Changing Images of Trans People in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

This is the paper I would have presented at ICFA in 2010 if I had been allowed into the USA. I have re-written it somewhat as it no longer needs to be crammed into a 20 minute presentation.

The idea of changing sex or gender has been a common feature of science fiction literature, and to a lesser extent fantasy, for some time. There are many reasons for this, ranging from comedy, to making a point about the advanced nature of medical science in a future world, to constructing arguments about the nature of gender. However, while there are no robots, aliens, dragons or hobbits to complain about being caricatured in literature, there are people who change gender in our world. Up until recently, the way in which such people have been portrayed has often had little to do with the reality of their lives, their self-images, or why they choose to live the way they do1. To some extent this is hardly surprising. Trans people make up only a small proportion of the total human population2. And because their behavior is sometimes seen as evidence of immorality and/or insanity3, they have often kept their identities hidden. Consequently writers of fiction may not have come into contact with such people, and would have had little evidence on which to base a character. More recently trans rights have become a high profile public issue, with many Western governments enacting such provisions4. As trans people become more widely known, the way in which they are portrayed in literature has changed. Nevertheless, some authors still present caricatures of trans people in order to make political points.

A precise definition of “trans” is difficult to produce because the word is used as an umbrella term for a wide variety of behaviors ranging from people who actually change gender (transsexuals), people who reject gender or define themselves as neither male nor female (transgender), to people who exhibit various degrees of biological hermaphroditism (the intersexed), and to people who simply like to cross-dress (transvestities)5. None of these categories is absolute, but rather should be seem as positions on different spectra of behavior. Some of the scales on which people can be measured are as follows6:

  • Biological sex, which is not as clear cut as most people think7;
  • Gender identity, meaning whether the people believe themselves to be male, female, somewhere in between, or something entirely other;
  • Gender performance: that is, does the person behave in ways considered “normal” for persons of a particular gender? and
  • Sexual orientation: that is, does the person identify as gay, straight, bisexual, asexual or something other.

The use of gender confusion to get the reader to think about the meaning of gender is fairly common in SF. Perhaps the most famous example is The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin in which a human male encounters an alien race whose members change gender naturally as part of their life cycle. Another method of disturbing the reader is to write a character whose gender is never specified, such as Kelley Eskridge’s character, Mars8. Whether such characters count as trans is arguable. Aliens are not the same as humans, and experience with characters such as Mars suggests that most readers assume a gender for them even though the writer never gives one. The objective of this paper is to look at portrayals of humans that are clearly shown to exhibit trans traits.

An early pioneer of sexual themes in SF was Robert A. Heinlein. His later novels reflected the new sexual freedoms of the hippy era, and his characters, especially the females, tend to be very enthusiastic and liberal in their attitudes to sex. Heinlein achieves gender changes by default in Time Enough for Love by having Lazarus Long create female clones of himself, which he raises as his daughters, but this can perhaps be put down to narcissism rather than any trans impulse. Other late Heinlein novels are rather more interesting. I Will Fear No Evil tells the story of a rich old man, Johann Smith, who concocts a plan to cheat death by having a brain transplant, only to find himself starting a new life in the body of his young and very beautiful secretary, Eunice Branca. Bizarrely he finds that the young woman’s mind has somehow survived death and is able to talk to him in his mind. She then proceeds to educate him in the ways of women.

By presenting Smith’s transformation as accidental Heinlein avoids openly writing about a trans person. However, within the male transvestite community there is a long tradition of fiction involving fantasies of transformation9. In such stories, the male hero is put in a position where he is required, often against his will, to dress and behave as a woman. A friendly female is often on hand to help him with the masquerade. As the story progresses the hero begins to enjoy the experience and wants to do it again. The parallels between this type of story and I Will Fear No Evil are quite strong, and once you are aware of this it is hard not to read the novel as a science fiction version of a transvestite fantasy.

An even more interesting view is provided by Heinlein’s novel, Friday. The viewpoint character is an Artificial Person – genetically engineered to be superior to the average human, but otherwise of recognizably human stock. Other than the circumstances of her birth and her enhanced abilities, Friday is not that different from a real-world “test tube baby”, but in Heinlein’s novel APs are very much second class citizens.

