Writing transgender ROs?

I’ve been playing around with the idea of writing a ChoiceScript game, and one of the mechanics that I want to implement are romanceable characters. I’ve spent a good bit of time building a cast of characters, some of which I plan to implement as ROs. Two of these characters are transgender, and while it’s not a focal point of the story, this would inevitably come up as the MC gets to know them better. I wanted to look at some other works that included trans ROs to get an idea of how to represent these characters well, but I couldn’t come up with anything specific off the top of my head.

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like there’s not very much trans representation in choice games. I’m aware that there are some games that allow the MC to specify whether or not they are transgender, but I’ve never seen one as an RO. I’ve seen many non-binary ROs (and MCs) in ChoiceScript games, but most of them don’t talk about non-binary ROs as transgender individuals, which some of them are. It makes me wonder why this is seldom touched-upon in choice games. Are readers not interested in romancing trans ROs? Or is it better to be vague about a character’s gender identity and let readers assume what they want?

I hope I’m not being insensitive, and correct me if I am. This is just something that’s been on my mind for a while now and I’d like to get others’ opinions on this topic.

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I think the biggest problem people have is they want to treat women or transgender folk as this whole separate species when writing about them. I’m sure most people would agree that whatever your gender identity is, it doesn’t make you less than anyone else. Now following that…if we are all equal, is that all so complicated? Actually, yes.

My personal viewpoint is that even though I’m transgender myself, that isn’t enough to make me like a character. They need to have actual character depth. I firmly believe everyone is equal and therefore, it shouldn’t really matter. So, that sums up my thoughts neatly. Yet, we do not function as a hivemind. A number of trans people would argue that there should be more representation, which I’m open to, I just don’t see why it should be the prime focus point, is all. I could defend their point too that they feel a little invisible and want to be treated normally, which is why I think that’s just it. We’re not space aliens, so why treat it as such?

The easiest thing to do is explain through examples, and I have a solid one. Sorry for spoilers, but I’m not counting it for a game that’s been out for years already.

Erica from Catherine. I loved her. So much that I am annoyed she was never an option for Vincent since she’s infinitely nicer and cooler than the Catherines. Plus, she’s adorable. I love her and will accept any letter of challenge from someone telling me otherwise. Of course, there would be people who would send me that letter.

The point? You won’t please everybody. Do what feels right. If you think something crosses a line, it probably does. If you feel like it’s fine, it probably is, since you’ve already expressed that you want to approach these things carefully.

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Oh boy, well if you’re doing it, Frosty, I guess I’m doing it! So… my example is going to be Kainé, from NieR Replicant.

Kainé is an odd example, because being trans is so intrinsically tied to her character it would be impossible to remove without crippling her identity. Usually I want fictional trans characters who are indistinguishable from their cis counterparts, but Kainé was handled generally just so surprisingly well that my brain goes quite dead upon seeing her.

Immediately, you’ll notice one thing about her is she’s wearing sexualised clothing. This is hand-waved by the game as her overcompensating for being trans by trying to pass as the most sexually consumable. While realistic - as I’m sure many trans women will agree - it’s a bad take for fiction especially when so many trans characters are already sexualised, so, ignore this. It’s Problematic™️.

Kainé is the canon love interest in the game. Her status as a transgender intersex woman is stated only in the extra material provided in a second playthrough, though it’s implied in the first. Though transphobia did help to create her furious and defensive personality as well as her outlook on life, being trans isn’t a defining part of her character over her personality and values, and I only assume the game wanted you to experience her without bias before revealing her as trans intersex.

Kainé is viciously angry as well as highly protective of people with self-esteem issues: both traits she picked up while living with transphobia. She bonds very well with the young boy Emil, whose Medusa-like power causes him to live as a recluse, and tells him softly in a tender and surprisingly quiet moment never to be ashamed of himself, for his existence is “not a sin”. It’s a very touching moment that reads differently once you know she’s transgender.

She often wears a rare type of fictional flower called a Lunar Tear in her hair. We later find out this is because this is one of the things her adoptive grandmother, Kali, gave to her along with dresses when Kainé was first adopted and accepted as a girl while surviving as an orphan in the wilderness.

