Where did Jordan come from?

I answered this Ask on tumblr, and since I wrote a rambling essay instead of a quick response, I wanted to post it here as well.

christophermossworld asked: OK, you’re on. I’ll ask. How ddid you get to bee so brilliant? I am reading “If We Shadows”, and I’m blown away. What a perfect use of the gender beending in Shakespeare. And how do you know what it’s like to be me, a transman? Seriously, how did you come to write Jordan?

First things first: THANK YOU. I’m seriously blushing, and so thrilled that you like Jordan and his story. He is a character of my heart and I was so nervous and have been happy with how people have received him.

I’ve taken three days to answer this because the short version is: it’s complicated. The slightly longer version (still minus all the details) is that every writer has something they do well, and something they have to learn… for me, characters have always been the thing I can create, and plot is my serious weakness. So it’s actually difficult for me to explain exactly where Jordan came from, but I’ll try.

Most of this is going to come through a filter created decades ago, before vocabulary became what it is now, and I apologize if any of it is offensive by today’s standards. I am trying to explain through the way I saw the world (and was taught to see the world) as a child, because in the end, that’s a lot of where Jordan came from.

(This got long, let me put in a “more” thingy so it doesn’t take over everyone’s dash…)

I’ve always been aware of gender roles and expectations. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and I remember people being shocked that my parents didn’t expect me to be more “girly” in my habits and hobbies. I had brief phases where I decided to wear dresses all the time, but that had more to do with me figuring out the role of how to fit in (I spent most of my childhood being absolutely certain I was the alien among the humans) rather than me actually liking dresses. Generally, though, I was a tomboy and played with Matchbox cars as much as I played with Barbies. I shifted between things that were supposedly toys for boys and toys for girls easily. I loved Legos and building, and I have great spacial awareness and I speak math and science intrinsically and I was a programmer in 1980 when most kids thought computers were for boys. But I also told stories with my dolls and slept with a stuffed animal and thought baking was the best thing ever. I never really learned how to speak “girl” and quickly discovered that I related best to boys. While I had female friends as a child, many of my close friends were boys, and in high school I had a few close female friends (most of whom also didn’t speak traditional 80s “girl” either) and a few very close male friends.

I was an only child, and I developed an imagination early on. I had imaginary friends (not unusual) and I kept on with imaginative personal roleplay into my adulthood. What does that mean? When I didn’t feel like living in the world, I would let my mind become someone else, and I would spend time looking at the world through their eyes. I would walk across town and instead of being myself, I would be another person, and I would try to see the world as they did. I also did traditional tabletop RPGs (I actually realized the other day that I think my very first male character I ever created for AD&D might have been named Jordan!), and I acted and sang, and I learned to basically roleplay my way through life. Because if I didn’t understand how I was supposed to be, I might be able to slip into the skin of someone who wasn’t other, someone who did speak “girl” or speak “normal” or could pretend to be just another person getting through high school and fly under the radar.

I’m not sure how circular most of that sounds, but in a nutshell, I taught myself to change personalities when needed. I learned how to avoid bullying (sometimes) by speaking like other people spoke, even though it wasn’t my natural way of doing things. I learned how to put on and take off skins in order to become something that fit the situation. I had to learn to be a chameleon.

I had to learn how to create new and fresh personalities at the drop of a hat, in order to deal with life… but this meant that I learned how to have people living inside my head. Lots of people. People who might have stories to be told, and expected me to tell them.

So yes, there’s my genesis as a writer. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, and I started my first novel when I was twelve (and discarded it, then started and stopped several others). I declared I wanted to be a writer then, and I’ve never lost that, mostly because there have always been people whispering stories in my ears. Always. I wrote my first novels when I was in high school (they’re terrible, and the best part is that one of them was a thirty part serial that two English classes were required to read on a weekly basis because my English teacher was that awesome at encouraging her students to write). And I’ve tried to stop sometimes, but then the voices start up again and next thing I know I’m writing.

