If a character appears in a novel who is trans, then it is mostly about coming out or experiences of discrimination. The Bochum author Marius Schaefers wants to move away from these problem stories and instead tell stories about the lives of queer people that encourage the reader and contribute to a more sensitive approach to queerness.
Schaefer’s third book has just been published by a publisher, previously he published it himself. The new novel is called “In the most colorful colors” and is about Philipp, who is trans and has quite bad luck in love. Philipp worries a lot about his identity and wonders if it’s because he’s trans that he’s still single. He thinks a lot about his internet friend Ali, with whom he once fell in love until he finally followed in Ali’s footsteps. These lead him to Pirna in Saxony, where Philipp meets Timon, who is also trans and quickly fascinates him.
Schaefers also addresses experiences with discrimination and violence. “I think it’s important to address more serious aspects,” says Schaefers on the phone. “To make it clear that there are still problems with coming out and that hostility can be met with.” At the same time, it is important to him to tell empowering stories.
Schaefers succeeds because transidentity between Philipp and Timon plays no role. “It comes more from the outside or from experiences that the two have with other characters.” Keeping the balance was not always easy, says the author. “In some scenes, it was difficult to decide how many of a character’s thoughts and feelings to actually write down without constantly problematizing being queer.”
For the 26-year-old Schaefers, it is the first time that a book has been published under his name, previously he published under a pseudonym. Because he is trans himself, it quickly became clear that the topic should also find its way into his novels. “And I really wanted to write a same-sex love story.”
Schaefers, who regularly presents books on his Instagram account @derunknownheld, observes an overall positive development when it comes to queerness in novels. “There are more and more books in which characters are queer, whether they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. The topic of trans is not yet so present, but that is also gradually coming up.”
At the same time, the German book market lagged behind, especially compared to English-speaking countries, where queer characters appeared more frequently and in different genres. “Queer characters sometimes experience an exciting fantasy story.”
Schaefers has been providing insights into his transition and the associated hurdles on Instagram for several years. He reports on hormone treatment and explains mental health. “In the beginning, I took the followers along with me and shared a lot of things that were on my mind: new clothes, pronouns and of course aspects of medical transition,” recalls Schaefers. “For a while, the topic was constantly present, but the more the process progressed, the less I had to think about it externally.”
The Bochum resident now passes on his expertise as a sensitivity reader and checks books for discriminatory text passages or plot elements. “If there are figures that belong to a marginalized group of people and you don’t belong to this group yourself, then it makes sense to have an affected person read the text passages.”
When it comes to topics such as queerness, trans identity, mental health and BiPoC characters, Schaefers checks whether the texts are authentic and whether the topics have been dealt with sensitively. He also makes sure that no harmful stereotypes are reproduced.
He has the impression that sensitivity reading was still fairly unknown in Germany a few years ago, but the demand is increasing. In the past year he has received many inquiries, says Schaefers. “The topic is also popular with larger publishers.” He himself wants to continue writing novels in which a variety of characters appear – so that the German book market becomes more diverse and depicts more realities of life.