Dear Cisgender Writer, A Follow-Up
Dear Cisgender Writer,
Last year, I wrote to you and encouraged you to consider writing more trans characters. Just wanted to check back in.
After my last letter, I got feedback from other trans folks who felt that my request was a little misguided. Some feel that the telling of trans stories should be reserved for trans artists. Generally, I agree. As I said last year, if a film studio wants to make the Sylvia Rivera biopic (by the way, has that been greenlit yet?), then a trans writer should absolutely be the one who is hired to helm that story. But I don’t agree that any story that includes a transgender character is necessarily a “trans story,” in that not all stories featuring transgender individuals need to center their transness.
I firmly believe that the onus cannot be on trans folks alone to depict ourselves in art. We exist in the world. We should exist in your plays. I’m not asking you to write plays about gender dysphoria or coming out or the “trans experience.” I’m asking that you see us and include us in your work.
Having said that, I understand the skepticism that other trans individuals have expressed about what I’m saying. Which is why I’m writing again. Because I have another request to make of you, Cisgender Writer:
Please be an ally to the trans community before you write about us. Please support trans causes. Please support trans people. Please educate yourself on trans issues and how to talk about them. Please don’t traffic in stereotypes when you’re writing about us. Please don’t make jokes about pronouns. Please don’t only depict us in situations where we are gratuitously sexualized. Please don’t only depict us in situations where we are victims of graphic violence. Please don’t intellectualize our experience in a way that dehumanizes us or seeks to “play Devil’s advocate.” We don’t need your devilry. Please don’t fucking bring up chromosomes. Please don’t hurt us. Please write about us, but first, please see us. Please honor us.
That’s not to say you can’t make mistakes. You can. You will. You’re human. But when you do, and when you’re called on your mistakes, respond with humility and respect. And even before you respond, please listen. Really listen. Resist the impulse to be defensive. Check your privilege and acknowledge your impact. Don’t blame the person calling you out or tell them they’re being too sensitive. Do NOT try to gaslight.
I want to see a theatrical canon that includes people like me. I want you to help make that a reality by writing transgender characters compassionately and responsibly. But it’s on you to actually do the work.