Introducing trans and/or intersex characters - some common and less common pitfalls!
I both edit and review a lot of trans-related fiction. I edited Transcendent 2: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016 (#Lammys winner) and the upcoming Transcendent 3 too. :)
So patterns stand out after a while!
*naked trans reveal.*
I see this just as frequently re: intersex characters too, the trope is very similar; but I think there is less awareness of that. (Haven't heard of "naked intersex reveal")
It can take multiple forms. The classic, very brutal form is when the character is forcibly disrobed. But there is more:
This is when the characters are not forcibly disrobed, but are staring at themselves naked, for some contrived reason.
Stories that start in the morning often have this scene in the bathroom with the mirror.
It is usually done with very obvious voyeuristic intent.
But it also misunderstands both what it means to be trans, and what it means to be intersex.
One can be both with any set of genitals.
You can look any which way, and have any genitals. You can have a variety of surgeries (or not), with a variety of outcomes.
This in itself means nothing about genitals, many intersex variations do not result in genital differences. They can be endocrine-related, internal-organ-related, etc.
This is really not a nice thing to perpetuate.
Generally trans #ownvoices narratives do the opposite and often elide descriptions of genitals.
Often discussions of introducing trans characters boil down to "Don't do the Naked Reveal", but there are more pitfalls that I see less frequently discussed.
Your work can fall into harmful tropes even if you didn't do a Naked Reveal.
The character is literally being beaten up. Or if not beaten up, then on the verge of being beaten up, and the protag rescues them.
These situations happen. In real life. A lot. There are many ownvoices stories about them too. (I wrote one, too!)
But often in an outsider viewpoint narrative, showing a bashing serves a specific purpose: demonstrating that the protag is a Good Ally, while...
For the purpose of enabling the cis protagonist to do a Good Allying.
(Again, I see this particular trope with other letters of the QUILTBAG+ too, especially with cis gay men characters. Just read another...)
If authors ALWAYS introduce trans/intersex characters in a negative context, it's a problem.
I can read several in a row where the protagonist is introduced in a very negative context. Even if the story is nominally friendly.
But when it is almost always a negative context, that takes an emotional toll.
(Even on me, and I'm EXPECTING it, after hundreds and hundreds of stories.)
Whereas trans men are more "invisible" in this context, too.
There has been a lot of discussion of this -
And with intersex characters, there is the related misconception that they should have 2 different sets of "regular" bits.
(Of course trans women do not necessarily have a penis, see above. And intersex people generally do not have 2 different sets of genitals, also above)
Often they hang together with the trope of the singular trans person: "there can be only one" in the narrative.
If you have more than one trans character (which is very realistic, because we stick together), they will interact.
Yet I know MANY intersex people.
I talked abt this a bit here:
Including when they introduce themselves to one another.
Chat online? Meet at a trans event? Hang out in a coffeeshop? Idk?! :)
These are just ideas and especially if you are writing your ownvoices story, you can do ANYthing! :)
The above patterns also come from me sensitivity reading many manuscripts :)
So I will stop here, but there is always much more to be said.
I suggest my other theads too, like this one, about background characters:
So far I got $22 on Ko-fi and +$1 on Patreon. Thank you very much!!
I will head off to sleep, but will try to answer more questions tomorrow :) (IY"H)
And I have a whole set of intersex reviews:
+ALL the intersex ownvoices books:
The next one is coming once I get to $350. (I went briefly over, but then it almost immediately dropped, I'm at $333 rn.)
Which brings me to the disclosure update. So far $40 Ko-fi, $3 on Patreon :) Tyyy
In the meanwhile, my review of a great book by a trans woman author just went live (no explicitly trans characters, but v much trans approach), you can read it:
I got $1 more on Patreon while I was away. Thank you!!