Are you Greek?

At a conference in Delphi – we were studying The Sophist, which turned my brain into spaghetti, with Plotinus and Sophocles* for light relief – our dialectic professor asked me at the evening plenary, “Tell me, are you an Australian?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied. What a question! My outrageous Aussie accent was plain to hear, I had an Australian passport, I was born in a little Victorian town. What else could I possibly be?

“I am not Irish,” the professor replied in his delightful Irish accent, and I knew full well that he lived in Dublin and was as Irish as Yeats. “And we are now going to have a short discussion, at the end of which you will agree with me that you are not Australian.”

I considered his words. Here we were in Delphi, where the maxim on the nearby Temple of Apollo had read “Know thyself”.

We didn’t need the “short discussion”. The idea that I was Australian was patently ridiculous. “No, I am not Australian,” I said, standing tall and thrusting out my chest. “Nor am I a woman.”

He twinkled at that. What a darling man!

I was brought to this recollection by a discussion on Twitter in the #WritingCommunity, initiated by this wish:
I really hope people understand it’s okay to write characters that aren’t of your skin or culture. Fiction would die if all we did was write only what we’ve experienced. Henry Antenor

Many interesting and thoughtful responses followed, including this one, from somebody who has been extremely helpful to me:
I quite often write with a narrator who is a thirty something gay white man. I hope it is okay, because I ain’t a gay white man at allNorth London Tales

This is Ego talking. Ego tells us that we are a truckdriver, a writer, a husband, a daughter, a student, a piano-player. Ego tells us that we were born in a certain location, we have various skills and experiences, physical characteristics, relationships and so on.

This is nonsense. I talked about this earlier in Tattva, where I noted that life and death have no perceptible existence, unless you want to count the normal physical processes of chemistry and electricity as life, and their absence as death.

We are not life. We are consciousness, and this is part of the structure of the cosmos. An emergent principle, as science puts it. As such, it is nonsense to suggest that consciousness is bound by such things as birthplace or gender or physical characteristics of any kind. Consciousness experiences such things, but is not those things. We are not the things we observe. We are not a role we play, no matter how finely we perform.

Consciousness is supported by a complex collection of cells and neurones and thought impulses, to be sure, and that is contained within a body that can be described and assigned characteristics and issued with a passport.

So the lady who writes as a gay white man doesn’t have to be one to be convincing. She merely has to understand what drives that particular character, what skills and experiences they might possess. Play the role well enough, she can convince a gay white man that she is speaking with the same authentic voice as his own.

We don’t have to be murderers or police detectives to write about murders – was Agatha Christie a prolific murderess of pre-war England? Of course not! – nor do we have to be astronauts or Martians or robots to write convincing science fiction. (Then again, how many of our readers know enough to be un-convinced?)

In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I can give to others – writers or not – is to consider the experience of existence though eyes that are not their own. Because, if life itself is a fiction, and consciousness is what you are, you and they share the one self. As do we all.


* What do Icarus and Jocasta share? They both got a little too close to the sun.

Photo by from Pexels

life, philosophy, social media , , , , ,


  1. I posted one of my stories on Reddit and got a comment that it read like it was written by a man. At first, I was offended but then I didn’t know if the comment was meant to be offensive. I’m almost always experiencing the world through my feminist filter. After pausing a moment, I thought how cool is it that I can write in a seemingly different voice… maybe I should explore that more.

    Thank you for sharing this experience. It’s food for thought and inspiring! xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I read, years back, of the experience of a woman writing on some internet forum. It may have been Reddit. Male users said that she must surely be a man, and asked her all sorts of intimate questions that only a woman would know the answers to. And they as well!

    We tend to see the world, including ourselves and others, as an abstract caricature of what it really is. It’s easier and lazier than opening our eyes. Look at very young children; do they think girls and boys should think and act differently? No. They learn – and are taught – that girls and boys have different roles to play.

    I am heartened by the rise of “they/their” people. See my post “Theirless”. And marriage equality. People are being forced to confront the view that perhaps gender is not the crucial measure of the true value of another soul.

    As writers, we string words into lines. Can it really be true that somehow readers can perceive things like gender, ethnicity, age, faith and so on from words alone? And how does one “write like a man”, anyway? In a stupid, thoughtless, selfish way?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A nice piece, Britni, in which the ‘pleasure of the text’ is playfully manifest, which I agree is an aim that good writing/reading well serves.

    I agree with Patti’s and your comments, too. It has occurred to me recently, with so many people taking advantage of their newfound freedom to select and alter their gender identities, how androgynous traces seem to have become more visible in more people, perhaps as we are made more conscious of the grey or transmutable aspects of gender.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t that the grand delight of the world? People of the “them/their” persuasion are becoming more visible, and I’m being forced into considering my pronouns and my way of relating to others. Gender roles are never going to vanish, but we as a species may become more thoughtful about what they mean.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: