In this article I’ll be delving a little deeper into a few of my transgender characters.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I write sci-fi with a twist of humor, wit, action, adventure, fantasy, and horror. Usually some of my characters are gay or transgender – but then, so am I, and I’ve seen too few LGBT characters in leading roles in the books I read to be happy with that. I write characters who are free and equal, or who fight for their freedom or equality – and I do it in a stealthy, entertaining, humorous and uplifting way, without any shouting or bra-burning! For that reason, I think at least some of my books fill a glaring gap in the market. My target market is not just Sci-fi/fantasy/horror – but LGBT-inclusive, affirming sci-fi/fantasy/horror!
While I’ve written several transgender characters, for me the most prominent so far, is the lead character of several Quantum books, Cindy-Mei Winter – the first main character of “Black Sunrise”. She’s full of life, young – being around her mid thirties – and pretty. As the story progresses, readers start to get the idea that there’s much more to her than meets the eye. For starters, she’s an ex-Colonial Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent, and has much in her past she would prefer to forget and write off to having happened to someone else, instead of her.
After dealing with her transgender nature for a long time – like me, Cindy-Mei had reached a point where enough was enough – and change became the only way forward for her. By that time Mei already built a life and a career – as a male – and had risen to become one of the Colonial Intelligence Agency’s most capable and reputable agents in the field. News of her change does not go down well at the Agency, and her supervisor takes it upon himself to make her life hell. Fortunately the blow of having to walk away from a career she’d loved is softened by her financial independence – thanks to some wise investments made during her clandestine career, and she manages to live rather well off them.
In “Black Sunrise” Mei is presented with a dilemma – Deanna, the small colony she’d chosen to spend a short vacation away on, comes under attack by a hostile alien ship, and she’s torn between a feeling of being able to do something about it – and realization that action and violence are not really her thing anymore. She might break a nail, in the first place, and in the second, it really kicks her right in the gender dysphoria because it evokes her previous life as an action-man working for the C.I.A.
As a writer, I know that most of storytelling is to dream up scenarios and characters that approximate the desired reality. A lot of writing can be about imagining and and “putting ourselves in their place” to imagine how a transgender character would feel in certain circumstances in the story – but in my case, I draw on my own real-life experiences to illustrate the thoughts, actions and feelings of these characters.
When I began my own transition, I was in the army – not the most ideal environment to transition in, I know! However, the point I’m getting at is, that the job, the uniforms, the actions and nature of everything involved or related to doing it, can become so closely associated with our unhappiness with our circumstances. Being physically male and being trapped in a male life becomes indelibly linked to wearing a certain sort of clothes and having to do certain things in the line of that job. This naturally raises the specter of gender dysphoria – the intense realization that we are trapped in the wrong gender, that our bodies have betrayed our true selves, and that as a consequence, we’re classified and categorized as something we are not – and are being forced to live out a punishing, horrible life sentence!
When we finally break free from that prison and begin our physical transition, so many of us go to the complete opposite extreme – an auto mechanic built (at first) like a WWF wrestler dives into a pink frilly & lacy wardrobe and comes out wearing stilettos and three-inch nails – and won’t even touch a spanner! Finding ourselves – and the place we’re comfortable with our lives, what we do, and how we express our gender identity – is part of that same journey… as much as the journey from our assigned gender – to our true, authentic gender.
I’ve gone through that process as well – and these days I put on much less make-up than I did in the beginning, I dress for comfort, and my favorite hobby when I’m not writing or spending time with my wife Wendy K. Gloss, is doing D.I.Y. projects around the house! It’s not that I feel less of a woman now, or that I stopped caring about my appearance – it’s because I’ve finally grown comfortable with myself as the woman I am.
It takes a good long while for us to grow comfortable with ourselves, and to realize: Gender isn’t what you DO. It’s who you ARE.
Besides, I’m pretty sure that if a spanner, a wood planer or drill had to be operated by either male or female genitalia, they’d all be displayed in sex shops – not in the hardware section!
