Inclusive writing, part 2: Dropping cultural sexual bias

Why “male” and “female” is incredibly relative

Last week I read the wonderful post: “‘Biological sex’ is socially constructed“, which summarizes in a very brief and wonderful way many ideas I support as well. A long quote (enter added by me):

The thing is, in real life, very few people actually match up with all five categories.  There are, of course, genetic differences that account for a decent percentage of human births like XXY, XXX, XO, and XYY (apx 1:500 births though it could easily be more than that since we don’t do genetic testing for all people and even at that ratio if there are over 6 billion people in the world 1:500 means there are a whole lot of genetically intersex people out there) but it goes far beyond that.

There are people out there who have XX chromosomes, a vulva and vagina, ovaries, male secondary sex characteristics and male hormones patterns.  There are people out there who have XY chromosomes, a penis, testes, female secondary sex characteristics and female hormone patterns.  There are even people out there with XY chromosomes, testes, a vulva, a vagina, female secondary sex characteristics, and male hormone patterns and there are even people with BOTH male and female secondary sex characteristics at the same time and people with BOTH male and female hormone patterns at the same time regardless of their genes, gonads, and genitalia

I wrote this following first sentence of a new short story shortly after.

“You need to feel your anger,” she said, looking down at her, scratching the short beard on her chin, scratching her flat chest. “You are not touching it.”

Society and the male stereotype

From a random search find: “Circle of moms” (Corrected the lack of capitals)

Now he is 6 and he only wants to play with girl things… I allowed it a few years ago and thought he would grow out of it… And now that he is in school… He is very well liked by all of the kids in his grade… But his only friends are girls… I asked him if he had any boys that were friends? He said they were all mean to him because he told his class his favorite color was pink!! (He does not act or have the personality of a “normal” boy his age. He’s not rough and just not into what the other little boys…) I try not to say anything to him. I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable or insecure in any way about what he likes…

How wonderful. At least she understands “normal” is not exactly “normal”

Let’s focus on this specific sentence:

He does not act or have the personality of a “normal” boy his age. He’s not rough and just not into what the other little boys…

Boys and men are “rough”. They play with boys toys. They do not cry. They are practical, like to pay with mechanical things, cars. They like manly sports. Soccer. Baseball. Girls are more care-taking, playing with dolls, liking soft colors, gentle things. (And — to cut this short — this is all complete bullshit. Whatever you THINK you see and whatever SHOULD be there is the result of cultural stereotypes. Repeating it: it is bullshit.)

Take a look at this (from the same thread):

My son is almost 12 and is very like your son. He doesn’t play the usual ‘boys’ games and still loves to sort through my wardrobe whilst I play his model and he gets me changing into various outfits! He also still likes to occasionally paint my toenails and every night he brushes my hair whilst we chat. I love that he is like that! It means that when other mums are complaining that they aren’t as close to their sons anymore, I am very close to mine. Don’t get me wrong, he also plays video games that I detest and he doesn’t do the girly things quite as much now, but it still keeps us closer than his friends with their mums!

How can this be wrong? This is a very normal boy as well. And very normal human behavior. Care-taking. Loving. Doing “girly things”. And as a side-note: the sexual bias of this specific boy can be towards male and/or female bodies and is completely unrelated to his other behavior or non-stereotypical preferences.

How and why do we connect behavior so tightly to the body?

If his father is in the picture, see if he could spend some quality dad time with him and show him what it means to be a male or little boy. […stuff about church…] Although, hanging out with girls can be fun, because their cute, he needs to be in balance. He needs to be offered opportunities where he’s able to fun things that boys do.

So, because the boy likes to play with “girl’s stuff” he is “unbalanced”. He “needs to be shown what it means to be a male or little boy”. Penis==”manly stuff”. Vagina/uterus==”girly stuff”. Raising boys and girls is that sick-makingly simple in some places.

This gender-stereotyping is quite normal where I come from as well: the Netherlands. If you — as a person in a male body — behave “too much of a female” it will lead to hostile reactions.

Society and the female stereotype

To be added.

She, he, it

Homosexual males I knew tend to refer to other gays as “he”, “she” and/or “it”. “He” is in most cases a referral to a male who acts according to the local male stereotype. “She” is either a male being mocked or behaving more “feminine”. “It” is again either a mockery or someone who is detested (as in “would not want to touch it“) or considered standing outside the binary sex-roles. Another form of “undefined”.

