The number of times I have been talking to other writers, and either heard or said the words “trust your audience” is really rather high if I think about it. Trust your audience. I don’t want to be patronized as a reader, so I shouldn’t do it as a writer.
What about those moments when I don’t trust most people to get it when I’m talking about myself? How do I trust them through the words, with the character?
I run into that, sometimes, because I am aware that the vast majority of my audience is comprised of cis people, of straight people, of people who experience sexual attraction. They’re not necessarily the people I have in mind to write for, but they’re the majority of the people out there who pick up books and, therefore, who will read my work.
I don’t trust them.
I’ve handed a group of cis writers a piece of writing with a trans woman as the main character and the point of view. The scene was about getting information out of a trickster god, but yes, her gender played a part in the scene; tricksters prey on insecurities and that was a big one. But mostly the scene was about information, and cooperation, and how this god-human relationship was going to work.
I gave it to four fantasy writers. One of them asked me what the hell I was doing writing a trans lead in a high fantasy piece, because apparently the issue of people like me living our lives is outside the scope of epic fantasy. One of them needed transgender defined for her before she “got” it, but then she was willing to talk about the argument, so that was all right. One of them just fucking referred to the main character with male pronouns the entire time she was talking about her, and I had to go hit something for a little while before I could respond. No, I haven’t really talked to her since.
In the interest of full disclosure, I gave the scene to them cold, and only one of them [the one whose reaction I haven’t mentioned, because she treated the character the way she’d treat any other one I wrote] knew I was trans myself. Still, the reaction was good at feeding my insecurities that I’m never gonna get to read the type of story I write.
The larger story is YA fantasy, because that’s what I write, so in some ways this was a pretty good indication of my audience. The first critiquer I just intend to prove wrong, and I think the second person’s issue with the scene could have been fixed with a little more context, but the third one just reminded me that there are assholes in my genre and I will never be able to combat that the way I want to. They’re around, they’re not uncommon, and they will continue to say asshole things about what I write and make getting my stuff out there that little bit harder.
But I did teach someone on my writer’s forum what trans meant by giving her a piece of a story, and that scares me a little, because it’s a responsibility I know I’ve got but don’t really want to have. Because I’m writing about individuals being people, not trying to be educational.
And then I need to ask myself what it means to trust these people, these members of my audience. And then I need to trust them as far as I can, say “fuck it,” and continue to just write for the people who need to hear it and hope the cis/straight folks who got this far are empathetic enough to keep up.
And yeah, there are scenes I freeze on, because I need to figure out how to do that.