My novel has a minor transgender character. I've been struggling with what to do with pronoun usage when referring to this character, and the last couple of critiques I've gotten has made me realize how continually confusing my attempts have left readers.
Here's an excerpt from one of the chapters:
quote:Nathaniel went inside and took the elevator up to his floor. When the doors slid open, he saw Soe-ha. SHe stood by the window staring out at the city’s skyline, and turned to him when he stepped into the hall. SHe wore black stockings and a tight, brown woolen skirt. A cream-colored scarf lay draped around her neck and fell down her black sweater. SHe held a cigarette between her fingers, and blew out a thin, funnel cloud of gray smoke from her pursed lips in his direction.
I actually thought this was pretty clever. I capitalize the 'H' to emphasize that this is originally male. When the word doesn't begin the sentence, I use, 'sHe'.
The possessive pronoun, 'her', is a bit more tricky. 'HEr" seems too much like a typo.
I didn't do in-depth research into the matter, but I did do a bit of googling in order to figure out this pronoun usage. One site created whole new words:
quote: Ne, Ve, Ey, Ze, Xe.
I actually thought this was kind of interesting, except for several obvious problems. First, how many people are going to know what this means? I didn't, and I'm already getting the, 'What's this Korean word/name?' comment from readers. Adding these words will just increase the confusion.
Secondly, in the world of the story, there's no earthly reason the character whose POV I'm in when dealing with the transgender character is going to know those gender pronouns. Trying to put my mind in this character's, overall, he doesn't have an issue with her, personally. So on the one hand, I don't think he would simply use a male pronoun, 'He', 'Him', 'His'. On the other hand, he doesn't see her as a woman, which means that 'She' and 'Her' doesn't work.
Right now, I'm reading a book by a woman who I think had a similar issue. "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie. It's a scifi book that takes place in a world/solar system where gender seems to be in flux. Actually, I can't really figure out how male/female roles work in the universe of this novel, which has frustrated me since I'm 75% done. I do know that, except for maybe four or five times, the author has stuck with a female pronoun throughout the entire book for every character. I had been hoping that eventually this would be made clear, but I've begun to think that it won't since I'm almost finished the novel. I think the author just made a conscious decision to use a dominant female pronoun when referring to everyone in the book since the characters could be either/or. Which, you know, groovy. It would make just as much or as little sense to have stuck with a dominant male pronoun instead since gender is left in doubt.
Another book that comes to mind is Ursuala K. LeGuinn's "Left Hand of Darkness". Her book also took place on a world where the alien's sexes changed from male to female depending on something which I don't remember. However, it was an easier fix for her because when the aliens were male, they looked mostly male; when they were female, they looked mostly female. Of course, if you read the book, you know that a lot of the narrative tension came between the male protagonist from a different world and the alien he befriended who could have been male or female depending on the time of the year.
Paolo Bacigalupi's "Windup Girl" had a very, very minor character at the end of the story that was also transgender. I also don't remember what the author did in this case. It's definitely tricky, though, as you're left feeling that any word used doesn't really meet the needs of the writing. The problem being that though transgender isn't by any means new in human history, when it comes to modern mainstream writing, it's not something one encounters often enough to know how to deal with it in one's prose.
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Meredith's guidance accords with mine. Though I would include proportionality as an area for consideration. Not only how the viewpoint character perceives and feels about transgender identities, but also how the narrator portrays the transgender character, as well as how the transgender character presents to others and yet others perceive the transgender person's presentations. His or her nonvocal, nonverbal gender identity expression in the forms of attire, posture, movement, language, attitudes, etc., are nonetheless expression.
The transgender community specifically and the LGBTA community generally are sensitive to disproportionate gender and lifestyle representations. On one hand, if transgender characters are dispargingly portrayed overall, rather than through a character's judgmental impressions proportionately countered by other characters or narrator's sympathetic to degrees acceptance, if grudgingly or eagerly, that entire LGBTA community will be outraged. LGBTA has a large fantastical fiction following. I feel a disparaging transgender portrait would be unwise for marketplace reasons alone, except, of course, as social commentary about differing opinions and lifestyles, perhaps as symbolic of changing public attitudes.
That said, choosing a pronoun transgender label is problematic. Within the transgender and LGBTA community, the preference is to use the gender pronoun that the transgender person presents as. Nonjudgmental respect for individual choices is paramount within the community.
On the other hand, pronoun choice may vary as artfully needed in the moment. One of the more disparaging pronoun uses for any LGBTA identity is it, similarly that and plural impersonal pronouns. Also, gender identity nouns with articles, "The gays," to name one. Another is emphatically deliberate gender reversal. Longhaired males during the Postmodern social upheaval of the middle twentieth century were often labeled "she" as insults by antidisestablishmentarians, for example.