I no longer carried an ID with a big “LA” (or even “AP”) printed across it. I could walk into a washroom and not be told to use the end stall. But a phoney ID and a fake family tree do not keep you warm; they just keep you from being hassled and discriminated against. You are still aware that there isn’t any nation anywhere that considers your sort fit for citizenship and there are lots of places that would deport you or even kill you — or sell you — if your cover-up ever slipped.10

Friday is not presented as a trans person. When making real-world analogies to Friday’s problems Heinlein uses race, not sexual orientation or gender identity. However, most people of color cannot “pass” for white, and so their experience of discrimination is quite different from Friday’s. The situation where someone can be indistinguishable from other humans until outed, and is then suddenly regarded as something different and horrible, is however very common for LGBT people. Certainly the book has resonated very strongly with some trans readers11. Also Heinlein makes reference to the existence of trans people in the book, so he was certainly aware of the issues12.

One of the most common uses of trans characters by (mostly male) science fiction writers is to illustrate the advanced nature of medical science in the future world. Where characters can live for hundreds of years, and the technology exists to grow whole new bodies, it seems only natural that people would try changing gender for a few decades, just to see if they liked it. See, for example, the character of Zebra in Al Reynolds’ Chasm City, whose skin has zebra-like markings. When we first meet her the following exchange occurs:

“Excuse me if this sounds rude, but were you born this way?”
“Not remotely. I haven’t always been female, for what it’s worth, and I doubt that I’ll stay this way for the rest of my life. I certainly won’t always be known as Zebra. Who’d choose to be pinned down by one body, one identity?”13

The use of such characters requires a number of other assumptions. In particular we readers are often asked to believe that changing gender is no more psychologically difficult than, say, changing your hair color. In addition we have to assume that such characters exist in a world where gender-based discrimination has been mostly eliminated, otherwise why would anyone idly choose to live in the less-powerful gender?

This type of character has little in common with actual transsexuals, the vast majority of whom claim to be absolutely certain that their “correct” gender is other than the one that they were assigned at birth. They have a very strong sense of gender identity, and desire only to live in that gender, not to swap back and fore. Gender swapping, as portrayed by Reynolds, Banks and others, is perhaps more typical of transgender people. However, they generally avoid extremes of gendered behavior because they are uncomfortable identifying as either “male” or “female”. In contrast, characters who change sex in science fiction novels generally adopt stereotypical gender performance.

A particularly well known example of gender-swapping in SF is provided by John Varley in Steel Beach. In the world of that novel changing gender on a regular basis is not only easy, but regarded as a social norm. However, as Sherryl Vint has pointed out14, Varley’s characters tend to display stereotypical gender performance in whichever body they happen to occupy at the time. Although the “Change” operation is portrayed as simply cosmetic, it is as if the characters somehow acquire a new gender identity as part of the procedure, and lapse easily into the required new gender performance. Hildy, the viewpoint character, tells us.

It turns the world on its head, Changing. Naturally, it’s not the world that has altered, it’s your point of view, but subjective reality is in some ways more important than the way things really are, or might be; who really knows? Not a thing had been moved in the busy newsroom when I strode into it. All the furniture was just where it had been, and there were no unfamiliar faces at the desk. But all the faces now meant something different. Where a buddy had sat there was now a good-looking guy who seemed to be taking an interest in me. In place of that gorgeous girl in the fashion department, the one I’d intended to proposition someday, when I had the time, now there was only another woman, probably not even as pretty as me.15

Whereas transsexuals claim that their gender identity remains constant, and that a “gender reassignment” operation merely confirms what they already knew, Varley claims that gender identity is somehow a product of one’s bodily appearance. Even more unusually he claims that the one constant that is unaffected by the Change is sexual orientation. A character who is gay as a man, will become lesbian as a woman after the Change. Although there are some transsexuals who behave in this way, it is by no means usual. It is much more common in practice for sexual preference to be maintained, so a straight man would become a lesbian transwoman16. It is unclear where Varley got this notion of the permanence of sexual orientation, but it seems unlikely that he got it from actual trans people. Hildy has this to say about it:

I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t believe anyone can really explain reasons behind their sexual preferences, unless they’re based on prejudice: i.e., this or that practice is unnatural, against God’s law, perverted, disgusting and so forth. […] sexual preference seems to be something that happens to you, not something you elect.17

Despite the constant discussion of gender changing in the book, it is difficult to take it seriously. Although Hildy is eventually revealed to have been born female, he is first presented to the reader as a man, and doesn’t appear to change much in personality when he becomes a woman, save for the change in sexual preference and a rather over-done obsession with appearance and clothes. The whole artifice is fatally undermined by the following passage:

If I ever had to choose one sex to be for the rest of my life, I would be female. I think the body is better-designed, and the sex is a little better. But there is one thing about the female body that is distinctly inferior to the male – and I’ve talked to others about this, both Changers and dedicated females, and ninety-five percent agree with me – and that is urination. Males are simply better at it.18

In other words, Hildy only wants to be a woman as long as he can still have a penis.

