Writing Someone I’m Not: A Filipino Character

By K. Trian

This post is continuance to my earlier post on writing an obese character. Say what you want, but to me writing someone who isn’t a first-world twenty-something skinny white female takes more than imagination. I have to do research. I have talked with writers who say imagination should be enough, because that makes a writer. Oh, and also people are not that different. Men and women are not different animals (duh), and gays and PoCs are just like you. Whatever you say guys, but that ain’t me. In the light of all the blunders I’ve made in the past (and will make in the future), I believe I have to do research. Period.

Which leads to my other new character to be written, a thirty-something Filipino called Dakila Sandoval. Yup, so it’s a man, older than me, and Asian.

Lucky me I know two people from the Philippines, male and female, who have been very helpful so far, aiding me in my attempts to grasp this character because I don’t want to write a stereotype, a math wiz who knows kung-fu. You know, boxing is a big sport in the Philippines. Just like in the US. Or in Europe (*cough* Manny Pacquiao *cough)*.

But it’s still quite unnerving to do this. Why wouldn’t I write a white young person I know I would get “right”?

For one, the setting of the story requires several nationalities. We’re talking about a post-Earth settlement. Wouldn’t it be weird if only white people survived? Secondly, I want to learn about other nationalities, cultures, and countries. I haven’t the money to travel a lot, but maybe this is my meager way of expanding my knowledge and understanding of the world? Besides, usually people like to see how others portray or see their culture and people.

But there are risks. What if I end up being horribly racist? What if this goes like with my LGBT attempts that I get a bunch of white female lesbians/bisexuals passive-aggressively telling me that 1) gay can’t be villainous 2) gay can’t die 3) a story without gays is ANNOYING. (for the record, a story without white young females is not annoying to me, but then again, yes, yes, it’s not the same and I have a tendency to ride on my high horse…) I digress. The point: what if my attempt to be respective leads to me being offensive? Kila has a drinking problem. There, I said it. He has it. And he’s a Filipino. I’m sorry, I know that’s probably disrespectful, but none of my characters are perfect because humans — are — imperfect. And I like realism. I like flawed people overcoming their weaknesses and making it to the other side with flying colors. I like writing that inspirational shit, but I’d also like to write something else than ten times me.

But I hope that if ask around enough, if I talk with these two wonderful people from the Philippines, if I google the hell out of the subject I’m interested in, and try to set aside my prejudices and preconceptions, maybe, just maybe I’ll manage to write something that would be interesting instead of infuriating to the possible future audience.

-K. Trian

P.S. Kila’s dad wanted him to have a white-collar job, but he became an asteroid miner. That’s a dangerous occupation. Kila’s got balls. You know, I already like the guy even if I say so myself. So I’m going to enjoy writing his adventures with a female hacker who’s not hot like Lisbeth Salander, a bisexual white male ex-soldier, two other females; one PoC and one obese, and a continuously sexually objectified man.

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Writing Someone I’m Not: An Obese Character

(And a few words on depression)

While T. is preparing his post on fighting in fiction, I’ve been doing some brainwork (sure, some may challenge this claim) over the future characters I’ll be writing. Specifically those who are very different from me.

I’m about to write an overweight/obese person into one of our novels, and I started to do some research on what it’s like to be overweight. I came across many interesting discussions and opinions. How different stories and people can be found! How differently they experience a rather simplified condition that is obesity (terms are debatable. Some prefer ‘fat’, some ‘obese’, some merely ‘overweight’. I’m going wikipedia on the terms here so bear with me)!

So: my aim was — and is — to navigate through different stories of people whose BMI exceeds  30 kg/m2 to get some ideas for my character.

What I found particularly intriguing in discussions about obesity were statements akin to “I’m obese yet eat veggie food 1300kcal a day” or “I am healthy and active even though I weigh 400lbs.” Okay, is this my character? Hm, maybe not. I’m trying so hard to see through these statements and into these people’s lives, imagine what is their definition of healthy and active, or whether they deceive themselves as well as their audience when they claim to eat only 1300kcal/day and still have a high BMI. I couldn’t imagine being as active as I am with 390lbs more on my frame. And to me active is someone who walks several kilometers a day and/or exercises daily at least 30 min until they’re out of breath and sweatin’ well and proper. But still I’m wondering… what if I wrote my obese character to be a 1300kcal eating and plenty of exercising woman? How’d she get so heavy then? Is it physiologically possible to turn all those vegetables into fat, considering how little calories 1300 per day is! (I eat easily over 2000 and am 110lbs/5’7” but I also exercise a lot! Oh and don’t throw me that “Research shows that it is more dangerous to be 5 lbs underweight than 80lbs overweight. It’s true; being too thin is dangerous, too, moreso, in fact” -crap. Show me the research if you’re one of those people who think like that). I’m not sure if that’s the kind of a character I can realistically portray.

