They say that dreams are the subconscious's way of speaking to the conscious. It's our way of trying to nut out things that have been plaguing our minds.
I must have a lot of things plaguing my thoughts, because I actually recall many of the dreams that I have. Many of my story ideas have started as dreams. Over the years, I've developed ways to cling to those last images that hit me during the moments between REM sleep and waking. When I sit at the keyboard, I start writing and let the story develop.
However, when I sat down to write the other morning, it wasn't the dream itself that I wanted to write, but rather a commentary on the dream's subject matter. That commentary is this blog post.
My dream was about a woman who wanted to write diverse stories, complete with the erotic scenes, but was constantly persecuted for doing so. In her everyday life, she was forced to write many of her stories in secret, with her friends pounding on the door, demanding that she show them the latest works. But the moment she showed them, out came the judgments and the hatred. So, she was forced to hide what she truly wanted the world to see. It was sad, because her stories were filled with beauty and romance, and a world that was accepting of all—yet, that was not her real life.
I guess you can say that it was a nightmare within a dream, and in many ways, my subconscious was telling me to stop worrying about what might be the world reception to my stories and just share the buggers. Get my writing out there. But there is an underlying fear that goes deep into my psyche.
As I traversed the path from my bedroom to my computer, I knew exactly what had sparked that dream. And I knew that I had to speak up about how things have gotten so out of control on the public stage—terrifying as that thought might be.
There is a genuine fear that hangs over my head about being persecuted for the stories that I write. The world says that it wants diverse stories with diverse characters, but there are those who will publicly attack a writer for even attempting such a thing. At the same time, there are those who will go for the throat when a writer tries to stay under the radar, sticking to stories that rest in the comfort zone.
Yet, those of us who want to speak up about this duplicitous discrimination genuinely feel that we can't say anything at all—for fear of being lynched.
The fear is real, and by making my fear publicly known, I open myself up to attack. But I'm doing it anyway, because if I don't, my dream from the other night—the one where a female writer wrote her diverse stories in secret and never shared them with the world for fear of being persecuted for doing so—will reoccur again and again. I know how my brain works. My subconscious wants me to understand that I, as a writer, should feel confident to write whatever I want to write without the fear of attack—and other writers should feel that too.
I do need to apologize to my readers in advance. This post is long, but it needed to be said.
Why this dream about diversity and persecution now?
If you are a writer, you have likely seen the chaos that took the romance writing community by storm over the Christmas / New Year period. It was so big that it has literally brought Romance Writers of America (RWA) to its knees, destroying several writing careers along the way. It was in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and countless other regional and international newspapers. Discussions have filled the threads of multiple forums, some with heated debates and emotions, and others… Well…
What started as an ethics complaint about one writer quickly became a witch hunt in the name of diversity and the fight against racism. Twitter blew up. And the days that followed could only be described as a train wreck on steroids.
Before I go much further, this post is NOT a commentary about what happened in RWA or the Twitter storm that happened over Christmas / New Years. I'm not disputing in any way that there might be some deep-rooted issues of discrimination within the publishing industry as a whole. And you will get no argument out of me about how poorly the RWA affair was handled. I will even gladly admit that the way some people behaved on Twitter totally sickens me.
There was no doubt about it, mob psychology took over and the pitchforks tossed as much fuel as they could onto the fire such that the flames could be seen around the entire globe.
But that is the root of my fear.
Every time anyone has ever said anything that went against what the mob thought, right or wrong, the lynch mob attacked in force. And it's not just the recent events surrounding the RWA scandal that has brought out this ugly behavior in people.
If you look throughout history, you can see the same behavior again and again, where people start pointing fingers at others (the innocent and the guilty), warping the evidence however they see fit to make everyone, including the family dog, seem guilty as hell.
The witch hunts that spread throughout Europe, eventually leading to Salem, Massachusetts. The McCarthy era and how everyone in Hollywood seemed to be a communist. World War II and the persecution of Jews and their sympathizers.
The #MeToo movement. The social shaming that has resulted from our joint fight against climate change.
The persecution of the Christians in Ancient Rome.
