Transcending Flesh: Why You Care

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon.

a pink and blue sky with a radio tower

I've read some books this year in which quick body modification was part of the world-building, either by magic or science fiction technology. These books were written by cis authors and the degree to which they did or didn't think about how trans people would utilize these services was a topic which interested me.

I'd initially planned to publish a series of essays talking about how to write "easy body changes" in a setting while still keeping trans people in mind; I still may try to collect all these at the end, but the more I wrote the more it became clear to me that (a) I'm only one trans person, with opinions and experiences which are not universal, and (b) I could go on all day about this subject.

In order to make this a little more accessible as a project, I've decided to publish pieces here on my Patreon first. I hope you enjoy these and I welcome feedback on these essays. Thank you!


Transcending Flesh in Fiction and Fantasy:
Essays on Gender and Body Modification in Futuristic and Fantastical Settings


So you want to write a fictional setting with easy body modification--including primary and secondary sexual characteristics--and you're wondering how the introduction of this magic and/or technology would affect transgender people in your world? Come on in! 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 transgender people exist and you want to look into how this will affect them. I'm here to help.

My name is Ana, and I'm a genderfluid nonbinary ("enby") person with Thoughts about transness in fictional settings which include body modification capabilities surpassing what we have available to us through the use of hormones and surgeries. This trope of fast, easy, reversible, and widely available "BodyMod" alteration includes everything from a SciFi BodyTron5000 ("step right in and we'll jiffy up a uterus!") to fantasy trips to a Gender Witch for magical potions. These settings have ripple effects regarding the treatment of trans people both on the page and off, so I'm grateful when authors consider how their worlds include us.

The guidebook you're about to read is a series of essays expanded from a Twitter thread about BodyMod technology and settings. I hope the contents will be helpful to you, but above all I urge authors to listen to a variety of voices on this topic--I cannot speak for the entire transgender community. Hire trans sensitivity readers for your work. Listen to what we have to say. Follow us on Twitter and support our Patreons and read our books. Thank you for your support.


Essay #1: Why You Care

At some point in the world-building for your magical or futuristic BodyMod 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 the story? If this isn't a story about trans people and trans issues, if it's a story about mostly cis (i.e., not trans) folks going on adventures in a world with BodyMod magic*, then why should you care how your setting affects trans people over there in an unseen corner of your world?

[*I will use "magic" and "technology" somewhat interchangeably in these essays, and I crave your pardon in advance. Arthur Clarke's law that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" can be quibbled over elsewhere but when we're talking about things like insta-uterus growth, I consider magic and technology to be here essentially equal means to the same end.]

First: Let's consider why all or most of your characters would be cis, 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 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 hidden in the closet. Does a safety closet exist in your setting? Does it need to? If not, this will affect how many trans people your characters know.

Second: You will 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; your trans characters can be "incidentally" trans, as with any other character trait. As in real life, trans characters don't need to announce they're trans on every page--they can simply be trans.

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

Presumably there was a driving cause behind the development of BodyMod technology 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 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. Were these powers developed for ill or disabled people seeking new limbs or missing organs? Athletes in their quest to be better at their jobs? Elderly people requiring fresh organs to extend their lifespan? Technology rarely develops for no reason; there's often an initial starting case and then usage broadens from there as others recognize the value this new technology holds for them.

All this means the BodyMod capabilities in your setting were almost certainly either developed for (or by!) trans people or were broadened to market to trans people after creation--in order words, the people who created BodyMod tech in your world were either thinking of trans people to begin with, or trans people showed up and made themselves known as a valuable market once it was developed! By the time you, the author, are setting your story in a culture with BodyMod tech which has been available for years the culture will already have heard about trans people and been made aware of the use of BodyMod tech to treat dysphoria.

Trans people should not, in short, seem new or previously unheard of in your setting.

If your setting has altruistic scientists and doctors working to help heal people, if your setting has capitalistic marketing teams targeting wealthy groups as customers, if your setting has arcane witches crafting spells for the needy and desperate, or if your setting has a dystopian government who keeps the populace downtrodden because the Capitol runs on misery and tears: all these details require you to think about trans people because we exist and we would be asking for access to the BodyMod magic widely available to everyone else.

So let's talk about trans people!

[Continued in the next essay.]


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