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Help with a trans* character?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ophiucha, Apr 26, 2013.

  1. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I have this character, let's call her Hannah, who is a transgender woman. She has a conflict that relates to her gender, indirectly, but it doesn't come up for quite a while in the story. Like at least half way through the novel. I don't necessarily want her being trans* to be a 'twist' or anything, but I'm not sure how to imply it without saying something offensive about how 'poorly' she passes for a woman or something abrupt like her just out-and-out saying it (keeping in mind that my setting is a world where it's not very acceptable). Should I just leave it off until it is relevant or try to find ways to imply it - and if the latter, I need some tasteful tips on that. I don't have much experience writing trans* characters, and the only transgender friend I could ask is a man, so not all of the tip-offs and language are the same when it comes to writing the little things. Thanks!

    Hannah has a blood disease that is inactive in males - think of it is a reverse haemophilia - and hence, as she is male-bodied, she isn't affected by it. Later on in the story, by means of magic, her girlfriend offers her her blood, which in this world would allow Hannah to basically have a sex change (it doesn't work completely, usually leaving the blood drinker intersex, but many trans* people do it in this world since there is no other option with their level of technology in terms of physically transitioning). The conflict being that there is a good chance that her blood disease will kick in if she becomes female-bodied.

    For the group in question, I'd say maybe a third of them are accepting of her identity while the others are at least a little bothered by it - maybe one or two of them being outwardly disgusted.
     
  2. Devora

    Devora Sage

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    If i remember right, Transgender people usually refer to themselves by the Gender they identify with the most.
     
  3. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    Yes, generally. Hannah does this, referring to herself as a woman and using feminine terms. But I need to find a way to bring up the fact that she is transgender as opposed to cisgender without laying it on thick or being offensive.
     
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    If she's not a perspective character, this could be tricky to imply. The only things I can think of are:

    * Noticeably bristles at insults to transgender people.

    * In a situation where others might strip down (e.g. swimming), refuses and remains covered.

    It sounds like she or her girlfriend gets some perspective, so you might be able to mention it in narration.

    Edit: To be clear, I don't think you need to make it 100% clear until the plot point comes up. You can get away with just having a bit of foreshadowing.
     
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  5. Kit

    Kit Maester

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    You might make glancing references to childhood- assuming that she didn't begin to identify as female until a little later in life.
     
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  6. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I haven't quite decided yet if she's going to be a perspective character - right now, I only have one (and it isn't her or her girlfriend) and I'm debating whether I want to have the multiple perspective character thing going on. It's kind of tough to pull off, and I don't usually like it. If I do end up doing that, though, Hannah'll definitely be one of them.

    Thanks for the suggestions. :) I don't know if the second is going to come up, but the first very well might, at least in a subtle way. The main plot line is about a group of primarily women overthrowing a primarily male government, so perhaps one of them could make a comment about 'men being lead by their (your choice of euphemism for male genitalia)', and she'd be bothered by them comparing it to masculinity? Just sort of brainstorming, but I think it'd work better than something that is specifically about transgender people, since I don't have any others in the main group besides her, who isn't out.
     
  7. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    Ah, that is pretty good, too! And it actually could work well with what I've got so far, since she is a character whose back story is going to be brought up in some detail. I know she began identifying as a girl sometime before she was sixteen, but given the setting's prejudices, I doubt she would have been willing to accept that part of herself from the moment she was born, and her back story includes people who would have known her since she was a child, so perhaps there could be hints of that when she discusses her past. Thanks!
     
  8. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    I occasionally see tweets from transwomen I follow (well, one of them anyway) complaining about getting called sir or "just not passing today", getting harrassment and so on. If you can weave that sort of thing in, would that suit your needs?

    You could always try finding a transgender support forum and asking the people there about their experiences. Or, in fact, take a look at a series I've recently seen where trans people of a variety of different identities have answered questions from curious cis people, put online by brilliant musician CN Lester whose albums I own and recommend, especially Ashes. The masterlist of questions and responses about trans issues is here. It's not exactly what you've asked but it is a useful resource on this topic, and a point from which you might be able to get answers from better informed people than me.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2013
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  9. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Is this a pseudo-medieval world you are writing? If so, how would a society without Tumblr even have a concept of "transgender" people?
     
  10. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I laughed at the tumblr jab.

    The setting isn't directly equivalent to anywhere or any time on Earth, but I'd place it somewhere between 1750's and 1950's America overall. The term 'transgender' doesn't exist in this world, but the concept certainly exists and is known - if not accepted - by many people, which isn't particularly anachronistic. This world's technology, religion, and magic all offer a different range of gender identities to the ones that exist now - Hannah's religion has two gendered gods who 'speak' to those of the same gender, so in her culture Hannah simply says that she hears the goddess' voice instead of the god's.

