On Finding Myself (in Fiction) by Kris Ripper

Gender in Romance is a series of posts focusing on the various experiences and perspectives of some of the top voices in queer fiction.  Read more from this series here.

When I was coming up in the world, there was no word for my gender. No descriptive terms. You were a boy, or a girl. You were becoming a woman, or a man.

I tried really hard to be either. I always felt a little more like both, or neither.

As a kid, it hardly mattered. I read a lot of books and played a lot of make believe and when at all possible did not live in the world at all.

The shifting landscape of puberty kept me constantly unbalanced. Puberty, that great tar pit of uncontrollable changes, both within and without, pulling me down, down, down, my skin impossibly heavy with all the expectations I couldn’t meet.

ripper gender in romance

I wish there had been words. It’s a disquieting thing, only being able to define yourself by what you are not.

Everyone thinks I am a girl. I must be a girl. But I am not…I cannot be…maybe if I work harder at it…

Maybe I am a boy and they just can’t see it. If I am not a girl, I must be a boy. But I don’t feel…it doesn’t seem…I should work harder at it…

The first time I ever read a trans character in romance was a CSI fanfiction story. I kid you not. And I wasn’t even an observer in CSI fandom, but I stumbled upon this story and it blew my mind. Absolutely fucking blew my mind.

Binary trans, very early transition, the MC just learning about herself, trying to understand herself, discovering the language that felt right for her body, the pronouns that best fit her mind.

Y’all, no lie, I straight-up cried reading the first sex scene in this book, which was entirely about love and exploration, not the least about romance (that came later). I wanted desperately to feel a sense of coming home to myself, which some random author had written about in this story.

I never questioned my queerness. I was deeply fortunate to be born in the eighties in the Bay Area, and deeply fortunate to be stubborn enough not to even wonder at the certainty that I was those people. Not comfortably, not in the boxes that were set forth for me, but definitely part of them in some way I could feel.

But until the moment I read this story, I couldn’t conceive of feeling that certainty about my screwed up not-enough-of-one/not-enough-of-the-other gender.

Thus: the transformative power of fiction. Sometimes it shows us ourselves, even when we aren’t sure what we’re looking for, even when what we’re reading isn’t exactly our experience.

I can’t rec that story, but I can rec two books to you that I’ve read since then, and loved the trans and nonbinary characters in them.

The first genderqueer* character I ever read was Byron Kae in Alexis Hall’s Prosperity. (*I verified with the author that “genderqueer” made sense, even though the term is not used in the course of the book. Which you should read, right now, if you haven’t already. GO. DO IT.)

I loved—loved—the unabashed attraction the narrator feels for Byron Kae, the lack of fucks given about their genitals (which is something of an obsession in a lot of trans fiction, especially when written by cis folks), and more than all of that, I loved, and perhaps needed, Byron Kae’s unflinching self-possession with regards to their gender.

I wrapped myself in Prosperity like it was a warm, cuddly blanket. The other book I’m going to rec to you knocked me on my ass so hard that I had to take breaks while reading it because it was just that fucking amazing. And just that fucking intense.

Show Yourself to Me by Xan West is a collection of erotica, and it primarily features trans and disabled characters, many of whom are people of color, all of whom are queer.

And oh god, it’s so good. It’s so damn good.

The stories in SYTM are brazenly queer, in your fucking face with trans sex and kink and love and affection and, god, friendships. My kingdom for books in which queer people form family around one another, because that has been my experience, because my queer chosen family has seen me through hard times. And I see them in Xan West’s work. I see myself.

I’m a grown up. I have language now. And I struggle some days not to collapse under the pressure of the very binary world in which I live. On those days, I still lose myself in made up worlds.

And it still saves me, every damn time.

Kris Ripper

Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris shares a converted garage with a little kid, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Kris is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns because they’re freaking sweet. Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.

Connect:  |  Ripper’s Irregulars   |  The Twitter

Please note: all opinions and statements expressed are those of the author and not of Open Ink Press or its affiliates. 
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