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In part one of our interview with author LaQuette, we discuss her Critical Lens workshop. The class is designed to teach authors, reviewers and readers how to use literary criticism to view your own work, or the books you’re reading, through an alternative lens. For authors this can provide critical insight into alternative perspectives that can help you identify and eliminate problematic and harmful content before you publish.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Interview Transcript – LaQuette

Jeff: LaQuette, thank you so much for coming to the show.

LaQuette: Thank you for having me. I’m always glad to stop by, you know I love you.

Jeff: I’ve essentially spent the last month with you although quite virtually taking your Critical Lens class. And I found it so enlightening and informational and in some ways just inspirational to take in this information. Tell everybody what the class is about, and what it sets out to teach people.

LaQuette: Critical Lens is basically a class I developed to sort of help, not just authors, but readers who are basically engaging with literature, in order…and it helps them to sort of process that literature when they are not necessarily familiar with the background of either the author or the context of the piece. And especially when we’re talking about in terms of things like marginalization, and diversity, and inclusion, this can be a really helpful tool in seeing another perspective, right.

And what the class doesn’t do, right, because a lot of people…they read the description of the class, they’re like, “Yay, LaQuette is gonna teach me how not to be racist.” And the truth is, I can’t teach you that. I can’t teach you how not to be racist, how not to be a bigot, how not to be homophobic, how not to be egoist. LaQuette has no ability to teach you that. That is something…that’s a personal journey the individual has to take.

What my class will teach you is that there are people from different backgrounds and different identities and different communities, they have a very unique way of thinking about themselves. And that when you are a part of the, what I will call, the dominant culture, which usually is a straight white man, who pretty much controls, you know, the world view, oftentimes the world is built through that perspective. And so, everything that is normalized has to be able to either replicate that perspective or align to it, or become adjacent to it in some way. And the closer you can align to that perspective and experience, the more likely you’re able to be able to access things in society that you need.

And when you can’t, and when you visibly can’t, right, when there’s something about you that tells people you are visibly different from the dominant culture. Then you get pushed to the margins. and it becomes harder for you to access things in society that you need. So, my class basically teaches you how to sort of rethink some of the concepts and some of the constructs that we have created in society to help us process the people around us. And hopefully, by the time you’re done, you’ll come out with a broader view of how you think about marginalization and marginalized communities.

Jeff: I think it’s interesting that you said upfront that you can’t teach somebody not to be racist or not to be homophobic. And I totally get that having been through the class. But we were talking a little bit how I think it would be great if you could teach everybody this class because it gives you a perspective on things that, you know, for me as a white guy, I’m not gonna always think about certain things. Because while I am gay, I have a ton of privilege heaped upon me because I am a white guy. And the lens lets me go,” Hmm,” and start to process a little differently.

LaQuette: Here’s the thing. I mean, we all write something, you know, have written something inappropriate. I mean, LaQuette is not perfect, either. I mean, there are things in my writing history that I think about now, like, would I sit down and actually write those things now? No, because I have a better understanding of maybe things I didn’t understand back then. Or maybe I’ve just…you know, I’ve been enlightening in different ways or my experience has changed because I’ve had, you know, a broader reach and more exposure to different communities now.

And so, you know, with age, you hopefully get better and gain more wisdom and understanding. And so, yeah, there are things I wrote four years ago, three years ago, that I wouldn’t necessarily write now because I wouldn’t feel comfortable with maybe part of the messaging that was packaged in whatever I was writing. I don’t want writers to think that they have to be perfect or they have to reach some, you know, unattainable level of perfection. That’s not it. It’s to be aware, it’s to have that awareness because when you are aware, you begin to do things differently, you begin to think about things differently.

And people often don’t recognize their own biases, they often don’t…they think they’re built in other things, right. Like, this is my experience, I know this to be true. And it’s like, that might be true for you, that doesn’t mean just because it’s true for you that it’s also untrue for someone else, or that it has to be true for someone else. People’s lives are different for various reasons. And we have to come to a point where we are not expecting everyone to look and live like us.

Jeff: And I think that’s the key sentence I think right there. And especially how literature is sometimes perceived. One of the things that struck me…At RWA last year when there was the open forum on all the diversity issues RWA was having. An author stood up and was speaking about the pushback she had in a book, where she had, I believe it was a black woman who was a chemist or some kind of scientist. And had been pushed back on because, well, that can’t be right. How can that happen? It’s like, you know, that stunned me, you know, it’s like, really?

LaQuette: It happens. I mean, you’ve read my book “Under His Protection”, you’ve actually been part of the class to see this discussion about the character in “Under His Protection.” And one of the first…I mean, I had generally good reviews for the book while it was out. But one of the first negative reviews was that a person didn’t believe that a police officer, an NYPD police officer could both own a home in Westchester, and rent an apartment in Brooklyn. And I thought to myself like that’s the thing that ruined the book for you? Like, everything else that’s going in the book was fine but this is the thing that you were like, “No, I could not buy-in to this book.”

And I realized instantly that was because this black gay man did not fit the narrative of what a black gay man should be able to do. He grew up in a middle-class home and was living pretty much middle-class life himself. And that for a lot of people, it doesn’t ring true to them, because that’s not what we see in the media, right? When we look at what we see in the media in terms of frameworks, we get this very different set of descriptors when it comes to blackness and whiteness, right?

So, when you look in the media and you see things…you’ll hear things like black-on-black crime, and it sounds really bad. And it sounds like something that is a phenomenon that’s only particular to black people living in low-income areas. But the truth of the matter is statistically, anyone who commits a crime regardless of race will mostly commit those crimes in areas that they are familiar with because it makes it easier for them to get away.

But when that happens in white neighborhoods, when a white criminal robs white people in a white neighborhood, it’s not considered white-on-white crime. It’s considered rime. But when it happens in a black neighborhood, it’s black-on-black crime, which is this…it has this really insidious sound to it, right. It instantly makes you think, in a different way. It frames your thinking in a different way. And that’s what frameworks have the power to do, they have the power to instantly change your thinking. And sometimes you don’t even realize that that’s what you’re doing but that’s the case.

So, when you meet a character like Elijah, when all you’ve heard about is things like black-on-black crime, and poverty, and the incarceration rate of black and brown people, which yes, those things are terrible, those things happen. And the, you know, special education to prison pipeline is a real thing in this country when it comes to people of color living, especially coming from low socio-economic areas. But that is not the only, that is not the sum total of their experiences. So, oftentimes, what you’ll get are these stories that are steeped in struggle, that focus only on what people see in terms of pop culture, about whatever a marginalization is, right?

So, all gay people get kicked out of their homes and don’t have loving families because they’re gay. All black people are violent, and criminal and, you know, they don’t have anything good or positive in their culture. You know, all of these are the types of things that are…this is the way that these communities are framed. And so, people actually soak this in, we are a product of our environment, right? So, the things that we hear and we see influence how we think and how we produce. And so, you see it then in how the stories are told, right. You get what I call again, the struggle stories where the only story that someone from a marginalized community can have is one of struggle, is one where they have to prove their worthiness to earn that happily ever after. Otherwise, they don’t really warrant it.

And we have to really stop that because when I come along, then, you know, someone who grew up in…I grew up in the hood, right, but I’m living the middle-class life now. My expectation…you know, my experience of blackness is totally different from my kids’, right? My kids wouldn’t last a day where I came up from because they’re so pampered. But people don’t understand that, you know, there’s a difference. And, you know, marginalization is a monolith and so it’s different for everyone. But we have these things that influence our thinking about diverse groups and communities. And then we write these stories that sort of perpetuate that idea that diverse people can’t have…they just can’t be, and exist, and be happy without a struggle.

So, my goal has always been to write stories that didn’t feature the struggle. That just showed people…my marginalized people that are going to be just happy just because. And I think with Elijah, especially him being gay, him being a black cop like it just did not register with people that this man could be happy. There were too many things about his life that to them said that equals unhappiness, identity equals unhappiness. And when you think that way about someone’s identity, if you can’t see anything positive in being that person, you’re gonna start writing things, where again, all they do is struggle. And I don’t wanna read that story. I certainly don’t wanna live it. And I don’t want that to be the only representation of people like me.

