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Dear Cisgender Writer...

Equity in the Arts
a coffee cup and legal pad rest on a wood surface. On top of the legal pad sits an envelope with a blue piece of paper sticking out of it, and a pen.

I want you to write transgender characters. I want trans characters to exist in the world you’re writing. Ya know, like how trans people exist in the world.

Recently, a collaborator of mine (who is cisgender) told me he was afraid of writing trans characters unless he was working with a trans collaborator for fear of having the characters called “inauthentic.”

I get what he was saying. In a way, it feels like a logical extension of the premise that cis actors shouldn’t play trans characters. But it’s actually not. Cisgender actors playing transgender roles isn’t a problem of “authenticity,” per se. Cisgender actors shouldn’t play transgender characters because 70% of Americans say they’ve never met someone who is trans. So, when a cisgender actor plays a transgender character, 70% of Americans are led to believe that a transperson is essentially a cisperson in disguise. Which is--yes, you guessed it--wrong. Is that kind of ignorance harmful? Yeah. It is. If more cisgender people actually understood the transgender community, then trans folx in this country wouldn’t be six times more likely to be murdered (16 times more likely for transwomen of color). Cisgender actors shouldn’t play transgender roles because representation of marginalized identities is not only socio-politically important, but could be potentially life-saving.

But the same rules don’t apply for writers, because it’s not even the same rulebook. I mean, yes, if a film studio wants to make a Sylvia Rivera biopic, then I’d absolutely rather see a trans writer get hired to tell that story (and get that paycheck) than a cis writer. But if we’re talking about original stories, then I say again to you, my dear cis writer friend: I most definitely want you to write transgender characters.

Try it! You’re at your computer, you’ve got your preferred word processor open, and you’re writing something new. Is your main character trans? Are any of your supporting characters trans? Are any of those characters with only a few lines trans? Go ahead. Write it. See what happens.

Great job! You’ve finished writing a new story and at least one of the characters is trans. Does that trans character have an interior life that is expressed honestly, respectfully, and, yes, authentically?

Maybe not.

And maybe you’re gonna get called out. Maybe you have a trans/GNC friend who’ll read your work and call you out for something. Maybe you have a trans collaborator who you want to have direct/design this piece who’ll call you out. Maybe the trans actor you’re gonna ask to play this trans character (remember: cisgender actors should not be cast in trans roles) will call you out. Maybe none of those folks will call you out, but a trans audience member will call you out.

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s better than okay. It’s great, actually. Being called out is good for you. Because now you have the opportunity to learn--to expand and deepen the humanity of that trans character. To expand and deepen your own humanity!

Don’t let the fear of being called out prevent you from bringing a trans character to life in your world. Don’t be fragile.

I want you to write trans characters because I want you to know that I exist. I want you to prove that you know that I exist. How many characters have you written in your entire life? Are any of them trans?

What about the next one?