A week ago, I wrote a blog about the sequel to Queer Greer that has been occupying my mind for the past month or so. Tentatively titled Straight Nate, this book will actually be more like the second book in a series, as opposed to a true sequel, where Greer becomes a secondary character and Natalie/Nate — a trans* individual — becomes the primary character.
I have been reaching out to trans* organizations and individuals to answer some questions about being trans* in my research for this book. I want to write this character as realistically as possible and to do that I need to know about as many individual trans* experiences as possible before putting pen to paper — or fingers to keys.
One person I reached out to came back to me with some great follow-up questions that I thought I would share here in case others are curious about the same things:
Why are you writing about this character?
After writing Queer Greer, the first book in this seriesabout a bisexual protagonist, I received a lot of great feedback from bisexual and questioning readers thanking me for writing a book that spoke to them. I also received requests for a trans* protagonist in another book, readers noting that just as there is a dearth of literature for bisexuals, there is even more of a dearth for trans* individuals. Similarly to the reason I wrote Queer Greer – writing the book I wish I had had to guide me through my questioning and evolution to realize my bisexual identity – I want to write the follow-up to Greer about a trans* protagonist so trans* individuals can have another source to turn to in their own coming out processes.
Why do you feel this story is important to tell?
My aims for the story overall include presenting a trans* character before they are comfortable or willing to identify as trans*, coming into college and finding solace in a friendship with Greer and the LGBTQ community on campus. I think it is important to tell realistic stories about trans* characters so readers can get a better understanding for the struggles they face, as well as their triumphs; it is also important for readers to be able to see glimpses of their own experiences in this character. This is the reason I am reaching out to trans* individuals to interview for this book – to get a wide array of experiences in order to make the protagonist and secondary trans* characters as realistic as possible.
How will this character’s exploration and development of his identity and gender progress, and who will be involved in that?
This book is in a very preliminary stage, so I am not set on all of the characters involved in the story just yet. Most of the book will take place on the protagonist’s college campus and will involve peers, upperclassmen, professors and other college officials. There will also be a time when the protagonist goes back home after discovering his trans* identity and confronts his family.
What role will other characters play in his story / character arc?
Greer MacManus, lead character in the first book in the series, will portray a fellow freshman at the protagonist’s college; they become friends and as Greer is still exploring her bisexuality, the protagonist becomes more and more comfortable speaking to her about the issues they’ve been battling for as long as they can remember. There will be people on campus who do not understand trans* issues who the protagonist will encounter, as well as bullies and homo/transphobes who the protagonist must deal with on multiple occasions. There will also be other trans* and genderqueer students who the protagonist befriends and learns from. The protagonist’s parents will shape them in the beginning of the book – and will be critical to their coming out process in the latter part of the book.
How will this character’s gender exist in relationship to the Greer’s sexuality and identity?
The trans* character will have been born in a female body but identity as male. They will have been perceived as lesbian throughout high school since they were outwardly female-appearing and attracted to women, but the truth is the protagonist is actually a straight male. Greer may or may not enter into a relationship with the protagonist at some point – I have yet to decide.
What motivations do you have for dealing with these themes in the story? Why do you feel confident writing this?
With many trans* and genderqueer friends, I feel a personal desire to write this story. As described previously, I want to write a book that trans*, genderqueer and gender questioning people can turn to for a work of fiction that speaks to issues that matter to them. I feel confident as a writer, researcher and friend of the trans* community to write this book – but I also need to interview as many trans*, genderqueer and gender questioning individuals as possible in order to get across the most accurate portrayal of the protagonist and secondary trans*/genderqueer/gender questioning characters as possible.
What exposure have you had to other trans representations in a variety of media? What do you feel delineates a positive representation from a negative representation?
I could list a slew of trans* representations in all sorts of media, from Transamerica to RuPaul; from models on Project Runway to Chaz Bono; from The L Word to Lana Wachowski; from The World According to Garp to Kate Bornstein. The list goes on, obviously, and I am sure many other people have a broader view of these portrayals than I do. I think that the majority of trans* portrayals across media platforms that I’ve seen still tend to focus and rely on stereotypes, and many of these stereotypes treat trans* issues similarly to lesbian, gay and bisexual issues – which they are not. I think a positive representation of trans* issues shows differences and similarities to the rest of the LGB community; it will also depict how trans* individuals deal with most of the same issues cisgender individuals deal with, plus several others. Overall, I think a positive portrayal will focus on what makes trans* individuals the same as anyone else, while also tackling some of the issues they specifically face.
What exposure have you had to the feelings and politics of trans people, specifically in our feelings towards our representation in media by cis people?
I’ve been exposed to the feelings and politics of trans* friends and trans* bisexuals in the bisexual community. I hear a lot of frustration mostly that media portrayals, as mentioned above, really just rely on stereotypes of trans* individuals, many of which are negative and untrue for a lot of people. I want to help change that trend.
Besides interviewing trans people, what steps are you taking to ensure that this work will be received positively by trans readers? Who are you interviewing and what steps are you taking to ensure it’s a broad range of perspectives?
As this project is in its earliest stages, the first step I have taken is simply to reach out for trans* individuals and organizations to answer several interview questions around being trans* and individual experiences around gender and gender expression. I have yet to think through the process of reviews post-publishing. I have started my research simply by speaking to trans* people I know, their friends and trans* bisexuals in the bisexual community. I am open to suggestions if others have other avenues they think I should go down to get the broadest range of perspectives.
What biases do you think might affect how you interpret and frame the responses you get from trans people?
As a cisgender female, it is very possible that I have biases I am not even aware of – which is why I intend to research this topic as much as possible before I begin to write the book. When I implement any of the elements of an interview into the book, I intend to go over those sections with my interview subjects to assure I am getting the write point across with the best word choices. I also hope to find a broad group of trans* reviewers to take a look at drafts along the way to assure I haven’t let any biases leak into my words and verbiage.
If you are trans* and would like to be involved, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; tweet to me @AJWalkley; or message me on Facebook at AJ Walkley or through the A.J. Walkley Author Page.