Naming the Voices
No one reads blogs for their long-winded commentary, so I’ll save the “Four score and three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale ago…” for my memoir and cut straight to the chase. The “Why?” of a cisgender, straight author writing characters on the LGBTQ spectrum is an important question to address, so let’s just dive in. (The issue of white authors writing characters of color is equally important to engage with, but the necessity for brevity prevents me from doing it justice here.)
Most simply, my answer is that when a character finally decides to arrive in three dimensions and whisper in my ear, I hit my damn knees, thank the Muse, and get to work. When a publisher expresses belief in the value of that work in the form of a book contract while also holding values dear to my heart, I say “yes, please, thank you” and keep writing. I do not speak for anyone other than my characters, nor do I profess to know anything about the experience of questioning one’s gender identity or sexuality (or living with the answers to those questions in this mad, mad world) beyond what my research, my cherished queer community members, and my beloved characters tell me. I am a proud ally with many queer folk front and center in my heart. In many ways, these books are love letters to them. Because of their friendship, support, and inspiration, it feels like the most natural thing in the world when one of my characters shows up outside of the straight, binary box.
This is literature, and as an act of creativity and artistic license, such liberties have historically been allowed. Maybe that should be enough. Women have written men, the old have written the young, and nearly every writer has written a character of a different culture or race. But that assumption isn’t enough anymore. Not for me and not for a lot of people, because certain voices have been stolen, silenced, misunderstood, and talked over for so long that stepping into a different skin and speaking for another is riddled with the landmines of appropriation, privilege, and just flat-out getting it wrong.
Spelling all of this out does not absolve me of having stepped into a space that is not my own, but in naming the act I aspire to make it plain that I do not do so lightly. I can only hope that as a straight, cisgender person writing queer characters, I am able to translate their experience in a way that makes them relatable to people of any persuasion or orientation, by virtue of their undeniable humanity. I set Being Roy in 1992 because, to speak plainly, that is where I feel the majority of the world is still stuck in their understanding of what it means to be gender non-conforming and/or of a different sexual orientation than strictly hetero. Actually, I think 1992 is being very generous. As a human writing humans, I believe that one of the best things we can do is tell these stories every way we can until everybody meets up in 2017, or whatever year it is when we finally realize we’re all in this together.