Your character comes home for the holidays. Pressed by parents and siblings to tell them about her time at college, she finally admits that yes, she has met someone – the special kind of “someone”. She gets pestered even more until she confesses that her significant other works as a cook in a pretty little restaurant close to her faculty. They are kind, funny, generous, proud – everything both your character and her family admire the most. Your character’s parents also like the fact that he works hard to support himself and pay for his studies; they are open-minded about their upper-class girl dating a working-class guy (he works in a fashionable business, at least). It helps that she described her lover as a good Catholic and a patriot.
Five chapters later, your character’s parents make her a surprise visit and tell her they are very eager to meet her boyfriend. She blushes and flushes, tells them that people in the food industry work very antisocial hours, but finally agrees to introduce her lover to them on the cook’s day off. When that day comes, your character’s parents meet a girl with beautiful green eyes and honey hair, who introduces herself as your character’s girlfriend.
Of course they don’t approve. Where would the conflict be if they did?
Now, if you’re writing in English, you can pull this off with relative ease. Keep using gender-neutral words such as “they” and “person”, never once let a gendered pronoun escape your main character’s mouth, and you will be on the right track. It’s not easy to deceive your readers this way without your writing sounding unnatural, but it’s doable.
When I translate your novel into Italian, however, things get a little bit trickier.
Italian is a gendered language, meaning that we have different words for a male cook and a female cook (those would be cuoco and cuoca, respectively). Pronouns, too, are gendered, so I can’t simply use “chef” instead – I would still have to specify if it’s uno chef (male) or una chef (female). This rule would require me to reveal the gender of your character’s lover the first time she’s mentioned, with foreseeable consequences.
Can I still translate your book without ruining your Big Reveal? Of course I can. I will have to toil, sweat and curse (we Italians are pretty good at that), but I will find a way. I might have to retool a couple lines of dialogue, perhaps even alter some paragraphs – the horror! the horror! – but I will present you with something fluent to read and faithful to your intent (i.e. your character doesn’t mention the cook’s gender, but neither does she lie openly). Don’t bother about my chances to get into Heaven; a good translation of your work is everything that counts.
That’s the beauty of translation: it gives you creative challenges at every chapter, every page – sometimes every line. It’s by no means a mechanical or repetitive task. I love it because it keeps my mind awake and allows me to do a little bit of magic every day. It also lets me read amazing novels as part of my job, which is nice.
Do you have a novel with mysteriously gendered characters, romantic drama and/or a terrific plot? Check out my Services page to see how I can help you reach new readers, and contact me for information and business proposals.