I’ve been following along with some of the snafus that have occurred in and around the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, though haven’t ever really delved deeply into them. I have several friends who write stories dealing with people of various diversities (racial, people with disabilities, LGBT+, etc) and I know it’s an important part of our world that we should strive to make more noticeable.
The trouble I have comes when we start talking about who should be writing what.
I find the most disparity when anyone starts trying to narrow that down. The camps fall between:
“As many authors as we can get should write these! The more the merrier. Inclusion is great!”
“What right does a white cisgender male have writing a book about a Black lesbian trans woman? They don’t know what it’s like; they’ll do it wrong.”
You see the trouble.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t say that we want more people to include diversity in their books and spread the word, if we’re only letting diverse people write diverse books. I’m white, female assigned at birth, and attracted to men. Does this mean that the only diverse people I can ever write about are genderqueer people? Should I not write men at all? What about anyone who’s not white? I’ve heard people be berated for both not putting enough racial diversity into their books and misrepresenting the minorities they wrote in the same breath.
Am I saying that those of us who write outside of who we are should just walk into writing blind? No, absolutely not. In the editing process for SIGHT UNSEEN, my latest short story, both of my editors had some level of hearing loss. Each of them picked up on something my blind female protagonist did which wasn’t quite right. Though they didn’t share her disability, they could speak from a similar point of view and help me get her right. In addition to this, I now know that I have two different places I can look if I want help ensuring that any Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing characters I write look authentic. In turn, I’m always open to those looking to portray genderqueer people better.
It’s sad that I have to read a book like CAM GIRL, think about how well the gender issues are addressed, and then be unsurprised to see that the author is trans* themselves. That somehow I expected that. I don’t want to expect that. I want to be surprised because something was so well portrayed by someone from the outside. I want to know that communication is happening. That we’re teaching others who we are. And yes, this means that we’re likely going to have to deal with a wave or two of really badly written minorities. Should we let that stand? No. But that doesn’t mean we should tell them not to write those characters anymore. This is a chance for teaching, for helping the world understand.
So yes, I think we need diverse books. I think we need as many diverse books as we can get, and as many authors writing them as we can find. But I also think those of us who are “diverse” shall we say, need to stop keeping a chokehold on our diversity, and start trusting our colleagues a little more. We can’t be the only ones. Hearing people are going to write deaf protagonists. White dudes will write Asian women. And my main character will remain the cisgender pseudo-PTSD straight guy that he’s always been, and that’s okay. Because when the author comes around asking for help trying to portray someone struggling with their gender identity and wants to make sure it looks right, I’m going to be the first one with my hand in the air, willing to help.
And when the book comes out that doesn’t quite show it right, I’ll write a review where I say that, and be open to the author’s response, if I get one.
And I hope everyone else will do the same for me.