So a while ago on Twitter I had a conversation with EE Ottoman about why seeing elderly trans* folk in romance novels (and novels in general) is so important. Important enough for me to write an entire blog post about it. Because while trans* lit remains thin on the ground, trans* lit not about the struggles of trans* folks in their teens and twenties is even rarer, and I think it adds to a toxic narrative in society at large: that if you’re trans*, you’ll struggle with you identity and (more importantly) other people’s transphobia when you’re young and, because of that transphobia, you won’t live to see 60 or 70 or 80 (or, hell, even 40) like it’s just assumed a cis person will. And to be perfectly frank that’s bullshit that we should be doing everything in our power to counteract.
When I was a teen, there were even fewer trans* narratives available for purchase than there are now, and they were mostly written by cis folk who obviously wanted kudos for being progressive while still writing only toxic stories for trans* characters. The first to jump to mind is the very first trans* character I encountered: a trans* woman on CSI who was handled abysmally and was also a murder victim, dead at the hands of some asshole’s transphobia (worse yet, her method of murder was drowning in a toilet, which, uh really makes a point about her perceived worth). And while the point of the narrative was, hey murdering trans* people is awful (which I obviously wholeheartedly support) it still wasn’t the sort of thing a struggling trans* kid needed to see. The next example I can think of is Breakfast on Pluto (which, despite many problematic elements, remained my favorite movie for years because I was genuinely desperate for representation). And I experienced nothing but dissatisfaction with the ending which was essentially the transwoman main character telling her brother (who didn’t know they were related) that she hoped he grew up normal. Because apparently being trans* is a trial. (Also, she never actually found love, which she searched for through the whole movie, because apparently romance is too mighty a thing to expect a trans* person to achieve.) Again, not what I wanted.
And not once—not once—did I see a trans* character who lived past their twenties. So what was I, a young scared queer kid in a small town in Texas, supposed to expect from my future but misery and eventual death at someone else’s hands? I needed, very badly, to see narratives where trans* people lived long full lives, fell in love, raised families, had careers, and died at the end of a long life surrounded by people who loved them. You know, the sorts of stories that are just the norm for cis het people, but for a trans* person is apparently revolutionary.
But the older I get, the more I realize that the narratives I was fed as a scared teen were injected with a healthy dose of sensationalization. Yes, absolutely, trans* people suffer from transphobia. Yes, some of us will die from that transphobia because frankly the world ain’t right. But that’s not nearly our only possible ending. I know many trans* folk, now, who are living lives that make the exact kind of stories I needed to hear when I was that scared teen. And those are the stories we need to be telling: tales of long life and success and love. Because they’re not impossible dreams for trans* folk but, boy, given the literature and media out there, you’d sure think they were.
I like to tell people than I enjoy writing stories about heroes because everyone deserves to see themselves as a hero: gay, lesbian, trans*, intersex, asexual, POC, disabled, neurodivergent you name it we deserve to have those narratives written about us. Trans* lit in general could be served with more diversity, serving more of the spectrum of our community. And trans* folk deserve to have all sorts of fantastic stories written about us, whether they be tales of heroism, or contemporary romance, or high fantasy, or sci fi set far off in the future. But we need our literature to tell us something else before it tells us that: that, first, we can live long enough and happily enough to eventually accomplish all those fantastic things and that the clock won’t stop ticking at 30.