Talking about or writing a transgender character is a huge topic. When it comes to casting a genderqueer character, especially a trans character, it’s essential to try and cast a trans actor. If you cast a male to play a trans girl, which they are not, even on an acting level. They can’t pull from any real emotion or experience.
Some examples of trans actors include Elliot Fletcher, a trans actor who’s played multiple roles, including Erin from The Fosters. Also, Nicole Maines, a trans actress most famous for playing The Angel in the CW show Supergirl.
When writing a genderqueer character, it’s crucial to ensure that the entire character arc does not revolve around that one part of the character. If you want to mention it, that’s perfectly valid. I do enjoy moments in media where it does come up. However, the entirety of the characters should not revolve around it. But also, it’s super important not to make a super stereotypical character, and that goes for writing any minority.
How to write a transgender character?
Your transgender character is a complex person, and they have been through a lot and still go through a lot to live a normal life. They want a normal life where they can be themselves and have their interests and tastes without having other people question them.
Do include transgender characters in your stories, but do not write a transgender protagonist unless you are transgender. With research and a lot of work, a cis person can write a great transgender protagonist.
Do make your trans characters complex because trans people are complex. Make sure to give your transgender characters other personality traits and motivations for some of the things they do. They are then able to pass as well as possible as a man, woman, or whatever else. I will discuss the top 10 tips to write a transgender character nicely. Let’s go!
1. Don’t force only your character
Don’t make the struggle of your trans character the main focus of your plot. It doesn’t work because you don’t know what you’re talking about. You should leave to own voice as a writer. It is good to write about everyday things that happen to trans people.
Don’t write a character that stays closeted or decides not to transition for someone else. If you want positive representation, you write a character that finally decides to be themselves.
2. Make your character realistic
Don’t write unaccepting characters who are not held accountable for their actions. I am very bugged by writers who write these unaccepting environments under the banner of realism.
If you have very unaccepting characters toward your trans character, they should be held accountable for their actions because too often, people get away with it.
3. Do proper research
Don’t write a trans character if you’re unwilling to do the research. Trans characters take a lot of research. They have a medical transition, legal transition, and social transition. If you don’t know what any of those things mean or what the differences are between those things, that means you need to do more research.
You’ll have a sensitive reader for your work who is trans themselves. It can be hard to come by a transgender sensitivity reader. The least you should have is somebody who has experience dealing with transgender people. If you’re writing a trans character, make sure you have talked to a transgender person. It doesn’t matter who, but make sure you did talk to at least one.
4. Don’t write stories that erase trans people
Don’t erase transgender from your world because they’re not perfect. For example, trans women can carry babies. Science used to think that gender dysphoria was much like anorexia and should be treated accordingly. After trying to convert transgender people for a couple of years, they found out that things that work for disorders don’t work with gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria can only be cured by transitioning. So it is not possible to make the mind fit the body. When you change the brain from masculine to feminine, you change the person. Trying to cure gender dysphoria with conversion therapy is the same as converting a gay person into a heterosexual person. That doesn’t work either. So don’t try to do it with transgender people.
5. Avoid rumor
Don’t write humor at the expense of your trans character. It is a huge pet peeve because in much popular media nowadays, the humor is at the expense of transgender characters, especially trans women. Often this comes in saying that a trans woman is not a real woman or trying to prey upon innocent heterosexual men because she’s gay.
These are the rumor that is being spread in the media. It does not mean that you can’t use humor in your books or when you’re writing a trans character. It is because there are a lot of opportunities that you have to leave with your character and not at your character. If you have a trans character, you will have a lot of opportunities to have ironic situations with that character so you can write humor.
6. Clear the concept of your scene
Don’t have characters state flat-out lies about trans people or throw around misguided insults without having another character call them out or correct them. There are transphobic people in this world. I’m not saying everyone in your fictional universe needs to be perfectly aware of every aspect of everything trans-related all of the time. But you still need to be aware of the social and cultural context that your media is being made in today.
If you’re having characters state harmful lies that are relatively common misconceptions about trans people, it’s useful to your audience to have another character clarify things for them. Then, not only do you have people sympathizing with the villain for the wrong reason, you continue to perpetuate harmful myths about trans people further.
