I’m not making this up I guess I was thinking about representation in fiction and who is allowed to write what and that whole debate.
In the dream, I had a character in a story that was a trans woman and I don’t know what kind of character it was. It was fantasy, I know that, because that’s all I write anyway.
So, she got mad at me saying that because I’m not trans, I shouldn’t be writing about trans people. I was only writing a fantasy story where the character happened to be trans. But she wouldn’t hear it. She said I should change the character’s gender to match my own. Then she turned her back on me and…I woke up.
I remembered I had this dream because of this quote I saw today in the Washington Post. It’s by this author called Robert Dugoni and about a female character of his. He said:
“I never try to write from the perspective of a woman or of an African American man. I think that would be fatal,” he said. “I write from the perspective of human beings who have been injured in their path and are just trying to forge forward with a life for themselves and those they love. They want to be respected in their jobs and respected at home. I think those are universal truths that transcend race and gender.”
I thought, “huh, yeah, that makes sense… wait…I had a dream about something like this!”
Anyway, I started getting into one of my big thinking moments I seem to do once a month.
I’m terrible at keeping up discussions, but I do like getting them started
What are you guys’ thoughts on Own Voices?
Who can actually write what? Is there even that limitation?
What do you think about the quote from Robert Dugoni? Do you think it’s a good one or do you have some disagreements or counterpoints?
What about fantasy? If it’s totally made up, could someone who does not have slavery history in their family tree write a character in slavery?
At the very end of the article, the op-ed writer said,
…it seems to me that all readers lose something when life’s realities can be told only by select voices.
I get where she’s coming from but if you take the other side of things, you could say readers will lose something if a certain person’s story is not told by the right people (if there are “right people” to tell a story, that is).
Own Voices are a narrow view, where youre putting things through the lens of your own worldview. So, if youve been through abuse and oppression and youre writing a character who hasn’t experienced that, you’re not in your own view. This causes problems when various factors that make up a person. You have your ethnicity, you have your “racial identity”, you have your political identity, your religious identity, so many factors.
So, without actually adding a ton of my own voice, there’s been times where I could base a character off my personal expeorience and that could be trashed by someone who thinks Im stealing their voice and putting in my own.
I mean, the most recent one I run that risk in is Maysie’s Galaxy. Only 2 points of “that Yourban Maniac” are direct expereince with Africans outside America.
I directly have him warn the MC (who grew uo isolated) to not call him or any other person of African descent “African American” becuase she’s an isolated American survivor–almost noboby from our hemisphere survives.
Direct talk from those who recently immigrated or never immigrated? They feel like their history has been stripped when you do that to them. So he’s of the Yourba tribe, his parents migrated to France from Nigeria, and France is a part of Fallen Europe, so he’s not American in any way.
At least in Nigerian Christians, especially thoae older than me, I’m used to having grown men occasionally call me Beloved.
So, because of that, I’ve had this surprise ML calling the MC “my beloved” in his native tongue, and a couple tiems in English.
Own Voices can be good for direct experiences from people, but I think when people start to gatekeep everything, it’s stupid. If the author is, for an example an Asian-American who is pansexual, and says that someone who isn’t specifically Asian-American, and or pansexual can’t write a book with a character like that, it’s unfair. They are not the only Asian-American pansexual person out there and can’t have a say for everyone.
If the person who wants to write a character like that does the research, and does Sensitivity Reads and people think the story is reasonable, then they should be able to write that. As long as people aren’t being insensitive or offensive and their characters are compelling and interesting, I see no reason why they can’t write said character.
I also think if someone wants to be very specific and write about their own experiences in a fictional sense, but the fictional sense is very close to real life (e.g. an Asian-American Pansexual male who lives in San Francisco) and the author is adding a lot of real life scenarios to the story, in some cases, they might be better off writing a memoir of their own personal experiences growing up that way. #
It might help some people who are going through the same situation, or a similar one find some sort of hope from the author and his experiences growing up. But those are just some thoughts I have.
I think that is a good way to look at things, looking at characters as more than their identities, and having goals/aspirations outside of their identities, but I also think that in this day and age, you have to portray characters who are quite outside of your usual depth with the same respect culturally as you would your other characters (e.g. you usually write about the bog standard Irish American in Boston, but you want to write about an African American character who has a strong Senegalese heritage living in Los Angeles, you still have to remember that they might have some experiences in common, but they have different traditions and their perspective of America is different than the character in Boston, and the Senegalese American shouldn’t just be a brown version of the Irish American, if you get me?)
Even characters who are both ethnically similar will have different life experiences, (e.g. a Japanese woman living in Japan visiting her family in the US will have a totally different world view and view of what having a Japanese heritage is than her cousins in the US, who grew up there–I know you know this–but I am just throwing it in there as another example and people occasionally forget that there is no full monolith of experiences. Everyone is different, even if they seem similar on the surface). My fraternal twin characters, Mac and Max grew up in the same household, with the same parents and the same rules, but became two different people personality wise, despite sharing the same experiences.
Depends on the context. Fantasy is a genre that allows you have as much freedom as you want/need, but people are going to always compare fantasy with the real world, and that’s the reality of the situation we live in. People comparing the ‘alien’ to what they know to draw parallels to try and understand things. I think that as long as you don’t try to compare your character’s slavery in the fantasy world to the real world and draw attention to it from that sense, and the slavery is there for a reason within the story’s plot, everything should be alright from that perspective.
