this helps.