If a fight scene starts right after that, your audience isn’t hearing a counterpoint to that. If your character flees the conflict, the audience might not fully understand what the villain said that was wrong. It can be your trans protagonist who could say, “No, I’m a woman in a dress.”
If you wanted to show solidarity between a cis character and the trans character, you could have the cis one defend them and say, “No, she’s a woman!” There are a million ways to navigate this scene. Use it to show the power of friendship of familial love and how the protagonist has learned to defend herself.
7. Hire trans writers or trans consultants
There are two parts to this, and the first is: If your writing team is all cis, you’re probably going to mess up. Even if you all know trans people and are familiar with their experiences, and know what language to use, you haven’t experienced what they have. You haven’t been there, and you don’t know how it feels.
So, you cannot tell their stories as authentically as they can. When cis people tell transgender stories, they often look like a stereotype, and they tend to look what cis people think.
If you’re at a movie studio or a TV production that works collaboratively with many people, having a trans person on your staff writing that trans character will benefit you. There are many trans people available for consultancy.
8. Mention your trans character in a storyline
Trans people have to live in constant fear of violence because of their identity. Give them storylines that are about something other than them being trans. But also, don’t completely ignore the fact that they’re trans. Trans characters must get to do stuff unrelated to their transness.
They don’t exist only as coming out stories or tragic stories about how hard their lives are. Many trans people are out in the world living their lives and doing their thing in fields that aren’t related to their gender. If your trans character only exists to be trans, you’ve failed. Focus on those other things for once.
Trans characters don’t need to relate every scene to something tragic from their backstory. Also, it’d be weird if you had a trans character and never mentioned they were trans. If you’re worried about mentioning it too much or too little, ask yourself: Does the audience know they’re trans? Your answer should be yes.
9. Don’t show photos of them pre-transition
Some trans people are cool with sharing pre-transition photos, and your character may be one of those people. But your cis audience will focus way too much on that, giving them the wrong idea of who your character is. Transphobes often use pre-transition photos to expose who the trans person is, which is awful.
So you need to be aware of that and cautious as a result. If the pre-transition photos are for some reason or are integral to your story, they should be introduced much later. Do not show them to your audience before showing them your character post-transition. First impressions are super important for how people imagine others. So your audience’s first impression of your trans character should be that person being portrayed as their correct gender.
10. Don’t fixate on their differences
Cis people often have a fascination with the things that make trans different. They want to see pre-transition photos and know every detail about surgeries and hormones. That’s not the case for all cis people, but it’s a fascination that many seem to have. Please be aware of this and try to work against it.
There is stuff that makes trans people different from cis people. But there’s no reason to frame your stories around that. If your show wouldn’t normally explicitly talk about genitals, there’s no need to start doing that because you have a trans character now. You don’t need to have them mention their surgeries all the time or otherwise constantly remind your audience that they’re different.
Instead, it would be much more positive for you to highlight some of the similarities they share with your other characters. Many trans and cis women have similar experiences of being harassed because they’re perceived as women. There are all similarities between trans and cis people, and it’d be good for your movie or book to highlight some of those.
Jokes at the expense of trans people are punching down, and jokes at the expense of transphobes are punching up. Ask yourself if you’d feel comfortable telling the joke in front of a room full of trans people. If you think they’d all find it as funny as you do. Ask yourself what the joke is implying about transness or gender in general.
Be critical of your jokes to ensure that you’re not accidentally mocking the person you’re meant to be positively representing. The opposite of trans people isn’t cis people, and teaching your audience this little thing is necessary.
Trans people often have to deal with discrimination in the workplace from transphobic bosses and co-workers. They often have to start a whole new career after transitioning, and they face financial hardships for many other reasons.
Don’t write a story that makes your transgender character transition for anything other than being themselves. It is a persistent myth, especially with trans women being portrayed as predators who want to lure men into sleeping with them. You don’t like to contribute to that as an author. So don’t imply any other reason to transition apart from being yourself.
If you have anything you want to know about, please leave your comments below. What is the most challenging part about writing a character so different from yourself? You can leave the answers in the comment section below, and let’s see what happens.
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