In most books I read and movies I watch, there are rarely any LGBT characters, and the LGBT representation I do see is almost exclusively gay men, with a smaller amount of lesbians and a handful of bisexuals. I can't think of any books I've read with an MC who's transgender or nonbinary (neither male or female; not conforming to a gender binary). I'm not trans or nonbinary, but I am bisexual, and I want to casually make my characters LGBT without making it seem forced because I know how important positive representation is to people in my community.

I have a few OC's right now who I don't really have an assigned gender for, one of whom is a witch named Kem. I characterize Kem as kind of a tsundere who enjoys attention and has few close friends. I don't know whether or not making Kem transgender or nonbinary is a good idea, because I'm not either of those things, I've never written a trans/nonbinary character, and I don't want to make Kem a walking stereotype.

How does one incorporate trans/nonbinary characters without making their gender the main focus?

  • I just saw a brief essay about this topic on tumblr, so instead of restating what they said, I'm just going to link to what they wrote. It's not the whole picture, but I think that it should help you. – Arcanist Lupus Jan 6 at 0:25
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    There was an interesting use of this in a recent Doctor Who episode. Bill Potts, a lesbian, was talking to a Roman legionnaire who considered it weird (but in an accepting way) that she limits herself to only having sex with one gender. It was an interesting reversal to see the "token LGBT" character being put in a situation where they were seemingly the closeminded one. The main point here was the acceptance of the Roman soldier. The idea of liking one gender was alien to him, but he simply took it as a fait divers instead of a way to judge Bill. – Flater Jan 7 at 14:43

It's extremely important for media to depict people out of the gender/sexuality mainstream as normal.

So your best bet is to do exactly that: have a diversity of characters and show it all as perfectly normal.

Most people don't talk about other people's trans/cis status unless 1) they're jerks or 2) there's a specific reason for it.

Sexual orientation is a bit different because it is totally normal to talk about dating or relationships or family and, given that our language is gendered, this will come out, so to speak.

With non-binary, the issue again is pronouns. You can't tell by looking at someone if they're non-binary since many such folks choose to present as male or female (or just do naturally) and many androgynous-appearing folks identify as male or female.

Overall though, once people get over the "shock" and get used to the pronouns, names, etc, it's all just part of everyday life. If you find your characters having long philosophical discussions about gender and sexuality, something's not very realistic (or they're college students ).

Talk about their days matter of fact. A transwoman early in the transition process might be shaving both legs and chin. A transman might get his period. Trans and non-binary folks are likely to be misgendered multiple times over the course of a week (maybe even a day) and this and other micro-aggressions (even times when it's completely accidental) will wear your characters down.

There will be a few outright cases of bigotry, maybe even violence. They aren't likely to come often, but they are profound enough that occasional is enough to leave scars.

If your world doesn't have these sorts of bigotries, awesome. Focus on the matter of fact stuff. Talk about same-sex marriage with the same detached description as you would talking about opposite-race marriage. It just is.

There are some stereotypes to watch out for and your best way to do that is to get sensitivity readers once you've finished the book (or at least a few scenes with those characters). Also talk to your friends who identify in those categories and go out of your way to meet more. The more people you know who are any given example of X, the more you'll be able to suss out what's more or less common in that group of people and what's a stereotype.

A book I read recently that handles 4 different genders really well is Temper.

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    One thing that I would add, is that it ususally throws off lgbt people when they see only a single non-binary / trans person in the work. In my experience (and the experiences I've read of of other people) it's very unusual for a nb/trans person to not know of any other lgbt people -- even in typically conservative-heavy areas people are good at seeking people out that are like themselves. So while cishet people may find it unusual to have so many lgbt people in a work, given that 'they're minorities', the reverse is just as unusual for non-cishet people :) – Finn O'leary Jan 7 at 15:04
  • @FinnO'leary I completely agree. I wrote a much longer answer for the "too diverse" question that addresses that issue. Tokenism drives me crazy too. – Cyn Jan 7 at 15:57
  • Indeed, if there's a magical means of hosting a chatroom, and OP writes a trans character, and that character isn't someone in at least three such chat rooms, they're highly unrealistic. – Adonalsium Jan 7 at 19:15

The game Dragon Age - Inquisition did this recently, quite successfully, with a side character, Krem. Krem is the second-in-command of a mercenary group one of your companions leads, so an NPC you interact with about a dozen times throughout the game. He tells you he's trans about halfway into the game. It's part of his backstory. You get one dialogue about it, and that's it, moving on to more important issues like what the mercenary company can do for you at this stage of the game.

I think that is a good example of how to do a minor transgender character well: the point is present, it has had a big impact on the character becoming who they are now (changing one's gender is not like changing one's t-shirt), but the character is not defined by their gender. They have a job, they have hobbies, they have friends and family. In their day-to-day, those form a much more pertinent topic of conversation than what's between their legs.

One of the main problems with many LGBT "representations" in modern media is that the LGBT status is the character's sole characteristic. This is boring, shallow, unrealistic, and to be avoided.

