Episode’s new contest is for stories about characters in the LGBTQ community. On the contest thread, I suggested people outside this community intent on entering consult a sensitivity reader*. My original explanation from the contest thread is below:
“The results of this contest will be the one and only permanent shelf on the app directing readers to stories about LGBTQ people. If you know you are not part of that community but you want to have a place on that shelf, I suggest finding a sensitivity reader who shares the character’s marginalized experience. With all the best intentions, you may accidentally write something hurtful, and internet research can’t always account for the same nuances as a lifetime of lived experience. Your sensitivity reader can alert you of accidental stereotypes you’ve written or dangerous misconceptions you may inadvertently enforce before you publish. Ask if they are comfortable being credited, and if so, credit them for their sensitivity read.”
If you are willing to provide a sensitivity read for someone, you can comment below. For example, something along the lines of “I can sensitivity read for asexuality and biromantic asexuality.”
If you are writing “outside your lane,” you may comment with something like “looking for someone to sensitivity read for a nonbinary LI.” Someone not comfortable posting publicly may prefer to DM you.
Even LGBTQ writers may want a sensitivity reader for the contest. For example, maybe you and your protagonist are bisexual cis women, but one of your LIs is trans. Even though both you and your LI character are members of the LGBTQ community, you are writing from outside that specific experience. It could help to have a sensitivity reader who can keep an eye out for problem areas in your story you may not be aware of.
A few things to keep in mind:
Identities aren’t monolithic. One sensitivity reader cannot speak for the experience of every single person in their community, so it would never be a bad thing to have more than one sensitivity reader. And you should still do your research.
Sensitivity readers aren’t shields. You may still get feedback from readers after you publish that says something along the lines of “Well I’M bi and this story didn’t resonate with me at all.” Please don’t respond with “Well, X signed off on it.” You are still ultimately the architect for your story.
You can write a story with LGBTQ+ characters at the center, but it doesn’t have to be ABOUT being LGBTQ+. If you want to write a story about a lesbian attending a wizarding school, that’s very different from writing a story about a lesbian sent by her parents to a conversion camp. The latter example is a story centered on the marginalized experience. Now, no SWAT team is going to crash through your window if you try to write it despite not being a lesbian, but it is still worth asking yourself why you are the best person to bring that story into the world. In any case, either of these story scenarios would benefit from a sensitivity reader.
It is still important to uphold LGBTQ voices. We learn the most about a community by listening to its members. LGBTQ people still have stories to tell. If you aren’t LGBTQ and you are populating your stories with LGBTQ people, one of the best ways to understand your own characters is by listening to people like them and continuing to read their stories.
Listen to your sensitivity reader. They may suggest changing something. That’s what they’re there for! Even though it may make you sad to have to rework an aspect of your story, remember that they are there to help you. They want your story ring true with LGBTQ readers, and that’s what you ultimately want as well.
LGBTQ people aren’t unicorns. What I mean is, people often say, “No writer is a unicorn but we let anyone write about unicorns, so people who aren’t LGBTQ can just as easily use their imagination to write LGBTQ characters.” Well, unicorns don’t exist! To my knowledge, there is no bullied unicorn child contemplating suicide right now because of his unicorn identity. The stakes are higher for people who are oppressed in the real world than they are for unicorns, so that’s why sensitivity readers are important.
LGBTQ people don’t need sensitivity readers to write allocishet characters. LGBTQ people are inundated with cishet experiences as the “norm” constantly. They need to understand cishet people in order to survive in a cishet-dominated world. Some of us are still closeted and pretend to be cishet, authoring cishet fictions in our very lives. Please don’t comment “I can sensitivity read for allocishet characters.” This is not the thread for that. Sensitivity reading is common in the traditional publishing community, and I can promise you it is centered around portraying marginalized voices correctly.
*Sensitivity reader is standard terminology for this service in the larger publishing community. I’m not creating the term or the role.