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Firstly, I want to thank you for including binary trans options in your game. I almost cheered when I saw it. I feel like trans women and men get bundled with cis women and men in CoG a lot because it’s not going to come up in the story and the pronouns are the same, so it’s nice when games acknowledge that there are differences.
As a disclaimer, I’m in a weird spot gender-wise and a (sometimes?) trans man isn’t the best source for advice about representing NB people and trans women, so take everything I say on that matter with a grain of salt. I think I can swing it on general trans topics, though.
I also want to say that I truly think no media is ever going to be perfect and that even media made entirely or almost entirely by marginalized people is going to have some kind of problem down the line. If it’s not one thing it’s the other. I encourage you not to stress too much about being flawless and just do your best. Not that you’re not already, but I see a lot of people refuse to write certain kinds of representation because they don’t think they have the skill for it, which obviously means that we get less representation, and since I’m not making a game any time soon (or ever), I would honestly prefer that even a cis person tries their best and listens instead of just not doing it.
I can’t answer a few of your general questions, simply because I don’t know the answer to them. They’re things I’d need to see in-game and make a judgment on afterwards, rather than come up with independently.
Obligatory apology for length.
How often do you want NPCs/other characters to respond to the MC being trans?
This is hard to answer because I’m not sure I’d know how often is often enough without playing the whole game. If I’m given the option to be trans and it’s never mentioned, I’m going to feel cheated, but if it’s inescapable, I’m going to feel like having a “normal” story is for cis people. On the bright side, I think it’d take a lot of work to reference being trans so many times that it’s overwhelming. As long as it’s relevant, and I’m not just being reminded that I’m trans for the sake of it, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Would you rather have NPC characters be generally accepting or have some minor NPCs be jerks about trans issues?
Does it serve the plot or a purpose?
I don’t know how you would include bigotry as a major plot point if the story isn’t about being trans and the struggles thereof. It’s urban fantasy with trans people, not trans fiction with urban fantasy undertones.
Buuut…say, for instance, a character harasses the MC or James for being trans (it doesn’t sound like what you’re asking about would be particularly horrible or traumatic, but just as an example), and perhaps either the MC or James leaps to the other’s defense…that would be a moment to illustrate their relationship, show off their character, etc. But is it appropriate? Does it fit? I don’t know. Maybe only you can decide that.
As for whether or not I want to play that, eh…I don’t know? Having a character defend the MC, or seeing something bad happen to a transphobe, especially as a direct consequence of their transphobia, could be affirming for some trans people. Is that worth potentially alienating readers who don’t want to expose themselves to that? Not sure. I think that’s also something you’re going to have to decide is or isn’t right for your game.
Would you like to be able to discuss being trans with your love interest? Your family members?
Coming out to a love interest that doesn’t know…interesting. I don’t think I’ve seen it done in a game before.
To be clear, although I don’t think this is what you even want to do, I’d hate to romance a character and then be rejected for being trans. I’m not sure if I’d want to have to roleplay explaining it to them, either, so if you did it, I’d recommend a short “hey, I’m trans,” maybe plus a throwaway “and then I told X what that means for them and our relationship and it was great and we can move on now.” Plus, doing a Q&A every time the MC comes out would bring your game to a screeching halt repeatedly. It’d be faster to gather everybody together and shout it at them through a megaphone, or hand out 101 Trans Facts flyers.
However, I’ve heard of trans people post-bottom surgery being able to, say, have sex, without cis partners knowing they’re trans. Trans women can have vaginas and trans men can have penises, testicles, and even get erect through certain methods; the magic of science! (Maybe James would approve.) So depending on whether or not the MC had bottom surgery, a love interest, even one they’ve had sex with, might not even know unless they were told.
I’m assuming choosing whether or not to have had bottom surgery won’t be an option, because picking all the minutiae of being a trans person would be a character creation screen of epic proportions–“Do you pass always, mostly, sometimes, rarely, or never? Are you on hormones? Are those hormones delivered via injection, gel, implant, etc.? Have you had top and/or bottom surgery? What kind?” I doubt anyone wants to code that, and I hate picking even hair and eye colors.