How gender identity is overall portrayed by the narrative is a matter of intent and meaning, in the moment or in parts and parcels. Does how gender identity is expressed have dramatic significance? Or is it gratuitous? Those are questions I'd consider as reader or as writer painting those portraits.
As a matter of craft, using unconventional labels that have undeveloped significance within a narrative break the illusion of reality spell. Fiction's reassignment of responsibility for opinions and attitudes, derivations and unconventional expression to personas within a narrative preserves the illusion of reality.
Signaling a transgender person with an invented pronoun I don't feel is either artful or respectful. Consider that a transgender person desires the presented gender identity as a mainstream identity, not as an alternative, countercultural identity calculated to offend or to alienate others or alienate the transgender person from mainstream culture. They as much as most reasonable people want to fit in and feel the sense of social belonging many people enjoy and take for granted.
Times have long passed the writing experiments of the middle twentieth century efforts to redefine gender identity labels. I believe, overall, matters of LGBTA gender expression have moved beyond lifestyle assignments' alienation and exclusivity and exclusion.
I agree with Extrinsic that etiquette would require that the pronoun appropriate to a person of transgender should reflect the individual's gender preference.
In sci/fi and fantasy, gender classification for characters who are not physiologically classifiable as either only male or female, one could propose the same etiquette standard: the pronoun should reflect the character's gender preference.
However, what if the character has no preference?
The angels in my The Kabbalist novel are an example of the latter. I found the whole possibility fascinating, and had fun with the angel Sandalphon ("Sandy") changing genders and making my protagonist rabbi uncomfortable. Anyway, in this case I did invent a pronoun ("S/he"), and it worked fine.
Since the way the point-of-view character refers to the transgender character would be part of your characterization of the pov character, I would think you'd want to show how the pov character has trouble deciding how to refer to the transgender character. Then proceed with whatever the pov character settles on (or is unable to settle on, if that's the case).
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quote: How gender identity is overall portrayed by the narrative is a matter of intent and meaning, in the moment or in parts and parcels. Does how gender identity is expressed have dramatic significance? Or is it gratuitous? Those are questions I'd consider as reader or as writer painting those portraits.
If I won the literary lottery and this novel published, and if the Nathaniel character more or less survived the editing process in his current incarnation, I'm pretty sure the rendering of him will be a minefield. I can already tell this by critiques I've gotten on chapters in which he features. C'est la vie.
quote:Anyway, in this case I did invent a pronoun ("S/he"), and it worked fine.
This is an interesting way to handle the issue.
quote: IMO, stick with the way the pov character thinks of this other character.
I feel like this is what Ann Leckie attempted in "Ancillary Justice", but in my opinion, she handled the problem in her prose poorly. I have been left constantly distracted by the fact that every character is referred to as female even though they all aren't. And even if her first person narrator has made this decision, I have yet to understand why, even after she's informed that someone is actually male. Which is my concern with this:
quote: Within the transgender and LGBTA community, the preference is to use the gender pronoun that the transgender person presents as.
To be realistic, the character would have to be within this community, which he isn't.
Playing with gender in alternate fiction realities is tough, especially in English. I remember reading that some African peoples had a specific pronoun in their language for an individual who is considered neither male or female, not for biological reasons but because of the gender identity they've chosen.
Korea is a conservative country, so people tend to be reluctant to speak of matters like this. But I noticed in my first year that some young girls in school would dress exactly as boys, with their hair cut like boys, their clothes like boys, their mannerisms like boys. And already it's sometimes hard to tell some Asians apart gender-wise, so when they seem to make an effort to obfuscate what they are, it's really confusing. A faux pas every foreign teacher has at least once is confidently referring to a a child by it' wrong sex.
However, finally last week I was chatting with a group of students before class. A sixth grade girl who'd suddenly went through one of these gender conversions was in the group, and another girl referred to her as boy-girl. It really was the first time anyone had ever mentioned it in public.
I don't know how it's said in Korean, and since when I used to ask people four years ago and everyone feigned ignorance to these girls who are obviously dressing and acting like boys, I think it'll be difficult to find out what word they use, if they use any word at all for it. A couple of other expats have commented upon this, but none of us can get a straight answer to the phenomenon.
But again, in English, gender pronoun usage has been up until now very black and white. Trying to come up with alternatives is head-scratcher.
