Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On Writing Trans And Intersex

Once in a while, I get somebody who comes up to me to want to hear my opinion on whether or not they should bother writing a trans or intersex story because it's outside their experience, and what my general viewpoint is on when cis people write trans or intersex stories. Or, in other words, on writing trans and intersex.

First off, this is a free country. You are allowed to write whatever you want as I can too. Nobody is saying that as a cis person, you aren't allowed to write trans and intersex stories. It doesn't bother me that cis people are telling our stories. It's OKAY. What bothers me is this:

- "This had to be written." 

If I had a dollar for every person who has told me this when revealing to me that they're writing a trans or intersex story as a cis person...

No book HAS to be written. Only school assignments (essays, creative writing projects, etc.) HAVE to be written, or else you won't get your grade to move on up to the next one.

It's a CHOICE to write a novel.

"This had to be published" would be better to say, but even that is highly narcissistic. This phrase in general annoys and bothers me because it's seriously, obnoxiously egotistical. Being one of thousands if not millions of authors writing a trans or intersex story does not make someone's book the special snowflake. It just doesn't. It's great that it's being written, doesn't HAVE to be written.

- An ally is not our voice. An ally is not our mouth piece. An ally is a supporter, not God's gift to us. 

I see too much of this: when an ally projects this attitude that their novel/story will make or break an entire community, it presumes this notion that trans and intersex people don't have a voice and only allies can and should speak for us. Not only is this presumptuous, but that's an inflated self-serving  ego that reeks more of them being in it for themselves than actually caring about the people. Nobody needs to see that and it isn't about you. Writing a trans or intersex story, whether written by a cis or intersex and trans person, is not enough to make an impact in this world to make a change. Awareness, sharing articles, volunteering, taking action, being part of the conversation, and so much more is what really makes activism go round. A book can help, but it is not all that there needs to be.

- When an ally thinks one trans or intersex narrative represents all, and that's the basis of their story. 

I'll use Janet Mock's Redefining Realness as an example. Janet Mock's narrative is a great model, but hers is one of millions of trans narratives. Is it possible for those millions to be one and the same? Impossible. There's just no way. Janet Mock's story is not the definitive trans story. Nobody's trans story is. We can only speak from our own experiences with the hopes that others will share theirs.

Too many trans and intersex stories hinge ENTIRELY and ONLY on the character's gender identity. There's too much focus on just the person's genitals and surgery (or no surgery) to validate that person's gender identity and who they are as people. Where's the person? Who is the soul behind the trans or intersex character? Who are they in general? That person being trans or intersex is not all that they are about. Them being trans or intersex alone does not make that character/person interesting, and their character development shouldn't only revolve around them being trans, being pre-op or post-op, wanting surgery, not wanting surgery, etc. All trans and intersex people alike are individuals, so by nature, like everyone else, all our experiences are going to be different. There's no "right way" to transition. There's no "correct" way to be yourself. Just because many trans people want to fit into the binary and be "passable" does not mean that ALL trans people identify with it. Not ALL trans women are girly-girls and glamor goddesses. Some are tomboys or butch, that's how they want to present that way. Not ALL trans men are alpha male. Some are femme and are proud to be effeminate. Not all intersex people are gender neutral. There are intersex people who identify as female, male, or even both. Some trans women and some trans men are non-binary and may not identify with either gender even as trans female or trans male. This is all BEAUTIFUL. There are many shades of trans as there are many shades to transitioning too. We aren't black and white. We are as colorful in our experiences, journeys, and transitions as anybody else. The trans narrative in fiction needs to stop relying on the same tired tropes. We deserve better, because we are more than that.

And lastly,

- When the character being trans or intersex is made into a big deal. 

It's not. Trans and intersex people exist. It's not like finding the cure for cancer. It's NOT a big deal.

Let trans and intersex characters just be characters. Once their gender identity is established, let them spread their wings and be free as they are outside of their genitals, their surgical decisions, legal papers, and who they're sleeping with or falling in love with. The plot doesn't have to be only about those things. Let them just be trans or intersex, let them be who they are, as not a big deal, but as people who have layers and flaws, who are good people, bad people, let them just be people.

And just be an author/writer. You're telling/showing a story. Trans or intersex, the story has to be interesting, engaging, and entertaining. It doesn't need to be a public service announcement. If a point needs to be made, let it be there naturally. There's no need to force it or stand on a soap box about it.

Remember, as a cis person/ally supporting LGBT, you aren't the loudest voice in the room. Whether you're writing a book, taking part in the conversations, volunteering, etc. we're all making a difference. It's not about one person changing the world. We're all heroes. We're all in this together.


  1. Great post!! Too often I see writers take their writing soooo seriously, like its sacred, and they'd die without it. Many think their stories are going to change the world. Well, maybe they will, maybe it won't. It's not for the authors to decide. Their job is, like you said, to tell a story and not let an overly inflated ego get in the way. :)

    1. Exactly. It's the ego that needs to stop. Being proud and showing it sometimes is fine, but being humble softens the ego to where the ego isn't even necessary anymore. The work will speak for itself so one doesn't have to ;).