Writing Gender: A Guide

Sir Basil

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WRITING GENDER
cold are the counsels of women -- brennu njála

A STORY ABOUT HATS


My favourite professor in college, a professor of literature, often said that we have different “hats” we wear when we read and write. For example, when you write a form letter, you’re likely wearing a different writer “hat” than the hat you wear when you write a Star roleplay. It is our ability to wear these different “hats’ that allow us to write complicated, and diverse characters with life experiences often outside of our own. My professor always tempered the Romantic notion of limitless imagination with the following clause - borrowed from another writer - “A writer can transcend all of their own experiences, except when it comes to race” - essentially, a white author can’t write about the experiences of a person-of-colour (POC) faithfully. More specifically; a white author can write about a black character, but they can’t write about the character’s experiences as a black person.

This notion of “experience” also applies to the concept of gender. Although gender is often one of the first aspects decided about your next roleplay character, a character’s gender may have a strong impact on who they are as a person - or it may not. A character’s gender may also have an impact on how that character is written by you, the player. What “hat” do you wear when you play a female character - versus the “hat” you wear when playing a female character? What about characters that don’t fit the traditional gender binary of male and female? The fact of the matter is that a male writer will likely never be able to faithfully reproduce the gendered experiences of a female character ; and vice versa.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t write outside of your gender. In fact, one of our former members, Brovo, used to compile demographics about RPers on this site. Their demographics prove that many writers on Iwaku don’t write characters of their own gender:

“Males overwhelming play their own gender over any other[…] (42.6% Male, 8.2% Female, 0% Non-Binary.)
Females, meanwhile, seemed a little more divided over whether they played male or female characters more often. (18% Male, 23% Female, 1.6% Non-Binary.)
In the only poll that asked, approximately 50.8% of voters identified as Male, 41% of voters identified as Female, and 5.2% identified as Non-Binary.”


Obviously, people are playing as a gender that is not their own; and that’s a good thing! More gender balance is a very important thing in literature - as recent studies by a group at Florida State university have found a huge imbalance in male and female characters in children’s literature. Although Roleplays don’t necessarily have the same problem, I have found that many of the fantasy RPs I’ve been in, for instance, have had a distressing ration of men outnumbering women -- and an alarming lack of non-binary individuals.

Perhaps the problem lies in the question of “hats” yet again. How can I write a female character if I’m not female? Won’t my “hat” be offensive? Or, an even more challenging question is ; how can I write a trans or non-binary character if I’m not? Should I even make the attempt?

The answers to these questions can be found in the race example above. “A white author can write about a black character, but they can’t write about the character’s experiences as a black person” Likewise, with regard to binary gendered, transgender, and gender-nonconforming characters; you cannot write about the specific, gendered experiences of that gender identity. This guide will help you navigate how to wear your “hat” for genders that may not be your own.


WHAT IS GENDER


The Human Rights Campaign defines gender identity as the following: “One's innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.” In other words, it is how a person identifies their gender, as male, female, both, neither, or other -- regardless of what they were assigned at birth.

If the gender that the character identifies as is different than what the character was assigned at birth, they fall under the umbrella term of “trans”. Transgender, and transexual are far more “clinical” sounding terms, and very few trans people actively refer to themselves using this terminology. Notably, a character’s trans identity has no impact on their sexuality. A trans character can be gay, straight, bi, or any other orientation under the sun.

A person who is non-binary, does not identify as either male or female. Gender, in the modern understanding, is not a binary structure at all; but a larger gradient. A non-binary person may feel like they have female aspects, along with male ones. A non-binary person may also not identify as any gender on the spectrum at all; seeing themselves as having no specifically gendered characteristics.

Cisgender, or “cis” is a term which I may use from time to time within this guide. It simply means that a character or person identifies as the gender that they were assigned with. Never refer to this status in your writing as “Normal” or “real” -- that implies that trans and non-binary people are abnormal or not real, which simply isn’t the case.


GENDERED STORYTELLING


So you know what gender identity is; a self identified concept that underscores a character’s identity. Great! Now which “hat” do you wear when you’re talking about gender? As I discussed earlier, your “hat” as a cis-woman writing about women is likely different than the “hat” you wear when you write about men, trans, or non-binary people. How do you write about these things in a non-offensive way, and a way that’s true to the character that you’re trying to express?

