Gender in Genre – Katie

We wrap up part one of the guest blog posts with this story from Katie about the relative lack of good trans* characters.

My thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and stories on the blog this week, and to all of the readers who responded so positively. My plan is to post the second half of the guest posts in the last week of February, with a round-up at the very end with links to everything that’s appeared here, along with some additional stories that I wasn’t able to include (because there were so many responses).

Have a wonderful weekend, all!

I find it almost laughable (I’m much too cynical to actually derive amusement from this) that for all we can accept with fiction, we cannot seem to accept diversity without at least a “…but…!” comment from someone. I’m not going to make a hyperbolic statement about how accepting dragons means accepting homosexual relationships – I think it’s a ridiculous, weak argument that makes no sense on any level – but instead just talk about how representation has let me, personally, down.

I identify publicly as trans*. I don’t know where on the spectrum I fit, but somewhere in the trans*/gender-queer area. I’m female identified, but I won’t go into the other details. Anyway. I find it so, so, so, so hard to find trans* characters I can identify with in books. Heck, I struggle to find trans* characters in books full stop.

I owe a lot to Mark Charan Newton, who allowed me to beta read some of his third Legends of the Red Sun novel, The Book of Transformations, which introduces a trans* character by the name of Lan. I won’t spoil the story, but we meet her whilst she’s presenting as a woman (but with the body of a male – she’s one of those lucky few who can pass with only a minimum of effort), but is singled out because she acts oddly within a group of female performers, none of whom know ‘what’ she is. Eventually she does get to transition (some cultists perform a possibly semi-magical genital reassignment surgery on her), and she spends the rest of that book (and the next) kicking ass.

I adore Lan. I do. And I wish I could kick ass like she does, or even just pass. Or be in a position where I could present. Anyway. Lan is a character I look up to and respect and love, but she’s almost alone in that respect, because I just can’t really find any trans* characters. Even if they are done well (such as by Guy Davis in his old Baker Street comics), it seems like victimisation is inevitable. Murder, assault, being outcast, etc. are all common situations applied to trans* characters (yes, even the beloved Neil Gaiman is no exception to this), and even if they survive the story it’s often not without some sort of violent conflict. In some other cases (e.g. Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl), the trans* character comes with slurs, and they’re portrayed as being a little bit weird, and again, it just… doesn’t sit right with me. Victim or freak. Freak or victim. Why must it be – somewhat ironically – a binary choice?

On a similar note, I find the ‘Q’ and ‘A’ aspects of the QUILTBAG community to be almost untouched. Whilst authors like Malinda Lo might tackle the ‘Q’ with relation to sexuality in their books, and often with another person acting as a catalyst (e.g., girl thinks she’s straight – or doesn’t question that – until a certain hot girl walks past), I don’t feel it helps people like me. People who just question every aspect of themselves continuously. There’s no… instantaneous or strung-out-over-300-pages answers, there’s just questions, and its position as a valid identity seems overlooked, if not ignored. As for asexuality, rarely – if ever – have I see this, and genuinely it’s in the sense that it’s less the character is asexual and more the book is.

I don’t want to feel like all I can buy are specifically trans*-themed books, because… well, what I want is to see trans* people and gender-queer people and asexual people and questioning people in the same sort of books we’re now seeing gay, lesbian and bisexual people in. I don’t doubt that the trans* and gender-queer revolution will come, just as it has for many other minority groups, but of all the genres that has the potential for dealing with it in many ways – even providing optimism for true transitions, etc. – I find what’s on offer to be lacking.

I guess what I’m saying is I don’t feel like there’s much out there that represents me. Yeah, okay, I can find characters that represent aspects of me or facets of my being, but not something that comes close to the ‘whole’. I suppose that’s true for everyone to some degree, yet for me – and I guess people a bit like me – it’s as if we don’t exist, and if we do, it’s as if we’re there to be made into victims or just portrayed in manner which involves negativity.

Katie is a fan of genre fiction, gaming and animation, and she can be found on Twitter as @Loerwyn. She occasionally posts on her own blog, and that’s basically about it, really. She’s not particularly interesting.* But don’t worry, Jim didn’t write this. She did, so it’s okay.

*Editorial note: Jim would like to state for the record that he strongly disagrees with this statement!