Last Thursday, Episode introduced a new update that allows us to create trans women using the binary male body type. That’s great news for a lot of people out there for many reasons! As well as giving us more freedom to represent trans women, Episode has also given us the ability to represent drag queens, nonbinary people and cis men who like to wear “feminine” clothing. This is a massive leap forward, in my eyes! But with all of this progress, I think it’s time that we sat down to talk about how to represent trans women on Episode the right way.
Now, I’m just a cis woman. I’m not an authority on trans representation or how it feels to be a trans person. I’m just an ally with a little bit of influence and a lot of hope for this new update. I am, by no means, trying to speak over any of the trans people out there who want to comment on the issue. However, as a cis woman, I can see and understand the mistakes that cis people make when trying to represent trans women on Episode. I made many of them myself once upon a time! I probably still make many now. All we can do is learn and grow. Make sure you listen to as many trans people as you can on the issue. Use me as a starting point. Don’t just stick to cis people like me.
I’m also choosing to stick to trans women in this post. That’s because I hope there’s another update in the future aimed at representation for trans men! So with that in mind, let’s jump right in. Here are some of the things that I think need to be said about the new update.
Don’t Just Stick to the Binary Male Body Type
Trans women, just like cis women, come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, I know a few cis women whose bodies look more like the binary male body on Episode. I know many, many trans women who have the quintessential “feminine” body. Episode body types don’t even work to represent cis people! So putting all trans women into the “male body type” box would be inaccurate.
There are so many things that go into making us look the way we do: how much we work out, what we eat, our environment, our genetics. On top of that, trans women can also choose to go through gender realignment and feminisation surgeries, as well as hormones. These will, naturally, alter the way the woman’s body looks. She may start her transition with a body type that looks more like the binary male one, but there are many things that she can do to change this if she wants to.
No trans woman needs to get surgery to be a woman, so it really depends on the person and what they are comfortable doing. And that’s without considering the fact that not all people born male have that Episode body type in the first place! All of this makes it very hard to put a label on how trans women are “supposed” to look.
So it is also accurate to use the binary female body type to represent trans women on Episode. Don’t feel bogged down by the new update. Let it free you, not limit you!
Be Careful With Your Language
As I mentioned before in my post about the language of diversity, the words you choose to use can really affect the way you think. This, in turn, can affect the way you represent people. I understand that it can be hard to find the words to speak about trans representation. For a lot of people out there, this might be your first encounter with trans women! It’s ok to feel a little confused. However, when the update came out, there were a few words used that can be quite upsetting to trans women.
I saw people referring to cis women as “real women”. That makes it seem like trans women are fake. Like they’re playing make-believe with their gender. This is not the case at all! Trans women are real women and should be treated as such. But we don’t have to run circles with our language to explain what we mean. Lucky for us, we have the word “cis” or “cisgender” that we can use to speak about people who were born the gender they identify as. It’s a quick and easy word that we can use to make sure that we’re all on the same page and aren’t causing any offence.
If you want to represent trans women on Episode well, the first thing you need to do is make sure that you’re not going around offending the trans community or accidentally using slurs! So do a little research on the right language to use before you start. GLAAD is a great place to start if you want to get to grips with trans-inclusionary language. Make sure to check out the terms to avoid!
Accept that You Might Make Mistakes
Let’s face it: we all make mistakes. I know I do! We’re only human, after all! When it comes to representing trans women well on Episode, you might find that you’ll end up causing offence from time to time. I mean, if you’re getting your tips from this post, I doubt you’re an expert on what it means to be trans. You certainly won’t be after this! And then there’s the fact that even the experts out there can mess up. You can’t control what upsets people and, as much as you might try, you won’t be able to think of every single sensitive aspect of your story 100% of the time.
That’s why it’s important to accept that you’ll make mistakes. Once you accept that, you’ll be able to prepare and do damage control as quickly as possible! I mean, I can’t promise you that you’ll always be safe from anger. I can say, though, that there are millions of reasonable trans women out there who understand that you’re trying your best. They’ll be nice to you if they see you’re genuine! And those are the kinds of people whose opinion you should care about, anyway!
But in order to show that you’re genuine, you need to be open, honest and willing to change. Listen to criticism whenever you can and take the notes on board. If you don’t quite understand, ask questions and explain yourself in a polite, calm way. When a person is shut down as much as many trans women are on a daily basis, it’s natural for them to get defensive. But you can change that if you show you’re worth the patience!