Homo, bi, hetero and asexuality

On the scale of sexual preferences (towards humans) we can distinguish four to six main types (out of several more):

  1. Homosexual — Or same-sex. This includes both male- and female homosexuality. I consider this “primarily homosexual” as there can be slight variations and light/dormant desires towards people of the other sex
  2. Bi-sexual — In some camps, bi-sexuality does not exist. “You are pretending/not making a choice”. Bi-sexuals are somewhere in the middle of the sexual spectrum. Both male and female bodies are sexually arousing. There is no inner need  “to choose sides” in a binary model where “you are either/or”. “Either/or” is bullshit.
  3. Omnisexual — Or/related to “pansexual“, which is like an extension on bi-sexuality. Where bi might limit itself to male and female bodies / male and female body images, pan- and omni-sexuality says to include all variations; including mixed physical “gender specific” indicators like the penis, the vulva and the breasts.
  4. Sexual fetish — Which includes the sexual attraction to physical objects.
  5. Heterosexual — Heterosexual is on the other side of the spectrum. Heterosexual people prefer predominantly people with bodies of the other sex.
  6. Asexuality — Asexuality has very different shapes and forms. From “I do not feel any sexual arousal from either male or female bodies” to “I don not want to have sex” to “I choose to NOT want or have sex”. Asexuality does not (automatically) exclude physical intimacy like caressing, cuddling, snuggling, kissing or (mutual) masturbation. It simply does not include sex. A very good view can be found, starting with “Platonic love is a problematic term“. Asexual relationships can be within the full spectrum of homo- bi, omni and hetero fields of attraction.

Monogamy and polygamy

In the Euro/American culture, monogamy is considered the “normal”. There might be several reasons for that. One is the aversion of the leading religious streams against everything that is not a man/woman procreational (breeding) unit. The second is economical. Monogamous relationships and marriage have some deeper relationship I have not investigated yet. What I do get is this: “Marriage is an economical agreement”.

Polygamy and polygamous relationships have several nuances which are hardly understood when you look at it from a heterosexual monogamous point of view. Within a monagomous heterosexual world, sexual partners are rare. Once a potential sexual partner is “taken”, he or she “is no longer available”. It is/feels very much like the game of “Musical chairs”. When the music stops, you have to be quick, or all chairs will be taken and you will be the one left out.

The simplest outside/in way to look at polygamy is that of “friends with benefits”. You meet someone you like. Maybe you feel sexually attracted. And maybe you will have sex. When these friendships become more close, “extended families” or “constellations” start to form. Good friends within your close circles are and can be (ex) sexual partners. People you can trust. People who will stand up for you when you are in trouble and people who will be there when most other people will abandon you.

Good friends are not exclusively limited to polygamous people.

The idea of “taken” is relative in polygamous constellations. When you are “my” partner, you are not exclusively “mine”. If and when you feel attracted to someone else, it is not my position to withold you from having an intimate relationship.

It is again Samual Delany who explores (as one of the few in the field of SF/F) polygamous relationships. “The Star Pit”  (hardly any reviews online) and “Heavenly breakfast” are maybe the most clear examples that come to my mind. In these two stories, the “family unit” is formed by the polygamous constellation / the extended family. In these two stories, there is always someone available (or SHOULD be as is the case in “The Star Pit”) to take care of the children. To bring them to school. To help them with homework or problems. The “burden” of child-raising is spread over multiple adults, instead of just two: the biological father and mother.

Including other species

As this post is on “dropping cultural sexual bias”,  inter-species relationships is a factor not to ignore in this conversation.

Our human sexuality and our human feelings for tenderness (not to be confused with each other)  are not limited to inter-human sexual relationships. Any other species CAN be sexually attractive. While the idea is strange to our culture, it is not uncommon for humans to have sexual relationships to and with dogs, sheep, pigs, goats, donkeys and horses.

As this is an unknown area to me (my main question is “what about mutual consent?” but that is probably a completely rediculous one.)

Do some googling and you will enter some of the less and maybe least acknowledged parts of human sexuality.

Questioning the sexual attraction to children

The human brain apparently is done developing around the age of 21, 22, as — according to my memory — that is when the human frontal lobe is done developing. That frontal lobe is able to project current actions to future consequences. “What if?” and if I understand properly, that is one of the last stages in the development.

The question is: when is something “consent” if you can not oversee the consequences AND when you are still very gullible to manipulation by someone else. When is something rape? When is something “manipulated consent” and thus still rape? When is something truly consent?

The issue with pedophilia is cultural and complex. “Should we involve children in sexual acts?”. The Greek of old days, apparently, considered the age of 12 appropriate to start sexual relationships between boys and older men (see Wikipedia: Pedastry) and they were probably not the only and first or last culture to do that.

It seems the human brain is wired to develop a strong preference for people of minor age. Strong enough to ignore common sense and to risk imprisonment. To exclude this group due to its current and partly demonized status — directly associated in European culture to non-consensual sex/rape and murder of children — is ignoring a part of human sexuality that IS there as well.

The next series of stories: including more of the ignored

Next to picking up rather widely ignored topics like mother/daughter, mother/son, brother/sister/sister/brother relationships, polygamy, polyamory and using countries and cultures deliberately NOT American I also decided to deliberately drop gender bias.

You can say: “yes, but it has already been done by…” I think Joanna Russ and for sure Samuel Delany (in “Triton” and for sure in “Stars like grains of sand”). –This limited list shows I am very behind on reading by the way.

And I say: show me 100 other books and 100 other writers who do so as well within the genre of SF and Fantasy. The majority of what you can read and find is dominantly Christian / based on European/American culture / promoting and defending monogamy / heterosexual / male dominated. And that stuff has nothing to add to me and bores me to death.

