Trans Tropes That Have Got to Go (as Told by Trans Readers)

Trans Tropes (1)

Being a Trans Non-Binary person, you can bet that I’ve run into a multitude of trans tropes that have gotten on my nerves. I wanted to make a post about them, and why they’re harmful, but then I got a better idea. Ask other trans readers.

Below you’ll find a list of trans tropes that trans readers have gotten tired of calling out, or are just tired of reading over and over.

One of the first I got was from my friend Luce, and it’s one that I ran into once, and DNF’d the book because of.

From @soveryqueer:
Trans MCs with (cis) bi LIs who are totally fine with them being trans [because] they are into cis men and women, and therefore are fine with any genital configuration . . . it just feels kinda invalidating when there’s this “it’s okay that you have a vagina/penis [because] I’m into women/men too” vibe.

In Ace of Hearts, a very similar account happened, except instead of bi, they were ace. You can read my review here, but let me just say that I whole-heartedly agree with Luce with saying that this one has got to go.

Next is one that I had a lot of people mention in different ways, so I’m only going to include a few different people’s takes on it. One that is generally acknowledged as “EEK” by trans people is showing the trans character getting ready.

From @bogiperson:
Showing a trans person naked just to establish their transness. Sadly also very common in fiction about (but not by) intersex people. I dislike it because it’s exploitative and voyeuristic. Shows one extreme of the cis and/or non-intersex gaze.

From @schala09:
Introducing trans women by showing (or describing) them getting dressed, putting on makeup, lingering on their fingernails, etc. The implication is that trans-ness is a costume, rather than an identity.

From @tristanoscars:
I rally hate when a stealth trans character is outed through non-consensual exposure, e.g. being caught naked. It’s creepily voyeuristic and just keeps the focus on trans people’s genitals, and it’s almost never treated as a gross invasion of privacy from the cis character.

From @aceofpages_
Anytime a character’s assigned gender at birth is revealed for shock factor or the fact that they’re trans or enby is revealed for shock factor. Other characters in the story obsessing over the trans or enby character’s gentials or if they’ve had ‘the surgery’. You don’t ask cis people invasive questions about their gentials. It’s wrong and uncomfortable and a little dehumanizing. Also any sort of bathroom related hate crime. I know it happens, but seeing it in fiction just reinforces my anxieties about that stuff anyways.

There’s obviously different levels to this one, but in the end, it’s all pretty similar. Don’t purposely invade a character’s privacy just so it can be revealed that they’re trans.

Another that, while isn’t really a trope, is still a problem. When cross dressing is involved in a story, it’s always a woman dressing as a man or vice versa . . . but these storylines never discuss trans people. ZR Ellor said it better than me, though:

From @ZREllor:
#1 worst trans trope . . .  is “AFAB person dresses as boy to avoid patriarchy, but is a Girl All Along.” I see SO MANY fantasy/historical books use this and I hate how it erases trans people from real historical narratives.

It’s something that has kept me from reading cross dressing books, no matter who recommends it, or who it’s written by. If a narrative ignores trans people’s existance, than no matter what other minority it includes, can it really be considered inclusive?

Another one that should be obvious to most is the deadnaming and misgendering. This is one thing that I’ve started to trigger warn for, because it can be extremely harmful to just run upon.

From @elknight20:
Microagressing us in blurbs or in books saying “___ was known as ___ ‘back then’.” & not one character calling them out on it. [Or] misgendering us or deadnaming us for clicks.

From @captnWow:
Deadnaming, especially deadnaming ~while introducing the character~. Like “this is Sarah, but she used to be XY”. It feels like the author disrespects their own character. If you need deadnaming for your plot, write something like “my parents used my old name, which I hate”.

You’d think that by now, in 20-fucking-18, that people would get tired of this one. AND YET HERE WE ARE.

Now, this next one is one that I should have expected, but was completely caught off guard by. But, really, it is one that I relate to the most.

