Lately a lot of writers whose blogs or social media I follow have gotten messages from readers saying that they should “stay out of politics” and stick to writing. Every time see a message like that I think back to all the reviews I’ve read that have described a book as political or politically-themed. I wonder where all these authors are whose work isn’t political. How do you write without writing about politics? It is the thing that structures the very reality around us. Perhaps this seems obvious to me because opting out of political thought hasn’t ever been an option for me.
Last month I was working on a collaborative project, a fun little stat-raising game slash romance sim. The main character is a college student and each romance path is tied to one of her classes. The first thing I had to do when I signed on is decide what subject I wanted to write about, and what sort of book my route would focus on. I threw around a few ideas (some of which I’ve unfortunately already forgotten), relying on scanning my bookshelves for inspiration.
I wanted to write an androgynous or gender-nonbinary character, so one of the ideas I considered was a gender studies route, focusing on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. The references to Orlando, one of the more recognizable genderfluid characters in fiction, would have been tangential but still significant. A part of me, though, balked at the idea of taking a light-hearted, entertaining game concept and dragging it into the gender discourse swamplands by its feet.
I decided instead to go with my second concept. When researching historical women in science, I came upon Marie Pasteur’s name and learned that she was instrumental in her husband’s research. Having failed and near-passed my way through four years of university-level biology, I felt semi-confident that I could cover this subject from a position of less-than-total ignorance. I would write about microbiology, a subject I had basic background in and which had always interested me. Louis Pasteur is as much a household name as any scientist of the modern era, for his work on germ theory, on sterilization, on vaccines.
Belatedly, it occurred to me that writing about vaccines is not exactly apolitical. Oops.
It’s hard for me to explain how vaccination became a political issue. Blogger Orac from Respectful Insolence is perhaps a better resource on the subject. I can also recommend my favorite medical podcast, Sawbones, which has an episode on the history of vaccines. Maybe it’s simplest to just accept that politics touches every aspect of our lives, and it’s impossible for a writer to be truly neutral without hollowing their writing of all content.
It was strange to feel ambushed by political subtext when all I was doing was writing about a college girl falling asleep on her textbook. While the subject hasn’t come up so far in the feedback I’ve gotten, I can’t help but brace myself for the future possibility of it. At least I’ve had the benefit of experience, since it seems as though I’m constitutionally incapable of getting away from it, even for a short break.
Crossposted to Dreamwidth.