Sunday, May 21, 2017

Guest Post: Writing All Aspects Of Diversity ~ JM Dabney

I want to thank Meredith for having me on Diverse Reader today. I have several thoughts on representation, and this is my opinion, thoughts that pop into my head. When I started writing, I had a goal in mind, and I hope that I’ve fulfilled it, even as I continue to grow and expand with my writing and the types of characters I write. And when I started my current book, the thoughts I’ll express below became even more important to me. So, here I go.

Years ago, when I started writing even before I thought about being a published author I quickly learned my characters didn’t fit some spectrum of the norm. I’m a lesbian who loves her chubby chicks, and my F/F romance reflected that, but I didn’t see it as a form of representation. I wrote these beautiful curvy and sometimes rollie women that I found beautiful and worthy of their HEA. The ample curve of a belly or the sexy arches of hips. Those are the women I wrote for, the ones who didn’t see themselves on the covers of romance novels or painted in all their attractiveness on sheets of paper.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with representation, well, here’s what it is, I wrote this post on my Author Page:

I'm currently working on Ghost, it's a romance between a Pansexual man and Harper a Transwoman. As my readers know, my characters are as diverse as I can make them. As a Lesbian, I believe representation of every kind whatever your sexuality or gender identity is about respect. I love the diversity of my characters, their eternal struggles with addiction, as survivors of domestic abuse or prejudice. There's nothing more I want to do with my stories than to show them the utmost respect and admiration. They struggle with the same insecurities as you or me. Yes, I write fiction, but my representation of my characters is done out of respect for silent ones. The readers that take the time to read my stories and see something of themselves that is important to me as a writer and human being.

And I believe what I wrote with everything that’s in me. When I started writing the Twirled World Ink series and one of the main characters, Zerk, had a belly, was hairy, for lack of a better word, a man’s man. Someone who wasn’t waxed or sculpted to perfection. Just as with my full-figured female characters he was just as deserving of love and an HEA without a before and after story. I wrote him as with all my characters to be flawed and as much outside the physical norm, and still treating him with the respect he deserved as a human being.

This is where representation is important, a writer’s job is essentially entertainment; giving their readers an escape, but we should also show our readers a bit of themselves.

No matter someone’s sexuality or gender identity, the beautiful hues of their skin, religion or lack thereof, age, disability, I could go on, but everyone should relate.

We weave these amazing stories of romance, we have a vision in our heads of how the characters look. We searched for inspiration pictures. I noticed a long time ago the lack of inspiration when it came to big men, one’s with bellies and hairy bodies. Sites are overrun with rippling abs and slick, hairless skin, and same with female images, these images reflect societal norms. Not a lot of body positivity. Thin and muscular doesn’t represent all, and beauty is subjective, what one finds attractive, someone else won’t.

So, I’ve dealt with size prejudice and the lack of presence of fat characters or the before and after aspect. Whatever floats your boat is your preference, I am a non-judgement zone. You do you and fuck the rest.

As a writer who believes firmly in diversity in all aspects, we deal with Bi-erasure, Trans* characters as fetishized objects, Asexuals discounted, and it could go on. You see as a Butch Lesbian, I will admit on my Butch, masculine days, I feel more confident and comfortable in my skin. It’s what it is, and I fought a long time to get to be me.

There’s always double standards, men, and women, and gender neutral persons feel pressure to conform to what it means to be whatever sexuality or gender identity that they may or may not be. Whether Femme or Masc or somewhere between, there’s a boy out there who’s Femme, who sees their peers and wonders why he can’t be like that, why he has to be an outsider. There’s a girl out there with a crush on a girl in her class and wonders what’s wrong with her. Then there’s the person out there who sees their peers fawning over a boy or a girl, and doesn’t understand it, worries about being abnormal.

Disabled members of our community are not non-sexual beings, they want love and relationships just as much as the rest of us. To be seen beyond arm crutches or wheelchairs, and even the disabilities that can’t be seen. We need these stories, we need them because they are these fantastic humans with stories to tell and lessons to teach us.

Labels shove you into these boxes, if you’re this, then you have to do a, b, c, or d, but never e. There’s not much we can do about it, we’re all influenced by our upbringings, the communities we belong to, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Again I’m non-judgmental, I can explain to someone my opinion, but in the end, we have Free Will. We’re going to think and feel what we want.

Persons of Color need to see themselves, especially POC in the LGBT community. To see they belong and are important, not presented as a minority within a minority. I’ve written Asian American, African American, and Latinx characters because they are an essential part of who we are today as a community. Persons of color were the pioneers of our movement for fundamental human rights and respect. Putting their bodies and lives on the line for the freedoms some of us take for granted today.
Younger generations don’t remember. I was in my early teens during the AIDS/HIV epidemic, I remember, and those memories shaped who and what I am. It took me a long time and decades in the closet to find myself and accept my differences weren’t punishable offenses but the person I was meant to be.

Culturally speaking communities are formed on the lessons of past generations.

With that being said, a majority of us write for adults, but I’m not na├»ve enough to think someone under the age of eighteen isn’t going to read one of my books. It goes the same with adults. So, I ask myself a few questions: Will this make them more comfortable in their skin? Will this show them that there is someone like them out there?

Representation and diversity need to be found in all genres, not just the LGBT stories. We need to step outside of our comfort zones, read about people who may not be like us, but who has a story that will enrich our lives—expand our understanding. Sometimes these tales we tell bring us Allies, through history Allies have stood beside us and in some cases in front of us when fists were thrown. Although, Allies are as human as everyone else, reading about us or loving someone in the community isn’t the same as being one of us. Sometimes they have their faults and make their mistakes, but need to understand that they are there for ALL of us.

The gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, gender neutral, and especially the Trans* community,  all the rest need to be recognized, to be celebrated no matter our shade, race, or disability. To be seen as a person of worth.

You may be wondering why I wrote this post, why I took the time to type out over a thousand words, it’s because it needed to be said. In times such as these, we need to remember the ones who came before us and the ones still to come. The younger generation may in the future not have to worry about coming out, it would be as simple as bringing their partner home and offering simple introductions.

It is still not that day, we have children and adults in our community who still take their own lives. Put razor to flesh to bring a moment of pain. Find oblivion in drugs and alcohol, in sex with someone who makes them feel wanted, no matter how fleeting the belonging is. I believe we have a task that at times is more responsibility than we initially anticipated when we became storytellers and wrote that first line, paragraph, chapter, or book.

Storytellers have a great responsibility, a daunting task to show someone there is hope, and someone out there just like them. To offer them a chance to reach out and the greatest gift our readers can give us are those emails to say they loved our stories, to share a bit of their personal story with us. Those words that tell us that we made them laugh or cry, or cheer on the main character who was flawed just like them.

I can call myself a writer, an author, but when I sit down at my laptop, I’m a simple storyteller who just wants to show that all persons matter and deserve that sometimes fabled and seemingly unattainable HEA. Because on the screen of an e-reader or between the shiny covers of a book we paint hope and that is the greatest achievement a writer can ever attain.

Thank you for reading.

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