Writing good characters with marginalized identities


#1

I didn’t see much of the Transfer dialogue – they weren’t in the alliance I went with – but what would you personally have done differently in reguards to portraying somebody who is transgender?

Out of pretty much all the CoGs I’ve played, your WIP struck me as the most inclusive of different identities, which IMO makes you particularly qualified to give insight as to what you might see an ideal as.

I might replay and specifically talk to transfer at every occasion, but what stood out to you both in terms of the good and stuff you weren’t so fond of?

My exposure to the trans community is entirely from the boozy clubby drag queen scene – which is probably somewhat analogous to transfer’s San Fran enclave – and so I what i saw in transfer largely fit what is the somewhat stereotypical mold I’m used to seeing in person.

I guess my open question here, and not to derail the thread again, relating specifically to Transfer, was it a bad thing especially in the context of a reality TV show, to base a character off a well known stereotype, especially one that’s at least marginally accurate?

When we first meet Jury he’s a stereotypical pretty boy jerk, but by the end he changes in ways IMO that are ultimately stronger because he started out as so stereotypical. From what I saw in the original trilogy, and started to see in the very end of Versus, ZS does a good job of going from “sterotype” to developed character, and perhaps given more time that’s what we’ll end up seeing here.

Also are there, for lack of better explanation, “style guidelines” written by somebody in the trans community for how to write about the trans community with out devolving into either stereotypes and being offensive? I’ve seen the newspaper style guide rules about using correct pronouns, but I’ve never seen ones specifically from the community, if anybody happens to know of any can they PM me, again, trying to keep the thread on topic.


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#2

As a transgender girl myself, I found Transfer to be pretty insufferable at times and rather rubbed me the wrong way, especially when they lashed out at Crystalline, someone who’s been an ally and very friendly, for seemingly no apparent reason other than the fact that they felt like they had more problems than she did and that those were more valid.


#3

I know you don’t mean anything by it, but the term transsexual is outdated and isn’t really approved of anymore. A better alternative would be transgender.

Ultimately, there really isn’t a good way to talk about Transfer, I think, because a lot of the issues are intercommunity issues. Is a stereotype harmful for an underrepresented community by associating us with wishy-washy behavior and an indecisive identity that ties into the false idea that all trans people struggle with body dysmorphia, or is it a good way to introduce cis people to the idea of nonbinary genders by setting up stereotypical tropes in order to try and deconstruct them? I’m personally on the side of the former, but the latter is something that other trans people may feel and they are entirely justified in their interpretation.
It can be incredibly dangerous to write with stereotypes regardless of intention when it delves into the realms of race, gender, or sexuality.

As for guidelines, I don’t think there’s any set ones since so many trans people still discuss what is and isn’t appropriate, but my personal requirement is that a good trans character is one whose status as a trans person is not directly related to their personality, meaning that they act a certain way because that is how they are, not because they are trans.


#4

^ I think, when dealing with something like sex, gender, and race this is the most important thing for me in any kind of written content. And that’s where I’m conflicted with stereotypes because I feel they can aid in character development if handed correctly, but whether or not it’s handled correctly, it’ll always come off as regressive to me.

That’s why I personally feel like, while a transgender character finds importance in the fact that they’re transgender, it should never define who they are. I notice that a lot of people have a hard to coming to terms with that. Either it’s unimportant to game play elements or everything revolves around that particular trait. I will never be surprised if someone goes in to any forum for any game and asks why a character needs to be gay (as an example) if it doesn’t effect their game play aspect. And it baffles me, but I have to understand that a lot of people don’t understand how much representation, even small amounts of it can really motivate a person to enjoy something. 100% of the time, if a game allows me to play as a gay, male character or there’s one prominent in the story, regardless of whether that game’s a shooter, a MOBA, an RPG, or a simulator, I will play it and I will enjoy it purely for that aspect. Unless the game is absolutely awful…

Anyway, I’m digressing from the topic of the thread, my apologies. Aaah.

