A major campaign for diversity in literature is happening right now! You can join the discussion by using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr etc. It’s a great initiative drawing attention to the lack of diversity across many genres and drawing even more attention to those books acknowledging if not celebrating diversity across race, religion, sexual identity and more!
I’ve been following the discussion and several comments have got me thinking… One of the comments was about labels and the necessity for explicit statements that eschew any ambiguity be it religious, sexual or otherwise. This was considered particularly important in YA where many young people struggle with defining their identity and finding that sense of self. Seeing statements like “I am not gay. I am bisexual.” from a favourite character can have an extremely powerful and positive affect on readers who identify with that character. Similarly, explicit statements regarding religious affiliation and even ethnic identity seem to be considered a generally powerful, positive thing wanted if not needed by readers, particularly teen readers.
Affirmations like these are great and I absolutely agree that having characters be unafraid to categorically state who they are can offer the reader a transformative experience. But this made me think about my own writing and characters.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of labels. I don’t like the idea of being pigeon-holed, of only being able to be one thing or defined by the characteristics of a certain label to the exclusion of others. In my own life, I’m all for fluidity and actively avoid labels whenever possible, at the same time understanding that labels often make life easier for others to understand me so I will use them in those circumstances when I feel they may minimize confusion or feelings of discomfort.
Growing up, I would’ve loved to read books about characters who were fluid – in their gender, in their religious beliefs, in their subculture because that’s what I was. In a way, the conversation about the need for labels makes me uncomfortable even as an adult because I still feel like the black sheep, like the odd one out who doesn’t want to be just one thing.
In the same way other authors are writing for teens to give them the confidence to make explicit calls on identity, I’d like to think I’m writing for those readers who either don’t like or don’t care about labels, readers for whom labels are meaningless or best avoided because being fluid, being changeable and anti-categorization is okay too.
Oh gosh, is ‘fluid’ a label? Maybe living life label-free isn’t really possible but I like to write about characters who aren’t pre-occupied with labels, who couldn’t care less whether they fit a certain letter of an acronym or not. I want to write about characters who are happy being who they are without feeling the need to be classified or forced to conform based on an extrinsic set of characteristics.
And this is why we need diverse books because everyone is different and everyone has a story to tell…
How do you feel about labels? Are they important or a non-issue for you?