Jeff: The struggle…I think there’s so much I can unpack there. I’ll start back with Elijah because the class opens with, you presented four different characters. And the question was simple, which one of these is the least believable to you? And I admit, I recognized Elijah again already. And I had wondered in that book, too, it’s like, wow, I can’t afford to have anything in New York like that. But then I’m like…there were a lot of reasons in my mind why that couldn’t work up to and even including the idea that potentially he’d inherited the house or something. There were a lot of reasons that it didn’t factor for me.

But the dialogue that came out of that was fascinating already seeing how different people perceived things. Like for me, it was the billionaire who was the least…I found him to be the least but yet he’s…you know, that trope is used a lot. And you’ve got people like, you know, Facebook guy, and Twitter guy and all these folks who did make their money early. But it was a fascinating discussion about everything. And you took it all in stride, every now and then I’m like, “Oh, how is she gonna feel about that?” Getting back, you know, with the most common answer.

LaQuette: I go into this with the expectation because the truth of the matter is, every time I teach this class, that character is always the character that generates the most discussion and discourse, always. There has never been a time that I’ve taught this class where the other characters are pretty much forgotten about. It’s just this character because people do not…And think about it, what is it that…so like, what’s so unbelievable about him? You know, people have different reasons, and they usually fall somewhere in the line where cops don’t make that much money, okay. You know, I can take that assumption, we’ll move along with that.

Oh, you know, NYPD is racist, and it’s probably…you know, he wouldn’t be able to become a lieutenant in the NYPD. So, in all of NYPD, you don’t think there’s one black lieutenant? Because racism because…Here’s the thing, and I’m sure you can speak to this as well. You know, racism has been here forever, homophobia has been here forever. If black folks, you know, were waiting for racism to not be here in order to succeed, we would never thrive, right. But we do. Because like we have always known what the system is, and that we are expected to do certain things in order to circumvent the system.

As to where people who come from the dominant culture, they don’t really have to think that way because the system is built for them. They don’t have to think about how to get around the system, how to navigate the system, because the system is already built for them. So when you see people who say, “Oh, this man can’t be a cop, because the police are racist, the police are homophobic.” That could or could not be true. I mean, I’m not a police officer, so I can’t really tell you what NYPD is.

But even if that is the truth, right, that still is not a reason for him not to be able to be a black lieutenant, right. And I also have family members who work in law enforcement, who are police officers, who are home federal agents. And yeah, it is not an easy task but it’s still…sometimes things are still worth doing. And then I’ve also gotten…Well, Westchester is one of the most expensive areas in New York. And property taxes are extremely expensive there’s no way he’s gonna be able on a cop salary to be able to do that. I’m like, okay, I take it all in stride because I don’t argue without having facts.

And so it’s part of the researcher in me. So I always make sure I have facts. So when people make these claims, I come back…and most of the claims out of all of them that are argued it’s generally…What it really comes down to is people don’t believe he can afford it. So I’m like, okay, we know that there are black and gay cops, you know, who are lieutenants so even though you may feel that way, you have to know that you’re wrong on that. That there are people who fit this description who work in these positions, right, there are.

But let’s talk about the tangible thing that we can actually look at. So, I didn’t say that as a cop he was able to do that. I said as a New York Police Department police officer, he was able to do that, right. So, if I read that, if I read something like that, and I feel something might be kind of hinky about that, I go research. I go look to see is that a possibility. Now, NYPD, have been an officer after five years, just a regular police officer with no rank. After about five years of working their salary jumps from the 40 grand they come in with to about 80 grand. That is not considering things like overtime, incidental pay, like holiday pay, uniform pay, all of these things that are also thrown into their base salary to bump up their salary.