While male writers appear to have mainly failed to notice issues of gender identity, female science fiction writers have, in contrast, used trans characters precisely to make points about the nature of gender and what it means to be “a woman”. A classic example is The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter. In this tale of post-apocalyptic America, a young Englishman called Evelyn is captured by feminist revolutionaries and forcibly transformed into a woman, the New Eve of the title. Cast adrift in an increasingly lawless country, Eve discovers what life is actually like for women. Her personal experience, including being forced to join the harem of a redneck male, is contrasted with the life of Tristessa St. Ange, a Garbo-like film star on whom young Evelyn has a hopeless crush. Tristessa is eventually revealed to be a clever transvestite who has fooled the world. The lesson of the story appears to be that Eve gets to live life as a real woman, whereas Tristessa is only a man’s view of the ideal female.

Feminist critics often view transsexuals as being similar to Tristessa: that is that they are men who are acting out some ideal of femininity. In practice, however, most male-to-female transsexuals do not have film star looks, but do have to live out their lives as women in society. Consequently their experience is actually far more like that of Eve.

That Carter should have created such a clear experience-based view of gender is all the more remarkable because the book was published in 1977. The 70’s was a period in which feminists were strongly antagonistic towards trans people19. The prevailing view was that men, in response to the feminist revolution, were attempting to construct compliant pseudo-women to take the place of their bra-burning wives and girlfriends. This attitude is mostly clearly expressed in The Transsexual Empire by Janice Raymond, which is (purportedly) non-fiction, but it is also reflected in the most famous feminist SF novel of the period, The Female Man by Joanna Russ.

In one of the worlds of Russ’s book men and women live in separate societies. Manland buys male infants from Womanland, and the boys are then raised to be Real Men. However, not all of them make it. Around one in seven fails completely, is forced through gender re-assignment surgery, and is condemned to a life as a wife or prostitute. A further one in seven is required to become “half-changed” — effeminate men who, amongst other things, are used as diplomats because no real man would sully himself by negotiating with women.

Russ presents this situation as fact rather than argument — it is something that men obviously would do, given a lack of actual women with whom they could take their pleasure. She notes that both the “changed” and “half-changed” have very little say in the process, being simply boys who have failed their manliness exams, and she makes it clear that both groups are strongly discriminated against in Manland society. However, she is at a loss to explain how the system actually works from the point of view of the victims.

There must be a secret feminine underground that teaches them how to behave; in the face of their comrades derision and savage contempt, in the face of the prospect of gang rape if they’re found alone on the streets after curfew, in the face of the legal necessity to belong — every one of them — to a real-man, somehow they still learn the classic shiver, the slow blink, the knuckle-to-lip pathos. These too, I think, must be in the blood. But whose? My three friends and I pale beside such magnificence! Four lumpy parcels, of no interest to anyone at all, at all.20

This may reflect the confusion of radical feminists when faced by the fact that some women like wearing pretty clothes and are heterosexual. What appears to be going on here is not dislike of trans people per se (indeed, some of Russ’s heroines behave in ways that are gender-non-normative), but rather what Julia Serano describes as “trans-misogyny” — a dislike of the idea of being or becoming feminine21.

The idea that transwomen are somehow caricatures of real women can also be found in Ian McDonald’s Sacrifice of Fools. The book is primarily at attempt to point out the absurdities of Northern Irish politics by having a space ship full of aliens land in Belfast, but along the way McDonald introduces the reader to a clandestine club in which humans dress as aliens. This is fairly clearly based on transvestite clubs where secretive and frightened men dress up as women. Eventually we are introduced to a character who becomes so obsessed with this dressing up that he has himself surgically altered to resemble an alien. In his desperation to mimic everything that aliens do, he adopts the alien equivalent of religious fundamentalism, with disastrous consequences. Throughout the narrative McDonald makes parallels with transvestites and transsexuals.