She’s resourceful and pragmatic as a result, but Kainé is also very willing to sacrifice herself to save others, as proven throughout the game. Her no-nonsense attitude kicks the rest of the party into gear and aids them in working as a team. At this point in her life, Kainé shrugs off insults and belittlement like they were mere air. She’s perfectly aware of who she is and of what she is capable, and her worst outbursts are usually left to situations where people are in mortal danger; no present angst or conflict comes from her existence as transgender, unlike most young trans characters in media.

In the loose sequel, Nier: Automata, Emil, still alive after 8,000 years and somewhat mad, has built a replica of her old house and shrine filled with her favourite flowers, the Lunar Tears. At this point, humankind is long dead, but Emil - the sole protector of Earth for a time - still considers her a paragon of humanity: an example of why the world is so important to protect and why he could never give up on life. His memories of her keep him lucid even as he finally dies. It’s entirely platonic - Emil is confirmed gay, and even then, he is a child - but it’s important to see a trans character have relationships outside of being romantically/sexually consumable, especially one so meaningful it spurs the other to live.

Even more so, it’s shocking and honestly touching to see an aggressive, emotional trans woman considered the pinnacle of all humanity had to offer. Where women and trans people being emotional and angry at their experiences is seen commonly as delegitimising them, here it does the opposite. It legitimises them as human. I’ve always thought of that as a very ballsy move.

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First: Welcome to the community here at CoG forums @esutonia – your first post is quite the introduction :slight_smile:

Writing any character in general, let alone one that is underrepresented, is an involved task for the majority of authors/developers.

What I mean by that is when it comes to writing a well-developed, well-received and well-written character, an author has to not only do their due diligence in research (which you have discovered is harder for underrepresented folk) but also they need to do sensitivity testing, and a bit more throughout the entire process.

Many of the authors here (including the most prolific) are hard at work gaining the experience and knowledge needed to write transgender NPC characters as well as transgender RO. The authors I am aware of doing this are forging ahead but at various rates of progress.

I think there are many individual reasons and that this issue is one better answered on an individual level, rather than on a categorical level.

Speaking on a personal basis – I am trying to expand my writing and developmental abilities in the romance area of writing; I still have a long way to go before I can be confident in representing different individuals. I am working hard to improve my skills and eventually plan on including the many characters as romance options that at this time I do not feel I am able to.

It is my belief that many in this community are interested in romancing trans ROs that avoid the pitfalls and mistakes of poorly written characters.

This is a solution but many (including myself) feel this is a poor solution because by positively representing the underrepresented, more good can be accomplished.

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I know trans people still I don’t think I could make them justice. I think something worse than not representation in romances is a Stereotyped one.

I think a Cis can write something good and not stereotypes full but it needs really lots of research and development time And sensitive readers.

My objective is first learning to make deeper believable characters in general lgtbq or not and after that learning make worthy romances.

Until that i won’t make romance choices nb gender fluid or trans because I doubt my skills

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I’m with poison_mara on this one: Many non-trans writers hesitate to include a trans RO because they don’t want to accidentally use harmful tropes. It’s easier to include a trans PC than a RO because the player largely chooses their own personality, therefore the player is a kind of co-writer and can bring their own knowledge to the game. But a RO needs more character depth from the start.

Having said that, this is a truly excellent community with plenty of diversity, so when you beta test your story it’s likely that someone will pick up on major issues. And yes, do your research and think carefully about what you write. Always. It’s probably worth finding (and paying) a sensitivity reader.

One thing that someone else mentioned is that it’s refreshing when a trans character has problems that don’t necessarily relate to just their sexuality. My feeling, generally, is that there are a lot of “coming out and/or suffering for one’s identity” stories at the moment. It’s not quite a harmful trope, but it’s refreshing and wonderful to have trans characters who are doing just fine. The vast majority of imaginary worlds (and some surprising real ones, such as certain historical times or places eg in Iran gender reassignment surgery is extremely common because being trans is acceptable but being gay is not) don’t need to have a massive struggle for LGBTIQA+ individuals. Which makes a beautiful opportunity to have a trans character with no acceptance challenges whatsoever. Which is a beautiful thing to read.

