No way, better than the original. Art by Giva

Narrative archaeology: transgender fantasy characters

When I started looking for transgender characters in fiction, especially in fantasy and sci-fi, I had a faint idea of what I was going to find because, needless to say, these two genres don’t compare on equal terms.

The transgender theme defines an otherness with respect to a “norm”, it is inherently “problematic” without placing itself in a binary evil-good logic (even if in the Frank Miller graphic novel, 300, the Persians, villains, are effeminate and monstrous, while the Spartans, heroes, are machos… two forms of gayness in comparison, according to someones).

On the other hand, one of the clichés of fantasy is exactly the unlikely hero (here is the distinction between heroic fantasy and high fantasy, isn’t?), the outcast and the “different” hero (from Conan the Cimmerian (The phoenix on the sword, R.E. Howard, 1932, short story) to Geralt of Rivia in The Last Wish (1993, novel), so I could have hoped for for a bunch of books.

I could have.

The protagonist of Starless, (Jacqueline Carey, 2018, novel), Khai, discovers that despite she was born genetically female, was raised as a male. Khai’s sexual and gender explorations are well integrated into the prophecy based plot (yawn).

In The Red Threads of Fortune (JY Neon Yang, 2017, novel) we can see applied a well established idea in sci-fi field: no one is assigned a gender at birth, and one may decide at any point later in life (or never) to take on a particular gender and, if desired, related physical characteristics.

Cover of the book

In When the Moon Was Ours (Anna-Marie McLemore, 2016, novel) one of the protagonists is an Italian-Pakistani trans boy who loves Miel (the other one, a girl from whose wrist roses grow out): together they fight the Bonner sister, four beautiful girls rumored to be whitches. They fight is enriched/complicated by the path of self-acceptance of Sam. One of the rare books (The Annex is another) where the transition is not just a narrative device but, in some way, the engine of the tale.

Along the four-book series The Shadow (the first one is Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen, 2015, novel) Nettie Lonesome follows a path of self acceptance and in Treason of Hawk (Lila Bowen, 2018) our hero is Rhett Hennessy and becomes a member of a posse (it’s a western fantasy, something like the Alvin Maker series (Orson Scott Card, 1987–2003, novels) that includes queer individuals and people with disabilities.

The transgender protagonist of Full Fathom Five (Max Gladstone, 2014, novel), Kai starts creating gods built to order and ends fighting a conspiracy.

Drag Martigan from kerouaklibriebicchieri

Before? It seems the is the void, some “cross-dressing” (Mad Martigan in Willow, 1988, movie) presented as the best way to hide men whose masculinity could not be doubted anyway (a long tradition from Homer: in Iliad, Ulysses tries to avoid the war this way) and nothing more.


Five? I’m sure I’m wrong, please help: five works is just ridiculous.



Linguist, entrepreneur (co-founder of Maieutical Labs), curious. I’m here on Medium mostly to learn, even when I write something.

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Adri Allora

Linguist, entrepreneur (co-founder of Maieutical Labs), curious. I’m here on Medium mostly to learn, even when I write something.