Once again, I’ll quote myself like the arrogant bastard I am: you cannot write about the specific, gendered experiences of that gender identity. What this means is that if you a cis person, you (in all likelyhood) have no idea what the experience of an average trans or nonbinary person is -- you simply don’t have any insight on the topic. That may seem harsh, but trans and non-binary people reading your RPs (and yes, there are lots of trans / non-binary people on Iwaku) are judging your portrayal of trans and non-binary characters. Even if their character is not trans or nonbinary, trans and non-binary writers may see your portrayal of trans and non-binary characters take issue with fetishization and othering.

Fetishization
refers to a tendency to see trans and non-binary people (particularly trans-women) as sex objects, rather than people, and reduce them down to their genitalia. Trans and non-binary people are not defined by their genitals, and your character shouldn’t be either. Female characters written by men often suffer from a strong “male gaze” in writing; a depiction of the world and the women in it from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure ; and not having a worth beyond that. The writing often displays this by having the narration comment on a female character’s body. Film Noir as a genre provides an excellent example of this:

“She held him at arms’ length, looked at the pipe still gripped in his hand, then looked at his face and read him like a book. She ran the tip of her red tongue slowly across her full cushiony, sensuous lips, making them wet-red and looked him straight in the eyes with her own glassy, speckled bedroom eyes. -- Chester Himes, “A Rage in Harlem”

This quote doesn’t occur in a sexual scene. It’s an everyday scene, but it draws undue attention to the narrator’s desire for the woman -- without noting anything else about her, other than her desire for sex. This isn’t a Star RP scene. Likewise, sexualizing trans and non-binary occurs even outside of Star RP roleplay. Their trans identity plays a larger role in the sexualization of trans-characters ; highlighting their dress and voice more than even their physical appearance.

“Othering” is closely linked to the idea of fetishization of trans and non-binary people. Othering is the idea that trans and non-binary people are somehow different than cisgendered people, based upon their gender identity. In writing, the narrative will take steps to point out how “different” these characters are from others, in terms of appearance, sexuality, and general demeanor. This tendency to point out the differences is generally intended to give the reader “clues” to the character’s “real” gender. However, as we’ve already talked about - a character’s self-professed gender identity is their real gender! Having your narration give “clues” is utterly pointless (as well as gross) because chances are, you’ve already filled out the gender field in their character sheet, and used gendered pronouns for them. Your fellow partners know their identity, and so do you! It’s not a mystery, you don’t need to give “clues”!

How these “clues” tie into fetishization is that these clues are often veiled references to sexual characteristics, associated with a specific gender. This suggests that a character’s gender identity is based upon their physical sex, and if they have X, Y, and Z feature ; they are not the gender they claim to be. This is of course the idea behind “traps”; characters who appear to be one gender but are “really” another. The idea of traps is frankly, disgusting. Straight up, no bullshit. People don’t get “trapped” into being with trans and non-binary people, and such language perpetuates ideas about trans and non-binary relationships that affect trans and nonbinary people in real life. “The Establishment”, a feminist multimedia site recently had a blog entry that I think puts this best:

“Until we decide to have a real conversation about the fetishization of trans bodies, stories like Mia’s [ a transwoman in a relationship with rapper Tyga] will continue to make headlines as a “scandal,” and trans women like me will keep encountering people who try to tell us that we should be grateful for the leftover libido of chasers — as though that paradigm could ever be equal to a loving relationship built on mutual respect. -- Charley Reid

Nonbinary and trans people have relationships like everyone else, based on communication and trust. Your characters, if involved in romantic relationships, should have similar relationships. Something I see from time to time is that a non-trans / non-binary character in a relationship with a trans / nonbinary character is portrayed as somehow heroic or saintly for loving the aforementioned character. This goes directly to Reid’s point; trans and nonbinary characters don’t have to be grateful that they’re loved by a character that fetishizes them.

Avoiding “othering” and fetishization in your RP is a simple way to make your RPs more LGBT friendly, and make your trans and non-binary characters more human and less sex-object. You can enact this in your RP by not calling attention to the sexual qualities of your characters - unlike the quote from “A Rage in Harlem” - and by avoiding language that is intended to “clue” your partners to your character’s “real” gender.


GENDER AND THE MIRROR

Mirror Scenes are generally how (usually cisgender) people display trans / non-binary perspectives. A Mirror Scene - which is my term, I don’t think anybody else uses it - is when a (usually closeted) trans character looks into the mirror and sees themselves in gender-identity appropriate clothing and is sad that they don’t look like that. Mirror scenes are about the biggest cliche you can get when writing about trans characters. Trans people tend to look at these scenes and feel embarrassed, or see them as just general cringe-worthy. I personally find them laughably ridiculous - which resulted in an embarrassing experience for me.