I hope my rambling makes sense.

If possible, write what you know. “Own voices” (ie trans people writing trans characters) is the best (and you should definitely find and read some trans writers in your research, plus use whatever diversity you possess yourself) but my opinion is that authors should also challenge themselves (otherwise all my characters would be cis females, which would be pretty dull pretty fast—and not representative of the real world).

(I have a problem with brackets.)

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I totally agree. I’ve only been working with these characters for a few weeks and I already love all of them to pieces. Gender identities aside, the last thing I’d want to do is try to convince people to believe in a flat character.

I don’t want these characters’ gender identities to be the focal point of the game, but if the MC were to get close to these characters and form a strong relationship with them, I’d find it strange if this was never brought up. I say this because each RO has individual backgrounds that strongly influence the way they interact with the MC (and vice versa). For context, the story takes place at a private university, and thus most of these characters are students from wealthy families. The two transgender characters in particular have strained relationships with their parents because of their gender identities–it’s not because their parents are transphobic, it’s because their kids don’t fit into the carefully planned paths that they’ve always envisioned for them.

My point is, I do want these characters to be treated like normal people. Their gender identities will probably be given the same attention as any cisgender person’s. It won’t become a relevant detail unless the MC becomes familiar enough with them that they feel comfortable telling the MC about this.

Thank you for your input. I really appreciate it!

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Thank you for the warm welcome :blush:

I think the thing I’m struggling with most is how to represent transgender individuals fairly, while at the same time not getting so focused on it that it overshadows the real story. My first priority is making all of the ROs well-rounded and convincing. I personally find flat characters to be a deal-breaker in most stories, not just choice games, and I’d like to think that my characters have life stories, even if those stories aren’t necessarily real.

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I agree. I really dislike coming across overused and harmful tropes in any media. But if I’ve written these characters correctly, they’ll be just like real people, and not stereotyped cardboard-cutouts based on limited exposure to transgender individuals. I’m not transgender myself, but I’ve seen the difference between well-written and poorly-written LGBT+ characters.

I never knew sensitivity readers existed until now. The more you know!

I admit I’m a little guilty of using this trope, since although I’m not trans myself, I definitely have experience with the “coming out and/or suffering for one’s identity” part. Both of my transgender characters have unique issues relating to their gender identities, but they’re not so much about receiving acceptance from society as they are about receiving acceptance from their parents (and this is something that a lot of people, transgender or not, can relate to) and coping with mental health (which unfortunately I also have experience with).

I understand the desire to have transgender characters who are confident in their identities and don’t have to prove anything to anyone, and I hope I can achieve that. But I don’t really expect any college student to have their lives figured out. I certainly don’t.

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My advice is if you feel your characters as people with defects, virtues favourite colour etc… It’s far more difficult stereotype them.

Still, something as important as using Nb or trans not being one yourself is necessary to contact people with those experiences to guide you through the process and not make a trivializing choice or scene by error

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Why can’t we move away from sad trans people and move onward to happy trans people? Why can’t these people have some other problem at home or expectations in their fields that don’t have anything to do with gender or their transitioning?

“Trans suffering for cis entertainment” is… not great.

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If you’re looking for more RO examples. Kukoo from sacred games is a wonderful trans character

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I was being too vague there, and I apologize for that. I’ll use one of my characters as a more detailed example. This character is non-binary, and they come from a wealthy family, with a family business that they’re expected to take over. Their parents want them to study (insert related major here), but they’re more arts-oriented, and want to study Classics. The issue here is not their gender identity, but that their parents have expectations that they don’t want to fulfill. The parents might put “being non-binary” on their list of reasons why their child is defying their expectations of them, but it’s not a big, bold-size-36-font reason.

I hope that’s okay. I don’t want it to be anything more than a small factor contributing to their “sadness”. They’ll still be happy characters, but I just think it’s unrealistic for any happy person to not have some kind of insecurity, regardless of gender identity.

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