Differences in Portrayal of NB/Trans/Cis Characters

@LilithF brought up some points about trans/non-binary characters in another thread that I feel are interesting enough to warrant further discussion, so I’m opening this thread for that.

I perfectly understand feeling annoyed that the MC is given the option to be attracted to people “regardless of gender” or another phrasing that implies that there’s going to be non-binary ROs only for that not to be the case in the end, as well as wanting to see more non-binary background characters, so I’m not asking for elaboration on that.

I do, however, find interesting how they mentioned that the choice of playing as a non-binary MC should be acknowledged somehow in the game. As they put it:

so can ur trans binary/enby character have a moment with their trans binary/enby friend like “cis people am i right?” and friend “i will drink to that” or something, have them feel real feel like a character and not only a hollow vessel that’s just like a cis person with they/them pronouns

So I’d like to know people’s opinions on how playing as a trans/non-binary person should be different from playing as a cis person? Are there other behaviours/etc. that a non-binary/trans person would have and a cis person not have, aside from pronouns? Especially if the story takes place on a world where there is no discrimination towards these groups and there has never been, since I don’t think the example given would work in that case?

(I also mentioned in my original post that as a cis woman, I don’t know if my take on “cis people are awful to us” dialog would be convincing, I’d have to think very well about the particular characters and scene if I were to write something like that, since I definitely wouldn’t want it to come out wrong… But maybe this is just me).

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I believe that people are people. No one is inherently born with a certain culture. A trans or NB individual wouldn’t necessarily display the same recognisable behaviour as another unless that culture was part of their very identity. Yet, I agree that there should be a difference in the way members of particular demographics behave. They shouldn’t just be interchangeable.

What I am trying to say is that more thought should be given to the way a character acts. If they are going to behave in a certain way, especially one that is meant to be representative, there should be a reason for it beyond ‘this is what I think people in real life do’.

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I would much rather have no acknowlegdement rather than be smacked with discrimination which is ultimately skin deep and does not go into how it affect the character.

In other words, I get very sceptic when the writers say their will be special scenes for the non-binary character, but I also like that flash of 'Yeah, I get it."

Heart of House is a good example because it have both a good an a bad example.

There is a scene where the non-binary MC say that Loren is respectful when dressing because Loren gets it. That was nice an positive.

But there is also a scene where Loren gets misgendered by the demon, while the MC never does. It just raised so many unfortunate implications that I don’t think that the author meant to raise and the story would be better without it.

I don’t think you should just go into it if you are unsure as as cis-writer, because this is something that we don’t even agree on as a group. It would be a lot better to get positive confirmations of “I get you.” - kind.

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I also think that it is important to talk about how the NPCs are used in story and it is not just about enbies and other transpeople-

It was nice to get that moment of Loren gets it for an non-binary MC.

Likewise for DAI I have seen people mention that it was frustrating that they couldn’t tell Dorian “Oh, I am gay too.” Or Krem “Oh, I am trans too, I get it.” Weirdly, enough I never saw it for Sera, the lesbian girl.

I think that if the NPCs raises the question of sexuality and gender themselves, it is nice to be able to the MC to ‘go me too’ , not just for gender.

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So far, my approach has been similar to @Jay_Tarrant’s, I think, in that I just treat all characters the same (except when writing a particular society/culture where this could not be the case) and assume that gender doesn’t change the core of a person’s being, so I was pretty surprised to see someone ask that non-binary characters not be written as “cis people with they pronouns”.

Having specific examples from CoG/HG to go on helps a lot, actually! Specially since I’m familiar with Heart of the House. I guess the point of that scene was to show that Oriana has a sadistic streak and especially towards Loren (not necessarily towards all non-binary people though it does seem like it could be so) but I can definitely see how something like that could be uncomfortable to sit through as a non-binary person, so bringing gender into it does feel iffy, when it could just as easily be achieved in a different way.

(I assume Reaves’s introduction of Loren also changes if the MC is non-binary? That’s actually something I’ve been meaning to check for a while).

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I think this is a very thoughtful touch and not at all difficult to implement. Whether or not the game’s setting contains gender/sexuality related marginalisations, that sense of community and recognition is a very important thing. For me it immediately makes me think “ah the writer cares about this” and can be a really nice character bonding moment.

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Taking from personal experience here it should be noted that being different and acting different as well as things happening differently are correlation, not necessarily causation. My meaning is that being anything by choice or otherwise in any situation doesn’t always prompt a interaction or reaction.

This means that when it comes to writing any type of person (realistically and with respect) your always going to miss something that someone would do, be it independent to that type of person or universal to other types of people.

