Content warning: swear words and generally angry rant ahead.
I get it. I really do. I’ve fallen into the diversity trap multiple times in the last few weeks alone, but I’m putting a stop to it now. I’m calling for a blackout on the word ‘diverse’. And sorry to break it to you Straight people, but there is no such thing as a diversity trophy.
The word ‘diverse’ solely exist to separate the ‘normal’ from the ‘abnormal’, which is incredibly fucked up, if you think about it. You can test this by replacing the word ‘diverse’ with the word ‘abnormal’ whenever you read it. Sure, I know most people have ‘good’ intentions. They mean well. They are being ‘good’ allies and trying to ‘make space’ for all of us little ‘diverse’ butterflies (diverse being anyone that isn’t white, heteronormative, cis-gendered, able-bodied, etc etc, ya know, all the ‘abnormal’ things). Despite these good intentions, what is happening is not OK.
Goodreads is littered with reviews like, ‘shit book, but SO DIVERSE 5 stars’. Publishers are wetting their pants to release the hottest new book with a slightly ‘diverse’ character in it, completely ignoring the fact that it isn’t an #OwnVoices book and it is full of damaging stereotypes. And we fall for it. Even me. At least, I used to. Today though, I’m done with this bullshit. I’m done with accepting my place in the OTHER category. I’m done with being ‘tolerated’. I’m done with being used to fill a required quota. I’m done with participating in the reinforcement of patriarchal paradigms that ultimately exist to make us controlled, conformed and silent. Here’s why.
In the YA world, there exists a special corner where Queer books live. We share this corner with books featuring PoC’s and persons with disability and any other books the mighty book overlords have decided are ‘different’ enough to warrant a big old sticker slapped on the front that says ‘DIVERSE READ’. Residents of this corner were pretty much a ‘diverse’ lot themselves, so we dealt with the demeaning act of being a carnival attraction in return for being mostly left the hell alone and occasionally having our work noticed (within the confines of this special corner of course).
Then a strange thing started to happen. People who weren’t in our corner started to visit. They’d swing by and take a look at us and then scurry on home, giving themselves a big pat on the back for not being homophobic/racist/ableist/transphobic/etc because they managed to not outwardly insult any of us. This is not unlike Western tourists parading around developing nations and feeling special that they could ‘help these people’.
Recently an even more disturbing thing has happened and these ‘visitors’ to our special corner have decided they’d like to live here too. It’s cool and culturally elitist to be an ‘accepting’ person and what better way to do that than to march on in and claim some of our space for their white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered selves? Ha ha!
It has to end. Being an ally means doing the right thing by the people you are claiming to be an ally for, whether people see you do that thing or not. It means actually listening to the group you claim to accept and DOING WHAT THEY HAVE ASKED YOU TO. I, as a Queer writer, am asking that people stop expecting a fucking trophy any time they include a Queer character in their book. Put them in your books, of course. But doing so isn’t a special gesture. Stop giving straight writers pats on the back for putting Queer characters in the far far, way off, squint and you’ll see it background. Or in the foreground. Or anywhere. Instead, I want to see the calling out of books that ONLY feature white/straight/insert group with all the power here. If a YA book comes out which features zero Queer characters, I am calling for a #ZeroQueers campaign.
We don’t need to be told by other people that we are being good citizens for putting cutesy ‘diverse’ things in our books. We need to be the ones doing the telling, because last time I checked there isn’t a trophy on the shelves of all the Queer writers of the world for being ‘diverse’ so why should a non-Queer writer get one?
Along with this ‘well-meaning’ but ultimately super damaging conquest of our space by non-Queer writers, the YA world has another problem: a problem of power. The Queer corner has pretty much none. But don’t worry! You can get some pretend power given to you in exchange for your identity, your voice, your soul and your income. It’s easy! We need to take this power back. Queer writers need to stop chasing the dangling carrot that says ‘will pay for gay stories, but not too gay, we don’t want to freak everyone out’ and just write what we want to write. Say what we want to say. Be as fucking Queer as we like regardless of whether the non-Queers over on Goodreads like it or not.
But why? Isn’t it a good thing that people want to pay for our stories? Ya sure, and I’m not saying don’t get paid. I’m saying don’t sell yourself in the process. The main goal of Get YA Words Out is to build this kind of environment. To turn our tiny corner into a universe; a self-sustaining, powerful, proud universe where we can be ourselves without the censorship, without hiding our identifies in the closet, without the parading of non-Queer writers with their ‘I’m a nice guy, I put a bisexual cat in my book!’ badges. I want us to seek recognition from within our communities first, not from the patriarchal mighty book overlords of the YA world whose closest encounter with Gay Pride was accidentally wandering past Mardi Gras one year while out getting their morning bagel.
We need to stop using the word ‘diverse’ and recognise what that word actually means. It means accepting our position as an ‘other’. It means ignoring the fact that if we’re all pooled together in this way, technically ‘diverse’ people make up the majority, so why do we keep laying down and letting people with all the privilege in the world walk in and tell us how to live our lives, how to speak our minds, how to write our words?
These are OUR words. These are OUR voices.
Are you with me?