If the character has a bit more presence in your story, you might, if you choose, give this topic a bit more room. For example, you might show the character in the process of transitioning, rather than years after. There might be someone who knew this character as a child, struggling to accept the change, getting the pronouns confused through force of habit. You might mention bigotry, though that, I think, is a cheap shot - that's the easiest story to tell; bigot - bad, character - innocent victim, seen that story a thousand times with a hundred other minorities.

  • Bizarrely, after getting it right in DA:I, Bioware proceeded to screw it up in Mass Effect: Andromeda, with a trans woman who dead-names herself on introduction. Fortunately, they apologized and fixed it in a post-release update, but it's disturbing that they seemed to be going backwards on trans representation. – Kevin Jan 6 at 18:00
  • @Kevin I haven't played Andromeda, can you link to that? – Azor Ahai Jan 6 at 20:32
  • @AzorAhai: Google "Hainly Abrams" and there are about a million hits talking about it. – Kevin Jan 6 at 22:34
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    @Kevin To be fair, they tried. This character felt comfortable mentioning that she was transgender having only just met the player; I'd imagine that's what Bioware were going for. Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance. At any rate, I personally know at least one trans person who hates the term "dead name"; their feeling is that the old name was them, just not any more, and the new name is them too; they didn't die, they just changed. They view it more like a maiden name or something. Despite the misstep, I do give Bioware points for trying. – anaximander Jan 7 at 14:38
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    @Kevin That's kind of my point. A lot of the upset over this character is presented as "trans people don't behave like they're portrayed here", which overlooks that there's no uniform way that trans people behave (as with any demographic). This is important first because it means that people wishing to include trans people in stories - even in a positive light - may find inconsistent or conflicting information on how to do it well, and second because this character is a single person, so there will always be some trans people out there who can say "well, I'm trans and I'm not like that". – anaximander Jan 10 at 20:07

How does one incorporate trans/nonbinary characters without making their gender the main focus?

The same way you would any other character. Introduce them, and then... let the character develop.

For a trans character, this is heavily dependent on the stage that they're in - closeted, pre-transition, transitioning, post-transition - and what the environment is around them - are people transphobic? Is it just matter-of-fact in your story?

To make things simple, let's start off with the case of a post-transition trans woman, in a world where people aren't transphobic.

For all intents and purposes, just write her as you'd write a normal woman in your story. Don't make her talk differently, or act differently. Write her as you would a cis woman.
However, there are a few things you can do to make it clear that she's trans without making it her focus. For instance, make sure that she doesn't say anything about periods (assuming a transition level equivalent to modern technology). You could also mention something about hormones, just in passing, such as finally not taking hormone pills every day. There are lots of other ways, but these are a few examples.

If you want to write a transitioning trans woman, then this will... probably be made obvious by a physical description. Having her get misgendered and then correcting them would be a way to get it across. Mention upcoming surgery or something like that. Just in conversation, not as a focus.

These can be applied to trans male characters, too - such as mentioning him starting to grow a beard, top surgery, something about periods...

There are lots of ways to just stick it with subtle hints in passing, that aren't making it the focus of the character while still including positive representation.

Now, a really really easy way to include an enby character in your story is through pronouns. Just refer to this character as "they", consistently, and don't mention anything else. Make sure all of your characters use the correct pronoun.
If you're writing in a context where people are separated by gender, though, such as a locker room, that gets a bit trickier. If you're writing in a post-phobic environment, you can get around this by having different locker rooms and simply, normally, mentioning that they went to the other one.

Writing a genderfluid character is... tricky, if you don't want to make it a focus. I haven't ever tried writing a genderfluid character, but to do this you can probably use the pronoun trick. Switch up the pronouns, make sure that it's obvious that it's the same person, and describe different attire at different times - for instance, one day she'll be wearing a dress and the next he'll be wearing a basketball jersey.

If you're writing in an environment where people are transphobic, that makes things harder, especially if your nonbinary character doesn't have a third bathroom for them to use. In an environment like this, then getting insulted would be... an unfortunately realistic depiction of being trans in a phobic environment. Have someone mention that they know someone who's afraid to come out. Have a coming out party. Encountering pronoun difficulties is a good way without getting too... uncomfortable for the reader - such as someone stubbornly refusing to use singular "they". A character could mention that they were disowned by their family years ago for being trans. All of these are realistic, and painful, depictions of being non-cis in a phobic environment.

Above all, make sure that all of these characters have depth and aren't token LGBTQ+ characters. Just as you shouldn't stick a token dark-skinned character into your story, make sure that you're not doing that with your non-cis characters.

Getting a sensitivity tester would be a great idea - there are plenty of folks in the LGBTQ+ community who'd be happy to read through it and give you feedback.

Make sure that you're treating your characters with respect, give them depth, and you should be fine.

