The Ethics of Storytelling

I hope you’ll pardon the strange format this time around. I know it’s been a steady stream of flash fictions for some time now, so I thought it might be prudent to talk about one of the barriers holding back further Alabama Ex-Pat stories: ethics.

How do you tell a story that isn’t completely yours? 

The response to my Alabama Ex-Pat series pleasantly surprised me. I’m not much of anyone, but I do enjoy getting a message here and there telling me that someone found it meaningful. Those essays didn’t start out as anything ambitious, either. At their core, they’re just primal screams. 

When I started them, I really, really needed to scream. I was a thousand miles away from home, but everything that chased me away kept racing around in my head like I never left. The visits added to it, only because they juxtaposed the things I missed with the things that sickened me. 

I didn’t stop doing them because that changed. The mixed feelings remain, though the homesickness comes and goes less often. A good, short visit gives me a chance to breathe the warm air and enjoy the company of fireflies and magnolias, but I’m ready to go almost as soon as I get there. I like to get out before the novelty of familiarity wears off, and my old devils come calling. 

Devils are plentiful. I’d have no trouble continuing. I stopped because so many of those stories intersect with those of others, and I’m not sure if it’s fair to tell them. I could tell you about seeing gay teenagers’ lives destroyed by their hateful parents, or old-blood southern families keeping unspeakable secrets, or filth that went down at high school gatherings in the Alabama mountains. I’d love to tell you about a confusing and terrifying sexual experience I had in the deep woods, or the ferocious hatred raging within a friend’s good-Christian family. The  mountains are ripe with good fruit. The thing is, the people in those stories are all still alive.

I still know most of them, too.

So, I’d love to tell you the dramatic and tragic story of my closest friends and family from those days. There are tales of abuse, where I held them as they cried. One night, I received a horrifying phone call where a friend told me goodbye before disappearing. There’s the preacher’s son who made an active and open campaign to out both me and a vulnerable classmate as LGBT. Of course, I have my own family secrets to spill, too.

I’d really, really love to. But these people are alive. Some of them read. Some of the villains of these stories read, too. I’m not sure if any amount of vagueness and name-changing would keep these stories from sticking out to those who know.

If I tell those stories, what am I really doing? Who am I putting at risk, and should I do it? 

I wish I could. I crave the primal scream. But for now, I won’t. I’m thinking of them.

What do you think?

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