Wednesday, June 28, 2017

LGBT month - 3

We're wrapping up the month of guest blogs with our own Larissa Glasser. Read below for some very specific insight.

Final Girl
Some thoughts on writing dark and speculative fiction from a trans woman’s experience
Larissa Glasser

I am trans woman who writes horror and dark fiction. I work as an academic librarian and am fortunate to have access to incredible resources, including genre studies, deep history, and transfeminism. I didn’t always have this. In fact, I had to struggle like hell to here. Perhaps that is partly why I’ve identified with the final girl < >, that lone survivor archetype of slasher/horror films. She endures and survives the violent trauma she experiences as her friends and family drop like flies at the hands of the serial killer(s) or an environmental force (sometimes both). Sometimes she unwittingly creates the danger herself. Trans living can be like this, and I remember reading one news article where someone stated all the hate-crime murders of her friends all around her made her think she was stuck in a slasher film, waiting for her turn to fall at the hands of maniacal bigotry and transphobia. Misogyny is a dire problem for all women in a patriarchal society, and trans women are no exception.

But what is trans, anyway? Transgender people are distinct from cisgender people in that they do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Sexuality and gender identity are also separate. We unequivocally fit into queer culture, because we sparked the actual resistance.

Although studies have indicated characteristics of the brain that differ in trans people, no one knows why it happens. I feel it may be a randomized rain of frogs, as Charles Fort < > might have suggested. However, there are instances where siblings are trans, the most famous example is perhaps The Wachowski Sisters < >. It’s just something that happens, more often than we all think. But let’s leave that extrapolation for another time and place (sighs of relief all around) and work with the givens here.

During the late 1990s, I had finally transitioned, and as with many major life adjustments, I was living in a state of abject terror. This, coupled with my childhood abuse and criminal assault trauma was a lot to handle when there were precious few support resources available. The first year or two is a harrowing experience for many, and the unsolved murder of Rita Hester < > rattled me especially. Rita had lived in my neighborhood, and her killer is still out there somewhere. I wonder if he (likely some cis dude) has killed again.

With visibility comes the danger of increased discrimination, assault, incarceration, deportation, murder.* That holds true especially now, when eight years of multicultural progressivism and civil rights advancement are in real danger of being completely erased by reactionary fascism. The swift forward-and-backward motion of living trans can give you whiplash. And it fucking sucks.

[* full disclosure, I am a white trans woman, raised upper-middle class. I will not purpose to speak to any experience except my own. I have experienced trauma, and I do not qualify—nor will I ever—the traumas and experiences of others. Trans people of color are most at risk for violence and discrimination, which I find to be nauseatingly unjust.]

Pride Month can be problematic for many trans women. Even as far back as 1973, Sylvia Rivera called out < > the discrimination she faced by the rising gay liberation contingent in New York. She helped blaze the trail for many who would also lift their voices. But we sometimes we experience transmisogyny from the gay rights movement, even though all non-straight people tend to get lumped together by enemies who deny our humanity. And yet change is possible, and to be a positive cultural agent of such change is part of why I write dark fiction. Diversity is crucial to genre.

And part of belonging is to just keep showing up.


I’m not new to horror and fantasy. I devoured the work of Clive Barker, Clark Ashton Smith, Shirley Jackson, Tolkien. But the confidence of my voice, before-during-and after transition, was a missing piece of the puzzle. That frustrated me for many years. Was I late in coming to grips with who I am and what I want to read and write about? Perhaps, but I’ve recently arrived at this new set of priorities. I’ve had a lot of help recently.

Literature by and for trans women has blossomed over the past few years. When I attended a writer’s workshop in Brooklyn last summer, it comprised entirely of trans women and femme-identified trans people. I networked among peers, made some friends, and found new possibilities where trans characters take center stage and tell stories on their own terms, without their narratives being appropriated and told for them. I never had anything like that when I was younger. But it’s all here now, and it’s getting exponentially better as more trans writers hatch and share their works, each of them unique and engaging. Few whom I’ve met so far write genre, but I am learning to apply these principles to my own interests in dark fiction.

I am a work in progress.


Although I hadn’t had the option to transition at a younger age, I latched on to the alternate worlds opened by horror and fantasy < >. That aesthetic stayed with me as I began to develop as a writer who felt I was self-censoring my own trans-ness for fear of prejudice. Women have often been mistreated in horror < >, and although advocacy for trans rights has gained traction, there is still a long way to go < >.

