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Representation and You

As writers, we owe it to the world to produce inclusive work. This means we have to veer sharply away from the Glee Treatment, packing ten stereotypes together in a room to talk about their race/disability/sexuality and to not engage beyond this. People need to be able to see themselves in fiction, but they need the best story first. No disabled person I know is solely occupied with their disability. Most of them get coffee, watch anime, read cheesy paranormal novels, and lead lives outside of marching on Washington every other weekend. If you are creating asylums for your characters where they never encounter anyone outside their experience, you need to read more and talk much more before you put pen to paper.

Do not write minority characters as a ratings ploy, hoping that controversy or "inclusiveness" are enough to distract the audience from your lack of talent. (I would like to tell you that this would not work, but it would be enough to distract some people.) Minorities are not your stock characters.

When in doubt, instead of making the minority characters some inexplicable Other, write the most compelling and realistic character you can and then add in what you think makes them "different." In Flies to Wanton Boys, I have a Christian man from a rich family as a secondary character. He happens to be gay as well, which informs his character and story, but doesn't serve as the sole note on it, instead complicating his relationship with his family and boyfriend.

I do not want to leave a large portion of my audience out because I am writing characters who solely resemble me: straight, white, cisgender, and middle class. Because I have the privilege of not having to think about my role in society as much as some, I am able to notice those whose experiences do not match mine. Belonging to a minority religion (Discordian Pagan) and being occasionally neurodivergent allows me a slight taste of what it is to be Other, but I do not lean on this. These are small potatoes and I experience little oppression because I have cast spells and swallow a pill nightly.

I do not want to throw minorities into a blender to turn out something that name drops their struggles, but only deals with their stories in ham-fisted lecturing. I am not out to write Very Special Episodes with my cast only serving the moral without personal agency. I want to show how real people would deal with incredible situations. Even more than that, I do not want my diverse characters to serve as empty accessories, propping up the narratives of straight, white men.

Roselyn, one of my ensemble in the Night's Dream series, is not simply a "woman of color" and I defy the idea that she should be reduced to two characteristics, though I am certain she is proud of both. She is also an epileptic Wiccan with abandonment issues she projects through her romantic relationships, a talented visual artists, Gothic, sarcastic, beautiful and she knows it, and one of my braver characters. Were she told that she was judged only as a "woman of color" instead of holistically, she would flip you off and call you racist/sexist/annoying. She doesn't wish to be reduced to factors outside her control, nor does she believe these predicate her destiny. She had the experiences she has in part because she grew up in an African-American household (her parents are Baptists and racial minorities are still rare in Wicca, Roselyn's chosen religion) and certainly because she was female, but that is where she begins, not where she ends.

I write about angels, demons, magic, apocalypses, gods, avatars, and plagues, but I have the "right" to write about these because I try to do my research and describe them accurately. So, if I can write about vampires (something that does not exist) believably, I don't see why my own demographic status should preclude me trying to represent those who very much do exist (outside prime time television, at least). My everyday world is a colorful one. My family is a colorful one. My creation should match, if not exceed, that.

People complain that the media doesn't offer the representation they demand (though what they occasionally mean is that established properties have not been altered to have superheroes and queen become bisexual; what they ought to demand are new stories with new characters who meet their needs - Miles Morales or Kamala Khan stepping into the tights). To that, I retort that these are your dollars and your time. If you are spending them on media that doesn't represent you, stop immediately. Don't only complain that some cisgender, heteronormative, predominantly white series isn't giving you the experience you want. Stop watching or reading it and find something that does represent you. I guarantee you that what you are looking for is (or was) out there, but languishes for want of eyeballs. Once you find the media that suits you, talk about it to whoever will listen to the exclusion of media that doesn't care. The consumer has more power than they may realize. It is not the easy path, but those complaining are obviously not satisfied with "easy." With enough attention, media dopes will start accommodating diverse representation because it will be profitable. And, if you insist upon rehashing the same stories with the same cast, the media won't involve you any longer.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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