Despite the advances in society, there is a long way to go for equality, and literature is able to assist. Your writing will pave the way for this, as well as create new perspectives on the many important topics that need to be introduced. It might take some time, but it will surely be worth it to see representation evolve the world around us.
The Brief history of LGBTQ+ and Black injustice
The tolerance within society for marginalized people is certainly growing. This is never harmful, as tolerance for others regardless of skin colour, race, sexuality or gender identity is always an importance within the world. As this rises, there is a possibility for a world in which there is less prosecution of minorities. We writers are able to take a stand in this fight for equality and justice by ensuring equal representation as shown through our text.
Throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century, there was an enormous and unacceptable wave of hatred towards those who identified within the LGBTQ+ umbrella. This distaste was also showcased through society at the time for people of colour. This includes various acts of discrimination purely based upon the differentiation of colour through the implementation of the Jim Crow laws in the 1890’s, forbidding people from different ethnic groups (or the “coloured”) and white people in the same space. Thankfully, these laws were eradicated in 1968. However, the threads of racism from previous generations continued, despite valiant efforts of protestors to fight back against the racial injustice, which is still present in modern day society.
Specifically in 2020, the George Floyd protests created a media frenzy which exposed the everlasting racism still present today, even after many years of progress had been made in the marches in the 1960s by Martin Luther King. It is saddening to have such rigid ways of evolution in some fronts. Someday, I hope that these barriers which “gate off” sections of the community will be deprived of hate, and violence towards minorities will be a thing of the past.
The support for those who identify as LGBTQ+ is only getting slightly stronger due to the immense help through education and charities such as Stonewall campaigns for marriage equality for gay couples, which was accepted in the UK in 2014 and in the US 2015. For those who are under the non binary or transgender “bubble” of identities, such progress is taking a much more gradual path, with the vast setback of those who are under 18 and identify as transgender have been denied puberty blockers without an appeal from the court. However, the NHS (United Kingdom National Health Service) is taking a stand against this.
Protests for Black lives and against racism in the 1950s - 1960s brought a lot of spirit to those who are part of the LGBTQ+ Community. The Stonewall riots portrayed the increasing forbearance and were started by transgender women of colour, which is one of the many reasons why there is such tolerance towards the community today. Some of these are bound to be because of the acceptance and passing of laws such as gay marriage rights and the recognition of transgender people as well.
It rips my heart apart, but life is so severely difficult for those people who are Black and LGBTQ+. FORBES reported that “in Black youth ages 10 to 19 years, suicide is the second leading cause of death. In 2017, over 3,000 young people in that age group died by suicide.” Two possible culprits for the death of ethnic minorities include the following;
Although slowly, the industry is moving away from the “white straight male character” craze which was "in." Traditional publishers are opening up to the idea of adding more inclusivity, but there are still many changes to be made.
A novel which displays the gritty reality of Black people in America from the perspective of a Black author is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is a prime example of the racial gate between the races within modern day society. There are of course other pieces of written work such as the Underground Railroad, but this is the most recent one that comes to my mind.
However, it begs an important question: with certain places such as the internet available with the overconnected world, why are there still ideological disparities, and how can literature and specifically authors add representation of both LGBTQ+ people and minorities into their novels?
The reason being is that the universe and the world at large is filled with marginalized people who must be represented. It is only by exposing and introducing new diversities to others that will enlighten people to see the world in other ways. As an author, it is paramount that there is some sort of change in order to ensure that whoever picks up a book with your name on it is represented in any way, shape, or form. Even if it’s by one character, it still counts and is just as valuable.
My experiences with being a part of the LGBTQ community.
Although I am not a person of colour, I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community, which is mostly what this section is going to be about. Representations from various literature, specifically those of the likes of Proud (Juno Dawson) and A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue (Mackenzi Lee), showcased a world in which diversity was a normality. I’ve grown up in a white dominated small town in England and it has led to being a detriment to my later discovery of my gender identity and sexuality. These works of literature, but specifically Proud, as by its nature is an anthology celebrating the community, have helped me come to terms with and further understand myself.
I’ve been under the influence of my dad for a majority of my life and his less than tasteful views of the communities. He supported having babies and being a cis-hetero person, and is exactly what I'm not. Although it is like a weight off my shoulders, it puts fear through my veins to say I for the moment identify as a Transgender Bisexual woman. I might realise someday that this label is not fitting to who I am and change it, as I’ve done most of the time. I’m sure enough of this label right now, but they do change, and that’s okay.
Throughout the community and society, there needs to be an acceptance (which the LGBTQ+ community within my experience is great at) of changing labels and respecting them once they have been fitted to a person's ideal identity. This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this guest column, because I, as a person who identifies under these labels, (specifically bisexual and transgender), want to ensure that the inclusivity of the community is continued. I reckon the writing about and for minorities to represent their struggles will become more and more prevalent as more people feel as though it is safe to come out and embrace their true selves.
By sharing a little bit of my story, I really hope that I am able to inspire various people to write more deservedly, and that if you, the reader, identifies under the myriad labels, that you are valid. I see your struggles and know your pain. It’s going to be okay and you will get through this and get whatever you want out of life, even if it's just being able to live authentically as your gender or sexuality without having to hide it under a veil of self doubt and fear. Too many people feel the need to hide themselves. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t valid, no matter if you have one foot out of the proverbial closet, or none or both. It doesn't compromise your identity or who you really are, no matter how much society attempts to push you down and try to break you. As I wrote in The Almighty Code, "although the code will keep on trying to destroy us, we can’t be eradicated. We will be around, no matter how much society tries to push us down, and it's their job to get used to it,” which I think summarizes my fight against myself for the acceptance I now have, and realising how much my newfound identity conflicts with societal norms. That’s okay because I am me, and no one will ever be able to change that.
