Because it's time we move past this silly strawman.

I realize meta-discussion is a messy subject, but at this point I think it might be necessary. Every week or so a thread will pop that's something along the lines of: "don't listen to those SJWs/feminists/whatever telling you that you can't write black people/women/gays! I know I'm gonna get downvoted for this, but I think you shouldn't be afraid of the PC police, and oughta just write the story you want to write :)”

Is what they're responding to an actual sentiment on this sub? Who are these people saying "you're not gay, so you're not allowed to write a gay character"? The closest to that I've ever seen on here is "write what you like, but do meaningful research so you don't make an ass of yourself." And we can see that happening on these posts, where 190 out of 200 comments will be some variation on the theme of "…but please, please do your research."

"Don't fear the PC Police" posts are always going to be upvoted by people who have been criticized or are worried they might be criticized for how they portray certain groups. And that could apply to anyone, so no wonder it's such a popular post genre! But for those people, here are some ACTUAL criticisms a writer might hear if they aren't "writing what they know":

  • This character is based on stereotypes which are both offensive and make it clear you don't know what you're talking about (awkward attempts at AAVE & Rain Man-esque portrayals of autism are two examples that instantly spring to mind).
  • This mentally ill character deals with *every possible issue* in a way that feels like it's just going down a Wikipedia or DSM checklist. OR, this mentally ill character doesn't deal with *any* of these issues, which also feels unrealistic.
  • This character is living in poverty, but they never have to deal with any of the consequences of that, which not only makes it seem like the author doesn't actually know what poverty is like, but also breaks the logic of the story.
  • This character, by way of being the ONLY character, comes off as being a representative of that group in a way that's troubling.
  • All the gay characters in this book share some common trait, like "stylishness," which makes it seem like the author's exposure to gay people is exclusively through that narrow lens.
  • All the black characters in this book have "blackness" as their defining character trait, which makes it seem like the writer has a one-dimensional perspective or isn't comfortable with the subject. OR a black character who "isn't like other black people" (oof). In the same vein, all female characters having "Is Girl" be a primary facet of their character, or "isn't like other girls."
  • The lesbian couple meeting a tragic end is generally fine on it's own, but it's an extremely tired narrative trope, so just be aware of the context in which you're writing it.
  • It's a bummer that the most popular disabled trans character in fiction atm is written by some white dude when there are lots of disabled trans writers who want to share their lived experience & who are overshadowed.

This isn't a comprehensive list of course, they're just examples of criticisms I've seen–many of which have been brushed off as "so you're saying I can't write about X because I'm not X?" And it can be tough, because if you face these criticisms sometimes the "fix" isn't super straightforward. Oftentimes it's a criticism not of the content but of a lack of awareness about the context around the content. Sometimes (rarely) it's just a criticism of the context itself and not the content at all. And of course sometimes the criticism is hostile, or not well-articulated, or just an actual non-issue (although in that case it's important to remember that you as the author are probably the worst person to objectively determine what's a "non-issue").

At the end of the day, we can all probably agree that people should write what they want, and should do so from an informed place. But it's important to be open to criticism, be willing to take the time to understand the issues people might have with how you handle sensitive subjects, and recognize that the answer isn't always as simple as "well of course I'll do my research :)".

Especially because that reassurance isn't very reassuring, if the person is so unfamiliar the actual criticism that they think people are just saying "well, you're not X, so you're not allowed to touch this subject."

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