I think anyone can write any character, without regard to identity. Fiction is fiction. There’s many more identities that we’re not than we are. It’d be boring if we could only write characters with our own identity. Besides, diversity of characters in writing can be good.
Short version of this reply: Totally fine to write about people not like you because no one is exactly like you. Representation is fine but don’t speak over the top of the people who should be heard. Do your research, try your best to avoid stereotypes, speak with people in those areas/communities (if you are able and they are willing), and don’t do it just for the sake of representation or to make yourself look good. Basically, have some common sense and don’t be a d-k. And keep in mind that no matter what you do, there will always be someone telling you “you can’t say that because you’re not [insert here]” even if it’s for the smallest of reasons.
I had a conversation about this with one of my professors about writing POC people because I’m White. She was so worked up about the fact I wrote POC characters (because how dare I have multiculturalism in my stories! ) that I ended up giving up and going to the other professor in that course about this, as well as a few others (and yes they were alllllll from different backgrounds).
It is totally fine to write characters that are outside your experience/race/gender/sexuality/religion/whatever so long as you are not trying to speak for them or over them.
Example (this is one I was given by a trans person btw so it is relevant):
Let’s say someone slip up with pronouns. Purely accidental. No harm intended. The two people talk, quickly cover the pronouns thing, the person who made the slip apologises and uses the correct pronouns. Trans person is okay (perhaps a little miffed because this happens a lot). Person who made the slip is okay and isn’t making it again. Everyone moves on with their lives.
Now, let’s say someone accidently makes a slip with someone’s pronouns to a cis person. Cis person gets all “OH MY GOD YOU CAN’T SAY THAT STOP BEING TRANSPHOBIC YOU PIECE OF SHIT” and immediately starts shitting on the person who made a genuine mistake and would have corrected themselves had they not just had the life scared out of them.
These are two very different reactions.
The trans person is saying “actually I’m [insert pronouns here]” and maybe something about how they don’t like being called the other one because [reasons] if they are comfortable doing so. Maybe they’ll get pissed, maybe they won’t. The point is they have a reason to be annoyed/upset/offended at this even if it was just a mistake.
The cis person is getting offended on behalf of the trans person (who they probably don’t even know) and immediately resorting to insults, violence, and generally being dramatic in the same way that straight people do this on behalf of gay people and White people do this on behalf of POC. They are speaking over the person who actually needs to be heard instead of letting them speak for themself. This is not okay.
You can write whoever you want in your stories. It’s fiction. It’s not real. Most people are just there to read a book. But if you are going to go into those issues, never speak over the people who are actually having them. Get permission to speak with them (especially when it comes to certain cultures!!). Do your research. Learn the difference between stereotype and reality. Speak with these people if they are willing to discuss these things with you. Be prepared for feedback (some of it is relevant) and be prepared to make mistakes that you will need to fix. And most importantly: don’t just do it to make yourself look good or heroic.
This is one of those tricky topics because it is actually a no-win situation.
I’m a White woman from rural Australia. If I only wrote about White women from rural Australia, that would be boring af. No one would really learn anything and very few people would be interested. People would complain about there being no diversity and me taking credit for Indigenous discoveries on weather pattens and climate.
But I’m a White woman from rural Australia who writes about people from all sorts of different backgrounds (religious/sexual/gender/experience/race). Majority of my main cast is POC because those were the appearances that worked best for the environment the characters are from. Yes, I’ll slip in the occasional political thing, but I’m not speaking over the people who should be heard. I am not trying to steal their experiences to make a better story or make me look heroic. But I’ve also had a lot of people (mostly White people) come after me and tell me how I shouldn’t be writing POC characters because I’m not POC. Same deal with my trans characters. Same deal with my characters of different cultural backgrounds.
There is no way to win. You’re either too limited or “not allowed” to even mention people not like you (which is stupid because look around). Representation is a tricky game to play with no prizes but people getting pissed. We live in a multicultural world where everyone is different. Basically: pick your poison
It’s funny because trans people are probably the easiest minority group to write.
Write a cis character. Now hold it in the back of your mind that they’re actually trans. Congratulations, you’ve written a trans character. The narrative doesn’t even really need to change.
I stabbed myself in the thigh with a 25-gauge needle every three weeks. That…that’s it. What I’m actually more bothered by is existing as a political statement. Like, please stop treating trans characters as nothing outside being trans. Please. If I have to deal with constant references to “How x is different” and “About x’s gender identity” I think I may die.
So yes, please just write whatever. I can assure you that everyone is different and people can’t speak 100% for others even if they fall within the same social demographic. Unless you’re really trying hard to be offensive (or just incredibly naïve I suppose) it’s rather hard to write something truly terrible.
I think its really the way social media sets people up anymore.
Just like everyone fakes a “great life” or a “woe is me life” for social media, many people’s exposure to tons of things is this hyper-obsession with a little slice of a person, making themselves a caricature for an audience that doesnt know what they are cheering on (or trolling).
I mean, when you truly tale a look at the connections people have, its rather depressing.
My tired mind picked your post and read the whole thing XD
Pick your poison is right (I realize what this looks like It’s not about your post. It’s about your last statement).
At the end of the day, you write the people in the best way you can, you do representation in the best, most civil way you can, and someone is going to say something bad about something. But that’s the author’s life.
As long as you’re not trying to be malicious.
as said here.
I think the more authors get called out, the rest of us genuinely good, non-malicious people get a little more paranoid.