Suffice to say, my university’s comic zine had a comic about a transman, written by a pair of cisgender women. In the comic, he’s getting put in a dress for his highschool prom - all while looking in a mirror, and saying that he’ll never been what he sees in the mirror ( A mirror scene). It was ridiculously cliche, and sort of soured me on the whole comic zine ; I found it borderline offensive, to be honest. A month or so later, I was meeting with an art group in town and I showed them some of my comics. One of the women in the group asked me why I didn’t submit them to this comic zine, and I told them that they had published some comics I found distasteful - notably, the Mirror Scene comic. Little did I know, I was talking to one of the writers of that comic. She said that she believed it to be accurate, and that she knew what she was talking about - she had done research. And what did I know anyway?

That story concludes with her finding out I was trans - and both of us being very embarrassed by our choices. I’ve included this story for two reasons. One, to show I’m a big idiot who can’t keep their mouth shut - and two, to reiterate a point i made earlier. No matter how much research you do, no matter how much you believe it to be accurate; if you a cis person, you probably have no idea what the experience of an average trans or nonbinary person is. You simply don’t have any insight on the topic. But, again, you can write trans characters. You just don’t write about their experience as trans or non-binary. Being trans or non-binary does not define your character, and gender identity is not the whole of a character. This goes for cisgendered characters as well.


YOUR GENDER HAT

You’re ready to write a character of a different gender identity than you, and you think that you’re going to avoid these common pitfalls. You’ve put on your trans or nonbinary “hat”. Now that you’re sitting down to write about your character; there’s a few things to keep in mind. Namely; how do you want to approach their trans or nonbinary identity? There tend to be two schools of thought regarding this. One approach is to underscore its importance to your character’s identity by constantly discussing their gender, the other approach is not to mention it at all. Both of these methods have their flaws.

Constantly talking about a character’s gender reinforces their identity, and adds to the diversity of your RP’s cast. However, it often results in your character’s gender identity being the sole defining factor of the character, and can lead to things as cliche as mirror scenes. If you constantly discuss a character’s gender, you can end up talking about trans and non-binary experiences -- and we know that can lead to embarrassing moments. And, it’s frankly inaccurate. Trans people and nonbinary people don’t obsess about their gender, in general. In my experience, there is definitely a fixation with it, upon starting the transition process, but the idea that the only thing that trans and nonbinary people care about is just not true. Also, fetishization rears its ugly head again; you don’t need to talk about your trans or nonbinary character’s genitalia every four lines, I promise. (I’ve seen it. ) Constantly talking about a character’s gender identity leads to cliche, boring, and honestly, embarrassing posts.

Not mentioning your character’s gender identity at all
is an attractive option, as you can avoid the fetishizing and cliche-ness that reveals itself in the other option. However, the leading language of “othering” and “clues” can still appear. If you try to hint that your character is trans or non-binary through description, it often leads to the idea that your character is somehow “hiding” something, and that their “true” identity has to be uncovered -- which as we’ve discussed before, is not so good. And, although this sounds counter-intuitive; your character probably won’t be understood as trans or non-binary. Not mentioning your character’s gender identity is at its worse when it implies that your character is hiding something - but can also just be flat-out erasure.

So what do you do?
There’s not really a perfect solution to this problem. But being conscious of the problems of fetishization and othering is a good first step, and actively working to avoid them, and other cliches like the mirror scene is very important. Listening to trans people, when they express discomfort about your characters is also very important - and trying to understand why they might be offended by your portrayal. Although I poo-poo’d it before, doing research is a really good idea as well ; but don’t expect your research to give you equal knowledge of trans and non-binary people’s experiences. Because it won’t.

My practical solution is either mention it in your character sheet - and use appropriate pronouns. They / them pronouns often communicate more about a non-binary character’s gender identity than 1000 words describing how they feel like they were “born in the wrong body.” (Don’t use that cliche either, ugh!) If your character’s gender identity comes up within the RP, you, the writer - needs to address this head on, even if your character doesn’t. And always, always keep in mind: Being trans or non-binary does not define your character, and gender identity is not the whole of a character.



