A wonderful story, and some great insights. Thank you.
Also being a writer, I find that it has taken time in my development as a writer for my characters to become less like me. I started out writing minorities as minor characters. I finally moved up to women and Latinos as main characters. My recent short stories have explored main characters of different skin color, different religion, differing physical abilities, different ages, different sexualities, and a fair number of non-humans (I write a lot of sci-fi and fantasy).
I find one of the biggest deterrents is the looming accusation of “cultural appropriation.” It is sometimes hard to drown that out and focus on “representing diversity,” and making sure I do my research about the challenges particular Others face.