Transcending Flesh: Why You Care

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon.

a pink and blue sky with a radio tower

This essay is one in a series which focuses on writing gender in science fiction and fantasy settings that provide body modification options beyond our current level of technology. Note that you can download this collection of essays from my website here.


Transcending Flesh:
Gender and Body Diversity in Futuristic and Fantastical Settings

Let me offer you a hearty welcome. You're here (or so I hope!) because you want to craft a fictional setting with technology or magic which provides for extensive body modification (including primary and secondary sexual characteristics) and you're wondering how the introduction of this world-building detail will affect transgender people in your world. Maybe you're writing a futuristic science fiction planet with surgical options beyond the dreams of mortal men, or perhaps you're penning a magical fantasy land with instant body changes through the power of magic, gods, potions, spells, or scrolls. In either case, you're aware that trans people exist and you want to understand how this will affect them. I'm here to help. We'll also talk about how this technology and magic are going to have reverberating effects beyond gender presentation, including for your fat characters and disabled characters.

My name is Ana, and I'm a transgender person with thoughts on transness in fictional settings, particularly ones which have access to body modification capabilities surpassing what we have available to us currently through the use of hormones and surgeries. The trope of fast, easy, reversible, and widely-accessible body alteration includes everything from a futuristic BodyTron5000 ("step right in and we'll jiffy up a uterus!") to fantastical trips to the Gender Witch for magic potions. These settings have ripple effects on trans people both on and off the page, so I'm grateful when authors consider how their worlds treat us.

The guidebook you're about to read is a series of essays, many of which are expanded from examples I've encountered in my reading. Not all of these essays will apply to the fictional setting you're attempting to craft, but I hope these contents will be helpful in training writers to consider the many angles of gender presentation and body diversity when creating new worlds. Above all, I urge authors to actively seek out and listen to a variety of trans voices on this topic--I cannot speak for the entire transgender community.

Thank you.


Essay #1: Why You Care

At some point in the world-building for your magical or futuristic setting, it's going to feel like a lot of work. Why should you have to put all this time and effort into thinking about trans people if they're not at the heart of your story? If you're not writing about trans people and trans issues, if your story is about cisgender (i.e., not transgender) folks going on adventures in a world which happens to contain magitech† which provides for easy body alteration, then why should you care how your setting affects trans people who only exist over there somewhere in an unseen corner of your world?

[† Because it is burdensome to repeatedly write and read the phrase "magic and/or technology", it will be shorted to "magitech" to convey the interchangeable nature of magic and technology in these essays. Arthur Clarke's law that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" is not without flaws, but when we're talking about things like instant uterus growth or an overnight penis, it really does not matter whether the vehicle for body changes came from a magic potion or from scientific invention.]

First: Let's consider why all or most of your characters would be cisgender, especially if you're writing a setting free from anti-trans bigotry or possessing extensive medical services available to people who need them. Wouldn't some of your characters be or at least know trans people? I can almost guarantee you know trans people right now, though you may be unaware of their transness if they're closeted. Does a safety closet exist in your setting? Does it need to? If not, this will affect how many trans people your characters know and interact with as part of their story.

Second: You have trans readers who deserve to see themselves on your page. Trans characters should exist in your work for the same reason any other characters should exist: we exist in real life, and realism expects we be replicated on the page. This doesn't mean you have to write a trans book about trans issues! You can have trans characters who are "incidentally" trans, as with any other character trait. Just like in real life, trans characters don't need to announce they're trans on every page--they can simply be trans.

Third: If "BodyMod" magitech exists in your setting--if you've gone to all this trouble to craft major medical or magical body modifications into your work--you're putting it on the page for a reason. You have an authorial purpose in choosing this setting! As part of world-building, you need understand why that magitech exists, and what your characters know about it. Where did this ability come from? Who developed the magitech, and why? What is it primarily used for? Why do your characters have access it? How have people in your world extended the use case past its original intended purpose? (Hint: Trans people will absolutely have latched onto any available BodyMod magitech, even if it wasn't developed for them.)

Presumably there was a driving cause behind the development of BodyMod magitech in your setting. Some scientist worked late nights to perfect the BodyTron5000, or a coven of witches acted together to suss out the precise recipe for their Gender Potion. Who were the intended users for this development? Transgender people are an obvious marketing target (which is one more reason why your world ought to include them!) but trans people aren't the only ones who would benefit from body alteration. Was the magitech developed for ill or disabled people seeking to replace damaged organs? Athletes questing to be better at their sport? Elderly people requiring fresh organs to extend their lifespan? Technology rarely develops for no reason; there's often an initial starting case. From that initial starting case, usage broadens as unintended users recognize the value this new technology holds for them.

In short, the BodyMod magitech in your setting was either developed for (or by!) trans people or was broadened to market to trans people after creation. If that magitech has been available for years before your story opens, the surrounding culture will already have heard about trans people and the use of magitech to treat dysphoria.

Trans people should not seem new or previously unheard of in these settings:

- Any setting with altruistic scientists and doctors working to help heal people.
- Any setting with arcane witches crafting spells for the needy or desperate.
- Any setting with capitalistic marketing teams targeting wealthy groups as customers.
- Any setting with a dystopian government who keeps the populace downtrodden and oppressed.

That's a non-comprehensive list, by the way! The answer to why you should care about how magitech affects trans people in your setting, even if your story isn't about trans people, is simple: trans people still exist in your world and your characters will know about them and interact with them as part of their stories. If you don't include trans people in your world and world-building, the realism of your setting will suffer and your readers will not remain immersed in the tale you want to tell.


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