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Guest Post: Why is a straight white middle-aged man writing about a mixed race lesbian teenager?

Guest Post: Why is a straight white middle-aged man writing about a mixed race lesbian teenager? published on

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A primary goal for me as a writer (and as a reader) is the inclusion of diversity in my books. I’ve written one book along those lines. At the time of writing this, I’m running a Kickstarter for its sequel. And for the foreseeable future, I plan on continuing to write and read those sorts of books. So I’d like to make a case for why this is important.

This is mainly targeted toward people in positions of privilege. The straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, and/or male people who don’t think this is an issue. I could talk about hard numbers about how little diverse representation there is. I could make an emotional appeal about how valuable it is for people of marginalized groups to be able to see themselves in media. But other people have written about that much better than I could ever hope to do. So instead, I’m going to appeal to your own self-interest.

First, here’s a little bit about myself and how I got here.

Several years ago, I realized that many of the characters I wrote were very much like me: straight, white, cisgender, 30something men. And with that realization came another one: so are a lot of characters in fiction. “Straight white dude* saves the world” is hardly a novel narrative element.

If you don’t believe me, check out the movies showing at your local multi-cinema theater. I don’t mean your local arthouse theater that is doing a marathon of 60s Swedish New Wave Cinema (assuming that’s even a thing). No, I mean your mainstream theater with sixteen screens of whatever is big and popular. If you want to get really drunk, really fast, you can even make a drinking game out of it: for every movie poster, take a shot each time a character featured there is one of the following:

  • Straight
  • Cisgender
  • White
  • Male
  • Lacks visible disability

Growing up in predominantly white middle class suburbs, I didn’t question it for a long time. Because growing up in that environment, surrounded by it even at an early age, it was the only world I knew. And it became something of a default assumption for me. When you are so immersed in it, it’s hard to realize that there is any other way to look at it?

But when I decided to push my limits as a writer, and tried to find out how to not screw it up, I began to realize how pervasive and systemic the problem is. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more it is assumed to be a “default mode,” the more people base their media consumption off of that.

So why should you care? It’s like one of those two-dimensional optical illusions. So long as you only look at it from one point of view, it seems realistic. But as soon as you take a few steps away, the illusion falls apart. If you want to actually understand the world, instead of just some story you’ve grown up with, you need diverse media.

Straight white cisgender men only make up a third of the U.S. population, and a little more than a tenth of the world population. If you do not read authors different from yourself, especially if you are a straight white man, then you will not understand the world. You cannot understand the world through the lens of a single point of view. You’re the proverbial blind man groping an elephant. It’s great if you can find media that features diverse characters. It’s even better if you can find media created by diverse authors.

And this should be a sincere attempt to understand other points of view. Don’t half-ass it with something like “I read this one author and I hated it so I gave up after a chapter and never tried again” or “I read this one author that totally agrees with me so totally know what’s up.” Read someone you disagree with. Try to understand why they feel that way.

What’s in it for you? You will have a deeper understanding of the world. And if there’s more diverse media available, you have greater potential to understand it. We live in an amazing time where the Internet is breaking down barriers and allowing access to a wide range of media. And yet there are people who will still try to shut down voices different from their own.

If you choose to only surround yourself with the stories of people like you, then you are making a conscious choice to be ignorant of ninety percent of the world. You’re welcome to choose that, but you’ll put yourself at a disadvantage.

*I use “straight white dude” a lot in this because it’s short and punchy. It is not intended to exclude other marginalized groups. I hope you can forgive me this creative license.

Jeremy Zimmerman is the author of the young adult superhero novel, Kensei.

zimmermanwowThe Love of Danger is a sequel to Zimmerman’s first book, Kensei, and is active on Kickstarter until Friday, September 4th at 9:00 PM PDT. The Love of Danger will be delivered in November, 2015, while Kensei can be downloaded immediately.

These books feature Jamie Hattori, a teenage superhero who has the ability to talk to the spirits of items and places. It is set in the shared world setting of Cobalt City, created by Nathan Crowder.

Consider contributing to the project. Even the $3 pledge will get you an e-book copy of both Kensei and The Love of Danger. That’s a heck of a deal!

Of course, there are also numerous great items and perks further down that pledge tree.

Be sure to check out the updates for some inside information about the topic, including a fascinating look at the origins of the title The Love of Danger.

Jeremy Zimmerman

Jeremy Zimmerman

Jeremy Zimmerman is a teller of tales who dislikes cute euphemisms for writing like “teller of tales.” His fiction has most recently appeared in 10Flash Quarterly, Arcane and anthologies from Timid Pirate Publishing. His young adult superhero book, Kensei, is available as part of Cobalt City Rookies. He is also the editor for Mad Scientist Journal. He lives in Seattle with five cats and his lovely wife (and fellow author) Dawn Vogel.
Jeremy Zimmerman

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