It has come to my attention that my very first book — Seraphina, the one with all the good reviews and awards — relies on a trans-phobic trope. This is spoilery, but it can’t be helped: the villain is disguised as a person of another gender in order to fool people.
If you’ve read Seraphina and found this trope hurtful, my profound apologies to you. I love and value my trans readers, as I hope the better representation in Shadow Scale makes clear. I really did not understand that this trope could do harm, but a kind friend explained it to me yesterday.
I had assumed that because the character wasn’t actually trans, the trope could not be harmful to trans people. But apparently that’s exactly the problem: this trope erases trans people and reinforces the idea that they aren’t real, that anyone dressed as a member of a “wrong” gender is a villain who’s trying to deceive people. Young people — the people I write for! — need to see themselves depicted in all their multifarious beauty, not be continuously beaten over the head with the same old villainous parodies.
So. Friends. I am so sorry. Sorry I put it in there without examining it more closely, and sorry for pain and anxiety it has probably caused young trans readers. My friend tells me Shadow Scale makes up for it, but still. I had to say something. Writing for young people is a big responsibility and I take it seriously.
I just have to add: I’m looking for a sensitivity reader for my next book and had just been patting myself on the back for how awesomely diligent and empathetic I am, haha. It was probably inevitable that the world would immediately grab me by the lapels and whisper in my ear: Remember, you are mortal. Many thanks to my dear friend, yesterday’s lunch companion, for telling me.
10 thoughts on “A note to my trans readers:”
Rachel, I’m a 60 year old lesbian grandmother and retired minister.
Rachel, who told you you did a “bad thing” so I can make sure my karma can run over their dogma. I read both and I read them after I got an email from your publisher. And I loved them and got my library system to buy them.
What is it that makes them “wrong”? They are characters…in a story…from your imagination. Apologizing is like saying Peter Pan was closeted…(!) UNLESS you are being sued take some advice I’ve given to other authors….NEVER EVER apologize for your work
This is a really brave thing to put out there publicly. Not everyone would take the effort to listen and explain, and apologize for any inadvertent harm. Thanks for caring. 🙂
It is a hard thing to sit with criticism and learn from it. Good for you–and now I am off to re-read with an eye on what I may have missed, too.
On the flip side it was an unexpected plot twist, and a good explanation for a certain character’s ability to remain hidden for so long.
That is not to say that I wish to disregard any sensitivity concerns.
Well said and well done. However good our initial intentions, it costs us nothing to apologise when hurt may have been caused.
I really, really appreciate you taking the time to listen and empathize with those who might have been hurt by the trope. There is a tendency amongst (straight and cis) liberal authors to think that it’s enough for them to occasionally include peripheral queer characters; these authors think that they do not have to continue learning and evolving over time just because they’re “gay friendly.” By listening and acknowledging how your writing affects your readers, you automatically show yourself to be a more powerful ally.
I’m sure you already have someone in mind, but if you ever need another pair of eyes, I’d love to help! I’m a 26-year-old member of the queer community, and I got my MA in English Lit a few years ago– I’m working on my Masters of Social Work right now, and am constantly immersed in social justice issues. I really loved your first two books, so it would be incredibly fun to read over anything else you come up with. 🙂
Thank you so much for being willing to look at your work from another’s point of view. And many thanks to your trans friend for speaking up, I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment!
As a biracial genderqueer person, it is the unusual book written by a white hetero person that does not misrepresent or stereotype some aspect of my being. While you are considering sensitivity readers, would you consider having someone racially sensitive read your next draft? Without knowing your race at the time of reading Seraphina, I wasn’t long into your book before guessing you were white. I would love to not have such wincing in reading the next wonderful thing you write. Thank you for writing Seraphina and Shadow Scale; despite the wincing, I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I especially appreciate your offering young people strong believable female characters as well as a world which values them.
I am trans, and I have never felt offended by your works. You are so freaking inclusive. It’s insane. You go above and beyond, doing much more than you have to to check the box on “good representation.” Thank you so much. Ily
As a trans woman and parent, your statement brought sweet tears to my eyes. I wasn’t personally upset or offended by the gender-bending imagery in Seraphina, but my wife and I are reading Shadow Scale now and loving the trans imagery. It is especially delightful to hear characters use they/their pronouns where appropriate.
You mentioned that you are open to having sensitive readers preview your work. I would adore having such an opportunity and offering whatever useful feedback I had. You can see my musings, rants, and advice on All Things Trans at https://allthingstrans.quora.com/?ch=17&oid=224831&share=396067ef&srid=opMq&target_type=tribe.
I do have an agenda, however. I am eager to enjoy your work, early and often.