Intersectional representation is when a work of fiction features well-developed, fully realized characters from diverse backgrounds. To break this down:
- Well developed: The minority characters are people in their own right. They have distinctive personalities and conflicts that do not revolve around their identity as a minority.
- Fully realized: The minority characters contribute significantly to the advancement of the plot, and are used to their full potential. They are allowed to be heroes of their own stories rather than devices for discussing social injustice. Queer characters have plot that aren’t limited to coming out stories, Trans* characters have arcs that aren’t just about transitioning, and people of color do badass things outside of coping with racial discrimination.
- Characters (plural): There is more than one such character. The token female or token person of color might develop into a compelling character, but if there’s only one, there are still some deeper issues
- Diverse backgrounds: Intersectional representation means that straight, cis, white, and male aren’t the default. Characters have a variety of identities, not for the sake of drama or diversity points, but because these identities are an intrinsic part of who they are.
Why it’s badass:
- Representative works appeal to a wider audience. Conversely, non-representative works tend to alienate large portions of their potential readership by failing to provide characters that they can identify with.
- Distinctive characters: The experiences that people have are influenced in part by their identities; socioeconomic class, race, gender, sexuality, and body type do have an effect on how people interact with the world. Featuring characters who come from a variety of backgrounds means having a cast of distinctive characters who look and act differently from each other.
- Lack of representation in sci-fi and fantasy is often illogical. For works set in the future, it rarely makes sense for everyone to be white, given the current trend in globalization and the increasing diversity of contemporary society. For works set in fantasy worlds, there’s no good reason why the reader would be able to suspend their disbelief for dragons but not for female knights.
- I’m not even going to comment on the lack of queer people in large, single gender fantasy armies because this is so egregious that it doesn’t warrant further explanation.
- Representation in fiction builds empathy and breaks down boundaries in real life.
Writing like a boss: Look at your cast of characters. Are they monochrome? All one gender? Consider where they live and what the actual demographics of that place are. Realistically, what would the composition of their group look like? If your characters are suspiciously similar to one another, go through each one and ask why you have chosen to give them their particular race/gender/sexual orientation/body type, and whether the character could be any other way.
Another good exercise is to flip the identity of a character and just see how the story changes.