No Clowns, Thanks

Dear __________

I received your letter saying that you intend to include a trans character in your [novel/screenplay] and you are looking for assistance in adding detail to your vision.

My suggestion is simple.  Just look at the real details of the transpeople you are using as models for your character.   What are the stories of their lives, their concerns and their stresses?   How have they solved the problems facing them?

Using the real, lived experience of transpeople as a starting point is the only way to get powerful authenticity into your work.   Spending time with transpeople, both by reading what they have shared and by listening to their stories, asking them questions until you can reflect back their experience in a way that they recognize is the only way to get the content you say that you are seeking.

If this is not really of interest to you because you have already worked out your plot line and who your trans character has to be to fit into your plot and tell the story in your mind then you have a problem.   No amount of throwaway detail tacked onto a completely invented trans character will ever make them live.

I understand that you have your own view of the pressures of the gender system and may have decided that a trans character can help you sketch out that view while keeping your work current and on trend.

You can use a trans character as a foil for your lead, allowing them to confront their own isolation for example, or use them to show transgressing gender boundaries that reveal the challenges normative people face.

Using trans people as a metaphor for your own views on gender by assigning your own experiences, your own fears and your own meanings to the life of someone identified as trans is a sure way of diminishing and mocking real life transpeople.

You wouldn’t write a Jewish character as a stereotype, for example, set to be a metaphor for venality and cruelty and expect real Jews to not complain or even to help you do that by letting you quickly sketch and exaggerate a Jewish life.

Every human being feels the pressure of the system of gender, to fit into the expectations of others or to be stigmatized and isolated.   Transgender people need to break out of the compulsory roles assigned them so much that they cross into no-man’s/no-woman’s land to claim their own identity.

No transperson does that to be an example, a model, a metaphor, for you.   They do that because they know that they have no other choice.  The price they pay and the drives they feel are real, powerful and profound.   Even crossdressers and drags who bounce between worlds playing stylized characters have a real person at the core with real experience that defines them.

Is the character you want to write rooted in the real experience of trans people who you have seen, understood and reflected?   If it is, you don’t need help making them more detailed, rather only need someone help you when a bit doesn’t ring true.

Is the character you want to write rooted in your notion of plot or entertainment standing as a cartoon who helps real characters do the work they need to do?   If it is, you don’t need help making them more detailed, rather need someone to explain to you how dismissive, offensive and shallow that approach is.

To get help writing a transgender character you must always start by listening to the real voices of transpeople, making them feel seen, understood and valued.   Once you do that, they will share their jewels with you, working with you to bring breath and life into your work.

If that seems like too much work because you already know what you are going to write and just want a bit of help with jargon and throwaway detail then you will never gain the respect of transpeople and will never write anything beyond crap.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that other normies who love seeing transpeople who reflect what they think trans people should reflect won’t enjoy your work, accepting the sensationalism and metaphorical use.   They are used to trans characters being written as clowns, even as tragic ones, so that is in their comfort zone.

If you really want help in fleshing out a character, engage trans voices and reflect them back to us.   If we feel seen we will share our lives.

If you just want us to help you use us as symbolic puppets to tell your story, well then expect resistance and anger.

I hope this helps you in the development of your work.

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