September 23rd, 2019

Dirk - crayons

The shame we carry forward from youth, and the empathy of writing

“I’m a novelist, not a memoirist.” It’s what I keep saying, in defense, when people ponder dubiously, sometimes viciously, in online book reviews, whether I (as a 40-something-year-old mostly-straight woman) have the right to write a novel about a 25-year-old bisexual male. Or someone from another country. Or someone with a disability I don’t have. Or any other difference you might name. I still stick to the defense that writing about people different than ourselves is the exact point and the exact job description of being a novelist, and that the empathy gained in the experience is wonderful for all of humanity. Same goes for reading novels. But, today, because it’s been on my mind, I’ll be a memoirist for a bit.

They say, “You don’t have the right to talk about what it’s like to be disparaged for who you are, your identity, your sexuality, because you don’t know.” But how do they know if I don’t know? Granted: right, Molly, how would they know your background when you haven’t told them? I haven’t told them because I didn’t want to talk about it, put it all on display. I didn’t want to be a memoirist; I wanted to be a novelist. Maybe I thought that was safer. Well, it clearly isn’t, in terms of being judged (nay, crucified at times), so I might as well put it out there.

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