Inclusivity in fiction. It seems like a bar we can never quite reach. If a character is written with dark hair and dark skin, she (or he) is drawn on the cover with blonde hair and blue eyes. If a character in a TV show is supposed to be Chinese, they find an actor with dark hair and give her some winged eye-liner. If a character is gay, you can bet they are sassy, unlucky in love, and definitely a side-kick or comic relief.
Yep, we’ve got some problems. The easy way to solve them? Write inclusively. Write diversely. Have characters from the whole spectrum. Heck, have characters on the autism spectrum. Easy answer, right?
Here’s where it isn’t so easy, and I’ll use myself as an example.
I am a white, middle-ish class female. I have a long-term boyfriend whom I love with all my heart. I am your “typical” young woman. If I were to write an African-American, bisexual man who is in an on-again, off-again relationship I would be blasted for writing “stereotypically” (I don’t think any of those things I just listed are stereotypical) and would be criticized for writing things I don’t “know” about. I’ve seen it happen. People can be merciless. Because I am not those things I listed, I am somehow barred from writing about it.*
I think people get upset that there isn’t a character like them in whatever they are reading or watching, but then when there is, it is only okay if it comes from the right source (i.e., a gay writer writing gay characters). NOT EVERYONE FEELS THIS WAY. I completely understand that the majority of people probably don’t care if their favorite autistic character was written by someone with autism (or an autistic relation). Most people, myself included, are happy to experience the diversity in a work of fiction.
But the people who aren’t okay with “outsiders” writing characters “like them” are the ones who are most outspoken. That’s what makes writing inclusively less easy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. In fact, all the more reason to do it. We can’t let critics dictate what we write. Someone out there will always hate your coming-of-age story about magic. More people will love it. Don’t let the few win.
*Not that I couldn’t write about it. I think I could do a bang-up job with it (if it’s a fantasy world, at least).