Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Writing Trans Men in M/M Romance by Blaine D. Arden (GUEST POST & GIVEAWAY)

Diversity as is has been a basic setting of any world I've created for my characters from the beginning. My characters' sexuality or gender is never the key element in my writing... All right, maybe that's not completely true, since I prefer writing men falling in love with men above any other pairing. Still, not one character blinked an eye when two princes danced together in The Fifth Son, just like no one turned their heads at triads in the Forester Universe, or Oren loving Veld or Noah loving Connor. Love is love.

That said, I never looked further than the most obvious letters in the QUILTBAG family. Lesbian, gay, bisexuality, those I knew, but I had no real grasp of what being transgender meant, aside from maybe cross-dressing, drag queens, and transvestites, but those were mostly stereotypes I'd seen in TV-shows, not real people. But, thanks to this genre, this community, I've learned a lot about trans* persons—and about myself—this past year, and it spurred me into exploring gender even more in my own fiction.

There are many notions of how men should behave or what men do or don't do, like 'men are strong', 'men don't cry', 'men don't wear dresses', and 'men don't talk about their feelings'. Honestly, living with four men in real life (my husband and sons), I go around complaining about "Men!" every single day, but my men are really not the same. As much as some traits and interests may overlap (e.g. sportiveness, quick minds), some couldn't be more different (e.g. arrogance, laziness). My men are unique individuals who approach similar situations in very different ways, some with less enthusiasm than the others. I think it's safe to say that what goes for my men, goes for all men. 'Cause men are men, right?

While researching transgendered males, I found many opinions on what makes a man a man. For every positive article I found, I found as many—if not more—articles filled with intolerance and negativity against those breaking our rigid gender perspectives so they can live as the person they are, instead of how we perceive them to be. Those articles brought me back to the mid-eighties when I was 16/17 and slowly getting angry at all the intolerance and negativity against gay people—specifically gay men and AIDS. Then, I wanted to show the world how beautiful love between men could be. Now, it was time to show the world that men were not defined by the sex they were born with.

I ended up writing my first trans-man during NaNoWriMo in November 2011. Though I was a little hesitant at first, scared to get it wrong and stepping into the trap of stereotypes, I soon realised that crawling into the skin of a trans-man is no different from crawling into my cis-gay characters. They're all men with their own complex personalities, their own insecurities, quirks, wants, talents... and their own body issues. 'Cause, let's face it, whether cis- or trans-man, no matter what body these men were born with, there'll be something about it they don't like—or hate the hell out of.

As with other issues, every man reacts differently to whatever body-issues they struggle with. Some will hide their issues, wallowing and complaining about them in private. Some will do just about anything to get rid of the problem—whether through exercise or surgery. And some embrace it and learn to live with what they've been given.

As an author, all these issues are worth digging into. I think the best part about writing characters is finding out what makes them tick, what makes them choose one and not the other. Finding out who they are. Writing a trans-man just adds another dimension to it. But... as much as writing trans-men fascinates me, my stories are not about coping with being transgendered. My stories are still about men loving men, even if one of them wasn't born in a male body.

As mentioned at the top of this article, I create worlds on a diversity-as-is basis. This means that I don't deal with coming out, per se, and I don't deal with the fight against prejudice and intolerance. Those fights were either never needed in my worlds, or they've already been fought a long, long time ago. What I do write is men whose gender and sexuality are only a small part of who they are, and never the reason for conflict or inner struggles.

That leaves the small stuff. So, when writing a trans-man, I don't go for big revelations, I go for small hints and clues scattered throughout the story. It may be as little as undoing his binder when he undresses, or writing a sex-scene suited to his body, but without screaming that he doesn't have a cock. It's also about how he handles showing someone his body for the first time, and then that someone's reaction to seeing him as he is.

To show how different trans-men can be, here's a list of characters I've written into my various works in progress up to now:

- Pip is young, fond of motorbikes and his identical twin-sister. He doesn't see the need for surgery, yet, since he's got no breasts to speak of anyway, and only packs when he's really in the mood. (Packing means creating a realistic bulge, aka appearing to have a cock.)

- Nivet has always been desperate to get rid of the body he was born into. He hated it with a vengeance. His uniform (he's a field surgeon) made it easy for him to look how he wanted to look, which isn't overly male, but more on the androgynous side. But the minute he'd saved enough, he nipped over the border and had his body transformed, knowing full-well such an act was illegal in his own country. To him, it was never a question of choice; it was change... or perish.

