Hey hey everyone! I am once again here with someone else’s post 🙂 Today, I have a post from Xan West! I was planning to post it all earlier but *gestures at everything* So, finally, here is one of the wonderful guest posts I received!
(CW for post: references to trans antagonism, violence, gender policing, and disrespect of trans characters. References to misogyny and toxic masculinity. Brief references to kink, including service based submission and bondage.)
These days, I find myself wanting to carve out spaces of rest and respite for trans and non-binary characters in genre romance. I feel rather protective, want to create robust spaces of comfort and chosen family, of friendship and support, want to offer quiet dark rooms for resting and fidget toys and music for stimming and cozy clothes that feel good and food that makes their mouths happy. I want to honor the ways they have survived and the tools and knowledge they have and also to make room for them to fall apart and need support. This desire is one of the things currently shaping my writing.
When I encounter trans and non-binary central characters in genre romances, they aren’t often introduced with much kindness and consideration. They are mostly introduced via disrespect, violence, or intrusive exposure. Frequently, this is also interwoven into the story in general. Romances with trans characters are often fairly bleak, include substantial violence and disrespect, and often present our transness as the source of conflict in the relationship, the thing folks learn to accept in order to be with us. Or sometimes, the thing we learn to accept about ourselves in order to feel worthy of love.
This is shifting some, as more ownvoices writers publish our own trans romances, but it’s still common enough that when I open a new romance with a trans and/or non-binary central character, I brace myself not only for harmful representation, but also for the character to face substantial disrespect, violence, and oppression from other characters, and often in the way the story is written. It is very difficult for trans characters to get respite from these things, to have safer relationships and homes where they can shore themselves up and expect to be treated in ways that honor who they are, where they are seen and held in their genders and have their bodily autonomy and consent respected.
I find myself wanting to create romances that offer respite to trans and non-binary characters. Where whatever else might have gone in their lives, there are also spaces of comfort, of joy, of connection and trust, of coziness and rejuvenation.
The day before I released my novella Their Troublesome Crush (which has an autistic trans man MC named Ernest), a trans hating troll responded to one of my tweets about the book. They asked what “manly” things Ernest does, challenging Ernest’s gender by playing that toxic masculinity game of evoking misogyny, queer hatred, and gender policing/testing. I wrote a rather long thread on Twitter, in response. This post is a reworking and expansion of that thread.
When I imagined Ernest’s backstory as I wrote the book, it was full of people trying to draw him into toxic masculinity games like this, trying to challenge his gender thru toxic competition, misogyny, gender policing and queer hatred.
At his core, Ernest is not interested in playing those games. He doesn’t want to be that kind of man. That’s not what being a man is about for him. And as an autistic trans man, he’s been grappling with this pressure in his own way.
Ernest chooses to embrace his queer masculinity, is deeply, decidedly queer. He composes musicals, is unabashedly bouncy and excited, sings and dances. He loves to bake and cook and serve fancy afternoon tea to the people he cares about.
Ernest is a service-centered submissive. At the core of his way of moving through the world is a desire to make life easier for those he cares about, to be careful and caring towards folks in his life, to be useful and helpful. He pays attention to what others need.
Ernest hates competition and conflict. They are triggering for him, make him uncomfortable, feel like no-win toxic situations. He avoids them if he possibly can and avoids people who bring them to him, try to trap him like that. He is gentle, will give hard no’s if needed but leans towards redirection and soft no’s as the main way he navigates social situations.
One of the goals I had in writing Their Troublesome Crush was to make it so Ernest didn’t need to engage with people trying to draw him into those games. That’s part of the fantasy of this book, and it was deliberately created. Ernest gets to have a cute romance without that stuff. He gets to have a home life that’s free of it.
It is quite difficult to be an autistic masculine person who is not competitive, is conflict avoidant, and doesn’t want to engage in those toxic masculinity games. It’s hard to read the cues, hard to suss out how to avoid them or diffuse them. To be a trans masc enby or trans man who refuses those toxic masculinity games is to be a constant threat and target of them, and a constant target of misgendering and of (sometimes well meaning) gender policing pressure from other masc folks and men. It is one of the most exhausting, depressing things I’ve encountered as an autistic trans masc genderqueer, and I wanted Ernest to get to have his romance without that kind of thing intruding on the story, as it’s intruded on my public life constantly.
Ernest is a very good boy and deserves lots of nice things, including singing show tunes with his best friend, and bondage harnesses, and a very confusing crush, and delicious matzo ball soup, and stim toys, and the chance to serve his queer chosen family the Pesach dinner he cooked for them. He deserves a story that creates respite for him from the toxic masculinity dynamics that are such a stressful part of life.
And truly, trans and non-binary readers deserve to have access to fluffy light romance that creates that kind respite for characters who are like us. Stories where we know that trans and non-binary characters will be treated with respect, will have their genders honored by the people who they fall in love with, will have spaces in their lives where they can rest and feel cozy.
I’m not saying that I want all trans romances to look like this. (I really don’t; we need abundance and diversity in trans romances.) But we deserve to have some that do. Some tropey fluffy escapes where trans characters aren’t isolated from each other, have supportive people and places, have love interests who actually deserve them and see how wonderfully magnificent they are. Some sexy hilarious romps where the chemistry between the MCs is delicious, and the banter is glorious. Some swoony loveliness of a slow burn romantic attraction and our favorite tropes executed brilliantly so it unfolds in a gorgeous unputdownable rush. We deserve to have the kind of respite that these books can offer us.
Their Troublesome Crush (Kink & Showtunes #1)
By Xan West
Pub date: 4/16/19 (Alex’s note: or, for Europeans like me, 16.4.19 :))
In this queer polyamorous m/f romance novella, two metamours realize they have crushes on each other while planning their shared partner’s birthday party together. Ernest, a Jewish autistic demiromantic queer fat trans man submissive, and Nora, a Jewish disabled queer fat femme cis woman switch, have to contend with an age gap, a desire not to mess up their lovely polyamorous dynamic as metamours, the fact that Ernest has never been attracted to a cis person before, and the reality that they are romantically attracted to each other, all while planning their dominant’s birthday party and trying to do a really good job.
Content Warnings are here: https://xanwest.wordpress.com/their-troublesome-crush/
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Pairing: m/f with a trans man hero
Representation: bisexual, pansexual, demiromantic, trans man, fat, Jewish, disabled cane user, autistic, diabetic, PTSD, and depression.
Cover illustrator: Hannah Aroni
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer and community activist with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.
Xan’s erotica has been published widely, including in the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “First Time Since”, won honorable mention for the 2008 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, is out from Go Deeper Press.
After over 15 years of writing and publishing queer kink erotica short stories, Xan has begun to also write longer form queer kink romance. Their recent work still centers kinky, trans and non-binary, fat, disabled, queer trauma survivors. It leans more towards centering Jewish characters, ace and aro spec characters, autistic characters, and polyamorous networks. Xan has been working on a queer kinky polyamorous romance novel, Shocking Violet, for the last four years, and hopes to finish a draft very soon! You can find details and excerpts on their website, and sign up for their newsletter to get updates.