Trans Representation in Literature

QuestionA reader asks: “What do you think, if anything, about the representation, or lack-thereof of transgender ‘beings’ in literature?”

There are actually quite a few transgender characters in literature and other media, depending on what you consider and where you look. I mentioned a while back that Batgirl’s roommate recently came out as trans. From what I’ve seen so far, she’s a really good representation, just an otherwise normal person aside from that one thing.

Another example from comics is Wanda, from the Sandman story “A Game of You.” This is the Neil Gaiman Sandman, not the classic superhero. Wanda is a controversial character, and one that I have discussed with a friend on a number of occasions. Wanda is a character who is treated horribly by just about everyone throughout the story, because she’s trans. Near the end of the story, she dies, and at her funeral, even her family refuses to accept her as a woman, burying her as a man. However, the main character for this story, Barbie, has a dream at the very end where she sees Wanda with Death, and Wanda is in a perfectly female body. This character is controversial because of how poorly she’s treated (this story was originally published in 1991 and 1992), and over the bit at the end where she’s seen with Death. Some dislike how poorly she’s treated, and others *myself included) see the end bit as vindication of her identity as a woman, a way for the author to say that trans women are women.

Wanda isn’t the only gender variant character in the Sandman series. One of the major side characters is the younger sister/brother of Dream, the main character, and is known as Desire. Desire is the anthropomorphic personification of desire, and thus is both male and female, or neither. The character represents everything that someone might desire, no matter who that someone might be. In Desire’s very first appearance, it is even stated that “Desire has never been satisfied with just one sex” and Desire is referred to as having a home in the image of “him-, her-, or it-self.”

Neil Gaiman seems fond of using gender variant characters and themes. He wrote a short story called Changes where a miracle drug has been created that cures cancer by resetting DNA. A side effect of of he drug is that it also changes your sex, and people have begun using the drug in a recreational sense. This is not his best work, and not a great example of transgender characters, but it does involve some form of gender variance.

He has also written an episode of Doctor Who, a series where it has already been established that the main character is of a species that regenerates upon death, completely changing their bodies, and sometimes their sex. In the episode that Neil Gaiman wrote, there’s a mention of a time lord character, the Corsair, who has been both male and female in the past. “The mark of The Corsair. Fantastic bloke. He had that snake as a tattoo in every regeneration. Didn’t feel like himself unless he had that tattoo. Or herself a couple of times. Oo hoo! She was a bad girl!”

Through other, non-Gaiman forms of literature, we have shapeshifter characters in many comics and stories. For example, Mystique of X-Men fame has no memory of her original past before her powers, and thus may have been born male. There’s an older series from the 90s known as Wild Cards, wherein there is a character by the name of Croyd Crenson, or better known as The Sleeper. He does not willfully shapeshift, instead doing so whenever he falls asleep, usually for days or weeks at a time. He never knows what he will look like when he wakes up, and has woken up as a female before. Croyd is one of my favorite characters of all time, and I have actually taken part of my usual screen name for the internet (SleepIncarnate) from his nickname.

So what are my thoughts on all of these? Some are well written, others are not. Would I like to see more, legitimate transgender characters? Definitely. However, I also keep in mind that we’re pretty rare as is (between 1 and 3% of the population, with the most liberal of statistics. I’m happy to see when someone does a character who is trans, and even happier when they are done well.

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