Regular readers of this blog and those of you who follow me on Tumblr and Pinterest will know that I’m pretty keen on bringing feminism full-on into the romance genre. One of the things I’d like to see is greater numbers of heroines and heroes other than white, straight, cis, able-bodied, thin, wealthy people. (On which note: Dear Author recently had a thread recommending good romances that feature protagonists with disabilities, so let’s take a moment to cheer for that!)
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that there was a contemporary romance that featured a transgender heroine! It’s Two Spirit Ranch by Jaime Stryker, and reading it brought up a lot of questions for me.
But First, A Primer
The language for talking about trans experiences is still pretty fluid and I am still learning, but here is a lamentably brief and limited definition of the two terms that are valuable for the discussion in this post.
- cis: short for either cissexual or cisgender, but no need to worry about that distinction right now. Cis was originally a chemistry term, but in social justice it just means ‘not trans’ — if your experience of your own gender matches the gender you were assigned at birth, you are a cis person. I love this word so much, partially because it is useful and illuminating, but also because it reminds me of the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul, which is just ‘Gaul that is on the near side of the Alps.’
- dysmorphia: I can’t explain it any better than QueerSexEd, but trans people often experience a certain amount of distance from their own body. This varies from person to person and can be psychologically traumatizing.
- trans: short for transgender or transsexual, another much-debated distinction that I do not feel qualified to tackle. A trans person is a person whose experienced gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. For instance, a trans woman experiences her gender as female though she was assigned male at birth. (The article for transgender on Wikipedia is surprisingly thorough and link-heavy, if you’d like more information.)
And Now, A Review
Sad to say, Two-Spirit Ranch was not very good, as a romance. It’s riddled with lame cliché and, for all its evident enthusiasm, not very competently written. But plenty of romances are bad, and talking about things like the sheer, untrammeled idiocy of our sheriff hero is not nearly as interesting as talking about how this book succeeds and fails at representing characters from marginalized groups. (Though a disproportionate number of my reading notes consist of the words: “Stupid sheriff.”)
Because while the book received a lot of press from non-romance sources like Jezebel and MediaBistro, it didn’t get a lot of coverage within the romance industry itself. Partly this is a factor of the sheer business of the industry—so damn many books!—and partly this is a factor of the silencing that trans voices routinely are subject to in a culture that is hostile to their very existence. I am by no means an authority on trans experiences—I’m as straight, white, able-bodied, and cis as your average romance heroine—but it seems to me that someone in the romance community should be talking more about this book, and nobody else has stepped forward. That the existence of this book is a referendum on the state of diversity in romance today should be clear from this ChicagoNow headline: Will romance genre embrace new transsexual story?
You are heartily encouraged to call shenanigans in the comments.