on obligatory scenes in trans romance

I want to talk about a particular scene that isn’t in Peter Darling, and why. Note: This won’t be exactly spoilery, since it’s about content that was cut from the book. It does discuss the general themes and romantic pairing, though, so you might skip this if you want a completely pure reading experience.

Still with me? Okay, here’s the deal: Peter is trans, but he never discloses that to his love interest. Although it’s understood that Hook knows Peter is trans at a certain point, they never explicitly talk about it. I wrote The Coming Out Scene over and over in different locations, convinced it was important, and I hated every version of it. I kept scrapping it, but keeping it on my to-do list: Peter Must Come Out. Finally, I turned in a semi-final draft without it, and asked my editor if it needed to be there. They said no, and I was hugely relieved to drop it.

It wasn’t just that The Coming Out Scene was uncomfortable (although it always was) or that there wasn’t room for it (although there really wasn’t; I kept trying to cram it into scenes already heavy with exposition or fold it into the ending somehow, when it was far too late for that conversation). On top of all that, it was boring. It was a scene I’d read before. It was, I think, unnecessary.

What I kept writing was specifically the type of big trans revelation I encounter in a lot of trans romance: the “disclosing to your lover” scene where an emotionally vulnerable trans person offers up their “secret” for a (generally) cis partner to react to. In a romance, this usually ends well: the partner is supportive, or they knew all along, and/or they hug it out. It can be affirming to see a trans character’s vulnerability rewarded in those moments—except that sometimes it doesn’t end well, which is like the transphobic equivalent of a jump scare.

As a result, when I know the big trans revelation is coming, I can’t relax. I can’t trust the relationship until it’s done with. To be clear, that’s not romantic tension. It’s not a conflict along the lines of “I’m secretly your business rival and/or a sexy assassin”; it’s “I don’t know if you like trans people or if you’re going to hurt me for telling you.” In many ways it evokes a very real fear, but I don’t know that realism alone justifies the anxiety it causes me.

In the past, the way I’ve avoided that tension in my books is by having The Coming Out Scene very early on or having the protagonists already know each other. Neither option worked for Peter Darling, and it was clunky when I tried. So ultimately, I arrived at a different solution—not including disclosure at all. I’m not sure it’s a perfect solution, but it did make me think about something: Why should we not assume, in the context of a romance novel, that a trans person’s love interest is going to accept and adore them for who they are? Do we always need to see acceptance on the page to know it’s there? Why not have it be the expectation, the default?

Maybe the coming out scenes I kept writing were uncomfortable because cramming them in only served to entertain the idea of Hook rejecting Peter. I was putting Peter’s trans status on the table as something that had to be addressed and scrutinized before his relationship could proceed, as if they couldn’t be together if I didn’t include that scene.

There’s a nasty idea that trans folks’ relationships are invalid if we don’t disclose our trans status at the right time, whatever that means; it’s the same as the hateful notion that trans people are trying to “trick” cis people into dating and loving them, that our love is based on lies unless we’re “out”. Obviously, that idea is repulsive to me, but on some level I had given myself a similar framework where Peter’s disclosure was the only thing capable of legitimizing his relationship. I was treating the examination of a trans character’s body and life history as something essential to a story where it had no real place.

I needed to let that go. Whether or not it works perfectly in this story is, again, something I don’t know—but it was important to me to write it this way, to try out other ways of communicating respect and understanding of trans folks in romance. It was also important for me to think about whether having Peter’s trans status unstated made it a “secret” or whether it was always present, always informing the relationship between him and Hook, without being their topic of discussion.

And finally, I think it makes sense: Peter Darling doesn’t have a coming out scene in it because it’s not about coming out. It’s about an entirely different set of (trans) experiences—isolation, self-repression, parental abuse, toxic masculinity, and, y’know, enemies falling in love. Disclosure is a part of life for most of us trans folks, but that doesn’t mean it always has be highlighted in fiction. It can be put aside to make room for other stories, and explored in depth when it’s truly important and meaningful.

The rest of the time, I’m skipping it.

peterdarling-f-1Peter Darling comes out on Feb. 15th and is a queer, trans love story based on Peter Pan. The excerpt, blurb, and preorder link are available at the publisher’s website: Less Than Three Press.

10 thoughts on “on obligatory scenes in trans romance

  1. Bravo! I think we need more stories that are about the romance/relationship, and less about the “labels” of the lead characters. I agree– if the story isn’t about the disclosure, then it can be implied without being forced into the narrative.

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  2. I’m about fifteen times more excited for the book (which I already pre-ordered) now. I’ve always loved reinventions of Peter Pan, and as a trans guy I can’t express how excited I was to find a story with trans Peter—but I was slightly worried about The Reveal because I felt it was inevitable and I’ve seen it handled badly or stressfully a Lot. So this takes a load off my mind, plus I really agree with the ideas you’ve expressed here. 😀

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  3. I’d never thought about these scenes as a whole, but you’re right. Just like gay/lesbian characters shouldn’t need to have The Big Coming-Out Talk with every new character they meet on the page, trans characters shouldn’t need to give other characters (romantic partners or otherwise) veto power over their trans-ness before the relationship can progress.

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  5. Pingback: Peter Darling

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