Getting it wrong: The moral obligation in writing marginalized identities

The title today is a mouthful.

My thoughts are even more so.

In the recent past, I’ve encountered two situations.

First, in conducting research and networking as I prepare for the Transcendent anthology to support trans young adults (click for information here), I received both enthusiasm and one guarded reaction.

Mind you, I expected caution and outright skepticism. Would I co-opt a cause, appropriate an identity that is not mine, and (worst of all) be viewed as profiting from someone else’s marginalized identity?

Meaning, what obligation do I have when I write about an identity not my own?

Sure, the glib responses go. You don’t have to be a killer to write a murder mystery, and you don’t have to be a billionaire’s secret baby to write about one. Write whatever you want, this line of thinking says.

But in this case, the caution wasn’t writing about a marginalized identity. It was writing, period.

“You’re an author,” came the explanation, and the door was politely but firmly shut in my face.

Author of kink, I understand. My naughty spoons are too much for some to handle. 😀 Some don’t like to read about women who love women. Others prefer their fiction squeaky clean or, conversely, a lot dirtier.

But does “author,” in and of itself, denote unreliability, lack of integrity, and inability to respect boundaries? When I am honored by receiving confidential information, it stays confidential. No one with integrity would do otherwise.


Still, “author” can set off warnings for those whose spaces have not been respected. I was reminded of that when the shoe was on the other foot.

One aspect of my identity, one that I keep private, unexpectedly popped up when reading a new book. The writing was lovely. Characters well drawn. Storyline was compelling enough that I read the book in one sitting. (Not an easy feat, with the multitudes of books available and my increasingly full reading list!) I had one quibble with the storytelling, but overall the book was enjoyable.




This marginalized identity was presented in a problematic way. So problematic, in fact, that the book nearly became a DNF (do not finish). I believe in judging a book in its own context, so I don’t expect a book to address issues exactly the way I would. Rather, I expect a book to maintain an internal consistency.

Example: If I’m reading an I Love Lucy type of story about domestic marital bliss, I don’t expect overt feminism.

If I’m reading young adult Christian fiction written by and about middle class white Christians, I don’t expect a great deal of sensitivity with regard to racial or colonial/postcolonial issues.

The problem comes when one marginalized identity (or one perceived marginalized identity) is addressed with great care while another is reduced to a caricature, an afterthought, or at worst a perpetuation of discrimination, ignorance, and bigotry.

Example: Qualifying statements aside, Orange is the New Black works extraordinarily hard to give a respectful portrayal of Sophia Burset, a trans woman who endures ostracization, negative comments, and outright hate crimes. We watch Sophia, and our hearts quicken as her unfair treatment comes to light.

Is her depiction problematic? Sure. No portrayal is perfect. But the camera, script, and actors respect Sophia. In a flawed way, perhaps, but the intention is clearly there.

By contrast, Brooke Soso is the outcast, outlier, and the suicidal cipher who finally gets grudging acceptance by submerging her identity as “Blasian.” Sophia is presented as an identity in her own right, but Brooke must be subsumed by the majority in order to be seen.

It’s the contrast that is so disappointing, as this Hyphen article argues.

I love Orange. It’s completely NSFA and beyond my comfort zone, but I love its sharp dialogue and gritty plotlines.

I can’t tolerate how it gives respect to one marginalized identity while perpetuating discrimination against another.

This, then, caused me to stumble in reading the recent book. A character may be ignorant or bigoted, sure. Does that excuse the author from responsibility in creating the portrayal?

If we create fictional representations of real-life violence and injustice, what is our responsibility in doing so?

If we write titillating details of a fictional rape, are we blameless because “that’s what the character would do”…or are we culpable for perpetuating the reality of rape? We may write (or read) fiction, but stories don’t stop in the telling. Stories are vehicles of power, change, and a call for collective action.

Telling the story for another is an enormous responsibility. If we tell that story badly, if we do that person an injustice…it is far worse than if we never told the story at all.

It’s never “just a story.” It’s life truths wrapped in a veneer of fiction just shiny enough for us to tolerate.

If we write injustice, we sow injustice.

If we write bigotry, we legitimize it.

No, we don’t have to swing the pendulum to happily-ever-after fairy tales (although they are wonderful in their own right). But in Ana’s world, writing injustice is never done lightly.

And so, perhaps controversially, Freiya’s Stand injects a moment of hope that transcends everyday reality. Unrealistic? Perhaps.

But what kind of reality would you like to live in?

Me, I want a world of justice and love.

What about you?


When should love take a stand?

Freiya’s life is perfect. She’s got doting parents, a classroom of adorable kindergarteners, and the love of her life. Even if Sabrina insists on discretion in their private Catholic school, they share happiness at home.

That is, until the bombshell hits. Their principal demands a new “Fight for Families” covenant to refrain from “sexual perversion.” All teachers must sign. No exceptions.

Lie, Sabrina says. Otherwise, they’ll lose their job, privacy, and home.

Freiya doesn’t want to betray the woman she loves, but how can she sign a document that denounces their love? Is standing up for love worth losing her livelihood?

If she speaks the truth, she’ll lose everything.

If she lies, she’ll lose even more.

How can Freiya take a stand for what’s right when the choices are wrong?

How can it be wrong to love the woman who makes her life worth living?

The truth should set them free, but Freiya’s stand threatens to destroy the very love she refuses to deny.

When “religious freedom” legislates against identity, how can Freiya and Sabrina survive?

Now available on Amazon!




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