Why I don't use #ownvoices, and why readers should stop demanding writers' personal credentials

 I am not out because I wanted to be.

Seth Dickinson was Tweeting about a topic related to this:



Before you tell someone which stories they're allowed to write, consider whose rules you might be enforcing. You aren't omniscient.

So many writers I've talked to recently are skittish of writing about their own experiences in ways that don't measure up to code.

I am not speaking for anyone else. I am speaking for myself.

I spent many years not being out about being trans, and it came down to safety and a desire not to get into volatile conversations with people, whether strangers or folks I knew, sometimes in real life.

I eventually outed myself not because I wanted to, and it sure didn't have a damn thing to do with political anything, but because I was backed into a corner.

I sold my first sf story as a freshman in college. It was published in 1999, a year and a half or so later. My author bio used female pronouns (in English) because they were the ones I had been taught to use all my life. I couldn't imagine a world in which it would be safe for me to do otherwise. Among other things, I was a college studentstill, for all practical purposes, dependent on my parents' goodwill and financial assistance. I had a plan of getting my bachelor's in something sensible (I ended up with a B.A. in math, which is not horrible on the sensibility front) and then working a day job while writing in my spare time.

There are authors who don't pronoun-gender themselves in their author bios. That simply didn't occur to me. At the time I sold that story, I wasn't thinking ahead seventeen years. I was eighteen. The fact that author bios would be following me around for the rest of my life hadn't occurred to me. So for the next years I used she/her pronouns in author bios.

This started catching up with me. People started listing me on lists of women sf/f authors. I felt horrible, because it was a lie. While I have never observed that trans men are exactly a privileged class as far as sf/f writing goes (perhaps I'm wrong?), I don't want to divert attention away from the work of women. But if I asked to get taken off such lists I would be outing myself, and this stuff was not likely to stay secret for long. The people making those lists had the best of intentions, but I was backed into a corner.

What does this have to do with #ownvoices?

I really dislike this trend in sf/f where people are questioned about their goddamn credentials every time they write about mental illness (I'm bipolar and have been hospitalized for suicide attempts) or being queer (hi!) or being trans (hi!) or whatever the hell it is. Because sometimes it is not any of your goddamn business. For years I didn't write trans characters because I was afraid I would get ripped apart by the wolves for doing it wrong, and the only way to "prove" I was doing it "right" was to--you guessed it--out myself. Now I'm out, all right, and still pissed about it.

Either the work handles the issue well or it doesn't. But don't assume you know things about the author's personal background if they haven't gone on record. Don't fucking pressure people into exposing everything for your fucking knives.

It's one thing for people who find movements like #ownvoices empowering. For people who want to disclose information about themselves to do that. But not everyone wants to be a part of that, and that doesn't make them any less important as writers.