And when he turns out to be William Galaini, you make everybody else listen, too.
See, it turns out that William and I have a lot of the same ideas about fiction - about what we love to read and write, about who's not showing up often enough on the bookshelves and how we can help be part of the solution, even though we're both members of an already well-represented cultural majority. (That sounds so much better than "raining down social-justice hellfire from my privilege-encrusted mayonnaise throne", doesn't it?) Spoiler alert: you really can't do a good job writing about other people if you haven't ever stopped to listen to them.
Anyway, so William's been out practicing what I've only preached, and I am so, so excited that he's agreed to come practice HIS preaching here on the blog. Take it away, buddy!
Straight From the Marginalized Horse's Mouth
by William Galaini
Tex wanted me to do a blog post for her. She wanted it to be on diversity, and my publicist encouraged me to do so because my new novel due in November has a homosexual main character.
But I’m no authority! I’m as vanilla as it gets. I’m a white, heterosexual cismale with daddy issues and high blood pressure. Truth is, I have zero right to assert any thesis on bi-sexuals, asexuals, trans-sexuals, homosexuals, women, men, etc.
So I went to the experts. I found three souls who are directly connected with the issue of diversity in pop literature but to protect their anonymity, I will only disclose their gender and sexual orientation. I asked each of them the same five questions, and here are their answers:
1.) How is your sexuality represented in pop literature?
a. ‘Billy’ is a demisexual transgender male: “My sexuality is not represented in pop literature. In fact, there's very little light on demisexuality at all, and I've never ever read of an asexual (which is similar in some aspects) character in mainstream literature.”
b. ‘Katie’ is a bisexual female: “It really isn't. I have yet to read a ‘popular’ book (or any book, really) with a character that even slightly represents my sexuality.”
c. ‘Noah’ is a homosexual male: “I don't think it is represented in pop literature.”
2.) In what way did public school literature influence your exploration of your sexual identity?
a. Billy: “I don't recall it ever influencing me to explore my own sexuality. Outside media (I wouldn't exactly call it literature) prompted me to explore myself far more than anything I ever read in public schooling. Though, that's assuming I did most of the readings.”
b. Katie: “It didn't. There were never any class assigned books mentioning anything about relationships past the lines of: the guy gets the girl, and there was much rejoicing.”
c. Noah: “If anything, it's hindered it. There's not much of a sexual side to public school literature, but when there is it's always the annoying cliché of the guy gets the girl. Rejoicing.”
3.) What would be the most AWESOME protagonist you could imagine that would represent YOU?
a. Billy: “Oh jeez. Honestly, I would like to see a man portrayed as asexual, or demisexual. I'm not sure who, as it would take a considerable amount of thought. Perhaps someone of influence, whether it be a warrior or military personnel. A president or a prime minister. Someone with the power to do with as they will. Those who are often viewed as sexually deviant because of their position.”
b. Katie: “Honestly, I'd rather have a character that represents me be the antagonist. But, as far as protagonists go, a girl that isn't really wimpy or overly touchy-feely about most things would be a great start.”
c. Noah: “I can't think of a PROTAGONIST that is a selective extrovert, very sarcastic, doesn't suffer fools, and is smart, to be perfectly honest. (That sounds stuck up-ish, but I feel it's accurate).”
4.) Why do you not encounter more sexually diverse characters in mainstream and genre novels?
a. Billy: “I think because it doesn't appeal to the masses, to read of someone perhaps loving someone of their gender, or being open to loving someone of their gender. With a majority of our population being heterosexual, it's easier for the readers to identify with a heterosexual protagonist, when they inevitably find someone and fall in love. It gives it that extra sense of normalcy. I've only ever read one pop culture series that has an openly gay couple whose story is not abandoned or tossed around like dead weight. It was approached with care and a realness to it. However, it was side characters, so it was only a small story arc, but it was there.”
b. Katie: “Because sexually diverse characters don't represent the majority of the people reading those types of novels.”
c. Noah: “Because sexual diversity isn't necessarily mainstream; by the act of making a character sexually diverse, the chance of a book becoming mainstream is significantly reduced.”
5.) If every single author and publisher was reading this, what would you want them to know about diversity?
a. Billy: “I would want them to know that sexual appetite is not the solitary fuel to a character. As a writer myself, I try to focus on those of the lesser known orientations and genders. For example, take my own sexuality into view. I'm demisexual, and hardly anyone knows what that means. Even with a proper explanation, it can be taken entirely out of context. My sexuality means that I cannot find someone sexually attractive until I first get to know them. And then, maybe, just maybe, I might find them attractive sexually. Hence why it is either often confused to be asexual, or I've actually been asked "So you wanna fuck all your friends?" No. That is not what my sexuality means. It just simply means that I am sexually attracted to personalities, not bodies. And even though I have figured this out, I still question it. I still wonder if maybe what I feel isn't sexual attraction, and I'm really just asexual. Or if it's my gender getting in the way of my sexuality.”
b. Katie: “I don't think it's really their fault, to be honest. They're writing to the largest part of their audience, meaning they only have a select amount plot lines, stereotypical characters, etc. to choose from. Straying from those options don't usually work out in the author's favor, so every book ends up being the same to a certain extent. But it is a little disheartening to not be able to find a character that I can truly connect with.”
c. Noah: “I don't feel it's necessarily the author's or publisher's fault for there being a very obvious lack of sexual diversity in literature. Most authors will write what they know will sell, while settings and names may change, rarely is there an original plot. When you add diversity, sexual or not, it makes it difficult to use time-tested plots. But I would say to come up with original plot lines that don't require the use of hetero-normative and/or cisgender people.”
So, what can we learn from this? Let me speak from the perspective of a vanilla American male. Here’s my takeaway:
• MANY of the books we read exist for money. They are written by money and for money. Money typically does not represent human diversity. Money represents money.
• These three people are amazingly gracious about being overlooked on a consistent basis. Has our society conditioned them to accept being ignored? How have I, as a vanilla, perpetuated this either overtly or even covertly?
• The Hero With a Thousand Faces really nailed a lot of the cultural impact behind the idea of a ‘protagonist.’ I greatly suspect that even Campbell would concede that it could be “Hero of a Thousand Genders” or “Hero of a Thousand Sexual Identities.” So why don’t we see more high-profile novels of this nature? It’s 'Hero with a Thousand Faces', not 'Hero with MY Face'.
• Until vanilla people like me stop blenching at “diverse” protagonists in literature, these authors won’t be getting the exposure and support they should.
So there you have it, y'all: the bad news is that we still have a long, long way to go - but the good news is that every new kind of author or story you try, every new kind of person you (thoughtfully, carefully) include in your own writing, every time you step outside your comfort zone makes you part of the solution.
And if you're looking for something new, may I recommend William's Trampling in the Land of Woe? Frankly, he had me at "journey into Dante's steampunk hell" - but this time the hero is Hephaestion, braving the city of the damned to rescue his soulmate, Alexander the Great, and I could NOT be more excited.
Seriously, seriously check it out - and while you're at it, head over to WilliamGalaini.com: he's got a wonderfully sharp and insightful writing blog, including an amazing 'how-to' series about how he successfully crowdfunded this book. Don't miss this guy, regardless: we might be too late to get in on the ground floor, but I bet we can catch him if we take the stairs!