This is why we write (fiction, identity and a tearful moment)

So, I have to share this because it just brought tears to my eyes. Some of you know I have roots in fandom, and a while back I wrote a Merlin story where Merlin was diabetic. It was in response to a kinkmeme request and I grabbed it because I’m Type 1 diabetic and I didn’t want to let someone else write that and get it wrong. It was a very personal story and, ironically enough, probably the most popular thing I ever wrote in fandom (and, no, I’m not linking to it, because that’s not the point of this story).

Right from the start, people started responding to that story by sharing their own experiences of diabetes and by thanking me for actually writing about it. It blew me away. You get used to thinking you’re the only one in a group, the one who’s constantly having to explain why things work differently for you or the one being grateful to colleagues or acquaintances who picked up the pieces when it all went wrong.

I’m not in fandom any more. My fics are still up, but I’m not active, and I only check my emails once every couple of months. Today was one of those days. I found this message sitting in my inbox:

I remember reading this a few weeks ago and enjoying it. I loved sweet protective Arthur. I didn’t know very much about type 1 diabetes at the time, so that aspect was particularly interesting. Well, last week, my 8 year old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. While we were in the hospital, I found myself thinking about this story a lot. It helped me have some context for some of the information the nurses taught us about managing things for our daughter… and I dunno, I think it just helped me cope with everything just thinking about Merlin with diabetes. So I just wanted to thank you for your story!

And, yeah, so I cried a bit, and answered her comment, even though I don’t usually.

But this is the thing – there aren’t many stories out there about diabetic heroes. There weren’t when I was a kid, either. The only diabetic character I can recall reading about was Stacey in the Babysitters Club, and I had nothing in common with her except our disease. I still read all her books obsessively, though.

I’ve seen a discussion happening this week about the vital importance of getting LGBT characters into young adult literature as well. It matters. It matters because so many of us aren’t in the stories, for one reason or another. Nobody writes fantasy novels about diabetics, y’know (as a kid, I used to read those books where people crossed over into another world, and I used to dream it would happen to me, and that there would be a magical healer waiting on the other side to get rid of the diabetes). The Tardis would have been offlimits to me, and time travel a death sentence. Nobody ever tried to address those fears and tell those stories. I wanted so desperately to exist in the world of the imagination.

And I could write exactly this if I’d been an outsider for another reason, whether it was race or sexuality or gender identity or any of the wonderful disparate identities which make us special. When you’re a kid and you’re standing outside the group, looking in at everybody else’s ‘normal’, it matters to know that you’re not alone. It matters more than anyone who hasn’t stood there and looked in vain for their reflection could ever understand.

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2 Responses to This is why we write (fiction, identity and a tearful moment)

  1. Layla Lawlor says:

    I agree with this so much! 🙂

    And I think this is also why ACCURATE representation matters — taking the time to not just research our characters, but talk to people who are in the actual demographics we’re writing about (if we don’t have personal experience of it), and try to create a character and story that won’t retread the same painfully inaccurate cliches and tropes.

    • amyraenbow says:

      Absolutely. It’s very easy to use those broad stroke cliches that our culture creates, but it’s not just bad writing. It’s hurtful to any number of people as well. I don’t understand why writers wouldn’t have that basic respect for both their readers and their characters. Beyond that, surely stories which actually address the complexity and variety of real life are more interesting?

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