I deliberately use “ignored” here. There are several “reasons” you can give to explain why — as a male, female or whatever author — you are not going beyond the known and trodden paths. One can be your own specific bias. Either cultural or sexual. I accept that.

It might also be laziness. “Everyone is doing it and I never considered anything else”. That is OK as well.


While it started, around 10 years ago as: “why is almost every story I read male centric, heterosexual and reflecting views on inter-human relationships that are very limited and anything BUT absolute?” now — to break that mold in any way possible and constantly push those borders into new territories — has turned out to be an incredible source of inspiration.

It forces me to re-align my opinions and break out of my own pre-conceptions from a very binary male/female, male-centric and human-centric social construct I grew up with, within my own culture in the Netherlands.

Writing: Inclusive writing — Part 1

This is a work in progress. Status: first draft, first redaction


This is part of a series. See all articles under the tag: “Inclusive writing” for a full overview


What I think “inclusive writing” entails

From my text below:

I think that “Inclusive writing” is not about “political correctness”. It is about you NOT being an idiot for writing about stuff you did not research and you have no clue about. It is about you, showing that you understand the complexity, the nuances and the many different voices and sides of the things you write about. It is also about you, understanding you. What angers you. What frustrates you. What scares you. What you have been avoiding to look into. Or touch.


When I read a story, I like it when that story is about me or something that I believe in or something I want to be challenged in. […] To find stories where you [as an outsider from the “norm”] are included and where you — by the writer and the story — are completely accepted and respected in any possible form: as you are or as you want to be, as a full human being, can be life-changing and liberating.

This is also about myself. My learning process. Finding my voice as a writer. Dealing with questions like: “can I use this?” and using elements in my writing in ways that I feel ashamed about now. Avoiding other elements because I did not know how to handle them at first.

I will use “you” a lot from this point on.

It is an opinion

This post is primarily my opinion.

Basic assumptions

  1. You have a limited world view — Each and any writer is by definition limited in his/her world view on anyone and everything the writer is not (part of).
  2. Colored by social/cultural background — By definition anything a writer writes is colored by his/her social and cultural backgrounds, his/her systems of beliefs, the preconceptions he/she grew up with and modes of thinking used. The result can be (unwantingly) racist, sexist, white-washing, insulting and small-minded. “EVEN” when a person is considered to be “well-read”, “well studied” and “well educated”.
  3. Your readers think differently — In short: the mind-set and/or belief systems of you, the writer — shaped by culture and the influence of specific people — will influence how these subjects will be handled. Your readers are not you. Your readers will not read it the same way you invented it.
  4. You will be wrong — In many cases, when you describe someone from a specific “group”, you will be insulting and stupid: presenting world-views, worlds and characters which are well-meant but unintentionally broken by default.
  5. You were probably sloppy — When you write, you should research. When you research, you are not writing. As a result you probably do with what you can get away with, and in most cases due to the result of your sloppy work (bad or no research, lazy assumptions, blindly following the work of others and so on) you will make mistakes.
  6. This is unavoidable — You write. You will make mistakes. Your point of view is colored. Your readers will not read the things you wrote in the way you intended them to be interpreted.
  7. There are several workarounds — Including the ones I could come up with and I treat in this and in the following articles. See: “The basis” below for the short version of that.

Inclusive writing

With inclusive writing you — the writer — assume

  1. You write FOR the people you write ABOUT. When you write about [fill in whatever, including whatever and something]? You write FOR [fill in whatever, including whatever and something].
  2. Your world is not only populated by endless variations of you, yourself and people you admire but have never met.
  3. Your world contains many variations of anything and everything.
  4. There is no template. No ideal. “THE man”, “THE woman” “THE hero” (and so on) do not exist. At all.
  5. Most current writings by white American writers are NOT your benchmark for “how to do it”

Part 1: exploring the basics


  1. Equal human rights as your absolute basic starting point — Within inclusive writing you assume each, all and everyone has equal rights, equal rights to exist, equal rights to speak, to refuse, to do whatever a person wants to do. There is no “central universal truth” and no thin like: “but one specific type of person is more equal/special than others”.
  2. Respectful and nuanced approach to people — Regardless of how the balance of money, power, fame and/or whatever is, regardless of how “good” or “evil” a person is, regardless of sexual preferences, personal preferences, mental abilities and disabilities; and so on: each person in your story is a person with a full right to be represented and respected as a human being like yourself and the people you love and respect.
  3. Respectful and nuanced approach to culture — Regardless of the culture and how broken or idyllic it might seem or “is” in your eyes, how a culture is appreciated is in the eyes of the beholders.
  4. Understanding of individuality and human ambiguity — Unless you deliberately created Copy & Paste characters (stereotypes), people and personalities are not Copy & Paste productions. “THE woman”, “THE man”, “THE hero” and “THE villain” do not exist. Your villain can be a ruthless, sociopath mass-murderer AND a sweet husband/wife and the perfect  playful friend to children.  His/her closest friend, Villain Two, can be a drug addict and an artist of mediocre paintwork and a funny person.
  5. Understanding you are not the norm — You are not the norm. You are not “normal”, even if everything in your close neighborhood tries to convince you otherwise. You and your values do not represent “the world”, “the truth” or “the majority”. Instead, you are probably a minority. Move to another country and the minority is you in many ways, surrounded by many who are not alike you.

