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October 13th, 2017

Not my story to tell

Okay, insecurity crisis time.

I’ve seen people in the publishing industry (and just online in general) advise against writing, say, a novel about being black and experiencing racism if you’re a white author. Or writing about the experience of coming out as gay/bi/trans if you’re a straight author.

Now, for whatever reason, I do feel like the former case (racism) would be “not my story to tell,” and I don’t feel compelled to attempt it. I feel more comfortable leaving it to those who know it from the inside. But (again for whatever reason) I do want to write about gay/bi people in love with one another (as well as straight people in love with one another), and the scenario sometimes involves coming out and having angst about it. The trans experience—yes, that would be farther from my knowledge than I’d try right now, at least as a central plot, though I’m happy to have characters casually mention that they’re trans.

But should I honestly not publish a book about two men in love, one of whom is struggling to come out, because I’m neither a man nor gay/bi, and have thus never had to come out?

I see the point in that side. We SHOULD have more own-voices books; I want that as well. Still, trust me, I’m not hogging the market and getting rich on “someone else’s” stories—I’m a pretty small-time author at the moment who makes enough in royalties every three months to cover about two weeks’ worth of the household groceries, maybe.

But I write what I love to write, as we all should. One of the things I love to write is love stories, and sometimes they’re male/female, and sometimes they aren’t, because I like variety in my stories. I view it all as love. I want more people to view it that way. Wasn’t that the point? Getting people to see all such relationships as equal?

And, look, it isn’t about me. It’s about the story. When you read a book, the author is not there in the room with you. (Jeez, I hope not. That’d be creepy.) It’s about the story. You can dislike an author and love their stories, or vice-versa. If I’ve done my job right, you’re not going to be thinking of me at all when reading my novels. You’ll only be thinking of the characters.

And yes, I’m being as respectful as possible. I research. I read, I listen, I learn. I have people among my beta-reader team who count themselves as “in the community,” and they’re giving me lots of feedback on what sounds realistic and what needs tweaking. They don’t seem to mind my writing this story, but then, maybe they’re just being nice.

So…should I not publish this novel about two young men and their coming-out fears, because I’m not one of the community? Would it make me a bad ally to publish such a thing? Or would it make me a bad ally not to? Because, see, my hope is that by publishing it, people will read it and gain a little sympathy, a little understanding, make the world a better place—which is really what I wish with all of my books, and what I think fiction gives the world in general. We look through others’ eyes. We consider a new point of view. We gain understanding of someone else’s struggle. We come away from it better ourselves.

So…am I doing the wrong thing to seek publication, if those are my motives?
Not a hypothetical question. I honestly want to know.