JL Merrow takes over the chair this evening for some sharp words to those who think diversity isn’t part of their writing toolkit!
Trans fiction. What is it, really? Okay, there’s an obvious answer: fiction which has trans characters in it. But does it have to be about those characters’ experience of being trans in a largely cis world?
Stories which explore that experience are hugely important to raise awareness of specifically trans issues—but I think there’s also a need for stories that just happen to have trans characters in them, doing interesting stuff while being trans.
Chekov’s gun* has a lot to answer for, in some respects: people often ask why a character has to be, say, trans, or gay, or black—meaning, why is it important to the story? (Curiously, people asking this invariably seem to be cis, straight, and white.) But why shouldn’t—say—Hermione be black? Why shouldn’t Dumbledore be gay, and Draco Malfoy be trans?
When I wrote a genderqueer side character in Out! I did so because that’s how the character came to me: as someone who just happened to be non-binary. They use non gender specific “they/their” pronouns, and they do face prejudice from some other characters in the book (although not too much; this is a romantic comedy so—spoilers!—they get a happy ending). They are also extremely metal and wear some seriously awesome New Rocks boots. 😉
Why only a side character? Mostly because of a worry I won’t get things right if I try to go too deep. I’m a cis female, and in fact have been known to describe myself as “the girliest girl who ever girled” (although as with so many things in my life, the mere fact of making the statement caused a fair bit of re-examination of the issue and I’m pretty sure I was way off the mark there!) I don’t personally feel qualified to climb inside the head of a trans person right now—I haven’t had to wait years just to get an appointment at a gender clinic; I haven’t had to worry about whether people will think I’m using the “wrong” loos; and I haven’t had to deal with friends and family dead-naming me, using the wrong pronouns, or thinking it’s okay to ask intrusive questions. But I’m doing my best to inform myself on the issues, and maybe one day I’ll have more confidence in writing a trans character from their own point of view.
If, like me, you’re a cis person feeling your ignorance, you may be wondering how you can find out more about what it means to be a trans person. The internet, of course, is a vast resource, but there also other options, and trans people are increasingly becoming visible in the mainstream. For example, both the Guardian and Huffington Post have produced lists of their Best Trans Books. And the Cheltenham Literature Festival last month included a panel called “Beyond Gender” featuring trans celebrities iO Tillett Wright and Jack Monroe, who talked, among other things, about issues when travelling abroad and the practical problems faced by men who menstruate.
Going back to trans fiction, rather than reality, one of my favourite moments in this respect happened at a UK Meet a few years ago, when I was talking about a short story in an anthology** with a group of other authors, including the person who wrote that story. I mentioned I liked how matter-of-factly the trans guy was shown, with the fact that he was trans not being a big deal in the context of the story—and another person who’d read it said “Wait, there was a trans guy?” Because it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in a story that was about a whole load of other things than the guy’s trans identity.
Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, life was like that, and we could all focus on the person, not one particular aspect of their identity?
* Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there — Anton Chekhov
** Storm Moon Press’s Legal Briefs anthology, in aid of Lambda Legal.
Giveaway: I’m offering a free e-copy of Out! to a commenter on this post. I’ll make the draw after the end of Trans Fiction Week.
When the costs are added up, will love land in the black?
Mark Nugent has spent his life in the closet—at least, the small part of it he hasn’t spent in the office. Divorced when he could no longer deny his sexuality, he’s sworn off his workaholic ways and moved to Shamwell with his headstrong teen daughter to give her a stable home environment.
His resolve to put his love life on hold is severely tested when he joins a local organization and meets a lively yet intense young man who tempts him closer to the closet threshold.
Patrick Owen is an out-and-proud charity worker with strong principles—and a newly discovered weakness for an older man. One snag: Mark is adamant he’s not coming out to his daughter, and Patrick will be damned if he’s going to start a relationship with a lie.
Between Mark’s old-fashioned attitudes and a camp, flirtatious ex-colleague who wants Mark for himself, Patrick wonders if they’ll ever be on the same romantic page. And when Mark’s former career as a tax advisor clashes with Patrick’s social conscience, it could be the one stumbling block they can’t get past.
Warning: Contains historically inaccurate Spartan costumes, mangled movie quotes, dubious mathematical logic and a three-legged pub crawl.
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.
She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and mysteries, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy, and her novella Muscling Through and novel Relief Valve were both EPIC Awards finalists.
JL Merrow is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, International Thriller Writers, Verulam Writers and the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.