Q&A

How Do I Show That a Character Is Trans?

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In a book I am currently writing, the fictional society has moved beyond any kind of transphobia, so being transgender is not treated as being anything out of the ordinary. Given this, I am wondering how to show that a character is transgender if it is not something that anyone would comment on or care about in-universe?

– Juliette

Hi Juliette,

Good for you! This is a great thing to take on.

It probably won’t be much harder to specify that a character is trans in your world. Marginalized groups aren’t just defined by the oppression against them; they have inherently different experiences that will matter to them. However, the experiences of trans people may depend on some of the details of your world: How does society perceive gender? Does the world have technology or magic for easily changing the body? (Keep in mind that while many trans people would want to change their bodies, some don’t have body dysphoria and would not choose to change anything.)

Regardless, to specify that a character is trans, you’ll be looking for the small differences in the experiences and lifestyles of trans and cis people. Here are some possibilities:

  • A man might think of/mention the possibility of giving birth or becoming pregnant, or a woman might mention getting someone else pregnant.
  • A character might casually mention taking testosterone or estrogen.
  • Getting dressed could be different – a trans man may wear a chest binder.
  • A trans woman might need to look for high heels at extra-large sizes.
  • A character might discuss how they chose their own name, or they might still be testing out a potential new name that may not be their final one.
  • Pictures or stories from the past might reveal a character used to present as a different gender. (If assigned genders at birth are not a thing in your world, this person could also be gender fluid.)
  • Even in an accepting world, it might take some time for people to adjust to using different pronouns for the same person. I don’t recommend actually showing people using the wrong pronoun for your trans characters, but your trans character might mention experiences with having the wrong pronoun used or having to correct or remind people what their pronoun is.

If you’re cis and haven’t had these experiences yourself, you’ll want to stay away from the more sensitive parts of a trans person’s transition. That includes changes to the body, coming to a realization about their gender, and trying a different gender presentation for the first time. While these things will be less sensitive in a world without oppression, they’ll still be sensitive for your trans readers. Generally, it’s easier to avoid things that are too sensitive if your character is post-transition.

When communicating a character is trans, there’s a balance between being so subtle that people won’t catch on and making too big a deal out of it. It’s generally something that should be present but should not be the center of attention. If you use more subtle cues, you’ll want more than one. And having multiple signs over the course of the story will help your trans character feel like a trans character and not like a cis character that’s just been labeled as trans.

Happy writing!

Chris

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Comments

  1. Sam Victors

    I have created a Trans character before, but I thank you for this as this helps me (and other writers even more).

    • Sam Victors

      My Trans Character is a Virginian, Romani Transwoman in a somewhat post-apocalyptic setting (only this PA world is mostly a world where most of humanity suffers a Sleeping Beauty like situation where everyone is asleep, due to a supernatural appearance and a battle between two polar opposite old women).

      There’s also a TERF character in the story, opposing the Trans character, and she’s on the antagonistic side of the supernatural battle.

      To explain things better, the story is similar to Stephen King’s The Stand, but mixed with mythological, archetypal elements; two powerful polar opposite women representing the Life-Death-Rebirth cycle.

  2. Kalani

    As a trans woman, this is very well written! I would write it similar. I recommend mentioning a binder or how supportive family members have been.

  3. Bubbles

    Thanks for the guidance! I was wondering about this too. Just to note: if you’re creating fictional cultures and languages, they don’t necessarily need to have gendered pronouns or names at all, depending on their development and environment. (This also applies if you’re writing about a real-life culture or language without those things). To make it clear: I am not advocating for censorship, and you should be entirely free to include gendered pronouns and names in your fictional creations if it makes sense that they would be there. I am just pointing out that it is not the only option.

    • Juliette

      Thanks for your input! I don’t know why you were worried about advocating for censorship; your comment gave MORE ideas; it wasn’t restricting them. The idea of non-gendered names is actually a good idea; I’ll try it out.

  4. Rivers

    As a nonbinary trans person I very much appreciate this. I’m trying to do a similarish thing in my WIP. It’s also good if you are looking into personal experiences of trans people for research purposes to make sure you get somewhat of a variety. People handle things in different ways and gender dysphoria/euphoria looks different to different people. Sensitivity readers might also be nice.

  5. Martin Perry

    What you shouldn’t do is describe a character as broadly male for a while, then broadly female for a while after a time apart from them (or vice versa) so the audience understands the character isn’t 100% cisgendered, then subtly mention mysterious nutritional supplements the character has to take to imply hormone therapy…
    …and then suddenly ram it down the audience’s throat by making up an excuse to see the supposedly female character naked and describe seeing a tiny penis amongst the bush of pubic hair. Ok, Ok, we get it, the character is trans. Did you need to describe the tiny penis to get your point across?

  6. Juliette

    Thank you so much, Chris! This is quite helpful!

  7. Leon

    Since gender is purely an invention. How would you write a trans character in a setting with no gender roles?

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