How to respectfully discuss transgender people in English

Right. Do your research, treat your characters as human, be honest about your mistakes.

I don’t know! I wish it were this simple, seriously - just shake people by the shoulders and go “YO THIS PERSON IS A PERSON.”

My personal belief: Everyone screws up “treat all people as people” occasionally. Because people are people and people make mistakes. The important question is, how do people react when their failure is pointed out?

If the reaction is, “Oh, crap, I didn’t mean to do a hurtful/offensive/scary thing, I will try never to do this again” - that’s a good sign.
If the reaction is, “That shouldn’t hurt/offend/scare anyone, it’s their fault for being hurt/offended/afraid” - that’s a bad sign.

Hmmmm. Makes sense, and makes me feel rather shitty about my previous posts. :stuck_out_tongue:

So, thank you, cvaneseltine and maga. Things are a lot clearer in my head now. Like I said earlier in this thread, I’d never given this much thought, really, and was approaching the idea from my usual angles… which did not take into account certain harsh realities. Mostly I just try to find middle ground, and… how shall I put this… the best time to find middle ground is probably AFTER the minority group in question is treated like human beings. Until that happens, yeah, I get it - it’s full steam ahead for basic human and social rights.

Yeah. With the significant caveat that it’s important to combine the first reaction with ‘does this person actually have legitimate grounds for feeling offended, hurt or scared?’ (Otherwise, you get to claim that you’re offended and hurt because someone built a mosque in your town, or because women won’t have sex with you, or because someone sang the national anthem in a different language.)

Important caveat is absolutely important. Thanks for pointing that out.

Yes, you’re right: this concept is called “intersectionality” in contemporary feminism. A person’s identity is made up of many, many facets, and many of these may come with either privilege or disadvantage. (And importantly, some of those facets get combined in messy ways. For example, Asian women in non-Asian societies face different stereotypes than just the sum of stereotypes about Asian people and women.) Without accounting for intersectionality, it can be difficult to explain the concept of privilege, because, for example, being cis and male does not “make up for” being born poor, or non-able-bodied, or other disadvantages. Being cis doesn’t immediately put you on top of the world – for one thing, cis folks are, as far as we can tell, in the vast majority, so we can’t all fit at the top of the world – but it does remove a lot of the obstacles that you might face otherwise.

Thinking of someone as “primarily” whatever facet of them feels non-normative to you, as opposed to a fully-formed person with a complex identity, is a major component of marginalization. Think about how Hollywood seems incapable of making movies with lead characters that aren’t straight white cis men/boys without making the whole movie about whichever aspect of the character doesn’t fit that profile. And industry forbid we’d have someone that varies from it in more than one way. (Which, yes, of course the lived experience of non-straight/white/cis/male people is different from that! But, you know, nuance.)

I have to say I’ve really enjoyed reading this thread! Isn’t the Internet and the sharing of truths a wonderful thing?

At the risk of derailing the thread, I’d like some thoughts about better ways to include persons from disadvantaged groups in narrative works like IF (and if this thread exists in another form, I’d like to read it). For example. if you dive too deeply into the issues facing the disadvantaged person, you’re then making an Oppression Game. On the other hand, if you don’t include any hardships at all, you’ve probably created token characters (inclusion for the sake of Inclusion), or your PC or setting is horribly unrealistic. The question is, do you do a disservice to a disadvantaged group by pretending their hardships don’t exist when writing about them?

One thing I’m doing in my current project is experimenting with making the player character both 1. an actual character and not an AFGNCAAP 2. still ambiguous with regards to gender, race, and so on. It’s an interesting exercise, but I don’t think it would be possible in a game with a significant amount of character interaction.

Hi, I’m actually genderqueer myself. I prefer singular they pronouns, and “Mx.” and “comrade” instead of “Ms./Mr.” or “sir/ma’am”. If you’ve been thinking of me as female all this time, well, now you know. I thought so too for most of my life.

My experience far from covers the entirety of the transgender spectrum. I’m assumed to be female in public 80-90% of the time, depending where I am in the world, and I don’t generally get harassed for using gendered bathrooms (though I do feel more comfortable in non-gendered ones). I don’t currently plan on hormones or surgery, choosing mostly to express my gender identity through clothing/hair/not wearing makeup except if I’m wearing a costume. So, I experience the world very differently from, say, a trans woman. My challenges are more those of invisibility than of over-scrutiny. (Zoya Street, a trans man, eloquently wrote something to this effect here - although I’m not a trans man, I do relate.)

With that disclaimer in mind, here are some of my responses to some points posed in this thread.

Regarding “genderqueer” as defined as “someone whose gender identity does not match either male or female” - for me, personally, it’s more a “both and neither” kind of thing. Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of the many things that genderqueer can mean.

I’m not sure I entirely agree with the “slurs that cannot be used respectfully” list. It’s a good start, but trans folks sometimes reclaim some of these words as a form of empowerment; I, for instance, happily identify myself as a gender-bender. I say if you see a trans person using one of those words, don’t necessarily assume it’s okay for you can do the same, but don’t police their language either.

