I changed a pronoun this week.
In a book, I mean. This novel, the one that started out to be 80,000 words or so, according to its birth mother. We’re co-parenting it now, feeding it with dreams and free time, and it’s a 250,000 word monster of a thing.
It was just a little change. A character was listing treatises for our made-up world. Another offered critique of one author. Specifically, he would have preferred to read about starship chases. He really doesn’t read a lot of nonfiction, this character, except in his specific field of research. Which is fine. So the exchange looked like this:
I kneel, running my finger over spines, searching for the volume I am certain I saw. “If you happen to read philosophy or political treatises, all the better. I make a poor dinner companion when everyone starts debating Tennin’s theorems, or Wei’s.”
He laughs. “I tried. You have borrowed enough of my books, over the years. Perhaps if Wei would have written a starship battle into his texts.”
And then I re-read it. And re-wrote it.
He laughs. “I tried. You have borrowed enough of my books, over the years. Perhaps if Wei would have written a starship battle into her texts.”
It’s just a little thing. Just a little thing that combats, on a fundamental level, the assumption that political treatises are written by men, for men. Because for as much kicking and sobbing and screaming as there is about the wonderful fiction that’s being written these days, there isn’t enough of it.
It’s something I’ve had the luxury of not noticing, as an author and a reader, for a good long while. And then a friend posted something like “when was the first time you saw a character that looked and sounded like you in something you were reading?”
The numbers shook out a little like this:
White cis/het men couldn’t remember the first time; they were too young.
White cis/het women were mostly split between “very young” and “Anne of Green Gables”
White cis/gay respondents were in their teens or 20’s
Black cis/het respondents were mostly in their late teens.
Asian (Chinese or Japanese) cis/het respondents either sought out literature specifically or were in high school.
Asian/Pacific Islander cis/het respondents (all other areas of Asia, including India, Korea, like literally everywhere else) were adults. One woman responded “last week.” She isn’t a young woman.
POC/gay respondents: *crickets*
Trans* and genderqueer respondents: *crickets*
Yeah, this is anecdotal as fuck. But if you think about what you read, and what you were given to read as a child, for more than five minutes? It doesn’t seem too outre, does it.
So it’s important to me, this little thing. It’s important to me that if someone opens a book of mine, they can find something of themself in it. Someone who looks and sounds like them. No, I’m not perfect. Yes, some of these characters are in small or minor or supporting roles. Novels only have a few main characters.
But by including characters of all genders, races and orientations, even in small ways like changing one pronoun or a description? We normalize them. We accept and acknowledge the contributions of all these people to our experience. We refuse to erase them from our literature. After all. We write the places we want to be comfortable. We create our worlds.
And by creating these worlds we can change our own, one word at a time.