Just wanted to agree with that point in general even if I derailed myself. >_>


#5

I dunno… It might be because I’m not trans, but Transfer was my favorite of the new characters. Weaver was alright, too, but I identified most strongly with Transfer - someone who’s rather socially awkward, who has trouble connecting with other people. I never once connected Transfer’s personality to being non-binary (in fact I actually forgot after my first playthrough).


#6

It’s not a place where cis people should be involved, unless there is a trans person heavily involved in its development.

Are you saying that some people (in this case, people who are not trans) should not be allowed to write stories that include themes that are being ‘discussed’ by some other people?


#7

I think it’s less the negative implication of “X person shouldn’t do this because they haven’t gone through it,” and more that people who have undergone those experiences should be consulted to give a more realistic experience.


#8

I agree with @Edgewen. I myself am not trans and honestly, I don’t think I could ever accurately describe what a trans person’s life is like or what they’re going through. No one who is not in that situation can because we haven’t lived through it.
Which does not mean people shouldn’t write trans characters. We NEED trans characters, just like we need characters of all sorts of identities, but doing so without consulting someone who actually knows what being trans is like is bound to lead to false information and harmful stereotypes, even if the author’s intentions are good.
Just think of all the awful, stereotypical gay characters that exist or have existed in the media thanks to straight writers who often seem to have no idea what they’re doing. Homosexuality is an identity that most people nowadays at least sort of have an idea of, yet most stories involving gay characters are still everything but positive. (/cough/ lesbian character death /cough/)


#9

@Edgewen and @blackrising say what I mean very well.


#10

It certainly doesn’t read that way to me, even after reviewing it with your words in mind. Nonetheless, I will take them at your words.

I disagree intensely with exclusionary statements and continue to have misgivings even with your interpretation. If an author had always been required to seek input on every social arena to which they do not belong, I believe we would be lacking in every great work, including many biographies.

Edited to add: I believe reference material and input will almost inevitably create a better work but I believe good-great-masterpiece works can still be made with imagination and insight.


#11

Whoops, thought I fixed that, I changed it to say transgender.

Ya it’s definitely a slippery slope writing stereotypes but ZS has done the progression well enough in the past that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Although that said, if the first thing that happens in part two is transfer gets voted out then it’ll be harder to justify.

I mean, from the original trilogy, if you side with the populars in book 2 then really The Bear just comes off poorly, but if you side with the underdogs and chat with him, it’s more nuanced.

What were your thoughts on the big off camera fight about discrimination from book 2 of the original trilogy if you don’t mind my asking?


#12

Others have asked me to start a new thread about this: how to write from something besides your own perspective, in order to add diversity and realism to a game (or story) without perpetuating ignorance or adding to stereotypes.

I think there will always be some problems in translation, which is why it’s so critical to get feedback from the people who actually experienced it. But with some research and effort, you can avoid them in the first place.

Sociology has been helpful to me. It taught me to question assumptions about how people act and why, how to find people to ask to get the straight answer, and has given me a lot of practice in picking up new concepts or terms that matter to people.

And of course, if you’re an outsider, never think you’ve got it down. As of moving to California about eight years ago, I was an expert on sexual and gender minorities. Then I realized I was still getting all kinds of things wrong, and my trans friends were humoring me. I’m embarrassed by things I misunderstood even a year ago, on this forum… but I asked, and now I know better.


#13

I think representation is extremely important. Also I do admire that people are trying to include marginalized characters in their work. Even if there are stumbles and mis-steps their intentions are generally good. I see it as a work in progress, things are going to get better, or so I hope.

When I wrote my game with my bisexual protagonist, and her transgender best friend I made a point of running the game past a bunch of other LGBTQ people to ensure that it didn’t come across as offensive. I also asked one of my female friends specifically to look it over, because I was worried it might be sexist.

Even though I do identify as queer, I’m just one person, I might make mistakes, and I really value other people’s input.

