1. Romana
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    Romana Member

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    Pronouns and Transgender characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Romana, Jun 11, 2016.

    Honestly I'm not sure if this forum is the correct place for this question, because I don't know if this is a question for writers or a question for transgender people. Maybe it's a question for a transgender writer.

    If I were to write a memoir (which I am considering, because I had a weird childhood), I absolutely could not write it without including transgender people/characters (which is the correct term for a memoir?). However, I am unsure of which pronouns to use for transgender individuals if I am recounting a story from a period before either I or they knew they were trans. I know it is considered correct to always refer to a person by their preferred pronouns, but I am concerned that readers might misinterpret the messages of certain stories if I always adhered to a person's preferred pronouns.

    My biggest issue comes from this: One of my best friends was once my greatest arch-rival. We were well-matched in academic contests, each of us being the only one who had a chance at besting the other. We respected each other and during specific events (that would be told in the memoir), looked to each other for guidance and support. I think we have always had a fascinating dynamic, but audiences tend to interpret the dynamic between two female (or female-presenting) individuals very differently than the dynamic between a female and a male individual, especially when the two are in competition, so -- in this case -- I believe gender is actually important.

    Do you think pronouns matter?
    Any advice on how to approach this problem?
     
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  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Tricky. I think pronouns absolutely do matter, especially since many anti-trans people deliberately misuse them to hurt or belittle trans people.

    I don't read memoir and I'm not sure how they're usually presented. But I think you can either:

    1) Introduce your best friend with, "Jane was born with a male body and called Jim when I first met her, aged five. Later, she began living as a woman and asked us to call her Jane." or whatever, and refer to her as Jane/she/her from then on. (Vice versa if the transition was female to male.)
    2) Refer to Jim as Jim/he/him until that point in the memoir when Jim asks to be called Jane and recognised as a woman. (Or vice versa.)

    Since the person concerned is your best friend, I would just ask them what they would prefer and go with that.
     
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  3. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I would ask the actual trans people who you know and would be including how they feel about it, assuming you're still friends with them.

    Pronouns definitely matter. So does deadnaming (referring to a trans person who's changed their name by the old one), which is in a similar vein to the question you pose. You could refer to people as what you met them as up until they came out to you, or you could refer to them with their current, correct pronouns/name with a comment that they're trans and so dynamics when they were younger / not out were a bit different. My preference would be the latter, personally, since you are talking about real people who deserve the respect of being spoken of accurately.

    eta: dammit, Tenderiser :|
     
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  4. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Tenderiser.

    If you're starting in the present and recounting the events of the past, I'd refer to her as she/her/Jane.

    But if you're starting in the past and moving towards the present, I'd refer to her as he/him/Jim until the moment she asks to be called she/her/Jane.
     
  5. Romana
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    Romana Member

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    Thank you! Because this person is close to my heart, I really don't want to write anything that would make an audience think I lack respect for them.
    @Tenderiser I don't really read memoirs either, and what I have read has never included anyone who is trans, so I'm not sure if there is any sort of precedent for it.
    @izzybot I definitely plan to ask their opinion on it, especially if I ever follow through and seek publication.
    @Lea`Brooks I plan to write episodically and chronologically, so I'm leaning towards using their given pronouns and changing it during the coming-out part. And of course I'll ask if that's okay.

    Interpretation is vital to me, but as much as I feel that writing from my perspective (so that the audience shares my interpretation) is important, it would be a perspective that got my friend's gender wrong for a decade. I wanted to check this idea with other people before approaching my friend so I would know if it was a completely ridiculous and disrespectful question. Thank you for your advice and opinions! I'd still love to hear if anyone else has any other ideas.
     
