A Conflict Over Applying the #OwnVoices Hashtag to Works

[Editor’s note: #OwnVoices  is a term coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis, and refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective.]

By rcade: Last year, Dark Matter Zine managing editor Nalini Haynes wrote an irate personal essay stating that someone is only qualified to call themselves an ownvoices author if they are always public about that identity:

Various identities are, like disability, cherry picked by authors. These authors feel those identities benefit them on occasion but when those identities are likely to cause inconvenience — or to make the authors suffer discrimination — then those same authors conceal those identities.

They want to claim to be an “own voices” author and they want to disavow that identity when owning that identity does not suit them. I use disability as an example, but this equally applies to being LGBTQIA (aka “queer”), Muslim, a person of color, and so on. If you’re “passing” as straight, or areligious or a conforming religion, or white, then you don’t get the full technicolor violent experience of the identity you’re claiming. You are NOT an “own voices” author if you don’t own that identity ALL THE DAMNED TIME.

Sharing experiences of the hardships she’s faced in her life because of disability, Haynes suggested some ownvoices authors are intentionally deceiving readers:

Not trying to own an identity is an HONEST choice. When an author declares “this topic is off limits” and “I do NOT want to own this identity”, I can work openly and honestly with this author in a podcast or review. I know where I stand, where the boundaries lie.

When an author says “I own this identity but IT IS A SECRET” it raises issues. You’re trying to wink at the audience, you’re playing a shell game. You are being dishonest.

… I will not be party to lies and deception.

Today, the young adult author Sophie Gonzales posted a Twitter thread stating that she was outed on Dark Matter Zine in a podcast and again in a book review, leading to a “very unpleasant interaction” that included Haynes making a complaint to her publisher, and the essay about authors being deceptive was published days after these events. (Gonzales names Dark Matter Zine but not Haynes, calling her “the author” instead.)

When she was outed in the podcast, Gonzales wrote in the chatroom, “Only some close friends know I have this marginalization.” Then Dark Matter Zine reviewed her novel Only Mostly Devastated and mentioned it again:

A few days later, the magazine ran a review of OMD and tagged me. In it, the author disclosed my marginalized identity, one which I’d never discussed in public at that point. I had a stab of panic, but figured, again, no stress, no one’s gonna see this before it’s cleared up. So I contacted the magazine editor thanking them for the review, but requesting they please remove the line about my identity as this isn’t public information.

She said that Haynes became angry and told her “if she’d known I wasn’t ownvoices she would’ve never approached me.”

Gonzales continued her recounting, “I stated that I *was* an ownvoices author, but some people in my life didn’t know. (I’d also never used ownvoices while advertising my books at this stage, as the only ownvoices book I’d written was POP, which was a year off publication still).”

Things escalated quickly, Gonzales said:

She said she’d been advised “not to work with my minority group again”. She then said her future policy was going to be if authors don’t disclose that their identity isn’t to be made public before a podcast or review is made, she isn’t removing the information.

(Remembering, again, I was never at any point asked about my identity. Do people often pre-emptively share secrets about themselves to strangers so that they can then ask the stranger to not disclose this secret to the public?).

Six months later, Gonzales used a post on Goodreads about her new book Perfect on Paper to go public as ownvoices on her own terms:

I’ve been writing bisexual characters for many years, but I’d always written them dating someone who shared their gender. Then, in OMD I wrote a bi character whose story culminated in a romance with someone of a different gender, and I suddenly received push back. I started hearing that I’d done something wrong, and I won’t list the specific things said here, because they’re just hurtful, but the reasons given boiled down to this: “a bi person who is in a relationship with a different gender is not correct queer rep”. …

I hope that this ownvoices book is seen for what it is, and that the fear in the pit of my stomach that it will be pushed out for not being quite queer enough will turn out to be just that. Only fear.

The fantasy novelist Foz Meadows, who like Haynes and Gonzales is Australian, offered a gobsmacked Twitter thread about the situation:

If you’re not willing to risk losing your job or your housing, or if you’re not prepared to risk PHYSICAL VIOLENCE, then you cannot claim the identity that sees these things threatened, because you’re not paincore enough” is a fucking HELL of a take.

17 thoughts on “A Conflict Over Applying the #OwnVoices Hashtag to Works

  1. Thanks for the context. I’d caught just a snippet of it on Twitter and wondered just how Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark had upset people.

  2. I always feel a bit odd when I find out about an author new to me under such circumstances – I’d prefer to find them a better way. But I’ve certainly added Sophie Gonzales to my reading list.

  3. NO ONE has the right to “out” ANYONE because their reason(s) for keeping something private don’t suit the one who wants to “out” them!

    I’m disabled and my disability is impossible to hide IRL. I would NEVER “out” someone with an invisible disability (unless medical circumstances were such that it would be life or death, I might do something then) even if they had disclosed in some circumstances but not in others. It’s not my call because I don’t know the consequences for them if I did so.

  4. Corrine Duyvis herself has said the term was meant to highlight work by out marginalized authors and to use as a starting place if you weren’t sure how to find something that was good rep. It was never meant to be the kind of purity test it’s morphed into.

    It’s like how “passing privilege” is now presented as a privilege rather than what it really is, which is being in the closet. Which we used to consider a negative thing that had deleterious consequences on one’s mental health, but now that people can use it to bully other marginalized people and feel powerful, well.

