Geek Out, a collection of trans and genderqueer romance stories, officially released this week. Monday saw my review of one of the included titles, Double Take, a sensual story of magic and science all taking place in ancient Egypt, featuring a genderqueer main character.
Today I present to you a guest post by Caitlin Ricci, author of Horse Crazy, another book in the bundle. I asked Caitlin if she could go into detail on how she approaches writing trans characters in her books and I loved her response.
Thank you Caitlin for taking the time to share with us on such a sorely needed topic.
Hey, it’s me, Caitlin Ricci, and while I’ve got your attention I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about writing trans and genderqueer characters.
I think the biggest mistake people make in writing these characters is making every part of the story about their identity and not really working on any other part of their personalities or histories.
If you think of yourself, you have a lot going on. You may be a parent, have a partner, or be the crazy dog person who realized long ago that dogs are far better than most people. And your identity as a person figures into that, but it isn’t the only interesting thing about you. For some authors that are new to writing trans and genderqueer characters, they make everything about how the character is trans or genderqueer and not how they are as a person. We don’t ever want to discount our characters’ identities and who they are, but we want them to be bigger than that.
When going to write a trans or genderqueer character, like I did in Horse Crazy, I started with her family, her history, her life and then added in how those things related to her being trans. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s still there. It’s not ‘she’s trans, so she did this’ it’s when Melody was still figuring herself out she got married and had a child and that little girl is the most important thing to her in the world. She didn’t have a child because she’s trans, she had one because she wanted children and at the time she loved the person she was with.
Now, there are going to be situations that directly relate to your character being trans or genderqueer. Relationships are a big part of that, when the person is dating outside of their circle of friends, or a mutual friend. Characters, just like people, decide when it is the right time to tell people what they consider to be their big secrets. The first date often isn’t that time. I don’t jump up and down and tell people I’m bisexual for example. I doubt most people even care, and it can be the same way for your character. It’s up to you and your trans or genderqueer character how they handle relationships and dating but that is one facet of life you may want to go do some research on. There is sadly and tragically a lot of violence that happens to these people when someone not familiar with their previous state of being finds out. You can choose to have that factor into your story, or you can completely ignore it and give your character a happy resolution.
Another big thing I think writers new to writing these characters need to be aware of is how we come across in our writing. Sometimes we can be transphobic without meaning to simply by our word usage. ‘Her real name was’ no. Her real name is whatever she decides her name is. Referring to your character’s genetalia often can come across as being transphobic as well.
Think of it like this– if you were reading any other gay, lesbian, or bisexual book would you use that kind of language, those thoughts, in your book? If not, and they don’t serve some other purpose in your book, then consider getting rid of them. If your character is trans and they are transphobic on themselves and you’ve got a miserable, self-hating character who is going to go through some massive personal growth in your novel then all bets are off and you do what feels right in that situation. But if not, then you don’t have to go into detail. Mention that she tucked when she got ready. Talk about how she doesn’t want to be the only woman in the room that is over six feet with heels on. These are clues for how your character feels and they can be simple and subtle and they don’t have to be the main focus of your story.
I think the big thing is really to decide what your story is. Are you writing a contemporary love story about a mom who is starting over and dragged her kid across the country for a new life and just happens to be trans? Or are you writing a story about a kid coming to terms with how they don’t really think that they have any gender and none of it seems to suit them? How your character thinks of themselves, how people react to them, and how you, as the narrator, talk in the background are all going to give clues about the world your character lives in. It needs to feel real to the reader and with trans and genderqueer characters, because there are so few books out there that represent these characters, I think when writing them we have a responsibility to make them believable and good.
If you write a heterosexual contemporary novel about the billionaire and the wilting flower virgin, it can be good or bad. You’ve got thousands of other books that follow the same trope and no one is going to look at that book and say wow, that’s just like me. But with trans and genderqueer characters it may be the only asexual, agender young adult small town cowboy novel that is out right now and when that teen picks up your book to read about a person just like them it better make sense and it better not leave them feeling like something is wrong with them because of some language you didn’t even consider in there.
We all make mistakes sometimes and when we’re going through our books, especially when they are different, it helps to have a beta reader, a critique partner, or a publisher that is willing to sit down with you. They can say this part right here is transphobic and you should cut it or work with it and make it mean something because just throwing it in there like you had no idea and not doing anything with it is hurtful. We read for enjoyment and pleasure but we learn from books too.
So please, when writing trans or genderqueer characters, do your research, talk to people, and have fun. We need more diverse books and this is one population that is severely under represented in fiction.
Thank you for spending some time with me today. I hope you learned something and that maybe you’ll want to try writing more diverse characters yourself. It can be a challenge but it is also rewarding too and I love getting those emails from readers saying thanks for putting someone like them in a book.