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  6. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I have to agree with the notion of make a note of it. Say, - is trans but I didn't know that then. Possibly when the character is introduced. Or possibly at a relevant moment. (Where there any interesting things they looked back on as a sign? I know I have some things I think of as signs of my gayness before i knew) Over all, as long as you are respectful, and the person has a good relationship with you, I'm sure it will be fine. And definitely ask them.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2016
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  7. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Think of them first and foremost as a person, set aside the labels and just tell their story. The rest should fall into place. Ones sexuality does not define them as a person, but their identity does. And as @Oscar Leigh said be respectful once you decide to dive into their sexual preference. Trans is the grayest of all the sexual choices (at least I think it is), so tread softly and you should be alright. :)


    Good luck with your writings, and all the best. And just to show that I mean well.
    Hug.jpg Now go forth and write an epic tale of such a human being, like a Boss! :supersmile::cheerleader:
     
  8. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Um, using the words "choice" and "sexual" for people who have an abnormality with their gender feelings is inappropriate. It's not sexual, and it's not a choice. But I understand you made a mistake. And yes, as well as being some of the smallest (second only to like, agender and crazy exotic things like that) it is also a little more diffiuclt to understand. Which is why we see with the North Carolina thing that it's less progressed than other identities. It's got the most work. (Although the biggest work of all is in the third world, where often all of these prejudices; race, sex, are at high level.)
     
  9. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @Oscar Leigh Can I has partial credit for having well intention? I are trying really hard. :)
     
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  10. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Yes, I said I understood. It's easy to get confused with terminology when trans ins in LGBT. It can be easy to forget the grouping is gender minorities as well as orientations. And I know (or at least think) that you are a good person. No worries.:friend:
     
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  11. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @Oscar Leigh I like to think I am a good person. :friend:

    Though I have my moments when I can be a total jerk. (Though I don't mean to be.):supersmile:
     
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  12. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best fiction, non-fiction, whatever... shows the audience what they are currently wrong about and how the world actually works.

    A transwoman is a woman born with guy parts as a birth defect.
    A transman is a man born with girl parts as a birth defect.

     
  13. Misusawa
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    Misusawa New Member

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    Use the correct pronoun for how they would have presented themselves to society at that point in life. So, If you have a character presenting as male who feels female, then the correct form would be to use he when talking about the character but let them refer to themselves as female. Once they transition then the correct pronoun would be whatever the character is not presenting themselves as to wider society.

    Its a pretty easy thing to do unless you get carried away with needlessly including other identities that may not need including in the first place
     
  14. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I have no idea if this would actually apply to the OP, but it is worth pointing out that what a person presents as and what they identify as aren't necessarily the same. Not everyone's out, not everyone has the ability to transition at all, and that doesn't make it okay to misgender them. Someone might not have the luxury of presenting the way they want to, but it's still appropriate to refer to them with the pronouns they've told you that they use for themself.

    Though again, since @Romana is talking about a memoir and not a fictional situation subject to change, this might not be relevant - just wanted to bring it up.
     
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  15. Misusawa
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    Misusawa New Member

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    Talking about someone in the past tense, gendering someone as they present themselves to society isn't misgendering them at all. It's being appropriate for the situation. It doesn't become misgendering until they present differently to society and he still refers to them the same way s previously.

    For example I could write a memoir about my life. The early part would be about a boy / young man, referring to me as male would be appropriate, however my thoughts would refer to myself as female. later in life when presentation changes to a more femminine style that is when referring to t#me as female would be apprpriate as I'd then be presenting myself in that manner, so continuing to use the male would be innapropriate.

    Anyway, I don't think we could come up with a clear cut definition on this as a lot of us all have different ideas about who should be referred to with what pronouns. My view tends to err away from the mainstream of the 'trans community' in how I think references to people should be made, Mine are more in line with mainstream society.
     
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  16. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Yes, referring to the past should allow references to past identities
    Especially in the case of time before the people know.
     
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  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's absolutely a good idea, in this case, to just ask your friend how to handle it.

    But I really hope your friend says you should use the pronouns that fit what you experienced of them at the time, since this is your memoir and should therefore be focused on your experiences. If you went through a decade of thinking of your friend as male, I think it would be pretty difficult to write an emotionally honest recounting of that time while trying to to twist your memories around to fit a later-discovered reality. It seems like it would create a distance from your experiences, and I think that's a fatal problem in memoir.

    If you were writing a biography of your friend, I think it would make sense to use the pronouns that match your friend's understanding of his or her gender at the relevant times. But since it's your story, I think it would make sense to use the pronouns that match your understanding at the relevant times.
     

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