So he tries to make himself like them [..] Gets the look. Buys the clothes – a real turn-on, clothing fetishism’s one of the best, maybe someday he’ll have the courage to go out in the street dressed. It’s not enough. He learns the accent, maybe even the language. Goes to clubs, tries to get close to them, still not enough. Maybe if I lived among them, that would be close enough. No. Still doesn’t do it. Because it is not enough now to be with them, or even like them. He wants to be them. And he can never be that.22

The clear message here is that cross-dressing is pathological, can escalate out of control, and can never achieve the desired end point. Eamon Donnan’s obsession with the aliens is put forward as a believable psychological dysfunction because of the parallels with cross-dressing and transsexuals. But, as one of the other characters explains, it can never be “real”.

“Listen to yourself,” Gillespie shouts. “They’ve got you talking like them. You aren’t a Shian, Eamon, you can never be a Shian. You’re a fake. You’re a wee Belfast glipe done up in fancy dress.”23

And equally, we must assume, a transwoman is merely a man done up in fancy dress. Janice Raymond would have nodded her approval.

A common feature of works that portray negative images of trans people is a concentration on transformations from male to female. This, as Serano points out, has rather more to do with social attitudes towards femininity than towards gender transgressions per se. The public appears fascinated with the idea of a man casting away male privilege to become a woman, but the idea of a woman becoming a man scarcely raises an eyebrow. Consequently the number of books that deal with such characters is quite small in comparison to those featuring male-to-female transitions. An exception is Mission Child by Maureen McHugh.

McHugh’s book tells the story of Janna, a woman who disguises herself as a man to escape persecution when she becomes a refugee. As Jan she constructs a fairly successful life for herself, and at one point even consults a psychologist about the possibility of gender-reassignment surgery. She does begin taking hormones, but eventually decides that this is not for her and goes back to living as a woman.

McHugh does not follow the Raymond ideology here. Indeed, the psychologist is shown as very responsibly trying to help Janna decide for herself what she wants to do with her life. While he holds out the possibility of gender reassignment, he does not attempt to force it on her. On the other hand, Janna is not a typical transsexual. She first starts dressing as a man by accident, and continues it because she finds it useful. When given the opportunity to make the change more permanent she opts out, unsure of what she really wants.

I didn’t want to be a man all the way. But I wanted to be strong and I wanted to be able to do lots of things. I knew women could be strong, like my mam, but I didn’t want to be just a strong woman. Why were there only two choices, man and woman?24

Mission Child therefore appears to be a book about a transgender person. The decisions made by Janna are clearly right for her. However, because she is offered the possibility of gender reassignment and rejects it, there is perhaps a lingering suggestion that full transition should be rejected: that if only transsexuals were sensible like Janna they would have no need for medical treatment but could simply carry on their lives with whatever gender performance they chose.

With the dawn of the new millennium, science fiction began to show more positive images of trans characters. One of the first writers to do this was Ian McDonald. His epic novel of a near-future India, River of Gods, has many viewpoint characters. One of them is Tal, a “nute”. Rather than use an actual transsexual character, McDonald has gone a stage further and created a character who has opted for surgical alteration that removes all aspects of gender, while continuing to allow sexual stimulation and orgasm. The operations that Tal endures in order to achieve this state are even more fearsome than those carried out on actual transsexuals, and are rather more believable than the near-magic transformations of novels such as Steel Beach. Tal is also shown as suffering discrimination in a way that would be recognized by any real world trans person, and at one point narrowly avoids being murdered by a mob25.

McDonald’s next book, Brasyl, features a transgender character as its hero. Edson26 is a hard-working street entrepreneur who is prepared to try almost anything to turn a buck and appears totally relaxed about sex and gender. He dresses in super hero costumes to act out fantasies for his rich gay male lover; he dresses as a woman when he goes clubbing; and neither of these things prevent him spending much of the book mooning over a beautiful Japanese girl. Perhaps most miraculously of all, Edson’s hobbies are simply presented as background detail, and most reviewers have completely ignored them. McDonald, it seems, has taken gender diversity to heart, and now sees it as a natural part of the world.

Another sympathetic portrayal of a trans character can be found in Mary Gentle’s Ilario27. The central character is a true hermaphrodite having both a penis and a vagina. The story is set in Gentle’s fantasy medieval setting in which Carthage and Egypt are still major world powers, but the existence of magic is not taken as an excuse to make life easy for trans people. Ilario suffers in exactly the way in which we might expect a real-world intersex person to suffer, including being employed as a court freak. Much of the plot revolves around efforts by Ilario’s mother to get rid of the “unnatural” child that she views as a source of shame. As an argument for the rights of intersex people to be allowed to live as they please, Ilario is very impressive.

