Why We Need Trans Romance by E.E. Ottoman

I was going to write a formal argumentative essay on why we need to be writing trans main characters in romance. I was going to have it bullet pointed, go through each point in detail and make a case for how and why it applied to romance writers and readers. I never finished that article.

Instead I find I want to tell a story.

I.

I am in my early twenties reading online message boards about people’s transitions.

You need to realize, one person wrote, that coming out as trans could very well mean losing everyone in your life and never being in a relationship again. You have to ask yourself, is it worth it.

I stood in front of my full-length mirror later that evening and stared at my reflection.

I imagined never getting married

Never having a family

Never sharing my life with someone, building a home with someone, waking up next to someone each morning.

I imagined never being in a relationship again, never having a lover.

Never being touched again in passion.

I asked myself is it worth it?

The answer was yes.

But it still broke my heart.

 

II.

A friend of mine has written about making the decision to get top surgery when he was about sixteen.

He wrote about a family friend of his, someone who he trust and admired, who took him aside the night before he left to have his surgery.

She looked him in the eye and told him point blank, No one will ever find you attractive if you want through with it. No one would ever want to touch your body again or have sex with you. If you do this then you will always be alone.

But he did it anyway.

 

III.

It’s an old narrative, I’ve seen it hundreds of times, on the TV, in movies, on the news, in books.

The hero realizes the woman he’s been lusting after, courting, sleeping with is a trans woman.

The horror of this moment is so strong it reverberates through the rest of the story, shocking audience and characters alike.

In order to save himself the hero rejects her, screams slurs at her, denies anything he might have felt, casts her away, maybe even beats her, or murders her.

This is the story.

It happens over and over again.

Every time the story isn’t about her, her decisions, her feelings, her hopes and dreams. Her life.

It’s about him, and even if he repents and learns the errors of his ways, it will still be about him.

She is never going to get to be more than what he has done to her.

She’s not going to get to be heroine of this story.

She’s not going to get a happy ending.

 

IV.

You can’t expect cis people to look at you and want you, someone tweets at a twenty-four year old trans woman I happen to follow on Twitter.

You can’t expect them to find you attractive, unless that’s their fetish.

It doesn’t matter that you identify as a dyke, another user adds. You have to understand most lesbians aren’t going to want to see you naked. They’re not going to be into cock. You’re just not their thing.

 

V.

As part of my professional training once I took a workshop on supporting trans survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.

The numbers of people who are abused in the trans community is incredibly high, the facilitator told the room.

There are lots of reasons of this, but one of them is that the trans community doesn’t have a lot of healthy relationship models. Many trans adults I’ve spoken to don’t know what a healthy relationships would look like for them, what it would feel like to be in one.

A low, shocked murmur goes through the room. Most of the people there are cisgender, the head of the GLBT center – who isn’t – looks resigned.

Hours later, what the facilitator had said stays with me. I sit at my computer and ask myself, Would I know what a healthy relationship for me would look like, would feel like? What is my relationship model?

I can’t come up with much of an answer to any of that.

 

VI.

It is commonly understood that m/m romance readers cannot be expected to want to read about trans men the same way they want to read about cisgender men.

M/m romance readers and most het romance readers too, or so goes the general wisdom in the genre, love cock and hate vagina. To make them read about trans men would be to unfairly force them to come into contact with vagina.

In romance, readers in general cannot be expect to want to read about trans characters, to empathize with them, or to desire them.

That would be just too far of a stretch.

It’s not about transphobia, I remember very distinctly at one point being told by a reader, it’s about personal taste. If you want to read about transgender people fine, but you can’t force me to, it’s just not my thing.

It doesn’t matter how big his cock is, a m/m romance author wrote in the comments of an article about whether size matters in romance. Just as long as he has one.

 

VII.

For a long time I believed (and part of me still does believe this) that I didn’t deserve to be loved by someone who would respect my trans identity.

This was never a decision I came to, never a point when I sat down and thought, you will never have a partner who takes your gender identity seriously and respects the choices you’ve made with regards to how you identify. I just fell into assuming it would never happen.

My identity was so complex, changing and evolving, something I struggled to articulate to myself much less other people.