On the definition of “ally” and safety: I don’t assume everyone is my enemy. I believe most people are well-intentioned. But I don’t feel safe disclosing my gender identity to most people, because we don’t generally grow up knowing that there are more than two genders. Strangers may be nice to me, but I have no idea if they’re going to accept my genderqueerness or tell me I’m confused or delusional because I don’t fit what they’ve been raised to believe is true about gender. And I bristle every time someone in the service/retail industry refers to me as “miss”, even though they’re clearly intending to be polite. So, when I know someone is educated on transgender issues and is going to respect my identity, I can breathe a little easier.

On the “how to write a trans character if you’re cis” front - same deal as when you write any character of a marginalised group to which you don’t belong. Don’t make their trans status the thing that defines them; make them a fully fleshed-out, interesting, complex person. Don’t play their transness for laughs (not that you would, but still). If it makes sense in your story, include other characters on the transgender spectrum who identify and express their genders in different ways; this lessens the likelihood of tokenism.

If you want to see some related fiction, I wrote a short thing that’s a prequel to my big MFA-related WIP about two people who happen to be at various stages in questioning their genders. And there’s also that game you may or may not have heard of that’s up for a major award, which happens to feature a genderqueer protagonist. And Ainsley in “The Play”, written around the time I first really started questioning my gender, is deliberately gender-unspecified but not an AFGNCAAP.

(And yes, I wrote that Oppression Game from the last IFComp that made a lot of people uncomfortable. There is a trans woman in it, but a big deal is not made of it because the protagonist doesn’t see it as a big deal.)

I’m now going to risk sounding incredibly stupid, but showing stupidity in order to try and learn must be better than staying stupid, right? (Please believe me when I state that this post is written with honest intentions.)

I’ve read this thread, including some of the linked references, and other things elsewhere on the topic, but I still don’t understand the concept of “identifying as [gender]”.

After writing the two above paragraphs, I sat for several minutes unsuccessfully trying to formulate what it is that I don’t understand into a question that someone could answer…

I mean, the whole “pink is for girls and blue for boys”-thing is just silly (and was originally the other way around). Or how hair is cut or what clothes to wear, or all those things. I prefer knitting to hockey and other “manly” activities and from what I’ve seen of them I’d be miserable in a male-dominated workplace. I’m male because I have my genitals on the outside but what’s that got to do with who I am as a person? I don’t understand.

Well, this post turned into quite a mess, but I’m going ahead and posting it anyway, in the hope that the question I can’t put together might get answered anyway.

I disagree with your conclusion completely. At the fundamental level, the object of mental health is 100% internally generated by chemicals in your head and your thoughts. If it were not, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy wouldn’t work, and we now know they both work very well. If mental health was done to you, you’d just be walking down the street each day taking a series mental health punches against which you have no defence at all. If you believe you have nothing, you do have nothing. If you believe you have something, you do have something.

As true as I believe those two things to be, those are obviously the simple-sounding apexes of the massively complex intersection of processes and experiences that make up life, and it doesn’t come easily to most people to address the will involved in their reactions consciously. The means to do so have been the subject of years of philosophical and psychological study. Someone we’d describe as well-adjusted by nature will have the fortune of having it in that nature to act as if they believe these things to be true most of the time, but they’re often still dealing with them unconsciously. Someone fundamentally fractious or depressive will not have that fortune or those tendencies and they’re not going to magically acquire them from nowhere.

The distinction is that the worse you’re treated in general, the worse your environment or circumstances and the more mental health problems you tend towards genetically, the more you’ll have to work on the ground of your mental health. I understand this is the point you were trying to make, but the end point is that the ground is in each individual. I can be more thoughtful in my actions or try make the real world more thoughtful so that there are fewer challenges to people’s sense of feeling okay, but each person’s reaction is still their own reaction. It can also happen that I may try and make a particular individual feel more comfortable and find that I fail completely - if that person sincerely believes, or has willed themselves to believe (actually, these two are the same) that they can’t be made more comfortable. That is the power of that inner ground.

The thing about it is that every human being is charged with the care of their fundamental throughput to the world. Nobody would suggest that anyone try to do anything less with that care than the best they can. At crunch time there is no alternative, nothing feasible. People can and should use all the empathy and love they can and move to change things in the real world, and that’s real help, and still, the power to change the fundamental layer lies in the individual and the plasticity of the brain. It is plastic enough that what can be at first simply learning how to ward off the mental blow of a particular incident can eventually become not having to do anything in response to it; you can change your belief that it even was a blow.

I find it inspiring (and/or a relief) that there is the possibility in everyone to make their experience of life at least better than it is now, and to increase their resilience from the inside. A lot of help is becoming more and more widely available through the medical profession, and the basic tools are surprisingly easy to give. You can even read a book or something online, though without impersonal 3rd person oversight or lots of practice, you are unlikely to believe the value of what you’re reading. Then there is living and practice and as much discipline as it is to keep oneself physically healthy, but as it is the mind, the frontiers are potentially infinite over time.