Furthermore, the book contains a number of other queer characters. Ilario strikes up a romantic relationship with Rekhmire, an Egyptian eunuch, who is also portrayed very positively. Later in the book they encounter one of Rekhmire’s colleagues, who has taken the role of eunuch rather further. Neferet lives as a woman, and claims that she has a woman’s soul.

“Because my friend’s made himself known as a girl since he was old enough to speak? As far as Neferet’s concerned, she’s been convinced since she was four that she has a woman’s ka – a woman’s soul. I’ve never doubted the strength of her opinion. And, truthfully, she lives a woman’s life far more easily than a man’s.”28

Neferet and Ilario soon come into conflict. Neferet cannot understand why, given the choice, Ilario doesn’t opt to be a woman all the time. And Ilario, much like a modern-day feminist, sees Neferet as overdoing the femininity. When Ilario first meets Neferet the illusion is complete, but once her “real” gender is known Ilario keeps noticing things that seem to mark her out as a man, which is a very typical reaction to discovering that someone is a transsexual.

The book would be an excellent examination of these various queer lifestyles were it not for the fact that Ilario is the viewpoint character narrating the book in the first person and Neferet is almost always seen through Ilario’s somewhat biased eyes. Furthermore, a key aspect of the plot is that Neferet has an ongoing relationship with Leon Battista, a gay man. At one point she even agrees to go back to living as a man for a while in order to avoid being separated from him. This is highly unusual behavior for a transsexual woman (or, for that matter, for a gay man). Typically transsexual women self-identify as either heterosexual (in which case they seek relationships with straight men) or as lesbian (and seek relationships with women). To self-identify as a gay man would be to renounce their claim to being female. However, the charge that transsexual women are “really” gay men who have “gone too far” is common amongst hard line feminists. The book therefore reads as contrasting the “legitimate” trans natures of Ilario and Rekhmire with the “fake” femininity of Nerferet.

The general trend, however, appears to be away from exploting or judging trans people, and towards presenting them as simply as characters with their own particular issues. One of the most positive portrayals of transsexuals in science fiction is Supervillainz by Angela E. Goranson. The book is set almost entirely within the queer community in Boston and the two lead characters are both transsexual (one MtF, the other FtM). The book riffs off the idea of queer people as being non-human outsiders such as the mutant X-Men, and consequently a threat to society. Although, of course, like the X-Men, they are actually the good guys. Goranson is clearly very familiar with her setting and the types of characters that she uses, and does an excellent job of representing their lives, hopes and fears.

With transgender people now much more visible, gender-swapping themes have even begun to appear in books for teens and children. Cycler29 by Lauren McLaughlin features a teenage girl who, werewolf-like, turns into a boy once a month. Questors, a middle school novel by Joan Lennon, features an alien child from a race in which gender doesn’t manifest until puberty, much to the confusion of the human children in the book. Neither of these characters are strictly trans, but rather the gender-swapping is used by the author to explore what gender means. However, Eon30 by Alison Goodman is a YA novel that features a sympathetic supporting character, Lady Dela, who is a transsexual31. While Dela is in the novel to help examine the central character’s own gender problems (Eon is living as boy, but does not identify as one), she is used to illuminate the issue, rather than a negative contrast. The future for trans people in science fiction and fantasy seems to be very positive.


1. The life choices and self-images of trans people are still regarded as invalid by many people. Some psychologists still describe trans people as deluded, and even as habitual liars. However, the validity of trans lifestyles is not relevant to this paper. The issue is simply whether the way in which trans people have been portrayed has changed.

2. The transsexual population of the UK has been estimated as around 5,000, based on the number of people who are registered for treatment with the NHS and/or have applied for registration under the Gender Recognition Act (Christine Burns, “And Then We Had ‘T’”, conference presentation). The UK population is around 62 million (, National Statistics web site). The Intersex Society of North America estimates that as many as 1 in 1500 children are born with a condition significant enough to be noticed at birth, while many other have conditions that don’t manifest until later in life ( Counting cross-dressers is very difficult as male cross-dressers are notoriously secretive and female cross-dressers are rarely noticed due to women having a much wider range of socially acceptable clothing styles.

3. “Gender Identity Disorder” is still classified as a mental illness in the USA (American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, Washington, D.C., 2000). However, a recent UK medical publication states “Transsexualism is neither a ‘lifestyle’ choice nor a mental disorder, but a condition that is now widely recognised to be largely innate and somatic.” (Department of Health, Guidance for GPs and other clinicians on the treatment of gender variant people, First edition, London 2008)

4. In January 2009 the EU’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, issued a statement saying: “There is no excuse for not immediately granting this community their full and unconditional human rights. Council of Europe Member States should take all necessary concrete action to ensure that transphobia is stopped and that transgender persons are no longer discriminated against in any field.”