Perhaps you could have a scene, on its own or not (as in, maybe they were talking about something else right beforehand), in which a trans MC has the option of coming out to their love interest, but don’t make it mandatory. As in, the first option ends the conversation/starts a new one, and the second option is something like, “There’s something I want to tell you. I’m transgender.” I think that solves a lot of your problems; anybody who doesn’t want to have that conversation doesn’t have to and vice versa, and a trans MC could theoretically be impossible to distinguish from a cis person, so you’re not making any statements about what trans people look like.
I don’t have any strong opinions on family, right now, since we have James, and I feel like he covers a lot of bases, there. Maybe once I know more about them I’ll feel differently.
Would you like trans NPCs to have options to talk about their experiences with being trans?
If you mean, “Do I want the MC to have the option to ask NPCs about being trans,” I’m not sure. On the one hand, that’s something that could be abused, but on the other hand, it’s not unrealistic.
It also depends on whether or not the MC is trans, themselves. A trans person would probably have different motivations than a cis person to ask about another trans person’s experiences.
If you want there to be an option to ask trans NPCs about being trans, may I suggest using James for that? As the MC’s brother, he would presumably be the most open/understanding to questions, since they have a bond. Better than meeting Cal and going, “Oh, so you’re trans? What’s that like? ” It could also be one of those conversations that happened before the game starts–maybe James had that talk with them when he came out, and now they’re fairly educated about it and don’t need to ask general questions.
I guess the first question I should ask is: is there anything that bothers you about any of these characters? Anything you see as potentially a problem point?
Something–this is no way an indictment of you, so don’t worry:
Here’s what I know about James from your blurb: Supports his family, quiet, enthusiastic nerd, impulsive, hot-headed, well-meaning.
Here’s what I know about Cal from your blurb: Passionate, with strong ideals and a desire to leave a positive impact on the world, thinks broad and long term, occasionally naive and pigheaded, writes fluffy romance novels.
Here’s what I know about Takechi from your blurb: Comes off as hostile and a little snobby at first, has a complicated ego and thinks they’re the cleverest person in the room, but has serious insecurities around personal/emotional matters, critical, sharp, and emotional.
I feel like there’s a big difference between how you describe James and Cal and then Takechi; I get an overall positive impression of James and Cal, but I get an overall negative impression of Takechi based on your description.
Surely Takechi has positive qualities? I don’t know if you mean “sharp” as in clever or scathing, but if it’s the former, that would support their belief that they’re the cleverest person in the room, and a smart character is always good to have around. I don’t know if it was the intention, but when I read “emotional” I automatically jumped to “empathetic” even though it could mean “intense.” As an actor, I imagine they’re in tune with emotions, both theirs and others’–there’s potential to be secretly empathetic and understanding underneath their mask, and they could learn to harness that to undertake those responsibilities you mention. Also as an actor, they must be creative, certainly not shy, and may even have musical talents if that’s what their job requires. (Singing comes up every now and then, at least in trans male communities, but I don’t know if it applies to Takechi, so I won’t go into it right now.)
Where does their insecurity come from? Does it have anything to do with them being trans? A character who’s a jerk as a defense mechanism is a lot more sympathetic than a character who’s just like that; even moreso if the MC can break through that wall, and even moreso if Takechi can then learn from that experience and carry it into their interactions with others. Takechi ending the game as someone much more easygoing and less critical would be very satisfying for those who choose to try to make that happen.
