Back when I was a wee young lady my favorite characters were always girls around my age with backstories that separated them from the other women, forcing them to define and claim their own identities. In these characters I found a community of sorts, a sisterhood of young women who had to claw their way through adversity and ostracization. These characters were friends who I talked to on my walk to school (even today, four years out of high school, I still find myself talking to them), I connected with them on an intimate level I couldn’t share with my flesh and blood female friends. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve looked back and realized that I had latched onto these characters because they were the closest thing I had to a community of trans sisters.
As a trans girl in a rural farm town who only knew of one other trans woman (and she was a fictional character that I didn’t care for) I created my own representation, collecting women whose stories felt familiar. Now when I talk about these characters I have to remind myself that they’re not actually trans, they just have backstories that are relatable to my own experiences as a trans woman (a category of characters that I think of as “Unintentionally Trans Women”). Of the many characters that I rewrote as trans women there are two that deserve a special mention from me: J.K. Rowling’s Hermione Granger and Gregory Maguire’s Elphaba Thropp.
Hermione is probably one of the greatest Unintentional Trans Women Characters that I can think of. In fact, her entire Muggle Born Witch plot line reads a lot like my own plot line as an (Incorrectly) Assigned Male At Birth Lady. Recognizing my womanhood was my version of receiving my Hogwarts letter: a frightening moment of clarity where suddenly all those weird moments of childhood (having to sit with the boys for the school’s puberty talk, not being allowed to take my dolls to school, making food levitate, etc.) clicked together and I understood that I was different and special and magical. After her acceptance to Hogwarts Hermione may be welcomed by many of her peers, but she is still up against a group whose ideology declares that she’s Not Properly One Of us And Can’t Sit At Our Lunch Table. Just as Hermione has to deal with the Voldemorts and Malfoys of the world I have transmisogynists who pull up bunk science as they try to deny me my identity. For a brainy, book loving, socially awkward, not conventionally attractive young woman who didn’t know how to handle society’s attacks on my gender, Hermione was one of the greatest heroines I could have ever grown up with.
As for Elphaba, well, bless my parents for believing their ten year old was able to handle the incredibly dark and sexually explicit Wicked. I became obsessed with her immediately, going as far as launching a campaign to change my name to Elphaba (I lost that battle). I recognized myself in her loneliness, in her discomfort in her body, in her (hopeless) moral crusades, and in her love of learning. Even the way that Maguire describes her appearance struck close to home. (Broad shoulders? Tall? Flat chested? Thin and built like a rectangle? Dark hair? Strong facial features? Hell that’s me.) The fact that I’m still alive with my sanity (mostly) intact is something that I partially attribute to her. My adolescent school years could have easily destroyed me if I hadn’t taken on Elphaba’s One-Woman-Against-The-World attitude that kept my chin up and a cold glare in my eyes.
When I talk about diverse representation in media my experiences with Unintentional Trans Women Characters remind me why it’s so important for me. When I was younger I was so desperate for to find someone like me that I had to reach for fictional women whose stories had some accidental similarity to my own life. I was so hungry for community that I would take whatever I could find. I needed representation so bad that I took Hermione and Elphaba (along with Arabella Minton (Journey to the River Sea), Rory Gilmore, Mary Poppins, Orlando, Alanna of Trebond (Song of the Lioness), and more) and created my own representation. While I love the women that I claimed as trans sisters I don’t want future baby Constance Augustas to grow up having to do the same. I want other isolated trans girls to experience the joy that I only felt once; I want them to be able to open a book and say, “This is me.”