As for Jordan… gods, he is a combination of so many things inside my head. As I said, I’ve done traditional roleplay, and I’ve actually played many different characters named Jordan, both boys and girls. One of the most memorable is a definite root for this Jordan: she was a shapeshifter, and her most common shape, out of everything else she could possibly be, was her male self. And she was equally at home in either shape, definitely genderfluid long before I ever heard of the term. That sort of fluidity is something that came with me from early childhood storytelling. I’m told that every little girl tells stories of being a princess who was adopted and needs to find her way home. And every little girl imagines being a twin who has to find her other half. I also dreamed of being the princess who hid as a prince and traveled and had wonderful adventures (and I will admit, I was always a princess, but I explored the flip of the gender roles, and as I grew older, the complications that added to romantic relationships, because I wanted the rest of the world to perceive the princess as a prince). I dreamed of the twin being a boy, and of them taking each other’s roles in life… so yes, I created stories where twins played at being each other, only it also played with gender there. As I grew older, I brought it into roleplaying games with magic and shapeshifting allowing for the gender change to be real, and found that gender fluidity that I mentioned with Jordan. I also wrote a slew of stories where the woman stepped into male roles and tried to change the way the world saw her.

So that’s probably a good (er, and long, sorry) snapshot of where Jordan comes from in my own head. I had a wealth of material that I grew up with that I used as his personality developed and came to life.

Then came the research. Because while I knew a lot instinctually, I didn’t know the nuts and bolts (since I am a cis woman, and my gender exploration has been more butch than actual male, not to mention a lot of it being in safe spaces like in my head or in RPGs or stories where boys can be boys without having to deal with the real world). I am incredibly lucky to have amazing friends who helped me find resources, because when I started researching for Shadows there was a lot less material available, and a simple Google search was more likely to find material rated way above a PG-13 rather than something Jordan needed to know.

The Youtube video Jordan references for making a homemade packer is one I was pointed to, and I’ve unfortunately lost the link. A friend was starting T when I started writing and sent me absolutely brilliant information which made it into the book. I couldn’t have created that scene for Jordan’s first shot without their help. I talked to people. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I asked my friends questions, trying to make sure I got things right. I spent a lot of time working through material, assimilating it, and letting Jordan grow into being in my head.

And everything I learned twisted together with the rest of what I knew from life, and that sense of roleplaying through life, and Jordan came out.

The most important thing to me, though, is that Jordan is just another person. He has his own set of things to deal with, and those impact his life and his decisions, but he’s still a teenager and he’s going through that point in his life where he just wants to be. And he’s struggling with the outward representations that screw with his own sense of self. I started from that point, and let him talk and tell his own story.

In the end, that’s how I write. I absorb as much information as I can pack into my head, and it sort of swims around and a character emerges. Then I trust that my subconscious has the important emotional bits nailed, and I focus on getting the mechanics right. But in the end, it’s Jordan’s story to tell, and it always was.

I haven’t even addressed the Shakespearean bits, and that’s partly because this is already intensely long, and partly because I was asked a question over on the blog and I’m going to talk Shakespeare and how that worked with Jordan’s story there. That part was way more mechanical for me as a writer, the parts where I had to think and plot (as mentioned, that’s my weakness).

I hope this answered the question, at least in part. And I’m sorry it took so long to respond. For me, sometimes I have to go back and unpack where characters come from, and some parts are easy (like the research) but some parts are more complicated, because I’m pretty sure that the basis for Jordan has been in my head all along. He just had to grow and it took a long time.

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About D. E. Atwood

When D.E. Atwood was in second grade, she finally grew tall enough to see the shelf above the mysteries in the bookmobile. She discovered a rich landscape of alternate worlds, magic, and space and has never looked back from the genres of fantasy and science fiction. When she was twelve, she declared that she was going to be a writer, and share the stories that she saw happening all around her. She wanted to create characters that others would care about, and that would touch their lives, like the books that she read had touched her own life. Today she has combined her interests, creating genre stories about the people who live next door, bringing magic into the world around us. When not writing, D.E. Atwood is a mother (to two children and a cat), a wife, a reader, a knitter, a systems administrator, a roleplayer, and a music aficionado. Sleep, she claims, is optional.
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