From @lovelybookshelf:
. . . Cis characters who refuse to acknowledge the trans character’s identity until they are “trans enough” or “out enough” (which of course, the cis person decides).

From @thehollowsun:
As someone who basically never “passes,” I think I’m most bothered by the saturation in media of the trans character being “passable.” As in they have obviously been on hrt, if not explicitly even stated they’ve had surgeries. It creates a misconception amongst cis folks that someone is only trans if they’ve reached a certain point. It makes it very difficult when coming out to someone, because they will refuse to believe you’re really “trans enough” to ACTUALLY be trans.

Some others discussed being non-binary and pronouns, which I really related to. I’ve mentioned it in multiple reviews (namely, 27 Hours and River of Teeth) that pronouns don’t dictate gender. Saying that she/her = female, he/him = male, and they/them = non-binary is completely bullshit. Guess what! I exist–I use he/him pronouns, but I’m not male. Also, don’t get me started on they/them pronouns, and the “grammar” problems people have with it.

From Anonymous (1):
enby characters jumping through hoops to get cis characters to recognize they/them as a singular pronoun

From @abouthalfthree:
The idea that a person’s pronouns are stand-ins for gender. “I knew her when she was a ‘he’”. “I’m a ‘he’ now.” This is not the same as stating someone’s pronouns

These were all the big ones that were noticeable trends in the messages I received. Below, I’m going to add a few others that, while may have only been mentioned by one or two people, are still worth mentioning.

From @TGStonebutch:

Romances centering cis [characters] who spend most of the book learning to accept their LIs transness/accept their attraction to a trans person.

Cis char who “understands” their trans &/or enby love interest *because of their own experience of marginalization*.

Cis MCs who pride themselves on being able to clock someone’s transness.

Trans chars who are “given” their gender by a cis char.

(Corey always comes through with eloquent and well-thought out responses like these. I recommend following them.)

From @AlisanderA:

this is a little more gen LGBT+ than just trans but the like 3 paragraph monologue from the ally char when somebody comes out to them about “oh wow im totally fine with it just never expected Person to be X”

(If I have to read another monologue about how they never expected Person to be queer I will literally flip a fucking table. I will flip multiple tables.)

From Anonymous (2):

When a story says or implies that: -trans people can’t be bi -bi people can’t love trans and nonbinary people – you have to be pan to love a trans person -anything that says “pan is bi but with trans people” Any sort of gatekeeping around pansexuality, bisexuality, and being trans, really.

(Not only is the transmisic, but it’s also extremely pan- and bi-misic! So fuck off!)

From @refusestoparse:
Nonbinary characters being “basically male” or “basically female”. And neglecting the nuance of gender as a spectrum

(Don’t get me started on when people group woman and enbies in the same area and think they’re being inclusive. Fuck. Off.)

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Trans readers: what are some tropes you dislike? Do you agree with any of these? Want to add on?

23 thoughts on “Trans Tropes That Have Got to Go (as Told by Trans Readers)

  1. Preach.

    I’m so, so tired of so-called trans narratives that center cis people. Like instead of focusing on how trans characters struggle, we focus on how their transness puts out/creates personal growth in their friends and family.

    • Yep, that is a huge problem, and tends to be a result of the (cis) writer having a fetish for trans unicorns (a unique character that only the MC knows about.)

      The other side of this trope is that many writers, introduce a trans or non-binary character to fill out a diversity quota, but their knowledge is so shallow that it comes off as insincere.

      The trope I hate the most of all is “all trans characters sound like middle-aged white men”, which is something perpetrated by cross-dressing characters in live-action television, and as short-hand in animation to highlight an unattractive character. These jokes have the effect of insinuating that all non-binary/trans people are deceptive.

      • Exactly. Or the trans character is there just to be trans, and once we’ve sufficiently toured shallow conceptions of what cis people think are trans issues, the trans character disappears from the story entirely. It’s so exhausting.

        I HATE the voice thing. It also says that not only are enbys and trans folks unattractive, but they can never be attractive. It’s fifteen layers of yikes.