On sexism, racism and other isms

Sexism, racism and all other isms are complex issues to deal with when you try and start doing inclusive writing. In “Writing the other” (buy and read that book!) this is dealt with as one of the first elements. (add quote)

In short

  1. Assume and accept that you are judgmental — It is how you separate one thing from anoter. Choose your things in the supermarket. Write your sscenes. you judge.
  2. Assume and accept you will make mistakes — You will write something down thinking “this was a very inclusive part of the story, doing full respect to all involved” and get completely burned by your readers because your writing still reflects racist, sexist, other -ist assumptions you were not aware of
  3. Learn to recognize your language patterns — “Everyone knew John was a man and a man of statue” seems logical, until you start recognizing that with words like: “Everyone” you made a very crude assumptions about your audience and the people in your story.
  4. Learn to recognize your default assumptions — If you live in a male-centric environment, your stories will automatically start as male-centric stories. If you live in a culture with very dominant base assumptions, you will automatically start from those base assumptions. The better and faster you start recognize these default assumptions, the earlier you can start to “bend” them. “He was” — wait — “She was” and so on.

On binary thinking

Binary thinking assumes something is “either/or”. That “one thing cannot be something else”. It follows a way of thinking that includes the concept of “exclusion”. “If you are there you CAN NOT be here.”

While binary thinking has (limited) use, it fails when you want to and need to address the complexity of the real world. As the real world itself is not “exclusive” and fuzzy and many things can be many things at the same time. Including “contradictionary”.

Binary thinking and binary logic is a dead-end street if you want to write inclusively. It is also a dead-end street if you want to move beyond the cliche.

See also this post on “Modes of thinking” and this post that takes a rather crude but informative take on Aristotle, his “Politics” and some of the binary (and circular) thinking happening there. I used parts of that (with permission) in the “Modes of thinking” post.

On “Political correctness”

“Political Correct”, Merriam Webster

conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated

Oxford dictionaries

the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against

I think “Political Correctness” is a deadlock. It requires you to exclude, eliminate and avoid certain forms of expression.

What if you want to address a specific topic in your story? Racism? Sexism?  What if you want to address certain behavior in your stories? How will “political correctness” help you in that?

Beyond a limited point of view

The main problem with discrimination and a “politically incorrect” depiction of any group of people is not “addressing it”, but that it usually only reflects one certain viewpoint, or a limited set of viewpoints without nuances or opposing ideas. “All|some [fill in something] are [fill in something else]”.

The idea is to get beyond that limited point of view.

Vocality and your point of view

When you are vocal about something in the sense of “All|some [something] are [something]” I think you have to balance this out. Maybe consider a zero-sum result. You also need to consider “who you are” and what you believe in. Maybe you do have strong judgmental and/or racist feelings towards some groups of people. Instead of trying to avoid this by being “political correct” it is better to explore these feelings, expose them to yourself and decide what you want to do with it. Find out where these feelings come from. What factors created them. How and why they are present in your culture. If you still support them or not. How you can deconstruct them.

Balance and zero-sum results

I think “Inclusive writing” invites you to look at everything and then requests and invites you to balance it out. To create something like a zero-sum result where all voices can be expressed in full AND where you show full respect for each and every person you introduce and describe in your story.

Zero-sum result: Nobody wins, nobody loses.


Where (among many, many things) you understand the position of people on the receiving end of violence.

Where you understand when to use and when to avoid and eliminate certain human actions and human forms of expression.

Where you understand that my pain, your pain, other people’s pain, any people’s pain is not a gimmick. Where the forms of violence and/or oppression are the very things that can have happened to people who will read you.

Bottom line

I think that “Inclusive writing” is not about “political correctness”. It is about you NOT being an idiot for writing about stuff you did not research and you have no clue about. It is about you, showing that you understand the complexity, the nuances and the many different voices and sides of the things you write about. It is also about you, understanding you. What angers you. What frustrates you. What scares you. What you have been avoiding to look into. Or touch.

The range of human everything

The range of human everything

The range of human everything: infinite

Here is the problem I see.

Mainstream only represents a small part of us

While the range of human beings and being a human is almost unlimited in all possible combinations and intensities of traits and characteristics  most of mainstream literature and mainstream stories only present and represent an incredible tiny (and usually very limited/biased) part of that.

While this “includes most people”, many of us are not included at all.

Exclusion and denial of human traits

When I read a story, I like it when that story is about me or something that I believe in or something I want to be challenged in.

When those stories only present and represent one specific point of view that does not feel “right” to me, when the world around me is giving me that same message over and over again, these stories will only confirm my feeling of being excluded and denied. “Am I wrong?” “Should EVERYONE [be/feel/act like — fill in something]? I don’t.”

Part of discrimination in the forms I encountered it is about the de-humanizing of a person and/or a group of people. The message of discrimination in general is: “you do not deserve this. You are less than us. Less than me. You are outside the norm. You are weaker than me and thus below the norm. You are not worthy (enough) to be treated and/or respected by me as a full human being.”

To find stories where you are included and where you — by the writer and the story — are completely accepted and respected in any possible form: as you are or as you want to be, as a full human being, can be life-changing and liberating.

Slow shift

The current rise of new and more inclusive work, in the European and American market, in the genre I write in(Science Fiction / Fantasy) is involving more and more viewpoints that are:

  1. None-white and non-dominantly white
  2. Not male-centric
  3. Not binary on sex and sexuality
  4. Not focused on one single country or one singe (type of) population
  5. Not role-binding and not strict on role-biding (“All men should/are…” “All women should/are…” “All dragons/robots/whatever should/are”)

The “Exotic/Others”-card

Or: “All that is not ours must be (either) more interesting, better or simply wrong”

Here are four possible approaches (among many) to the things outside of the cultural range of most, if not any society, outside our own cultural range:

  1. It is wrong / they are wrong — Here we assume that our tiny speck of acknowledgement and understanding on the total human spectrum is “the only valid truth” and everything else is either broken (and needs to be “repaired”), is an abomination or worse.
  2. It must be better — On the other side of the spectrum is: “it was not invented here, we suck, so it must be better” where a culture assumes and adopts many influences from others.
  3. It must be more interesting — Here we assume that anything not us must be more interesting, as we are boring, our culture is boring and so on. “Exotic is awesome” and the more exotic it is, the better.
  4. It is also interesting/worth exploring — In this approach any other idea is interesting and not necessarily better, worse, to be included or rejected. Instead, when interesting and different, other ideas and points of view are explored and integrated (and rejected) when one thinks it is suited.

Where do you stand?

1: “Not invented here, so it must be wrong / they must be wrong”.   This reflects — for instance — in stories where “we are right and they need to be corrected / educated / punished / put into place / subjected” excluding people “not part of (the accepted norm of) that culture” from the right to be heard, from the right to have a voice or to play any role of significance in that story.

2: “My culture is broken / wrong / a sad example”. Maybe you do not like your own culture. Maybe you grew up with the idea that your own culture is broken. In this case option 2 can come into play. “Anything NOT my culture is better than mine”. Possibly ignoring all the flaws in that other culture, usually creating a fantasy version and idealizing whatever can be found, with their own culture as template and canvas, creating a weird mesh that is neither one nor the other.

3: “My culture is not interesting (enough) / boring / has nothing of interest”. Maybe each and every story you read was about other cultures. Maybe the stories you read about your own culture, it was done in a way you did not like. “Pathetic/patronizing/boring/simply below standards”.

4: “Worth exploring / not better or worse”. Maybe other cultures are neither wrong or better, but interesting to explore, research and use as a basis.

I think Inclusive writing assumes there is no: “better or worse” and each culture and situation deserves deeper investigation.

An example: writing Fantasy in a Dutch setting

The idea of writing Fantasy and writing Fantasy in a Dutch setting would never have occurred to me as the Dutch culture “is” — according to my own old preconceptions — “2” and “3”: “Broken” and “Not interesting enough”. The works that have been written were usually not to my liking. “Badly written, dull, contrived,” etcetera.

When — weeks after this post — I took the cover image of “Yamada Monogatari: DEMON HUNTER” and rewrote the blurbs for a remix: “The book of Koen Flipsen: DEMON HUNTER” I did not expect that it would grow on me as it has done in the past days. (Beginning of February 2013)

Stereotypes and templates

We, the people, are not based on templates

We, the people around you and the people in your stories, are not made from templates. There is no ideal prototype human we are cloned from. There is no magic single human destination. We are not the pinnacle of evolution or Earth’s magical creature.


Instead, we, the people, represent variation. Anything, everything a person can be or become can be found in any population and any layer of that population. Class, heritage and/or geographical origin do not pre-set specific traits or specific behavior or the absence of anything specific.

The idea of specialness by a shared trait

The idea of specialness and racial– and class-specific traits, which is represented in — for instance — the work of Aristotle and which can be found in many cultures, including the European/American, the idea that a specific belief makes you more special are simply wrong.

“Normal” is not normal at all

The “Normal” is not normal at all and in reality exclude a lot of people who are “not normal” due to many, many, many different factors. From backgrounds to body types, to age, to sexual preferences, and so on.

There is no such thing as “THE hetero”, “THE man”, “THE woman”, “THE homo”, “THE [fill in your whatever]”.

The “normal” is relative to human culture

Each culture chooses their own set of “normal” and that “normal” is usually construed through negotiation and changed by re-negotiation.

Whatever pops up in the end is a very complex mix of explicit and implicit “rules” you are expected to follow. “Rules” that can change when you enter other environments. For instance: “at home you can eat with your hands. When we are in a restaurant, you use cutlery”.

