About a year ago I wrote a blog post titled “Defining Own Voices, Authors: you can’t have it both ways“. I thought the title was self-explanatory. The blog post repeatedly says words to the effect: “don’t claim to be an ‘own voices’ author when it might make you money then deny that identity to ward off negative consequences. You can’t have it both ways.” In my mind, trying to have it both ways IN PUBLIC makes you a hypocrite at best. I didn’t even mention examples of people falsely claiming identities to make money, this was just about choosing, in a public setting such as with the marketing of a book or applying for a publishing opportunity open only to people in vulnerable minority groups, to claim an identity SOME of the time but not at others.
Internet piled on – but I was oblivious
So, of course, the internet decided to pile on. Even people I’ve worked with in the past piled on and didn’t bother to – for example – EMAIL ME. ALTHOUGH THEY HAD MY EMAIL ADDRESS.
Instead I discovered the pile on yesterday because a SFWA committee member emailed me although, to my knowledge, none on the SFWA committee had my email address. I’m not sure if SFWA is seeking clarification or is policing the internet. As a non-SFWA member them contacting me is a concern but let’s wait and see what they want.
Today I discovered Twitter wasn’t letting me see replies to me and @-ing of me from people who weren’t following me. Not helpful but I’ve fixed that now. Still, the internet being what it is, a genuine attempt to contact me would have used THE EMAIL ADDRESS THAT AUTHOR HAD. SFWA managed to track down my email address so it obviously wasn’t that hard.
Anyway, I engaged with one of the authors leading the pile on
By engaged, I mean I googled the essay topic and my name. Then I clicked on the top relevant link, who happened to be an author I’ve worked with before. Back before he stopped talking to me on Twitter and unfollowed me. But he wrote a lengthy blog post twisting what I said and inciting more of a pile on. Thanks.
I won’t name him because I suspect he’s doing this for the clicks. His post seems as orchestrated as the Scalzi-Beale conflict that generated clicks and money for both authors. I won’t be party to that. Also, I learnt not to give publicity with the SMOFS conflict. The SMOFS are a bunch of Americans who, several years ago, objected to me, an Australian woman, setting up this website. Their objections: “you’re doing it wrong” and “how dare you do this thing without our mentoring and our permission?!”
Once I stopped linking to their shit they escalated the harassment and bullying – until I threatened to dox them and, to back up my threat, I named one of their ISPs and gave the ISP’s address. End of problem.
Admittedly, mocking the SMOFS probably helped: Through the looking class and A troll too far. I found a photo online of the ringleader. I couldn’t be sure it was him before I did the drawings but public reaction confirmed it. Also, one of his friends accused me of plagiarizing the first drawing from Deviant Art in an effort to bully me into taking down my pastel drawing. So white American middle class middle aged men and I have a history in the spec fic “community”.
Usually I don’t go to their websites anymore and they don’t email me, use social media or come on to my website to bully, harass or threaten. I call that a win.
I’m going to call this author the Hypocrite-Apologist (HA) because his premise appears to be that he wants my permission to lay claim to all the shiny prizes regarding identity while only being “out” when it suits him. Or he’s supporting other people’s “right” to do this.
HA says “The DMZ essay talks about authors co-opting the “Own Voices” label to sell books, claiming or implying that they’re disabled in order to get a little extra publicity, or a few more sales. No examples are given, but yeah, it can happen.”
I didn’t give examples because I wasn’t going to “out” anyone. Why does that need to be spelt out?
some people get killed for their identity
HA: “some people get killed for their identity”.
Me: I know. Queers, disabled people, women, Muslims, they get killed all the time. WHICH IS MY POINT. THEY SUFFER FOR THEIR IDENTITIES. What I explicitly and repeatedly talked about in that post was NOT people hiding their identity, living in the closet. I talked about people coming out of the closet to snatch the goodies before retreating back into the closet. You don’t get it both ways. At least, you don’t on Dark Matter Zine. As I said at the bottom of the post: THIS IS DARK MATTER ZINE’S OFFICIAL POSITION. Consenting adults elsewhere? That’s between you and the gatekeepers.
HA says I’m policing identity
You will note that I didn’t say someone can’t write an identity with which they don’t identify. If you look through other posts I’ve written, like the series in response to the Lionel Shriver controversy, I explicitly stated that, when writing a voice you don’t identify with, do your research and write respectfully. One such review I wrote is here where I talk about the author having done her research. I also interviewed the author, Suzy Zail, here. Zana Fraillon is another author who does her research and writes voices with which she doesn’t identify. I love and adore her work as you can see by my reviews of her books and interviews with her. Nowhere did I say that an author has to only write their publicly-owned identity. I said, repeatedly, that you can’t own it sometimes for shiny opportunities while denying it when it’s inconvenient.
