Writers have a responsibility to challenge readers. This can be interpreted however you like and it depends on the genre you write and medium you choose to deliver it in. I write creative fiction and some of this fiction is based on true stories, albeit I’ve taken creative license with it. But where does my authority come from? Who gives me the authority to write about things that are not my life experience?
Journalists tell the news. They have a massive responsibility to tell the World what’s happening. I sit in my dining room and write about fictional people. Not even on the same level of responsibility, but I’m responsible for the words I send out into the universe. I don’t want to be irresponsible and publish or post online about things I have no first hand experience with and act like I know it all. To me that’s not ethical, so as a person that writes fiction I’m struggling with this. I have just finished the third book in my romantic trilogy. This is Andy’s book. You all met Andy in Man Meets World. I love Andy, you guys seem to love Andy and most importantly Andy loves me, no wait. That’s not right. Andy loves Andy – has a deeply rooted hatred of me.
Andy is a 23 year old, gay man. I’m a 31 year old, straight woman. What authority do I have to write about him? This book has taken me a long time to write. Not the act of writing, but sitting down and thinking about it, getting me and him ready for it. I don’t want my readers to see a straight woman writing from the perspective of a gay man. I don’t want to take away his right to have the story written by someone who has life experience with this.
For example, if I tell people that my husband and I went away for the weekend. I don’t get the comment, “Oh. You’re gay? I didn’t know that, you don’t look gay.” Really? What does being gay look like? And why is it my fault that I don’t look gay, so you would know if I am or not? I also don’t have people asking me if they can come to my wedding because they’ve never been to a gay wedding before. Because yes, weird stranger, there is nothing more I would like than spectators coming to my wedding to satisfy your own morbid curiosity. These are actual things that I’ve seen or heard in real life and I’ve threaded them through Andy’s story.
They haven’t happened to me and I’m not even going to say that I can imagine what it’s like, because I can’t. I have never had to defend who I love to anyone. So I struggled getting up the courage to write this book because I can’t even pretend to understand the emotional toll of everyone having an opinion of how you should live your life every day. As a woman, where laws are created to govern what I can and can’t do with my body, I have an idea of helplessness, of having a deep well of rage that faceless people think they can dictate to me what is acceptable and what isn’t. But this doesn’t affect my daily life, if it did, I don’t know how I would cope.
I considered not writing it. I really did. I almost chose to write another book about a different character. But I didn’t, because even if I don’t feel like I have the authority to write about a gay man, what authority did I have to write about any of my other characters.
In Layla’s book, she’s a domestic violence survivor. I have never been in that situation. She’s kidnapped, beaten and worse. Those things haven’t happened to me. In Jay’s book he sleeps around, he beds 4 or 5 different women a week. Even if we don’t look at the fact he’s a man, I’ve never slept with that many people, or have the inclination to. In both of these books I haven’t experienced what the characters went through, but I never questioned if I had the authority to write about them. Not once. I just wrote them.
I came to the conclusion that not writing Andy’s book would be worse than writing it. It would be a disservice to my character and it would also be totally selfish on my part because Andy is special. He shouldn’t be, because in this world he should be able to love freely, without judgement. He should be able to kiss the man he loves without people voicing rude and hateful opinions. He should be able to get married and have a home with the man he loves without it being a huge deal, like the world is going to cave in because they’re the same gender.
So I did what I did with my other books. I researched, I spoke to people, I read and read and read blogs and articles about people who are stronger then I could ever be. People who fight for their right to love and I’m in awe. I’m still not sure if this gives me the authority to write about the life of a gay man, but I have. Maybe you guys will read it one day and maybe you won’t, but I wrote it and I love it. Andy thinks it’s alright too.
Have you ever struggled with this? It could be writing from the perspective of a character that’s a different race, gender, religion, sexuality or culture. How did you overcome it? If you haven’t, hopefully others will have some wise words to share.
Or how do you feel when you read something that reflects your life but is written by someone that doesn’t have to live it?