I wanted to countermand the negative portrayals I’d seen in the media for decades, and I found good representation to be a sticky affair when it came down to writing from the darkness, so intrinsic to horror. But I feared my own darkness. But then an editor whom I greatly admire encouraged me to write from that same darkness, especially when it comes to writing trans characters, because others who struggle with their own darkness might find healing there. That is what I hope for in everything I read and learn from.

However, writing trans narratives within genre is very new to me. I’m still terrified of doing it for fear of making bad representatiomn, and am still trying to get acclimated and find my voice. And yet I must—not because it is safe but because it is honest. My first novel, The Night Faith, featured no trans characters nor did it even touch upon the issue of being queer. My current novel-in-progress concerns the rights of trans students, and it doesn’t flinch from that—full disclosure: it’s also about heavy metal.


Although I gravitated to genre film and literature my whole life, representation of queer characters has been problematic for a very long time. This why I am concerned about writing trans narratives through a horror filter. The first impression many people have of the trans-and-queer character is of a maniac brandishing a raised weapon. “Psycho,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Sleepaway Camp”** among too many others. And yet I love these films in other respects. So where does that bring me? How do I write trans characters into genre and avoid these pitfalls of negative and/or dishonest representation?

[**on her podcast, trans writer Imogen Binnie had a great take on Sleepaway Camp—the central character Angela is a hero for trans girls because she just kills everyone who tries to fuck with her, and how awesome is that from revolutionary perspective < >.]

Art can be made by trans for trans. The writer can always create for themselves of course, but one’s audience cannot be wholly ignored. So then how does one write trans narratives into genre in a way that can also resonate with cisgender (non-trans) genre readership? I take a step back and see that darkness is universal, and plays with our emotions no matter what our gender identities may be. A good story works on its own merit.

Outside of horror, many people see trans characters within the framework of the “transition narrative,” proffered over the past few decades by cis writers who do not have the lived experience of being trans. Some see gender confirmation surgery as our only life goal (which is silly, but it stems from decades of media representation). No amount of research can channel the trans experience for those who haven’t lived it. And yet many of us are weary of giving “Trans 101” sessions. I think we’ve moved a little beyond that, now that trans literature has taken off exponentially.

But how does a trans woman write, say, a trans-identified villain without falling into that trap of portraying Buffalo Bill < >, a predatory serial killer who covets womens’ skin? Auntie Bill is an often-addressed pivot point in the history of trans visibility.

I eventually thought if I was going to have a go at creating some art, I would try to represent trans characters in a more positive light. Recent works by and for trans people have made this an increasingly viable possibility for me and others.


Here is one stipulation, however: I’d like to depict trans characters as people, warts and all, rather than as one-dimensional props for the unfamiliar reader’s curiosity. As I stated before, this has been done too much, too often, whether the trans character is a perpetrator or victim. However, trans women and femme characters cannot (and should not) be perfect girl scouts. Casey Plett wrote in The Walrus < >, that trans people are much more complex in real life—we have flaws and we sometimes behave unkindly to each other. Many of us do not connect easily because we are cagey and guarded. We are conditioned into that with the trauma of dealing with a society that invalidates you, wants you to remain invisible, excluded from public accommodations, women’s spaces, and the workplace. That’s what makes us such a strong component of humanity, but it can also prohibit us from connecting with one another. A design of oppression is to keep us isolated from one another. That’s where the writing comes in—to throw our stories like Molotov cocktails past the razorwire and (hopefully) reach the trans readership and encourage them to contribute their own narratives on their own terms. That’s what this is about for me. And the darkness can be safely, if carefully, integrated with that passion. Hopefully, our lives can be enriched by that.

descriptions in the links

Binnie, Imogen. 2013. Nevada. New York, NY: Topside Press. < >

Plett, Casey. 2014. A Safe Girl to Love. New York, NY: Topside Press. < >

Witchmonstr, Moss Angel. 2017. Sea-Witch vol. 1 (May She Lay Us Waste).
[Place of publication not identified] : 2Fast2House. < > and < >

Valens, Ana. 2016. Stray Thoughts on the Subway. Self-published. < >

Peters, Torrey. 2016. Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones. Self-published. < >

Larissa Glasser is a librarian and SF writer from Boston. Her fiction has appeared in The Healing Monsters Volume One and Procyon Press Science Fiction Anthology (2016). She has previously published nonfiction in Harvard Review, The Boston Phoenix, and Maelstrom. She is a Member at Large of Broad Universe < >, which promotes, educates, and advocates for women writers of speculative fiction, and is an associate member of The Horror Writers Association < >. She’s on Twitter @larissaeglasser and blogs at

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