As a sociologist specializing in social inequalities, I constantly ponder the politics of representation in my writing. For whom am I empowered or entitled to speak? I’m committed to representing a world that looks a lot like the one in which I live. To that end, I want to feature in my stories women and men of color, non-straight folks, people of differing appearances and body sizes, and individuals with varying abilities, but can I? Should I?
Because of all this, my current literary project is kicking my booty. For some reason that I’m pretty sure borders on masochism, I decided this summer to pen a science fiction/fantasy/romance novel that focuses on the interactions of my world’s social outcasts, who just happen to be people with disabilities. I’m 40 thousand words into my novel, and although I’m in profound love with my characters, I also write the words with a burden of deep unease.
|A way cool image I found at |
"Aspie," btw, refers to a person with
Earlier this week, I ran across a powerful blog entry that emphasized the responsibility of authors to represent people with disabilities as multifaceted and real. I melted into a pool of, well, let's face it: liberal guilt. I want to highlight the social construction of disabilities, but should I? Am I doing a good thing? Do I do it well, let alone appropriately? Do I have the right to try? Or am I, as Ada Hoffman hints, a neurotypical writer drowning in my own self-righteous smugness?
As if that weren't enough to keep my brain spinning for months, I’m also biting my nails over the very presence of politics in my novels. I’m enormously political; my interest in politics and social inequalities is almost branded into my genes. And between you and me, my first foray into fiction writing – my novelette, Hunted – featured a great deal of commentary on social class inequalities. In the first draft. While trying to find a publishing home for it, I stumbled across advice from various editors and chose to scrub most of the politics from my poor little paranormal romance. I try to keep politics from traipsing through my work wearing sequin suits, sporting sparklers, and riding trumpeting elephants, but my politics and my passion for equality sneak into my work in myriad small ways.
In short, my inner sociologist remains trapped in limbo, debating whether I’m being presumptuous or socially responsible, while my internal author chews her lip, wondering how far I can and should push the envelope with my paranormal romance novels.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who agonizes over the politics of my worlds, of my characters, of the assumptions governing my choices of all of the above. And if others navigate these questions, what considerations weigh most heavily with you?