  • What does "enby" mean? – Pyritie Jan 7 at 11:28
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    @Pyritie "enby" = the pronunciation of "NB", standing for "non-binary". – AJM Jan 7 at 12:21
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    The first sentence alone is key. The vast majority of questions about how to write characters of any minority - race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, whatever - can be answered with that sentence. Write them like you would a character who wasn't of the minority, let them develop as a character, and go detail only where it helps the story. I always remember George RR Martin's response to an interview question on how he writes such good female characters: "You know I've always considered women to be people." Don't write minorities; write people. – anaximander Jan 7 at 14:44

I write LGB main characters, at least. (Nothing against TQ, just haven't had a story that needs that).

My approach is to "show" not "tell". The female MC flirts with females. Or she picks up a girl at a gay bar at some early point in the story, and then a guy at a regular bar at a later point. Or she and another girl are together (say eating lunch and talking) and before her friend leaves, they kiss goodbye on the lips.

I generally write about post-phobic environments in which this is ignored by the public around them; and I treat romance, sex, and the frustrations and joys of it as pretty much the same for two people in lust, in love, flirting without having had a date, or beginning dating.

That said, LGB and hetero can have their advances rebuffed by those that don't share their orientation, but that is no different than getting rebuffed in hetero dating for lack of mutual attraction. In fact it IS a lack of mutual attraction, right?

My advice is navigate it as if it is is natural and nobody cares. If bisexuality is important to the plot, then like anything else about your character's personality that is important to the plot, find a way to reveal it early (in the first 10% of the story).

It doesn't all have to be sex scenes. I can have a female MC actually have sex with a guy early in the story, and during intimate talk afterward, lying in bed, tell the same guy about her first real lover, a girl that broke her heart. Without him being surprised by that; but sympathetic at the painful parts or humored by the funny parts.

Or it could be entirely a conversation with a friend.

Angela said, "I have my second date with Bobby tonight."

Mary grinned. "Have you slept together yet?"

"On the first date? Hell no."

"We slept together on our first date."

"That wasn't really a date, that was like a hug goodnight where I somehow ended up naked."

"I shared half my root beer with you, that counts as a date."


You ask about "realistically incorporating trans/nonbinary characters" (my emphasis). So what is realistic in this context?

One aspect of realism is to depict the reality of trans/nonbinary persons. They are, as Cyn has pointed out in their answer, normal persons. But at the same time being trans/nonbinary is not normal in current society. Trans/nonbinary persons have to struggle with many difficulties that those self-defining as men or women don't face. So if you present the lives of trans/nonbinary characters and their lives as normal in your book, you have left the realistic behind and entered the fantastic and utopian.

You may want to write about a world in which being trans/nonbinary is normal, but that is (currently) not realistic. Realistic would be to show the struggles that trans/nonbinary persons face in our world, or the impact these struggles have on all aspects of their lives.


The primary question is whether or not the trait is a defining trait in your story, or just a detail of the character.

If the trait is central to the character, for example because it makes him behave in a way different from what he'd otherwise do, then point it out early, develop it and keep it in the mind of the reader so that the reader is not suddenly surprised by it, because then it would feel forced. Treat it the same way you'd treat someone being an introvert, or aggressive, or paranoid or in love, or any other character trait.

If the trait is exchangeable, i.e. the story wouldn't change if you dropped it or changed it for something else, then treat it like any background information about the character - point it out when it would naturally come up. Like physical attributes. The hair colour of a character would be mentioned when someone checks them out or when the reader meets them for the first time. Bisexuality could come up during small talk in a bar ("hey nice chick, right?", "Her boyfriend is cute, too.", "Right, I remember, you love both sexes."). And then don't force it. Since it's not important to the story, it should be in the background, not in the foreground.

The media portrayl of non-typical sexual orientations gets flack from both sides. Those who are LBGT or such feel underrepresented, while strictly hetero-normative people feel that every damn show, movie and book now gets packed with the freaks. Both are right, from their individual perspective. If you are LGBT, chances are that in your circles the percentage of others of that type as well as people with an open attitude towards the sexual is above the population average. If you are strictly (maybe even religiously) conservative, chances are that you have very few LGBT people in your surroundings. In both cases, the fraction shown in the media doesn't match your personal experience.

Just keep that in mind. This is why the inclusion of LGBT people can seem forced.

  • Are you implying that anyone who isn't LGBT would perceive LGBT people as "freaks"? That's rather offensive. – Galastel Jan 7 at 13:07
  • In case you missed it, I have intentionally used terminology from both ends of the spectrum. A redneck would never call himself "hetero-normative", nor would an LGBT person consider themselves as "freak" - but from the others perspective, those are terms that they would use to describe the other person. If that was too complicated: No. I imply that religiously conservative hetero-normative cis-people would consider anyone with a different sexuality to be a freak. – Tom Jan 7 at 13:17

My advice is always the same for writing characters outside your own experience. Have a conversation with, or get a reality check from someone who does share the character's experience. You'll still have to use your imagination and your empathy, but that will keep you from making major or offensive errors and omissions, and add some authenticity.

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