Don’t Fetishise Trans Women
I get it. I’ve met lots of stunning trans women in person and seen even more online! And it’s 100% fine for you to be attracted to people (as long as you don’t make it creepy). In fact, it’s a great thing for many women out there! But there is a huge difference between portraying a woman as sexy and fetishising her. This isn’t just a trans issue. It’s a feminist one in general! But in our society at the moment, the issue has been discussed to death about cis women. On the other hand, the fetishisation of trans women is much less demonised or discussed.
When you fetishise a woman, it makes it seem like you think of her as more of an object than a human being. It makes it seem like she’s only in your story to help you or your audience get off, not to be a good character who contributes to the forwarding of the plot. I’m not saying that you can’t write a story with a trans love interest. Of course not! But she needs to be there for more than sexual desire or fulfilment.
Now, at the moment there are not many trans women in Episode stories. However, with this new update, I expect the number to increase! With that increase, I can bet that there will be loads more instances of bad representation. And we already have a problem with gay people being fetishised in Episode stories. Treat your trans characters (and your gay characters for that matter) like people who deserve their story to be told! It’s exactly the same as it is with a straight, cis character.
Make Them More Than Just Trans Women
There’s nothing more boring in a story for me than a character who is completely defined by the fact that they’re a member of the LGBTQ community. Could you imagine a story about how cis I am? What kind of story is that?! Where are the character arcs? Where’s the plot? What about the conflict? We need something to keep us reading! The same is true of trans women on Episode. They need to be more than just their gender identity. You can’t make a whole plot out of a woman just being a woman.
It sends out a bad message. It makes it seem like the only thing that makes a trans woman worth reading about is the fact that she’s trans. Her gender identity isn’t some alien or weird thing to be ogled at. She’s a person who deserves to be treated as such. And there’s so much that you can do with that! A close friend of mine is known for how much she loves animals, not the fact that she was born male. We don’t think about it or care because there’s so much more to her. That’s the real representation that you can provide as an ally: the kind where you treat trans women in the same way you’d treat any other cis character.
And I don’t mean that you can’t write a coming out or transitioning story. Of course, you can! It will be harder for you to get it right as a cis person, though. But when your character has nothing else about her personality, that’s when I question your story. And why do all stories with trans women in them need to have a transition, anyway? As an ally, you can use your story to help normalise trans people. That helps loads!
Do Your Research
I’ve said this many times before, but it is essential that you do your research when trying to represent trans women in any story, Episode or otherwise. As with any minority group, all the time, care and effort that you put into creating a good character pays off in the long run. You’re much less likely to cause massive offence. Of course, you’re not immune! However, showing that you put in the research and took the time to create a good character can really lessen the impact of offence and stop the most egregious of errors.
If you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to learn about trans experiences, it is very likely that you’re not going to take the care you need to write a good character. If you’re a cis person who knows many trans women, there’s no guarantee that you’ll know anything about what it means to be trans. Of course, you understand what it’s like to know and/or support a trans woman, but that’s really not the same thing. The best info you’ll get on the subject will come from trans women and their experiences. As well as that, you can consult academics who dedicate their lives to understanding gender.
Never get complacent. Learn as much as you can and use your research to help inform how you write the women in your story. It won’t just help you to write trans women better but will help you to become a better Episode writer in general. Research helps you to open your eyes to the world from different points of view. And writers who can empathise with others will usually be amazing.
Consult Multiple Sources
Trans women aren’t a monolith. That means that they aren’t going to all agree on everything. Some women will be offended by something that doesn’t bother others. That’s because we’re still learning and debating about gender and what it means. And, of course, humans tend to disagree. One of my favourite YouTubers, ContraPoints, has disagreements with her fellow trans women on a regular basis! There are very few things that all trans women will agree on. So that’s why you need to make sure that you don’t just stick to one book or blog post when doing your research. If you can consult lots of different sources, you’ll get a bigger picture of the issues, experiences and lives of trans women.
It will also help you to see that trans women are as diverse a group as any. This is going to be your saving grace. You’ll be able to make a varied and interesting group of characters. Your trans women will be less likely to fall into the same old Episode LGBTQ tropes and cliches and they won’t all seem like the same person! As I said before, trans women all go through their transition at different paces and feel gender dysphoria in different ways and to different degrees. There is no one “true” trans experience. So the more you clue yourself up on different sources, the better. You’ll get a nice, rounded understanding.
If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to representing trans women in a sensitive way. But I’m not the only source you should be looking up. I’m just the beginning! Have a look at Trans Talk. Watch some videos. Read a study or two. It will help you so much in the long run!