In June, my husband and I took a five-hour flight from Cancun to San Francisco alongside a lesbian couple and an attorney—a male who took exception to being called scrawny (I didn’t call him scrawny, the self-described “lipstick lesbian” did).
I’ve dedicated this article to them because, 1. They were hilarious, and, 2. They lived their lives differently than me and we bonded effortlessly anyway. Because of them, I’ve discovered the two-cents I’d like to add to the diversity-talk going around lately.
Image Credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net
Most of my readers know I’m a would-be author working on a manuscript with my agent, Josh Getzler. Back in the spring, I was editing under Josh’s guidance, but he hadn’t offered to represent me yet. We had a phone conversation that went about like this:
Josh (excited): The new thing that Danielle (his assistant) and I are hearing from editors is diversity. They want diverse books.
Me (overwhelmed with stress and disappointment): Okay.
Josh: And of course we thought about Shatter.
Me (confused): Okay.
Josh: Well, we wondered how quickly you can get your rewrites done so we can start pitching it. You’ve got such a rich, diverse cast of characters.
Me (shocked): Oh, wait. Oh my gosh. Are you talking about the fact that there are Hispanics in my book? (There are also Caucasians, Asians, Middle Easterners, and an African American.)
Note: No, I didn’t actually say any of those last sentences out loud. I just said “okay.” New York agents who haven’t signed you yet are a little intimidating. Okay?
Let me explain my reaction.
Sure, the diversity I portrayed in my manuscript might seem, you know, diverse to other people but, to me, it was my childhood. I grew up in California, surrounded by Hispanics, Asians and, to a lesser extent, African Americans and people of other ethnicities (though I met my favorite Middle Eastern friend later, in Utah). Granted, such racial diversity among the normal spectrum of popular-to-high-school-nobody was the source of some of my most conflicted feelings about fairness and belonging and identity. That’s why I wanted it in my story. But I’d only written what I knew, which is a tiny slice of the kind of diversity that exists in the world. Did that count?
When my brother found out what my agent had said, he pointed out that the best voices for diversity might be those who are only writing what they know, and sharing it with people who don’t know.
I pondered the wisdom of that.
All right cool, I decided. Overnight, I was in the diversity crowd. I adjusted my hashtags accordingly. My agent signed me. Life was a dream. But, wait. Crap. I was still white (and Mormon—a topic that’ll get its own post soon). Wasn’t my presence in the hip crowd going to piss someone off?
A month later, my husband and I met the two lesbians and the attorney on a flight home. They knew I was from Utah and had five kids. My stats scream “conservative.” Meanwhile, my airplane-mates had five hours of stories about non-monogamous couples prowling for new partners at bath houses and night-clubbing at gay bars. (And hello, the attorney wasn’t even gay. When his gay, former co-workers went clubbing, well, so did he.)
And me? Oh, I’d been to a nightclub. Once. Where I didn’t drink or take anyone home with me but my husband. Because we’re pretty pro-monogamy. And yes, it is time to make a Mormon polygamy joke:
If polygamy means having two wives, doesn’t that make having one wife “monotony?” Ba-dum-ching!
(Fun Fact: Groups who think they are culturally boring, aren’t.)
The point is, my new airplane-homies and I were DIFFERENT. We did different things with our lives.
My other point: We didn’t need to value the same things to click together.
I realized I’d been pretty hard on the world at large. I was so worried about not being accepted that I forgot the point of all the diversity-talk is to remind everyone to accept others. In other words, when I respectfully say my piece about diversity, most other diversity-loving people—shocker—will be respectful, even if they didn’t live or think the way I do, and even if they argue with my points.
It’s like this whole diversity-thing is actually working.
Because embracing diversity isn’t about being the “cool” ethnicity, gender, or age. It isn’t about having the same value system as someone else. It’s about reaching out to a person before you bother to discover such stats.
Because embracing diversity is about living your life and your values openly, bravely, and without defiance, like my lesbian and attorney friends, and letting everyone else do the same.
And finally, because embracing diversity is about being funny.
Okay, that’s probably not true. But funny people rock. My airplane-friends were funny and they were stuck with two Mormons on a five-hour flight. There’s a lesson there.
Thanks, you three, for sharing it with me.