By Sondi Warner
Love wins. Two of my favorite words hooking up in one of the most impactful sentences known to all of humanity, not just one community.
I write LGBTQ+ romance because I’m a Lesbian and a believer in the victoriousness of love. I’m also Black, nonbinary (she/her, they/them), and neurodivergent, which lends extra color to the spectrum of my Pride All Year Long. My vocation allows me to develop and bring to life a wide variety of characters, some of whom remind me of myself and some who are wildly different. Therefore, I am constantly thinking about the importance of diversity in LGBTQ+ stories.
Over the last few years, many of us have spent a significant amount of time reflecting on what sets us apart–and for good reason. The Pandemic sent us to our respective corners and forced us to confront our own thoughts and feelings.
In my opinion, one of the positive outcomes of the incredibly distressing global crisis was that, even though it forced us to abandon our natural social instincts, we saw undeniable proof that everyone is much more alike than different. As a result, we emerge from our cocoons with new perspectives, and there is a desire to find our tribes and discover where our unique self-expression fits best.
Diverse LGBTQ+ representation in books, television, movies, and other entertainment mediums helps bring visibility to people living at multiple intersections of marginalization. It not only gives audiences relatable characters to champion. It also broadens our worldview, revealing the rich complexity of the human experience. But it’s not enough to give token nods to diversification.
It’s all too easy to filter our understanding of the groups we’re not a part of through the lens of one or two major icons. After all, by definition, icons are representative symbols worthy of veneration. Even though we understand that no community is a monolith, and we might feel a twinge of guilt for calling RuPaul the face of drag queens everywhere or Lil Nas X the posterboy for Black gay men, it’s just easier to latch onto the rare LGBTQ+ person of color, disabled or neurodivergent person that we can find.
The bottom line is, there isn’t a lot of diverse LGBTQ+ rep out there. Some authors feel uncomfortable delving into writing outside of their own experiences. Others are happy to write diverse lit but may feel there isn’t an audience for it. How can we foster an organic desire for more diversification in literature for the next generation of readers and writers?
One method I have utilized is deconstructing how “diversification” in LGBTQ+ stories can look. It’s a common mistake to use the word as a stand-in for adding token Black or Brown characters. However, there are plenty of other ways to respectfully showcase perspectives that have little to do with race or ethnicity. Diversification is a rare opportunity for writers to positively shape the culture by bringing awareness to non-mainstream conditions.
More realistic and positive representations of people living with mental illness can have an outsized effect on how this population is treated in real life. Furthermore, readers experiencing similar situations may benefit from seeing characters who persevere through the obstacle of living with mental health issues.
Writing about a character from a less well-known socioeconomic background can expose readers to financial hardships they might not otherwise be aware of. For example, in my latest work, Into the Wild Dark, I provide a glimpse into the difficulties of being unhoused, including social isolation, reliance on extended-stay hotels, and the burden of asking for help.
Readers are hungry for stories featuring characters with disabilities and neurodivergent characters, as well. From people on the autism spectrum to people with ADHD, writers have an opportunity to change the way the public understands and interacts with those who are not neurotypical. As someone who has struggled to interact with others because of the way my brain works, I always get excited when I read books with characters who think like me.
Other ways to diversify include writing characters of different faiths, characters with distinct cultural practices that are outside of the norm, characters who are of an age that is generally not explored in literature, and many more.
As human beings, we have a fundamental desire to feel connected to others, while also maintaining our individuality. It is therefore essential that LGBTQ+ books reflect the diversity of our experiences, and show that the unifying theme of all stories, no matter the genre, is, at core, love itself. To be human is to love, and love always triumphs.
Q1. What in particular made you gravitate toward Wattpad (as an LGBTQIA+ writer) as your chosen writing platform?
A1. I found the Wattpad community to be an overall welcoming space for LGBTQIA+ writers. Right away, I connected with the Queer Fiction Book Club and found friends who were willing to take the writing journey with me. I also stumbled across other LGBTQIA+ authors outside of the club, and I was floored to discover all these people were writing books with gay, lesbian, trans, and nonbinary characters, which had never been mainstream in publishing before. It made me feel like Wattpad was the progressive place to be.
Q2. Many people come to Wattpad to express themselves and find community. What advice would you give to a new writer, looking to express themselves by writing an LGBTQIA+ story?
A2. My biggest advice is to post consistently. Then find stories that you connect with and make it a point to read and comment and maybe even reach out to the writers. Sometimes Creators, in particular, can be very busy, but many of us work hard to make time for our readers, and we love to hear from you. Wattpad isn’t just for showcasing stories. Building community is the greatest feature of the platform, but it takes engagement, engagement, engagement! So, don’t be afraid to post your story on schedule, connect with other writers, and really engage with your readers. You’ll soon see results.
Q3. How did you feel the first time you came across a story that you saw yourself represented in? How did that inspire your writing?
A3. Spot-on representation is rare, but when it happens, it’s magic. It allows a person to feel seen and respected. The first time I came across a story that I saw myself in, I felt like that book became a dear friend who was nodding their head in understanding of me with every thought and experience on the page. I had a deeper connection to all of the characters as a result, and that made me want to tell others about it. Representation is more than a word. It’s a gift to readers.
Q4. Have you learned anything about yourself through writing?
A4. Writing is a meditative experience for me. It allows me to enter the stillness of my subconscious while my mind is busy crafting the story. When I go back to reread what I have written, I discover what I am actually thinking and feeling about situations happening in my real life. While working on Lead Me Astray, I learned that I am a lot more resilient than I knew. I am passionate, where I used to think I was cool-headed and detached. I can also give myself good advice through my stories. That was a new insight from Into the Wild Dark. I think every writer leaves traces of who they are in their work, and I am excited to see what new facet of my personality unfolds in my next work.
Sondi Warner is the author of Lead Me Astray, an Amazon Editor’s Pick Best Romance released March 2022 through W by Wattpad Books. When not writing, Sondi loves studying astrology, trying her hand at gardening, and painting landscapes. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with her life partner, their four children, their cat, Se7en, and dog, Jack.