I think that’s the best way. Do your research certainly, and don’t be afraid to include GBLTQ characters. But also make sure you’ve got other people to read over your work, and correct you if need be. And if someone says something is offensive, and explains why, it might be time to do a rewrite.

Listen to those others, ask for their input, and consider their advice, particularly if they’re speaking about an area they have more experience of.

And if you do make a mistake, apologise and learn from it.

Also from a couple of years ago. Transgender Characters In Choice Games


#14

Thanks for opening this thread - I wanted to reply to a couple of things there but it would have been off-topic.

With that said, I’d like to address a couple of things here, if I may:

@blackrising seems to think that because they are not trans, they could not possibly write about a character who is. I’d like to challenge this. As a general rule, writing about a marginalized character requires knowledge of the situation, perhaps familiarity but not necessarily experience. We all can write about a mentally ill person, or as a non-alchoholic, we can write about a totally addicted person to alcohol.

There are a couple of keys to doing so successfully: first and foremost, to succeed we must realize that each character is an unique individual; this is where Transfer as a character totally fails and instead of being a multifaceted character with one facet their sexual identity being transgendered, they become an offensive, cardboard shallow trope reinforcing stereotypes.

@Shockbolt brings up an interesting twist in that some stereotypes have some basis in fact - and they are right in thinking you can start with a stereotyped character - it is what a writer does with that character after that determines the success of that character.

Just as there are a million shades of “Christian” characters there are just as many different types of transgendered characters; each individual should be portrayed as such, no ands if or buts. It does not matter what type of character you are writing; they can share some stereotypical characteristics but they should have other characteristics that break the bounds of that stereotype as well.

For someone not as knowledgeable about the situation, life, trials, habits, dangers, etc that a transgender character encompasses the best thing to do is to have a person or persons to go to as a primary source and for advise and feedback. If I want to write about a submariner, I’m going to consult someone who knows their business - the same principle applies to a character who is transgendered. If I write about a transgender character, let’s say a female to male, I will want to get a person who is a female to male transgendered person as part of my internal, private feedback team.

You don’t need to be transgendered to write about transgendered characters or situations, you just need to do your homework and follow-through.

Edit: Please do not read into my words a belief that I think “transgenderism” is a illness or sickness. That is furthest from reality.

Edit 2: @FairyGodfeather says much of what I said so, somewhat ninja’d.


#15

They should be a fully fleshed character first, and their identity second. For a simple example, a character should not be written as a “strong female character” but a strong character. From there, a “strong female character” is born. Being LGBTQIA does not define a person and their abilities, same with their sex or gender identity. When the topic is approached, it should be handled according to the character: do they gain strength or insecurity from their identity? Has that changed from when they were younger? How does that suit their personality? Would they hide the fact that they dis/like that part of themselves to some degree? Shame, pride, vulnerability, and empowerment are all important parts of non-traditional identities that should be thought about. How has this identity internally made this character struggle or become empowered, rather than externally?

I might be a minority in this, but when the most notable thing about a character or the most memorable thing about their personality is that they are LGBTQIA, it doesn’t make them feel human. As an intersexed individual, I already have struggled a lot with feeling human, especially when I was younger, and it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth because being intersex does not define me as a person. Transfer is a character that I am on the fence on: I do not think they came across as a very empathetic person, nor was ze fleshed out enough about their insecurities and strengths, but there are little bits that poke out to me as really great character writing.

The MC of Redemption Season on the other hand was a smashing success in that regard, as much as I disliked them as a character, they felt believable. They struggled with their identity. They had moments where it made them feel powerful or disgusting, and people around them acted accordingly. They had selfish moments and felt strongly for ani-powered and disembodied rights. It wasn’t a character I wanted to play, but they were a character in their own right.

For example, I think many characters in Versus were well written in that regard, as well as the original Heroes Rise trilogy, even if it got a little heavy-handed. Awoken(WIP) has a good nongendered character. There are so few well-written LGBTQIA characters in fiction, and every time a character outright declares to a stranger “hey by the way I’m x” it feels less progressive and more like lampshading tokenism.


