Trans people in our media are today just now gaining ground in all mediums as we become more visible in society and are (somewhat) less demonized. Trans creators are becoming slowly more prominent but for the most part trans stories are still told by cis people. These portrayals, partially in attempt to move away from the idea that trans women are men, have often kept to gender norms to a degree that cis people are given opportunity to move away from. In the better attempts to portray trans women as women, trans women are often more of a feminine archetype. Their strength is more of a “Fierceness” or “Bravery about being who they are”. While there is a need to explore that side of trans women when done well, there is a lack of trans women in more traditionally male roles; in particular there are a lack of trans women soldiers and warriors in science fiction and fantasy.
Trans womens’ relationship to their gender roles and presentation is a complicated subject in a society that seeks to demonize us and deny our identities. Trans women are often seen as too masculine and therefor not real women. Gatekeepers in the medical field and other official capacities have historically and still to this day made it difficult for trans women to transition if they were not seen as adequately feminine enough. Trans women with traditionally masculine interests and jobs pre-transition are stereotyped as having resorted to “hypermasculinity” to avoid their true identity, regardless of the relation of the job or interest and their gender.
On the flip side, trans women who are more feminine are seen as caricatures of women, performing an exaggerated falsehood akin to drag but for the benefit of cis men. For Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), trans women represent the evils of the Patriarchy and are responsible for reinforcing the gender binary that harms women. For many trans women femininity, regardless of how they would best prefer to present, offers safety in a violent society that is looking to harm them when they are discovered.
Fiction should reflect real life at times but it also should have opportunities to leave behind the headaches of the real world and let us imagine new ways of seeing things, especially in science fiction and fantasy. I read and watch speculative fiction because I enjoy imagining myself in those worlds and nothing helps you like seeing people like yourself portrayed in them. I am a sporty, adventurous trans woman who enjoys the martial arts, and as such I am especially interested in seeing trans women in roles that have commonly been for men in society and media. Trans women kicking ass on the field of battle, in dark dungeons of evil, in the depths of space on the bridge of a battleship, or in the trenches of a war suited up in powered armor.
Trans women in fantasy settings seem to get pushback a lot from people who equate fantasy with “Medieval Europe” and therefore don’t believe trans people can exist in such a setting. Trans people have existed throughout history so that makes the point moot even if fantasy didn’t offer magical solutions to the question of how they would physically transition. Magic potions and objects that change gender are common tropes in RPG settings. If a setting has magic, alchemy, or mystical herbalism then there are opportunities to come up with fantasy solutions to things like hormone replacement therapy or other methods of a trans character changing their body. Even a lack of magic does not preclude a trans character from presenting their identity and living as such.
I LOVE lady knights and can read them all day, especially from Tamora Pierce. Trans lady knights are just an idea of such mind-boggling awesomeness I do not understand how there are no stories about them yet. Trans lady knights who waited to come out after they became a full knight so they can go adventuring instead of dealing with the backlash. Trans girl squires who become knights while dealing with the backlash of their cis peers. Trans lady knights for whom their transition is irrelevant or for whom it may open interesting quandaries in a world of magics and gods. There are endless variations of stories that can be told about trans women in fantasy settings and as with cis women, they should be free to fill any and all roles.
For science fiction settings, especially ones with much more advanced science, I see the suggestion that in the future “Being trans won’t matter” because the future is enlightened and transitioning will be incredibly easy or perhaps future society’s gender boundaries will have changed so much. I am skeptical of the idea that technological ease will improve things automatically for trans people, but even in settings where transitioning is an accepted part of life there is still reason for a person’s being trans to matter.
On a meta level it matters because the character being trans can be important to the consumer. Whether or not a character’s trans status is an active part of their story, it can be important for the reader/watcher know that they are trans and to break the cisnormative assumption everything must be cis unless you have a special trans story planned. Minor details of their transition could be put in the story such as the character stopping by the Auto-Doc to get a new 5 year hormone replacement therapy implant. Even in the future, issues of transphobia and sexism are not guaranteed to disappear, so stories of trans women ship captains or other positions still can offer challenges and story hooks that men or cis women might not face. Even in a setting where one culture accepts a trans woman, there may be other cultures and aliens that see otherwise.
Of course there are more genres I would love to see trans women kicking butt in, especially the superhero genre, but Sci Fi and Fantasy are my big draws. Fortunately there has been a shift away from the sorta baby steps versions of positive trans portrayals as creators diversify their characters and trans creators’ voices become more prominent. For cis people looking to create trans characters, there are plenty of good tips out there for how to go about it that are applicable regardless of the genre. Asking (or better yet paying) trans people to consult can go a long way to avoiding transphobic tropes that you might otherwise miss as you don’t have personal experience with the subject. Accept criticism with an open mind, and realize that if something is called transphobic it isn’t a personal insult to you. And above all, support trans creators creating trans content.