A STORY ABOUT PANTS

Iwaku is an amazing community, in that we have many queer people roleplaying queer characters. Players being sensitive, and using common sense, is something that I see everyday on Iwaku, and something I’ve seen since I first joined in 2011. The world’s changed some, in the past five years; with gender non-conforming and trans people becoming a more accepted part of the LGBT community, and the world at large. It is important for our fiction, and our RPs, to include trans and non-binary people because that reflects the world at large.

Trans and non-binary people have been in our stories since the beginning. The Icelandic family saga are sometimes referred to as the first “novels”, and within those stories are dozens of gender non-conforming characters -- to the point that the medievalist Carol Clover had to invent a new gender paradigm to encompass all of their identities. When writing your fantasy narrative and grimdark medieval epics; remember, in 991 A.D there was a transman called Aud/And Breeches. Maybe don’t name your character And Breeches.

Here are some final things to think about when making a character of a different gender identity than you.

What is this character's personality outside of their gender identity?
How would my character describe their gender identity, and why?
Which pronouns does your character prefer, and why?
How will you balance discussions of your character’s gender?
Is my character only trans / non-binary for the purpose of a reveal?
Am I writing this character for sexual purposes? How will I handle that?

 
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Greenie

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I woke up around 7:30 today, read this, went back to sleep and had a strange dream. Needless to say...

I really enjoyed reading this, and find it super useful. One of the reasons I tend not to rp Trans characters is for this very reason, because I don't believe I could wear that hat properly. It's why I keep them as NPC for the most part. Even roleplaying as different types of people of your own gender is hard enough, leave alone other genders.

This brought up a lot of food for thought, so thank you very much!
 

Nahellion

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I would like to thank you for writing out this guide. It was extremely helpful and Insightful.

I did however, felt very iffy on the part (maybe this was not directed as such so feel free to correct me) where it was said white authors cannot write on the experience of a black person. I like writing people with different ethnic backgrounds, and unfortunately that part reminded me too well of my classmates, who told me that as a white person, I had no right to have characters be a different race besides my own.

This is where I get very touchy, because diversity is very important, and if authors are told they can't have characters outside of their own race, it limits someone's imagination. (Exceptions are historical fiction, that I can understand slightly)

But thanks for the guide! I really enjoyed it. ^_^
 
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Ester

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This is a great guide, I absolutely love this. Has anyone written one about race too, or disability? Because I feel like those are both good ones to have. Especially like mental illness stuff. But I'm rambling haha.

Nahellion Nahellion I don't think anyone's saying you can't write ethnically diverse characters, but it is true (for the most part at least) that you can't fully, accurately write from the perspective of someone from a racial group you're not a part of (unless you've like spent a TON of time researching HOW to write from that perspective, which even then is sort of secondhand and not as authentic). For example I'm East Asian so I tend to end up writing a lot of East Asian characters, but I pretty much always make them Korean because I'm Korean myself. I know exactly what a Korean accent sounds like, what traditional Korean values are, the little quirks of Korean family dynamics etc. But still I wouldn't know how to write from the perspective of, for example, a Korean person living in Korea or another country as opposed to a Korean-American, which is what I am, because I've just never lived that life. I could try, but it wouldn't be the same multi-faceted, 360 experience from when I write Korean-American characters.

Now it's different if you're taking people of different racial/ethnic appearances and putting them in universes outside of our own, so that the same cultural and power dynamics aren't there. I'm more comfortable playing, for example, black characters or South Asian characters in this context where culture and perhaps even racism are removed from the equation. But when it comes to real-life sort of settings, it's safer to stick with what you know, or at least not attempt to put on a facade of realism and cultural accuracy and end up looking kind of silly to those of that actual race.

I hope that helps you understand what OP was trying to say ^___^
 
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Kestrel

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Nahellion Nahellion
Nah. It's totally possible to write about an experience of a different ethnic group. We all experience the same base emotions, you just have to apply them to different situations and scales. Different ethnicities aren't separate species. The guide is just one opinion piece, not an absolute authority on the subject matter. Don't worry about it.
 

Sir Basil

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I did however, felt very iffy on the part (maybe this was not directed as such so feel free to correct me) where it was said white authors cannot write on the experience of a black person. I like writing people with different ethnic backgrounds, and unfortunately that part reminded me too well of my classmates, who told me that as a white person, I had no right to have characters be a different race besides my own.
Totally unintentional , fellow white person ! The idea behind that quote - which is from another author (who I always forget the name of -- but he was a favorite of Jewish Danish author Meir Goldschmidt) is that yoy can't write about the specifically racial experiences of another race with any accuracy.

