Welcome to the second day of Trans Fiction Week, and today you have the chance to win free words as JL Merrow and I talk about the two types of transgender story and their respective merits: the ones where the point is that you’re trans, and the ones where the point is anything but.
In 2016, I published my first two transgender novels. Not my first novels, by any stretch of the imagination, but the first transgender ones. And they are transgender. They are about being transgender. The first, Spy Stuff, literally would not exist as a story without the transgender character’s identity. The second…okay, the second could exist. What It Looks Like wasn’t just about being transgender…but it was still a pretty big part of the landscape.
And I feel kind of weird about that.
I’ve always been the type of queer for whom being queer is secondary to being me. If you want to know me, you don’t actually need to know I’m transgender or I’m asexual. You need to know I’m British. You need to know I’m from a working class family. You need to know I’m male—the cis or trans aspect of that isn’t necessary.
And when you label me that way—male, working class, British—most of the basic parts of my personality are pretty much covered. Everything else is fine-tuning.
And I’ve always tried to write queers like me. I’ve had parts of the queer experience—coming out, homophobia, rights—but I’ve always tried to make them parts of the characters, rather than their whole. So for my first two transgender books to be about being transgender, rather than about something else whilst being transgender was…a bit of a gear change for me.
So why the hell did I do it?
Both were written in 2014 and 2015. At the time, I had just come to terms with my identity, and was going through my own transition. I was doing a lot of research into the physical act of transitioning, and figuring out what I needed and what I wanted.
And all I could find was fear. Depression. Anxiety. Terror. Victim mindsets—both from transgender folks themselves, and from the allies around them. A sense of this terrible thing, this painful and awful thing, was a trial to get through. It would be suffering from beginning to end, and that end would never truly come.
I couldn’t find anyone transitioning like me.
I couldn’t find the people waging war against hospitals. I couldn’t see the people excited over their surgeries. I couldn’t hear joy in not being able to sing anymore, or online shopping sprees now things were going to fit right.
Fact is, my emotional range during my transition was happy (yes, it’s working!) and angry (how dare you get in my way!) and nothing in between. I woke up on the morning of my surgery excited. My boss threatened to sedate me when I got my hormone therapy approved. I still have a reputation in the office for being ball-shrinkingly frightening on the phone when I was demanding my rights as a patient.
But I know for a fact that I’m not alone. Okay, I’ve only found one other bloody-minded bastard like me out there so far, but we exist. We’ve both put our fists up against the system. We both won. And we’re both excited by every small development, and angered—not upset, but angered—by the setbacks.
Fact is, the transgender narrative is still that we are victims and martyrs. That we’re weak messes who need help. That we are brave for merely existing. And nowhere is that clearing than in transition stories.
So…I wrote my own.
Anton solves the issue by eventually throwing his own fists, rather than hiding. Eli has been a fist-thrower from the day he was born. They are fictional.
Luke told his mother to do something unsanitary when she tried to prevent him going to a clinic appointment. I threatened legal action against a hospital until they agreed to treat me. We are real.
Going forward, I will probably return to my roots and go back to stories where the characters are incidentally queer, and incidentally trans. But there will always be a transgender element. Because transgender people barely exist in fiction at all. And transgender people like me—living crazy lives, being a million and one other things, achieving and succeeding and enjoying their existences—are like a unicorn made out of snowflakes.
But we’re here too.
So see the title? That’s kind of my policy going forward.
Grab a chance to win a free ebook copy of What It Looks Like by leaving a comment below. On Sunday night, the final post of the week will announce the winners!
Matthew J. Metzger is an asexual, transgender author dragged up in the UK, and writes stories from the sink estates and high-rise flats that he’s most familiar with. He has been publishing with JMS Books LLC since 2013, with his latest novels—Spy Stuff and What It Looks Like—dealing directly with living life while trans. He can be stalked on Twitter and Facebook.