I think I’ll go down the less positive route. For most of the accounts I’ve read from different blogs and discussions express misery, self-hatred, and depression when it comes to being obese.

You are bombarded with insults on a daily basis. People treat you as less than human, as a bottomless well that sucks in all your money considering how much your fat costs to your country. You and your condition are stigmatized. Maybe this is my character? Someone to whom being overweight is not fun or healthy. Who is not comfortable at 295 pounds when she’s only 5’3” tall. Someone who’s only 22 years old, so she wants to date boys, live the life of a young person who is not singled out due to her looks. Okay, I’m getting somewhere here, I think.

The more I read, the deeper I got to the mindsets of overweight people, especially those who claim to be healthy and comfortable with it (not claiming I’d truly understand them!). Some compare obesity to depression. Obesity is something one can’t fight. An obese person is a victim of a terrible illness. We should accept obesity as we accept mental illnesses, because just as much as a depressed person can do to ward off his/her depression, an obese person can do to fight his/her extra pounds.

You know, I wish they had a TV show called ‘The Cheeriest Sunshine’ or something. Like the Biggest Loser, but instead of overweight people, there would be two teams of depressed basket cases. You know, people who suffer of anxiety attacks, severe depression, the works. And then their self-imposed mental problem would be treated with making them do happy things. And think happy thoughts.

Guess what, happy thoughts and things don’t do the trick. On a good day they help. It’s always better to do something than nothing. But they don’t cure you. You need medicine when it’s so bad it limits your life to a similar degree (or even worse) than being obese does.

So then the overweight people go to the Biggest Loser. They exercise and have a balanced diet. They go through a lifestyle change. They become healthier and happier. Without a rollercoaster of pills. Their quality of life improves. A lot of it comes down to a lifestyle change and self-control. Could I cure depression this way too?

I digress. But maybe my character will think of herself as a victim?

While I don’t know for sure yet how she will turn out, I have to admit I’ve learned a lot so far about a condition I tended to regard in a very black-and-white way. And this is one of the great things about writing: the research one has to do to be able to go into someone else’s shoes. I know it’s also something to be criticized, but like the general consensus turned out to be on this excellent uni course I took, Reading Other Minds by Howard Sklar, PhD, yes, the author has the right to portray other minds — and bodies.

-K. Trian

P.S. Here’s a poem I found on the internet by some random poster on a thread about obesity.. It’s quite heart-wrenching, actually.

Being Fat

It’s Caturday!

To honor the fact that it’s Caturday, the only day of the week when T. K. Trian actually get some friggin’ rest amidst all that real world crap, we will post below some pics of our dearest animal friends.

Henry the Cat

Henry the Cat

Nora the Siberian Laika

Nora the Siberian Laika

Tatra, K's "pet horse"

Tatra, K’s “pet horse”

Turrikka the Pole Cat

Turrikka the Pole Cat

Rocky the Cat - R.I.P.

Rocky the Cat – R.I.P.

Guderian "Kameli", R.I.P.

Guderian “Kameli”, R.I.P.

Paris, the sweetest little filly ever :)

Paris, the sweetest little filly ever 🙂

Mörri the kitty! He’s so sweet even the toughest-looking dudes, like T and K’s bro are totally this little kitten’s bitches!

Henry IV is Toni’s sister’s young scallywag of a cat. He lives like the king he’s named after.

Nora is the puppy of K’s mom. She’s one over-excited little doggy, always up for all kinds of shenanigans and already fiercely loyal to her owners.

Tatra is the young filly of Momba Soratie, an accomplished dressage rider. Every week K goes to the stables to pamper this cute wild thing who’s so far sprained K’s wrist and flattened her feet a couple of times ;P

Turrikka, who looks just like Rocky, T’s passed-away family cat, was a real climber. K’s mom and her spouse owned this furry little thing who then went and escaped. Maybe she’s still alive somewhere…

Rocky, T’s family cat, now passed away, but always remembered as the furrysome grumpy old sir who was the boss of every hooman around him. And why not, look at that cute furriness!