Last year for International Women’s Day I ran a podcast panel on #MeToo characters. I believe that every woman* has either experienced rape and/or sexual harassment or knows someone who has. However, prior to that interview starting, we established that I wasn’t going to ask. I was ok with that. At no point did they “wink” at the audience claiming to be “me too” while not specifically owning it. We skirted the issue and focused on the characters NOT their experience. They were not owning any identity in that podcast, they were talking about their books. Anything more is conjecture.
(* and other people too but EVERY WOMAN. For more information try googling Christian Porter rape allegations, Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, Canberra Bubble … and I could list a whole heap more. Australia’s government is currently in the middle of a “me too” moment and has, typically, botched its response.)
Identities in the closet
Furthermore, I’ve interviewed and reviewed authors WHO I KNOW are disabled but they do not own that identity. They establish that they do not “own” this identity; I won’t point to those interviews for obvious reasons. I work with their publicly declared identity and they are consistent. Which was what I urged in my blog post.
As HA is aware, I was diagnosed with my disability when I was 6 months old. I always knew I had a disability but I did not identify as DISABLED until 2005/6 when the South Australian Health department discriminated against me and destroyed my career. Then the University of South Australia discriminated against me and effectively expelled me twice (2007 and 2008) for being disabled and asking for disability access. These issues and some of my evidence are now with the Disability Royal Commission.
These events caused me to change my attitude from “I have a disability and I ‘pass’ when I could but I did check the ‘disability’ box for work” to “I am disabled”. Also, as my eyesight deteriorated over the past 20 years, I found I could no longer “pass” as normal. I know a lot about coming out of the closet as a person with a disability and accepting and learning to live with the label “disabled” and the violence since then. HA seemed to dismiss this in his lambasting and misrepresentation of what I wrote.
I called for people to either be publicly “out” or not but don’t try to claim both at once. But HA felt hurt by that. I don’t see the problem: to try to claim to be, for example, a cat and also a dog at the same time makes no sense in the normal course of events. Are you going to chase yourself then claim to be traumatised by the big bad dog? Pick one, don’t be a hypocrite.
(Sorry, getting a bit facetious here. It’s how I deal with knowing the internet is out to get me. That and lots of crying, shaking, hiding from public view, and a few glasses of wine.)
The final straw
The specific event that triggered that post – after years of being really pissed off – was me reviewing a specific book and recording a podcast with that author. During that interview the author, SG, claimed that identity and spoke for that group of people. Then SG accused me of outing her and requested that I change my (five star) review. I removed the review and the podcast so I could not possibly be accused of outing her. Also I was quite annoyed that she claimed an identity but hadn’t come out and was, effectively, winking at the audience. To my knowledge she is not a SFWA member.
At no point was I homophobic or biphobic. My objection was solely regarding her speaking for the queer community in the podcast, talking more than both the other two author guests – who were both out – put together, then claiming to not be out. She asked me to change my review.
This request confronted me with the fact that I’d dismissed my concerns about her coming out story BECAUSE SHE WAS OUT. If she was out and speaking for the queer community with such authority, then I figured I had to accept her story on face value. But she wasn’t out. Therefore my thoughts were:
- I don’t change reviews on request unless I’ve made a mistake
- I have made a mistake, I gave that book 5 stars because I believed she was out so I either have to radically change that review or delete it.
- She’s outed herself in that podcast and has accused me of outing her – I have to remove the podcast so I don’t out her.
SG’s claim that my response was homophobic and biphobic is defamatory and libel. Furthermore, she’s Australian so she falls under Australian laws. I still have the original review, podcast and podcast post as well as records of all conversations to prove my claim. At the time, SG was angry that I removed the review and podcast but she hasn’t previously – to my knowledge – made such defamatory claims previously. I am now considering taking legal action, particularly in light of the fact that two authors just cancelled a podcast booking. If SG apologises unreservedly and publicly then I won’t need to.
Also, if you have a problem with something that I’ve written how about you talk to me?
I’ll be contacting SG via her publicist so I’m practicing what I preach. Once I stop shaking.
I was clear IN THAT ARTICLE that I am not prohibiting people from writing stories that aren’t their own. What I’m objecting to is having it both ways: claiming an identity WHEN IT’S CONVENIENT and shedding that skin when it’s not.
Me to Hypocrite-apologist
I am really upset and angry right now. I’m shaking and crying. I would have thought you’d have at least read THE WORDS ON THE PAGE instead of selectively taking some of them and spinning this.
BTW I wrote this post a year ago. Why now?
HA’s response in part
“You will note that I didn’t say someone can’t write an identity with which they don’t identify.”
Again, I never said otherwise. Your essay was about who’s allowed to use the “Own Voices” label. I don’t believe you ever tried to say people couldn’t write characters with identities other than their own.
You say you’re upset because I didn’t read the words on the page, but your first two points here don’t seem to have anything to do with my post.