Personally, again, I like it that B can be done or said because of A. But in this case, due to my life style and this topic about being fiction, I find it doesn’t really matter what you do with it, and that it’s more about what you shouldn’t.

You’ll always get people saying you should be able to do this here, say that there, and you can try, oh you can definitely try. But you’ll also get people who will always feel that what you do is too much, not quite right or not something that should be bothered with adding in.

I’m blabbering on, ain’t I?

Short story shorter: It’s simply good to decide the amount effort you want put in when writing things in relation to certain aspects of charcters and people. It can make or brake the “realism” of the situation in a story or the story itself as well as drastically effect the tone and quality.

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It’s actually possible to acknowledge your MC’s gayness in Dorian’s presence before the romance starts. However, it makes for a hilariously awkward moment with his father. I only ever do it with my snarky bastard characters. :joy:

One moment I enjoyed in a recently published game: Getting to tell Gonzalez my MC was ace in Crème de la Crème.

I also generally like it when you are able to customize the experience of your character. For example, if you play an ace MC, the option to choose if you want to sleep with people or not. Or for a genderfluid character, the option to present in this or that way. That said, I recognize that NB experiences can vary wildly, so it’s certainly easier said than done.

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^^^^^^^^^^^^^THIS
this is what I meant in regards to not being a cis person with they/them pronouns

using Fallen Hero again, in thr wip of retribution if u’re enby and go in a friend date with Cheng he’s gonna go change clothes and we follow him to the locker room, and MC notices that there isn’t a enby locker room and think to themself “guess after me and Anathema there hasn’t be a reason to have one anymore”

thats what i mean little nods of acknowledge

just u know little things that acknowledge it, like some games if u a sarcastic person it acknowledged it and sprinklers little sarcastic comments here and there, same thing could be done in regards of gender and sexuality

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Awhile back I made a comment about how a lot of games often feel as if they’re written from a cishet perspective, and I was DM’d asking me to elaborate on my position. I feel like this is a good thread to make what I said back then public (with the other user redacted for their privacy). These thoughts also tackle sexuality–it’s a bit more “Differences in Portrayal of Queer Characters”, but I do specifically talk about gender as well.

When I personally speak of something that I believe is being portrayed through a cishet lens, I mean to say that I believe it was written with the assumption that a straight, cis person is the default. This can be malicious, sure, but I would hazard a guess and say that often (especially in this particular community) that it is accidental, born from ignorance of the other. We do write what we know. Switching mediums to give a very concrete example of what I mean: there’s a bisexual RO in Mass Effect: Andromeda. In his romance scenes, a male protagonist has very feminine movements, and there’s consistency issues re: the models’ heights. It becomes obvious to the player that these scenes were mocapped with a female actor and then the male model was plugged in to those scenes for the mlm romance. There are even voice lines that refer to the MC as the ROs “queen”, indicating that they likely never recorded lines to reflect the possibility that the MC is a man.

This is a pretty extreme example obviously, and often it is harder to identify in media that is only text, especially if you aren’t hypervigilant or familiar with the issue. I find that it most often manifests as silence. This isn’t inherently a bad thing: I’d much rather play a game that only ever mentions my MC’s trans identity during the option to set the variable, over a game that doesn’t even have the option to be trans.

“People with queer identities experience themselves and their relationships in different ways to each other, or in different ways to cishet people?”

I meant specifically: people with queer identities experience themselves and their relationships in different ways to cishet people. It is absolutely right to say that people, in general, all have unique experiences and unique relationships. There’s no One Size Fits All for anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality. My queer experience very well could be different from another LGBT+ person’s experience, and their voice matters just as much as mine, provided they are not actively spewing hate or false information into the community or to its onlookers.

Communities, especially minority ones that are Othered from the main, do develop their own communal cultures. This is true of races, ethnicities, religions, regions, etc. The LGBTQ+ community is no different. Hearkening back to my previous point, this is why I find the (metaphorical) silence of LGBT characters to be so telling as to what perspective the story is being told (written) from. For example, if you had a character who was proud of their indigenous heritage, it would be strange for them to never talk about their culture and/or display their connection to it. Or if they conversely feel disconnected from their heritage because their parents were ashamed and assimilated, I would expect the writer to communicate this to the reader. An example–If two Hispanic characters who would otherwise speak English in public were having a private conversation, the writer may specify that they’ve switched over to speaking Spanish with each other. It’s a little detail that probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the plot, but it references the characters’ cultures and history, while coloring the scene (both with characterization and the fact that the words being spoken are, to some degree, private).