Because of how fundamental I consider this ground to be to everyone’s existence, I always speak up when I see anyone downplay it. I don’t know why it should keep happening in topics like this one. Maybe it’s because there’s always so much emphasis on the suffering or oppression being discussed that a subtext builds up that, ‘The only people who can do anything about this are not the people who are suffering.’ There’s acres that the society can do in each case, but it’s freaking important that people who are suffering also look at what they can do personally for their mental health, the gateway to living, and if they’re also in a minority group, that others do not believe or act as if they have no agency in this department, saying ‘mental health is inflicted on you’ or ‘you’re suffering so much you can’t ever negotiate it’. I’m not saying it’s not outrageously hard to grapple with these issues if you’re suffering a lot - it can be a gargantuan challenge - but it’s real, it’s there, and it’s also a charge that is on every individual all of the time. If something’s shared across people, this is it.


gets dragged away in a straightjacket by doctors while screaming: “Trolls! They’re all trolls, I tell you! I’m a Zebra! I’m a Zebra and I want you to respect meee!”

Are you male or female?

For most people, it’s as easy to answer that question as “what is your name?” You have a built-in, instinctive answer. You know whether you’re male or female. Your answer to that question is the gender you identify as.

Trans people know the answer to that question, too, just as instinctively as cisgender people. The difference is that a trans person’s answer doesn’t match the gender suggested by their physical genitalia. They identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

Other people may not be able to answer that question at all, because it’s phrased as a binary. Their accurate answers may be “both”, “neither”, “I don’t know”, or something even more complicated. (Which is one of the reasons why this question shouldn’t be phrased as a binary.)

(Gender identity is not quite this cut and dried - for example, many trans people don’t realize that they are trans until later in life, and there are many other caveats that could be added to this post. But I wanted to give a quick, clear explanation, and I hope this helped.)

I don’t think you get it: No matter how “humane” you consider yourself to be, nothing pleases neo-minorities. You can please old minorities, because they have issues like homelessness and actual discrimination that can be satisfied, but with feminists and “transpeople” and “african americans”, you have imaginary issues like what they should be called, and how you should act around them, and what you should think about the subject.

You can make a game that calls them something that you think is humane and respectful, but if just a single person who plays your game, imagines it to be offensive to him, he will write a blog post, and gather his forum around it, and they will all join in and burn your game at the stake, without them even knowing what the game is about. “But I thought it was respectful!” isn’t an excuse to neo-minorities, because they think that they can make up their own morals.

…so what you need to do, is to have it tested by an actual member of a neo-minority, get his formal approval, so that you can refer to him when the flash-mob comes along. They can’t burn their own people, so they’ll just go “Oh.” and leave you alone after that.

That’s a very mean-spirited, and I should say bigoted, thing to say. And it’s sad to see a forum regular take that position (As opposed to some random troll).

This is actually a very dangerous tack to take, because it amounts to blaming the victim. Yes, obviously from a materialist conception, people’s psychological issues exist in the brain; but the brain is just the endpoint of numerous complex social processes. People have limits to their coping abilities and it is extremely lacking in empathy to tell them that it’s their fault they can’t just learn how to be happy completely regardless of what else is going on in their life. The truth is, coping strategies can only do so much for even the strongest person, and the sort of repeated, constant small- and large-scale aggression that trans people endure chips away at a person.

I’ve seen the attitude of “you should suck it up and deal with it” cause immense harm even to people who have mental health issues that would be easy to deal with in a supportive environment, basically leaving them unable to function and deepening their condition so that it isn’t so easy to treat any more. Telling someone with depression, or bipolar disorder, or gender dysphoria, that they can just “fix it“ themselves is about as true as telling a cancer patient that they can wish the tumours away.

Given recent events, you can’t be talking about Andreas, so might I just ask for clarification? Who are you speaking about?

Careful with those examples. The first two can be medically treated and managed. The second one, AFAIK, is due to a chemical imbalance that must be corrected at all times with medication. Might not be best to lump that in with gender dysphoria.

I meant forum regular as in ‘they post here a lot.’ Then again…

Oh, wait. That Andreas. Ohhhhh…

Right, of course. The point was that none of these can be dealt with by sucking it up and dealing with it, though of course all three are different. I meant of course the experience of severe dysphoria (Which as we know can be extremely distressing and even debilitating) as opposed to GID or being trans in general; I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear or was phrased in a problematic way.

Why is Andreas even here?

Let’s not draw more attention to it. My point was only that Sequitur need not be sad at the post he was referring to, as the person in question became known, in a relatively short amount of time, for expressing similar views in arguably similarly innappropriate ways, and does not represent the consensus of this community.

Yes, let’s all derail this topic, and talk about a real topic: Me.
I know that you’ve missed me, but I just strolled by to post a patch, saw this topic, and freaked out.
…and as for the massive attention I seem to be causing for every post, I can just say this:
Dance, puppets - dance! :slight_smile: