Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m was an overachiever growing up. And like any good little overachiever, I was an absolute perfectionist when it came to getting things right. This is how much I hated it when I got things wrong: I remember once getting into an argument with a teacher about a vocabulary word test.
I repeat. I once argued with a teacher about a vocab test.
Thankfully when I got to college, I
became less of a dweeb I began to realize that it was okay if I didn’t get things right all the time. In fact, it became a bit of a badge of courage to get things wrong–it meant that I was challenging myself and pushing myself to take courses that were a little bit out of my comfort range.
That being said, I still hated getting it wrong. For a variety of reasons that I’ll need therapy for the rest of my life, I’ve always felt mistakes very viscerally, as if each misstep is another a character flaw. My favorite thing to say when I’ve screwed up is “I’m a terrible person.” Because a part of me kind of still believes it.
But what does this have to do with my debut year? How can you possibly “get it wrong” with your book, you ask? Is it not a work of fiction? If you made it up out of thin air, how could it be anything but perfect?
Oh, let me count the ways.
If there’s anything We Need Diverse Books has taught me, it’s that representation matters. Invisibility = silencing. But you can argue that bad representation is worse than no representation, given the negative impact of stereotypes.Labels–and words–can harm. When I was writing None of the Above, I struggled with how to best show my readers what it means to be intersex. I mean, most people don’t even know what the word means (quick and dirty: intersex refers to a spectrum of naturally occurring variations of internal and/or external sex anatomy). The problem is, when you say that, people just look at you funny. And then their faces light up and they say, “Oh, you mean like a hermaphrodite?” And I want to go like this:
Because noooooooooooo – the H-word is totally outdated, refers to a mythological entity that doesn’t exist in nature, and is considered offensive to the intersex community.And yet. At the same time, it’s often tempting to use the H-word as a point of entry when people are giving you a blank stare–indeed at least one intersex activist I know has used the word in exactly that way, when demonstrating how she would explain intersex to, say, a taxi driver. So I used the H-word in my book. And am I terrified that some people will think I was wrong to do so? I know that my story is not the only intersex story, but I still hate to think that intersex youths will think its wrong. And there you have it: my biggest fear this debut year.
|I. W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. After getting her MD, she did her residency at Stanford, where she met the intersex patient who inspired her novel, NONE OF THE ABOVE (Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins, Fall of 2015). She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children, and is a recovering ice hockey player. For more, visit iwgregorio.com or Tweet her at @IWGregorio.|