Why Representation is Not One-Size-Fits-All

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As a writer who wants to improve trans representation in literature, I often ask other trans people what they want out of trans representation and what they don’t want. A while back, I got an answer that I found to be curious. One person answering the question listed a variety of things. Most made sense to me, such as not wanting to read stories about forced transitions (an understandable position). However, immediately following that was something I neither expected nor agreed with. This person was against easy magical transitions being portrayed in fantasy.

I on the other hand, want magical transitions in fantasy. I struggle a lot with dysphoria over parts of my body that existing medical technology can’t fix because going through testosterone-induced puberty has permanently altered my body. Estrogen and surgery have worked wonders, but as long as my body is any different from that of a stereotypical cis woman I’m always going to have some degree of dysphoria. For me, seeing magical transitions in fantasy would help me cope with that. Stories involving magical transitions were also easier for me to bring myself to read as a closeted trans person (this is not a universal position). Discovering the gender bender story Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, in which the amab protagonist is brought back to life as a girl by an alien (and then lives happily as the girl she was always meant to be) was actually a big milestone in my path to accepting myself. I am not alone in feeling this way, considering some authors of gender bender fiction are trans themselves (though gender bender fiction as a genre does have serious problems that I will probably discuss at another time).

Furthermore, stories where a trans person can’t transition medically because of the technological limits of the setting tend to bother me regardless of how they are otherwise portrayed. I’ve seen fantasy stories like that and it prevents me from finding any escapism in the setting or seeing myself in the trans characters depicted. While trans people who don’t medically transition should be represented, I do not connect well with such depictions due to how painful the thought of having never been able to medically transition is.

For a more mundane example of differences in what representation trans people want, many trans people don’t want to read stories about the challenges associated with being trans in a transphobic society. This is understandable, as we deal with that kind of thing a lot in real life and on the internet so a lot of us don’t want to see it in the fiction we consume too. However, some of us feel seen when we see fiction that acknowledges our struggles and tell us that our pain is real. Myself, I’m somewhere in the middle on this. I want stories that acknowledge the oppression I face as a trans person but show that this oppression can be fought against. The Jinx Ballou series does this. In the first book (which I was a beta reader for), the titular bounty hunter is outed as trans and as a result suddenly struggles to find people who will pay her for bounties. When she does find work, it’s a job that proves increasingly dangerous as it causes her to become the target of a very dangerous and powerful man who is also a chaser (someone who fetishizes trans women). The antagonist’s obsession with the protagonist makes him even more disturbing a villain and very much someone I wanted to see the protagonist defeat. The story was one about persevering in the face of a society that dehumanizes you and as a result was cathartic to read (it was also a story about a morally grey trans person but I’ll talk about that another time). While I enjoyed it, it’s definitely not a story for everyone.

There was a time when I thought that any representation that rubbed me the wrong way while being liked by other trans people (such as Lily from Zombie Land Saga) was a sign that other trans people were overly desperate for representation. I now realize that this mindset was egocentric and makes broad assumptions while ignoring that I myself like representation that other people don’t. The trans community is not a monolith and the discussion of representation is nuanced (though some forms of representation are objectively bad as I have pointed out in the past). Ultimately, it is impossible to make representation that is entirely good for everyone in the group being represented and the solution to this is diverse representation.

5 thoughts on “Why Representation is Not One-Size-Fits-All”

  1. As an egg I loved reading forced transition stories. The appeal comes from getting to transition to the gender you prefer without have to make the choice yourself. This means you don’t have to admit to anyone, including yourself that this is what you want. Obviously if you admitted it to yourself then you would the same as identifying as trans.

    1. I actually sort of felt similarly as an egg and as a result read a bunch of gender bender stories to cope with dysphoria. It’s just that I understand why a lot of trans people don’t like them.

  2. Very interesting article, I find that I tend to gravitate towards stories that make a magical transformation seem possible. As an example; a story that starts with the protagonist dealing with the same issues us trans girls have to deal with but at the same time ends with a pseudo scientific way where the protagonist ends up fully female and fully herself. Anyway just wanted to say this was an awesome article and I look forward to more

  3. Thank you for writing this and these perspectives from the marginalized are important.

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