“Normal” can be oppressive

Instead of “normal”, the “normal” can be very abnormal and oppressive. When culture denies the existence of specific groups, specific preferences (in any field and ranges of human nature) and denies the legibility of specific beliefs, that “new normal” becomes very polarized. It becomes like “Nature is everywhere. Grass is nature. All other parts are not normal, a perversion and not considered part of nature”.

“Normal” is a very personal thing, judged by cultural standards

The “normal” is individual and how “normal” that normal is mainly defined by cultural standards. In some societies the things, beliefs and actions people consider “forbidden” and “taboo” are considered to be completely irrelevant and normal in others.

The conviction on personal beliefs (religion) is one example.


If you look at a mesh-up of European mainstream society,

“Normal” humans most represented are:

  1. Heterosexual
  2. Married or in a relationship (at some point)
  3. Parents (at some point)
  4. Living in a house
  5. Driving a car
  6. Employed
  7. Reasonably literate
  8. Reasonably happy with their lives

People without children, in a non-heterosexual relationship, without a car, without a house, living in alternative locations and so on are in some cases not considered “normal”. As said before, that “norm” is culturally defined and no absolute rule.

“Normal” sexuality can be divided in the following three groups:

  1. Heterosexual
  2. Homosexual
  3. Bi-sexual *

Where bi-sexuality in binary “either or” reasoning is still not completely accepted as a legit and fully normal sexual preference. Where we are also still excluding from the “normal” i.e. asexuality and sexual preferences for animals and for objects.

With genders we have (Euro/American literature):

  1. Man 
  2. Women

Still not taking into (full) account: body-image versus transsexuals, people with a fluid sexuality (switching from male to female to male) and hermaphrodites.

In relationship to our partners we can feel:

  1. Love
  2. Jealousy
  3. Anger
  4. Mistrust

While not fully exploring “contradictionary” feelings and countless nuances and variations of love, jealousy, anger and so on. It is like each emotion is represented by a broken flute that can only play a limited amount of notes.

What do you assume?

What do you assume, based on the above? How do you describe a character? Where are you yourself on this list of items? When will you feel what emotions? IS that the normal? How complete are those lists I gave above?

Who are you?

What are you showing? What is your social construct?

What are you repressing? What are you hiding?

Which sides of yourself have you been denying because of peer pressure and cultural bias?

Can you be a heterosexual male, 35 year old, loving “My little pony” and glitters, driving a car, being a team leader, believing in freedom for all, being racist as hell when with your friends and work together with people from six different countries like they are your best friends?

Can you be a sixty year old a-sexual, non-gender person, ferociously in love with cars, wearing a female body due to birth, driving a ferry from pint A to B and back, having children and grand-children, pretending to like sex when you were younger?

Can you translate those parts to your characters? Can you do that without condemning them?

Can you understand other people with other preferences? Can you understand you are not the majority? That you are not the standard? That “you” are the “abnormal” or “semi-normal” instead? Can you use that to build believable characters?

We tend to search for ideals

Our society in general tends to look for and look at ideals. In behavior. In personal traits. In personality. Alpha- and Beta-males. Leaders. Strong people. Beautiful people. Nice people. We tend to look for templates that “show us how to behave”. Role models. Ideal characters.

We tend to mirrot ourselves to this ideals and say: “I am not good enough. Not slender enough. Not smart enough. Too smart. Too slender. Not sexy, too much sexyness”.

We tend to reflect our value to the opinions of the people around us. “Am I who I think I am? Do you see me like I see myself? Like I want to see myself?” “Do you like me? Do you hate me?”

We tend to filter out those opinions we feel relevant and irrelevant based on who we admire and who we hate. “Alfred said I looked horrid today.” “You don’t” “Well, Alfred said and now I feel like shit.”

We tend to project ourselves in our stories

When we write, we write about ourselves. Who we want to be. Who we do not want to be. Who we hate. What we hate. What we like. What we admire. Who we judge. What we judge. An example:

John looked at the tramp and smirked. “You obviously did not try hard enough,” leaving the man standing with an open hand as he walked by.

“John” is a reflection of the writer (in this case: me). The sentence is a reflection of what the writer can come up with. The way “tramp” is described is the view of the writer on people with less luck in life. A loser. Someone “who did not try enough”. The automatic assumptions made are that “everyone” understands why “John” smirks and walks by while making a demeaning remark.

Reworking “logical” assumptions

John looked at the man and smirked.

Why does John smirk?

Earlier that day, John had had a conversation with one of his colleagues at work.

“I really do not like the way this city goes,” he had said, giving John on of the coffee-cups. “It seems like every street corner now has its own drifter waiting for you to give them money. Let them find work.”

“Yeah,” John said. “I find them around the building where I live now as well. Junkies, homeless. The waste-material of human society.”

“We should round them all up and put them in labor camps. At least there they are useful,” Elvis said before turning and walking off. “Good talking to you. See you later.”

We now know that John has at least one colleague who seems to be on the same line as John. It is clear how they talk about people living on the streets. Their judgment is clear.

