My sister has Down Syndrome. She has a hilarious personality, gets grumpy when she watches too much TV, and says funny things like, "[Bro], I have some advice for your driver's test. Cut your hair." She's a big and special part of my life, and I always sort of had the intent to write either a book about her or a book about a character with Down Syndrome.
But I couldn't, because I was sure I would get it wrong.
I was worried that I wouldn't be able to represent her properly as a character in a book. My thought always went along the lines of "I am not someone with Down Syndrome, therefore I can never accurately portray someone with Down Syndrome in a book, therefore I will not write them."
And I didn't.
But then I realized a few things.
1. People with Down Syndrome are still people.
2. Everyone is different.
3. I am a person.
I know writing a character with Down Syndrome would require some amount of research just because of the way a life is affected by that, but what I realized in realizing these things is that I'm not writing "Person with Down Syndrome", I'm writing "Person".
And I can do that.
I became unstuck from the thought of "what if I can't get my sister exactly right?" because I realized that yeah, my sister has Down Syndrome but she isn't THE representation of everyone with Down Syndrome, just like I'm not THE representation of 18-year-old white Canadians with curly hair.
My sister is not a representation; she's a person. And if I chose to write a character with Down Syndrome, that character isn't a representation either. They are a person who is different than others with Down Syndrome and that's OK because people are different from each other.
The #yalitchat on Twitter the other day was about diversity in YA. And I think part of the reason why there is so few books with POC (Person of Colour) MCs or anything other than Caucasian MCs is because of this weird fear writers have (including me) that they're going to get it wrong or they're going to misrepresent someone along the way.
We have this mindset of "I'm not that, so I can't write that."
But I think that we need to stop worrying about that because people aren't just lumped into one huge group of White Canadian Females with Curly Hair that all have the same personality and charateristics and likes and dislikes, or one huge group of People With Down Syndrome who are all clones of each other and we've got to get our character-clone exactly right.
Stop being so afraid, and just write people who are different, because every person is different.
Because really, that's exactly what diversity means.
What do you think?
(Also check out this awesome post by @ravenamo on writing POCs!)
(Also just so you know I did eventually succesfully write a short story that featured a character with Down Syndrome. ;) )