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quote:Originally posted by Denevius: I feel like this is what Ann Leckie attempted in "Ancillary Justice", but in my opinion, she handled the problem in her prose poorly. I have been left constantly distracted by the fact that every character is referred to as female even though they all aren't. And even if her first person narrator has made this decision, I have yet to understand why, even after she's informed that someone is actually male.
From your descriptions I infer ironic commentary is the point. Formal mechanical style traditionally expects neutered male pronouns amd common nouns for indefinite gender usages. The careful imbiber will mind his P's and Q's. He will know if his ale measure has been shorted by a parsimonious tap keeper. A more discretionary decorum principle is human, humans, humanity, or humankind instead of man or mankind's indefinite gender noun uses.
Using female personal pronouns universally, ironically, for indefinite gender cases I infer is a rebellion against that traditional patriarchal composition expectation. "Ancilliary Justice"!? Does that not express a possible relevant cue?
An averred lesbian and feminist professor of classic and feminist literature in my junior year insisted upon neutered male pronouns for indefinite uses in formal response papers. I was confused by that until I realized she'd found her accommodation to that patrynomic grammar "rule" by the pronoun-neutering irony (The Little, Brown Handbook: "Agreement Between Pronoun and Subject Antecedent" 8b, 3rd case). Then I was amused. She balked but confirmed when I broached the subject privately. We shared a nervous laugh.
quote:Originally posted by History: The angels in my The Kabbalist novel are an example of the latter. I found the whole possibility fascinating, and had fun with the angel Sandalphon ("Sandy") changing genders and making my protagonist rabbi uncomfortable. Anyway, in this case I did invent a pronoun ("S/he"), and it worked fine.
This reader begs to differ -- it smacked me in the eye every single time. In a fluidly gendershifting situation, where the reader is perfectly aware that it can happen, just going with the appropriate pronoun of the moment makes more sense than does a hybrid pronoun. At least to me.
As ex says, the Ever-Growing Acronym** convention in polite conversation is to use the pronoun the person presents as. (Which may not be obvious to everyone.)
As to a more-mundane transgendered person... here's an example of how other people designate pronouns: My sister's former next-door-neighbor is a recent F-to-M. My sister just went with it and now calls this person "he". My mom doesn't quite get it and still uses "she". Point being, it will vary depending on the observation, experience, and ability to "go with it" of the observer, and that needs to be reflected in fiction. Not everyone is going to "go with it" for a variety of reasons (including "Huh?")
** In my observation there is no more a QUILTBAG "community" than there is of any other very scattered minority. However, there exists a vocal subset that is very, um, forceful about imposing their views as if they represent everyone.
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quote:Originally posted by Denevius: However, finally last week I was chatting with a group of students before class. A sixth grade girl who'd suddenly went through one of these gender conversions was in the group, and another girl referred to her as boy-girl. It really was the first time anyone had ever mentioned it in public.
I really like Meredith's practical solution. Use the POV to dictate what to use. If the main character thinks of his boyhood friend as Charles, then the current Charlene will be probably thought of as 'he'.
Hm. Actually, the central question was always how to *write* the pronoun in the text. So it was more how to express the character's confusion (if that's the right word) for gender in a way that's evident in how the word itself is written. But anywho, I decided to drop the capital 'H', so instead of 'sHe', or 'SHe', I'll just use 'she'.
However, History, I do like the idea of your 's/he' for the angel. I don't know what other readers besides Reziac thought about it. I remember reading "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski, and he played around a lot with the format of the text on the page. But as I've said before, for unestablished writers, I do think you can take less risks with craft. Or maybe optimize the risks you take, and if they seem too costly for too little gain, to probably set them aside.
'SHe' seemed clever, but too many readers seem to think it's a typo.
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Personally I don't like the sHE or s/he thing. It would get really annoying to me as a reader. I don't see why the point of view character wouldn't just pick a gendered pronoun for the character. If he really has no opinion either way, he should choose the one she'd prefer him to use (which I'm pretty sure would be the gender she identifies as).
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quote:Originally posted by Denevius: ...History, I do like the idea of your 's/he' for the angel. I don't know what other readers besides Reziac thought about it.
'Other readers' had no complaint, Denevius.
What I liked about using "s/he" was it indicated both the uniqueness and inconsequence of angel gender (i.e. there is no preference) as well as my gentleman (i.e. old-fashioned/chivalrous-chauvinistic) rabbi's difficulties with this.
...especially as the angel switches from one gender to another in a scene as appropriate to the moment. I found "s/he" to be less disturbing than suddenly switching gender pronouns (he to she) when referring to the same individual in the same scene.*
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
*Btw, as with all my Kabbalistic fiction, my angels (demons et all) and their varying appearances (including switching genders) is all drawn from source material and not of my own invention.
