Sunday, June 21, 2015

Representation, or finding our place in the story

We all deserve our own stories.

For a long time, I didn't realize that so few of them were made for me. I was never really the princess type, too stubborn and loud and average-looking for the lost princesses who filled the stories of my childhood. There were only a few warrior women and lady knights, but they didn't really work either – I wasn't strong, I wasn't noble, and I always thought there was a smarter way to fight than charging ahead with a battle cry. They were all good characters, but there was no place in their lives for someone like me.

But oh, I loved the thieves, the pirates, the charming rogues with a secret heart of gold. They didn't necessarily have to be attractive – a way with words was so much more important than how they looked. They didn't have to have powerful muscles – their brains did most of the work, and sometimes they could even best big, scary swords people without blinking. They didn't have to be even particularly good – they thought rules were bendy, twisty things, but they were usually at least helpful to the hero and sometimes even stood on the sides of angels.

When you feel like you're different from everyone else, it's too easy to also feel like there's something wrong with you. Like you're broken, or even just meant to fade into the background while the "hero" goes off and lives an exciting life. For a little girl with a plain face, a facile tongue and a squirrely mind, these characters felt like I had a place among all the pretty people. There wasn't anything wrong with me – I was just meant to be a charming rogue.

But ... all the charming rogues I had ever read about were boys. I wasn't a boy – I didn't even want to be one – and so for a long time I was just a lost girl in the corner with dreams she could never quite figure out how to reach. It took me years to steal the role, to cut it up and piece it back together into a shape fit an angry little girl. It took me even longer than that to find the self-confidence I'd lost so many years before, letting the rogue's boldness sink into my skin and teach me everything I'd always been meant to know.

And I was lucky. There are so few white girl characters when compared to boy characters, but there's even fewer for people of color or those who aren't heterosexual. They don't have the luxury to care about personality – they're grateful for the few they can find, and cling to them because they don't have anything else. And inside, they end up feeling that there's no place for them in the great story of life.

Feeling like there's someplace you're meant to be can change your whole life. No one deserves to only see their own faces, their own hearts, as background characters or villains. Or worse, to not see them at all.

So please, write more stories. Give your heroes and heroines your skin, your history, your fears. Give them your dreams, and in turn you pass those dreams onto all those little boys and girls who want a story to live up to.

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