DiversifYA: Cheryl Morgan

CherylToday, I’m so honored to have Cheryl Morgan join us! Among many other things, Cheryl is a science fiction critic and publisher, owner of Wizard’s Tower Press and the Wizard’s Tower Books ebook store. She edited the Hugo Award winning magazine, Emerald City (Best Fanzine, 2004), won a Hugo for Best Fan Writer in 2009, and was non-fiction editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, with which she won her third and fourth Hugo Awards in 2010 and 2011.

Not just that, but she gave us amazing insight in her experience as a trans woman. So please welcome her here, and make sure to follow her on Twitter!

1. How do you identify yourself?

Mainly I identify as a woman, but that rather ignores the fact that I was deemed to be male at birth (for fairly obvious anatomical reasons) and consequently spent a large part of my life trying to sort out what to do with my life. Thankfully I have now had the problem fixed, but as that historical me was still me I tend to describe myself as a trans woman.

2. What did it feel like growing up as trans woman?

As choices for childhood go, middle class white male is a pretty cushy option, and there’s no doubt I benefitted significantly from that. Nevertheless, it wasn’t always easy. Here are a few things to think about.

Imagine being a young girl who is passionate about clothes who is forced to go to school dressed as a boy.

Imagine having to socialize with the boys, because everyone thinks that you are one, and listen quietly to all of the dreadful things they say about girls when they think no girls are actually listening.

Imagine having something secretly wrong with you that would cause most people you know to think you were disgusting freak, should you tell them about it.

Imagine having parents who love you, but feeling unable to tell them why you are so unhappy because you can’t bear the thought of the pain and suffering it would cause them. Imagine growing up knowing that your only choices are to live a lie or to become a social outcast.

According to a 2011 survey, 41% of trans people in America have attempted suicide at some point in their life (compared to 1.6% of the general population). Many will have done so while still children. I was lucky, I was too scared to try. [http://endtransdiscrimination.org/PDFs/NTDS_Report.pdf]

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Oh, let me count the ways…

Being fired from jobs, and knowing there’s no point in applying for new ones.

Being denied basic health care, despite official government and health service guidelines.

Being told by a lawyer, “there is no justice for people like you in a British court”.

Being afraid of being attacked, or arrested, when you go out shopping.

Puberty.

Of course there are upsides. Being trans teaches you a lot about life, about people, and about yourself. There are few more effective ways to make yourself a feminist than possessing male privilege and voluntarily giving it up.

Also, provided that you don’t have unrealistic expectations about the end results, there’s a real feeling of triumph as you go through transition. All that medical treatment actually works. It’s amazing.

4. What do you wish people knew about being trans?

That the treatment works. Mostly what you see in the media are stories about how sad and pathetic trans people are, and prior to transition that can be true. But the vast majority of people who opt for treatment (and not everyone does, or needs it) end up much happier, despite the social problems that they still face. In terms of success rates, gender reassignment is one of the most effective medical treatments there is.

5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?

There are several common stereotypes about trans people: the big, hairy, muscular guy in a dress; the one with no fashion sense who tries too hard; the sex worker; and so on. Trans people, particularly trans women, are assumed to be fair game for comedians. The cliché that is really damaging, however, is the of the “deceiver” – the woman you would never know is trans, and whose sexual attractiveness somehow makes every man who fancies her “gay”. Trans women get killed because men think we “deceive” them by being honest about ourselves.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Listen to people, and ask questions. Not everyone will be prepared to answer, of course. Some high profile people get very tired of being asked the same basic, and probably insulting, questions time after time. But most people are prepared to talk if you are respectful.

Talk to more than one person, because no individual is ever typical of an entire minority group.

2 Responses to DiversifYA: Cheryl Morgan

  1. […] As I said yesterday, diversity in fiction can take many different forms, and happen in many different ways. I want to see more people from a wide variety of backgrounds producing books, but equally I want the people who are currently producing books to include a wide variety of characters, and do so in an informed and respectful way. How are they to do this? Well, a group of YA writers has set up a site called DiversifYA. It is aimed at all YA writers, not just the SF&F community, and it seeks to provide information on a variety of different life experiences. They use the “five questions” format to get structured feedback from people with a range of backgrounds, and that will hopefully help authors better understand the types of characters they want to put into their books. Today they ran an interview with me about growing up trans. You can read it here. […]

  2. […] International Coming Out Day, which is probably a good opportunity to point you once again to this post that I did for DiversifYA on growing up […]