I feel as though I should warn everyone now. This post has the potential to be a little offensive. I’m not starting out trying to offend anyone, and I hope I am able to discuss this in a way that is true to my own feelings and is not misinterpreted. I am setting out to ask a question, and I hope people will answer with the same amount of respect and consideration I am attempting, even if they feel I did not succeed. I have an honest question that has do to with the way society views each other. I want you to feel free to share your opinion on my question, but please only on the question at hand, not any other seemingly related topics. This is not a place where I would like to discuss politics or religion, only how some sensitive topics may relate to writing. Please know, I don’t normally feel the need to pull comments from my page, but if someone is spewing hatred back, I will remove it.
We seem to live in a time where labels matter. People want to know your culture or ethnicity. There are times when your skin color can be viewed as an advantage, just as there are times when it is viewed as a disadvantage. A person’s sexuality can open an entire world to them that is denied to other people who happen to be attracted to a different gender. No matter what anyone wants to believe, these labels matter and everyone has at one point or another been the victim of social convention. Maybe it is the homosexual in a devout Christian community, or the person who feels their skin is the wrong color for their community. For every person attacked for who they are, there is someone else who is attacked for who they are not.
This is a topic that by normal social conventions, I am not allowed to talk about. I happen to be born Caucasian, female and heterosexual. I have naturally had troubles in my life, but for the most part no one can see what they were and they assume that means they did not happen. It is believed that I have had a privileged life and have never been the victim of discrimination of any sort. At times that has been used as an excuse to say whatever people want to say about me as though it is some sort of retribution for things they have endured. It does not matter that I personally have not done any of them, to them or I hope to anyone else. I can be a symbol of all that is wrong in another person’s life because of how I was born and the things I have achieved through my own hard work.
I can be honest. This is a topic I can discuss at length because it bothers me. I hate that labels are important, but it seems as though the more we try to remove the labels the more important they become. It is as if a person must prove they are not against one group by giving them an advantage over others. It doesn’t always matter who has worked harder, or earned their rewards. It matters what group can hold them up as a symbol of success, and what benefit that might be to someone else. The worst part is, some of us are considered not allowed to talk about it. If social convention considers you to be one of the advantaged, even if it is clearly not always the case, you are never allowed to complain about paying penance for the actions of others who happen to fall into the same label as you do.
It is an exhausting topic, and one I am sure many people feel strongly about based on their individual label. But this is not technically the topic I want to discuss, simply a background for my question.
As I have said, labels matter. Some of people are lucky enough to be able to chose their own label, but most of us have it given to us by others. I can’t say I would change my given label if I could; it is all simply something that is, and does not mean I am better or worse off than I would be with anything else. I do not see the point in arguing the truth, even if I do not always like the implications.
My question is this; as a writer, am I allowed by accepted social conventions to write about characters who are not within my label?
I know some cases it seems to be obviously a yes, it is allowed. J.K. Rowling is female, but her novels about a young male were extremely successful. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is written from the perspective of a young girl and discusses many characters with terminal illness, all things he has not experienced personally. As well as Stephen King writes horror, I am fairly certain none of that has happened to him.
As writers of fiction it is expected that we will tell the tale of things that have never happened, either to us or to anyone. It is the job to take something that you have never done or felt, and make it feel real to others.
But is there a limit on how far away from our own past we can write? Do I have to be, in any way shape or form, a part off the target audience?
Recently, I began working, in a very vague manner, on a story of a person who would not be within my label. I am heterosexual, and this character would be homosexual. I know that if I found out a writer of heterosexual romance was homosexual I might react with a brief, “Really? Huh. Okay.” It might catch me off guard, but if the writing was true to the characters, I would not care. It would only bother me if the writer obviously had no idea of how to express the feelings they had never felt themselves. I’m not certain it goes the other way around as easily because I can only be on one side of this debate. If I am not within a label, I can assume they might have the same general openness I have, but I cannot ever be within the other group. It is just as anything else; I might be able to guess how my husband will react to something, but I cannot be certain of how he would feel because I am not him.
I know how I want the world to think of this topic, but I also know what I want is not always how the world works.
I guess my biggest question is this; what matters more, good, honest writing, or having a personal connection to the story? Are there simply topics that are “off limits?” Can I write and sell a story targeted at an audience I am not even slightly a part of as long as the story has emotional truth? Does my label matter or my writing?
As I said at the beginning, I hope my rambling on about the concept of labels was not offensive. I don’t want this to become a discussion on gender, racism, homosexuality, politics or religion. This isn’t about if a group of people should be allowed to be or believe whatever they believe, it is only a discussion on how this effects a person’s creative ability in society. Please do not turn this into an argument about the rights of any one group; your comment will be removed if that is the case.