She can't become a cat, because she's already a cat. That's the basic premise that I came up with for my story, based on the idea that a trans woman is a woman, and a trans man is a man, even before they transition. This means that, like many other entries in the jam, I'm writing about gender issues, but unlike most of those entries, instead of having the character actually be trans, I'm dealing with it through metaphor.
Changes in the June version
Wait, but Mia is trans. But she wasn't in the version I got done for the deadline; she was a cis woman considering that she might be a trans man or non-binary, whereas now she's a trans woman, also considering that she might be non-binary.
Content warning: discussion of political issues and detransition.
Basically what happened is that, when I was originally writing the story, I realized that I logical consequence of my premise—that she's experiencing something that I purposefully made similar to gender dysphoria (but isn't)—is that she would see similarities between her experience and the experiences of transgender people, and at least question if being transgender was the reason she had the feelings she had. (This also makes it sort of the opposite of my experience—there was a part of my life when I thought I was part cat, and once I started seriously considering that I might be transgender, I considered that maybe my feelings about being a cat had something to do with the disconnect I felt due to being transgender.)
However, that meant I was writing a story about someone realizing they weren't trans. And trans issues are currently politically controversial, and people who oppose trans rights tend to claim that there are lots of people who regret transitioning. Stories could be written about issues faced by people who think they're trans and realize they're not, and, in fact, my original plan before I started writing did include stuff about that (I originally intended her to be a detransitioned trans man who some news organization had used as an example of why people shouldn't be allowed to transition, even though she thought people should be allowed to transition, and this caused her to be wary of…something. Not sure if I got much farther than that.), but since I'm not someone who thought they were trans and later realized they weren't, I didn't feel like I'd do a good job writing about that, plus Mia's gender ended up not really coming up much. As I was writing, I did what I could to tone down the fact that she was questioning her gender, and was a bit uncomfortable with it (and also sort of worrying about how people would react).
But then, a few days ago, as I was reading some of the other entries, it occurred to me: Why didn't I just make Mia also transgender? (Seems obvious to me in hindsight.) It wouldn't have as much of the discomfort that I just talked about, plus it could be, like, a thematic thing, like, she's both transgender and trans-species and they're like metaphors for each other, or something. I don't know, I'm not much of a writer. In any case, having Mia be trans is something I'm more comfortable with, it makes me happier with the story, and that's why I changed it.
While I was at it, I also made a few other changes:
- The sign on the bathroom. I've seen some people complain about the half-man-half-woman signs. In the alternate universe where Mia is cis, no one involved in choosing the sign realized that some people didn't like that (there were some enbies involved in the decision, but they happened not to mind that).
- I clarified a bit of Ari's dialogue.
- The scene at the end with the fly. Originally she caught the fly, but then I changed it so she didn't catch the fly but didn't explain why. In the new version, I made the in-universe explanation for why she didn't catch the fly be the same as the out-of-universe explanation, which ended up giving it a bit more purpose. (Its original purpose was just to make a "debugging" pun.)
Other things about the story
The reason that magic had stopped changing the sex of trans people is not what I had originally planned. My original plan assumed that magic was some sort of unknown, impersonal force that sometimes changed how it worked (explaining discrepancies between stories) for no apparent reason. In its current form, people were able to make new spells, but they couldn't target specific people; they could only affect people in a specific area when specific conditions were true. (This is why MEW is a separate building in a remote location; it was the only way to prevent them from targeting the wrong people. That, and an unpredictable force might do something unexpected, requiring safety measures.) They assumed that the reason they couldn't get gender spells to work was that they couldn't get the condition right; it was as if "cisgender" always ended up being included in the condition. However, once people started submitting, one of the first stories submitted had a goddess targeting a specific person, with a side effect of them transitioning to female, which technically doesn't contradict my idea because of the magic changing thing, but it sort of does, so I changed it to what's there now, and I think I like this way better. (And to clarify: this was way before the deadline; I'm no longer talking about the June revision.)
All of the character's names are cat-related in some way:
- Mia: sounds sort of like "meow"
- Molly: apparently a word for a female cat (I searched for the female counterpart to "tom", and this is what I found; definition 5 on Wiktionary)
- Tabby: a type of cat coloration. Also suggested in the question thread as a potential recurring character.
- Bob: bobcat
- Ari: Hebrew for "lion"; also a gender-neutral name (I've known at least one boy and at least one girl named Ari)
- Katie: has the same consonants as "cat"
Before I decided how many characters I'd have, I had the idea to have everyone who was out as transgender to have cat-themed names (because they were all working at Cali Co and/or liked cats a lot when they chose their names), but there ended up not being any cis people (other than Mia in the original version).
I don't know what the proper terminology for referring to magic changing someone's sex is, when the story includes transgender characters. "Transition" seems medical and confusing without context, "sex change" medical and outdated and doesn't properly convey that secondary sex traits also change, "gender change" isn't accurate since the character's gender identity isn't changing, and same for "turning into a man/boy/woman/girl"… everything feels awkward.
"Wesearch" was just to get the acronym to work. I didn't make Ari have a speech impediment until after I'd written the warning sign.