I ALMOST threw my mobile phone into the long grass last week, after a complete stranger dealt me an unexpected 10-minute takedown about a piece of journalism I wrote, while I was weeding the garden.
“I’m not having a go at you,” they kept insisting, before doing exactly that. The crux of their diatribe was that “gay dudes like you” don’t have the right to speak for anyone else in the rainbow community who isn’t a gay, cisgender male.
They asserted there was no thought or process in my article, that it was “throwaway”.
I explained it was one of the most considered pieces I’ve ever written.
They got upset, trying to articulate their pain at me referencing two lesbians included in my article, asserting that to write what I did I couldn’t know any.
Even though that’s very far from the truth, I stepped back a little and tried to guide them to a channel of complaint, or write a rebuttal to my piece.
They countered that there was no point in doing that, because I had an unfair media platform.
That got me upset. Any platform I have is extremely hard-won, since I have always battled the media and publishing world’s reticence to facilitate queer content; yet I have always written our stories and sought publication for them. Where none was offered, I did it myself.
With both of us hurting we were getting nowhere, yet decades of creative rejection means I understand what it feels like to have no voice.
But would I ever have made the effort to seek someone out who managed to get something published about the LGBTIQA+ community, and try tearing strips off them?
Whenever I have been in that state, I have always just kept writing.
Taking my own advice
I’d taken my time with this recent piece. It relates my direct experience, backed up by years of quiet research.
But being ready for a blindsiding naysayer is something I should have been better prepared for. The subject of enduring critics is one I have written about often.
So I took my own advice, and got through the angst in a few hours. Far better than the years I spent in a state of confusion about former friends who chipped away at my writing confidence.
The real gem in what I wrote then was about going back to source, to be sure that what we write is correct. Not all criticism is unjustified, after all.
So I did just that.
When I realised I wasn’t appropriating or misrepresenting anything, I went back to the weeding.
But I wondered why another member of the rainbow community would seek to push me off a platform it has taken me decades to build, particularly when it’s just a little sandcastle on a very crowded beach?
Judging by the the upset tone in this caller’s voice, the answer may be pain and trauma. I’ve been there, I know how it throws everything in our lives into a much sharper perspective.
Such a moment is what ignited my writing career in the first place, when I embarked on putting my perspective into the mainstream because it did not exist widely in books or media. I have been doing so ever since, and if a platform has formed beneath me, good.
Yet after this phone call, I needed perspective too, in this era when writers are increasingly expected to stick to our lane. Accusations of appropriation lie around every corner and they can really hurt.
I see this issue through an equal opportunity lens: until the traditional publishing industry is replete with cisgender gay authors telling our own stories, it’s not a great look for authors who are not us to be doing so.
But I am also not so anti-imagination that I believe authors cannot use empathy to create stories about lives other than our own. When we do, we must play very fair: inclusion without stereotyping, consultation, and an abundance of sensitivity.
So I am glad I asserted the right of this critic to pen their reply, no matter how small they believe their sandcastle to be.
Not just because we are both from the LGBTIQA+ community, but because writing outside our lanes is a sure fire way of making bigger sandcastles for all queer writers.
There’s plenty of sand. Get building.