by Brenda W. Clough
Some years ago I went to China on a tourist visit. I am ethnically Chinese, and there is a genealogy to prove it, brush-written in characters I cannot read on handmade paper. It runs back 14 generations.
Nevertheless, when I arrived in Beijing, I did not fit in. Not only do I not speak or read Chinese. I am tall and broad-shouldered, possibly due to American nutrition. I stand head and shoulders taller than nearly everyone in the streets of Beijing. I move and walk like an American, with the loose confident step you learn when your shoes always fit and there is forever a lot of room on the sidewalk. In China people scurry out of my way as if I were Xena Warrior Princess. And you should have seen my daughter, the rower — tall as I am but muscular. She looked like someone from another planet, probably Krypton. You know how men hit on women? They do not hit on us, not in China. We do not look hit-on-able. (Also my daughter could snap them in half.)
I am used to this. All my life, I have been the only one of my kind. The only writer, the only arty person, the only F&SF writer, the only female, the only Asian, the only person interested in mid-Victorian literature, the only American, the only person with a thirty-year run of Batman comics — certainly the only confluence of all these things. This is perfectly fine; I know no other way to be. But there are two useful things I can say about this.
One is, of course, writing. I can’t write only about people like me. There is only one of me; there would only be one book and it would not be very interesting. So I write what I write. At the moment I write a great deal about white people, especially the whitest of white men. Agonized Englishmen freezing to death on the ice, my specialty! I do most earnestly pity them, those white people someplace who are going to protest the Chinese girl culturally exploiting them. Tough. I write what I write.
The other thought is that in fact I am not alone. None of us are. Peruse the biographies of women writers, and you learn that all of them, without exception, felt like they were the odd ducks. At school, in their neighborhoods, in their communities. Nobody fit in! Well gee — if none of us did, then we are the majority. And this is where groups come in. I am thinking here specifically of SFWA, the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, but there are lots of other groups and associations like this. A group of writers can do things that a single writer cannot, of course. In unity there is strength; it was SFWA (and more importantly the late great Ann Crispin) who got me into crime fighting, for instance.
But more importantly, they are like you. You can find people who are doing the same thing as you. And then you are not alone. It is never a perfect fit, of course. But you can be at the center of the Venn diagram, surrounded by circles that overlap at you.