The base salary of an NYPD lieutenant is $110,000. This is not something I’m making up out of my head, this is something that’s on NYPD’s website. And as a single man with no children or dependents, making base $110,000. We’re not even talking about all of the other incidental pay things that we just talked about, longevity pay. Because every five years you get a longevity pay increased. All of these things right, all these benefits. we’re not even talking about that this one is base salary. Over time, and police officers do a ridiculous amount of overtime. But I come up with this calculation basically based on all of those things, and giving him the most minimal amount of financial incentives as possible.

And he comes out making something like 10 grand a month. And I’m like, so he’s making 10 grand a month as a single person with no children. Do you really think he can’t afford a $3,000 mortgage? Because most mortgages are somewhere around 3 grand. And even if you wanna tell me that his property taxes would be too high in Westchester, not in all of Westchester, right. There are parts of Westchester where even though the property taxes are high, they’re not as high, all right. So, if you’re spending, you know, $20,000, $30,000 in property taxes, that’s because your house is about a million dollars. But if this man bought a house that was 300, 400 grand, he’s only gonna be paying 7 or 8 grand in property taxes.

So again, that works out to probably maybe $500 extra a month. So again, he cannot afford a $3,500 mortgage and still have $1,000 or $1,400 to pay for a one-room rental in Brooklyn. How does that not work? And when people see the math, that’s when they realize. Most people don’t even recognize why they’re arguing. They really believe that they’re arguing the point because, no, I know this to be true you can’t afford that, right?

And I have cops in my family and they don’t make that much money. But again, I didn’t say cops, I said, NYPD lieutenant. So, if you wanted to know what an NYPD lieutenant made, if that was possible, you look that up. But people would read the book and make the assumption that as an author, I don’t know what I’m talking about, versus their perspective being skewed, you know, and that’s a problem.

Jeff: And I thought that was so powerful to just get that out in the very first week of class to show everybody how skewed our perceptions can be.

LaQuette: Yeah. I can like…even though it’s virtual, I can tell the quiet, like, that happens the minute that they see, you know, that they’re wrong. And not only that they’re wrong but that they were arguing so vehemently against it because they felt righteous. They felt like this is something I know to be true. And it’s again to prove that point that just because something is true for you…maybe cops in Florida don’t make that kind of money, right. But cops in Florida and small parishes may not, you know, need to be as active as a huge august body like NYPD who is, you know, the New York Police Department. Their precinct…they have so many precincts and then they’re covering all of the five boroughs of New York. Really, if it’s not the largest policing body, one of. I think if the only other police force in the country that I think matches it or might exceed it might be the LAPD, they’re somewhere…

Jeff: Yeah, that’s the one I was thinking of..

LaQuette: Yeah, they’re somewhere around…

Jeff: …in terms of people and volume of man mass.

LaQuette: And where they have…you know, the geography of, you know, where they have to police. So, if you’re a policing that much, and, you know, that much geography, you know, that many people, there has to be incentive behind that so they’re gonna pay you, right. So, in these spaces, people assume that what they know is right, they don’t question or maybe there’s a reason for this, right. And the simple reason is if they had googled. Like, this is not information I had to, like, you know, get permission to receive or, you know, go to a precinct and ask. I didn’t have looked at somebody paste-up, I didn’t have to do that, right I just googled and went to NYPD’s website and that information is there for the taking.

People assume that me as the author that I’m wrong, or that it is my responsibility as the author to educate the reader on that. Now, like, you really expect me to put this entire financial breakdown of what this man would make if he were real in a book. And why is it that you expect me to do that, but you don’t require your white writers who are writing about 29-year-old billionaires to do the same? It’s just acceptable because it’s a romance trope. But when a marginalized person writes something, it is not just acceptable, it has to be proven.

And the issue of…someone mentioned Beverly Jenkins, Miss Bev is amazing. And they’re like, “Oh, well, she always puts all of this information at the back of her books, you know, to explain where she got the research.” I’m like, yeah. And I don’t know this to be true, because I’ve not asked Miss Beverly Jenkins this. But my assumption is that she does it to keep the…she may do it, yes, because she loves history and she wants to pass on that knowledge. But I’d wager to…I’d really bet that there is a part of it that’s done to shut up people who are, like, “That’s not historically accurate.” Because they don’t know as my good friend Dr. Piper Huguley says, “They don’t know the whole history, they only know that one part of it.”

So, marginalized authors are expected to do all this extra work to prove what we know to be true. When white authors and authors from the dominant culture are not forced to do the same. And this is where that disparity begins to happen, right. Because it doesn’t matter to me if one person doesn’t like my book or they don’t think that I’m writing realistic characters. But when people who are gatekeepers in the industry carry this mindset, and then I submit work, I can’t get a contract because all this didn’t read as realistic to me. Because their perception is that as a black character, that as a gay character, that as a disabled character, you have to fit this certain criteria in order to be believable on the page. And it’s nonsense, it really is all a construct of the biases we’ve been taught, that’s all it is.

Jeff: You built this course out last year in 2019, what inspired bringing this together? Because I imagine, with the breadth of things you’re covering, because you’re covering a number of lenses here between race, and gender, and sexuality, and ableism, and the whole thing. This was not a short project to build this course. What made you say…

LaQuette: It wasn’t short…

Jeff: …I need to do this thing?

LaQuette: Well, there are a couple of reasons, all right. It started, I think, the second time we had to start using the “RITA is so white” hashtag. And, you know, the previous year I’ve heard, you know, it’s so hard to make people…you know, you can’t really curtail the judging, you can’t really, you know, tell whether people are judging because they’re judging critically because they’re bigoted, or have biases. Their, you know, reading is subjective and you just like what you like. And I remember thinking if that is the case, I would not have a master’s degree in literature. I would not, you know, possibly thinking once all my life has calmed down, pursue a Ph.D. Because if that’s the case, all these years that I have studied literature would be a waste.

And I wholeheartedly count romance as literature. I believe it does the same thing that lithic does in every other genre of literature that we study and that we praise. And so, if we can study, you know, Shakespeare, then why can’t we study contemporary romances? Why can’t we study historical romances? It’s literature. And there is a way to analyze literature based on what we call literary elements. Things like author voice, things like figurative language, things like, you know, time period, and setting things of that nature.

These are the things we look at, to not just see the skill of the author, right, but we also look at it to see how the author is influenced. And how those influences are impacting the writing. And those are things that should be taken into account when you’re reading a book. Because here’s the thing, again, I have a master’s degree in literature, I hate Shakespeare. I know people are gonna be like, “How is that possible?” I hate Shakespeare. I have never liked reading Shakespeare. I mean, I’m not knocking his work or his ability, but personally, for my personal tastes, I would never pick up Shakespeare to read just because.

And that pretty much goes for most of canonical literature. I studied it because it was part of the curriculum that I had to…if I wanted the degree, I had to study the curriculum. But it was not something I would choose to read, right. So, for you to say that, you know, “I don’t really like black romance, it’s not my thing.” Honestly, there’s really no such thing as b romance, romance is romance, right? There’s really no such thing as gay romance, romance is romance, it’s the characters that are different. Because we don’t call, you know, white straight romance, white straight romance, we call it romance.

And this is again, that whole dominant culture thing. Like, the dominant culture is the norm and everything else needs a category. Everything else needs a label to show you how it’s not like the dominant culture. And so, after hearing this enough, I’m like, this is nonsense, of course, this can be done. And especially after the RITA’s last year, I was very fortunate to get to be a part of the RITA’s writing room with Sarah MacLean, Andie Christopher, Alexis Daria, Adrianna Herrera, Joanna Shupe, and Tracey Livesay, I think that’s all of us. And Nisha Sharma also.

And when Sarah brought us all together, the first thing she said is, “I want to make sure that we’re gonna create something where everyone belongs. Where we teach romance history because obviously it doesn’t know it.” And, you know, being a part of that night and the feeling…and you were in the room so maybe you can attest to this. There was a feeling in that room that night, where we realized that we had done something different, something amazing. And we had people thinking, and not just thinking with their heads, but thinking with their hearts. And it was powerful.

And I felt like we need to build on that, that the reason…at least, I would like to believe that the reason a lot of people are so resistant to marginalized people who are writing stories about marginalized people, is that they really just don’t know, they don’t understand. They think they do but they don’t really get it.