- Callum is a very tough man, always has been. Even before he completely realised who he was, his step-father trained him and his step-sister as security agents in the making. He's had top-surgery done, takes testosterone-shots, but has learned to live with his vagina and can live with the absence of a cock. He's more interested in his boyfriends' cocks anyway.

- Illan is a confident man in the work place, but in private, a past experience has made him skittish about showing himself to anyone. No surgery for Illan. He binds, but doesn't pack at all. He's content with the body he's been given and loves being fucked. (Binding means creating a male-looking chest, usually via compressing the breast tissue.)

This last character is from my short In His Defence… which will appear in Storm Moon Press' Legal Briefs Charity Anthology at the end of March. Storm Moon Press is one of only a few publishers actively seeking submissions for trans* fiction, both for anthologies and longer, open line calls. So far, I've enjoyed working with Storm Moon Press very much. Though, like any author, I kick against edits at first glance, I've learned a lot from them, and they're always willing to answer my questions. Not to mention they hire awesome cover artists and are very helpful on the Marketing side of things. If you write trans* fiction, definitely check out their website!

Giveaway Opportunity!

This guest post is part of Storm Moon Press' 3rd Anniversary Blog Tour! Comment on this post or any other post on the blog tour with your e-mail address, and you'll be entered for a chance to win the Grand Prize of receiving 1 FREE e-book each month of 2013 from that month's new releases for a total of 12 free e-books! Runners up will receive a $25 gift certificate to their choice of Amazon or All Romance eBooks. For more details and to find out about our 3rd Anniversary, head over to Storm Moon Press' Official Blog. Thanks for joining us!


  1. Blaine, I have to ask: do you get blow-back from m/m readers about "girl cooties" when you write transmen?

    I believe that what is in the heart and head make the man, not necessarily what's in the pants. I've been privileged to follow a fellow writer's transition over the last few years, including a struggle to be read as a man. (The Doc is short and still fairly femme looking)

    But some readers can be as adament as Neo-Augustinians about "No XXs in my books! Not even the cashier waving as they leave!" so I wondered.

    Keep writing. The QUILTBAG is a big place.

  2. That's a very good question, Anglia, and I wish I could give an answer from experience, but my first trans* story doesn't come out until the end of March. The rest are all still WIPs.

    Some readers have been very adamant about not wanting girl parts in their m/m. That's their opinion and their choice. I'm writing for those who like and want more diversity in their romances.

    So, yeah, I expect some blow-back, but I hope that, ultimately, my trans* stories are appreciated for their content, not for the contents of my men's pants.

    Did I mention I'm a hopeless optimist?

  3. I'm always stunned that gender roles are still so binary in the 21st century. Most of what drew me to m/m in the first place was less of an emphasis on the stereotypical alpha male (who always seemed to protest too much to me). Looking forward to reading your trans* characters!


  4. Lovely post Blaine. I love to read about people from all parts of the spectrum - people are people, with the same hopes, dreams and fears as anyone else, whatever parts they happen to have.

    landale (at) me (dot) com

  5. That's the problem with us humans... we don't do change well, so it'll be a while before we've adapted to the idea that gender isn't binary.

    As for alpha males... I think Callum comes rather close ;)

  6. You hit the nail on the head, Victoria. People are people. Men are not different from women, we've just been raised to think that way, for some reason.

    Glad you liked the post :)

  7. I've been wanting to read something with a trans* character as the main character for awhile now. It looks like I've got a place to start with your books, Blaine.


  8. I agree - "Love is love."

    An interesting post & read ahead thank you.


  9. Thanks, Ley :)
    It'll be a while before most of these will be published, but I hope you'll enjoy them when they are.

    In the meantime: Have you tried Pearl by Kelly Rand, and Portside by Elyan Smith? They're both pretty good.

  10. Thank you, Mary.

    If only more people would agree.

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  12. Thanks for your interesting post and talking about your diverse characters.

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  13. You're welcome :) Rambling about characters is always fun

  14. You're welcome :) Rambling about characters is always fun

  15. Thanks a bunch for sharing Blaine. I'm with you, I hate stereotypes. Two of my absolute hated phrases are "because you're a girl" and "because you're a guy". I hate when people stereotype you and then expect you to fit into that stereotype. Hell no! I'm glad you like to break stereotypes in your work, and I can't wait to read about your trans* characters!