Every public conversation I've ever seen or engaged in around representation of minority populations in literature and other media has drawn at least one (if not many) dissenters with arguments that range from, "It doesn't matter. It's not that big of a deal," to rabid defense of the status quo.
Well, it does matter. It is a big deal. And new voices and perspectives aren't erasing the ones that already exist. Diversity doesn't devalue the majority, it adds to the richness of our collective fabric.
I have been writing stories since I was five years old. I grew up reading "classic" science fiction. My imaginary friends were Asimov's robots. My dream was to become an astronaut and discover Rama. I wrote stories about Star Wars characters and Heinlein's Puppet Masters and undiscovered aspects of the Ringworld.
But I also wrote other stories. Stories I understood from a very young age that I had to keep secret. I wrote about power and punishment. I wrote about spanking and obedience. I wrote about love and surrender.
I didn't understand at the time exactly why these things had to stay hidden, but I knew that they did. Those kinds of stories weren't on TV or in movies. There weren't characters like me in the books I read... not any of them. Not even in the most distant speculative worlds did I see characters who had the feelings I had, had relationships like I had dreamed about and written about since childhood. So, I kept my stories secret. I burned each piece of my writing as soon as I finished it. I lived constantly under a shadow of fear of being discovered. But still I was compelled to write.
As I got older, I began to understand that there was an "underworld" of people who were, ostensibly, similar to me. I saw it in police procedurals, in medical dramas, in horror stories - sadism, torture, perversion. I saw myself but as if in a broken mirror, distorted and grimy. I saw myself through a haze of shame and perversion. I saw myself in characters written as outcasts, as criminals, as psychopaths without empathy or morality. I saw myself in characters slanted to "loose" values, and questionable morals, at best, outsiders, at worst, killers.
I got even older and began to understand the politics of sexuality. I saw Matthew Shepard tortured and strung on a fence post for being different. My own father sneered at two men holding hands (just holding hands!) on the street. "Disgusting!" he would say. I watched the way the world treated people who were gay and I recoiled. But despite the hate, there were gay and lesbian authors telling their stories. There were movies and TV shows that were changing the narratives around what it meant to be gay. They were in places where I could see them, see the reflections they offered. The narratives grew slowly, painfully, imperfectly, but they were there… trying...emerging through the hate.
Hopeful, I waited for stories about me. I searched for them. I snatched at false hopes only to be disappointed by stereotypes, false equivalencies, and clichés. There were no authors I saw who shared my identity. No TV shows changing the narrative of what it meant to be like me. I feared what it meant for me, about me, a person whose public stories still centered entirely around caricatures of sexuality, and none of them positive. I feared what would happen to me if anyone, fed steadily on these false representations, discovered who I was. To save myself, I tried to exorcise the part of me that was different. I tried to bury it and forget it existed. I tried to be normal, to be vanilla, to pass.
I failed. I kept coming back to writing, compelled to spit out the secrets inside of me. Compelled to see myself clearly even if only in my own words. I turned thousands of pages to ash and berated myself for my weakness and cloaked myself in shame.
Then I came upon a piece of advice about writing. It was from an author whose name I can't remember, but it resonated so deeply I cried. She said, "Write the stories you want to read. Especially the ones no one else has told."
I realized that, while the rest of the world didn't see me, didn't understand me, discriminated against, pathologized, and even criminalized people like me, I could write the stories no one else had written. I could write the stories of people like me. If I had never seen myself in the stories of others, maybe others could see themselves in mine.
I stopped burning my writing.
I was young. My writing was horrible (dear God, so horrible), poorly crafted and full of immature angst and drama. But it was the first writing anywhere that I'd ever seen that told a true story of people like me. It was the only mirror that didn't show me broken and dirty in its reflection.
I kept writing. I kept refining my craft and my mirror. Eventually, it wasn’t enough for me to write only for myself. Eventually, I began a blog and started sharing my stories with the world.
Now, I write about my Sir and my Sub Brother and our life together. I write about our relationship and our dynamics. I write about power and punishment. I write about spanking and obedience. I write about love and surrender.
I also write about cooking dinner, and living with depression and PTSD, and navigating a triad, and buying groceries, and staggering under crippling anxiety. I write about being a human being who was born out of the mainstream.
I write about being more than a caricature of who or how I fuck.
I write the stories I wish someone had written for me. I create the mirror I wish I could have looked into growing up.
Because I have to keep this part of myself compartmentalized, very few people who know me in real life can know I write these stories. I lie to my family, my coworkers, and my friends. I censor everything I say on social media. It gets lonely. It gets depressing. It feels thankless and pointless at times to keep going. To keep forging this path through untamed land, without guides, or even footsteps to follow in. Sometimes it feels like too much and I want to give it all up.
Then, every so often I go into my analytics and I look at my visitors and I see the visits... sometimes one person in one night reads 30 or 40 or 50 of my posts. I see people visiting again and again from India, from Saudi Arabia, from Singapore, from Egypt, from Brazil, from all over Europe and North America. I never hear from these people, they don't leave comments or any mark of their presence. But they visit. And they visit again. And many of them will revisit certain posts again and again. And I realize that, even never knowing who they are, what their stories are, mine have resonated with them. The stories I write, about people like me. The stories that didn't exist for me. The stories that largely still don't exist for me. I'm making them exist for other people.
And maybe, just maybe, someone who grew up like me, seeing themselves reflected in that broken mirror through a film of shame and discrimination will find my writing and realize they are not alone, that their stories matter, their lives matter, the way they love matters, is seen, and is real.
When authors write the stories of the people who have been made invisible, when the people themselves who have been made invisible write their own stories, when the stories of the invisible people become visible, we take another step toward visibility ourselves.
It matters that we can see ourselves in the stories of our world. It matters that we can see ourselves in the authors of those stories. We have a long way to go as collective humanity to bring us all into the light. As of today, the laws of my state still make my partner legally vulnerable to prosecution for spanking me. Race and gender and all of the axes of identity and intersection still push people deep into the shadows, press people down into the darkness, make people invisible, even to themselves.
So I write my stories and send them out from the shadows. I leave my footprints for others like me to follow. I reach out for the ones forging their own paths, creating their own mirrors, and I reach down to lift up the voices rising from deeper than me in the darkness.
It matters that we tell our stories. It matters that we lift up each others' voices. It matters that we support each other, particularly those reaching out from the deepest shadows.
Representation matters. Visibility matters. We matter. Our stories are the mirrors, unbroken and untarnished, that we all so very much need to be able to see ourselves in.
Shadow is a writer and blogger at https://sanctumia.com/. She maintains a “vanilla” blog as well which must remain nameless for purposes of mystery and intrigue and because discrimination is still a thing. She has been writing fiction for 35 years and discovered the power of narrative nonfiction writing 10 years ago. She writes in the intersections between mental illness, power exchange relationships, and social justice.