Lacy Literacy

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This has been an issue that has been weighing on me for a long time. With the great things that #ownvoices has brought us, it has also brought us this movement for authors writing Queer stories to out themselves in order to give them the “validity” to write the story they are writing. Over the summer, I had a specific experience at a book signing that prompted me to write this post.

As a bisexual reader who hasn’t even been out for a year, I feel particularly invested in this issue because I’m still raw from the circumstances that made me feel forced to come out to a specific group of people. It really breaks my heart when I see this happening.


 

When I was at a book signing for a book that featured queer main characters, a reader in the audience asked, verbatim, “why did you feel the need to write a [insert sexuality] character”. The author was visibly uncomfortable and startled when the question was asked. The question came off in a “why do YOU feel the right to write this story” kind of way. Now, I don’t think the person in the audience was trying to put the author in a uncomfortable position. Nonetheless, it still came off that way.

This was an author that I had never heard explicitly talk about their sexuality before. They had talked in a way that implied that they weren’t straight, but I had never seen an explicit statement from them. Then, the author answered it by saying they were [insert sexuality of the book’s main character]. I looked over at my friends and we all gave each other this look of “Oh, no”. I sat there thinking “Did that person in the audience just cause the author to out themselves?”. The fact that that author had to potentially out themselves at a book event because some person in the audience asked why they had the right to write their own story…. It stayed with me. Authors shouldn’t have to out themselves for the sake of readers.

 

Labeling queer books as #ownvoices isn’t the same as labeling other books with certain marginalized identities as #ownvoices. To be an queer #ownvoices book requires the author disclose their sexuality and/or gender identity. Both of which is extremely personal information.

I think that #ownvoices is great. I love that I can easily seek out books about my identity written by other people who are also that identity. That being said, we still need to be mindful of what we’re doing when we ask authors about their gender and/or sexuality just so we can check their book off for a list.

I get it the want for knowing. I’m a bisexual reader. When we know that books are #ownvoices, there is a lesser chance of us getting burned by bad representation (but then people go bashing #ownvoices stories for not fitting their experience & then question the author’s identity… Alas, that is an issue for another time). Unfortunately, in this push to label books with queer representation as #ownvoices, we’ve aliened closeted authors and have cultivated this feeling that to be able to write queer stories, you have to be out.

There’s a lot of reader entitlement with regards to knowing all of an authors identities. It’s easy to feel that way when an author is one click away on Twitter, but authors don’t owe you information about their personal lives. When you’re demanding that they disclose information about their personal life just so you can label a book #ownvoices or not, you need to take a step back, especially if you’re a not apart of the community, and think about the ramifications of what you’re doing.

You don’t know an author’s circumstances & their personal life. Just because they are writing a story about queer characters, does not mean they’re ready to come out. They might not be ready to come out at the time, or they might not want to ever come out, whatever the circumstance is, this want for labeling queer books as #ownvoices cultivates the feeling that to be taken seriously and write your story, you have to come out to validate your right to write queer characters.

That’s why the question that was asked of an author at the signing has still stuck with me. All I could think about was ‘why do you need to potentially put authors in that position’. I know if someone asked me why I was writing an queer story & I wasn’t out, I would be defensive. The only way to defend yourself writing these stories is by saying you are what you’re writing about. It’s hard to hear people ask why you would write about your own identity when it’s something so central to you, even though people might not know.

Think twice before you put an author in a situation that could potentially cause them harm. Your want to check a book off on a list is not nearly as important and someone else’s safety and wellbeing.Β 


 

Another thing to keep in mind for labeling queer stories as #ownvoices is toΒ make sure that an author is actually out before labeling it #ownvoices. You might have stumbled upon a private conversation or the author might’ve implied being a certain identity, but please don’t use that information to start labeling them as #ownvoices and accidentally out them in doing so. A rule of thumb I use is that if it isn’t in their biography on their website or twitter bio, you probably shouldn’t label them #ownvoices unless you’ve seen explicit statement. One alternative to labeling a book as #ownvoices when trying to recommend a book with good representation is by saying “#ownvoices reviewers like [insert blog name] have praised this book for [insert representation]”. That way you don’t have to potentially out an author to showcase the presentation while still letting other queer readers know that the representation is positive.

