Is there still a lot of discrimination or is it just fear and dysphoria? Or is a thing of the past?
I had this idea a couple of years back after beginning to read more diversely, and with the latest coming out and worldwide publicity around Nikkietutorials, curiosity of how trans and intersex protagonists are represented in mainstream literature is back in the forefront of my mind. We even have what I think is the final season of ‘I Am Jazz’ which has just started airing and a trans character in ‘Supergirl.’ I also loved the representation in shows like ‘Pose’ and ‘The Fosters.’ Just to mention a few – so there is definitely an accepting and welcome addition of transgender and intersex representation in the mainstream media – but I wanted to explore it further and take a look at the publishing industry (and my own personal reading habits.)
There is also the concept of ‘own voices’ books, written by transgender and intersex authors – which can be a more authentic representation of their own community and experience. I’ve read novels with leading characters who identify as transgender or intersex penned by cis authors, and I must admit it’s very hit or miss with how I enjoy the narrative. Half the time they are a tiny bit offensive or dysphoric without meaning to be. It says more about the authors’ education about this niche community that it does about someone who has actually lived through the experience. And thus, the novel reads like its demographic is skewed towards enlightening cis gendered readers. Deep discussions with members of the LGBTQIA+ community always praise the efforts and inclusion on the surface, but if you have a deep discussion with these readers, the details are often off-base.
If you search for the terms transgender or intersex when looking for your next read you will typically get a list of non-fiction titles. Socio-political or psychological focused papers, autobiographies, and erotica. Where are all the great stories that just happen to have a transgender or intersex protagonists that are fiction which are not revolved around coming out, transition, or sexual intimacy? Believe me, they are out there, you just have to really look. The only place I was able to find a decent collection of current releases are from blogs or Listopia on Goodreads. And if you compare the lists to general fiction current releases… the average transgender and intersex list sits at 100 books, the average general fiction list in anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000. Which boils down to a 4-10% representation on the current market. Which is an interesting figure because that is what psychological journals are quoting as the percentage of people identifying as transgender or intersex in the real world as a general benchmark – whether that is accurate or not today is a different debate. But it felt like a significant correlation. Looking through my own library (which is skewed by the availability of literature and available funds to purchase books) sits at approx. 5% (up from 4% in 2018) out of a 22% share of LGBTQIA+ titles.
I am definitely thankful for the changes in attitude to transgender and intersex characters. Twenty years ago it was rare to read a novel with their representation, and if they were present, they were usually treated as evil, a freak, a sex worker, or the comic relief. The ending of their storylines usually culminated in tragedy too. It was dehumanizing. The trend is definitely skewing towards greater representation, more realistic, well-rounded characters, and positively ending storylines.
I do have to say that there is a great deal of acceptance out there. And it warms my heart. People are people. Love is love. We are seeing that reflected in representation in our publishing material, film and television, and the wider community in general. Yes, there are still opposing voices, but as loud as they get, their manifesto is getting tossed out the window in favor of a more inclusive and accepting environment. And something makes it feel like we are heading for that Star Trek future.
So what does it all mean? I think is shows how society’s attitudes are changing, how that change is reflected through representation in art and culture, books and movies. It’s allowed for the discussion and importance of own voices literature. It is also opening doors for other minority groups into inclusivity. It leaves me feeling positive for how the human races collective consciousness is evolving, and how we are getting a wide array of poignant reading experiences.
What was the last book you read with a transgender or intersex protagonist? Can you add to these titles of new and upcoming books with transgender/intersex protagonists?
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One thought on “Transgender and intersex protagonists – are they represented in the mainstream literature yet?”
The last one I read was non-fiction! Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner about transgender woman Sandra Pankhurst. The last fiction book I read, I’m pretty sure, was Anosh Irani’s The parcel. A really moving book.