[ February 11, 2014, 05:57 PM: Message edited by: History ]
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I repeat my position from another thread on a similar and related topic. "I don't feel so much the label matters so much as the portrait."
In terms of gender assignment pronouns and derivations thereof, for me, a focal question is whether a label disturbs the illusion of reality spell. A perceived typo like SHe or sHe is a potentially strong disturbance. However, the medial capital case almost works for me. Medial capital case example: SunTrust Bank (part of the Digital age's contribution to ever-changing living language). Maybe in imitation of medial case a pronoun label like ShHe!?
Or shE, lowercase intitial letter even as an initial sentence word, since that too has Digital age precedent from user names preferred taking of lower case intitial letters. Consistency of use, and perhaps other medial case uses to reinforce intent and meaning, learns readers what's intended and meant. Terminal capital case I don't think has emerged in style precedents yet, but it could be artful. The Digital age is still an infant.
Forward slash-hyphenated and contracted words like s/he, or either/or or and/or, the previous two common in legal documents, contravene a writing principle that calls for simplified clarity. However, the rhetorical signal of s/he is one of intended confusion expression on the part, the role, of the viewpoint character's inability to accommodate the changing genders, which is the function and intent the angel intends. The context and texture give the slash hyphenated, contracted term meaning that surpasses its contraindication. In short, its strengths [transcend] its shortcomings. Additionally, its use develops the rabbi and the angel's characterization.
Also, the slash hyphen-contraction imitates the pronoun parings she-he and he-she used in common gender discourse. The only drawback I see is that a slash hyphen signals "or," which is History's intent, instead of "and," the meaning of a hyphen. General readers and writers are unfamiliar with though subconsciously aware of those punctuation marks' meaning signals.
In all, my analysis, the s/he works because it is rhetorically persuasive on more fronts than slash mark uses' general contraindications and not so great an illusion of reality spell disturbance. In other words, the portrait surpasses the label.
I won't share my alternative gender labels until I debut them in a published work. They are part of my A-game material.
Comma, pause or join or elision; period, stopped pause, or stop; question mark, query; quote marks, speech; apostrophe mark, possession or contraction; semicolon, strong pause with join; colon, stronger pause with join; dash, interruption; exclamation mark, bang, emotional interjection; ellipsis points, omitted or trailed off content; italics, bold, capital case: for special emphasis; slash, or; hyphen, and; and parentheses brackets, strong parenthetical aside. Plus mathematics and other iconic punctuation marks, ampersand, plus sign, minus sign, equals sign, division sign, multiplication sign, percent sign, tilde, accent marks, asterisk, at sign, dollar sign, etc. Square brackets and curly braces have their own signals for prose, akin to parentheses, stronger parenthetical asides, but signaling content edits or insertions, plus the exponent caret, emoticons, and greater-than and less than brackets used similarly to other parentheses, braces, and brackets.
I only lightly scanned the notes above so pardon me if I repeat something someone said or missed something, but here is my two cents.
How does the narrator know this is a transgendered (TG) person? Is the TG a personal friend? Generally, in public, unless the person is acting wrong, one might never know a person is TG, that is unless they look female and has a deep mail voice for example. Is this a society where TG are required to look/act different than regular society like a second class citizen? In my two cents, how the TG presents themselves is likely how one would react to them. If they appear female, you address them as female. If they look male, you address them as female. Of course, if they are prevalent in the society, there might be a new term for them, either insulting like Changling, or something less offensive such as THIRD, referring to the third gender.
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A term like 'changling' (that's a neat idea) could swing both ways -- it might be a respectful form of address, or an insult, depending on the situation and the society.
In Mary Gentle's Golden Witchbreed, children of the local hominid species are gender-neutral and are referred to as 'it'. There's consternation from the human visitors, who don't understand this nor the biology behind it, but are afraid of offending, so they kinda pretend they don't see it. Toward the end, one of the natives says to the baffled humans, "Why didn't you just ask??"
And then there's LMBujold's hermaphrodites, for whom the respectful pronoun is 'it'.
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I am of this latter opinion. If, as you say, this is a minor character in your story (and I have no idea if this character reappears) IMO, using a totally new description is an easier and clearer way to deal with this situation. Take a look at this essay on transgenderism by Elspeth Kydd, Jump Cut especially almost half way down the page where the topic is the episode titled "The Other". The planet they visit has a species called the J'naii who espouse 'sameness and gender conformity'. With this in mind, and if your story world works this way, inventing a term for this minor character might work.