Growing up in small towns in the middle of the Midwest, I didn’t get much exposure to people of other races. There was not a single African American at the school I went to and only one person of mixed race. I also had no exposure to people who identified as different sexual orientations or gender identities. This meant I felt horribly out of place growing up. I was just weird. It’s taken twenty years, but I’ve finally found where I fit and understand myself. I’ve also learned a lot about others along the way.
Last month Jami Gold brought up the subject of diversity on her blog. Diversity is a huge topic right now, and it should be. We need more diversity in every genre. And by diversity I don’t just mean racially, but sexual orientation, gender identity, neurodivergence, physical ability, all of it. However, we need to when and how to add it so it fits and doesn’t feel tacked on. There is no quota, only authenticity.
This is a good thing when it comes to our characters, especially for characters with diverse elements, as there’s no definitive black, gay, disabled, whatever experience, and therefore there’s no “one right way” to portray those characters. There are, however, wrong ways to portray diversity.—Jami Gold, Writing Diversity: How Can We Avoid Issues?
In a follow up post, Jami also touched on research and being aware of the source of our information. There are plenty of resources on the internet but we need to be aware of who is supplying them and if they are actually part of the segment of the population they are writing about. This can make all the difference in whether or not our portrayal is authentic or othering.
Some stories simply are not ours to write.
Obviously, the most helpful thing we can do to support diversity within the publishing industry is to buy and help promote books from diverse authors. As I mentioned last time, there might be some stories that aren’t ours to tell, so we also need to encourage the success of those authors who can tell those stories.—Jami Gold, Digging into Research: Consider the Source
I write stories with queer* characters and yes many of them are not white, but their race and queerness is part of who they are and the stories are not about either. As a white person it is not my place to write a story about race or racism. It might happen in my stories, but it won’t be the focus because I have never had to deal with it the way so many others do. I cannot and will not write something when I know it is a subject that does not belong to me. No amount of creativity can replace experience with something like this.
And that leads me to the point of this post. As a queer person I have noticed a lot of authors struggling to write authentically queer characters. The gay romance genre is stuck in the m/m cis white male, coming out trope (not that there is anything wrong with the trope, but … diversity would be nice ^^). That is only one small part of the entire spectrum. The rainbow flag is not the only flag out there. Whether you write romance or not, adding other orientations can only enrich your writing. When done properly.
Over the next several months I will be exploring each of the various sexual orientations and gender identities in an effort to help my fellow authors write with more diversity. I will be inviting people of other orientations and gender identities to offer their advice and experiences as well. I sincerely hope you find this of value and please feel free to ask questions.
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As always your comments and questions are welcomed below.
*As someone who identifies as nonbinary and panromantic demisxual, I am comfortable using the term queer when describing myself or my characters. I am aware that many in the community still feel this is an insult. If you do not identify as part of the spectrum, please refrain from using the term.