Contrary to what one might think, a trans character who’s entirely perfect isn’t necessarily good representation. It’s not only unrealistic, but making a trans character perfect can actually be harmful because of the pressure that perfection has on real trans people. That’s not to say that you should give trans characters flaws willy-nilly, because you could end up with a bad combination that promotes dangerous stereotypes.
I want to kick this off by talking about some of the harm that could be done with the Model Minority trope. If you haven’t heard of that term before, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a marginalized character who is perfect in all the right ways–kind, helpful, docile, book-smart, etc. Usually, this kind of character is either a token or contrasted by marginalized villain characters. This trope impacts people of color the most, though it can also apply to other marginalized people. A character who falls under the Model Minority trope subtly implies that there is a “right” way to be marginalized in society, and that those who don’t conform to this strict archetype are all evil or dangerous. It also feeds into a vicious cycle where marginalized individuals often feel compelled or forced to become the Model Minority just to get a slight raise or to be taken seriously or to not be seen as a threat to cops. This is something that applies to me, personally, since I have often felt pressured to be outstanding in order for people to take me seriously–particularly in times when I have had to educate people about their latent transphobia.
So clearly perfect trans characters can cause harm, but there are also some faults which would be dangerous to give to a trans character, so let’s chat about how to carefully walk that line. I’m not going to list out every single fault I deem harmful because 1) I would likely miss some, and 2) just because I view something as okay doesn’t mean other trans people will feel that way as well.
Ultimately, the distinction between harmful and not harmful in these cases usually requires a lot of thought. Why, for instance, would I think it harmful to write a trans character as a notable liar? Because trans people are often accused of lying about who they are or tricking people. How about a shy trans man? Because shyness is often affiliated with children and women, and it is rarely associated with adult men. This would bolster transphobic beliefs that trans men aren’t real men, or that trans people don’t have the mental competency to understand their identity.
However, I could see either of those two faults making very good trans characters–so long as it was done with intent, the work was checked by multiple bias readers, and the character isn’t the only trans person in the story. You could even make an argument for having a seemingly perfect trans character who is struggling with the Model Minority trope. I know, I know: doesn’t that go against the whole point of this post? While it’s true that making a character perfect willy-nilly could lead to some harmful outcomes, in taking some time to think about why perfection is a dangerous trait, you can understand how to use it with care.
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!