Like many transwomen, gender sterotypes heavily influence us in the early part of our transition – if not longer. In the end however, Cindy-Mei’s drive to do something to help stop the alien invasion wins, and Mei – kitted out in stiletto boots, blaster in hand, and a skin-tight black outfit hugging her soft, firm curves – causes a few major distractions in the course of the next few days! She meets local bounty hunter (and local legend in his own lifetime) Beck the Badfeller, who turns out to be not so bad after all, and while the two team up to track down one of the aliens, becomes her romantic interest.
It is through the relationship between Gary Beck – a cisgender heterosexual male, and Cindy-Mei Winter, a transwoman – that I explore the dynamics of dating and relationships for transwomen. As any transwoman will tell you – it’s not easy to find someone suitable for a serious long-term relationship who’s comfortable with having a transgender partner. The dating game can be extremely dangerous for transwomen too, as the many examples of transwomen killed by potential suitors around the world each year shows. In fact, it can be extremely dangerous for transgender people to just exist – without getting shot, stoned, burned alive, or in the most recent case in the USA, dragged behind a car. It is a fear most transgender people live with every single day – and it’s not right, and it’s not fair – and there’s no way anyone who isn’t either insane or a monster can justify it.
This is something that Cindy-Mei is all too keenly aware of.
Moving on to another example of a transgender character, also from “Black Sunrise“, we take a look at Danielle Grauffis. In comparison to Mei, she’s much younger and has grown up in an accepting, loving environment where she wasn’t afraid to express her gender identity. Consequently, she grew up living as her authentic self, relatively free of the fear experienced by others. Her older sister Jenny, although still accepting, still has difficulty in completely wrapping her head around the concept of transgender, and still catches herself thinking about her younger brother. She feels a little guilt about that, but finds it ironic, as a rough and ready rancher who habitually dresses in jeans, steel-cap boots and check-shirts, that her younger sibling Danielle, is more feminine and girly than she!
When Cindy-Mei meets her, in an awkward situation which involves all four of them – and the alien they’d been persuing across country – standing over the dead bodies of a couple of thugs sent to kill the last remaining members of the Grauffis family, Mei is struck by the inherent tragedy of both their situations. This highlights the differences between transgender people who embark on their transition journeys at different times in their lives – some younger, while others in later years – with younger being the ideal, because there’s more years ahead to live as your authentic self, and less hormonal damage to try to undo!
Mei and Danielle become firm friends over time. Mei is overwhelmingly sympathetic to Danielle and her situation – even though she feels a slight pang of jealousy for Danielle having been able to start out so young! While Mei represents the more experienced transwoman who has walked on both sides of the gender stereotypical divide, Danielle represents the opposite – the naive, guiltless innocent. Danielle is still nevertheless keenly self-aware, and aware that she’s very different to other people. She bravely pretends that everything is as it should (or will) be, and is almost always dressed up to the nines, and with perfect make-up, hair and nails, a real little model.
The Graffis family has had financial difficulties for years – their parents and elder brother are both dead, and although there’s no evidence to prove foulplay, it’s pretty clear the same mining corporation that wanted Jenny and Danielle out of the way, is responsible. Working the ranch essentially single-handedly, Jenny needs all the help she can get – and while Danielle isn’t up helping her tend their herds of red-horned wildebeest, she’s extremely gifted at cooking and housework!
Mei generously takes the pair under her wing, enrolling Danielle at Atro City University to study whatever she has an aptitude for – which turns out to be paleontology and archaeology. She also helps Jen get back on her feet on the ranch – where Jen is kept company by Mark – the alien who saved the lives of both sisters – and now resides (or lurks) in their basement!
In writing about transgender characters and transgender issues, I draw upon my own feelings and experiences – and try to interpret them as best I can so that they will be understood and appreciated by a wider audience – after all, I don’t just write for one narrow slice of the population pie!
There are also plenty of cisgender, heterosexual characters in my stories too, so if that describes you and your interests, please don’t feel left out!
TIP: If you want to know what Christina Engela writes, or who her focus group or target market is, please read here.
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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.