Question for trans players re: character customization

I looked through some other threads to see what I could find about this but it all mostly seems directed at writing trans NPCs and less toward the player character.

I’m nonbinary, not trans-binary, so my preferences are informed by my own experiences, but I’m wondering if any of you have preferences about how “choose your gender” situations are handled. When you’re first fleshing out your player character, do you prefer your options to simply be “I’m a man” and “I’m a woman”? Or do you prefer to have the trans aspect of your identity acknowledged? I’ve seen games that simply include “I’m a transgender man” and I’ve also seen games that have you select your character’s designation at birth and then allow you to later make choices that amount to “[…]but I’m a man.”

Do you prefer one over the other? Do any of these make you uncomfortable while playing or feel immersion breaking? Does “lumping you in” with cisgender options in CC make you feel less alienated or does it fee like you were left out? I just know it’s hard as hell for me to find games that come at my gender in a way that isn’t… off-putting to some degree and I want to avoid that as much as possible for others.


Personally I find anything that centers birth assignment to be a little off-putting - basically anything that’s worded like “I was born a boy/girl but now I am […]”. Especially if the other choice is just “I’m a woman” without any qualifications, doubly especially if “I identify as […]” is used instead of “I am […]” - to me, this sort of choice just smacks of “are you normal or are you a fake” - in that case I’ll probably pick the implied cis option. In terms of wording I prefer explicitly saying the words “trans” and “cis” to trying to tiptoe around it. If there had to be a choice I guess I would prefer just choosing a gender/pronouns first and having your trans status come up only if it’s relevant.

But, like, I expect everyone to have different opinions on this. And it’s impossible for a multiple-choice game to portray the full spectrum of trans experiences and gender, so there has to be compromises. This is also part of why I prefer writing strongly characterized protagonists to blank slates in my personal writing. Even when you’re trying to write a blank slate, you’re going to exclude many people, so perhaps it’s better to have a specific vision of a character.

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A game explicitly giving you the option to self-identify as trans without any explanation is kind of strange.

If it’s going to be in there, I’d rather it be like Eagle’s Heir* but even then it was a little strangely placed.

*You chose the way you dress as an adult, then you choose what sex people identified you as before you knew about gender identity, then someone in the game asked you what you identify as and how you want to present (which can explain why you were dressed a certain way at the beginning)

Yep, I have a same way of thinking.
It feels unnatural with the way “I identify” or “I was a” phrases are written.

Now you mentioned the wording of the gender-picking customization, what do you think about the good 'ol classic

What is your gender?
> Male
> Female
> Non-binary


I think you hit the nail on the head for a few reasons.

Your approach seems just as valid as making a character name choice, like when you’re offered a few name choices but are given the option of text_input for the name you actually respond to, out of familiarity, or with what name you identify.

How complex the subsequent coding gets after that is the writer’s burden in IF.

Your simple method, supported by a text_input seems to me to be the most organic way to maintain smooth story flow and a unified IF writing style. Keeping it painless and less like an inquisition.

I think any time the reader eases into a story without justifying everything about themself, it will be an enjoyable read.

My test for personal identification inquiries is no different than any other identification, be it race, sexual preference or gender. At what stage is that required in the story? Up front or later as the story develops? I think that depends on the specific story.

To me, if the story is accepting of male and female genders, it must also be styled to accept non-binary genders just as seamlessly - without turning it into a massive Q&A or examination to define things that are better eased into where and when necessary, later in the story as detailed choices arise.

I read a few comments from non-binary readers saying that they felt “put off” by some of the more intrusive methods of defining their identity.

And their reasoning is they’re just people, not alien life forms that require dissection to enjoy being part of the story. I agree with that reasoning because no one wants to be treated any different than anyone else. That’s real acceptance, rather than merely being patronized.

As IF writers, we are inviting people to enjoy a ride in our carnival fun-house, promising to show them all a good time with thrills and chills with the powerful draw of acceptance, romance and interactions not always found in the mundane world. That’s a very compelling offer.

The tricky part is delivering on that promise in such an inclusive way that every reader believes the story was written just for them. I think that’s at the very heart of this craft.

We may think that has become more difficult recently but only because society is becoming far more aware that everyone does not fit neatly into two clearly defined gender categories. Between black and white, there’s a spectrum of gray.

I think it would put me off too, if the story reacted to me clicking on I’m non-binary character like choosing to be a Black character followed by, “OMG you’re Black? Tell me more about your Blackness.” I’ve substituted race for gender to illustrate that the same sensibilities might apply in how writers can approach something deeply personal to each reader.

Interactive fiction is one of the primary mediums that deals with that reality head-on so whatever styles and methods that emerge now are evolving by trial and error into something just as simple and organic as picking or assigning a name so the emphasis remains on every reader enjoying the ride.

This is relatively uncharted territory so I believe that listening to reader criticism has to be seen as important input - where the complete answer will eventually be found. At some point, style guides will come out for several aspects of IF writing as this medium advances and continues to grow and innovate.

The fact that IF writers like you and others are searching for answers to these questions is a big reason why IF has grown into what pulp fiction used to be when a mobile device was an inexpensively printed paperback, sold at news stands for a dime.

I’m not sure if agree with all of my reasoning but I like how you handled it in your example for those reasons.


Thanks! :ok_hand::ok_hand::ok_hand:

I actually really like this idea of allowing people to express gender within the game without having to break flow for “what’s your gender?” (or some variation of it) so that’s a whole other way to come at it that I’m definitely going to consider. It has a way of… de-escalating the question I guess? That’s the best word I can think of for it. As a player, I think I’d like this sort of mechanic in a game more than I tend to like outright “choose your gender” choices, even when my gender is available to me. It also seems like something along those lines would fit more naturally into the narrative too.

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The problem with a fancy way to choose gender is that more of than not the question either becomes too obscure or makes assumptions about the MC which are better not made.

Which is why it is often better to be relatively blunt about it.


I concur - Just looking at leo’s choice: “You chose the way you dress as an adult” out of context can mislead the reader into thinking gender identification is a life-style choice, which is often code used by non-friendly groups to delegitimize trans people.


I often dislike when the choice of clothes determine the PC’s gender.

It can easily seem like the game is saying that a person has to wear clothes that fit the stereotypical view of their gender.
You can totally be a trans (or cis) man, and wear gender-neutral clothing!

Of course it can be done well, and funnily enough, it’s also how I handle it in my own WIP.


At all of the commentary- play the demo. You’re not choosing your gender with the clothing choice, just your presentation. The game even addresses that:

-I want to dress differently based on how I’m feeling…

-But I know I’m a man*

*This is after choosing that the PC is assigned female at birth

It’s very tricky isn’t it. And you’re almost garaunteed someone won’t be happy with your set up.

The best any of us can do is make those choices matter. Whether the question has been awkward or oddly placed has never bothered me but when it doesn’t matter later on it does.

That said I think this uncertainty scares many writers. How to deal with such a new and mercurial subject. It’s not clear and defined and that makes one unsure and more often than not it shows in the authors writing. A riddle with no answer is just as bad as one with too many.

What I’m trying to say is do what you’re comfortable with. If it makes the story better add your gender options if it harms the story you’re better off keeping it simple.