Yesterday I came home to a lovely surprise: an email from a reader telling me how much they enjoyed Double Take. Getting personal messages from readers is one of the most rewarding and special parts of being an author, but this message was particularly special. It was from a reader who identified themself as agender, and they wanted to let me know how much they appreciated me writing a story with a non-binary protagonist.
The reason this message really floored me is because it made me remember who I wrote Double Take for. The thing is, when I wrote To Summon Nightmares, I wrote it at least partially for cis readers. I tried to explain Cohen’s dysphoria in the narrative, and show him as a sympathetic trans character that cis readers could relate to, in the hopes that it would help them gain some empathy for trans people.
But Double Take wasn’t written for cis readers. It was written for trans readers, particularly non-binary ones. I didn’t linger on describing the details of Teka’s dysphoria or transition, just stated them as facts. Understanding how and why Teka feels the way xe does about xemself is probably going to be a lot easier for non-binary readers who feel that way also. Not that cis readers won’t be able to relate to Teka – they just have to use their imagination a bit more. And since almost every single book out there features a cis main character, this really flips the tables.
This is why it’s so important to write books not just with diverse characters, but with diverse main characters. Because the main character is who the reader identifies with, who they see the story through the eyes of. If a privileged person only ever has to relate to other main characters like themself, that limits their ability to empathise and understand the experiences of people who aren’t like them. And, even more importantly, it’s such a fantastic experience to be a person in a minority reading about a character who is like you for the first time. You don’t have to stretch your imagination to understand what this character’s life is like; it’s your life. It’s relieving and affirming, and really really special, and that’s what I want to do for trans and non-binary readers.
So that email reminded me not to worry so much about whether cis people like Double Take or not, because it wasn’t written for them. I do hope that cis people can read an enjoy as well, but at the end of the day, if other non-binary people are getting a story where they can identify with the main character, and they’re really enjoying it, that’s the most important thing.
Have a cat picture!