There Isn’t Always a Right Answer

Writing as a socially aware white able-bodied home-owning cis-presenting man often seems like there’s no way to do things “right.”

If my writing doesn’t address social justice issues, I’m opening myself up to criticism that I’m helping to bury them. This criticism is justified; participating in the mainstream culture that relegates women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc. to secondary roles, or none at all, is unjust. If I were to get called out on it, I would deserve it.

If I do address these issues, if I include characters with attributes that have been oppressed, then I’m risking creating something that’s hurtful to one group or another, because writing empathetically about people different from me is very difficult. Chances are very good I’ll get something wrong, and when I get called out on it, it would be justified.

And even if I do the hard work to get it mostly right, I’m risking taking up space in the public consciousness that could be occupied by someone who is writing about the same issue who is actually impacted personally. Even if I got it right, I could be seen as profiting from another person’s pain.

So no matter what I do or how well I do it, I risk being subject to criticism, and that can feel unfair.

But I recognize that being able to act in a space, confident that I will be immune to nearly all criticism, is itself an aspect of privilege. So I need to get used to the fact that my actions can be scrutinized, and I may very well get something wrong, and there may be consequences for that. People who don’t have my white able-bodied home-owning cis-presenting male privilege live that way all the time, constantly being at risk of consequences far worse than just being called out on social media.

So while I should stay aware of the pitfalls, and should work to avoid them, I recognize that I will run afoul of them no matter what I write.