5. The terminology here is problematic. In some communities “transgender” is an acceptable umbrella term, but in others it is viewed as representing only a particular subset of trans people. Furthermore “transgender” is rejected entirely in some francophone communities as embodying a concept that does not translate into French, and even “trans” is regarded as unacceptable by some First Nation people who object to having the “two spirit” cultural phenomenon subsumed into the Western/colonialist concept of gender. See Christopher A. Shelley, Transpeople: Repudiation, Trauma and Healing, University of Toronto Press 2008 for some discussion of these issues.

6. Note that none of these factors necessarily influences the others. There are, for example, male-to-female transsexuals who self-identify as butch lesbians, and straight men who make a living from dressing as women without ever wanting to become one.

7. For example see Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome ( — US National Library of Medicine web site) in which people who are genetically male (have one X and one Y chromosome) develop female-looking bodies. Generally such people are pronounced to be girls at birth, and they may not discover the truth about themselves until, for example, they fail a “sex test” at a sporting event.

8. See the collection, Dangerous Space (Aqueduct Press, 2007)

9. Vern & Bonnie Bullough, Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, University of Pennsylvania Press 1993, pages 290-291

10. Robert A. Heinlein, Friday, mass market paperback edition, Del Rey 1982, page 32. The abbreviation “LA” refers to “Living Artifact”, a more general term that covers any artificial being, whether genetically human or not.

11. See the comment thread for this article:

12. For further discussion of Friday, see my article “Heinlein’s Friday: a Trans Novel?” in Crossed Genres #12, November 2009,

13. Chasm City, First edition, Gollancz 2001, page 271

14. Sherryl Vint, “Both/And: Science Fiction and the Question of Changing Gender”, Strange Horizons, 18 February 2002;

15. John Varley, Steel Beach, Paperback edition, Ace 1993, page 225

16. The most common appearance of the “preserve sexual orientation” phenomenon is when the trans person has married prior to transition, and then enters straight relationships after transition. However, given that many trans people do marry, either as social camouflage, or in an attempt to conform to social expectations, their married state cannot necessarily be taken as evidence of their sexual preference. Equally medical gatekeepers have often required trans people to seek straight relationships in their preferred gender as evidence of that gender preference.

17. Ibid, page 155 This is very like what transsexuals say about their gender identity.

18. Ibid, page 210

19. Some still are – for example Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel

20. Joanna Russ, The Female Man, paperback, Beacon Press 1986, page 171

21. See Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Seal Press 2007.

22. Ian McDonald, Sacrifice of Fools, paperback edition, Vista 1997, page 95

23. Ibid., page 278

24. Maureen McHugh, Mission Child, paperback edition, Avon 1999, pages 321-322

25. The Human Rights Campaign estimates that transgender people in the USA have a 1 in 12 chance of having their lives ended by murder, compared to a chance of 1 in 18,000 for the general population (

26. Doubtless named after the legendary football player, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, nicknamed Pelé.

27. Published as two volumes, The Lion’s Eye and The Stone Golem, in the USA

28, Mary Gentle, Ilario, trade paperback first edition, Gollancz 2006, page 229

29. See my review:

30. Published as The Two Pearls of Wisdom in Australia, as Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye in the UK and as Eon: Dragoneye Reborn in the USA

31. See my review:

5 thoughts on “Changing Images of Trans People in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

  1. I have to ask: have you read Poison Study (and its sequels) by Maria V. Snyder? I found her take on this subject to be pretty interesting, though in the third book it also took a strange turn.

  2. It’s interesting to bring up Heinlein in the context of trans characters in SF, but not mention Andrew Jackson Libby, who says that he’d always felt out of place in his own body, and when he was cloned/revived, was given the option to choose a gender assignment, and became Elizabeth (still going by Libby). Is this just a random oversight, or does the fact that Libby’s body was genetically XXY make his experience as Andrew Jackson Libby “less” trans?

    1. It is more a question of having to shoehorn this paper into a 20 minute presentation. I added a lot of the cuts back in for publication here, but there was a lot of material I never got around to including.

      I try very hard not to exclude anyone from the trans umbrella if they want a place there. On the other hand there are intersex people who object to being described as trans, and that’s their right too.

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