Why stories with diversity don’t need to be about being different.

Posted by on Jun 9, 2013 in Disability and or Neuro-diversity, General Discussions, LGBTQIA, Race and Ethnicity | 0 comments

Here’s the thing about writing characters from diverse backgrounds: their story doesn’t have to be about being different.

Once upon a time literature was overwhelmed by straight, white, able men and occasionally women. In response, a diverse and inclusive culture had to break through the barrier of expectation. We had to come out, explode forth, and express ourselves as the new freak nation. Fighting to find a place in culture, we had to announce our difference, explain, re-explain and declare our right to be different and a part of the culture all too keen to place us in tidy boxes neatly out of sight.

Rainbow RoseWe had to write stories that said: Hello! We are non-white, non-straight, non-cis, and/or disabled (etc!), AND WE ARE HERE!

We had to write stories that simply accounted for our existence.

These are the stories such as those about growing up black in a predominantly white society, or struggling living with disability, or all those coming out stories.

Don’t get me wrong, these stories were important, and still are. The only way we could explain our relevance to a culture with such narrow understandings was with stories about being the Other. These were the stories in which we stood up and defined our identities, in which we declared those identities as relevant to culture.

But times change. People know now: We’re here, some of us a queer, we’re all a little ‘different’, but none of us are going away. Instead of writing ourselves into boxes to declare our existence, it’s time we write ourselves out of boxes. Better yet, let’s do away with the boxes altogether. Instead of writing within expectation, we have to change the expectation.

It is time now to expect more from our culture, our writers and our readers.

We need to look more critically at the way we express diversity and approach it in a new way. When we write stories with diverse characters about being from a minority, about being different, we can inadvertently re-establish the negative stereotypes that say there is such a thing as normal or different, and that these things define who we are in the most simplistic and confining sense.

Of course, our identity matters and we should continue to articulate our identities in order to uphold them and ensure that we never again slip into oblivion. Equally, it remains occasionally worth including discussions of difference within our stories without having these become the wholly defining essence of our plot and character. It seems like a fine line to walk but it’s really not. We should treat our diverse characters the same way we would treat any character, as whole, multi-dimensional people with more than one prescribed story to tell. Because there is so much more we must articulate.

There is more to a mixed race character than the fact that they are mixed race. There is more to a gay character than the fact that they are gay. There is more to a character in a wheelchair than the fact that they are in a wheelchair.

Our freak identity is still valid. It is important. It should be shown and written and read about and shouted out. But it shouldn’t be all encompassing.

It’s time to write stories with diverse characters that aren’t about being different. The diverse identities of our characters should play a role in their characterisations; they should add colour to our stories and our cultural landscape, but they shouldn’t be the story.

It’s time to move away from stories of struggling with difference and move towards stories of belonging with difference. It’s time to prove that we belong.

 

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Holly Kench

Visibility Fiction

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