I’m not saying you must secretly hate Takechi or something and want us to hate them in turn; I’m sure these are the relevant parts of their character boiled down, and if you had reason to write more, we’d have a much deeper understanding of them. A summary is a summary.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think trans characters have to be perfect so cis readers don’t hate them. In fact, I think Takechi sounds genuinely interesting, and of the characters you’ve listed here, I’m probably the most excited to get to know them. This is just advice (hopefully?) for what to look for when you’re writing them/about them so we get the whole character and not just their most extreme traits under a magnifying glass. I suggest putting them in a position where their mask won’t help them, so they have to be vulnerable and confront their insecurity, and preferably don’t punish them for that vulnerability. If they think they have to be harsh to get by–prove them wrong.
If your MC is trans, would you like the opportunity to talk about that with James? Or would you prefer the game assumes those conversations have already been had? If the later, would you like to be able to decide anything about those conversations or would you rather it be left to your imagination?
That would be nice. Being trans is something that’s going to keep being a thing for (presumably) their whole lives. It’s only believable for them to talk about it as such.
There’s a lot of potential for a conversation about being trans with James, specifically, because as you say, “He’s the MC’s oldest brother and a trans man who’s come out a good number of years before the story.” Being in the closet is excruciating. If James is the only/first trans person in the family and didn’t know how they would react to him coming out, he may have understood just how excruciating. Something like that could contribute to his character, and it sounds like that might be the case if his arc is about pursuing what he wants rather than what’s good for his family; at the very least, that’s a very poignant stealth-commentary on being closeted and coming out.
I don’t know how big the age difference is between him and the MC, but presumably he would have come out either before they knew they were trans or before they were ready to come out. Heck, who did James come out to first, or did he tell the family as a group? Kids have the capacity to understand and accept someone being trans, at least before the rest of the world gets to them–could he have come out to a potentially very young MC to test it out? Could he have told them and/or his other brother so he would have backup when he came out to his parents? This is all just spitballing and completely up to you–my point is, there are probably infinite ways you could handle it. He could have been the person who made the MC feel like being trans was okay, their confidante. I would kill to have even a trans acquaintance I know in person right now–there’s a lot of power in being able to talk about shared experiences, even if it’s just to find out that you’re not the only person who’s ever felt a certain way.
How about if your MC is cis?
That awkward moment when you would never play a cis character if you don’t have to…
I don’t see a reason to remove a conversation with James about being trans if it’s already there, unless he’s more cagey about it with a cis MC. Even though I’m out about my sexuality (or a sexuality I previously had) to one person in my family, I don’t talk about it because I don’t want to make things awkward or even remind her that I told her, because I wasn’t raised to even consider being not-straight and not-cis an option. Whether or not James would want to talk about it might depend on what messages he got from his family early on and whether or not they encouraged his trust.
Cal is a very a ‘out and proud’ sort of character who would be very comfortable talking about LGBT issues in general. Would you like there to be some point where they talk about it?
Sure. Even better if I get to play a character that can relate and talk to them about it, too, not just listen. (Although sometimes you just gotta soapbox. I understand. Clearly.)
I’d be wary of making Cal a mouthpiece, but…trans people talk about trans stuff. Particularly around other trans people. Particularly when someone needs to vent. If it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, backspace and it’s like it was never there.
Do you think it’s better to leave that implied?
I don’t see any reason to imply anything. We already have explicitly stated trans characters. If your story is “everything is exactly the same but magic exists,” presumably everything revolving around being LGBT is the same, too. I don’t think you or Cal have to be coy about anything. Let it fly.
Cal is currently the only nonbinary NPC and probably the character who is most likely to come off as preachy. Do you think that’s a problem? Should I include another nonbinary NPC who wouldn’t come off as preachy?
Is Cal preachy, and do you want them to be? I think it’s a perfectly valid character trait, albeit a flaw, and a dangerous one for a trans character to have. Either way, it’s a matter of perception, and you can’t control how people see a character.
Characters that are perceived as only being there to teach a lesson tend to experience blowback, but in my experience, it’s hard to tell the difference between people who are honestly concerned that a character is being tokenized and used as a mouthpiece by the creator, and people who just don’t want to be confronted with realistic social issues, particularly when they’re the ones who are privileged. Or rather, it’s easy to tell the difference, but people rarely want to admit which one they are.
