Writing Who I Don’t Know

Or is that whom?

I spent this past weekend trying to put myself in the shoes of a gay, black man who can bench press a Chevy Nova and knows more about guns than I ever will.

As I self-identify as a hetero, white woman,* and am usually at a minimum automatically identified and treated as the latter two by strangers—those shoes aren’t a perfect fit.

Even though he’s essentially a figment of my imagination, there’s a lot about this character’s motivations and POV that I’m never going to get, regardless of months of research and reading** and bugging my friends. We’re just too different.

Our reactions to other people’s reactions won’t be the same.  The reasons others might have for accepting, marginalizing, or condemning us are most likely not the same.  My fears about walking alone into a room or down the street would not be his—his anxieties around certain family members won’t be the same as mine.   The ways in which we share private things, or don’t, will be different.

So why bother?  The story I’m writing isn’t about his sexuality,  skin color, and/or gender . . . but these are all part of who this character is and how the other characters interact with him, or don’t.  

And both the story and the groups to which this character might belong deserve better than the same old tropes, tokens, and caricatures.  I don’t want to ignore what I shouldn’t, or put him in a well-worn box of ignorant, if well-meaning assumptions.

Or make a bigger deal of these things than I should (cough).

Because though it seems like I might have tossed Write what—or who—you know out the window—and though I may be talking through my chapeau— he and I do intersect in some interesting (IMHO) ways.

We’ve both lost people we’ve loved very much, who loved us back.  We know what it’s like to be lonely and in pain and very, very angry about it.

He also has a sense of humor that verges on the inappropriate, likes veggie subs, has trouble bluffing on a poor poker hand, and doesn’t care to be patronized.  He’s also pretty good at his job, if he does say so.  Ditto . . . except for the poker.

He’s maybe not as calm and collected as he seems—or wants to seem.

He’s a fellow human being (if an imaginary one) who is both more and less than the labels he, or others, insist that he wear.

And I’m thinking that no matter what I know or don’t know, this common ground might be a good start.


*Who, if this even needs saying, is far more likely to sit on a bench that lift heavy objects from one—and has a pathetic inability to write firearms.

**These aren’t the only resources I found, but they’re both thought provoking and a very good start.