Sunday 20 September 2020

Nerd Church - On LGBTQ+ Own Voices


If you follow me on Twitter, you might've seen my thread about the current discussions surrounding #OwnVoices LGBTQ+ content.

If you haven't seen my thread, and/or don't understand a word I just said, then don't worry - I'm about to break it down for you, and also expand - because I'm just that nice to you.

'On LGBTQ+ Own Voices' written in pink on a rainbow Pride flag background

What is #OwnVoices?

#OwnVoices (OV) is a hashtag/general term invented by Corinne Duyvis for books in which the representation is about a marginalisation that the author shares.

So a Black girl writing about Black characters would be #OwnVoices for Black representation.

Which seems simple - but can also be quite complex.

For example, a Queer woman writing an M/M (Male/Male) romance would be #OwnVoices for LGBTQ+ content but not #OwnVoices for Queer male relationships.

Or a Chinese author writing about an Indian character would be #OwnVoices for Asian representation, but not for Indian representation specifically.

See? Simple but complex.

Why is there discourse about LGBTQ+ #OwnVoices?

Because some parts of the LGBTQ+ community believe you should only write LGBTQ+ content or main characters if you share that gender status and/or sexuality.

Some parts of the LGBTQ+ community also think that you shouldn't write these unless you're Out of the Closet - i.e. openly LGBTQ+

Recent instances, such as with Becky Albertalli, have shown that sometimes creators are pressured into Coming Out as a way to validate their writing of LGBTQ+ content.

And as Coming Out isn't always safe, and coming to terms with Queer IDs is often a long and complex process, this strikes quite a few people as being not ideal.

Which means, basically, that the Queer portion of the Bookish Internet, (and the Bookish portion of the Queer Internet,) - especially on Twitter - have been... somewhat passionate in their discussions, as of late.

What do I think the answers are?

Well, that brings us to the points made in my tweet thread, and the further expansions on it that I'll provide here.

These are my opinions, dearest nerdlets - and you can disagree 'til the cows come home if you want to, I really don't mind.

  • Openly LGBTQ+ #OwnVoices should be celebrated and promoted. 

We need real, visible, Queer people in all our beautiful, varied, glory. 

Brendon Urie blowing kisses and being showered in rainbow glitter
Via Giphy

We need to know that it isn't just Allocishet people (i.e. non-LGBTQ+ people,) who are writing our stories. 

We need to know that our experiences and voices and opinions matter - and aren't just publishing's way of getting our money without accepting us and what our lives are like. 

It also helps to stop one single narrative - one single way of being Queer - from being imposed on us. 

There are as many different ways to be Queer as there are Queer people on this earth, and Allocishet people don't always get that.

  • You do not have to be Out to write LGBTQ+ content. You don't even have to be LGBTQ+. 

Totally stand by this - anyone can write LGBTQ+ content and/or characters. 

In fact, we need people to be open and willing to normalising Queer people in mainstream/popular media.

So long as it's done respectfully, and not in a way that demonises or hurts LGBTQ+ people (or is just plain incorrect, which can happen with descriptions of Transitioning, for example,) then there is no problem with non-LGBTQ+ people writing about LGBTQ+ stories.

  • People can promo known #OwnVoices over promo'ing your work though - it's important to have visible Queer creators/stories.

If we don't know you're Queer, then we don't know you're Queer. 

Which means we're gonna be pickier about your work, because Allocishet people have represented LGBTQ+ people very poorly in the past (not to mention all the other types of persecution.)

Very often Allocishet people are clueless about the lives we lead and the challenges we face.

...And if you're not Out, then we have no way of knowing you're LGBTQ+.

So we're going to support the Out #OwnVoices creators - the ones who we know need us, represent us, are us. It's just the way it is.

  • That does NOT make your work/experiences less valid. You can be #OwnVoices without being Out. 

Who you are is Who. You. Are.

We don't have to know that you're #OwnVoices. Your lives, your IDs, your experiences, are valid.

And often, we figure ourselves out through our writing. 

I wrote a lot of Queer stories as a teen - despite being so far in the Closet that I wouldn't admit my sexuality to myself, let alone anyone else.

Your truth is your truth - other people aren't who you need to make happy; you are. (And believe me, I know that that's the most difficult part.)

Jonathan Van Ness: There ain't no shame in that self-love game!
Via Giphy

If your writing reflects your experiences, then all the Internet opinions in the world aren't gonna change that - I know it hurts if someone's saying your experience is somehow inauthentic, but it's because they don't know you.

They can't help that - and a lot of the time they will be coming from a place of hurt or of protectiveness over the community (let's face it, being Queer online is not easy, we all have metaphorical battle wounds.) 

That doesn't make it right. But it's also not your problem. (I know, I know, easier said than done!)

  • The thing is - if you're OV without being Out, then the public don't know that. So you have to accept that. 

Again, our Gaydars don't work on a 100% accuracy rate, especially not when we've never met you. 

We don't know you're Queer if you haven't told us. 

So you can't blame us for that - if you're not Out, then you're not Out.

  • Reviewers: if something is known to be OV, say so. If not, don't mention OV

My fellow book bloggers etc.: yes, support OwnVoices! 

But if you don't know whether it is OV or not then don't even factor it in - there's no need to.

  • What you CAN do though - esp. if you're concerned about representation - is look for #OwnVoices reviews, and discussion posts about rep. to link to. 

I try to do this where I can - especially if I'm a little uncertain about the representation. 

It's not always possible, but it's always good to highlight concerns raised (or praise given,) by members of the community being represented.

  • Highlighting concerns about rep. is totally fine, just try to avoid saying 'this is not OV' etc. because IDs are complex.

Look, if you're concerned about representation, you need to include that in your review, but bear in mind that you don't know everything about someone's ID.

I might've been guilty of this before - I'm human, after all - but I try to stay away from commenting on someone's identity unless it's known.

There are exceptions, of course - the world isn't straight-forward (we're too Queer for that,) - like, for example, if a presumably Allocishet author is being actively Transphobic. 

In that case, the Allocishet status of the author is a factor in the persecution and oppression of members of the LGBTQ+ community - and therefore it's relevant.

But on the whole, IDs are super-complex. The author may not've figured it out themselves, or may not be in a position - mentally or physically - to Come Out.

Life is messy and complex and terrible and beautiful - we don't know what's happening in a creator's life, so we should keep that in mind when we're reviewing.

Do you think people should be Out to write LGBTQ+ stories? Or do you agree with me that anyone can write Queer content?
Do you think reviewers should concentrate on an author's gender status/sexuality?
Talk to me! 💖💬

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  1. What a thoughtful post, Cee! And I definitely agree with you. I think that anyone, out or not can create queer stories. If the person is allocishet writing queer stories, well then they have to make sure that queer people have sensitivity read their work and that queer people have approved the representation as accurate.

    I think the problem is that we assume too many things. We assume people's sexualities. If a person isn't out, we may assume they are straight. I definitely agree with you that we need to be cautious when labelling a book as not OV, because that may be assuming. I am very sorry that Albertalli felt forced to come out. That is a very upsetting situation. I think has hard as it may be, sometimes we just need to accept that people will not share every inch of their identities with us.

    1. Totally agree - a little more nuance all round, I think (...which is a lot to ask, I realise.)

      The thing is, as Simon vs/Love Simon itself explains - Allocishet is seen as the 'default.' LGBTQ+ is seen as the 'other,' and therefore the thing that has to be declared. We still have to Come Out, at the end of the day, in order to be seen as ourselves - but that doesn't necessarily mean we wanna Come Out to everyone.


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