  5. Leaving aside more substantive issues for a moment, I question the premise that Clark Kent suffers “hazing, mockery and humiliation” when he isn’t Superman.

    I guess there was some of that in the movie Superman 2 when he lost his powers and a guy beat him up at a roadside diner, but overall Clark Kent has a sweet life. He’s an acclaimed Daily Planet reporter and family man with Lois Lane.

  6. @rcade: By the time he gets to be a reporter and date Lois Lane he has a pretty good life, but before that, his strategy has always been to self-efface himself almost into oblivion, which naturally puts him into a position where mockery and abuse was what he got.

  7. Andrew (not Werdna) says By the time he gets to be a reporter and date Lois Lane he has a pretty good life, but before that, his strategy has always been to self-efface himself almost into oblivion, which naturally puts him into a position where mockery and abuse was what he got.

    It’s funny but I’m not remembering that Clark was portrayed that way in of the media that I saw him in. Certainly not in the various animated series, nor in the radio series, nor for the most part in the comic series. Yes he wasn’t heroic but he was supposed to be mild-mannered and he was depicted that way. But mockery and abuse? I don’t see that.

  8. Kit Harding said:

    It’s like how “passing privilege” is now presented as a privilege rather than what it really is, which is being in the closet. Which we used to consider a negative thing that had deleterious consequences on one’s mental health, but now that people can use it to bully other marginalized people and feel powerful, well.

    Not usually, I think. If a person of color looks enough like a white person that a casual stranger can’t tell, they may be treated better by shop clerks, airport security, people on the street, neighbors seeing them letting themselves into their own premises, police looking for someone to stop or deciding whether someone they have stopped is dangerous, etc. A person of color doesn’t have to be in the closet for that privilege to exist.

  9. Cat:

    It’s funny but I’m not remembering that Clark was portrayed that way in of the media that I saw him in. Certainly not in the various animated series, nor in the radio series, nor for the most part in the comic series. Yes he wasn’t heroic but he was supposed to be mild-mannered and he was depicted that way. But mockery and abuse? I don’t see that.

    In the first episode of “Smallville” Clark is tied to a scarecrow by football players. I may be projecting scenes like that into my imagination of how Clark was treated in other circumstances.

  10. Dark Matter Magazine, LLC would like people to know that it is not Dark Matter Zine, which it just learned the existence of two days ago:

    Dark Matter MAGAZINE, LLC, has never and will never discriminate against any person, nor will we ever prescribe to any person the ways in which that person should or should not represent their own identity. Frankly, it’s none of our business.

  11. Wow. Even Tumblr has gotten over this kind of bullshit purity litmus tests. I wouldn’t want to work with an editor who outs people without permission and insults and demeans people who don’t want to risk their lives to sell a story. Apparently they are completely ignorant that living “in the closet” is also oppressive and terrifying–never knowing if someone else might guess your secret and out you to people who will harm your for being what you are, always having to live a lie. “I suffered, so you should have to suffer too” is the philosophy of an asshole. “I suffered, so I don’t want anyone else to suffer like I did,” is what good people believe.

  12. ” It was never meant to be the kind of purity test it’s morphed into.”

    But is anyone really surprised?

    “a bi person who is in a relationship with a different gender is not correct queer rep”.
    I’m still not able to parse this one.

    Also, this is why I hate the “queer” concept.

  13. GOOD GRIEF! Fox Meadows has the right of it, and then some. Every tweet I read in her thread, I was like, “YES EXACTLY OMFG!”

    Signed,
    A bi person who would be bi no matter who I was with (or if I was single), duh

  14. Lenore Jones / jonesnori on March 29, 2021 at 9:56 pm said:

    Kit Harding said:

    It’s like how “passing privilege” is now presented as a privilege rather than what it really is, which is being in the closet. Which we used to consider a negative thing that had deleterious consequences on one’s mental health, but now that people can use it to bully other marginalized people and feel powerful, well.

    Not usually, I think. If a person of color looks enough like a white person that a casual stranger can’t tell, they may be treated better by shop clerks, airport security, people on the street, neighbors seeing them letting themselves into their own premises, police looking for someone to stop or deciding whether someone they have stopped is dangerous, etc. A person of color doesn’t have to be in the closet for that privilege to exist.

    To expand on “passing privilege” not at all being synonymous with “in the closet,” a non-hypothetical example.

    I’m bi. I’m fully open about being bi. Not in the closet one bit. Also, I’m in an open marriage, and am not at all in the closet about being polyamorous.

    But I very much “pass” for straight because I’m married to a man (also bi), and we “pass” for monogamous because that’s just everyone’s default assumption when they see a couple.

    We don’t “pass” because we want to. We don’t “pass” because we’re “in the closet.” (Although goodness knows that it’s easier for someone with passing privilege to stay in the closet, which may be absolutely essential for their safety and survival!)

    A better synonym for “passing privilege” is “being assumed by others to belong to a privileged class, and receiving certain benefits from that assumption.” And as Foz Meadows points out in her fantastic thread, it is very, very rarely a choice exercised by the “passing” person. It is almost entirely about something that’s near-100% beyond our control: the assumptions other people make when perceiving us.

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