Until now, the writer has shown no nuance at all. And as far as I, the reader, can see, that writer perceives some people more worthy than others. The story itself is unbalanced. It adds nothing new to the world as we already know there are people “like John” and “like Elvis”. If it shows no further development in its point of view, I will not consider reading on.

So where are you in this? If you describe a character like this? How do you make clear that YOUR world-view is wider than that projected in “John”?

For instance:

“What is your biggest fear?” the psychiatrist asked.

John moved around, suddenly not so at ease anymore.

“You must fear something?”

“Poverty,” he said softly. “I fear to be poor.”

“Why John? Why do you fear to be poor?”

We now have a bridge to something that makes John’s hostility understandable. (Note that “understandable” is different from “justifiable”. And maybe John has more than meets the eye. What is not resolved is the language used to describe John’s point of view on the homeless man.

Gender balance, gender bending

Did you notice that none of the characters in these examples above are female?

There is not one single female character in the fragments I gave you.

These fragments are written from a very male centered point of view. Females do not seem to exist or not to play any role at all.

Understanding there are more genders than: “male”

Earlier that day, John had had a conversation with one of his colleagues at work.

“I really do not like the way this city goes,” she had said, giving John on of the coffee-cups. “It seems like every street corner now has its own drifter waiting for you to give them money. Let them find work.”

“Yeah,” John said. “I find them around the building where I live now as well. Junkies, homeless. The waste-material of human society.”

“We should round them all up and put them in labor camps. At least there they are useful,” Martha said before turning and walking off. “Good talking to you. See you later.”

“Elvis” has became “Martha”.

Let’s change that more, switching the roles, now with our main character being female and his (classist) colleague being male again.

Earlier that day, Joan had had a conversation with one of her colleagues at work.

“I really do not like the way this city goes,” he had said, giving Joan on of the coffee-cups. “It seems like every street corner now has its own drifter waiting for you to give them money. Let them find work.”

“Yeah,” Joan said. “I find them around the building where I live now as well. Junkies, homeless. The waste-material of human society.”

“We should round them all up and put them in labor camps. At least there they are useful,” Elvis said before turning and walking off. “Good talking to you. See you later.”

Balancing the bias

Imagine this conversation is about you. Imagine the whole story only displays these points of view.

Where are you? Where is your voice?

What if this IS a biased book? What if it is balanced? How would it become balanced? What is required to show the other side of the story?

There are several choices. Stories that promote the use of arms will usually settle this with murder. Killing everyone who you the writer can and do not agree with, to “show” how “bad” they are and “do not deserve to bla bla bla”.

You can choose to sketch a tear-jerking story of a homeless person “Eva”, who had a horrible life and blah blah blah blah.

Avoid victimizing

The best way I found, to stay true to my characters is to have no victims. To avoid victimizing people or “a specific group of people”. Victimizing — in most cases — only re-establishes the very same stereotype you try to avoid. Victimizing people do not create “strong” characters.

Avoid heroism

European and specifically American heroes have one big flaw: they are not human. You do not “rise” like a Phoenix from the flames to scorch everything in your path. Most “heroic” behavior in hero-movies borders insanity or stupidity or both. Like the “Deus ex machina” the movie-version of the “rising hero” is a lazy choice.

Use real characters

Whatever you use to balance a story, make these characters real. Write them with complex backgrounds and believable personalities. With dilemma’s. Doubts. Insecurities. Beliefs. Convictions.

Cracking the binary gender bias

I wrote a separate post on sexual bias called “Dropping cultural sexual bias“. In short:

Our presumptions of gender in male/female stereotypes does not reflect reality. Read it. It is part  of this series.

Language, a beginning

Let’s review this sentence again.

John looked at the tramp and smirked. “You obviously did not try hard enough,” leaving the man standing with an open hand as he walked by.

Why choose the word “tramp”? How do you — as a writer — feel about this word? Is it justified to use it to describe a parson? Is it a good description of a person possibly homeless and possibly living on the street?

Are you talking to me?

How do you feel about using racist slur? Or “whore”? Slut? Homo? Retard? That lesbian? That loser? That nerdy wimp? Jew? Slave? Does “tramp” still look like a good choice when this is you depicting a real person and not one of your characters? Do you still think you are describing a person?

What if that is me?

You are talking to me

When I read your book and when people have repeatedly called me a tramp, a slut, a homo, a lesbian, a retard in my past to silence or intimidate me, when I have seen friends sink into depression due to verbal abuse, do you think I will still appreciate the rest of your work when you do not show me, your reader, respect as a writer?

Are you denying me my agency?

“Maybe you are just overreacting. But maybe that is only a small group of people. Not everyone feels like that. I have friends who…”

Inclusive writing assumes you write for the people you write ABOUT. That ANY person you describe is and will be a reader. That when they read your work, they see you treated them, us, with respect. Not as an object you can throw around. Not as a McGuffin you can use to make some point.

Do you think people are overreacting when they call you out on a blogpost, in person, in a review, in a personal e-mail on your lack of respect for a specific “group of people”? Or might it be that you overlooked something?

For instance that you might have used an insulting stereotype to depict a specific character in your work?

