Here’s something I missed because I have been busy with other stuff. Mark Charan Newton has blogged about his latest novel, The Book of Transformations [buy isbn=”9780230750067″], and I can now note that he asked for my help in writing it. Not, of course, that I know much about writing fiction, but Mark wanted to include a trans woman as a character, and he came to me for a bit of advice.
I haven’t been heavily involved in the creation of the book. Mark just sent me a couple of extracts in which the thoughts and behavior of the trans character, Lan, are foregrounded. I made some comments, which he mostly accepted. Hopefully between us we have made Lan a more realistic character (I hesitate to say “believable” because so many people have difficult believing anything that trans people say about themselves.)
I’m pretty sure that Mark is going to get denounced by someone in trans activism. There are simply far too many ways in which people can be trans. Lan is the sort of person who would normally be described as a transsexual, and there are some trans activists who take the hard-line feminist attitude that all such people are self-deluded, brainwashed by doctors, or lying. You really can’t win this game.
What is important, however, is that Mark has chosen to put a trans woman in his book, not because she is trans, but because she happens to be one of the heroes of the story. And he has done his best to try to treat that character respectfully. Furthermore, his editor at Tor UK didn’t insist that he drop her for the sake of sales. This is all very positive, and I’m proud to have played a small part in making it happen.
By the way, I haven’t forgotten that I promised you a review of a book that gets a trans character badly wrong. I’ve just been too busy to finish it, and it does have to be done right.
4 thoughts on “Writing Trans Characters – Good News”
I’m so far out of my depth here that I’m always afraid to say anything for fear of giving offense. I’m genuinely interested; I’m often baffled. How can a trans activist believe that transsexuals are self-deluded? (I realize the question asks for you to “inform” me in a 101 way that must be infuriating. Don’t answer unless you want to. Tell me what to read if you’ve got the time and the inclination.) I’m looking forward to the review of that thing that made you angry. I’m glad to know about Mark Newton Charan’s book, and I’ll read it when it comes out.
(I can’t help being a 70s feminist, but I do understand the limitations of that wave. I went to college in 1971. The very first thing that happened to me was my academic advisor saying, “That’s nice that you’re interested in graduate school, but you should get a teaching certificate, because no one will take a woman seriously in academics. They get interested in other things. You know, family and children.” I kid you not. The second thing that happened was a professor hitting on me. For all it’s limitations, second wave feminism came not a day too soon. And it was so not enough. As it happened, I knew lots of GLB people. No T, or no one that I was aware of. I did not experience the outpouring of anti-T sentiment, probably out of sheer ignorance on my part, which I hope wasn’t willful, but I see clearly in the historical record that it happened. I’m sorry.)
It works like this.
Transsexuals are people who are physically gender A and mentally gender B (simplistic, I know, but it will do for now). This offends some feminists in two ways. Firstly, if you believe that gender is entirely socially constructed, it is impossible for anyone to have a gender other than the one in which they were raised, unless someone has brainwashed you. Secondly, wanting to abandon one gender and adopt the supposed opposite is seen as reinforcing the gender binary. Transphobic feminists such as Julie Bindel are fond of claiming that all trans people over act embarrassingly. (Bindel once said that a convention of trans people would look like the set of Grease.)
But not all trans people are transsexual in the normally accepted sense of the word. Some are gender-fluid, some are gender-free, and so on. These people can claim that they are overthrowing their gendered upbringing, and challenging the gender binary. I tend to use the term “transgender” for these people, but that is also used as an umbrella term for the entire community in some places, especially in the USA.
These are both valid ways of being trans. However, transsexuals tend to be more accepted by the establishment, in part because they do reinforce the binary, whereas transgender people are more acceptable to activist politics because they are acceptable to feminists. A depressingly large number of people in the trans community spend way too much time trying to assert that their way of being trans is the only acceptable way of being trans. When you are desperate for acceptance, the wishes of your local majority tend to trump those of your minority community.
What we really need to do is think in terms of spectra of behavior, but we are stupid monkeys and always tend to cling to binary models of existence.
Thank you. That was very clear.
Yes, to your last paragraph. I did encounter a great deal of “hated by both sides” for bisexuals, who were often viewed as dabbling for shock value or pretending to pass, depending on which part of their nature was displayed in the choice of partner. Perceiving sexual behavior and sexual identity as a continuum just doesn’t seem that scary to me, but many people seem to feel safer in a world of 1s and 0s, all on switches, nothing on reostats.
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