On trans* and fantasy

I’d like to start by saying that this is my opinion. If you’ve got a different one, that’s great – weigh in in the comments!

I write fantasy. I don’t think I have actually ever put a dragon in a story (not yet, anyway) but I write things that don’t exist; magic, strange worlds, flying machines….and I write people. Ordinary, normal people just trying to cope with the life they lead. No magical heirs or people with destiny-based coping mechanisms. I might write fantastical worlds, but the people within them – and their view of the world – is based on our one here.

So I write diversity. I wrote a story for the anthology Steampunk Universe recently, featuring a disabled character named Kita. I’ve got a short story coming out soon that features a transgender character, and No Man’s Land is full of Ghost being kick-ass and transgender. But I stopped in the middle of writing a recent story about Ghost to sit and worry.

I got told off a few weeks back for using the wrong word, saying the wrong thing, in a recent explanation I did. I had worried over the entire thing anyway and done my best, but I got it wrong; I offended someone by being thoughtless about the meaning of my words. And now I’m worried about even writing Ghost – I’ll get it wrong. I’ll say the wrong thing. I’ll mis-represent something, I’ll offend someone, I’ll screw up and give a really bad or biased or unfair portrayal that makes everything worse…

I’m currently feeling paranoid, scared and angry.

And I think it’s time I grew a thicker skin.

It hurts and it’s hard for me to do, but there’s always someone who’s going to be offended, and there’s always someone who is going to have a different worldview to mine. I will never be completely right. I need to deal with that.

So, basically…screw it. Yes, I’m going to get things wrong – but then I also got the height of a floating island wrong, and the time it takes to travel a distance in a plane. I frequently mess up the laws of space and time, story continuity and hair colour. I have people in two places at once and someone whose injured hand changed sides three times in the course of the story. I had someone whose entire backstory changed because I’d misunderstood what powered their anger. And if these things are pointed out to me, I amend them (if the story hasn’t been published) or do better the next time (if I now can’t change what I wrote).

Why should this be any different?

I want to be someone who does give visibility and agency to LGBTQA* people. I want to write people whose sexuality and identity and gender identity aren’t the same as mine – in the same way that I want to write people with backgrounds that are different, jobs that are different, outlooks that are different. I want to write mental health and physical health in good and bad states. I want to write anger and sadness and love. I want to be able to understand how different people react to different circumstances, and how they view the world. I want to learn, and I want other people to learn right along with me. I refuse to write what I know because that wouldn’t be the point of fantasy. Why take a journey in your imagination if you’re just going to stay in the same place?

This needs to happen. I might get it wrong, but the more positive visibility that smaller communities have, the better. The more the idea of different identities and different outlooks and different ways of dealing with the world are out there, the more tolerant and broad-minded the world will be. If I want to read stories about people different to me, and I want to learn, and I want a more tolerant society that accepts not everyone is the same as them…I need to start showing that not all society is like me. And that means writing it into the worlds I create.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

So if you read a story of mine and you think I’ve got something wrong, tell me. Be polite. Point it out and tell me what it’s been like for you, or your friend, or someone you know. Explain how I could do better; explain the meaning behind a word, how you view it, how it would be different if I’d said something else. Tell me your opinion, and I’ll listen.

I am human. I am trying to understand things that I have not experienced, and I will get it wrong. Instead of fighting me, help me.

And that goes for the physics of airplane wings as well as everything else.

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.