Friday, February 7, 2014

The World Isn't One Color

How do you write about minority characters without drawing attention to their status as a minority?  The world isn't just made up of heterosexual, good-looking, Christian, white boys and girls.  The world is so varied, and there are so many kinds of people in it.

These days, it's becoming less acceptable to be openly homophobic, so haters have begun to cloak their ignorance in acceptance. They argue that they don't care what people do in private so long as no one shoves it in their face.  They argue that if gays want to be treated like everyone else, they should stop drawing attention to themselves.  It's an argument I've heard often over the years.  Two men holding hands in public or two women kissing in a restaurant is them throwing their sexuality in other people's faces.  But it's a silly argument because they're not the ones drawing attention to themselves.  When I see a straight couple making out in a movie theater, I don't feel personally offended.  I don't imagine that they're trying to throw their heterosexuality in my face.  I simply giggle and ignore them.  I doubt they even notice I exist.

In fml, Simon's best friends are a couple—Ben and Coop.  They have a fun subplot involving their quest to find a condom so they can get it on for the first time.  Their story isn't about their sexuality, it's about sexuality, full stop.  In fact, the word "gay" is used a total of 13 times, most of those not even in reference to Ben and Coop.  To contrast, I used the word "fuck" 74 times.  Ben and Coop's subplot isn't about them "being gay."  It's about them trying to get busy, and they just happen to be gay.

I didn't do anything to intentionally draw attention to Ben and Coop's gayness.  I didn't write them as gay because I wanted to put a spotlight on gay people.  I wrote Ben and Coop because I thought they were awesome, and I know a lot of gay people. What reason would I have not to make them gay?  Their sexuality isn't a statement anymore than Coop's musical talent or Ben's Asian background.  Every single thing Ben and Coop did in fml would have been done by a heterosexual couple.

In my upcoming book THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY, I wrote a story about a young man dealing with grief.  I wrote a story about bullying and living life and superheroes and wheelchair hockey and best friends and merkins and beauty queens.  The one thing I didn't do was write a story about being gay.  Yet, my narrator and the boy he falls in love with are both gay.  However, IN FIVE STAGES, the word "gay" is used 9 times.  In a story with a gay main character and a gay love interest, the word "gay" makes up  just .01% of the total words.  In comparison, "bacon" shows up 13 times, so make of that what you will.  The point is that the story is about nearly everything except being gay, but because the characters happen to be gay, people will glom onto that and claim gay is being shoved in their faces.

I don't want to throw my sexuality in anyone's face.  I don't want to write gay stories or transgender stories or boy stories or Jewish stories.  I just want to write stories.  Stories about people who happen to be gay or transgender or female or Jewish.  Stories about human beings.  Because, being human is the one thing we all have in common, it's the only real default.

So I guess that if writing about people who are different is drawing attention to them, then there's really no way to write about minorities without drawing attention to their minority status, and I guess that's really okay. Because until we thinking about anyone who's different as a minority, we've got a long way to go.

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