If you’re not part of the solution…

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

It’s a pretty common phrase, and it’s one I’ve used myself. But I’m wondering if I should stop using it, at least in some circumstances.

I’m thinking of the problem of representation in fiction right now. I’m thinking about it quite a bit. I like to consider myself a socially responsible person, someone who’s aware of her privilege and does what she can to help others. So when I see evidence of serious problems with under-representation in fiction, I want to help. I want to be part of the solution.

But then my lily-white ass runs into commentary from people of colour (or from whatever other disempowered group) suggesting that my contributions may not be welcome. I don’t have the in-depth understanding of their cultures and communities to write authentically, and I don’t have the authority to point out that my portrayal was authentic to at least some parts of the community. What’s needed isn’t my voice, it’s #ownvoices.

And I’m a big sucky baby who’s just trying to help, so this stings a bit, but then I get over myself and start wondering, what can I do to help? I’ve been shown a problem, I’m a Type-A, goal-oriented, fixer type… what am I going to do?

Well, there are certainly some good suggestions out there. Allies should pressure their publishers/agents/others in power to open up to more diversity. I think that’s great, except I’m a midlist author on my best day and I don’t think my publishers or agents give a good goddamn what I think. (Well, my agent is a lovely woman and I’m sure she cares what I think – but not in a “put pressure on her” sort of way, if that makes sense). KJ Charles and her agent have made an offer to mentor/support two authors who will bring diversity, and I think that’s brilliant, but it’s KJ Charles! She’s obviously got a lot more value to add than I do.

What I’ve been thinking about lately (and this is absolutely an idea in flux, so please feel free to comment/disagree/refine) is that maybe this isn’t my problem to solve. Maybe I can be both not part of the solution and not part of the problem. Is it a sort of arrogance, possibly another expression of my privilege, to assume I have a role to play in every social issue that catches my attention? A White Saviour is not needed, here (or anywhere).

It feels wrong, like I’m stepping off to the sidelines and saying this isn’t my problem.

As a reader, I seek out diverse books. As a blogger (such as I am) and member of the writing community (such as I am) I will continue to seek out, respect and consider the opinions I hear from diverse voices.

As a writer of m/m, I will continue to struggle with whether my work is appropriative or fetishizing. If I come to the final conclusion that it is, I’ll try to be strong enough to stop writing it (but damn it, I’ll keep looking for reasons to believe it isn’t). I’ll continue to include diverse characters when I am confident I can present them in a respectful manner.

But by my current way of thinking, I won’t push myself to do to much more. I’ll support #ownvoices as I’m able, but I think I should be cheering from the sidelines on this one rather than on the field myself. Am I being lazy/cowardly/weak?

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5 Responses to If you’re not part of the solution…

  1. Anne Lees says:

    Isn’t there also a saying about can’t please all of the people all of the time….someone will always take offense and hopefully some one will also derive enjoyment. You write fiction: you bring escape and pleasure. It is a precious commodity don’t under value it. As a fiction writer you also write about people who are not you and you do it beautifully, if all we were only allowed to do is write about what we had personally experienced then it wouldn’t be fiction! Diversity is good, I like reading about different characters, people, abilities and experiences but if the character is changed or forced into a particular mould to meet external pressures rather than the story’s need I find it difficult to connect with the character and empathise with their story. Anyway I just wanted to express support for your writing and your approach.

  2. Andrea M says:

    Just keep writing what you’re comfortable with because I’ll love it, whatever it is.