#16

Like multiple people, including myself, have said, people would do best writing a character outside of their identity by getting input from someone who does identify that way. A black woman would do a far better job writing about the struggles that specifically black women go through than I would, so if for some reason it was incredibly important for me to include the misogynoir that they suffer (in all honesty I feel it’s not my place to discuss misogynoir specifically in my writing and I’d much rather read a black woman’s take on it as she would understand it in ways I never would) in my writing, I would be able to best do so by asking for a black woman’s input and taking ideas by her so as to avoid offending other black women in my audience. Just like if she were to write about Islamophobia, she would be best to talk to a Muslim, and that Muslim would be best talking to someone who is Christian if they wished to write about Christianity, that Christian would be best to talk to a gay person if writing about homosexuality, and a gay person would be best to talk to someone who is trans about trans issues. Like what we have been talking about.
I personally believe that developing any sort of understanding about what a specific community goes through cannot be possible without speaking to someone from that community. I disagree that we would be lacking great works if everyone did this, in fact I believe it would make them better. Especially for a biography, because how can you write about a person’s life if you do not understand it?

For the most part, I liked it since it showed that being a member of the LGBT+ community doesn’t automatically make you accepting of everyone else in the community. I never chatted with The Bear afterwards since what he said was so awful, do you mind telling me what he said?

And for everyone, please be careful with the terms you use. “Transgendered” is inaccurate and there are many trans people who do not like it. It would be better to say “transgender,” and “agender” for characters who do not have a gender.


#17

I wouldn’t phrase things that way. I have mental illness, I’m not psychotic though. (I have had psychotic episodes as a side-effect of some anti-depressants I’ve been prescribed though and found it terrifying.) The portrayal of mental illness, by those who don’t experience it is a tricky thing. There’s so many harmful stereotypes out there.

I do love that Depression Quest exists though, and how it simulates depression, and allows those who’ve not experienced it to get a glimpse of what it’s like. I think interactive fiction can be such a powerful tool. (Just as I love reading other twine stories written by marginalized people, about their own experiences.)

I also liked how Zombie Exodus normalised characters with mental illness. That it is a practical consideration in the need to acquire medication, but it doesn’t define the characters. Nor does it ever make them dangerous.


#18

I knew my phrasing in that sentence or two was “off” from what I was trying to say. I’m sorry, just as I know transgender is not an illness to “cure” - I know that not all mentally ill people are psychotic.

My personal, daily, experience is with a mentally ill person who is psychotic and off her meds; therefore I tend to think of her first whenever mental illness is involved. I care very much for this person and so these issues are near and dear to me and after experiencing a relationship with her in my life, I have changed.

Long and short of it is, I am sorry I did not word things better.


#19

No harm done.

The one schizophrenic guy I’ve met (well at least who I knew was schizophrenic) was quite a character. He did have some wild stories to tell and not the best grip on reality or the truth. It was when I was first homeless in my teens and we were both in a care scheme for vulnerable youths. He was there because he was getting abused by his partner. That’s not the sort of stories the media tells though. They tell us that schizophrenics are dangerous, not about how at risk they are.

I do know it can be really difficult to deal with people who are psychotic though, especially off their meds, or with meds not working.

I would like to see more characters with mental illness who’re not defined by their illness. Who are not dangerous, or villains. Who’re also not magically cured, especially not by the power of love, and who may sometimes struggle.

Speaking of that, I’d like to see more disabled characters in general, who’re not defined by their disability, and who are not magically cured. Because in real life there often isn’t a magical cure.

I actually loved Way Walkers 2’s handling of disability. That at the end of the first game you can get a disability, and that that has a knock on effect in the second game. And just the kindness and understanding that some of the NPCs show to your character. I thought it made the game richer.


#20

For writing about marginalized identities, does anyone have specific references to share? I know there are a few blogs that specialize in that sort of stuff but having a list I think would be useful for a lot of writers. Especially those trying to write outside of their comfort zone.