TransAmericans

Hi, kids–

I just watched a recent segment from MSNBC (via the blog Towleroad) in which Tulane prof/MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris-Perry does a pretty decent roundtable discussion about gender identity and politics in America (being transgender). It’s a 20-minute segment. You can catch it at this link here.

It got me thinking about transgender, genderqueer, and all the ways that people live and identify, what that means in microcosmic senses in the day-to-day and what it means in macrocosmic senses, in terms of political and social policies. And it got me thinking about transgender and genderqueer characters and how they’re portrayed in fiction and movies.

Anyway, for those of you who write fiction and who do not identify as transgender or genderqueer, do you write transgender or genderqueer characters? Why or why not?

Full disclosure: I do not identify as transgender or genderqueer and I currently do not have anything published with transgender or genderqueer characters. I am working on rectifying that with future projects. Not because I think it’s “cool” and “trendy,” but rather because it makes sense to do that, given that I am personally interested in gender and identity politics in America and how those play out in interpersonal relationships (both in real life and in story arcs).

I know some of you who write fiction do have transgender and/or genderqueer characters in your work. What kind of feedback have you gotten about it? Has it opened discussions with regard to identity and gender?

And readers, what fiction (books, short stories, poems) have you read with transgender and/or genderqueer characters that you really enjoyed and why? We’d appreciate your comments and suggestions about these works here.

Many thanks for joining the discussion and happy Monday!

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14 comments

  1. Hi Andi,
    Interesting subject, Justine Saracen in Sarah Son of God had as one of the main characters a women ( sorry I don’t like the label) who was transgendered it was a ripping good story as well. E

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  2. I’m always looking for something new to read particularly LGBT fiction stories and have noticed that there really does seem to be a lack of gender questioning fiction characters out ther at least in the literary sense. It seems like they are appearing more in other forms of media but to my mind I can’t think of any fiction novels with transgender, genderqueer, or gender questioning charcters, that I personally have read, though I have heard of a few. I know and deal with a handful of people in my day to day that identify with gender issues and I myself have had concerns with my own gender here and there. I’m curious to know if there is a bias in the literary world against the gender outlaws out there amongst LGBT writers? Or is there subject too “new” in our awareness to be more common?

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  3. My top seller, “Waiting,” has a transgender story line. Shortly after that book was released, my child came out to me as transgender. It was interesting.

    I do wonder sometimes if one reason “Waiting” sells so well is the transgender story line (opens up an audience other than lesbians).

    I also have a short story, “A Weird Situation,” about a guy who is a woman seven hours a day. This short is in the “Miss Lucy Parker and Other Short Stories” collection.

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  4. My novel Lunatic Fringe, while billed as “lesbian werewolves” has a gender queer “trans-ish” character who tends to be the most beloved in the novel. Over the series (I’m writing the sequel now), he continues to move towards a trans masculine identity while receiving some flack from his lesbian circle of friends.

    I love writing Mitch because his character allows me to raise questions of trans discrimination within sexually non-normative communities, and issues of lesbian seperatism and our relationship to masculnity. Plus, I like that Mitch isn’t 100% sure about “being born in the wrong body” which is the soundbyte that gets tossed around when we talk about trans* people, even though it’s a small part of the story of gender.

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  5. I’m variably genderfluid and have written a bunch of trans* and genderqueer characters (mostly UK rather than US though). I just see it as one part of writing as inclusively as possible. My editor and I just had to revise a section of a scene because the copyeditor was pulled up by the way an issue (one that’s not exclusive to trans* folk) was handled by the characters (I’d never been 100% sure about the scene either, but the talk was one the characters needed to have). I think the scene works better now, and hasn’t lost the element I wanted to get across (about the estrangement that can occur between parent and child).

    As for other authors, I’ve seen some write trans* characters well, and some make a complete mess of it. If I like an author already, I’ll forgive one character that doesn’t work for me, but if it happens in the first story I read from an author, then I’ll be very cautious about the author’s other stories in future (it’s probably the only story aspect for which I ask friends to pre-read books for me).

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  6. I am genderqueer in the sense of being agender. I suppose I experience the idea of gender *at all* as an oppression, which is why I don’t write about it – I want to get away from all that stuff. This tends to result in me writing about cis people, or at least people for whom their gender is not a problem. I have written one trans* story (Inner Truth in the I Do Two anthology) and I’m definitely turning over the idea of writing a high fantasy or two with hermaphrodite characters, because I think that would be ideal for me, but I do worry that, if I do, no one will want to read it.

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  7. I’ve recently finished reading “Shadowboxer” by Paula Sophia. This novel concerns a policeman in Oklahoma City who is struggling with the realisation that desire he squashed as a young boy – the desire to be a girl – is still there in the back of his mind. Approaching the novel from a position of embarrassing ignorance, I found the story to be excellent and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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  8. I’m not sure short stories count for much, but I’ve written a few about “passing” transgender characters, generally in historical settings. One, “Snowfound,” is available on Smashwords, and was in my first anthology Ride Hard, Put Away Wet (under my alternate name, Connie Wilkins.) The POV character is ftm, and fought in the Civil War as a man (as did quite a few real people, several know to historians) before going on the gold country in the Sierra Nevada foothills. One transman I know (and I know many) bugs me now and then to expand it into a novel. Another story, “A Dance of Queens,” is set in Elizabethan times, and involves Shakespearean actors, with some fantasy aspects thrown in and a twist or two. Another transman sought me out at a Pride event to tell me how much one particular scene spoke to him. This piece appeared originally in Hanne Blank’s Best Transgender Erotica from Circlet Press, an excellent book but now out of print. I’ve reprinted the story in my collection A Ride to Remember (Lethe Press) which is now, Yay! a finalist for both Lambda and GCLS awards.

    Come to think of it, I used the post-Civil-War theme in a transgender vampire story, “Jessabel,” in Cecilia Tan’s Women of the Bite from Ravenous Romance.

    As I mentioned, I do know many transgendered people, many of them who’ve taken that journey during the time I’ve known them. Characters modeled on some of them have appeared in several of my other stories as they were just on the cusp of getting to where they were going.

    Apologies now for too much nattering about my own work.

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  9. Recently, I read Armistead Maupin’s novel ‘Mary Ann in Autumn’ which is set in present day San Francisco. It was a sequal to the original ‘Tales of the City’ novels (also a PBS mini-series). Olympia Dukakis made the M-t-F/TG character compassionate and believeable. In ‘Mary Ann in Autumn’ Mrs. Madrigal is no longer landlady, she is elderly and living in a small house with a housemade who is a M-t-F/TG person who is on the cusp of bottom surgery. The main story is about Mary Ann (made famous in the PBS series by Laura Linney) and her friend Michael Tolliver (aka Mouse).

    I’m a short story writer, but I’ve never thought to write about TG characters or intersexed ones. But you’ve got me thinking, “Why not?”

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