When we’re writing, we’re kinda of acting, even if the audience don’t show up for months or even years after the performance is finished. So why are cisgender too afraid to slip into another’s skin, when asexual author Matthew J. Metzger is doing it with every book?
‘Well, I’m not trans.’
It’s one of the most well-meaning and frustrating sentences I hear when calling for more transgender and non-binary characters. ‘I couldn’t, I’d do it wrong, I’m not trans.’ It’s a nightmare.
Because on the one hand, cisgender authors getting it badly and occasionally maliciously wrong is a serious problem. And a prolific one. To the point where a lot of transgender folks will deliberately avoid transgender media put out by cisgender people. And I have to admit, despite my fervent belief that cisgender people can and should be writing transgender characters, I am one of those people. It’s an instinctive reaction. There is an expectation, built up by disappointment after disappointment, that it’s going to be bad. Because the author is not trans.
But on the other…I still want cisgender people to do it.
Sounds contradictory, right?
But when you think about it, it’s really not. We’re writing fiction. That means we are, as a matter of course, writing about people that aren’t real, living lives that don’t exist. We are writing people who are not us, all of the time. Crime writers are not killers. Science fiction writers are not astronauts. Historical fiction isn’t written by three-hundred-year-old blokes in daft wigs.
Most people in this genre are actually straight women writing gay men.
We are, every time we write a character, stepping out of ourselves and slipping on their skin. We’re almost acting. Some better than others, but that’s what we’re doing. We can write gay men, even if we’re not gay or men. We can write bisexuality, even though we’re not wired that way. We can write Americans if we’re British, and Brits if we’re Americans.
Yet somehow, transgender men and women (not to mention non-binary folks) are a little too different. Somehow, the buck that allows straight women to write gay men stops short of allowing them to write trans people.
Hard-hitting cold truth time.
If transgender people are too other for you, you’re being too lazy to do the work.
No. Really. You are. Let me explain.
Recently, I was interviewed by the lovely Rita at Bayou Book Junkies. And she was pretty fascinated by something I’d never really given much thought to: how an aromantic asexual like me could be writing erotic romances like What It Looks Like.
How could I, as an aromantic asexual, be writing sex and romance so convincingly? How was it possible that I could get inside these very sexual, very romantic mentalities, and convince her that they were genuine, authentic, real portrayals? When I, personally, have never experienced any of that? When I am not sexual, and I am not romantic?
Weirdly, I’d never turned the issue around like this. And I did have to think about it. How the hell was I doing that? Where did I get to learn what love felt like given, well, I’ve never felt it?
I exist in a world surrounded by sex and romance. I am constantly confronted with it. Every TV show I’ve ever watched, every book I’ve ever read, has had sex and love at the very least on people’s minds. I see this every single day—and so I know. I know the way people behave. I know what they see in it. I know how they describe what they feel. I know how it works with and against and for the world surrounding it. I know how it changes lives, and when and where. I know how it works, and when it doesn’t. I’m immersed in it, so I can replicate it.
And it’s totally possible to do that with transgender people as well. Surround yourselves with their books, their movies, their social media, their news outlets, their voices. And the longer you’re immersed like that, the more you’ll understand. The less scary and other we become. The more you’ll stop making excuses like ‘I’m not trans, so I wouldn’t understand.’
I’m not sexual. I’m not romantic. But I understand just fine.
And if I can do it? So can you.
Stop with the excuses.