Today, I have…a guest post on Suvudu about writing trans characters and YA fiction! Yeah! How the hell did I pull that off? Well, I read a post by Matt Staggs about Tiamat on the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, and I retweeted it for him and then replied how I loved that show and thought it was a great Saturday morning cartoon. So he asked if I wanted a guest post on my book. Funny how things work out like that sometimes. (^_^)
I should leave you with just one thing to read so you don’t feel burdened, but yesterday, I started reading a blog post over hubby’s shoulder. Specifically this blog post talking about the comedy Community, and how Abed Nadir was an important character to her because he moves like her, and gives her someone to identify with because she has autism.
This article had me nodding my head right away and shouting, “That’s why I write! Because that’s what I want too!” It also had me thinking about how I only had one character that I felt that way about in my whole childhood while watching Robotech, and later on I stopped feeling that way because Yellow Dancer, AKA: Lt. Lance Belmont, AKA: Lancer, was not really gender-variant because he wanted to be. Rather, he was in disguise because it kept him alive and working as a freedom fighter at a time when the humans were turning on each other and aiding the Invid.
But the thing is, at the time that I first saw the show, this was the first time I’d seen anyone depicted as gender-variant for any reason, and briefly, I felt a connection to the show that I hadn’t had before. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first two story arcs of Robotech, and I loved the soap opera nature of every episode as much as I loved the giant robots. I loved that the wars had consequences, and that characters I’d grown to love had died in the course of the series. Few kids’ shows have ever touched on death in war as a topic, and I doubt few ever will again.
But that brings me back to the recognition that I’ve never seen a show with a trans character who was a part of the cast, and whose transsexuality was just one facet of their character, not the way that Abed Nadir’s undiagnosed Asperger’s is portrayed in Community. There’s a lot of people who could come up with quick answers that if I wanted to see more stories with characters like me, I should just write some. Well I have, but this misses the point of the problem.
The thing with Abed is, someone who does not have the condition set out to make a sympathetic character who was a part of the main cast. So Abed and his issues are front and center even when the story isn’t specifically about him. And, as Julia points out in her post, it’s electrifying to finally find a character who makes someone go, “Oh my gosh, that’s me too!” I’ve read several books and short stories that gave me this feeling, always from indie authors, but I’ve never had this happen watching a TV show.
Gays have any number of shows where a prominent character is gay. The writers of many of these shows aren’t gay, but they made an effort to write a sympathetic gay character and make them a part of the show. And that is something I’d like to see done in any US show, be it a comedy or a paranormal show. Hell, I’d even watch a cop show if they gave me a character that didn’t come off as a walking cliché, and I HATE cop shows. I just want a trans character in the US mainstream culture written by someone who isn’t trans that makes me feel excited to watch because at long last, there’s someone in the regular cast who I identify with.
And yes, I realize that it’s a long shot finding this in a US TV show right now, when the vast majority of shows are written by men, and when diversity in writing staffs are at an all-time low. Which is one reason I usually don’t bring this up. But Julia’s post about Community reminded of what it feels like to have a special connection to a character.
And, oddly enough, that’s why I got so excited about Teen Wolf. Which may sound odd, but there’s a scene in episode two when Stiles tells Scott that he has to draw back from others and be careful because of his newly acquired lycanthropy, and Scott lashes out and says, “This is finally my chance to have a normal life! I just want to be freaking normal!” And from that moment, I was hooked on Scott, because that’s all I’ve wanted my whole life.
Which brings me to Abed for my close. Here’s a character who demystifies autism and makes it approachable and understandable. He shows up in episode after episode, and people see he’s not really so strange. It normalizes him, and in doing so, it makes autism okay in people’s minds without beating them over the head about tolerance. It moves people past mere tolerance of autism and into acceptance, which is way more important. Tolerance is saying, “I don’t like you or what’s wrong with you, but I won’t hurt you for being this way.” But it also means they won’t bother making an effort to learn more, or to make others with the same condition feel comfortable.
I can’t ever feel normal, not when I see stories about a trans child in Germany institutionalized because her father doesn’t approve of her gender, and the courts agree and ignore EU human rights laws to lock her away. I can’t feel normal when CeCe McDonald is attacked by people trying to kill her, and then is imprisoned in a men’s facility for three years for defending her life. I can’t feel normal when the only show to feature trans characters is a half assed slapstick skit comedy about men cross-dressing to take women’s jobs. I can’t feel normal when every documentary or reality show about us is focused so tightly on our genitals or our awkward transitions, and whether or not we’re having “the surgery.” Some of us don’t get or even want the surgery, and people shouldn’t obsess over what’s in our pants. And right now, that’s the only message the media puts out: “Trannies: What’s in their panties?!?! SO WEIRD!!!” FEH!
I want to feel normal, and to have a freaking normal life. It’s not good enough that I write a story about someone like me. I want someone who isn’t trans to write a character who, like Abed, convinces me that someone out there gets us, and I want to feel like a part of a show’s fan community because someone shares my problems, my hopes, and my condition.
It’s a tall order, but I want to hope that I will see such a character in my lifetime, and not just because it would help other people see us as normal. I want it because some kid growing up feeling alone and confused about themselves could watch the same show and realize, Oh wow, there’s nothing wrong with me. I AM normal. I want someone in TV Land to give our kids something I could never have: a place to belong in their fantasy world.
Is that so much to ask? Characters like Abed Nadir make me believe it is not.