A really good example of the expression of queer identity in interaction fiction is definitely @malinryden’s Fallen Hero series. If you play a trans character or pursue a mlm/wlw relationship, it’s handled fantastically well, and it’s obvious to me that I’m reading something written by a fellow queer person; they know what they’re talking about, and it’s evident that they put research into the things they don’t. There are so many good parts to choose as examples of queer-conscious writing, but a prevalent one would definitely be Ortega’s bisexuality and how the narrative addresses both their realization/coming out and their gender-preference, both of which are common bisexual experiences.

(I’m putting this next bit in a spoiler blur because I’m referencing a steamy romance scene late in the Retribution alpha.) An example of queer-conscious writing from a trans perspective is definitely ((the MC’s entire coming out scene)) but specifically how Ortega ((handles it really well)) makes a comment about how they’re starting to understand Sidestep better–like how it finally makes sense why they wear so many layers in Los Diablos [aka SoCal], even in the summer. There are actual plot reasons why Sidestep covers up so obsessively, but Malin, in that tiny bit of text, ties together Sidestep’s history with the very common trans experience of having gender dysphoria and how we often wear our clothes strategically to hide the parts of us that cause us discomfort.

“Apart from probably having an effect in what kind of situations one may find themselves (and who one finds themselves attracted to), how does having a queer identity affect how one sees a, say, friendship? (Friendship is a relationship, isn’t it?)”

(It definitely is!) To this I would say, it’s not exactly how we see the friendship, but how we act in the friendship. Believe it or not, I have friends who are cis and friends who are het but no friends who are cishet. I find it much easier to relate and connect intimately with people who understand fundamental parts of my identity and can empathize with my personal experiences. My mother, who is bisexual, is quick to banter about our shared identity with me, but she’s also said that she cannot talk about or allude to homosexuality with one of her straight friends who is a homophobic, (ex-)Trump supporter. I couldn’t ever be friends with someone who is homophobic as being gay is such a large part of who I am and what my interests are, but for my mom, what she gets from that relationship outweighs the negative. Her experience with her identity may be different than mine, but what remains the same is that it does influence how we conduct ourselves in our relationships with other people, especially those outside the community.

But again, it’s not necessarily a failing to have a story that doesn’t specifically address gender or sexuality. I think it would just be cool if more (both cishet and LGBT+) writers evaluated why they choose not to and if they’d be willing to attempt queer-conscientious narratives.

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It always bothered me that most non-binary characters in Choice of Games kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I felt so bad about that because I am non-binary, so shouldn’t I be happy for the representation? It just felt tacked on most of the time and didn’t feel like any of the interactions I had with real non-binary people. There are of course exceptions but there is this one character, in “Ratings War” I think, that always comes to mind when I think about this. The whole scene was like the MC couldn’t tell what gender they were and they got kind of defensive about it and it was just so weird playing a non-binary MC and not being able to tell them “Oh, I get it!”. Most of the time it also feels like a non-binary MC gets treated like a male MC and that makes me kind of uncomfortable.

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My experience and opinions as a nonbinary person is of course going to be very different from other NB people but here’s my take on genders like mine in CoG-

To me, it can feel a little bit like just checking off the diversity box sometimes. Part of the reason that I tend not to play NB characters even when the option is available is because it feels very “let me show you all these genders I know”, slapping on a different set of pronouns, and then calling it a day. It’s not that I necessarily want a huge amount of recognition for the character’s gender (that can get uncomfortable as well), but something acknowledging it in-game would be nice.

I disagree with the “cis people, am I right?” kind of talk because I’m not into that kind of conversation IRL, but maybe something like the option to either speak about it in a casual way (ex. in the game Dream Daddy, one of the characters mentions his binder) or show some sort of acknowledgement (with a R.O., maybe have them ask what the MC is comfortable with if they’re going to have sex). Actually, on that note- it might be interesting to have a time when the MC and a NB (or binary trans) NPC mention it and the MC has the option to mention how their experience is different (for example, I’ve had conversations with other NB people on why I don’t present myself in an androgynous way anymore).

Generally speaking (and I don’t think you’re going to do this but just for anyone who’s reading) I think straying away from discrimination is a good idea, since dealing with bigots isn’t a “dramatic in a fun way” kind of aspect of a game for me. Internal monologue is a bit different- showing some sort of discomfort with situations where gender is a dividing factor is fine.

I once read a book during which a character came out as trans and started going by a different name and pronouns. While I thought this was great, it felt clunky to have an extremely modern-day-progressive-conversation about it in a setting that didn’t fit it. Having a character come out/transition in-game/book isn’t the problem, it’s that it can sometimes feel shoved-in if it is implemented in a way that doesn’t take any heed to the setting or situation. Again, no bigotry needed, just be wary about the language and how much space in the story it takes up if it’s ‘unrelated’ to the main plot.

