Writing Trans Characters: A Rant

Posted: January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

Not once have I said, “I’d like to see more books about trans issues.”

What I have said, frequently, is, “I’d like to see more trans characters.”

Do you get the difference?

Do you really?

If I had a pound for every time I said ‘I’d like to see more trans characters’ and was told by various authors and would-be authors, “Oh, me too, but I couldn’t do it, I don’t know enough about trans people,” then I’d be sailing around the Seychelles in my yacht right about now.

And if that’s you, that’s said that, then guess what. You’re prejudiced.

No, seriously, you are. You’re either prejudiced, or you need to open your ears more. Pick whichever one offends you the least. Or most, I don’t really care right now.

If I asked someone, “Why don’t you write more black characters in your books?” and they responded with, “I don’t know enough about black people,” guess what my conclusion would be. That this person thinks that black people are somehow fundamentally different from them. That somehow being black overrides everything else that makes up a human being, and you must have in-depth knowledge of that magical thing before you can write a character with that trait.

Piss. Off.

There is a difference between being trans, and trans people.

Let’s take the black example again. Being black is a thing that has specific concerns in, say, 1880s Arkansas, or parts of Chicago, or all of South Africa. There are specific issues that apply to black people in certain scenarios that do not apply to white people. That is about being black. But there is no goddamn possible difference, unless you put it there, for your space adventure story around Saturn’s rings in 4452. No fucker cares. In that example, you are just a bigot if you claim you can’t put a black character in your space adventure because you ‘don’t know enough about black people.’ You don’t know shit about white people in 4452 either, so what?

Trans characters are exactly the same. What you need to know depends purely and simply on what you are wanting to talk about. And unless you are talking about the things that only affect trans people, then you already know more than enough to write a trans character.

If you want to write a book about Abby becoming Stephen, then you need to know a lot about being trans.

If you want to write a book about a hotshot lawyer trying to get a scumbag sent down for murder who’s using the trans panic defense, you need to know a lot about being trans.

If you want to write a book about Jamie’s hot as fuck boss and how totally wrong but totally right it is to be shagging your executive director after hours, you do not need to know the first goddamn thing about being trans.

If you could replace the trans character with a cis one and it wouldn’t change the plot, then you don’t need to know jack!

Because guess what, there is a ridiculous amount more to any trans person ever than their gender identity!

I am trans. But if you put me in a book, you’d need to know a lot more about my swearing, my upbringing, my politics, my day job, my messiness, my total inability to recognise people on the street if I have my headphones on, my habit of waving my hands around and talking a mile a minute when I’m excited or nervous — what the fuck does any of that have to do with my being trans?

I’m working on a new adult novel at the moment, called Mad. One of the male characters decided to inform me he was trans in the middle of a fucking sex scene. Right. So I just put a bit in the next morning of him telling his best friend that the cute guy he pulled at the club wasn’t bothered by his lack of meat and two veg. That’s it. That’s all. Done. He is a trans character, and that is quite probably going to be the only explicit reference. Because it’s more goddamn important that he’s a flirty, sex-mad, vain and slightly shallow guy who actually figures out love doesn’t conform to what he wants all of the freaking time. That’s who he is. That’s what the character needs to be. Turns out he’s trans too, big fucking deal, I don’t need a PhD in queer studies to write him, any more than any woman writing gay romance (which is most of you!) needs to know what a dick up her arse feels like to write anal. You have a brain, you have an imagination, use them.

The minute you say, “Oh, I don’t know enough about trans people,” all you are doing is saying, “Trans people are fundamentally different to me.”

No. We’re not. Transitioning is fundamentally different to anything you as a cis person will ever go through. But trans people? Apart from puberty sucks (which is not a special trans area), dating’s hard (ditto) and transitioning itself (if we choose to do it), we are just like you.

Time some people got their heads out of their arses and realised that.





(I wrote this while I was in a trans chatroom. One of the remarks that went scrolling by as I vented was this: “You know what’s so great about living in a modern world? Having fresh canteloupe in January.” See? We’re normal people too.)

  1. Interesting read. (First off, I’m not a writer. Just a reader.) Honestly, I wrote like 5 different comments and finally figured out I couldn’t figure out what in the world I wanted to say here, so I’ll just leave it with…
    Your voice has been heard.


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