With the increasing visibility of trans characters on television and film, it seems odd that literature has not kept up – there are very few books where the main character is transgender. He’s Gone is my first novel and features Detective Inspector Robyn Bailley, a 44 year old trans woman. The idea came from watching the marriage equality debate in the UK parliament in 2013. I was horrified by the rigidity of some of the views displayed and by how deeply they were held. What was almost funny about the situation was that those people who were against extending marriage to same-sex couples knew that it would be a disaster but could never seem to put their finger on exactly why. A typical quote:
“This is a Pandora’s box, for endless litigation, for division in society setting one group against another, and we must for that reason, for community cohesion, resist this bill.”
It made me wonder what would happen if people who held such strong views had no choice but to deal with someone who they considered ‘different’. Especially if that person were someone in authority, say a detective inspector and someone was relying on them to find their missing child. An idea began to stir in my mind and a character called Robyn introduced herself. She has lived her life as Roger, with a career in the police, a failed marriage and a 19 year-old daughter. After much deliberation, she’d decided to start the formal process to transition. In the UK, under the National Health Service, this means a consultation with a specialist Gender Identity Clinic and at least a year of real-life experience in your preferred gender before receiving medical intervention.
He’s Gone starts as Robyn comes to work for the first time as herself. Her dream of a quiet day is shattered when she is assigned to lead the hunt for a toddler snatched from a shopping centre. It’s not a crime that forensic science can solve: Robyn has to rely on more traditional detective work, working with her team and getting co-operation from witnesses. How these relationships change after Robyn’s coming out was one question that I really wanted to explore. All of the situations Robyn has to face in the book are taken from real-life examples, gathered from conversations or tweets. What I’ve seen of the trans community on Twitter is support through tough times and joy shared in positive steps. The book is intended as the first of a series, following Robyn as she continues her transition. In the time taken to finish the story, the visibility of transgender people is far higher than when I began writing. I’ve just finished the first draft of the second story and expect to have to make amendments as I edit it to reflect the continued evolution of laws and society. In July 2016, the UK government announced that medical evidence would no longer be required to change gender on a passport and there are discussions around the possibility of removing all references to gender on official documents. At the same time, there were protesters (though thankfully a small number) outside Parliament demanding the UK should adopt equivalent bathroom bills to the US, requiring people to use the bathroom of their birth sex.
Overall, I incline to be positive. To quote again from the equal marriage debate:
“This House, I suggest, is on a journey, and it is a journey that can be traced back many years. A hundred years ago there were the suffragettes and the opportunity for women to have the vote. In 1922 women were entitled to be MPs. Fifty years ago we had the civil rights movement and in 1967 homosexuality was made legal. Approximately 10 years ago civil partnerships were made legal. In that context, the House is on a journey and the country is on a journey too. We are all changing. The House must change with it, and so must the country.”
Of course, just because something is legal does not mean that there is no discrimination. This MP voted in favour of the bill but he still talks about homosexuality being ‘made legal’ when ‘decriminalised’ would be a better term. The change must be in social attitudes too. We all have a role to play in this change: mine is through writing fiction that reflects our diverse world.
Chat to Alex Clare on Twitter @_alexandraclare. He’s Gone is available from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hes-Gone-Alex-Clare/dp/1907605940 … and Hive http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Alex-Clare/Hes-Gone/19215735 …