With our second anniversary coming around, we at All The Kissing decided to finish the year on a subject we feel strongly about: responsible representation.
The entire idea of All The Kissing came from the need to have a place for romance writers, new and old, to gather resources and find their community. It is vital in an industry such as ours, which can be so isolating and lonely, to find a group of people who can not only answer your questions, but help guide and support you along the way. We hope we have done that. But now, we want to take it a step further because unless we are inclusive of everyone, we are inclusive of none.
Sometimes the urge to be inclusive, and idea born of good intentions, can become very problematic.
It’s the idea that we (in a greater sense) can provide the material for a marginalized group. We see that certain groups of people are not seeing themselves represented in romance and we want to fix that! We want to give that to them, but in doing so, we create a story that not only might hurt the group we are trying to help. We may also be taking their seat at the table instead of giving them one.
Recently, my family moved to Mexico and let me tell you, it is magical. There is just something about visiting ancient lands that causes your creativity to explode. When we went to the pyramids for the first time, even just driving, the urge to write a story about this land and culture had me pulling out my phone to write down all of my ideas so I wouldn’t forget anything. And it wasn’t until much later that I realized that no matter how much I wanted to, I was not the right person to tell that story. It isn’t my story to tell.
There seems to be a lot of confusion around the idea of “the right person.” There are two opposing ideas. One is that anyone can write anything. On the flip side lives the idea that only certain people should write certain stories. I want to make it clear that it is not All The Kissing’s objective to tell anyone what they should or should not write. What we are hoping to do is bring awareness to the stories you are creating and how they may affect your readers.
Three Ways to Encourage Responsible Representation
With all that in mind, how exactly, then, do we make sure we’re representing people responsibly?
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these ideas for encouraging responsible representation.
While crafting a story—any story—research is important. However, when writing a story from the viewpoint of a group you do not belong to, research is key. Whether you are writing outside of your ethnicity, sexuality, or religion, you want to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Going the extra mile to make sure you get the small details right makes a huge difference. But the thing about doing research is that a lot of your sources may also be harmful (slavery referenced as “forced immigration,” anyone?) which leads me to my next tip.
2. Sensitivity Readers
While research is a good start, there are some things you can’t learn from online sources or from a book. Some things are only learned through experience and if you are writing a character outside of your lens, this is a step that cannot be ignored. Having a sensitivity reader can be the difference between creating a well-rounded character and a harmful caricature.
The key to working with a sensitivity reader is to be open to their suggestions.
Having a sensitivity reader means nothing if you ignore them. Put your privilege (whatever it is) to the side and be willing to learn and to be open to criticism. Be willing to address the internalized biases you might not be aware that you have, and create a story that can lift up a community instead of causing hurt and harm.
So maybe you have done your research and hired sensitivity readers, but realize this story isn’t meant to come from you. That’s okay! Just because you aren’t providing the story doesn’t mean you can’t still help the community. It just means you get to help in another way.
There seems to be a misconception that writing diverse romance is a “trend” or that #OwnVoices authors have an “advantage.” I can’t tell you how harmful both of these assumptions are.
Arguably, the most important thing you can do is to find #OwnVoices authors and lift them up.
Even though we might not see them right away, I can guarantee that these stories are being written by people who have lived their experiences. Find them. Find authors who are providing these stories and boost their names! Buy their books! Let the publishing world know that these are the stories we want.
All Voices, Heard and Loved
Here at All The Kissing, community is our main goal. It is our hope to make Romancelandia that place we know it can be: one where all voices are heard and loved and appreciated. Because if we know one thing, it’s that everyone deserves to see themselves on the page and get their happily ever after.