So, as a white person, and as @Ester so eloquently put, writing about the racial culture of a different ethnic group is nearly impossible if you're outside of the group. My character can be black, but I would have no idea where to start if I wanted to write about... I don't know, black masculine coming-of-age rituals in America.

I'm using race only to suggest the same is true for genders that are not heteronomative; a cisgender person can't write with any reliability about what it feels like to transition, which I describe in my embarrassing "mirror scene" confrontation.

The guide was in no way meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable or excluded, just to point out some of the difficulties that come with putting on a different gender hat !! Like @Kestrel said, this is absolutely opinion; based upon what I've read and some good old fashioned novel theory. ;)

Also @Ester ; I actually am planning on writing a guide for portraying mental illness ! The other staffers and I have talked about it a bit, and I think it's going to be great !
 

Nahellion

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Also @Ester ; I actually am planning on writing a guide for portraying mental illness ! The other staffers and I have talked about it a bit, and I think it's going to be great !
That guide actually could be of help to a lot of people. I have Asperger's and when I read other's writings, it sounds like that it is impossible for us to function with society when, in actuality, it is possible. It just starts with the right teacher of course. So I can't wait to see that.
 

Alyxsandre

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Such a lovely guide (and some delicious coding, too)!

Exciting to hear about getting a guide on writing mental illnesses, too! I personally really enjoy delving into some sensitive subjects just as background info, since I'm typically really big on "why my character is how they are today." 8'V I'm a backwards thinker... Half of the time I don't realize they have something until I start to "dissect" them, in a way. >V>; One of my most favorite characters is that way, and afterwards... lots of research and e t c spree (I had the opportunity to ask some people with the actual syndrome to help me decipher the character and/or tell me if he was written... accurately, so to speak.)

But I think the important thing here, on topic of gender, is that there's also a huge emphasis on not only depending on looking up articles, but actually going out and interviewing, or talking, or just overall interacting with people of different genders. There's also simply sort of, hmm, being there? In a way? Such as you not having to experience sadness in order to know how it feels, which is even more prominent if you're an empathetic. An example of that being, say, when my father's mother figure passed away (his real mother passed a long time ago). For the first time in my life, I saw him cry, or rather, on the verge of crying. Body language was a big one in that.

He was looking back at me through the rear-view mirror. His eyebrows were furrowed, his mouth clenched, eyes slightly closed. You could see the way his mouth trembled, and his eyes were wet, the way he was gripping the steering wheel.

In that moment, you didn't have to know what it felt like to be sad, because you could see it. It was a very physical experience of what sorrow was. The sorrow of losing somebody you really loved.

But of course, it's not as if we'll be there at every moment of the day to see our friend'-of-every-gender's experiences, so it does become a tad tricky in that regard.

I know a cis female back on deviantart who was writing a trans male, who absolutely refused to believe that you could be trans without having body dysphoria, and I personally had to find that absolutely insulting. (Didn't help that she was arguing with a transitioning trans man about his experiences and she just wasn't having any of it.)

Gender has always been a very interesting thing for me, especially being agender. Half of the time, I don't really even like to make much mention of their gender. It's on their profile, I mention preferred pronouns, but it doesn't really ever come up. Perhaps the biggest thing is knowing that "gender does not make the character," which is definitely a problem many starting writers have. (Same can be said for various other things, such as mental illnesses, sexualities, race, religion, etc.)

However, their experience of discovering their gender may have made them who they are today, but such can also be applied to various other things—such as bullying as a child, the loss of a parent at an early age, etc. ouo/ Background stuff doesn't tend to pop up unless you do flashbacks and stuff though. Depends on the setup of the writing.

There's also intersex—which brings in a whole different amount of problems. I have a couple, myself (one of which isn't even human so the concept of gender is completely invalid in that point), but it's also something important to bring up.

Especially since most people don't even understand what it is to be intersex. And the fact that, like gender, it doesn't even really matter. Just as you wouldn't talk about what's in a cis-male's pants, you wouldn't do so with somebody who's intersex.

And that gender just as equally applies to them, or doesn't if they're agender/non-binary, as anybody else o - o /

Overall, I typically write more male characters but I've slowly been writing more and more agender characters. Which, in the end, I feel most comfortable doing (be they dmab or dfab or intersex), as I am agender, myself.

So much to take into consideration to not come off as a naïve and/or ignorant writer x'D
 
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Shiri

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I found this due to your awesome looking banner. I am happy I clicked on it!

