A lot of my blog posts (and my writing, for that matter) involve some kind of speculative fiction. So I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about transgender narratives when it comes to intelligent non-human species. There’s a lot to talk about on this topic, but for now, I’ll stick to just one facet: the balance of transness when you have both human and non-human characters in a story. To put it simply, even if you write hundreds–or even thousands–of transgender characters, if none of them are human, that depiction is likely going to be harmful.
Let’s break this down. Let’s say you’re writing something where humans exist, but there are other kinds of intelligent entities out there (aliens, robots/AI, elves/dwarves/orcs, fae, werewolves/vampires, etc.). Humans would be viewed as what is “normal” to the reader, simply by nature of those readers being human. Everything else will be lumped in with “the unreal” or “the unnatural”.
Note, before I continue, that I am specifically talking about a situation in which there are both humans and non-humans in the world. If there are no humans, then this advice doesn’t necessarily apply to you. However, if you have, say, only merpeople (vaguely humanoid in shape) and intelligent octopodes (not humanoid in shape at all), this distinction shifts such that the most human-like species is aligned with the “normal” and the less human-like species are aligned with “the unreal” or “the unnatural”.
So now, let’s say that you put in trans characters Maybe you have a few trans elves or vampires or robots; maybe you developed an entire species that has their own ideas about gender, so all of them are trans-coded. But in either case, let’s assume you made all the visible human characters cisgender. In doing so, you have aligned trans people and gender nonconformity with “the unreal” and “the unnatural” rather than with “the normal”. This kind of bias latently implies that trans people are all fake, or strange, or not normal. This would be bad representation.
Now, let’s say you put one trans human character in. This is definitely better, because the broad implications of transness being fake or unnatural have gone away now that trans people are in both “the normal” category and the others. Transness, then, becomes something that happens to exist, rather than only being weird or false. However, this gets into the dangerous territory of tokenism.
How many human characters are there in this world? If there are many, why is there only one who is trans? Do they exist solely to make your world less problematic? These are the questions you may want to ask yourself if you only have one trans human character. In fact, I would say that you should ask yourself these questions for every number of trans characters you have until you lose count of how many trans human characters you’ve developed in the world.
But–you might ask–does this mean that if you don’t create trans human characters, that you shouldn’t create any trans non-human characters? Well, yes and no. It would certainly be wrong to assume that other species would all have the same conceptions of gender that humans do, so throwing a gender binary on another species’ cultures would just be poor world-building if you don’t think about what that would mean. The problem here is that if you don’t create trans human characters to balance out the scales, it will end up implying negative stereotypes about trans people being unnatural or not being real.
At the end of the day, gender is as complex and multifaceted as most things humans experience. It would be illogical to presume that all people of a species (human or not) would have the exact same experience of gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex. The best thing you can do is think carefully about what your writing really implies in relation to the real world. That and my ages-old advice: get yourself trans beta-readers!
Question of the day:
Can you think of any stories that handled gender differences between various species well?
What is this “#AuthorToolboxBlogHop” thing?
I’m glad you asked! I’m a part of this author blog hop where a group of bloggers write about the same theme (in this case, resources & advice for writers). There are some requirements so other participants can know which posts are for the blog hop and which are not. If you want to learn more, you can check out the details and the list of other participants here!