It doesn't matter where you look, you will find those who are so quick to point the finger as they try to protect themselves from the lynch mob that is gathering up their pitchforks and the tar. And with the latest witch hunt, I'm surprised that no one has set up the brazen bull yet.
There are two sides to every situation, but the fallout takes no sides.
History is written by the victors. As such, the outcomes are always tainted with the views of the victors. But there are those of us who are capable of seeing both sides of the argument and foreseeing all the outcomes, the good and the bad.
The latest witch hunt, sparked by what has happened within the RWA, will likely generate shifts within the publishing industry for the better, allowing for more diverse stories, creating a colorful bookshelf that reflects the true diverse nature of our society. However, the mob that is sweeping through Twitter will also generate a whole bunch of writers who never share their stories, diverse or not, because they fear being attacked.
The beginning stages of the shift towards diversity has come at the cost. It's exclusivity disguised in the form of trying to be inclusive. Writers everywhere are running in fear, afraid that they will be accused of being racist or succumbing to cultural appropriation because they just happen to have included a character or custom within in their stories that someone believed that they didn't have the right to use. The attackers are making assumptions without getting their facts straight. Instead, they stoke the fires and call forth the mob.
I have witnessed it numerous times—far too many to count.
Last year, a writing buddy, successfully published writer with traditional and self-published books, came under attack because one of her characters just happened to be of a Chinese/Scottish/Australian mix. The head of the lynch mob had made this assumption that no such mix was even possible, yet, sitting within the writer's own family tree was that exact mix.
Another writing buddy sent her manuscript out to beta readers and was attacked because she included some lines that spoke about Judaism. The attacker had totally berated her for even having the audacity to include references to Judaism in her manuscript, insisting that she had nothing to even base her comments on. "Cultural appropriation!" The attacker was forced to quickly back pedal and apologize after learning that the writer WAS Jewish.
And to learn that the latest lynch mob was started by a woman who made some comment about a writer's story that just happened to have a character with blue eyes…
What next? Will you attack me because I, a human being with flesh and blood, have blue eyes? Will you attack me if I just happen to write characters that don't?
So, we're damned if we do write diverse stories, and we're damned if we don't.
Where do the attacks stop?
It has come to my attention that there is now a group of bloggers and book reviewers who are encouraging others to go out of their way to start diversity shaming other writers. They call writers racist or discriminatory who just happen to include passages that they didn't like in those carefully crafted books. Some of the books they're attacking were written, and published, years ago, when the world was different. Some of their comments are valid, but the outright slander is sowing fear and hatred that is actually doing more harm than good when it comes to generating diverse stories.
Unfortunately, because of my interest in social media and online behavior, I can't stop watching the slow-motion train wreck turning into a train wreck on steroids. I want to look away, but like the rubbernecker on the road, I have to slow down and look. And it just keeps getting worse.
Twitter, in particular, has become this festering toxic environment that requires a HazMat suit and breathing apparatus to even enter. Left, right and center, online behavior has lost all sense of civility, and all because a select few have chosen to hide their bad behavior behind diversity and the #OwnVoices card.
The racism and diversity needle has flipped to the other side. Any action, regardless its motivations, that deliberately seeks to oppress the voices of one sector of our population, whether by design or by consequence, is an action that is rooted in discrimination.
And it has to stop!
It shouldn't matter to anyone what religion another person follows. Sexual orientation should be irrelevant too. (Though I will say something if I encounter you making out with your other half in the middle of a park bench. Single sex or opposite sex relationships, it's all the same to me. "Find a room!") A person who is in a wheelchair deserves just as much respect as one who is not, and the way a person chooses to dress should have no bearing on the way they are treated (though interestingly we actually DO judge a book by its cover). The location of your birth is not something that you can control, and the color of your skin comes down to genetics.
(I would love to say that there is nothing anyone could do about genetics, but I know the technology to modify DNA in human embryos exists and has been used. Whether that technology should be used is a debate that I'll leave up to the philosophers and ethics specialists. Science fiction has already told us of the danger in using this technology. There are no easy answers.)
Our books need to include a diverse range of backgrounds, making people consider the difficult questions. Without healthy debate, expressing both sides of the equation, no solutions can ever be found. But when an entire population demographic goes silent because they're afraid…
And we are afraid. We're terrified.
