♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
What’s the most difficult thing about writing
characters from the opposite sex?
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I don’t find it difficult to write the opposite gender at all. One of my professors remarked, it is easy to portray men, because most every book is from their perspective. There is no end of resources from which to pull, and accurately, about any aspect of maleness. If you’re well read of literature, then you won’t struggle. From films to books, I’ve been immersed in the perspective of the male by media from early on. I suppose, anything lacking might be bolstered by my biology background.
Where I have struggled is with ethnicities and non-cis-gendered characters. The issue here is, no matter how supportive I am, no matter how progressive, I am still limited by my perspective. Just like literature classes in the United States taught me cis-maleness, it also taught consensus on race and gender, as desired by conservative Christian ideology. Until reaching college, the group buy in was around two genders and whiteness: the nuclear family (of the 1950s).
There was not a struggle to unlearn the social conditioning and start to perceive of other lives in the world, nor to understand that my singular experience was the equal of others. It’s super easy to dismiss that notion when you realize there are so many kinds of people with so many kinds of experiences. No one is the same. I think, on that, we can agree. At least, it is my hope that others don’t go around really believing that what they go through is the same as everyone else—that race or gender, or location, or family make up, all has a lasting affect on shaping us, and determining not only our outcomes but our choices.
When I wrote Henrietta Benson in Blue Honor, she was, and remains, the most difficult character I have ever written. The reason is that I understand her from the perspective of a woman, but I cannot fathom the depth and breadth of what Henrietta experienced as a black woman. It is just not possible. I am white. I will never live the black experience in the United States. However, I can empathize. I can listen and try to correlate. That’s the best I could do for Hettie. It still bothers me to this day that I couldn’t be her voice, like she needed—like she deserved. Yet, it’s powerful that my shortcomings and my perspective illustrate the racism and white-knighting that is integral to the discussion of racism and equity in the United States.
In Trailokya, I have gay, lesbian, trans, and queer characters. I’m not sure that readers will recognize them, and that concerns me, because representation matters, especially in a work like Trailokya. The work is meant to challenge the comfortable notions of the past, and be representative of a higher and better thinking. The reason that some might not recognize the characters is that I treated them as people, and their sexualities secondary. For instance, Naajah and her wife. There’s no lurid scenes to describe them. Naajah is guardian, and her job is the concern of the text, with her home life, what keeps her going, in the background. These women are more than sex.
As times change, it has become somewhat easier to portray characters that veer from my norm. If I do them the justice they deserve, and portray the full rainbow of humanity, I can’t say beyond hoping I was fair. Ultimately, the readers who see themselves or their family and friends in the characters will decide about the works, if they were fair or showed the bigotries of the culture in which it was written.
Let’s hop on over to see where the other authors struggle with gender…
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Stevie Turner says
I’m noticing more and more that UK TV series have shifted from all-white couples, and quite a lot of the couples are now mixed race. There’s not a lot single sex couples yet, but give them another 25 years…
Captain Maiel says
Call the Midwife had a lesbian couple for a bit. But, you’re right. There’s not a lot.
P.J. MacLayne says
I, too, have supporting characters who are gay and lesbian, but I’m afraid they will always remain supporting characters because I don’t have the experience to write their stories.
Captain Maiel says
I feel like I’d be taking away a platform from those who deserve to have that stage if I did, on top of that.
Timothy Bateson says
Unfortunately I feel the same way. I’m afraid of doing a diservice to the challenges of misunderstanding, social pressures and expectations, when writing for characters from those backgrounds. I’ve tried a few times to create characters from those backgrounds, but always seem to end up with a flat stereotype. BUT, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep talking to people, or researching, until I can do them justice on the page.