Tag Archives: character development

How to Write Trans Characters (Or at Least Some Decent Ideas on the Subject)

Ev holding his memoirFor the most part last week’s Emerging Writer’s Workshop in LA was a love fest of prose writers, faculty, and poets. We sang karaoke together, we gave supportive critiques of each other’s work, we grumbled about dining hall food in an unseasoned bonding moment. If the workshop was in part to help us network, we hit a grand slam of connectedness. There were a couple of struggles, however, and one of them involved talking about how to help cisgender people “write” trans characters. Not surprisingly, several of us got hung up on definitions and the inclusivity of a given category of gender identity (or even gender-related identity). It’s not that we didn’t work through these issues, and everyone did their best to tease out what their questions were exactly and where they were triggered, and so on, but I’d like to suggest some other ways folks can write about trans people without maybe getting too caught up on the differences between changing definitions. And with all due respect to Jacob Hale et al’s list of how to write on transgender issues, that is really a non-fiction list, and as such, not as helpful for the fiction writer (but writers should read it anyway).

Learn about transfolk and the tensions in the trans community—Yes, one should look over definition lists, asking critical questions about the assumptions that inform the definitions. For example, does the definition of “transvestite” include that it is largely viewed as an archaic and derogatory label? Does the definition of “drag king” limit it to cisgender women only, or is it inclusive of trans-identified men? Is there a discussion about the debate between people who see transsexualism as only a medical issue and those who argue all gender is socially constructed? These differences have a real effect on the ways in which trans people walk through the world, how they use language to describe themselves, and how they relate to others. If you are trying to represent them, then your trans characters should have some background (it may not ever be shown directly in the story) on how they understand themselves. Read More…

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