Writing Minorities In Your Own Group

I’ve been thinking about this lately. There are lot of different opinions on how one should write minorities in a group they aren’t part of, but I haven’t seen quite as much about writing minorities that belong to your own group. Minority groups are very, very diverse, and sometimes I run into issues regarding even my own.

Take this, for example: I’m trans, and I transitioned in my early teens. That experience is very different from someone who transitioned as a child or an adult, and I always worry when I write a trans character - do I have the authority to write the experience of someone who transitioned earlier or later in life?

I guess what this really comes down to is, how much (or even do you) research the experiences of your own group when writing? How much does it depend on the character? Is there a rule of thumb any of you follow, as writers? Am I worrying too much about this?

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I’ve been thinking about this a bit myself. I often feel pretty far removed from my own groups and like I’ve had very different life experiences from them, like you’re saying, and I want to be mindful of the fact that my experience isn’t all-encompassing.

I think that being mindful of it to begin with is obviously an important step. I guess the way I’m thinking about it is to just write the character how they are, and be mindful of any times where I’m imposing too much of myself on them.

One of the things I’ve found interesting in my own work is that I have a character who is definitely more like me than the others, but has led a different life in a different world. Imagining how he got to be the way he is, bearing in mind that he hasn’t faced the same issues I have (or that the same issues haven’t manifested in the same ways) has helped me reframe and refocus the situation a lot.I can’t impose myself on him too much, because my experiences aren’t relatable to him, no matter how similar we may be. So I can’t define him by his sexuality or whatever, because that just doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it does to me, no matter how much I might relate to him in general. If that made any sense at all, haha.

…I guess what I’m getting at is the solution I’ve found is to focus superhard on the character.

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I will be 100% honest, I never do research when writing gay men because I am one. I know how to write basically myself in a way that’s not offensive/innacurate. When it comes to writing other members of the LGBTQ+ community, I do a bit of research to make sure I’m not portraying them offensively; usually, it’s pretty light and covers the bare minimum of, “What stereotypes are associated with them that I need to avoid, how do I respectfully describe their appearance, and what is the best way to have other characters address them?” (My stories rarely address hardcore discrimination, so comprehensive knowledge hasn’t been needed, and I already have a lot because I studied my community extensively throughout college as I came into my own identity.)

I only do deep research if their identity is a significant part of the story (e.g. in my second WIP, gender reassignment surgery is going to play a big role for trans PCs, so I will be doing extensive research on them to make sure I portray that process believably). Overall, though, I tend to use their personality to determine their reaction to experiences and not their gender identity or sexual orientation. If I do write discrimination or identity-specific experiences, I’ll also research what that looks like and how actual members of that community feel about it.

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In the end, I do believe it is too early for you to worry this much.

Yes; you have the ability to empathize and at the same time to “fact-check” yourself on the material you are writing.

The very fact that you recognize, right off the bat, that there are differences of experiences within a group means that you can successfully write diverse characters and avoid stereotyping. That is key.

Yes, all writers have the duty to do as much research as necessary – what that means is different for each author… depending on knowledge, experience and resources available.

There can never be any rule of thumb, but that you should be able to tell when you have reached the tipping point.

Once you write your core story, testing and rewriting to address any concerns found is a necessity. This, perhaps, should be taking more of your “worrying” time.

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All people and by extension all characters will be vastly unique and different from each other. We have a lot of similarities, but we do also have a multitude of reasons that we aren’t carbon copy clones of one or two traits. This can sometimes be hard to communicate through writing because the author’s perspective and voice will bleed through creating a soupy, monolithic mess sometimes. However, if you remember that we are not all factory settings (which I am confident that you already do), then you are on the right track. As such, research, trial and error are the name of the game for anything you write if you aren’t literally writing an autobiography. Even then, you might want/have to do research to accurately describe feelings and other details you might not have had adequate words for prior.

I can appreciate the personality/human first concept; I will say that yes, I do not solely check a “woman,” “bisexual” or “mixed” box (or whatever other identity). But those things are part of me and are inextricable from my personality, my viewpoint and how I react to situations. I am not half-black only when I face discrimination. I am half-black at all times. Complexity and what is the focus does factor in to it, I agree. However, it’s still not the case that those identities that might come up on a demographic questionnaire only affect identity-specific stories or discrimination anymore than a person’s sense of humor would only come up if they were a comedian.

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This is a simple question in itself, but when you takes stock the amount of different groups that people sort themselves into, and all of the different intricacies of those, then the answer becomes much more complex. First, though, let me say this: there is no objective measure for what gives you authority to write about something. If it turns out that you’re wrong about it, your audience will tell you.

Now, let’s talk about my personal experiences. Every time I’ve ever written any substantial text (with the caveat of putting effort into it, as I’ve absolutely mailed it in a few times), it’s been the product of hours of research. Although characters, as fictional creations, are easy to write in the sense that they don’t need to be a direct reflection of real-life people, the fact of the matter is that if they’re part of any certain group, whether my own or another, I’m going to do my best to give them justice through research, and, hopefully, some sort of interactions with real-life people.

An example: right now, I’m writing a story featuring Slavic characters. As a Slav, I already have some insight into how they’re going to act and how I want to represent them. But this is where we run into the tricky part: I would be lying through my teeth if I said I knew everything there is to know about the Slavic people* and who they’re likely to be. As a result, my answer is/was to research, As a result, I feel as if I absolutely have to authority to write about my “own group”, because I’ve put in the work to make the writing authentic.