    There are some minor groups of people who identify as 'third genders', and smaller culture's ideas based on various traditional genders (there is one character who comes from a group based on Galli), but they don't have too much to do with Hannah's plot line or the story in general.
     
  11. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    In all honesty I am confused as to what it even means to be transgendered. It sounds to me like a trend which has people claiming that they "feel" like they belong to the opposite sex because they don't act or think like a stereotypical man or woman. Come to think of it, that's actually a pretty sexist way to think.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    From discussions with a friend who was transgendered, I think that's too light a way of looking at it. In her experience, it had nothing to do with acting or not acting like a stereotypical person of their biological sex. Rather, it was a very deep, profound sense that their biological sex was the one wrong, with respect to who they actually were. It didn't have to do with outside perceptions, but wither her own innate certainty that it was wrong.

    For example, a gay man may not act like a stereotypical male (assuming there is such a thing), and is of course attracted to other men. Likewise, a physical male who is transgendered may be attracted to men and also may act more like a traditional view of a female than a male. So what's the difference? It seems to me the difference is that gay men are at home in their biological sex. They're male, and they're attracted to other male. The physical male who is transgendered considers herself female on a much deeper, more fundamental level. She's not a feminine man, or a man who is attracted to other men, but instead a female who happens to have the physical characteristics of a male. I think it is a mistake to dismiss it too lightly as some kind of reaction to outside views of traditional sexuality imposed on the person.

    EDIT: I should add, the transgender person I know says she knew from as far back as she can remember - maybe three years old? Earlier? - that her biological sex was wrong. If we can assume she isn't lying or creating something in her mind, it becomes harder to cast the transgendered person as some kind of misplaced reaction to societal conceptions of sexuality. My understanding is her experience is quite common.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2013
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  13. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    There's definitely a lot more to it than that, and it is something that has existed a lot longer than we've had a word for it (which I believe popped up in the 60s? correct me if I'm wrong on that one). The main thing I've always heard about is dysphoria, where you feel... weird?, I guess? about the body parts you have, and your lack of certain others. Usually the genitals, but I've heard trans* men describe how uncomfortable they are with their lack of facial hair and taking hormones to grow it out (though some cisgender women do grow facial hair so that isn't always clear cut). There's a social aspect to it, too, I suppose, but there's a lot at work and the idea of it has existed in many cultures throughout history. Two spirit in some Native American cultures, hijra in India, etc..
     
  14. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    And how on earth would that guy know what it feels like to be a woman without having any female anatomy himself? How does he know women have a distinct way of feeling that "real" men lack? Again, the whole concept reeks of gender stereotyping.
     
  15. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    There's a broad difference between physiology and psychology. I'm no expert on transgender people but the psychological effects of any condition can be just as, if not more powerful, than physiological aspects.
     
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    No, it doesn't. I'm talking about a sense of biological wrongness, not some kind of behavioral wrongness. It has nothing at all to do with gender stereotyping. That's a rather condescending viewpoint, and suggests that someone you are in a better position to tell me what the person is feeling and why than they are themselves. Makes no sense.
     
  17. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    Since we're discussing the range of non-binary gender identities, I'll specify that for Hannah, I am using a relatively modern, Western idea of transgender to define Hannah's character, with her experiencing some degree of gender dysphoria and desiring an anatomically female body, while living her life presenting as a woman in the interim, changing her name to something feminine, wearing women's clothing, and identifying by titles that are intended for women (such as the equivalent of 'Miss'). Most relevantly to the story, she and her girlfriend are regarded as homosexual by the girlfriend's parents and their church despite the fact that Hannah has male genitalia (and her girlfriend has female genitalia). So for all intents and purposes, she is living as a woman, but I need a few good hints at her being transgender.
     
  18. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    If anyone's being presumptuous here, it's guys who claim to know what being female feels like despite having never been women themselves. How could our "transgender" person sense this "biological wrongness" about their sex unless they've been fed preconceptions on how men and women are supposed to feel? You might as well say that white people who listen to hip-hop music must be "transracial"!
     
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    That's an absurd analogy, frankly.

    It's not like our species has a few thousand possible biological sexes to choose from. If someone has a deep, innate sense that their biological sex is the wrong one, it doesn't take a great deal of mental acuity to predict what the correct one is probably going to be.
     
  20. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    You keep on glossing over my main point: how would they know that they were born into the wrong sex if they have never actually been the opposite sex? How could a guy "have a deep, innate sense that his biological sex is the wrong one" if he has never actually experienced being a girl? In order to know whether he was born into the wrong sex, he would need to know how the "typical" man felt, how the "typical" woman felt, and compare his own feelings and personality with these ideals. That's where the gender stereotyping comes in.
     
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