The lovely Read at Midnight has set us a challenge – to criticise a wonderful in a book or series, and realise the flaws everything has. All throughout October these posts are happening, so make sure you check out her blog and see what other people are talking about!
I got thinking about representation of minorities, and how so many people get furious about bad representation of whichever group they fit into. After reading (and enjoying) What We Left Behind, I skimmed through some of the reviews. People hated this book! Apparently, without my realising, the idea that was being portrayed of trans and genderqueer people was terrible, and completely inaccurate. If I hadn’t read the reviews, I would have just accepted the way the character acted in this book was completely normal.
Is it the end of the world that they weren’t represented that wonderfully, though? As a bi person, I get overly excited when I see a bi person on tv or in a book, especially if they actually say the word. A lot of these people just sleep around, or are dismissed as straight or gay depending on their current relationship, and as we all (hopefully) know, this isn’t accurate at all. Magnus Bane, for example; he seems to have sex with anything and everything, and is obviously pan. As soon as he falls for Alec, though, he starts having conversations with him about the struggle of being gay. They never name his sexuality, but he acts like a stereotypical gay for a lot of the series, despite talking about past relationships with so many other people. I try not to let it get to me, though. At least these characters exist, instead of being pushed out of fiction as they are most of the time!
Then there’s the black criminal, the confused/closeted gay (Alec, Simon, other Simon, Baz, etc etc), the tumblr-angry-feminist trans person, the ditzy woman (like in this series), the
aggressive man, etc etc. There are so many negative representations all over the place, in basically every book we read. It’s giving out this idea that everyone who fits into a particular label acts in this particular way, which is not true. For some of the more “obscure” ones, the people we don’t see in our everyday life, that the regular person might not know exists. We all know men and women exist, so there’s no excuse to have a bad representation. Trans or asexual or pansexual or anything like that are much more rare, and if you don’t live in a particular corner of the internet, you might have no idea they exist. So isn’t it good that these books are bringing them to our attention?
I’m talking completely hypothetically, of course. For me, the answer to all of this is pretty easy. If you don’t understand a topic, don’t write about it. Let the trans author write the trans character, the bi write the bi, etc etc. If you haven’t experienced that situation, or haven’t asked someone about it (for example, I could unpick my brother’s brain about being a man), don’t write about. That way, we can ensure that the only representation that is going out there is the right representation. It might not be the same for everyone, but it’s a side to a story that us uneducated people can learn about. Bad representation is never better than no representation, and we need to stop letting our favourite books get away with promoting the wrong thing.