Shonda Rhimes’s Inspiring Speech on Writing, Loneliness, and the Importance of ‘Normalizing’ Diversity

Shonda Rhimes arrives at the Human Rights Campaign’s Los Angeles gala.

Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign’s Los Angeles gala, Shonda Rhimes gave a thoughtful speech about writing, Shondaland, and the importance of creating diverse representations. She said that her writing basically boils down to one thing: loneliness. “I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I only ever write about one thing: being alone,” Rhimes said while accepting the organization’s Ally for Equality Award. “The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone, the attempts we make to find our person, to keep our person, to convince our person to not leave us alone, the joy of being with our person and thus no longer alone, the devastation of being left alone. The need to hear the words: You are not alone.”

Rhimes also talked about why she finds the term diversity limiting and prefers the word normalizing. “I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks,” she said. “Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary.”

Here are some of the best bits from her speech.

On how writing helped her cope with being a nerdy and “painfully shy” little girl, who was “often the only black girl in my class”:

I created friends. I named them and wrote every detail about them. I gave them stories and homes and families. I wrote about their parties and their dates and their friendships and their lives, and they were so real to me that …

You see, Shondaland, the imaginary land of Shonda, has existed since I was 11 years old. I built it in my mind as a place to hold my stories. A safe place. A space for my characters to exist, a space for me to exist. Until I could get the hell out of being a teenager and could run out into the world and be myself. Less isolated, less marginalized, less invisible in the eyes of my peers. Until I could find my people in the real world.

On why “normalizing” TV is ultimately good for everyone:

The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them. Because, perhaps then they will learn from them. Perhaps then they will not isolate them, marginalize them, erase them. Perhaps they will even come to recognize themselves in them. Perhaps they will even learn to love them.

On getting feedback from fans:

I get letters and tweets and people coming up to me on the street. Telling me so many incredible stories. The dad telling me about how something he saw on one of my shows gave him a way to understand his child when he came out. Or the teenagers — all the teenagers, man — who tell me they learned the language to talk to their parents about being gay or lesbian. The teenage girls who have found a community of peers and support online because of the Callie-Arizona relationship — Calzona. I get story after story.

There were times in my youth when writing those stories in Shondaland quite literally saved my life. And now I get kids telling me it quite literally saves theirs. That is beyond humbling. And every single time it comes down to one thing. You are not alone. Nobody should be alone. So I write.

Shonda Rhimes Writes About One Thing: Loneliness