Identity, Representation and Writing

Narrated version here

Identity is a weird thing, I’ve spoken about my sexual ID and mentioned my neurodiverse brain. I’ve never spoken about my ethnicity except to say that I’m mixed.

I’m such a mutt. Historically, I’m what happens when early European settlers intermarry into different native tribes, then the escaped slaves do the same.

I have a rather large dose of European ancestry from the UK (except Wales) France, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Eastern Europe as well.

I have mixed African ancestry, as closely as my grandfather, who was Kanien’kehá:ka and African. We can’t find out where his parents and grandparents came from because they were slaves or descended from slaves, or they were native and any student of history knows what happened to them.

On other lines I have Tunisian and Egyptian ancestry. On the other side of the family there is Mi’kmaq, from my grandfather.

I’m related to the English, French, Spanish, Swedish and Danish Royal houses. (Some quite closely.) Lol, don’t get excited, a lot of people are when you trace the ancestral lines.

But you know what? I was raised in a poor, white, European cultured family in a similar town in a similar state and I never knew about my relatives who weren’t white because they weren’t talked about, not until I’d reached my teens, and then it was only the ‘proud natives’ that were discussed.

I had to dig through our family genealogy to learn more. I’d long suspected it, being a student of history, and I’m proud of all branches of my ancestry.

One thing I won’t do is to write something that can harm, when I have no experience with it. I can write about the confusion I feel at being of mixed ancestry. I could write about the struggle I’ve felt being raised prejudiced only to find out how ridiculous that is, given where my family comes from. I can write about a lot of things in regards to identity. I can write about my longing to know more of the ancestors I can find nothing about. (I have both slave owners and slaves in my family lines, all from a particular place in Virginia, but I can’t find more about the one side, guess which one?) I’m privileged because my skin is light, I do the best I can in each moment to use that privilege to help and not harm.

I will never point to my ancestry and say, oh look, I have XX DNA, that means I get to write what it’s like to be rez raised Native. Because my grandfather left the rez to marry my grandmother, I can talk about sacred practices, right? WRONG. I can write what it feels like to be POC in this messed up world because I have a lot of POC ancestors, right? Nope.

I can’t. I haven’t lived on the rez, either of them. By marriage I could live on the Huron rez too, but I don’t so I can’t know what life is like. Why in the world would I try to write something I don’t know? I wish I had the answer to why so many people feel qualified to write things that do exactly that.

Just like, even with my ancestry, I can’t know what it feels like to live in a darker skin.

It seems a very simple concept to me, yet so many people, so many writers seem to think it’s okay to rep things they aren’t or don’t know.

Kink. Something that is close to my heart. THAT I can and do write because I live it, I know it. I’ve lived it for 20 years. It completely blows my mind that there is a huge chain of books and movies about kink, that represent it badly, dangerously even, and few people except the kink community seem to care.

Being Neurodiverse, yeah, I’m okay writing what that feels like to me. I’m sure it doesn’t feel the same to everyone, but it is something I feel okay representing. Because (say it with me) I’ve experienced it.

I usually write characters who are mixed, because I’m okay with repping myself in that way, I know how powerful it feels to read that part of myself in fiction, and I can authentically give that back.

I can’t give back what if feels like to be latinx, even though, yes, Spanish and Portuguese is a large, recent part of my European ancestry. I wasn’t raised celebrating the day of the dead, so no, I don’t do it. (I do practice the celtic day of the dead, because I started practicing that one early in life and I do know it.)

I can write accurate rep on what it feels like to be raped, I can rep depression and anxiety and chronic pain. I can’t rep a lot of things and I’m self aware enough, I hope, to know it.

I do write a lot of futuristic novels where the color of ones skin or the mixed quality of their family ancestors isn’t relevant to the story line. None of my futuristic novels are ‘issue’ novels. I’m an anthropologist by training, and everyone is going to be one shade of brown or another in a thousand years or so. It’s the reality of what our humanity will become, always assuming we aren’t dead from our own stupidity by then. (Yeah, I said it, it’s stupid to be killing the planet we live on out of greed.)

Representation is important! I can’t even imagine the real, harmful damage the series of shades books have potentially done.

I know how damaging it has been to me, being demi-sexual, and never having seen that repped in fiction.

So. If you’re a writer. You write. You write good stories, I hope, and if you are called to write things, to rep things, you don’t or aren’t, please tell me you’re getting a sensitivity reader to vet things for you. I hope to hell you’re listening when they tell you something hurts or that’s not the way it is.

Fiction has power, and as the wielders of the pen, we have to be aware of what kinds of messages we are sending out into the world. We really, truly do.

I hope that if I ever feck up and write something that badly reps anyone or anything… (I’m human, and even though I try very hard to get it all right, I’m also fallible)  I hope that someone kindly tells me so, and I know I will listen. I will apologize and learn to do better.

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