I said I wasn’t going to write a post about what happened on Twitter Friday evening, mostly for the sake of my own emotional and mental wellbeing, but then I woke up on Saturday and saw what the vast majority of people were walking away with and…well.
Here we are.
For those who didn’t see the blowup, the general recap is this: one of my Twitter friends, who I’m not going to name because I don’t want them to get stuck in the middle of a blowup again, started asking some questions about the way diversity talks have gone in the YA community specifically, and the message that has come out of many, many blowups over time.
Because that conversation was starting, it felt like the right time for me to talk about something that’d been on my mind a lot. And so I did.
Ultimately the tweets were read out of context, and not everyone saw the whole thread which lead to a host of misinterpretations, and assumptions were made about the people talking about the issue (which wasn’t just me) so it got kind of ugly. I didn’t even see all of the ugliness because thankfully most it I wasn’t tagged directly in. I know people were talking about me and others who brought the conversation up. I know many were upset about the generalizations made about us, as was I. I don’t know the full extent of the ugliness because I didn’t need that on my stress levels so I didn’t go looking for it. I honestly just don’t want to know.
But by and large, the responses I did get? In mentions, in DMs, in e-mails—it was from writers who are either a) marginalized and afraid to tell their own stories, b) marginalized and afraid to tell anything but exactly their stories (as in writing about other marginalizations = terrifying) or c) not marginalized, but not wanting to perpetuate monolithic books and feeling like they aren’t allowed to do anything else. Everyone was feeling like it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation—not because you'll get ripped apart if you don't write diverse books (because honestly? You'll probably be fine) but because a lot of writers don't want to keep perpetuating that monolith. Which is basically what my tweets were about.
But you guys, this ripple effect that is already present? These writers—and it’s heartbreaking to see how many fit into those categories above—there are so, so many of them. And nearly all of them were writers I know who care about honest, respectful representation. Writers who are diversity advocates, many of whom have been on the receiving end of bad/nonexistent representation. Writers who I know would do the research, would write as respectfully as they can, would find beta readers to help them, would and do listen listen listen.
This post is for you.
On Saturday morning, I scrolled through my tweets and read blog posts responding to the situation like this and this one, and read e-mails expressing the above that broke my heart. And I thought about one of my WIPs that I love so very much, that I wrote to the best of my ability, that I sent to readers and betas over and over and over to try to make it as authentic and respectful as possible. And I thought about whether I would’ve done anything differently, whether I wished I’d written it in a monolithic Safe Mode and the answer was obvious. No. Not for a second.
Of course, that doesn’t make the possibility of it getting published one day any less terrifying. But here we are, and now we have a choice.
We can write Safe. We can write monoliths. We can say, “if I’m stuck either way, I might as well go the way with less backlash.” For some of us, that’s a choice.
But honestly? I don’t think that’s a real option for me anymore, at least, not right now. Because on Friday night, when the responses were overwhelming and my anxiety was starting to hyperfocus on That WIP and on Every Element Ever in my work, the choice of going back to monolithic manuscripts felt like the only thing that might alleviate that anxiety.
And yet, the thought of going back to that made me so sad. Like, sinking-heart sensation, actually-getting-upset-at-the-thought sad. Because I don’t want that. Because I don’t want to perpetuate these worlds where disabled, neuroatypical, non-white, nonbinary, QUILTBAG—minority—characters don’t exist.
Because seeing my anxiety on the page in Fangirl and OCD Love Story, and a Latino character who doesn’t speak Spanish well in More Happy Than Not meant something to me.
Because not seeing chronically ill characters, except in narratives where they die or are miraculously not sick at the end still means something to me.
Because I’m a chronically ill, anxious, light-skinned Latina tomboy who buried her own identity and assimilated for so long, and I can’t go back. I won’t go back. This matters too much.
So here’s what I’m going to do.
I’m going to write as honestly and respectfully as I can. I’m going to listen and listen and listen. I’m going to read #ownvoices books, and I’m going to listen to critique, and I’m going to keep finding betas to help whether I write my own experience or not, and I’m going to learn. And maybe I’m going to mess up anyway, and if that happens I’m going to listen and listen and listen and absorb as much as I can so I can do better. And then I’m going to keep writing.
And on the days when even that feels like it’s not enough, when my anxiety says why are you doing this to yourself, I’m going to take a step back and talk to my friends who get it. Who have reached out to me and said, “I’m here.” And I’m going to listen. And I’m going to learn. And I’m going to write.
And maybe one day, if I keep going, if I keep writing as honestly and truthfully as I know how, someone will see themselves in my work. And maybe, just maybe I’ll find out about it, and you know? If that happens to just one person, the stress will be worth it. The fear will be worth it.
This is me, promising to you, to do my best. This is me, acknowledging to you, that I’m not perfect and I might mess up. This is me, promising to you, to listen, and learn, and do better if that happens.
But I’m not going to stop talking about it, and I’m not going to stop writing about it, because it just matters too much.
And to those of you who are with me, I’m here for you. I see you. And if you ever need to talk, my inbox is open to you.