Diversity in Writing

Friends, I’ve messed up.

For a long time I didn’t realize the phrase “gypped” was a slur against people of Roma heritage, and for years I used it in conversation.

It took me until my twenties to realize that some people are asexual or aromantic and in my ignorance I made hurtful comments.

A few weeks ago I went to a convention and attended a panel about LGBT+ representation in speculative fiction and made a mental list of all the ways my current work in progress novel inadvertently has it wrong.

When I was younger I thought bigotry stood out like the red cars in this photograph. Turns out, it’s more complex. Photo credit: Husbeast. Image description: red cars parked along a city street in a mostly grey-scale photograph.

When I was younger I thought because I don’t hate people of other races, or sexual orientations, or religions, or cultures I could write about them without hurting anyone.

Oh, young, ignorant Suzanne. How ridiculous you were.

As I’ve read, and watched, and listened, I’ve realized the inadvertent harm well-meaning ignorance can cause. Re-read the first four paragraphs of this post for easy evidence. Incorrectly portraying a group of people causes harm by perpetuating stereotypes and ignorance. Getting it right matters.

It would be easy for me to decide not to write any characters who’s lived experience differs from my own. It would be easy. But for me, as a writer, it would be wrong. Why? Because the world is not cisgender, heterosexual, and white as I am. The world is built on spectrum of gender, of sexuality, of religion, of culture, of race, of ability, of neurology, etc. To not include this in my writing would be just as ridiculous as not writing about anything colored blue, or not using the letter “P”. It would take what could have been an elaborate feast and turn it into a moldy sandwich.

Every day I learn how to better write about people who are different than me. I try not to mess up. I try not to offend anyone. I feel awful for when I have. However, I know I will mess up because I’m human and I’m learning. If you feel comfortable, please feel free to call me on it when I do mess up. It is, of course, never an obligation as correcting someone else’s biases can be traumatic for the person doing the correcting. My commitment is to keep trying. To keep learning and growing. And to hope I don’t mess up too badly along the way.

One Reply to “Diversity in Writing”

  1. The more you learn the more you know! So yesterday after my groceries were bagged I said “Thank you, ladies” to the cashier and the person who bagged my groceries… the person who bagged my groceries hesitated before saying “you’re welcome” and I felt bad because I realized I could have been incorrect in my assumption. I need to work on it… just like we all need to work on eliminated phrases like “gyped.”

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