  3. Jeff Davault says:

    First off, if every woman out there stopped writing M/M fiction, then there would be a much smaller offering. You are doing something you enjoy, and you write enjoyable books. (I am still looking forward to the follow-up to the subterranean Christmas story, as seeing the boys from In Too Deep interact on a daily basis with the Dark Horse men promises interesting perspectives from both sides.) An author’s work as an artist isn’t to portray every issue that is out there, and if there is an issue you wish to address, and you are concerned about whatever community’s reaction, then reach out to a someone in that community prior to investing much time in that idea. I have met trans folks who are very adamant about how no one but a trans person can accurately reflect their situation, but how many trans authors are there out there? And just like any author, whether it is a gay man or straight woman writing M/M doesn’t mean that it will be any good, so just because a trans author writes it, doesn’t mean it will be good. While I agree that a book such an author would have different insights than a book from a cisgender author, as long as you aren’t writing such a thing strictly because it is an issue of the day and a chance for a quick buck, and are really trying to help people wrap their heads around whatever the subject is, then I would think all help in understanding would be appreciated. Honestly, I think if you chose to work in those areas, then perhaps the best thing would be to work closely with someone directly impacted, whatever diverse group they were from, perhaps giving co-author or with insert name here credit. Throughout time authors have written about subjects/issues dear to them, but few lived their books. While I agree that diversity is important, it is still necessary for the talent to be found, discovered, or developed for that to happen. KJ Charles (I think I have only read one of her books, compared to many by you) helping as a mentor is one way, and while #ownvoices may want stories from that diverse crowd to be written by diverse sorts, that does not prevent you from introducing secondary characters of a diverse nature, then having other characters accept or work out their issues. Truth be told, there is nothing you can do that will prevent people from getting upset, if they are so inclined, and we all know people who can and will get upset over any little thing, however unintentional on your part.

    I enjoy your books, and it sounds as if you enjoy writing them. This works for me because the first thing I read is the blurb, and if it sounds interesting, then I get the book, regardless of the sex of the author. I really enjoy Jay Bell’s work, and it has a totally different flavor than yours, but that is fine, that is why I like reading different authors. I honestly don’t expect any author, even a gay male, to be able to replicate my experience growing up, but all authors can, if they write with passion and a genuine interest in understanding, create characters and relationships that are plausible in the real world, or the fantasy world, in which they inhabit.

    With diversity being such a big “thing” these days, I can see where your concern is, but truthfully, keep doing what you are doing, writing fun and moving stories about men in love. Your reason for writing the stories is because you like writing them, and I don’t believe there is any other reason, as a writer, that you need. I haven’t read anything by you where one of the main characters might as well have been female with the only reason to have a male name is to sell M/M fiction rather than M/F, so that is good for me, and makes me believe that when you create your stories you are creating men, and not just changing names at the last minute.

    This ran a bit long, but as long as you enjoy writing M/M fiction, keep at it, and if you are ever in a position to help a “diverse” writer, do that too, but write what you like, because if you don’t, then your readers will know.

    One last request, please let us know how Dan did at the Olympics. (Did you know Andrew Grey also had a character going to the Olympics in 2016?)

  4. Kate says:

    Sorry for the late replies, gang – and sorry that this is a mass reply. First I didn’t get notifications of the comments, and now that I’ve been notified, I can’t figure out how to “reply” to individual comments.

    My battle with technology continues.

    Anyway, thanks for the supportive thoughts. It’s a bit weird that I’m more-or-less comfortable writing m/m but less comfortable writing characters from different ethnic groups… which suggests that I could be more comfortable with different groups if I just practised more… but of course, this isn’t supposed to be about MY comfort…

    I’ll continue to try to be responsible, with the understanding that within that general principle, the details will probably change over time!

  5. Jeff D says:

    I am not sure if you read the text of Lionel Shriver’s speech in Brisbane, but she made a few comments that reflect the dilemma you mention. I think the most important one was that if a writer of fiction can do a good job writing from another’s perspective and of another’s concerns then that is what a fiction writer is supposed to do. The comment is made about not all writing being good, and not every attempt will be successful, but if fiction writer’s are limited to their own experience, then there will be no fiction, only memoir. I will add that you should just do what you have been doing, and respecting a request to limit your fiction is your choice, because one thing Ms Shriver points out, that writers are given grief for lack of diversity, and then given grief for appropriation when they try to include diversity.

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