The Transsexual CharacterPosted: January 10, 2014
Note/TW: I talk about experiences of gender-dysphoria here, it’s probably gonna be a bummer if you can relate.
So among the many projects I’m bouncing between right now, is a game featuring just one character and that character is “me”. Well, she’s a “me” that I have invented to express a certain aspect of my life. I am framing her specifically to express this thing, and I’ve realised that what I’ve cut away from her personality to avoid distracting from “the point” says a lot about me.
Most notably, this character is not Transsexual.
I have been working on this project for months and it was only a couple of days ago I thought “Hey, why isn’t she transsexual anyway?”
My own automatic responses were immediate, numerous, and made me feel ill.
- “Nobody is going to identify with a transsexual character, especially not empathise.”
- “It’s not a thing *about* transsexuality, so don’t include it.”
- “Well you can’t make a transsexual girl look pretty, that’s for sure!”
- “A game with a transsexual character? Sophie don’t be stupid; that can’t make money and you’re broke.”
- “You know ‘Gamers’ will be complete fucks to a trans character. You really want that character to be your avatar?”
Yep, this stray thought is what finally makes me notice I’ve got a whole bunch of internalised cissexism! (rather than explain why each notion is problematic, you can re-read the list and imagine it’s about any other marginalised group if you don’t already see it).
I tried to reason it away quickly; I don’t want to have internalised this bullshit, surely I’ve at least written transsexual characters before now… right?
Nope. I’ve written hundreds of characters and not a single one is transsexual. Sure there have been a couple of heavily implied “was born the wrong sex but OH HEY MAGIC and now I’m cisgendered”. Such a thing is a trans fantasy (or at least one of mine), but it’s certainly not any expression of a character who is transsexual.
When I was expressing some of this on twitter, a few people said something along the lines of;
“What does it matter if the character is transsexual? Isn’t that something in the character’s past/backstory, why would it be relevant to the story you’re telling?”
I was floored for a little while, it’s clearly coming from a not-awful place; “Once someone announces they are <gender> then for the non-trans person the job is done; mission success! Sophie is a girl so let’s not treat her in a way that holds her back!”
… which is nice, but it’s not *my* experience. I struggle with my transsexuality every day, it’s a huge part of who I am, it informs almost everything about me.
What does it matter if this character is transsexual though?
Well, the character I’m writing, like me, is terrified of leaving her own house. She has panic attacks at the mere prospect of answering the front door. A ringing phone can, in less than a second, take her from comfort and fill her with fear just because she hasn’t prepared herself for the human contact.
That is stuff I experience, that is something I’m trying to express in the creation of this character and it’s what this game is about.
But the truth is I can’t unpick my transsexuality from my fear of people/the outside world. They are both aspects of who I am, and they are both things that I have had to live with for a long time. The relationship between them is hard to pin down, but there IS a relationship.
The two aspects of my personality exist separately but they overlap and influence one-another like… well, like any other aspects of a person’s personality! Sure I avoided pretty much everything social even before I knew “transsexual” was what I am. – I was afraid of walking through streets alone at night, I avoided family and friends whenever I could, and pushed back on everyone who didn’t somehow manage to stick with me long enough for me to grow accustomed to them.
And the problems I have with my transsexuality exist separately also; I have avoided many a bath/shower because “I just do not want to see my body today”. I used to become very accustomed to memorising where each and every mirror in my life was, so I could avoid accidentally spotting the reflection that looked nothing like me – this monster that grew over me during puberty, blotting out who I really am.
The two definitely exist seperately, but they also work together to be a problem for me also. There have been times when I’ve run out of food in the house, I decided that despite my fear of going out – I’ll do it anyway. I can cross the road to the shops, it’ll suck but I’ll get over it – then I discover my shaver has run out of charge, it’s not going to work again until after the shops shut. My options become either go hungry, or go outside with a little facial hair.
I choose to go hungry (if you could call it a choice, essentially I’ve been strong-armed by aspects of who I am that I wish weren’t a part of me).
And this happens in a hundred other ways too. It is *exceptionally* harder for me to leave the house since moving back home because there are people here who knew me before I ‘transitioned’. I’ve seen the looks old school-friends give me and one-another when I’m near. The fear of *that* social experience far outweighs the fear that maybe some stranger in a checkout queue might talk to me about something insignificant. As a result, I haven’t left the house for months.
What does it matter if the character is transsexual? – I don’t know how much it matters in this instance (or any other, really), but I know it does matter.
Being transsexual isn’t something that is a person’s backstory – it’s something they live with every day. It will always be that way, even if society becomes some magical sci-fi utopia where transsexual people can make their bodies the way they feel they should have been (without doctors telling them terrifying things like “with this procedure, there’s like a 40% chance you’ll be in pain the rest of your life, we don’t know why it happens”) – no ‘transition’ can erase everything we have been through, the conditioning, the way we have been raised, our personal struggles against all the mental obstacles that other people put in our way, and our struggles still tripping over these obstacles years after we figure out just who the hell we really are.
Like many other things, transsexuality isn’t some distant past event or lifestyle choice – it’s part of who a person is. How people deal with this aspect of themselves, and how they respond to how other people deal with it also… it’s gonna effect most everything a person is and does.
But I still don’t know if I can make this character transsexual, even if I can get past the other gross internalised cissexism, there’s an even more unpleasant reason I don’t want to make her transsexual;
Being transsexual sucks.
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and every night when I close my eyes I dream up magical worlds and stories where “oh it turns out you’re not really trans, you’re a cis girl! everything up until now was a mistake.” – I hate being transsexual, I hate the very core of it and I hate all the baggage that comes along with it just as much. It really sucks to be distressed and disgusted by your own body in this way. It’s not something you can make right, not completely, not ever.
What I’m thinking right now is, I’m not ready for the transsexual character. I need them but I certainly can’t write them, not yet. They need to be a cartoon, something ill-concieved but acceptale and non-threatening. I need “The strong trans-woman” trope, I need a token “trans friend” for the protagonists, the shitty action movie with a trans-man hero killing hundreds of faceless henchmen with a machine-gun.
I can’t write these things, but I’m thinking they might be a necessary cultural intermidiary between something being a harmful joke character-trait (what we have now), and being an aspect of some well-written and relatable characters.
And, I think this thinking is utter bullshit. The reason I think we need shitty transsexual characters before we can have real ones, is because it turns out I’m kind of a self-hating trans-bigot and I’m terrified of making this character who is supposed to represent me into someone who *really* represents me.
I don’t know what I’ll do about it to be honest, but I can tell you my transsexuality is not some part of my past, it’s fucking me up every day.