There are six hundred projects I should be working on, and I’m doing exactly none of them. Instead, I’ve chosen to procrastinate by focusing on the Pandora’s box opened in my last blog post–where I discovered a truly shocking lack of female characters in my writing.
Never one to procrastinate halfway, I decide to delve deeper into my writing history to see what other blind spots have surely developed over the years. Perhaps a quick jaunt down Memory Lane would lend insight as to just how deep my inherent biases go.
Because there’s no way this goes wrong.
Making elaborate lists is one of my favorite things to do, especially when procrastinating, so I open up approximately forty tabs (rip my laptop CPU) containing every story/novel/anything project finished, started, or just brainstormed, then scoot on over to Google Sheets to make an organized, color-coded ledger.
I want to cover as many bases as possible–if I’m gonna drag myself on the internet for the sake of education, let’s not cut any corners. This time I’m not just looking at female characters represented, but at white characters vs non-white ones, degrees of ableness, and the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation. This is an experiment, and I want the largest possible sample size, so I’m including every character I’ve ever written.
A half an hour later and, reader, the results were…harrowing.
While as an upside there was a 49:9 ratio of queer characters to straight ones, there was still a significant absence of inclusion on the disability/neurodivergence/non-white/female characters front.
Which I guess makes sense, considering that I grew up exclusively around white people (with the brewing internalized misogyny still piping hot on the stove). Everywhere I looked, there was a certain image of what I believed the world to look like at that time, and that image was not very, shall we say, colorful.
But that isn’t the reality of how the world looks to me anymore. Which makes the existence of so many instances of subliminal heteronormativity and white supremacy so totally unacceptable at this juncture.
Speaking of the devil–
IT’S JUST WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW! Like a Kraken summoned from the deep, HetPat crawls his way out of my mind swamp to share his unsolicited two-cents. WE ALREADY AGREED THAT THAT’S WHAT’S EASIEST FOR WRITING! YOU’RE WHITE, SO YOU KNOW YOU CAN WRITE THAT! IF TRYING TO WRITE CHARACTERS OF COLOR CAUSES ANXIETY THEN ALL THE MORE REASON TO NOT DO IT! THEN YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT MESSING IT UP! YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO FOCUS IF YOU’RE STRESSED, SO DON’T FRET ABOUT IT! JUST DO WHAT COMES NATURALLY AND EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE!
As if Mr. Personification of the Patriarchy and My Anxiety has ever cared about my well-being in literally any capacity.
Here’s the thing–I don’t need an imaginary demon in my head to tell me that it’s easier to write characters who look like me, with similar life experiences. That’s 100% the reason why my subconscious falls back on what’s safe, and comfortable, and familiar.
But that doesn’t make it a good reason–especially considering how hard I’ve worked to avoid slipping back into those bad habits.
Making a fairly comprehensive ledger lampshading the diversity I’ve included in my writing and seeing (in full color-coded glory) where, specifically, the problem areas lie, has been a concrete step towards holding myself accountable in avoiding white-able-male-centric narratives.
Honestly, when divided by project and exact numbers, it’s not quite as dire as it seems on the surface–the most egregious lack of diversity appears in the first novel series that I began working on back in 2011, where all 7/7 characters that I wrote were all male and white.
I know this isn’t diversity bingo, or Pokemon Go–gotta catch ’em all–because obviously the solution is not a forced diversity checklist when crafting characters. But in follow-up projects, particularly recent ones, the casts are significantly more balanced in terms of male vs female and white vs non-white characters.
Which I suppose is encouraging, because that means that even if I continue to overthink my entire process–with HetPat throwing up barriers faster than I can tear them down–progress is slowly but surely coming along.
And as for messing it up–of course I’m more hyper-aware now that every inclusion of a marginalized identity (especially one that is not my own) is a slippery slope of an opportunity to accidentally cause harm. But at least there’s an abundance of resources out there to help avoid this as much as possible–and obviously, surrounding myself with people who embody the diverseness of the world has been essential in looking inward and going hey, look at what you’ve missed out on!
HetPat is a chaotic, wildly unhelpful presence in nearly every aspect of my life, but maybe there is something to be said for the anxiety surrounding my desire to portray diversity in fiction. But the answer is not to fall back into false safety by not attempting it, or to allow myself to be incapacitated by the fear of getting it wrong. I didn’t make it this far just to keep painting inaccurate pictures of the world when I know now how much variety exists around and in me.
I’ve been so much happier since figuring out that the world is not nearly as blah as I was meant to believe.
I guess sometimes all you need is an Excel spreadsheet to help make sense of the world.
Or, at the very least, help get your head out of your own ass.