Also this is just a very personal thing, but the ability to identify as NB and then choose/enter in your pronouns would be great. I understand the difficulty with implementing they/them in CoGs because of how they’re coded, but I dislike a lot of default NB pronouns and would rather just have the option to do something else.

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thats just a exemple I used, it was basically saying this, about speak about it in casual ways, but also cause I talk like that but yeah that’s exactly what u said

exactly, that’s what I mean as just feeling like the enby character is just a cis person with they/them pronouns, its like “here u can be enby but no one will acknowledge it outside using they/them pronouns for u, and the game and environment wouldn’t acknowledge u either always using male female man woman ladies and gentlemen never mentioning other gender identity
it just feels hollow

yeep, and they’re always androgynous and without breasts, is just very tiring sometimes

I think when u’re writing a character don’t create write them just cause u feel u have to ur cause u want to be inclusive, write cause thats who the character is, if it makes sense, cause doesn’t matter how hard u try to make this character X if it isn’t who they’re if u forcing it on them, cause the reader will notice it,… urh man this is hard to put into words like, people say write a character independent of race gender and sexuality write first a character with goals defect likes dislike etc, and in part this is tru, write a character first and statement later, but also dont forget the statement the social commentary, don’t forget that what gender sexuality race nationality ethnicity they’re also plays a part in their characterization, that different background will affect people differently, like a character that’s orphan and grow up in the streets and didn’t go to school isn’t gonna talk behave as a literate person nor like the prince for example
urgh man words can be hard, I don’t think I’m expressing myself right, sorry english isn’t my first language so it can be hard sometimes to translate my thoughts process

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I have nothing to add except i love the maid from heart of the house.

That’s funny, because I feel like most of the time non-binary characters get treated liked a female MC, no doubt because I am much more sensitive towards forced feminity than masculinity in real life.

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As an individual, I rarely think about gender. I guess this is why I am struggling with the message that everyone pouring out their heart is trying to tell me.

I was given the following advice:

All of this is non-gender … yet in this thread it seems what is being said is gender matters. @hgbird claims:

and then describes a “steamy romance scene” as positive queer-concious writing a scene that seems to emphasis gender dysphoria and the growing understanding of that gender dysphoria from a RO.

First off, does “queer conscious” writing mean writing that displays an understanding of a non-cis issue while writing (eg gender dysphoria) or the actual insert of that into a scene that would otherwise not have it?

The reason I am asking is this: I can write about gender dysphoria and I can do so very well … but are you expecting such in writing about romance and relationships?

I was advised to ask for clarification because I am asking as a writer and contributor that is seeking help in portraying nonbinary experiences.

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The thing about fallen hero which I am not sure many a fully aware of is that sidestep is inherently dysphoric. Sidestep always have issues with their body, which means that gender-dysphoria sort of slides into the tone of the work easily enough without feeling jarring.

Also gender dysphoria for non-binary people in particular is so many different things that I think the writer should be really, really careful about including it. It would in some way feel more immersion breaking for me with gender dysphoria different from my own, than just not having it included at all.

I definitly did have a moment due to genderstuff in fallen hero where my immersion totatlly broke. I actually had to do quite a bit of leg work to head canon around it.

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@DreamingGames It seems similar to why most bicurious/heterofluid people would prefer to be called straight rather than bisexual (or gay).

I think the way to go is to treat it like any other customization. Hair, height, etc.
(Not claiming, of course, that it is the same.)
If the choice is there, make sure it gets at least references sometimes, and preferable have some NPCs respond to it, so it feels like the world recognise that part of the PC.
How much, or how little, is of course up to each author.

Like @DreamingGames I also tend to feel that they are too feminine, but as I’m male-leaning, and find the female body somewhat dysphoric, that’s probably mostly in my head.
We’ve seen it with the games that never specify the PC’s gender, half the complaint are that they feel like a woman, and half that they feel like a man. People have their own bias, and we are more likely to notice the things that go against it, than the things that affirm it.

I think this is probably a relic from an earlier thread, where the majority of enby and trans people responding, said they wouldn’t want to have to specify their character’s sexual characteristica in games.

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I think like with many things, this is an issue of personal preference. For example, I could not stand Loren from Heart of the House, though I know others love them, because certain things there rubbed very wrongly against my own personal experiences.

You can never please everybody, just try to write true to yourself. And I do recognize that if you don’t have those experiences, it becomes very hard since people will tell you different things depending on their own life. Nobody is wrong, but there is no single right for everyone.

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