It would be no surprise to those who know me that what drives my work and what I write about are issues I am passionate for. Whether that’s creating visibility for Asian characters or giving queer folks happy endings (things I care adamantly about), what drives us as artists is deep-seated care for real-world ideas.
Whether that be injustice or beautiful music, passion for something in “the bigger picture” is what drives us. And there are many things wrong with the world today. The 2016 presidential election. Mental health crises. Islamophobia. Transgender rights. War. Zika. There is no shortage of things to write ardently about and with fervour.
And yet, mistakes happen. Last summer, I was enrolled in a children’s literature class and read books on kids in poverty, trans kids, kids who are disabled, etc. It seemed like no matter how well-intentioned these books were, the class always found a flaw in them. Granted, many were written decades ago and the world has become more cognizant of the nuances of social issues. But knowing that good intentions can backfire gave me quite a bit of fear. What if I want to write a story with a meaningful intention, but it ends up more problematic than helpful?
Last semester, I wrote a short film about a trans kid. I was very committed to the story, and I knew it was an important story, but as someone who isn’t trans I was afraid I would make a discriminatory mistake somewhere. So I went to a forum (r/asktransgender) and posted a brief summary of the premise there. Much to my relief, the overall response (from people with real trans lived experiences) was positive and encouraging.
But I know the story can’t be perfect. Those r/asktransgender folks never saw the finished product (and neither have I, I don’t have the financial resources to make this film–just yet)! But if and when the finished product does come out, no doubt will I expect feedback, positive and negative, about how I handled the subject matter.
I expect that feedback. And I’ll accept it. After all, there’s always more to learn, and always an even better way to do things.
The truth is, everything is problematic, at least on some level. Do it anyway. Push the envelope. Tell the stories you want to tell, to the best of your ability. If you have good intentions, people will see that.
Oh, and never underestimate the value of running things through an expert in the subject matter! Even if it’s your lived experience, you might not be an expert, you know. I’m Chinese-Canadian, but honestly I only know my own lived experience as a Chinese-Canadian. I could sure use some additional education on the matter.