CW: Homophobia, Transphobia, Trans-misogyny
Two days ago, I started work on a new novel called ‘The Defective Paragons’. It took me a little over a day to write the first chapter, because I wanted to get it right. Actually, I wanted to get it perfect. I wanted to capture a specific feeling, but I struggled with it a lot and I want to talk about why.
‘The Defective Paragons’ is not the novel I had planned to write after I finished Transistor. I thought I would finish Transistor, do revisions on The Master of Puppets, circle back around and do revisions on Transistor, and then move on to my first Fantasy novel, The Long Way Home.
Instead, I finished Transistor, did revisions on The Master of Puppets, did revisions on Transistor, then I pulled out an old manuscript I had started back in 2015 called ‘The Caster of Shadows’. I retitled it ‘The Inevitable Singularity’ because it was a better thematic fit for the story, then I went through, made a bunch of revisions, adjusted some character dynamics, cut a subplot that just didn’t need to be in the book, and banged out the last five chapters or so of the novel.
It’s a good novel, and I’m happy with the way it turned out. In fact, I’m really proud of it. I think there are a lot of deep, interesting things said about free will verses determinism, about the primacy of the individual verse the primacy of the state, about the ethics of child soldiers, religious indoctrination, the ways love can become a toxic force in your life and how hanging on to an unhealthy relationship can be a form of self-harm, as well as how religious doctrine can poison family relationships. I also think the series that the novel will eventually be part of has a lot more to say on some very deep topics, and I am really looking forward to writing the rest of the books.
But there was something missing when I was writing it. It was a work that was conceived, and mostly created at a very different time in my life, when the things I wanted to examine in my writing were different. In the books I’ve been writing lately, Mail Order Bride, Scatter, The Master of Puppets, and Transistor, gender has been a theme. Scatter is more subtle about it than the others, though it is there if you look closely enough. Coming off of The Inevitable Singularity, I found myself very much wanting to step back into a universe where I could talk about gender and The Long Way Round just wasn’t that book.
Instead, I decided to jump into The Defective Paragons. I’m not go through the full elevator pitch, but the basic idea is that aliens came in and recruited a bunch of teams of teenagers to be superheroes. They ran around in costume, drove giant robots, and fought off invading alien pirates and bandits. Then, when the time came, the aliens who recruited the teenagers used them as an army to annex Earth. Except one team fought back. They lost, but the novel picks up ten years later when they get a second chance to fight back.
Now, you’re probably asking how this relates to gender, and that’s a fair question. The thing is, the team that fought back has been separated for a decade, and during that decade, the team leader transitioned from male to female, so when someone comes looking for the Team Leader, they spend the first chapter of the novel talking to said team leader without realizing who she is until the very end of the chapter. Through the course of the novel, this woman is going to have to meet up with four other people she used to be incredibly close with before.
I’m not going to lie. I was nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs the whole way through the first chapter, and those nerves haven’t gone away. But why am I nervous about writing this? This is literally a part of my life. This is something I’ve lived through, something I’ve experienced firsthand, more than once. That experience of meeting someone you knew before, or having to introduce yourself after… That’s my reality, but I still hesitate to write it, because of something that affects a lot of queer people, and trans people I think most of all.
Imposter syndrome. Queer people have our identities invalidated all the time. “Are you really gay?”, “Why don’t you pick a side already?”, “It’s just a phase.”, “The homosexual lifestyle.”, “Transgender Ideology.”, “Sex not gender”, “Adult human female.”, “Trans trender,”. It’s hard to keep track of all the ways people question our identity, and when you can’t go a single day without having your identity questioned, you start to doubt yourself.
I doubt myself every day. I was fourteen years old when I figured out I was transgender. All the signs were there before that, but I didn’t really have that ‘I want to be a girl’ moment until I was fourteen years old. Why did it take me so long? You hear about trans kids who seem to know from birth. Trans girls who want to wear dresses and play with dolls and scream and make a fuss about it from the time they are old enough to talk. If I’m really trans, why wasn’t I like that? Is my body dysmorphia really part of my gender dysphoria, or is my gender dysphoria a result of body dysmorphia caused by my weight issues and my eating disorder?
It is so, so easy to get lost inside your head, to doubt who you are, when the whole world is telling you that you’re wrong, that you don’t know yourself, that you can’t be who you claim to be. Some nights, I lay awake, lost in that place. Some nights, I lay awake feeling like a fake, a fraud, an imposter.
I know the truth. I do. I know that cis gendered men don’t dream about waking up as a woman. They don’t sit around daydreaming about how if they ever got three wishes, the first wish would be to be a woman. They don’t have elaborate fantasies about the life they would live if they were a woman. They don’t cry with joy and relief the first time they see themselves in a dress and makeup. I know I’m a trans woman. But doubt is a hell of a thing, and so is cis-heteronormativity.
I wrote a chapter, and I felt afraid. I felt like I was stealing someone else’s story, even though this was my own lived experience.
If you run into the same thing while you’re writing, I wish I could tell you that there’s a magic fix. That the imposter syndrome will eventually go away, and that you’ll get to the point where the voices don’t whisper fear and doubt into your ears, but I can’t. If there’s a magic fix, I haven’t found it yet. When I’m writing stuff that deals with being trans, I show it to other trans people, and I sit there, waiting for them to read it, afraid the whole time they’ll tell me I got it wrong.
Someday, I hope we live in a world where no one feels this way, but until then, all I can do is fight through the fear and the doubt, to tell myself that what I feel is real and valid, and to tell the stories I want to tell and hope that people will read them and know that they aren’t alone.