Characters and Diversity. Part 4 – Gender Identity

Hello SE friends, Gwen with you today, and together we will venture further into the theme of diversity. In June, I wrote about including racial diversity in your stories. Here’s a link to that post. In July, I focused on financial diversity and offered suggestions which you can read about here. Last month, I wrote about physical ability. Here’s a link to that post.

With each of the posts in this series, I’ve shared a personal experience rather than political or polarizing information. We are all different. No two of us are the same. This is particularly true with this next topic of gender identity.

We’ve all heard the rhetoric, and we all have our opinions about this topic. If you could, I invite you to set aside those judgments for a few minutes, as I share a story that might help you with your character’s turmoil.

Photo from Canva

In the Fall of 1965, I climbed into a Greyhound bus and traveled through the night to San Francisco for college. I had never been there before this trip and to this day, I remember the awe I felt seeing the lights and the skyscrapers.

Within the first few weeks of classes, I met my future husband. He thought me beautiful and of course, I fell in love. Soon we were planning our wedding. Shortly before our vows, he shared secrets that were unsettling. He told me that he felt he was a woman locked within a man’s body. He had dreams that both enticed and frightened him. I thought this was something that would pass. It did not.

After the wedding, he tried dressing as a woman. At 6’ tall and medium build, he looked like he was going to a costume party. He stopped this practice when he heard someone laugh. Then he began researching how he could make the medical transition. And I started taking classes in abnormal psychology.

I told no one about my experience or his. How could I? Because he was also suicidal, my focus was on keeping him alive.

I’ll stop here and mention that this marriage ended after a couple of years. LGBTQ+ was not openly discussed at that time. For the most part, information was underground and finding it was difficult.

My former husband suffered his confused identity, and I did with him. Because of this situation, I was introduced to a world I did not know existed. I learned the difference between transgendered and transvestite, words I had not even heard before my marriage. All of it was frightening at the time.

Photo by Canva

We aren’t privy to the personal journey of those carrying banners or shouting for recognition on the streets. Most of us don’t like noise, and often just turn it off. With my then spouse, however, I couldn’t ignore the reality I was thrown into, and that fact forced me to look deeply into the topic.

If I could reduce my experience to one thing it would be that irrespective of gender identity, there’s a heart beating that wants acceptance.

I offer the following suggestions for consideration if you choose to include a character or characters who are LGBTQ+.

  • Consider your own sexual identity. What makes you a sexual being? What qualities or traits do you identify as male, female, or nonbinary? Are these aspects physical, mental, or both? Could your character be a muscular man and a shy woman at the same time?
  • Recognize your hesitations and judgments about gender issues. We all have our opinions on this. Social media has made certain that we are aware. If we can step back and acknowledge our own perspectives, we are less likely to impose them on our characters.   
  • Realize that physical characteristics are not determinate. Your character need not be androgynous, that certainly wasn’t the case with my former. Physical appearance is only a small part of who we are.
  • Research the topic and consider talking with someone who identifies as LGBTQ+. There is much material available now and reading will help you give life to your character.

That’s it for me today, my friends. I hope this post has proven helpful in some small way. Gender identity is a complicated matter, and I have barely touched the surface of all that it entails. I’d love to hear from you. There is so much we can learn from each other.

Take good care of yourselves and enjoy the last few days of summer. All the best…

64 thoughts on “Characters and Diversity. Part 4 – Gender Identity

  1. Gwen, thanks for sharing your personal experiences in each of the segments. They were relatable and interesting. I liked your thought provoking suggestions. In Part IV, I especially enjoyed the quotes from authors that I recognized. That was a nice twist to the culmination of the series! On a personal note, I hope you continued your work with veterans 🙏.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gracie. I’m retired now, but the highlight of my long career in education was the years I spent working with the veterans. I learned immensely from them. I do my part now by offering financial support through multiple veteran organizations. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Character Development and Diversity | Story Empire

  3. Hi Gwen, thank you for sharing this story. You really did have a rocky introduction to marriage and men. I think the modern approach of people being able to be open and honest about their gender is much better for everyone. It helps to avoid unfortunate situations where another party becomes part of the confusion and gets hurt.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for sharing your own personal story, Gwen. This is a deeply divisive subject in today’s world. I can’t imagine what it was like back then. Humans are complex and full of that great unknown. We are truly all different, yet so much the same. We each yearn to be loved, to be accepted, to figure out who we are and where we fit in. It’s life. I have enjoyed your series immensely.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, Beem, very wise words. “We each yearn to be loved, to be accepted, to figure out who we are and where we fit in.” Beautiful summation. ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences with diversity, Gwen, how they’ve made you think and grow, and open your eyes and heart. Your suggestions for exploring gender diversity were very helpful for understanding our own identity and perspectives and for treating people (and characters) with respect. Hugs. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for sharing your story, Gwen. People are so quick to be judgmental when we really need others to be more accepting. I think back to my experiences as a heterosexual man in high school. The worst thing, it seemed at the time, was to have another guy call you gay. While that label still triggers homophobic responses for some, it no longer has the stigma it once did. Unfortunately, education takes time, and I suspect the same thing will happen with transgender issues. All I can say to those who can’t accept this is to consider how they would feel if their child was ridiculed or abused.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Beautiful insight, Pete, thank you. I’ve learned a lot writing this series, and part of what I’ve recognized is that there’s much more I can do to add depth to my characters. It’s been an eye-opening exercise for me. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Gwen, I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must have been for you and your husband as he struggled with his gender identity. It’s so true what you said that we all want acceptance. Thanks for a great series of posts.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Sharing your story made terms we hear real and personal. Thank you. I’ve often found that once I MEET someone who’s different than I am, I find the things that make me care about them. I see them as a person instead of a label, and then I understand them better. Your story was deeply moving.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Thank you, Gwen, for sharing your personal story. I can only imagine the turmoil and angst in him as well as in you. I love what you said about him exploring a medical transition and you taking abnormal psychology classes. Both proactive actions. I have not experienced the gender issue on a personal level, but you gave me a new insight, and as others have said, the one line about inside us each beats a heart that only seeks acceptance is so very powerful. An insightful post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Jan. Too often the topic is brought up as though it were a new fashion design. For those who struggle with identity questions, it’s far from a simple matter. I’m deeply pleased you appreciated the post. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

  10. An amazing story, Gwen. Thank you for sharing your experience. Your summary “There’s a heart beating that wants acceptance,” pretty much says it all. I don’t have the experience or knowledge to tackle gender issues in my stories but your post did bring me to that conclusion. Thank you again.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Your story’s really made an impact on me, Gwen. The world is constantly evolving and it’s strange to think that homosexuality in the UK was still a crime until 1967 – and certain caveats remained for prosecution until 2003. Transgendered and transvestite as terms were unknown to me until comparatively recently and those brave enough to confess their feelings are still openly vilified or ridiculed. “there’s a heart beating that wants acceptance” is a wonderful summation. Our experiences as people imbue our writing with sincerity; this is clearly the case in yours. Many thanks for this. ♥♥

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I can’t imagine what you and your former went through, particularly given how different things were then. I’m sorry to hear that and hope all worked out for both of you in the end. Thought-provoking post, Gwen. Hugs. 💕

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Pingback: Characters and Diversity. Part 4 – Gender Identity | Legends of Windemere

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