And even from the class, you can see there are people who their intention is to do something good. But they really don’t have a frame of reference for how to present that information in a way that isn’t harmful and problematic. And so, I decided, okay, let me…You know, I actually spent 10 years teaching as a college lit professor. And so, I was like, well, let me just kind of like pull those chops out again, and just sort of like sit down and put this course together, this kind of quick and dirty curriculum. And it’s not quick and dirty I mean, it really is a…

Jeff: And you can tell it’s not just with the stuff that you presented to us, there’s a lot there.

LaQuette: It’s a lot of information. It’s an intense…it’s really an immersive and…you know, and it’s also a very independent study as well as a lot of self-reflection. And honestly, that’s what I’m teaching people to do. I’m teaching them to reflect, I’m teaching them to question why they’re doing things, or why they believe things. And that’s not always easy for people to come up against those questions and come up with an honest answer. Because a lot of times when we self-reflect, we don’t necessarily like the answers because they’re not pretty, right. They’re showing us something about ourselves that we don’t necessarily like, and don’t wanna believe is true about ourselves.

But if you really commit to the class, and really think about the…a lot of things that are said in the discussion. Because the didactic portion is fine, right? You have all this information, you can read it and process it. But I don’t think enlightenment comes until you actually take part in the discussion and you see how things are played out. And when people say things, then they’re realizing, like, wow, “I had no clue that that was a problem.” Then they begin to, like, take the pieces of the lecture notes, and the terminology and things like that. And then they pair it with the discussion.

And that’s where they really begin to understand, wait, this is really not about what I think. It’s about people having the right to identify as they identify and call themselves who they are. And I shouldn’t get the right to have any say about that. That’s none of my business. I shouldn’t be telling people who they have to be. Instead, I should be listening to them, tell me who they are.

Jeff: And least some of what I took away from it too is you have to apply that to the characters in the fiction. It’s not just how you treat real life, you need to take that leap of faith with the characters that you’re reading too and go, “Oh, that’s just not right, no.”

LaQuette: I think the problem is that when non-marginalized authors are writing marginalized characters, for some reason, they forget, they lose that whole goal, motivation, and conflict thing. And you’ve heard me say it repeatedly in my class. GMC, if your character really has a real GMC and a real emotional arc throughout the story, then you can get away with a lot more things because you’re making them a real person, a human person who is flawed, who may have issues. But what often happens is authors don’t take the time to do that or they don’t understand the perspective they’re trying to write from. And so they end up writing a caricature of a person that’s built on stereotypes and not like actual psychology of a person.

Because when you’re creating goal, motivation, and conflict, you’re really just thinking about the psychology of this person that you’re building. Why are they doing things? Because they’re thinking a certain way. They think they must have this thing. And so, they create this plan in their head of how they’re gonna go about getting this thing. And in the process, they’re fighting what they really need, which is the love of this person that we’ve paired them with, or people that we’ve paired them with. And then they have to constantly fight because, in order to have what they really need, they might have to either give up or alter what they thought they want. That’s all psychology. And if you don’t really have a mastery of that, then you’re gonna just start pulling things like stereotypes out of the way. Because this is what you think people from this community do and look like.

Jeff: Do you equate stereotype with the struggle or are those kind of two separate things? Because you talked about struggle a lot too which I really appreciated. Because I’m like you, I don’t need the struggle story, you know, especially, you know, in gay romance of the coming out, or the homophobia, or the bullying. Unless it’s really somehow connected well to your story, I don’t need to read that.

LaQuette: Yeah. And, you know, people, you know, they would raise the question about whether we are being inconsiderate then of people who have struggled. And it’s like, no, because here’s the thing, we have told that story to death. Like, we don’t tell any other story. We really do not tell any other story when it comes to marginalized characters except the struggle story, that is the one that is well noted.

