Today I am so pleased to welcome Nem Rowan to Joyfully Jay. Nem has come to talk to us about his Lunar Shadows books. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
Being Physical with Trans Characters
My novels, Witcheskin and Rough Sleepers, were recently re-published through JMS Books, and to celebrate, I’m taking part in a blog tour with lots of amazing people! In this guest post, I’d like to talk a little about trans characters, their sexuality in fiction, and what that means to me. My novels are far and away from the Erotica genre, but when you write any kind of romance with sexual characters, it’s very difficult sometimes not to wander into more physical territory, especially when the characters are very tactile in personality. For example, in my second novel, Rough Sleepers, Leon (the main character) is a very sexual being, so it was almost inevitable that there would be some kind of intimacy at some point in the book. However, sex isn’t the focus of my work, so the sexual scenes tend to be brief as they don’t really contribute to the overall plot of the story.
Writing sexual scenes with trans characters can be difficult sometimes. Being trans myself, I can relate to the dysphoria that can surround even the words we give our body parts, let alone describing intimacy with those parts. In my first novel, I explored Owen’s experience in being a transgendered man falling in love, and the ensuing fears surrounding his body that quickly worried him when he realised that his love interest might want to be close to him. In real life, it can be hard when you hate a part of yourself—even cis-gendered people experience this—but when some parts of your body don’t match up with how you feel inside, that can make it even worse. In Owen’s case, he chose not to have certain surgeries because he didn’t want to go through with them, but even if he had received those operations, he might have still been worried about intimacy. Indeed, as someone who has chosen not to have certain surgeries myself, I still have odd little pangs of dysphoria too, even when I’m close with my partners that know me well.
When I write intimate scenes, I tend to use very vague language when it comes to body parts. I think, if I am going to write for a trans audience, I don’t want to use language that is going to cause dysphoria for people who can relate to what I’m writing about. Not just that, though; sometimes, I find it hard to write certain things because I find it dysphoric myself! For this reason, I prefer not to read any Erotica at all, especially not Erotica that might have trans characters in it, and if I did, it would preferably be written by an own voices author. Often I find that even just reading excerpts from Erotic novels on Twitter is enough to make me scroll past very quickly. I wish that I could enjoy Erotica as much as many other people seem to, but I just can’t!
I try to go against preconceived notions about how my characters should behave when they pair up, but that’s not always easy. For example, I have seen a lot of instances where trans men are expected to be the receiver when paired with a cis male (pornography is the biggest spreader of this idea), perhaps because they are seen to be the more ‘feminine’ of the two, or because they haven’t had bottom surgery, and then perhaps it’s assumed that they must want to use the existing genitalia they have exclusively for penetration. On the flip side, there is also an assumption that all trans men hate their genitalia and/or vaginal penetration, and that is simply not true either. It was a very hard decision to make on how to write the sex scene in Witcheskin, because I didn’t want to perpetuate either of those things, so in the end I opted for Owen to receive, simply because that was what felt right for me at the time. If I was to re-write Witcheskin now, I might have taken a different route and opted for no penetration at all, but I also wanted my audience to know that Owen didn’t hate his body in that way, and that he accepted Maredudd because he trusted him with his body.
Likewise, in Rough Sleepers, I wanted to ensure that it was clear that Leon was the one in charge, and that just because Ceri was the masculine half of the relationship, it did not automatically entitle him to be the ‘top’. I think in the MM Romance genre, there is an undying trend of ‘alpha and omega’, where the receiving or ‘bottom’ partner is regarded as being the weaker and more effeminate of the two, probably because of the influence Japanese Yaoi has had on the female authors that write it, whereas in gay fiction written by cis males, both partners tend to be equally masculine—this, of course, is a sweeping generalisation. I find it fascinating how tropes and the ideals we have about our own sexuality can have such a heavy influence on the kind of characters we write as authors.
Sadly, I think pornography and some forms of Erotica do perpetuate a lot of myths about trans people and how we view our bodies. From the sexualisation of trans women as lewd, subservient sex slaves, to trans men being perceived as gay bottoms whose sole purpose is to give pleasure rather than receive it, there is a whole lot wrong with the porn world.
But, I hate to end on a downer. There are a lot of successful and rising authors who are writing fiction about trans characters that treats us with respect, and approaches the idea of sex with a trans person in a non-fetish fashion. More own voices authors are releasing novels with characters that are realistic and human, not a fetishisation or something based on old myths, and more trans authors are finding popularity every day. As with all minorities, it can be hard to get our voices heard and to educate the majority on how we experience life every day, not just in the bedroom. My duty as a trans author is to write stories that stay true to the characters I have and to treat them with respect too, because even though they are fictional, people out there might pick up my work and discover parts of their own life stories mirrored in the text. I will always touch on harsh and sensitive subjects when it comes to writing own voice fiction, and not just because the Horror genre affords me that, but because those subjects are a part of my personal experience.
For now, though, I’m going to leave sex out of the equation, and focus on the blood and guts instead. At least everybody looks the same on the inside!
Witcheskin and Rough Sleepers, both set in the Lunar Shadows verse, are two very different but closely entwined stories set in the lush wilds of rural Wales and the harsh gritty inner city of South West England. Two very different main characters and two very different mysteries to be solved. Both are a blend of horror, urban fantasy and LGBTQ+ romance, with colourful supporting casts and complex villains whose motives are driven by their basic human natures.
They have own-voices trans and queer representation, and both books are standalones, but set in the same universe.
Synopsis for Witcheskin:
Following the disappearance of his father, keen photographer Owen returns to the Welsh village where his parents grew up to live with his mother and her boyfriend. Despite being born in Wales and having been raised in England, Owen feels like an outcast, and the villagers are unfriendly. He soon discovers an epidemic of cattle mutilations that have been spreading through the countryside like a rash and, determined to discover the cause, he takes up his camera and starts snapping pictures.
While pursuing the mystery, he meets Maredudd, an old friend of his parents of whom they had never spoken, and Owen can’t help but feel drawn to him. Maredudd seems to know more about the mutilations than the other villagers are willing to admit, and even more about the supposed death of Owen’s father than his own mother does. Maredudd shows Owen things he never thought possible, and Owen soon finds himself at the centre of the kind of folk tale only his father could dream of.
Synopsis for Rough Sleepers:
Leon, drag performer and club owner, is attacked by a werewolf one night and loses an arm—and more, after massacring his club guests. Now homeless and tormented by nightmares, he runs away from everything he knows.
Eventually, he meets Ceri, who invites Leon to live with him above a shop owned by a woman who lost her husband and son to a werewolf attack. She and Ceri are still hunting the unknown perpetrator, and Leon gladly lends his own assistance, eager to atone for his bloody past in the hopes he might one day be able to have a home and family again…
Nem Rowan lives in Sweden with his wife and their girlfriend. He loves reading non-fiction and is fascinated by True Crime and unsolved mysteries, especially missing persons cases and serial killers. Nem is also well-read in mythology and folk tales, particularly British and European folklore. He is a huge fan of Horror movies and Retrowave music.
Nem started writing when he was 11 years old and since then, he’s never looked back. Romance has always been his favourite genre after inheriting a box of Mills & Boon novels from his grandma, but being a Horror fan, there is always some way for him to work in a bit of that to make sure things don’t get too mushy.