Transgender: An umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth and whose gender expression is not related to their biological sex. Some transgender persons might opt to take hormones or have surgery to further align their appearance with their gender but it is not required to be transgender.
Developing a Transgender Character
Here are some thoughtful questions that you can ask yourself about your character to help you better understand how they see themselves and how they interact with the world:
What gender does your character identify as?
How does this gender manifest and how does your character show/perform it? When did your character discover that their gender identity did not match their assigned gender? What kind of experience was it?
How does your character think/feel about being transgender?
Does it give them an advantage/disadvantage? Is it a big deal to them or not?
Do they deal with gender dysphoria?
If so, how do they handle it? If not, what other identity challenges might they face?
Does your character plan to transition to their gender?
Why or why not? If so how do they plan to transition (hormone therapy, surgery?) and what challenges might they face?
How does the character interact with the world?
How does your character want to be perceived by others? How are they actually perceived? How does the society in your story treat your character?
How do other characters react to your character?
Do they use their chosen name and pronouns or not? How does your character handle these reactions?
Writing a Transgender Character
As with writing any character, their gender is just one part of their whole identity. When writing your character here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep specific gender traits for your character consistent; name, pronouns and chosen expression. A character worksheet can help you to make sure you keep the details consistent and give you further insight into how your character expresses their gender.
- Don’t fall into gendered stereotypes for gender expression. There is nothing wrong with the stereotyped activities themselves, but be careful about using them to portray a specific gender expression. Remember that some people are gender non-conforming. A female character can act masculine without being trans.
- Personality traits are not gender dependent. How your character expresses their gender should fall in line with their personality. They are still the same person no matter which gender they identify as.
Pronoun usage should match your character’s chosen pronouns unless the character speaking is someone who refuses to address your trans character properly.
As with pronouns, names should stay consistent within a scene. If your character prefers a particular name for their gender identity this should be used when the character is the point of view character in the scene. Other characters might use or disregard their chosen name with appropriate reaction/consequences.
Gender identity is independent from sexual orientation. A person who transitions from male to female and is attracted only to men may identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted to men would most likely identify as a gay male.
Things to Keep in Mind
Transgender people, especially non-white trans women, face extreme violence in Western cultures and most typically in the United States. This violence is mirrored in narratives where they rarely survive. They are most often portrayed as the villain, as a joke or a tragic tale. They rarely have stories that end happily.
It is important to note that crossdressing is not the same as being transgender. Transgender women are not cross-dressers or drag queens. Drag queens are men, typically gay men, who dress like women for the purpose of entertainment. Be aware of the differences between transgender women, cross-dressers, and drag queens. Use the term preferred by the individual. Do not use the word “transvestite” at all, unless someone specifically self-identifies that way.
Tropes are tropes for a reason and most of these are not bad in and of themselves, however like a lot of tropes they often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and thus should be used cautiously. Some include:
Ambiguous Gender Identity| Attractive Bent-Gender| Easy Sex Change| Old Friend, New Gender| Raised as the Opposite Gender| Sex Shifter| Trans Equals Gay| Transgender Fetishization| Trans Nature| Transsexual| Unsettling Gender Reveal| Viewer Gender Confusion| Which Restroom Dilemma| Wrong Genetic Sex
Transgender People in Fiction
Alucard from Hellsing: The Dawn |Myra Breckinridge from Myra Breckinridge | Courier from Marvel Comics | Iphis from Metamorphoses | Roberta Muldoon from The World According to Garp | Princess Ozma from Land of Oz | Miyuki from YuYu Hakusho | Luna from Luna | Emily La Rouche from The Butterfly and the Flame | Brihannala from Mahabharata | Kremissius (Krem) Aclassi from Dragon Age: Inquisition
Tragic Tropes: Transgender Representation in Contemporary Culture
Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression
What’s the difference between being transgender or transsexual and having an intersex condition?
S/He Parents of transgender children are faced with a difficult decision, and it’s one they have to make sooner than they ever imagined.
The K-12 Binary Schools are becoming ground zero for clashes over transgender rights.
ABOUT GENDER IDENTITY
How NOT to Write a Trans Character (this post contains language and terms some might find offensive)
What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.
‘Orange Is The New Black’ Actress Tells Katie Couric Why It’s Not Cool To Ask About Trans People’s ‘Private Parts’