  2. Wow this is a really good post! Some of these didn’t even occur to me as trans erasure. I’ll keep them in mind while reviewing books.

    P.S. is it okay if I reblog this?!

  3. Thanks for this post and your research.

    I have trans people in my family and circles of friends; I am bi, was poly but have been asexual for many years, and have mostly been female cis-gender.

    In the early to mid-1990s, I researched wrote my doctoral dissertation based on field and many genres of scientific and experiential information. My work (“‘I Am More Who I Am Here Than I Am Anywhere'” is the title’s beginning) recognized the fluidity of both gender and sexual orientation identities and their being influenced by individuals’ senses of interpersonal safety and connection. These perceptions of each context make the identities more or less fluid. I coined the term “differential authenticity” to describe/name this variation in social identities based on context rather than biology. So, I am not unfamiliar, but…

    I am interested but got lost in your post, with all the acronyms, abbreviations and “in-circle” knowledge that reading this post requires. I am also 63 and the newest lingo and preferences elude me. Do you have a link to an up-to-date trans glossary somewhere?

    Could you/someone please explain what your/the objections are to some of the tropes listed/quoted above, because in addition to not understanding some of the language, I can’t understand the problems because nowhere does it say what people are actually objecting to (in some cases) and I can’t begin to guess.

    I am a sci-fi writer (, I am mostly politically astute, a life-long feminist and radical. I want to be appropriate and sensitive, but things are changing so fast I haven’t kept up.

    Thanks for your help.

    Dr. Sally Ember, Ed.D.

    • Hi Sally!

      So sorry that this took so long to reply to, I had a problem with certain comments not showing up on posts, and ended up finding them in the trash.

      I’m glad that this post helped, and would be happy to help with the questions that you have. For certain modern slang, most of it is learned through social media like twitter or tumblr. I’m not sure if this has everything, but you’re welcome to start here for vocab:

      Certain other terms aren’t mentioned there, such as my use of “-misic” instead of “-phobia”. At the time, it was seen as less ableist, but there have been unclear discussions so I have recently gone back to using “-phobia”.

      As for the reasoning behind these, most of them are supplied. Often they’re insulting because they’re voyeuristic or ostracizing or just none of the people’s business.

      I hope that helps.

  4. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post! It’s great to see so many perspectives on what’s annoying and what’s downright harmful in these tropes. Definitely will keep in mind while I’m reading so I can try to give a more nuanced review.

  5. Awful List! Those are cruel and just have to go. One of my closest friends, Isabella (goes by Izzy) is transgender. She cries and complains a lot about the things people say about her. Most relevant is the pronouns one, and the private parts stuff. A lot of people refer to her as “it”, and some just walk up to her and ask what “part” she has. God, no. It’s f****ng awful. it is really sad.

    If you want to talk about literature, you have to read Beast by Brie Spangler. The mother literally does more than half those things. (Modern retelling of Beauty in the Beast, a transgender girl falls in love with a boy who is really, really tall and very hairy.)

    • Exactly. This list was made for more people to be aware of these things. It’s horrid that its 2018, and this is still happening to your friend Izzy and other trans and/or non-binary people.

      I’ve heard of Beast. I’ve seen a mixture of both positives and negatives, but the majority mention how Beast gets angry about the trans girl (don’t remember her name, sorry) “hiding” the fact that she’s trans. Now that infuriated me.

  6. […] Fallen – Sarah Glenn Marsh Jan 6th: Review #140 // Ripped Pages – M. Hollis Jan 9th: Trans Tropes That Have Got to Go (as Told by Trans Readers) Jan 12th: Review #141 // The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde Jan 15th: The A to Z Book […]

  7. I’m sorry I’m only now reading this post like, almost a year later. LOL Thanks for quoting me. This is such a fantastic post and ughhhhhh those last points about enbies getting grouped in with women, or enbies being “basically male” or “basically female”, really get on my last nerve. 🙁