It has progressed to the point where there is no such thing as a healthy debate anymore, with two sides expressing opposing views. Because the mob attacks the moment you show any sign that you don't agree with them.
Silence is NOT golden.
You have no idea how scared I am. Just the thought of sharing this post with the world has reduced me to tears, absolutely terrified of the backlash. But if I don't stand up and draw the line, saying enough is enough…
I am a white heterosexual woman married to an engineer (who can sometimes have the emotional spectrum of a peanut, though my husband has informed me that a peanut has an emotional spectrum much broader than he does). I have blue eyes and was born with blonde hair that did darken to a light brown over time. Thanks to a bottle, I was a brunette for a while, but have gone back to that definite blonde, but not because I WANT to be blonde, but because I'm trying to hide the gray. (Yes, I'm going gray.)
I was able to benefit from the efforts of the women who came in the generations before me, being able to study engineering when I went to university, but even then, there was only 10 females in my graduating class of 90 students. My entire life, I was the only female around in many scenarios, and it likely led to my quick wit and sometimes sexist commentary. It was a defense mechanism developed over a youth filled with bra snapping and body shaming.
But how does one even begin to protect themselves when the shaming is so public and without a face to attach to the mud slinging, as it is on Twitter?
I, like so many out there, just went silent, unwilling to put my reputation on the line for fear that the mob will come after me, but I can't stay silent anymore. The silence has resulted in my subconscious attacking me while I sleep.
There is only one message that I can take away from a dream about a woman who writes her diverse stories in private for fear of persecution. The writer me needs to write the stories that needs to be told in a way that only I can tell them, and I need to share those stories with the world, despite the fear, regardless of the consequences.
I don't care if you are black, white, Chinese, Japanese, homosexual, heterosexual, transgender, male, female, in a wheelchair, not in a wheelchair, short, tall, or any other variant of primate that might exist. No one has the right to cast judgment on you without knowing ANYTHING about you.
No one has the right to make you feel inferior in any way.
No one has the right to discriminate against you and treat you badly because of it.
Step back and really look at the world around you. It is not just white heterosexual males who have hidden behind so-called righteousness and superiority. It is those who are black. It is those who are Chinese. It is NeoNazis. It is Muslims. It is Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants. It is those who identify as female and those who identify as male. It is even those who identify as something else entirely. It is those who are openly homosexual and it is those who are openly heterosexual. It is those who are indigenous to a land and it is those who have immigrated. And yes, it is the white heterosexual male.
It is ALL of us! No one sector of the population is completely innocent in this. We are all responsible for the constant fear that overhangs our society!
The call for diversity is NOT an excuse for poor behavior, regardless of the platform.
Diversity does NOT mean exclusivity. Yet, we, as a society, have let diversity become just that.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, and I feel confident in saying that this was NOT it. Attacking an entire sector of the human population just so another sector can get ahead was what he was fighting against. He wanted equality—true equality—not some misshapen sense of "getting what is owed to us."
How many times do we need to repeat history, pointing the finger at all of those around us?
I don't want to be afraid anymore. I'm only a small fry, yet to make her mark on the publishing industry, but when I do finally step forth into the limelight, I want to be able to hold my head high and know that I told the best story that I could—a story of my heart. I accept that not everyone is going to like my stories—writing is like all art forms in that respect—but I want to feel the confidence and strength to be able to call people out for poor behavior that doesn't lead to healthy debate.
I want to know that my children will have a voice that will be heard. I want them to be brave enough to stand up for what they think is right, to be able to have those sensitive discussions that will shape the future of our society without fear of persecution.
I want the fear to stop!
There are no easy solutions to all of this. There will always be someone who wants to oppress others. History has taught us that. But history has also shown us that despite the fear, there is always one voice that will eventually stand against the mob—damned the consequences.
As terrified as I am, it's time for my voice to ring out and stand with others, defining the line in the sand that the mob cannot pass.
If you are out to needlessly destroy another, taking down another writer, all for the sake of your warp sense of diversity… No more.
The fear stops here.