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Writing a Transgender Character

Transgender FlagI’ll start by saying that I’m not transgender.

I am a gay man, and so to a limited extent, I think I can relate to someone who is transgender – at least in terms of struggling with something inside of me that’s different – and with society’s reaction to it.

But I’ve always imagined that coming out as transgender must be like coming out as gay or lesbian, times ten.

In my writing career, I’ve mostly stuck to writing straight characters and gay men. But I’m starting to challenge myself to write in some of the other parts of the rainbow – and this month, that includes Colton, my first transgender character.

In some ways, Colton should be like anyone else. I mean, a person is a person, right?

But there’s an emotional mix I want to hit too – the conflict inherent in being born into the wrong body.

There are also the life details to get right – in this case, binding breasts properly, injecting testosterone, and passing in public.

It’s also true, of course, that just like no two gay men are the same, no two transgender people are either, so in a sense, I guess there’s no one “right” way to write this character.

But there are some wrong ways.

I know we’ve discussed this in the past, but it seems ripe for additional discussion.

Have you written or read a story with a transgender character? What was “right” and what was “wrong”? If you are a writer, have you written one yourself? And assuming you are not transgender, how did you do your research? Discuss. :)

1 thought on “Writing a Transgender Character”

  1. I’m in edits for The Ladyboy Chronicles: Illusions & Dreams.
    I think you’ve hit on some truly important things and here’s some of my thoughts on it:

    1) People are all different. Two of main characters are both transgender but they express it in very different ways. (Not everyone has body dysmorphia=feeling the need for a different body) It’s important to be clear on how your character feels.

    2) Educate yourself (I hung out in Bangkok in bars, clubs and in restaurants chatting with ladyboys>>> I’ve had a number of long discussions with people who are transgender in the West). You can watch videos online, join a group, talk to people who are transgender and find out what it means to them.

    3) Educating the reader. Most people haven’t had any kind of interaction with someone who is transgender soooooo you have to acknowledge some of the prejudices that are floating around so you can navigate around them. I think it’s part of the author’s job to help the reader understand what it means to be transgender & to help promote equality.

    4) My biggest fear is presenting my characters in a harmful way. I’ve lost sleep over this…

    5) Our trans-kids at PFLAG were shocked that yes indeed there are books about people ‘like them’… (I’m starting to cry just thinking about the shocked and desperate eyes that someone thought enough to write about someone them could identity with and look up)…

    >>>>>> A lot of pressure on a character but the stakes are high. Writers change public opinion one reader at a time… we need to make it count.

    Hugs, Z.

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