“I can think of seven good uses for a cadaver today.” -Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Ghostbusters
Thanks to an empty theater (one of the blessings of living in a cornfield; Thursday matinees are like private showings after about the first week of a new release), my roommate had no worries about disturbing anyone when she looked at me and said, “That’s you.”
And she’s not wrong. I do know seven good uses for a cadaver and probably seven more inappropriate ones. But it was really cool to see that weird aspect of myself verbalized on the screen in a major motion picture. Things like that happen so intermittently for a weirdo like me.
Representation matters. I strongly believe this. I strongly believe that it’s important for people to see themselves or aspects of themselves represented in stories, whether they’re movies, TV shows, or books. So while I left that showing of Ghostbusters feeling pretty empowered by seeing four women I could relate to and who reflected aspects of my existence back at me (please do not debate me on whether or not the movie was good based on your white man “well actually” perspective; I hate-watch Jason Takes Manhattan every time it comes on, so your detailed bullshit analysis is wasted on me), I’ve been thinking about representation in my own work ever since.
I acknowledge that I struggle with it.
I struggle because I’m very mindful about getting it right. I know representation matters, but I don’t want to just throw those characters into a story just so my work appears to be diverse. I want to present an accurate representation. And that’s hard for me. I don’t like to fuck up in this particular arena.
When it comes to fat, white women, I got you covered. That’s something I don’t even think about writing because, well, that’s just writing me. I have no trouble writing white men of any size because that’s the default norm. I believe that I’d have no trouble writing bisexuals of either gender or gay or lesbian characters as I am bisexual and I’ve known and loved enough gay men and lesbian women in my time that I believe that I could accurately represent them. I’ve ventured very tentatively into representing other races and letters of the LGBT+ (both in the same novellas, oddly enough; Art, who’s Puerto Rican, and Riley, who’s transgendered, both appeared in the Ivy Russell novellas). I tried to venture into that territory as carefully and as conscientiously as I could, but I’m still worried that I didn’t do either character justice, that I got something about those representations wrong. They weren’t meant to be plot devices or fill a diversity quota; they were meant to be real, fully developed characters. For that to happen, the representation needs to be accurate.
I admit to cheating a lot when it comes to representation in my short stories. The main character in my short stories rarely gets any physical description so the reader can project whatever they want to on them for a short time. It’s sort of a lazy trick of representation. Here, you do the work and see this character how you want to see them based on the personality traits revealed and the emotions conveyed in the story. While I don’t think being a reader should be a completely passive experience, I do think that there are times that I, the writer, need to put in a little more effort.
Okay, a lot more.
Representation is something that I think I’m always going to struggle with, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Struggle leads to change and growth.
And I’m all about growing into a better writer.