The guide is very insightful. I quite like the concept of "wearing other hats". I never thought about it quite like that, but it fits, so to speak. :3

In truth, I don't have much experience roleplay-wise with gender identities besides cis. I once had a bigender character, but it was one of those flash in the pan roleplays, so not much was done or discovered. Someday I plan to get back to them, especially now that information about all genders is so prevalent. I remember being so shy at the time because I didn't know how to describe it to my roleplay partners back then. It was a case of "my character is like this...I don't know if there's a name for it, but this is the feeling they are giving me!".
 

Starbleme

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Ooh, I do have two questions about this. I'm a cis female who has tended towards writing cis male characters, and I've struggled with the idea that I'll never truly know what it's like to be a cis male. I can only listen to what cis men say about it and make educated inferences. I've also wanted to write a story within an all-male boarding school--I've never had that experience, so I'm trying to really figure out what that looks and feels like, even though my portrayal would never be totally accurate.

However, though they face their own double standards, cis males as a group are obviously not marginalized, unlike trans people or people of color. In addition, most media features the struggles of cis (usually white) males. Is it therefore more "permissible" for me to write, say, a male coming-of-age story that does focus (in part) on the experience of being male?

My second question is: is it okay to write about gendered experiences if they're based on testimony and interactions with a variety of real, actual people? I feel like in pretty much everything I want to write that has cis males, the characters are pretty inseparable from their gender identities and the pressures imposed upon them as cis males (though they're not defined by their gender by any means, it certainly does have an impact). As with real people, gender colors their experiences, history and worldview. It would be very hard to write a story like the all-male boarding school without featuring the "specific, gendered experiences of that gender identity."

Edit: some rewording
 
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Sir Basil

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However, though they face their own double standards, cis males as a group are obviously not marginalized, unlike trans people or people of color. In addition, most media features the struggles of cis (usually white) males. Is it therefore more "permissible" for me to write, say, a male coming-of-age story that does focus (in part) on the experience of being male?

My second question is: is it okay to write about gendered experiences if they're based on testimony and interactions with a variety of real, actual people? I feel like in pretty much everything I want to write that has cis males, the characters are pretty inseparable from their gender identities and the pressures imposed upon them as cis males (though they're not defined by their gender by any means, it certainly does have an impact). As with real people, gender colors their experiences, history and worldview. It would be very hard to write a story like the all-male boarding school without featuring the "specific, gendered experiences of that gender identity."
I'm hardly an authority on this subject what so ever, but I think the response I would say for your first question is "Yes, its alright." The reason being is that the world is flooded with stories of cis, straight white men, to the point that the entire world knows multiple versions of "their" stories. While its not my place to say whether or not something is permissable, I think that the fact that the cis white man story is the "universal narrative" -- in that, its the story that is considered the "norm" for everyone -- a result of a distressing culture that promotes heteronormativity.

The same answer goes for the last question; its much easier to gain insight on what is going on in the cis, white man's head (especially if they're also wealthy!) The reason being is that cis, white, straight men have more of a platform to actually communicate their needs, wants and desires. This is not as true for POC, or LGBT people; making it important that the stories that get out their about these marginalized people are accurate stories. People's view of straight white cis men is not going to change if you write a story where all the cis white men are monsters. But in a world with so few major POC and LGBT characters, a popular story where all of the minority characters are evil or somehow "wrong" can majorly affect public perception about these minorities.

TLDR; For cis white men, anything goes, because their position is already established and percieved as the "norm". Trans / Gender Non-Conforming / and Women demand more care in the narrative space because they are in a more vulnerable social and literary position. Hope that made sense, and thanks for reading!
 

Alyxsandre

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To add to the conversation
Starbleme Starbleme Sir Basil Sir Basil
I think, in general, anybody has permission to write about anything, it's more or less how it's written that will determine whether it's perceived as successful or unsuccessful.


There's also something I feel like I might have to point out, however—media does not actually accurately represent what various cis males have to go through. As a matter of fact, media more or less tries to push towards what masculinity is in their eyes, which leads to countless amounts of turmoil within a cis male who does not fall under those stereotypes. Especially a heterosexual male. There are countless of cis men who do not say a word if they've been sexually abused, countless who say nothing if they're in an abusive relationship with their partner, because it's not "manly." You don't even see many of this stuff get covered in fictional shows, much less Hollywood, unless they're children, which have more "permission" to act "unmanly," because they're still young.

