Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes
Let me preface this by saying that you should write people as people and not characters, but when a writer is asking a question involving diversity and the only answer you give is ‘write people as people and not characters,’ you’re completely missing the point of diversity.
Write people as people.
That’s great advice, but it completely misses that people are diverse, and certain groups of people do different things than other groups of people. For example, I had an Anon ask me how to write British characters. I could have just said ‘write them as you would write any other person,’ but that would have been completely neglecting that their culture is different from my American culture. So I let my British followers answer this Anon’s question, and let me tell you, had my Anon gone off the advice of write this British person as you would write any other person, British readers would have scoffed about how inauthentic that British character is. My British followers have diverse views that are different from my American ones.
America is a culture rife with diversity, so it’s very easy for us to say that we should write people as people, because we’re among people of all different ethnicities. We interact with these people and KNOW they are no different from us in terms of them being human at their very core. At the same time, there are differences in the ways cultures interact with other cultures. For example, let’s say you want to write a book with a girl who just happens to be Indian (not Native American). You can’t just accept the simplistic ‘write people as people.’ You HAVE to do research, and perhaps people giving this advice think this is common sense, but, again, such a simplistic answer is ignoring diversity. Unlike Americans who greet even strangers with smiles and a ‘hello,’ Indians do not do this in their culture. It is these LITTLE things that will determine the authenticity of the diverse characters you are writing about. Write them as people, but don’t neglect the idea that people are part of cultures that influence how they think, view the world, and interact with other people.
But let me mention what prompted this post. I saw a tweet on Twitter that was linked from Tumblr from an Anon asking about how to write LGBTQ+ characters without explicitly mentioning their sexualities. The author answered ‘write people as people and not characters.’ Okay, but that’s ignoring the diversity in sexual and gender identities that can go largely unseen in our culture because we are so used to assuming everyone is straight and identifies with the gender he/she was born with–because most people are straight and identify as the genders they were born with, so it’s not unfair to assume this when a person’s sexual or gender identity is not explicitly stated or shown if it is easy to be shown. For example, it’s easy to show homosexuality because all you have to do for your female character is mention she has a girlfriend. There you go. Then again, she could be asexual or bisexual or pansexual or transgender. Just because she’s dating a girl doesn’t mean she’s a homosexual! Just because I’m dating a guy doesn’t mean I’m heterosexual!
I don’t want to read a book where I have to analyze whether or not this character is bisexual or asexual or even pansexual or transgender or transsexual or gender fluid or whatever. Some of these things are easy to show, but these sexual and gender identities are still a part of those people’s identities, especially in a culture that hasn’t fully accepted LGBTQ+ people and is especially misinformed or doesn’t even know certain sexual or gender identities exist! We can’t just go around assigning arbitrary sexual and gender identities to characters in books whose identities are unknown. That isn’t fair to LGBTQ+ readers who want books specifically catered toward them (or me!) or expect to have a book with diversity but then end up assuming all characters are heterosexual because that IS what we ALL do when a character’s sexual or gender identity is not explicitly stated. Again, most people are straight and cisgendered. It would be great for me to pretend Hazel in TFiOS is asexual, but she’s not.
So if you’re writing an asexual character, you better state it in some way or eventually say something about it. If you’re writing a pansexual character, you better state it. If you’re writing a bisexual character, you better show it well, and this goes just beyond a bisexual guy dating a guy and thinking ‘What a beautiful girl,’ because even I as an asexual person can think ‘What a beautiful boy.’ These people are more than their sexual and gender identities, so it is good to say write them as people and not characters, but that is still a part of them and it’s completely unfair to ignore it. They live with these identities every single day. You wouldn’t ignore someone’s skin color when you’re writing about a character whose color is different from yours, so why would you do the same with someone who identifies as a different sexuality from yours, one that can’t be easily shown?
It’s hard to show asexuality because most people don’t know what it is or even what it feels like to be asexual. It’s hard to show pansexuality because most people don’t know what it is and what it feels like to be pansexual. People in real life often have to state their nonheteronormative identities to others. They have to be explicit about it because they don’t want you thinking they’re something they’re not. I had one girl tell me I was very good looking, and then she said something else that made sense for me to say ‘I’m engaged.’ She felt embarrassed, but I was flattered, and then she mentioned she was pansexual. Had she not told me that, I probably would have assumed she was homosexual.
So don’t accept the write-people-as-people-and-not-characters answer, because if you do that, you’re completely missing the point of diversity in the first place. We are more than just one facet of ourselves, but that facet is still a part of the greater puzzle that makes us a complete person. Being a ballet dancer and writer is a HUGE part of me, so if you write a book on me, you better concentrate on ballet and writing and even my dang asexuality. Those are parts of me that affect how I live and interact with people.