When I was little, I wanted to be Xena. Yes, Xena from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess.
What can I say? I liked the show and I liked Xena and her trusty companion, Gabrielle. They were both awesome, kick-ass women with goals and emotional lives of their own and they always had each other. The subtext surrounding their relationship and whether it was romantic or fell into what is now called the Heterosexual Life-Partners trope vital to my understanding of myself as I came to realize my attraction to other girls/women. The show also had strong Characters of Color from time to time, which was again, awesome for me to see as a young Black child. Especially when those characters also happened to be female.
Don’t get me wrong. The show wasn’t perfect, there was certainly some issue in the show like in any bit of media. And I would dare anyone to find a book, movie or TV show that does everything right or right all the time. We’re imperfect and so are our creation.
But I should probably get to our topic because Xena is not the whole of our topic for today. What I really wanted to talk about was what Xena gave me as a kid, though often in an incomplete way. Representation. You see, it is my firm belief representation matters. Not only for people in marginalized groups like LGBT+ people, religious minorities, POC, and women. But also for the majority as a way of exposing people to the fact we’re just like them, that our lives, hopes, and dreams are no different from everyone else.
You see, it is my firm belief representation matters. Not only for people in marginalized groups like LGBT+ people, religious minorities, POC, and women. But also for the majority as a way of exposing people to the fact we’re just like them, that our lives, hopes, and dreams are no different from everyone else. Once someone sees that you’re the same, denying that you’re also human and deserve the same rights and ability to reach your goals that they have becomes more difficult. Plus it is just more realistic all around to depict the world as the diverse place that it is.
However, there is another thing to consider when it comes to representation in the media. Especially genre media like Horror and other forms of Speculative Fiction, Romance, Thriller/Mystery/Suspense, and Historical Fiction. That of the intersectionality of a character. Some people seem to think that having a character like Xena or the strong POC characters on Xena: Warrior Princess is sufficient representation. And for some people it really is.
But people, readers, generally aren’t only one thing. They’re not just Black, LGBT, Jewish etc. but possibly all of those things or some other combination. That is where I feel representation comes in in this day and age. We’ve done a lot to normalize people that fall into one potential category for marginalization in society but, in my opinion, there’s still a lack of adequate representation when it comes to characters who stand at the crossroads between two or more possible points of discrimination.
And that is important because it helps people both inside and outside of marginalized communities see others who may be the same in one way but different in another as people equal to themselves. Which changes public opinions, whether quickly or slowly, and can influence all areas of people’s lives.
Some tips for including intersectional representation…
- Don’t be afraid to take a character that is marginalized in one way, say being LGBT, and making them also Muslim, Jewish, Black etc.
- Don’t be afraid to do your research/extra research! Research is fun and helps make the story more believable to readers.
- Do be aware of the boundaries of a group you may not be part of. Straight, Gay, Black or White writing about societal groups to which you don’t belong tends to mean you aren’t working with all the variable. Being aware of what those variable are means a potentially better story and the ability to choose not to cross a particular boundary out of lack of sufficient knowledge to do it justice, or possibly out of respect.
- Do treat your characters the same as if you had chosen to write them as only Black, Jewish, LGBT etc. They’re still your character and their story is still their story. Some things about the story will change, but the way they’re treated in the narrative and by the writer shouldn’t.
My next post will hopefully be the anticipated post on vampires as Byronic heroes/heroines. So, keep an eye out for that.