On Fear

As marginalized people, we say over and over: if you’re going to write about us, learn, respect, if/when you screw up try again, do better do better do better next time.I don’t want to tell you not to try, dear writer. But the fact of the matter is, if you screw up in your portrayal, you may hurt someone. Your hurt will be small in return. It will be sharp words and criticism. To the person you’ve hurt, to marginalized people, to us, it is continual, it is a compound on top of years and years of harmful portrayals. And it hurts. God, it hurts.
Reading a book where a queer girl is predatory, where she is laughed at, a caricature, where she is attacked, where—this hurts. Reading this hurts.
I cannot guarantee my response to this kind of rep, born out of hurt, will be kind. I’m sorry. I cannot. But please, dear writer, listen. And I know it’s scary, I know it’s hard because I’ve been there and because I write outside my own experiences. I write this way to reflect the world I live in.
And I am scared. I am scared of getting it wrong because I know how much it hurts to get it wrong. I know if I am called out it will sting. But I know it will hurt more to those whom I portray inaccurately, even offensively.
But I will do better. But maybe we as a community need to do better, too. Because when I see people say they are too scared to write outside their own lane because of criticism, some of that is on them, absolutely, but some of that—some of that is on us. When more than one person says it, when marginalized people say how afraid they are of writing even their own experiences because they’re afraid of their experience being “wrong”–then it’s time for us to do better. I’m not saying don’t criticize. I’m not saying we must coddle all authors who screw up.
I’m saying do better. I don’t know if I have an answer as to how. This isn’t an individual issue. This is a community one.
Maybe a little fear is healthy in writing. Maybe it helps you not screw up portrayals. But fear that stops people from writing altogether, fear that we as a community may cause?
We need to look at that.

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