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The Myth of the One True Experience

August 29, 2012

Something I see a lot is criticism leveled at authors about how they haven’t written an experience authentically. What do I mean?

Straight women can’t write the Gay Experience.

White men can’t write the Black Experience.

An atheist can’t write the Muslim Experience.

On and on it goes. From the Trans* Experience to the Christian Experience to the Woman Experience, everyone is accused of not being able to write authentically. This really bothers me as an author, mainly because I watch authors backed into corners where there is no answer that won’t dig them in deeper for assumed sins. This boils down to Fiction Is Fiction, in my opinion, and with fiction, there is a lot of leeway. Especially if you aren’t writing contemporary fiction. But, for a segment of readers, authors who write anything other than their own life experiences are committing the worst crime imaginable.

I disagree. Why? Because, quite simply, there is no One True Experience. There just isn’t. My experience as a pagan-bisexual-woman will not be the same experience as another pagan-bisexual-woman. We may have similar experiences, but in the end, they are not related to one another in the slightest because we both experienced something different.

From what I’ve observed, the outcries of the One True Experience seem offended that anyone other than those they approve of are writing about aspect of their everyday lives. Well, tough. 🙂 That’s life. A factual error is all well and good to point out, but writing thousands of vitriolic words because someone wrote a black character who happened to be well-educated and wealthy doesn’t mean they’ve done a disservice to the lives of black people. There are well-educated, wealthy black people in the world, and their experiences are just as valid as a poverty-stricken, struggling black character.

Same with any other type of character. For people screaming for authors to step away from harmful stereotypes, I feel that a lot of the conversation is, in essence, readers demanding authors write socially acceptable stereotypes. While stereotypes are fine in general terms, as they do exist and there’s a reason why they exist, perpetuating that there is only one valid way to experience a life is just… narrow-minded and silly.

There is no One True Experience. It doesn’t exist. There are millions of experiences, all of them different with different results, and it would be nice to celebrate that diversity rather than stomp our feet and demand authors conform to unnecessary restrictions in how to write their characters.

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