What we do get is pushback when we tell the story of marginalized people just being, just existing without struggle, right. We get pushback from that. So, maybe that’s because we need to create more stories and normalize it so that people don’t see a book with a marginalized character on it and automatically assume that there is some sort of sad story attached to it. Now, that’s not to say that the sad story is not compelling and that it can’t be told well. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, why is that the only story we allow? Why is that the only emotion we’re allowed to feel is despair because of our situation, which is always a tie to our identity?

And so, when you write a marginalized character, where everything bad is happening to them, because of their marginalization, then what you’re actually saying is that that identity is bad. So, if this gay person is struggling so much like they don’t have a family that loves them, they’ve been turned away. They’ve experienced all sorts of bigotry on, you know, on the job, you know, they don’t have friends, they’re so lonely. Then what you’re doing is you’re saying that the reason this person is miserable is because they’re gay.

When you write stories of black people coming from broken families, of, you know, having to deal with, you know, things like incarceration and drug use, and violence. When you’re saying that, you know, this person did not have a happy life until they walked away from all the things that you identify or connected to their blackness. What you’re saying is blackness is bad. That may not be what you’re trying to present but that’s actually what you’re saying. So we have to get to the point where we wanna tell a story that it doesn’t focus on identity. Because “Under His Protection,” is not about gay culture. I’m not gay, I can’t write about gay culture like that with any authority, right.

But if you really are reading that book and paying attention, the only culture that’s ever really examined in that book is black culture, even though both Camden and Elijah are gay. Because I’m not writing about the gay experience, I’m writing two people who just happen to fall in love. Who fall in love and who happened to be gay. And I think that’s where dominant culture authors don’t really get it. They feel like you have to…like there’s some sort of like, color, or something that you can color in to make the character exactly what they’re supposed to be because they came from this marginalization. When they really should just be focusing on building people and not necessarily black people, or gay people, or people with disabilities.

They should be focusing on building people, and then the rest of it you can sort of add-in. And I think if people really thought about it like that, just building people who happen to be whatever this thing is, or whatever this community is, you would find less and less of these stereotypes. Because stereotypes come from the fact that…especially when you don’t have a connection to the communities you are discussing or writing about.

If you’re a white person writing about black people, but you don’t have black friends and you don’t know any black people in your daily, everyday life, it shows in your writing. I can instantly tell when a white person has written a black character, I can instantly tell they have no black friends. And I’m sure when you’re reading gay romances that are written by non-LGBTQ people, you can instantly tell that they’re not a member. And if they’re using stereotypes, you can instantly tell that they’re not a member of your community.

And so, it goes back to thinking of people as human first, right. And that’s not to dismiss their marginalization or their community. But it is my strong opinion that when you are writing a marginalized experience that is not your own because I’m black and I understand marginalization, but I don’t understand what it is to be LGBTQ and marginalized, right. There’s a difference. Those things may be intersectional but they are different. And so, I can’t write that experience. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t create whole characters who are from the LGBTQ plus community that are positive and that celebrate people from my community.

Jeff: Makes so much sense to me but I’ve had the class too.

LaQuette: It’s really not hard, but I think people get tripped up. It’s really hard to undo program and that’s what it is. It’s this programming we’ve had, about who people are based on their identities, gender roles, who…And I try to get people to realize that. You know, think about it this way, most writers of romance are women, but we’re writing men. We’re not men, we don’t know, you know, what it is to be a man and what the actual experience is of a man. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t created some really deep, wonderful male character, right?

Jeff: Absolutely.

LaQuette: And so, it’s the same thing, you know, if you wanna think about what it feels like to be marginalized, if you’re a woman think about every time…if you’re a white woman, and you don’t really think you really can get what marginalization is, think about every time you’ve been told you can’t do something because you’re a woman. Think about the professional hoops you had to go through because you’re a woman. Think about how even as children, you know, we tell kids, “Oh, boys can only do this and girls can only do that.”

You know, think about those things and then you will start to understand why it’s nonsense to tell someone it’s not realistic for a black person, a gay person, a person with disabilities to be happy and whole. Because if you really think about it, if someone’s telling you that as a woman, you’re like, “Huh, what?” Like “That doesn’t make any sense.” It’s the same thing. It’s the exact same thing.