Kameli, old boy, won T’s heart. Soul mates, just like T and Rocky. Kameli was the gentlest thing on this side of paradise, always kind (and hungry). Previously owned by Momba, now galloping on the heavenly prairies.

Paris was K’s short-time friend at the stables. The cutesiest little filly and everyone’s favorite. She sometimes got a bit scared on the walks in the woods…

Mörri is the tiny, tabby kitty-kat of K’s brother and his spouse. He’s something of a misfit, always pushing over plants, stealing food, and waking up his owners way too early in the morning. Just like a cat should!

We have written our animal friends into our stories as well, so that they may–as cheesy as it sounds–live forever! 😀

First World White Feminist Problems

Okay, I should start a feminist rant blog or something, ’cause I’ve got one coming right now! Again!

I read these news bits about Finland’s Eurovision song contest hopeful having been accused of SEXISM! First reactions: hold your horses Swedish and Finnish-Swedish feminists! The song, sung by Krista Siegfrids is called Marry Me. It’s this fun, light-hearted song (I mean, it’s god-awful, but Eurovision music always is) about a woman madly in love with some dude or dudette (suppose it depends on whether same-sex marriage is legal in your country/state). Let me quote the INFAMOUS part:

“I’m your slave and you’re my master”

(Okay, so I take this probably is about a heterosexual marriage when sung by a woman because master might be replaced with “mistress” there.)

Anyway, this post is not about me analyzing this song. I’ll get to the point soon.

The feminist in question who condemned this song, Linnea Portin, probably has her heart in the right place, but when I was reading the news article, one comment struck me right below the belt. Here’s a loose translation:

“Feminists are the offended party of our time. It feels absurd to compare feminism e.g. in India to the Western feminists who get offended by music, videogame characters and toy commercials. Our feminists seem to be quite sure of the moral superiority of their opinions.”

I recognized myself right there. Me nagging of portrayals of Western women in pop culture. Gee, aren’t you concerned, K! But it’s true. I get miffed when I see scantily clad women in pop culture while men are safely clad (again, I wouldn’t ban nudity. Fuck that.) Yeah, I do get miffed when a teenager — no, I get enraged, when a teenage girl is gangraped to death in India. Or when girls in third world countries can’t go to school. And I become enraged at Sharia Law if it’s executed particularly strictly and obsessively. And the list goes on.

Yet what I write about, what I yap about is so superficial. It’s about the stuff that touches my life. I get my panties in a bunch because of the pervasive male gaze. I mean, sure, that shit is important to me, a well-fed and educated Western woman, but at times it feels like… why should I bother? Things are so fine and dandy in my life. I have independence, power, and respect. Is the half-nekkid silicone-boobed starlet on TV really going to take that away from me? Compromise it somehow? Is she hurting my womanhood? Does the song about a lovesick woman attack my livelihood or endanger my future children?

I mean, I know it’s possible to really ruin one’s life because of some superficial Hollywood trend, but that’s kind of where I’d recommend eveyone to have a reality check: do you really want to be miserable because you aren’t as skinny as X, as big-boobed as Y or if a woman sings about being head over heels in love with a man? At least if you get raped, the rapist won’t get as mildly punished as he would in some countries where rape is around as bad as robbery in the eyes of the law! At least you can drive a car, freely express yourself (both, Krista and Linnea), keep your downstairs fun-parts un-scalpelled, and so on.

That song or questionable role models; they are not going to send the Finnish society

First world feminist problems: This is what annoys me. Supposedly strong heroines dressed to please the male audience. I hope my hubby won’t mind my next ComicCon costume (maybe the one in the front), you know, cuz I consider myself strong and this is how women express it.

back to the 19th century.

In fact, calling Ms. Siegfrids out on this song feels like her freedom of expression is under attack! What, a woman can’t be in love with a man without being called or implied to be a sexist, a traitor? She should hold back her feelings? (I don’t know if she really feels this way, but I have, so basically someone criticizing me of it would feel somewhat unfair).

The point is, suddenly m

y problems feel oh-so-small when I think about the struggles feminists face in other non-pampered countries.

– K. Trian

Sources:
Helsingin Sanomat -article (In Finnish)

Häxbrygd -blog by Linnea Portin (In Swedish)

Related:

Northern Mali Conflict

Delhi Gang Rape Case