I wasn’t trans enough. I didn’t make a convincing man with my soft curves and tiny hands. I wasn’t on T and didn’t have any plans for gender affirming surgery of any sort. I hovered somewhere between being most comfortable with they/them and he/him.

This was something about me even my own mother couldn’t accept, as she’d told me, crying on my shoulder when I’d fearfully, haltingly tried to come out.

How could a lover accept it – how could I even ask that?

How could I ask a lover to use the right pronouns, much less think of me in a certain way, understand the ways I wanted my body to be looked at or touched?

How dare I ask or expect these things, when I couldn’t identify myself clearly and understandably as transgender?

When I couldn’t bind my chest down flat.

When I couldn’t pass as cis anything most of the time.

Even if they were willing to humor me and go through the motions, it would never really reflect what they thought of me or how they felt. It would never come from a place of respect or understanding. It could never really be that.

Queer women, articles I read warned, wouldn’t want you if you were too masculine.

Gay men wouldn’t want you unless you’d been on T a certain number of years, had top surgery and genitals that looked a certain way. They want real men after all.

Straight people in general would just never be able to understand, full stop.

Stories of people coming out as trans and being rejected by their lovers, partners, husbands, and wives abound in the trans community – both fictional and not. And every time I’d read one I’d nodded my head, understanding.

No one will ever love you for who you are.

Even if they do fall in love with you, it will be with the cis parts only, never the trans ones.

Maybe, if you are very lucky, work very hard, and are very understanding they might come – in time – to accept the trans parts of you, and be able to look past them. Even then though they will never truly be able to love those parts of you.

Maybe, if you’re lucky.

But probably not.

 

VIII.

For a romance author I’m not much of a romantic.

I’ve read plenty of blog entries about love at first sight

(Which I don’t believe in)

That there is one true love for everyone

(Which I don’t believe is true)

That romantic love will over come all obstacles

(Which I still don’t believe)

I remember starting a conversation about what really defined a Happily Ever After ending in romance and being accused of not respecting romance genre traditions enough.

(Which at this point I kind of take for granted)

Yet here I am, year after year.

A card-carrying romance author.

And it comes down to this:

I refuse to believe that I will always be alone, that being trans has doomed me to isolation and unhappiness.

I refuse to raise another generation of trans children who believe that is true, that they are fundamentally unlovable because they are trans. Who live without ever seeing people like them portrayed as being in a happy, healthy relationship. Who never get to see themselves as the heroes of a story about love and being loved.

I do think I am deserving of love. Not despite that fact that I am trans, not because I’m someone’s fetish but because I am me, and that’s going to have to be good enough.

Moreover, I deserve to be respected by my partners. Not despite the fact that my gender is sometimes messy and sometimes complicated. Not because my life fits into some sort of education/redemption narrative that they are the hero of. But because I have decided that in order to love me they must love and respect all of me – including my gender.

And because it is MY body and MY gender I am the one who gets to decide what pronouns I use, how I dress and how I want to be touched, or loved.

They are the ones who get to say all right, and love me unconditionally.

This is important to me; necessary and vital.

This is my happy ending, and to me this is why romance matters.

And this is why trans romance is important.


About E.E. Ottoman

E.E. Ottoman is a geek and a gentleman. They spends their time mostly in libraries doing research, and sometimes, when there is no one else there, dancing in the aisles. E. has always adored speculative fiction, especially paperback fantasy and science fiction. They loves a good ghost story and thinks every story becomes automatically better if you add tentacles. Overall, though, they just loves a story that is fun to read. E. is especially fond of writing and reading stories with geeky, queer people doing awesome and sexy things.

They grew up in the woods, farmlands and mountains of upstate New York and has spent most of their adult life trying to spend as much time as possible back there. They are the oldest of four and can often be found actively engaged in hijinks with their three other siblings. E.E. Ottoman has two degrees in history, another one in law, and one very spoiled princess cat. E. would like to be a history professor or maybe just a professional author one day, only time will tell.

When not writing, E. loves to cook and looking dapper in menswear. E. is an avid powerlifter and can often be found at the gym trying to hit a new max weight.

E. identifies as a queer, nonbinary, trans dude and is involved in radical queer activism, which involved writing novels amongst other things.

They is actively trying to change the world (and maybe the past) one novel and work of history at a time.