I think as long as what the character says and believes is true to them and not a stand-in for what you say and believe (although there’s nothing wrong with writing something topical to what you believe–sometimes you just gotta soapbox), and you allow them to be more than just a trans person, you should be just fine.
Should I include another nonbinary NPC so Cal isn’t (potentially) the only nonbinary person represented?
If you want. More trans people is always good. I don’t think you have to have a completely even number of characters from every group, but particularly if you feel that Cal would only represent one type of NB person, I see no reason not to add another if you want to. It would be an opportunity to show that there are many, many, many genders under the nonbinary umbrella, at least.
My current thought for the MC learning that Cal is genderqueer being simply that Cal has a number of pins on their jacket/backpack and one of those pins is a genderqueer flag and another is a pin with ‘they/them’ on it. Does that work? Should I instead/also have Cal say something like, “Name’s Cal. Nice to meet ya. Oh, by the way, my pronouns are they, them, theirs.”
Both work for me. Since the MC has a trans brother or can be trans themselves, it’s fair to assume they may be able to recognize pride flags and understand what pronoun pins mean, and therefore they wouldn’t have to ask, or make a mistake and be corrected.
You might also want to consider Cal’s history with being misgendered and how defensive they are of themselves and their pronouns. If they’re not bothered by other people using the wrong pronouns when they first meet, they may be fine with symbols like a “they/them” pin and then correcting anyone who doesn’t notice/ignores that, and if it does bother them (because it triggers their dysphoria if they have any, because it signals a lack of respect, etc.) then they may have started preemptively introducing themselves with their pronouns to avoid that. It’s up to you and how you want to portray the character.
Being trans is obviously a challenge in a theater career. Should that be brought up?
Honestly, if it doesn’t have to do with their singing like I mentioned earlier (assuming they sing at all), I can’t think of a way in which being trans in theater would be distinct from being trans in any other job? Might be a question for somebody else, unless you’ve got any specific examples of how it’s challenging for them.
Unlike Cal, Takechi is a very, very private person who doesn’t like to reveal personal information in general. I’m trying to decide how to best reveal that they’re trans to the MC. My current thought is that this is something that only comes up if you’re close to them, but then that is content that not everyone would get to see. Is that alright? Are there better ways to reveal Takechi is trans without it being exploitative?
I think needing to be close to them to learn they’re trans is a fair trade-off. It sounds true to the character, and it’s much better than them being outed by someone else or a circumstance out of their control. I wouldn’t worry about some players not seeing it. They can always replay, which they probably will at some point anyway, because CoG is aaalll about branching paths and replayability. If they weren’t, you’d all just be writing books. It’s like any other choice in one of these games; if you choose to work on that relationship, you earn their trust.
One thing that occurred to me is that if James is always the same gender, and Takechi is always a gender the MC is interested in, you could potentially end up with, say, a gay trans man MC, trans man James, and trans man Takechi, which would mean you would have no trans women in your game, I presume? If you’re concerned about things like whether or not to add another NB character to balance out Cal, I imagine you’d feel the same about representing trans women. I suggest adding a trans woman, if at all possible, who’s always a trans woman, and/or allowing the player to pick if Takechi is a man or a woman–that way there won’t be as large an imbalance. Frankly, as a gay trans man (…so far), I’d love to be able to play the game with a trans woman Takechi and befriend her; such an interesting character.
You may also want to consider that trans women and men, while we have a lot in common, don’t share our struggles 1:1, and this is only compounded by race, sexuality, etc. Since Takechi is very private, it may not come up, but trans man Takechi and trans woman Takechi would experience different things. If you explore them being trans any deeper than surface level, you’re probably going to run into something that would be true for only one version of Takechi.
It’s super late for me, so if I don’t respond to anything in the next…forever…it’s because I’m passed out. But I’ll check in later if anyone needs me.