Writing 101 | Writing LGBT+ Characters, Part 2

This is part 2 is a series of posts. For part 1, click here.


In part 1 we covered:

  • The meaning of LGBTQIA+
  • The definitions of several sexual and romantic identities
  • Cliches and how to avoid them
  • Indicating a character’s sexuality
  • Handling the coming out process
  • Writing sex scenes

Long story short, we covered a lot. If you haven’t read it yet, it would really benefit you to do so.

As previously stated:

The LGBTQIA+ community is incredibly diverse

As such, this will be a multiple-part series detailing the various identities in the queer community, and the issues, ideas, and various stereotypes that come along with them. I do this in hopes of helping people, whether they belong to the community or not, become more comfortable writing queer characters of various identities. So, without further ado:

Part 2: T and I – OR – Exploring the characterization of sex and gender

There is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is how your chromosomes present, and gender is how your mind presents. In a similar vein, there is a difference between being transgender and intersex. Where someone who is intersex has a chromosome representation other than what is average – XX or XY – someone who is transgender has a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth. When writing characters with diverse experiences with gender and sex, it is important to ask yourself: How does they assigned gender interact with their actual gender? How does they sex interact with their gender? How does their gender interact with their sexual orientation and sexual behavior?

Defining our terms

Someone is transgender (or trans) when they identify with  gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. Note that I am using the term transgender, not transsexual. Transsexual is an outdated and often offensive term. Tranny is also an inappropriate term. It is important to know the terms afab and amab – assigned female at birth and assigned male at birth, respectively. Someone who is afab and identifies as a man is a transman, where someone who is amab and identifies as a woman is a transwoman. Someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth is cisgender (or cis). But there is far more to gender than these binary ideas.

Gender exists on a spectrum. Just as the chromosomes that determine sex can organize and present themselves in a multitude of ways, gender identity can exist between and outside of the binary. As such:

Someone is genderfluid or genderflux when their gender identity can be anything on the spectrum on any given day. Someone who is agender is someone who feels they don’t have a gender at all. The umbrella term for these gender identities, and the numerous similar identities, is nonbinary (nb or enby). Someone who is nonbinary is not necessarily trans (see: intersex people), and someone who is trans is not necessarily nonbinary. If a good comprehensive list existed of these definitions, I would provide it to you here. But alas, no.

Another important definition is gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a feeling of general discomfort with one’s body and appearance due to issues with gender. For example, I know many nb and trans folks who have extreme dysphoria about their chest area. Others have dysphoria about their hips or voice or genitals. Not all trans people experience dysphoria, but many do.

Finally, intersex. Someone is intersex when their chromosomal pairing and/or expression do not line up with the the average XX or XY. For example, someone could have an XY chromosome pair, but their hormones natural express as if they had an XX chromosome pair. There are many other examples, and I recommend some research. It is important to note that not all intersex people identify with the queer community. That said, many do. And being intersex is not as rare as some might think. Fun fact: there is the same percentage of intersex people in the world as there are natural gingers. In other words, your odds for meeting a natural ginger in your day to day life are exactly the same as meeting an intersex person. Remember that.

Avoiding Cliches

There are plenty of extremely feminine heterosexual transwomen out there. There are. But many, many transwomen are sexually and/or romantically attracted to women, just as many transwoman don’t like skirts or dresses. When writing a transwoman or transman, it is important to think of them as you would a cis woman or cis man. That is not to say that you should sweep their unique issues under the rug, simply do not treat them any differently than you would a cis character. There is no universal trans or intersex experience. So, wait for it, do your research. Talk to actual trans and intersex people. What YouTube videos, go on blogs. Do anything and everything you can to empathize with and grow to understand their unique experience in the world.

On to the Q&A!

How do I indicate that my character is trans or intersex?

Indicating a character’s gender is a little more straightforward than indicating their sexuality, but it does follow some of the same rules. First and foremost, we’re going to roughly know the character’s gender based on the pronouns they use. But pronouns do not always give the full story.

I am of the school of thought that if you character is queer, this must be made explicit at some point within the context of the story. It doesn’t count as representation if it’s not there. But, as previously stated, their story arc does not need to resolve around how super queer they are. Many trans and intersex people don’t actually talk about their gender or sex, and many do. So you’ve got to figure out whether you’ve got a character who will want to talk about it or a character who doesn’t. Furthermore, you’ve got to figure out whether your character is willing to educate, or will tell other people to educate themselves.

How do I handle my character coming out?

Like I said in part 1, coming out is a process, not an event. How they come out, and who they come out to, wholly depends on what type of character you have. Who are they closest to? Who do they trust? Would they come out to family or friends or wait until college and start with a clean slate?

It is important to note that not everyone comes out as a teenager. Some people come out much earlier, and some people come out much later. If you are writing a character coming out for the first time, in addition to the questions above, ask yourself these questions:

How old is my character? How did they realize their gender? Did they always know or was it an event? Who are they closest with in the world? Would they come out to this person first? Why or why not? What is their relationship with their family? Would their family accept them? Why or why not? What about their friends? Their community?

What is trans/intersex sex like?

It is different for everyone. Many trans and intersex people have complicated relationships with their genitals. The best way to portray accurate sex in this case is to do a ton of research and ask a bunch of real life trans and intersex people (that you know or that have a platform and answer questions for a living – do not be inappropriate) what sex is like for them. Everyone is comfortable with different sex acts. there is nothing wrong about writing a transman or likes vaginal stimulation, or a transwoman who has no problem with her penis. Those people exist. At the end of the day, it depends on what kind of character you’ve created.

Final Advice

This won’t be the last time I say this in this series: DO YOUR RESEARCH. There is not one way to be trans or nb or intersex. Just like there’s not one way to be cis. Being queer presents issues that cis people don’t have to deal with, but queer people are still people. They are, in essence, just like everyone else.

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