You’ve done your research. You’ve stepped outside of your box to write a story about a character that is of a different gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or ethnicity from your own. You’ve spoken to people, visited ethnic enclaves, and read religious texts. And you’ve created an entertaining story that you feel has represented all of the interesting segments of your character’s life well. And you’re swelling with pride as your graphic novel hits the stands.
And then the complaints start. Some fans think you’ve attempted to ridicule their culture with the character’s comments. Some fans think you’ve exploited their race with your homage to certain tropes. Some fans think you’ve painted their gender and sexual orientation in a bad light due to how you’ve chosen to depict the character’s romantic relationships.
You’re nervous. You might be used to fans bitching about ridiculous stuff such as how Superman’s logo should be drawn or how long it should take Wolverine to heal after being set on fire, but complaints about how characters of a certain race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender are depicted are serious. No one wants the difficult-to-shake reputation of being labeled a misogynist, racist, or homophobe. No one wants to offend when such important and inflammatory social attributes are involved. I think that people are so afraid of offending that they are actually afraid to create. They are fearful of stepping outside of the box. That’s disheartening. Sadly, there are no easy answers. You have to find a balance between accepting criticism from others and having confidence in your own work. After all, sometimes those complaints will not be valid—and sometimes you will have truly done something that was inadvertently offensive and harmful. Decisions will have to be made.
I wish an easy answer existed because I struggle with this myself. Do I avoid creating characters with certain attributes because they might be considered racial stereotypes—even though those characters are based on actual people in my life who possess those very same attributes? Am I reinforcing stereotypes or lampooning certain cultures just by sharing my own personal experiences? I don’t know. I’ve come to the decision that I should simply create what is in my heart and be willing to listen with an open mind once those creations have been shared. Is that the right answer? Not at all. It’s just the right one for me.