Before anybody gets any ideas, I will iterate: I am an agender, asexual, and am 100% Mexican. I've tried defending people before and people automatically come out and call me out as a white cishet. Just gotta put that out there.

I think the important thing is that one has to remember that although gender "colors their worldview, etc," that it doesn't define it.

I've written various cis male characters almost all my life, and never once has their gender really come up or decided what happens in the story. That's one thing a writer really needs to remember, is trying not to make the gender such a big deal, especially depending on the setting or construct of the story.

An all-male's boarding school? Honestly, the fact that they're all men doesn't really make it all that different. They have friend groups, do sports, have clubs. Get together after school, got to the movies, talk about how pretty X person was that just walked by, etc. Perhaps the only real big thing would be the sex drive of a young male going through puberty. But unless your focus is on love and/or romance, nobody talks about what said young man does in their alone-time 8V

Coming-of-age? It's not just dependent on their gender, but also their environment. Did they grow up in a rich family where they got everything they ever wanted? Were they raised by their single mother, or a single father? Were they raised by a guardian who wasn't even blood-related? Were they surrounded by various others who keep pushing them to do something or another? Is their town typically lower-income? Urban? Rural? Are they the only child, or the youngest child of 5, the 4 others being all cis female? Were they pushed to become great in X or Y thing, when they really had no talent for it, or no desire? Were they raised in a religious household and at school taught all about philosophy?

Maybe it's my being agender that makes it seem so sort of... Obvious, I guess? Life is hardly ever ONLY dictated by how we experience things because of our gender, but rather our environment. Sure, a lot of times the way we're treated is dictated by our gender, or rather, by the way people perceive our gender (say, being agender with a very stereotypical feminine or masculine body), but unless the story is set to be highly-realistic, then the gender shouldn't really matter. There is so much more aside from just their gender that dictates how somebody is formed. And that's the important thing to approach when writing a story.

The way a friend said it, because I cannot word: "[BCOLOR=#36393e]If gender is going to define the character there needs to be something in the construct of the world around them that makes it significant. Otherwise it simply means nothing. Perhaps gender representation is significant in the design of a character but plot wise there needs to be a solid reason for it to matter.[/BCOLOR]"

o - o / Those are my two cents. At the end of the day, if your entire goal is to write a highly-realistic world in which, say, an emotionally fragile cis boy is going through this world where the media pushes tough masculinity, pushes being stern, imposing, dominant—then all of this can be dismissed x'D
 
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Sir Basil

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Alyxsandre Alyxsandre brings up some great points, and highlights the perils of what is generally called "toxic masculinity," which hurts absolutely everyone it touches.

Your point about enviornment affecting coming of age stories is also very important - and I think, in general, environmental concerns and stimulus are the spark for all great character development.

Thanks for your great insight!
 
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Starbleme

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Any historical RP that requires a buttload of research (including fantasy) unless you're OK with poor historical accuracy, furry (as in straight-up anthros or Zootopia-esque worlds; I'm totally fine with magical animal attributes, werewolves, stuff like that)
Those were really awesome responses, thank you! Sir Basil, I totally see what you're saying: an inaccurate cis male narrative isn't really going to do harm since most mainstream media follows cis male narratives. (Usually grizzled middle aged men with stubble lol.) That makes total sense. Like, with your mirror example, it seems like when an author tries to speak for the experience of a marginalized group they're not a part of, things usually go really wrong. It falls into stereotype, which can be really harmful since misinformation about trans people is rife as is. Anyone portraying a character of different race/gender/sexuality should be aware of stereotypes and misconceptions.

Alyxsandre: I totally agree that characters are formed mostly by their environment, upbringing, dreams, etc. For me, gender is like a definite topping on the character development pizza, but not the dough. It also depends a lot on whether the setting is meant to be realistic, as you said. If it's a sci-fi or fantasy world blessedly free of gender norms, then I think gender is pretty arbitrary. I lean towards realism though, to the point that I probably overthink things waaaaay too much XD

Also, toxic masculinity makes me sad.
 
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Daz

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Overall this is a good guide, thanks for posting it! Although I do think you've been too hard on 'trap' characters, since I've seen 'trap' characters being used to tackle interesting questions related to gender. If the 'trap' is only being used to say "Oh look, the protagonist is being tricked into liking/dating someone of the same sex!" then yeah, that's gross. But a 'trap' character may also be used to ask "Why is it wrong this cis-male looks feminine?" in which case the character is addressing problems with our gender expectations. It depends on how the individual character is being portrayed in my opinion.