Showing yourself: what does it look like?

Your writing represents you. If your writing is one-sided and insulting, this shows your point of view on these subjects. “Yes but XYZ writes in the same style and I simply followed that” is no excuse. It is still you choosing that writer or artist as your example, using your preferences.

Yes but–

This is a treaty about “Inclusive writing”.

Adding dimensions, different voices and different angles

How many dimensions can you add? How many different angles do you yourself have on a specific subject? How many different voices can you show? How many different viewpoints? How many nuances?

Ending: “and everyone agreed” — for good

Can you contradict your characters by other characters? Can they believe in different and opposite things and still work together? How do they find common ground? Can that be based on completely different reasons and for completely different motives?

“Everyone agreed” is you being lazy. Is a writer being lazy. Agreement is not looking at a situation, but getting rid of it. Kill it. In any form.

Preaching — balance it out, or kill it

Are you preaching? Are you constantly hammering YOUR point of view in your stories? (I do from time to time.) “Everyone should be…” “It is wrong that…” “It would be much better when…”

While there is nothing wrong with having some kind of message, it is tiresome when that “message” is over-represented and/or always the one that is on the “right” side of things. “Winning”. If you preach, balance it out by presenting other options as well and by putting nobody in the right.

Better is to kill preaching all together. Show all sides without taking one specifically. Be inventive.

Adding layers, one by one

The more you can add, the more you can display (without overdoing it) the richer the story can become. But how do you do that?

Take a look at this list:

  1. People responding — How do people respond? Do they all agree? Do people protest?
  2. Treatment of people responding — How do you treat them? If someone opposes, will that person soon disappear? Will that opinion be repeated? Do you silence opposition? Let them talk? Explore that opposition?
  3. Roles of people responding — What roles do they play? Do they leave impressions? Are they important to the character?
  4. Contrast and color — Do your characters contrast? Are there clearly different voices speaking? Is everything just black and white or do you also have shades of red, green, blue and purple? 

Wrapping it up

Inclusive writing, a beginning

Inclusive writing assumes that:

  1. All your stereotypes are insulting and wrong — Each stereotype you create will insult at least one person due to:
    1. Wrong/naive/judgmental depiction of reality — Each stereotype you use as a writer is a reflection of your lack of knowledge on the specific group of people you try to depict. The more stereotypical you are, the more you show that you did no research at all and that you have no clue what or who you are writing about.
  2. You need variety— One specific person does not represent a specific group. One type of judgment does not represent the truth or reality.
    1. In people and personalities — When you depict a specific group, depict at least three different people with three different personalities, dreams and back-stories.
    2. In opinions  and points of view— We have John and Elvis, but there is also Mike as a colleague within that same office. Mike hates John and Elvis and Mike considers them to be racist, hateful idiots. He is clear and outspoken about this.
  3. Understand the fluidity and role of culture — “The norm” is a cultural construct. It is not written in human genes. It changes. It it adjusted. It evolves. It falls back again, to evolve again. It repeats certain aspects of past times. It denies others. It can expand its reach. Very similar patterns in cultures can emerge on  several different places and times with no clear relationship or connection.
  4. Show respect for each and every character you write — How do you want to be depicted if you would be that person? How deep can you feel the specific aspects of the lives of these characters? Can you consider even the “lowest” character in your stories as a human? With feelings?
  5. Do research — Do research on each and every aspect of your story. That can be quick, that can be over the years, that can be now.
    1. How does it work in reality? — Find examples. Dive into history.
    2. What seem to be the key elements? — Try to find those elements that repeat over and over
    3. How could it work for me? — How can you use the results of your research in your story? In your story world?
  6. Assume you are wrong — Assume you are wrong in how you depict a person. Look again and again at your own writing and ask yourself:
    1. If this was me, would I like this depiction? —  Consider yourself to be the people you write about.
    2. Is it in balance?
    3. Am I not over-compensating? — In an attempt to be too concious, it is possible you over-compensate and you create a new stereotype.

Allow yourself to grow

Growth as a process

Growth as a process

When you start writing inclusively, you will fail in many ways. It will be tough. It will be scary (“did I do it good enough?”).

When you want to write inclusively, you need to start. You need to be willing to make mistakes. You need to read reviews from people who really tear the works of others apart based on false and insulting depictions of specific people.

You need to make choices. Where do you stand? Who do you want to include in your writing? Who not? Everyone? Only a small group?

Consider randomness

Human traits are random. To think that the completely random process of sex between your parents, who randomly met each other and might as well had ended up with someone else inevitedly must have led to you, to me, is a misconception.

To be born in a specific family does not grant you special powers. To be born in a specific location does not grant you specific talents. To “be” heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, non-sexual, sexually attracted to animals, or objects is not a choice. It is a random process of dice thrown in the process of whatever when you — as a person — take shape.

To be pro-active, reactive, passive; to be over-active, quiet, alert, absent; involved, neutral, disconnected, overenthausiastic; to be reliable, unreliable as a person is something that neither you or your parents had control over.

There is no magical eugenetic process that creates specific people with specific traits.