“Also, if you have a problem with something that I’ve written how about you talk to me?”
As I said in the post, I reached out on Twitter, but never got a response from you.
“BTW I wrote this post a year ago. Why now?”
I wrote my post a week ago. Why reply now? I’m guessing the answer is the same. I responded to your essay when I became aware of it.
Whatever you may have intended with that essay, many the words on the page–the words that I and many others have now read–were hurtful.
Firstly, HA claims he reached out on twitter. I didn’t get that tweet. Also, interestingly, Foz Meadows @ ed me on Twitter in March but I didn’t see that. I don’t know why. I check Twitter every day, multiple times a day, but didn’t see any of that. Today I discovered that Twitter was preventing me seeing any tweets @ me by people who aren’t following me. I fixed that.
However, HA HAD MY EMAIL ADDRESS. He performatively “reached out” on Twitter but didn’t bother to email me. Presumably because he wouldn’t be seen by the community in email.
SFWA reached out BY EMAIL. That’s how I learnt about this.
You want examples?
In my initial response to HA I cited loads of examples where I support people who don’t publicly declare an identity but are writing fabulous stories of those identities.
OF COURSE I DIDN’T CITE EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE WHO ARE CONCEALING THEIR IDENTITY WHILE WRITING THAT IDENTITY. Because that would be “outing” them. However, HA included SG’s tweet on his page so he provided his own example.
But also, SG is not the only reason.
I’ve seen people who wouldn’t check a “are you disabled” box for work or in other circumstances because it would potentially cost them opportunities while they will take rare publishing and mentoring opportunities from those who are firmly barred by gatekeepers for being vulnerable minorities. There are heaps of us who have no choice but to be out, be out consistently, and suffer for it. We suffer bigotry, barring from opportunities AND WE SUFFER VIOLENCE. REGULARLY. And we’re exiled to the margins consistently.
This is NOT about telling people all the time about all the identities. Those claims are spurious vexatious bullshit from people just joining the pile on. I’m seeing authors I’ve never heard of saying “well, I won’t send her *my* book”. Yeah, sweetie, I have enough books thanks. Also, I was thinking that I should read, review and interview more authors in the US/Canada/UK region from smaller publishers. Now? I don’t know. I don’t have a full list of who’s piled on and I don’t want to touch any of them.
Why not review authors who’ve attacked me?
Why do I actively avoid authors who’ve attacked me? Because any criticism I give of their work can be construed as revenge. Look at SG: she said I’m homophobic and biphobic solely because I said you can’t talk for the queer community while in the closet, at least you can’t on my website. And you can’t write an “own voices” coming out story when you’re not out. But, because she’s playing identity politics, she’s twisted that into something completely unrecognizable. I’m waiting for her to put a Human Rights complaint in against me. Let’s see how far that goes. Ha!
It’s nice for HA that he can choose whether to declare his disability. In my post I suggest that people who get to pick and choose whether to declare should not take rare opportunities from people who are disabled and don’t get a choice. Or, alternatively, the choice to take one of those opportunities should be the act of coming out. They shouldn’t get to “go back in”. Grace Tame doesn’t get to “go back in” as a sexual abuse survivor and nor does Brittany Higgins. They’re out and they’re standing for everyone who’s out and in. I applaud them. I respect others’ decisions not to come out. But those who aren’t out can’t, for example, submit to an “own voices” anthology then expect to go back into the closet where it’s safe and warm. Any other outcome defies logic.
I can (but won’t) name a specific author/editor who claims to be an own voices person with depression but I would lay good money on the likelihood that she never ticks the “disabled” box for her academic career. So, in my opinion, she’s taking rare own voices publishing and editing opportunities away from disabled people for her hobby, while other disabled people who live with their identities – and the inevitable discrimination and barriers – 24/7 have nothing.
I did not say you can’t be queer if you haven’t come out. I’m saying that a queer person who hasn’t come out can’t speak with authority for the queer community of which they’re not part because being a part of a community requires being out. Nor can they write an “own voices” coming out story because they haven’t come out. QED.
HA says he hurts. So do I.
My article specifically and repeatedly says “DON’T WINK AND THE AUDIENCE. DON’T TRY TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS”. And that this is Dark Matter Zine’s official opinion. I will not support an author who claims to be an own voices author when convenient but not all the time. In contrast, I can, do and have supported authors who tell me “Don’t ask, I don’t identify” and we work with that.
If you’re one of the people bullying and harassing me, or one of those telling me to go fuck myself, or one of those telling me to commit suicide or threatening to kill me because of ZE, Sophie Gonzales, Jim Hines and the general pile on they’ve orchestrated, please be advised that I moderate comments.
Furthermore, all comments come complete with ISP addresses so I will know who your ISP is. And the police can contact your ISP and track you down if your “comments” are violating legislation.