cave canem

Cave Canem- Beware the Dog

Friday, April 20, 2012

On Writing Tokens (Don't Do It)

Something I've been dwelling on lately. Minor rambling may ensue.

I've been working on a story lately containing a minor character who is transgendered. A character in a story full of morally ambiguous characters, he is a mercenary and guide-for-hire. His primary goal, due to his lower-class upbringing in a society with absurd poverty rates, is the acquisition of money. I also need someone to be revealed as a spy during the course of the story, and I considered him to be the perfect candidate.
After a bit, though, I started feeling guilty about it. I was making my only transgendered character a greedy, amoral traitor, and I worried about the implications of doing this. Wouldn't it look like I was being unsympathetic to transgendered and transsexual people? I don't want that, after all. As an active member of the LGBTQ community, I'm very supportive of transgendered rights and trans individuals. Should I rethink my vision of the character?

After some deliberation, I decided that I was being silly. After all, he isn't the way he is because he's transgendered so much as because it's the way his life and culture shaped him. As I said, all the characters in the series have some degree of moral ambiguity. It's a harsh sort of setting in many respects.
On top of this, I realized what I would be doing to him if I tried to make him less "offensive". I would be robbing him of his power to live as a character, preventing him from growing in the way that is natural to him. I would, in essence, be reducing him to a cheap, cardboard token. He would no longer be a person, he would be a carefully measured political statement. I don't write pamphlets. I write fiction. Besides, if I really want to show respect for trans people, I should allow them to be people. Equality means the equal opportunity to be a greedy bastard.

I guess the point of this is that when writing any minority, be it transsexuals, gays, women, African Americans, or what have you, write them as people first. Allow them to be good and bad, and don't just use them as stereotypes or as a chance to show off how amazing and tolerant you are. That way lies straw men and cardboard cutouts. Let them be their own people, rather than tokens. And remember, there will always be a few people who will take offense to your work. You can't avoid it. Don't sacrifice strong, developed, well-rounded characters to appease a few idiots sitting in the back and booing. Instead, treat them like you would any other character; let them triumph, let them fail, let them do great deeds and make silly mistakes. Give them their freedom, and they won't disappoint.

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