I had to write this post. I’m generally very nervous about posting opinions at all—let alone ones like this: ones very and utterly personal to me. Part of me wants to dissemble, avoiding the point and dancing around what I really want to write, just so I won’t then have to deal with the anxiety of having posted what I really think and setting it free in the wild. But I just can’t with this. There’s another layer of anxiety in that my forthcoming thoughts are born from having read a book kindly offered to me by the author. Nothing in this post seeks to convey any disrespect, but neither can I just sit by, silently fuming when I’ve been offended.
Offended. That’s something I don’t experience often; unless it’s a sort of group offense experienced along with anyone else with sense—outrage at anti-feminism or rape culture, etc. These are things we can all be jointly offended by. But with this… what if I’m the only one who thinks this way? What if I’m being silly? What if I’m being, gods-forbid, rude?!
Welcome to a day in the life of the socially anxious, high-functioning autism/Asperger’s bunny. It kind of sucks.
I just finished reading a book—a fantasy book that I’m not sure whether should be classed as “YA”, or whether it’s more a nod and homage to the classic days of fantasy that began with The Belgariad and young boys setting out to make their marks in the world. We’ll go with the latter, I think; I feel it fits more. I liked this book. This book should have got at least a four-star review. But it won’t.
So, what’s got my undies in a twist?
The treatment and handling of an LGBT character. Furthermore, we’re not talking “L”, “G” or “B”. Yep. The T. The aspect hardly handled by even the most progressive of ally-authors. It’s a problem when these issues are handled incorrectly, because whereas being homosexual and to a lesser extent, bisexual (we exist—honest!) characters are acknowledged, being transgender or transsexual is just as invisible as being queer, asexual or intersex. It’s so important that these characters and issues are handled with the sensitivity and skill they require and deserve.
So why, then, have I just read a book that commits the following “crimes”: a transgender character is revealed as not physically being the gender they present as, they then subsequently commit suicide entirely because of this, and second; the character is consistently referred to as the wrong gender even after stating, in no uncertain terms, that it’s not the old chestnut of ‘conceal gender to do X, really is totally fine with birth gender’, and is instead a matter of being born as a the wrong gender.
Either this character’s best fucking friend is a dickwad, to continue calling their now dead best friend a “she” instead of the chosen and presented gender of “he”, after it being made pretty fucking clear that the reality is: born X, in fact is Y, or they are stupid. For such a clever protagonist, who absolutely and consistently is not a dickwad, it’s just not okay.
Now, I tried not to be mad at this. I tried. But then I recalled a post I read somewhere complaining (rightly so) about trans (etc, etc) characters often being the subject of grisly dealings in fiction. Now, I suck at reading much on the ‘net, so there’s not a hope in hell of me linking back to it, or even remembering where I might have seen it, only that I did.
Like I said, I tried not to be fucking furious—and didn’t quite manage. I tried to talk myself through the notion of, “maybe it was the story; maybe they had to die” (oh, you mean as a plot device to make the protagonist feel even shittier about himself and guilty and even more alone? –oh) and even, “but surely the point is to treat any LGBT character as normally as any other?” And yes, that’s true…but.
For so long characters that are LGBT (or any other letter of the rainbow) have been vilified, villainized, mocked or otherwise mistreated. They have suffered enough. So now, do I think it’s less than okay to have a trans character be anything less than at least a well-developed person who sticks around until the credits roll and everyone gets a clap on the back for a job well done? Fuck yes. (Don’t even get me started on the too-convenient offing of the trans character in Newton’s Legends of the Red Sun, excusable only barely because any character not present in the very first book was haphazardly disposed of throughout The Broken Isles.) Hell, trans characters should be made into heroes so those who need these characters in their lives can see that being trans, or any other shade of LGBT is just as normal—fuck—just as celebrated as any other human being. We need LGBT heroes; we need trans and intersex and anything-in-between heroes. (Evidently we need Micah-bloody-Grey!) We do not need them to become fictional notations as to the violence or cruelty of the world. Leave that to reality. You’re a writer—you have power!
People who are gay let alone trans kill themselves for what others perceive they are; wrong and unnatural and whatever else the ill-enlightened dipshits who suggest at calling themselves people and their perceived lessers otherwise. People are hurt and killed and fuck-knows-what just for being. So it’s about time fiction transcended this. It’s about time SFF put on its grown-up britches and starting waving its flag like it’s done for disabled heroes and those who have more brains than brawn.
It’s about damn time I don’t see it coming a mile away that this interesting and well-developed character, who is not only doing the breast-binding gig (which was clear to me, but expertly constructed—and then revealed to be trans and not just cross-dressing—brilliant! And…wait. Wait what?) but is in fact well aware of their gender dysmorphia, and also has a supportive family unit who actually aided the transition, is just going to be tossed aside in order to either clear up the cast before they up and leave, or, to pile on the guilt. I’m sensing the latter and I’m livid.
What kind of message does that send? Unwitting revelation, disclosure of privacy, abandonment by friends, dismissal—and fucking suicide. That’s what this character had. Never mind the expertly-wrought character, never mind the complicated emotional tapestry of being a trans male who likes men (not hetero; no hetero sex for this character, please) and the unconditional support of a mother who loves her son enough to accept that gender can be fluid—none of that matters because nobody will accept you, your life will be ruined and then you’ll stab yourself in the gut. Have a nice day.
Furthermore, the protagonist considers the situation inwardly, remarking upon his friend’s “bewildering sexuality”. Excuse me. Excuse me, but what? Never mind the fact that I could go on from here to the freaking moon about that “bewildering” part, but what about the false, rude and grossly inaccurate assumption that sexuality and gender are even the same thing at all? Jesus. Honestly if people can’t get this shit right (research! It’s not that hard! It’s not!), then leave alone. Leave it alone. Sexuality has nothing to do with whether this character is trans or not. Not every transperson is hetrosexual or even bisexual. Gender and sexuality have so little to do with each other I am furious. Gender is not equal to sex and it is certainly not equal to sexuality.
I can’t. I actually can’t right now.
You don’t get to treat a character like that. You don’t get to have your protagonist be willing to betray everything and desert his beloved cavalry on the whim of one girl at the end of the book, and then not have this same supposedly good character even refer posthumously to their dead best friend in their preferred gender. And well done, your character just cracked a little, a few stains showing under the spotlights. He’s no longer as believable to me. And to say this about a character who is otherwise so wonderfully crafted is just… it breaks my heart. This book was so well crafted, so real and so sensitive in its handling of things such as bisexuality and sex versus love.
But this man deserved more. Characters based on real-life counterparts who have long been cast into the shadows lurking at the periphery of life deserve more: I don’t care if they’re not in the direct shine of the limelight, if they’re not the be all and end all and if their shit smells of roses or not—I just want them to enjoy the spotlight they’ve so long been denied. Kill the goddamn arsehole in a rare moment of “oh, well, the bully never dies” and surprise people. But don’t abuse a trans character; don’t kill them to remind people that this shit happens—that’s why we call this business “fiction”. I can read about no end of people such as this in the news, all of it horrible and vile. So can the people it involves and mirrors.
What I want to read about are characters such as these basking in the same glow afforded to everyone else in the world who’s ever enjoyed their time in the golden limelight—people need these characters. And they do not need them dead. Let alone by their own hand.
No, no, no, no. No.