Hopefully after sharing my story and helping validate any identities, I can now give some tips to implement diversity within your novels. This can be quite a hard topic to grasp when it comes under the characterisation, and to a degree the worldbuilding presented. This means there are some rules, and some pretty obvious dos and don’ts.
First: Research is important
If you are not part of an identity or community, for example if I want to write a Black character or one who is under a label or part of a social group which I don’t identify or am a part of, there is an imperative part which needs to do with research. Writers are inquisitive people who love to learn, that much is obvious. Putting this to use will help ensure that you have a character who is diverse. Of course you need to ensure that you are accurately portraying a character, which might be why getting a sensitivity reader or a member of the community who you just might be friends with. If you are like me and have few friends, then getting a sensitive reader might be a better bet. Regardless, be sure to speak to people who identify under that label or are part of the community. Reddit is a great place for this to find references or examples. In addition to getting personal accounts, make sure you are able to research the history behind the minority or group. This goes without saying, but be selective and accommodating of the people you choose to represent and get experiences from as many people as you possibly can. Realistically, research allows you to understand and attempt to represent the struggles of the people you are writing about, or the social group you want to represent.
This comes as a surprise to very few (thankfully), but your character who is not what society deems as “the norm” needs to have a personality. Do not fall into the trap of baiting your reader into the story with the promise of a diverse cast of characters, only to have them be archetypes of the “gay best friend” trope. Add personality to them, give them motivations, struggles, strengths and weaknesses. The bottom line here is to ensure that you make them human. When reading a book, I throw it across the room if it has the “gay best friend” or similar writing stereotypes in it. These stereotypes are cookie cutters - they are a good base to start from, but make sure they are just as good for the deeper aspects of it. Whilst it’s fine to have your character embrace their identity, it is imperative you don’t make their identity all they have. Long story short, just humanise your characters, make them complex for the reader to be interested in, because the minority group they're a part of gives the varying perspectives which are created by their personal experiences. If you’re struggling with this, talk to your friends on related issues and see their perspective and how they respond to it - I doubt they’ll respond exactly the same.
Third: Make their identity part of them
Whilst you need to be careful when creating characters who belong to a minority, and ensuring that they are made to be human, you need to ensure that their identity shines through and is a part of them and does not make them a walking sign for representation. As I’ve said many times before - make sure they’re human and have the characteristics of one. Make sure that they are able to portray that in addition to being part of the minority, they’re able to do what the narrative or themselves wish to do. This not only gives power to them as a character, but also showcases that members of the minority are able to do amazing things and thrive within their environment compared to only being merely just walking representation. To help with this, try to start with their identity and make it a part of whatever they are doing. This should help with a possible problem which is fixating on the sexuality or gender identity of the character and only making that their central point for existing. They should exist as a character, as a person, just with this moldied into the fabric of their character. For example, a character needs to do whatever the narrative demands, but also accept their sexuality or gender identity through the course of the story. This makes the narrative able to carry on whilst adding an element of realism as the character must accept themselves and embrace their identity, which is something I’ve needed to deal with.
Fourth: Do not make representation for its sake
Representation is great, however there is good and bad representation. Specifically when it comes to minorities. The aforementioned “gay best friend” trope is an example of bad representation. This, of course, ensures that there's a call for great representation and perspective of groups. An example of this being the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. He manages to make sure that representation is given throughout the corners of his world through character and text. This, of course, means that there is a possibility for you to do it, too. Just make sure that your characters are living breathing people and to make sure they add something to the plot of your story, adding a little bit of flavor which the other characters don’t understand or wouldn’t be able to give input into based upon their personal experiences. This, once more, gives the implementation of the rules that everyone is different and shaped by their experiences, thereby showcasing that everyone has a viewpoint which should be heard, which is a great way to represent differing minorities and giving them all a say into a certain issue, which in depending ways could be influenced by their identity or race. Ensure to add representation in a way that fits your story by adding human characters who are of these minority groups.
Five: it is impossible to represent every single person
Everyone is represented in the ideal world, and this just isn’t the case in novels. Please pick carefully what people you’re going to represent. It’s impossible to have a cast of 30 characters and flesh them out completely across a novel. This is much easier done if you have a series, but the reader needs to ensure they can distinguish who’s who and what’s what. I would advise against lag casts of characters, but I’m getting off track. Please, pick the people you’re going to feature. Pick carefully and realise the strengths and weaknesses and the human (or non human) elements when picking the diversity within your cast. This is going to be informed by three things:
The bottom line is that literature and these tips hopefully showcase the importance of writing about experiences. Literature is exactly that; writing about experiences to shine a light on those people who may not be represented as much within everyday life. Using these tips and also being able to understand these other types of people and their perspective on things not only make you more accepting, but also ensures that you are more tolerant and are more understanding of struggles faced by these people. I have one final thing to say (thank you for existing and reading this article). No matter what, you’re amazing and absolutely accepted regardless of your skin colour or identity. Whether you’re facing struggles because of your identity or want to fight for the rights of minorities within society, I need to thank you. From someone who is part of a strongly disliked minority, I am grateful for the amount of representation and fight for justice. If you identify as LGBTQ+, I want you to know it isn't a choice and nothing can strip your identify away from you. Even if you can’t express it, it’s a part of you because one day you will be able to show it to the world. One day you’re going to be able to automatically be yourself and no one will be able to stop you. Stay amazing, it’ll all work itself out.