17 thoughts on “Stop Demanding Authors writing Queer Stories Label Themselves for the Sake of #ownvoices

  1. I could not agree with this more!!! I completely understand readers wanting to read #ownvoices books because, like you said, it means there’s less of a chance that the rep will be hurtful or inaccurate. But authors should never feel pressured to reveal information about themselves just so they won’t be criticized for writing about a character with a certain identity or experience. I feel like, as much good as #ownvoices has brought us, it’s been pretty damaging at times too. There have also been authors who are of a certain marginalized identity who have been attacked for NOT writing #ownvoices stories which is ridiculous and can be just as hurtful as what you’re talking about here. I think readers, in general, need to take a step back and realize that we aren’t owed anything from authors. Wonderful post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lacyliteracy says:

      Thank you! #ownvoices has become kind of a mess. There was great intention behind it, but it has gotten warped from what it was originally supposed to do which sucks.

      Exactly! I’ve seen people try and pressure authors into writing #ownvoices. There’s so much energy that goes into writing #ownvoices and, for some people, trauma that has to be hashed out that I don’t blame authors for not writing them. People aren’t obligated to write their marginalization for you lol.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly – I completely agree. I have really complicated feelings on #ownvoices. It’s done a lot of good, but I think it’s also been used in negative ways.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard that what happened at your book event has been done with several authors and it just shocks me that people are pretty much FORCING an author to come out in order to validate that they’re writing a queer story. I think people sometimes forget that authors are real people too and it’s sad that this is an actual thing that happens in our community 😦 you’ve summed up my own thoughts on this topic perfectly and I think this is a fantastic post! ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lacyliteracy says:

      Yeah, it’s appalling how often it happens. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lacy, this is SUCH a good post. Thank you for writing it.

    Like

    1. lacyliteracy says:

      Thank you!! πŸ’–

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely, 100% agree, and I’m so glad you’re talking about this. I think this can apply to more than just sexuality and gender though. For example, I have a chronic illness, but, for a long time, I wasn’t comfortable telling people that or posting about that publicly online, etc. So I can imagine that sometimes authors with mental or physical disabilities or any other piece of information at all may want to keep that private too. We just shouldn’t force authors to out themselves about anything they’re not ready to share.

    I think #ownvoices books are fantastic, but I maintain the belief that a book doesn’t HAVE to be #ownvoices, or doesn’t have to be labeled as such, for it to portray a certain thing well. Like you said, the author just might not be ready to share. Or maybe they don’t fall into that marginalized category, but they’re close to someone who did. Or maybe they really did their research and talked to people. So I like your suggestion to mention #ownvoices reviewers in those cases πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lacyliteracy says:

      Yes! Invisible disabilities require disclosing information too.

      Definitely, #ownvoices is valuable, but I personally don’t mind reading non-#ownvices books. However, I do go into those books cautious and read reviews by other marginalized people before considering reading them.

      Like

  5. What a well-written and necessary post! Own Voices can be a very positive movement–but it definitely has its drawbacks, like this. Forcing authors to disclose personal information and personal experiences they may have intentionally kept out of the public eye is just flat out wrong. While I know being able to say a book is Own Voices leads to more legitimacy for some readers, I’m comfortable not knowing, as long as the representation doesn’t harm people in that community. Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sophie Li says:

    Hello! This is an interesting discussion topic. I absolutely agree that readers should be sensitive towards authors who write about queer characters.
    As a reader who straight, I enjoy reading books with lgbt characters, and I also like writing. I am curious…. is it wrong for straight authors to write about queer characters?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lacyliteracy says:

      No, but they should do extensive research and have sensitivity readers. Also, if they’re a straight woman writing m/m, I would advise them not to or to at least evaluate WHY they’re writing those stories because m/m stories have been fetishized by straight women.

      One of the early things you’ll learn is that straight people shouldn’t be using the word “queer” as a blanket term because it’s something that can only be reclaimed by LGBTQ people. If I were you, I would say “LGBTQ” in place of queer in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sophie Li says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I generally do not use the term β€œqueer” but I did choose to use it this time because it was used in your blog post. However now I understand that it is a word that is used by the lgbtq community and not by straight people, I suppose similar to how the N word can only be used by black people.
        Yes sensitivity readers are always a good idea.

        Like

  7. I understand wanting to know if an author is a member of the LGBTQ+ community if they’re writing about it before picking up a book, since there’s so much harmful rep out there, but basically forcing an author to come out like that? That is not okay. I haven’t been out for even a year yet either (and I’m not out to everyone I know) and just the thought of someone putting me on the spot like that by asking me about my bisexual MC already makes me nauseous. I really hope it didn’t harm that author. I definitely understand why this question stayed with you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lacyliteracy says:

      Definitely. It always seems to be straight people who are the ones who ask invasive questions too πŸ˜’.

      Liked by 1 person

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