America Pacifica

I’ve mentioned this here before, but I can’t think of many examples of trans characters in fiction, and it’s especially uncommon to find times when a trans character’s storyline isn’t centered around the process of physical transition or coming out (either voluntarily or not). While I’m thrilled by any chance to see respectfully portrayed trans characters in popular media, I do wish it was more common to see someone whose gender identity and history serves as more of a footnote than a defining characteristic.

It was a welcome surprise to come across such a character in Anna North’s America Pacifica. It’s a good book and a quick read; I’d certainly recommend it even without this particular character in it. I found it similar in feel to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, but with a much tighter focus on one character and her objectives. America Pacifica is a small island somewhere off of the western coast of the US that is one of the few inhabitable places on Earth after the onset of an ice age. Darcy, the main character, spends most of the novel trying to investigate and understand her mother’s sudden disappearance, and this leads her to a number of people who have a connection either to her mother or to the events on the west coast that shaped the early days of America Pacifica.

Although she doesn’t know it at first, Darcy eventually realizes one of the people she’s in contact with (I’m specifically avoiding using his name here) is trans. He isn’t originally forthcoming with his history, but no one Darcy speaks to is eager to talk about the past and his evasion isn’t seen as any worse or different than this general reluctance. He does mention surgery and other physical changes, but the author doesn’t dwell on the details or sensationalize them. His trans identity isn’t even the most important part of who he is! It’s just… not a big deal.

And that’s what I don’t think I’ve seen before. There’s something amazing about coming across a trans character who isn’t the focus of attention, whose gender isn’t up for debate or much discussion at all, who isn’t a joke or a specimen for everyone else to dissect. It’s hard to find fictional representations of trans or gender-variant folks that I want to read; I’m happy to come across anything that’s written respectfully and well, and I am all for trans narratives where coming out, transition, or similar themes are the focus. But it’s just as important to me to see trans characters and experiences normalized to the extent that they (or at least their history) don’t always have to be in the foreground.

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