E.E. Ottoman’s pronouns are:
they/them/theirs
he/him/his


About A Matter of Disagreement

A Matter of DisagreementThe rise of mechanical animation, and its popularity at court, is threatening to end Andrea’s scholarly pursuits of spell craft and literature—and force him to let go of his assistants, who depend on him to support their families. In retaliation against the field that is ruining his life, Andrea begins to campaign against it. The efforts gain him notoriety, but do not solve his financial dilemmas.

When he is dragged to a party by his brother, he comes face to face with the man who pioneered mechanical animation: Leon Gregory de la Marche VI, Marquis de la Marche. And he is not at all what Andrea expected.

Grab a copy on Amazon US
Or on Amazon UK

31 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Your post made me sad AND happy. I’m cisgender but I hope to some day make a difference in some trans persons life. I have children with many friends, and I also have some say in hiring new employees at my job. I promise to try and make things better for the trans people I will meet in the future.

  • Man, you’re breaking my heart and putting it back together in defiance. I hear you on sitting between all the chairs.

    Reading this,

    “Queer women, articles I read warned, wouldn’t want you if you were too masculine.
    Gay men wouldn’t want you unless you’d been on T a certain number of years, had top surgery and genitals that looked a certain way. They want real men after all.
    Straight people in general would just never be able to understand, full stop.”

    it occurs to me that bi/pan-erasure doesn’t just hurt bisexuals.

    It’s a fucked-up world, but not without people who make it worthwhile to hang in there. (Or, as my man says, ‘Life’s a bitch, but some of the puppies are cute.’) So, here’s to making more books that shine a light on those, and give the finger to the narrow-minded destroyers of hope and joy.

    • “it occurs to me that bi/pan-erasure doesn’t just hurt bisexuals.”

      Especially the erasure of bi/pan men, because while sometimes these kinds of “dating in the gay and lesbian community” will talk about “queer women”, when it comes to men it’s always “gay men” and it’s pretty much accepted as common knowledge that “gay men” won’t date trans men full stop and that the ones that will only date trans men who have been going through medical transition for several years at least. Now do I believe this is a 100% true? No I don’t, but it’s an extremely common assertion that I see all the time (especially in trans spaces.) But one of the things that is interesting about this assertion is that it erases all sorts of other queer men.

      Anyway, thank you so much for commenting :)

      • Yeah, that. It’s been on my mind for a while now, and I’m working on a plot in that context. Still kicking it around in my head, but it’ll be the next one I’ll tackle after I have the current one out the door.

  • Thank you for this post. I think more trans* characters in romance would be lovely. Everyone should be able to find themselves in story. And as we all know, the amorphous “they” who know so much about what people do or do not want to read, who people do or do not want to love, or lust for, are full of crap. Here’s to love. :)

  • Over the course of this month I’ve read some amazing posts, a couple the mirrored my own life experience, and some that made me think.
    When you’re having a conversation with someone, they look you in the eye, and tell you something personal, intimate and true, and you take their hand or hug them. This post . Thank you.
    And it goes without saying that you, like all of us, are deserving of love.

  • Every time I read another post here on QRM, it puts another piece of the puzzle in place, what it means when we say love is love, that love is not a subgenre, how vital it is to see that there are no people who are not deserving of love and love stories. This post, this one, is the picture on the puzzle box. It brings into perfect, crisp detail the struggles of the queer community and the absolute necessity of queer romance.

    And in fact, for me, it is the most human statement of what it means to be different -for aren’t we all- and to feel society will not be okay with the truth of that difference, that we will be judged and found wanting; what it means to struggle for self-acceptance in the face of that judgement; what it means to say I will be who I am even though I may not be loved for it; and what it means to demand that who we are is not something to be tolerated or accepted, but rather respected, celebrated, and yes, loved.

    Bravo, E., and thank you.

  • Your post humbles me with its honesty. I loved your words and my heart ached because of them. Everyone deserves to be loved for themselves and everyone deserves to read about love they can identify with, and maybe hope for. When I become more confident in my writing I would love to write you a story with an HEA for you to enjoy. I see J.K.Pendragon has commented here, I have just read and reviewed their book ‘To Summon Nightmares’, I feel it might just be one of those stories you like to look for.

