I’ve been putting off writing about #yesallwomen. I’ve never been much of a blogger when it comes to social and political topics – I’ve always preferred to put my thoughts into fictional form. But as more and more people picked up the topic, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on blog posts such as this powerful one from my friend and writing colleague Jamie Wyman, I had to wonder about my decision.
Fiction can be a way of universalizing experience. There’s something to be said for the objectivity needed to translate personal experiences into a fictional form, and that objectivity can produce something that people may relate to more broadly than memoir. That’s one theory, anyway. But objectivity creates distance and distance is an avoidance method, a way of separating yourself from a subject. It could be considered cowardice. So should I reconsider my decision? Would it be less cowardly for me to step out from behind this barrier of fiction and tell my story?
Maybe. I’m not going to. Let me be clear that I do not, in any way, criticize the many people who have come forward to tell their stories, as part of #yesallwomen and in many other posts that have been flooding social media recently. Some of these people express a feeling of catharsis as they reveal long-held secrets. Some hope to show support for those who have experienced similar mistreatment. Some want to take a stand against a culture of silence and shame. I am continually awed by how much bravery these people demonstrate as they speak out.
But I feel there are other forms of bravery. The reasons I’ve listed are not ones that resonate with me personally. I’ve told my story many times in other venues; telling it again wouldn’t achieve anything in my eyes. I’m drawn in a different direction, to analyze and synthesize my story into something new. It might seem like a step back to others, but I see it as a step up, maybe a step to the side, not so much trying to put my experiences behind me as to use them as a vantage point to see the world differently. That viewpoint is what I want to communicate. That’s what I’ve learned and what I want to share.
This can still be a struggle. The Sea Between the Worlds and The Source in the Desert contain a character who’s probably my closest analog in anything I’ve written, although he’s still miles away from me (the gender change being a case in point). In the first draft of Source, his voice was practically absent; I didn’t make him a narrative character. I realized I was distancing myself from the story I was trying to tell about him – a story I was telling in part about me – because I didn’t want to watch him go through that in such detail. It was a mistake and I had to revise it. It felt like a brave move. When it felt like a fist to the solar plexus, I knew I’d gotten it right.
There are many ways to tell a story. I’ve found one. Others have found their own ways. One isn’t better than another. But I hope that the discourse about sexism and assault can eventually evolve from the polarized state it’s in now on social media, where misogynists spew hate and victims have no room to be anything but victims. I hope we can take a step up and see things from a new vantage point.