Do you have to identify as LGBTQ+ to write stories? Can you tell an authentic tale without experience? In this blog post, we will look at who can tell stories, how we can do it authentically and how you can ensure you do no harm to the LGBTQ+ community.
Write what you know
Books on writing are stuffed full of this piece of advice: write what you know. Your own experiences are bound to provide you with plenty of inspiration for writing, whether short stories, novels or non-fiction books.
But we cannot have experience of everything. Historical fiction is written by authors who probably wasn’t alive in the times that they were writing about … Murder mysteries get written without a murder being actually committed by the author (hopefully!) … We write about genders other than our own all the time.
But what you know might not be lived experiences but could be feelings, emotions, situations that could apply to different scenarios. Writing what you know could be wider than writing about your job, your family life and your immediate experiences.
Should you only write what you know?
For any writing, fiction or non-fiction, research is essential. It anchors your writing in reality, even writing set on distant planets has real-life elements attached to it.
Fiction writers, in particular, have to write in a voice that is different from their own. Not every character should speak the same as the writer!
Why am I writing about write what you know? This is meant to be about who can write LGBTQ+ stories!
I can write about female characters. I can write about royal characters. I can write about straight characters. These are all things that are out of my direct lived experience but you wouldn’t imagine I couldn’t write about them.
The same is true for LGBTQ+ characters.
If it’s not your lived experience, it’s absolutely fine to write about it. You just need to do your research!
Authentic voices matter
When it comes to writing about any minority group, you need to do so with sensitivity and authenticity. Making sure that you handle the language right, the interactions between characters and the situations you put them in is important.
There is an argument to say that only LGBTQ+ can tell stories with LGBTQ+ characters. Only we in the community have the experience and the knowledge to do so. While I disagree with a blanket “ban” on outside voices writing about us, I do recognise how vital it is to lift authentically told stories.
Many of the books featured in the Pride Parade of Books are told by writers who identify as LGBTQ+. We need to do all we can, as a community, to raise the profile of these books, not just to our own community but to as wide a readership as possible.
Let’s not be gatekeepers to writing. Let’s be inclusive, supportive and recognise a good story.
Writing about the LGBTQ+ community
We have seen recently that it is possible to do harm to a community through bad writing. It might not be intentional and it might not reflect your views, but inauthentically representing a community can be incredibly hurtful.
As writers, you have a responsibility to write fairly. If you are not part of the LGBTQ+ community, here are some things you could consider before you publish:
- Do your research well. Speak to people who have lived experience of what you are trying to write about. Find good source material (books, radio documentaries and podcasts, films, newspaper reports) that will support you. Keep records and refer to your research as you write.
- Ask a sensitivity reader to review your work. Look around for a sensitivity reader from the community you are writing about. They can help you to ensure that your writing is sensitive to the community and can ensure that your voice is authentic.
- Find an editor that is part of the LGBTQ+ community. Find an editor from the LGBTQ+ community who can help structure your work and help you to edit your writing.
To find out more about my sensitivity reading and editorial services, click here. If you are writing about the LGBTQ+ community, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, be sure to get in touch!
Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.
To find out more and to work with Nick, use the buttons above.
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