Now, this is just for me. I can’t speak as to every single group, especially as race, gender, and nationality are totally separate things. What I can say is that you should never, ever other think in writing. If you’re right, it won’t matter. If you’re wrong, then you’ll know, because someone will make you aware. And if you’ve ever written about other groups confidently before, consider that logically, it should be easy writing about your own. Don’t waste your time alive worrying.

*And there are a lot of separate distinctions inside of that

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I actually find it difficult to not feel too “on the nose”. I’m on the autism spectrum (although, on the extremely mild end), and simply due to my some-what jilted way of phrasing things, most of my dialogue is probably not the best, but probably a little off. Not to Sheldon Cooper levels of weird, or Star Wars prequel levels of cringe, but my characters probably sound some-what autistic simply because its what I as the writer think is natural. I get by this partly by researching dialogue, rather than how people actually talk, and by minimizing dialogue.

Not sure if this is the kind of response you’re looking for, but thought it was worth saying.

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My identity isn’t relevant to everything, though. I’m always gay 100% of the time, but it doesn’t affect 100% of my life. If I brought it up all the time, it wouldn’t make sense. I only bring it up when it specifically is relevant to the situation. That’s my approach to writing, too. If I always brought it up even when it doesn’t make sense, then it’d be confusing to everyone I talk to.

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It doesn’t have to be brought up for it to be relevant though. For instance, as a woman, I was taught to sit with folded legs. That’s not to say men or anyone else never sit with folded legs or that women always do, just that it’s something women frequently unconsciously do because we’re taught to do so from the time we’re very little. If I have a female character sit down with folded legs, it is not me writing “and then the womanly woman folded her legs because w o m a n,” but it’s still a small trait that has a high chance of having been impacted by her status as a woman anyways.

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You’re correct, but now we’re talking about how much detail writers go into. If "XXX character sits’ is all that’s needed if their legs are folded or not is irrelevant. If the writer is being more detailed, than yeah, those little mannerisms are more important.

Guess it comes down to how hardcore details you go into.

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That was just an example. It applies to broader situations too. Particularly if you’re writing thought processes. You don’t have to be writing an explanation of why you’re writing something because the explanation is left to intuit as a reader. The subtext/substance/depth is still there. When I frown despite the other characters laughing, then the intuitive knowledge is already laid that something about me drives me to find that joke not funny. It doesn’t have to be written “quothy.raven felt uncomfortable because she’s XY and Z was in the joke yada yada”.

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I do some research (for example I present super femininely and my experiences with men differ significantly from more masc presenting lesbians in certain aspects) but as part of the group in question, you are already going to have massively more information on the subject than someone outside of the group and know where to find valuable primary sources for any research you do.

People within marginalized groups also tend to be more aware of potential issues in their writing (related to that identity) and more aware of “oh this might actually be different for other people”. You pointing out that by transitioning in your early teens your experience is going to differ from many other trans people is a perfect example of this. Most cis people wouldn’t even think about this.

Basically, maybe worry less? Unless you are dealing with intersectional identities do your research the way you would for any other aspect of writing something you don’t know. You would (hopefully) do research for a character with a career you don’t have to make sure you portray it accurately and that same level is probably applicable for most of these situations.

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Not a published author or anything remotely close to it, but I thought maybe I could post a mess of a post here too.

I’ve thought about this alot recently and I know how you feel, I panic a little when it comes to writing about minority groups. Just as a little (probably unnecessary) context, I’ve only really recently just started to properly accept myself for who I feel I am after so long so I still feel like an outsider in the LQBTQ+ community and I know precious little about it.
I’m branching out and contacting groups to learn more though. I’m sure I could try and write a character in a similar vein, like similar to how I feel I mean, but probably not a MC without researching first. But everybody deals with things differently, how I think about it won’t ever really be the same as someone else, though it could be similar.
I think it’s normal maybe to be a little worried considering all the different experiences people will go through in the trans community.

I can’t really speak for research, I’ve only started to write and haven’t had the need to do that yet. I’m sure if you make a mistake people would understand it wouldn’t be out of malice and would point it out and help though.

Hope this makes sense, and maybe helps a little?

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Seriously, If so high standards were put in place 99% per cent of books, films, statues etc… Would have never been made at all. One thing is investigating and trying to be inclusive… Another thing totally different is cant write about anything else different from yourself without sensitive readers … Balance is key to everything. Creativity has to have some space.

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I’m a gay man myself, and I make zero research on this aspect. I find it the easiest to write because I know it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve experienced homophobia from parents, siblings, and my entire surrounding. I know the stereotypes, and the stigma attached to being gay that I know I have to avoid (and it makes me cringe seeing one). I know what it’s like to hide my sexuality. To cry because I wished I wasn’t like this, to question, to keep it a secret, etcetera. I’m not saying I know everything about it, but I just stay on my own lane and write what I feel is right.

That’s why I tend to roll my eyes when people write gay=effeminate. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s just a stereotype people associate with. I find it easy because I know gay people are just people. Gay relationships are just relationships. Sure there may be occasional glances or murmurs opposed to straight relationships but it’s just not that complex. For me anyway. We don’t base every part of our personality and experience on being gay. I even prefer writing gay relationships than straight ones—that’s where I do research and of course on the parts that I don’t know about like being trans.

Of course, everyone has different experiences, but I find it the easiest to at least try to comprehend their experience because some part of me knows what it’s like. I haven’t experienced every single thing about being gay, nor do I know about every nuance of it, but I guess I just know what I feel is wrong.

It’s fine. Worrying means you’re thinking about it. But don’t let it get you too much. Just write what you want to write. Avoid what you feel is misrepresentation. Maybe after you can talk with other folks about what they feel about what you’ve written.

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