(I put trap inside single quotation marks because your definition of a trap may be different to mine- it's used to refer to a variety of things)
 
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Sir Basil

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Overall this is a good guide, thanks for posting it! Although I do think you've been too hard on 'trap' characters, since I've seen 'trap' characters being used to tackle interesting questions related to gender. If the 'trap' is only being used to say "Oh look, the protagonist is being tricked into liking/dating someone of the same sex!" then yeah, that's gross. But a 'trap' character may also be used to ask "Why is it wrong this cis-male looks feminine?" in which case the character is addressing problems with our gender expectations. It depends on how the individual character is being portrayed in my opinion.

(I put trap inside single quotation marks because your definition of a trap may be different to mine- it's used to refer to a variety of things)
The term itself is a problem. "Trap" implies the idea of being "tricked", just like you said. There's no problem at all with exploring the problem of femininity / masculinity intersections, but the idea it has to be explored through a "trap" is completely ridiculous. Also, it generally relates to some idea of "sexual trick" -- which leads to further fetishization of trans and nonbinary people, which isn't great.
 
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Daz

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The term itself is a problem. "Trap" implies the idea of being "tricked", just like you said. There's no problem at all with exploring the problem of femininity / masculinity intersections, but the idea it has to be explored through a "trap" is completely ridiculous. Also, it generally relates to some idea of "sexual trick" -- which leads to further fetishization of trans and nonbinary people, which isn't great.
If you pay attention to the dictionary definition of trap then there's a problem, but the term trap in reference to characters is now often used to mean something different. I see it more commonly used to mean a boy/girl who look like a girl/boy, regardless of whether this 'tricks' people in some way. The term isn't used with the implication of being sexually tricked in many of the cases I see it used.

Of course it doesn't have to be explored through a trap, I just don't think it's wrong to do so. Using a boy who is easily mistaken for a girl (aka. a trap character) is just one way you can do it, so long as you do so respectfully of course.

Maybe I just consume different content to you, but I don't see it generally used in relation to sexual tricks. Rather I more often see characters who were mistaken about the trap's gender feeling bad for misgendering the person rather than being mad that the trap 'tricked' them. It's times like these I wish there were statistics on obscure topics such as "How are trap characters used and portrayed in the media" aha.
 
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Alyxsandre

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I think the important thing in discussion of 'traps' is to not use that word.

Because it comes with the implication of looking masculine or effeminate to trick people.

A more proper term would simply be to call them 'androgynous.'
Ie, somebody whose gender is indeterminate.

Say, Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club.

She is a female, identifies as such, but isn't entirely feminine in appearance. Sure, part of the whole storyline is to go with that, though it is honestly never done with ill intentions, she just can't be in the host club and be a girl, and she needs to pay back the money for that vase she broke 8V

There's this other one, where a girl who's rather masculine/super androgynous gets asked to join a paintball club (I forgot the name of it |'D) and...
That's just about it. The main male characters think she's a boy and it's how it goes for the rest of the show, 'cuz girls aren't allowed in the team, and it was never her intention to trick anybody.

So it's all about how it's used, but trap, like many other terms, comes with prior implications to them that generally have negative connotations.
 

Luelle

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I believe it comes down to one's acting skills and how well they can empathize with a race or gender that they're playing by immersing themselves into a character's life. It's not hard for some to imagine how others might feel when they've been abused or persecuted socially (or nearly any situation). You don't have to be a certain race to appreciate their culture or to see how it could influence a character's life.

Not every trans person would find the mirror example distasteful or hold the same opinions that you do. They might even relate to the mirror thing and be uncomfortable with their appearance (as not everyone is confident in who they are) - resulting in them feeling understood to a degree. This could bring awareness to the issue, inspiring others to support those in need in anyway they can and to show them that they can love themselves and make the changes that they want. Therefore, that potential offense becomes a reader's personal problem.

Also, you may believe that gender shouldn't define someone, but others might let their gender define them.

I understand how one could inaccurately write about a culture or misuse pronouns regarding gender, and I agree with them being educated before attempting to do so. However, that shouldn't stop everyone else from expressing the experiences that a character of another race or gender might have that is not relatable to themselves personally.

We all react and experience things differently, so there is no correct way to portray a human being (regardless of gender or race) as long as it's humanly possible.
 
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