You don’t have to add diversity—just stop erasing it!
Yesterday, in reaction to a recent episode of the Cabbages and Kings podcast, I concluded by suggesting that if we can’t find stories which include people like ourselves, that one of the solutions is to write the stories ourselves. As the cliché goes, if you want a job done right you have to do it yourself. That isn’t to say that only queer writers should write queer characters, nor that only women should write women and girls as protagonists, nor that only people of color should write stories with people of color in the lead. My point is more of an outgrowth of the oft-repeated advice of many different writers that if you can’t find the kind of story you want, you should write it.
Part of the reasoning behind that advice is that no one sees the world quite the same way as you, so no one else can tell your stories. Another part is, if you want to see something there are bound to be other people who want to read that kind of story too. And even more, there will be people who don’t know they want to read that kind of story until they find yours. Then they will want more…
All of that is true. It is also true that non-queer writers can and should include queer characters in their work. And male writers can and should include fully-developed female characters in their work. And cisgendered writers can and should include trans characters in their work. And white writers can and should include people of color in their work, and so on. Just as no one should be surprise that I, a queer writer, include hetero character in my stories, it shouldn’t be remarkable that any writer includes diverse characters in their work.
Often, when we talk about diverse books and diverse writing, a bunch of white, cisgendered, (usually) male writers go on the defensive. They imply that they would love to include queer characters, or black characters, or asian characters, or latino characters, or more than one token female character, but they just haven’t been inspired to write a story about that kind of person. It isn’t their fault that their stories are overwhelmingly populated with cisgendered straight white male characters and that the only female characters in the stories exist to either fall in love with the lead characters, and/or be menaced by the villain, et cetera. No! Their muse just hasn’t yet blessed them with a plot that requires a gay person. We shouldn’t blame them! We should instead take it up with the gods of narrative and inspiration!
First, there is nothing about the underlying plots of the stories that any of these writers are telling that require that 99% of the characters be dudes with swords/ray guys/superpowers. Woman can operate swords, or shoot guns, or fly, et cetera. There is nothing inherent to the underlying plots that require all the men to be white. Or for all of them to be blue-eyed blonds named Chris. And certainly nothing that requires them to be straight.
In point of fact, since the vast majority of the characters present in those kinds of stories are men—not just the named characters in the lead and main supporting roles—if all of those men really are straight, they must be extremely lonely. Look at the crowd scenes of movies and TV shows. Freeze frame them and count some time. You will notice that even in the crowds of unnamed bystanders the ratio tends to be 4 or 5 men or boys for every woman or girl. So these fictional worlds that all these male writers and directors are creating have a serious gender imbalance. The only logical conclusion is that a lot of those men have to be either bi or gay. Right?
And while I am sort of making a joke, there, I want to point out yet again that the best, most comprehensive studies of actual sexual activities (rather than asking people to self-identify their orientation) back that up. About half the population regularly engages in sexual activity with members of both genders. When you add to that the approximately 6% that is exclusively same-sex oriented, you wind up with less than half the population being strictly straight.
And that’s the real reason that writers and artists should stop excluding almost everyone who isn’t cisgendered and white and straight and male from their narratives. It isn’t realistic. Hell, it isn’t even believable. Talk about unrealistic assumptions that bounce the reader out of the story! Dudes complain that a minor piece of technobabble in a sci fi story totally ruins things for them, and completely ignore the fact that the fictional world erases 80 percent or more of the human population. Merely ignoring the half of the population that isn’t male is pretty ridiculous! That they also ignore/erase everyone else is a disgrace.
So, yes. Those of us who are queer can and should write stories that include characters who look like us. Any writer who isn’t male cisgendered white anglo-saxon protestant can write stories that include people like themselves. But we shouldn’t be the only ones. We shouldn’t even be doing most of that kind of writing. Because everyone in the real world lives with, works beside, and otherwise shares this world with a wide diversity of humans. Why is it so hard to include them?