    • Thank you so much for you comment! :)

      Yes, yes please write trans romance (I say selfishly) if you feel inspired to do so. I am also so excited about To Summon Nightmares and have been looking forward to reading it forever. So I am definitely getting my hands on a copy when it comes out (next week I think.) :)

  • This is so powerful. Thank you for writing it, and for writing the books you have. I think you are courageous.

    Some of the tweets and conversations you describe remind me of a conversation I had with someone when I was working at a university admissions event in the UK, with an academic from a different university. I went to a women’s college in the US, and, in the context of a conversation about access and inclusion, I was talking to her about the policy that they had recently announced regarding admission of trans or nonbinary students. My alma mater had decided, to their credit, I thought, that they would simply admit anyone who self-identified as female, but would be welcoming to students transitioning to male who wished to remain enrolled as well. As far as I know, no one objected to this (at least, I certainly never heard anything against it as an alum).

    The person I was talking to said something along the lines of, ‘god, that’s US liberal arts colleges for you’, suggesting that it was madness to have such a policy.

    Why, I asked her, is it ‘madness’ for a women’s college founded on principles of equality and human rights, to have a policy that supports people who are in the midst of difficult, fundamental decisions about their gender identity?

    Because it’s just going too far, she said.

    Yes, that’s the real problem with the world. We’re just too fucking tolerant and inclusive.

  • This is so powerful. Thank you for writing it, and for writing the books you have. You give me hope.

    Some of the tweets and conversations you describe remind me of a conversation I had with someone when I was working at a university admissions event in the UK, with an academic from a different university. I went to a women’s college in the US, and, in the context of a conversation about access and inclusion, I was talking to her about the policy that they had recently announced regarding admission of trans or nonbinary students. My alma mater had decided that they would simply admit anyone who self-identified as female, but would be welcoming to students transitioning to male who wished to remain enrolled as well. As far as I know, no one objected to this (at least, I certainly never heard anything against it as an alum).

    The person I was talking to said something along the lines of, ‘god, that’s US liberal arts colleges for you’, suggesting that it was madness to have such a policy.

    Why, I asked her, is it ‘madness’ for a women’s college founded on principles of equality and human rights, to have a policy that supports people who are in the midst of difficult, fundamental decisions about their gender identity?

    Because it’s just going too far, she said.

    Yes, that’s the real problem with the world. We’re just too tolerant and inclusive. ( /sarcasm )

  • Thank you for this post. I think it is helpful when trans* people let their voices be heard. It is important to help everybody else to understand which kind of comments/reactions you get as trans* person. Probably a part of these comments/reactions are due to ignorance.

    In my opinion there are many people out there for whom the ”package” does not count, but the person does. I wish you to meet such a person.

    Be well!

    Antonella

  • EE, what an incredible and beautiful part of yourself to share with all of us. It’s not even a question: you deserve love and you’ll get it, you’ve got it. Your heart is huge, it’s the only explanation for showing this part yourself. I feel like there is so much more I want to say but it would all boil down to this: thank you and you fucking rock.
    ~A

  • Whoops. OK, I thought my post wouldn’t get through moderation because I swore in it… so I edited it slightly and resent. But that clearly wasn’t the case. Now you have both versions, and can select either original or family-friendly. Sorry!

  • I refuse to believe that I will always be alone, that being trans has doomed me to isolation and unhappiness.

    I refuse to raise another generation of trans children who believe that is true, that they are fundamentally unlovable because they are trans .

    This. You, and my daughter, and her fiancee, and everyone else who’s “done it anyway”–are fundamentally lovable. Not because they’re brave or strong, and it has nothing to do with gender identity… but just because you’re you. <3

    Thanks for sharing, E.E.

  • Thank you for that thought provoking blog. For me, what makes a person is their mind, heart, and soul, not their body, but I know I am odd and often in the minority. I also read trans* romance, enjoy it, and find it sad there isn’t more out there. Be strong.

  • This overweight, postpartum, post-menopausal, overly-verbal cis het woman isn’t getting any action either. She wishes you better luck, a newer world of friendly people. The human condition is not much like the stories we might like to inhabit.

  • This made me cry. Thank you for sharing, so openly, yourself and your thoughts with us. What a profound and touching post. Thank you.

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