Authors Aren’t Infallible, Part 2: #OwnVoices Authors Writing Problematic Content


Previously, I had written a post detailing how Authors Aren’t Infallible, and gave examples of authors who screwed up one way or another.

In this post, I thought I’d go into how people seem to glorify Own Voices writers, and are unlikely to admit that they too can write problematic content, whether that be an intersection bit that they screwed up, or an internal phobia against themself.

Although I’m sure readers of my blog know what #OwnVoices means, I’ll provide a definition just to make sure everyone knows where I’m coming from. #OwnVoices means that the writer of the pieces shares a marginalization with a main character/protagonist. So, if a gay male author was writing about a gay male character, it would be #OwnVoices. Simple!

But, contrary to popular belief, even #OwnVoices authors can screw up. Lots of people still hold internal biases against themself, or against others. There’s also a lot of vocabulary that’s ingrained in society that people still use, despite being disrespectful or even -phobic. Words and phrases like “cr*zy” and “spirit animal”. Even diligent and well meaning people can end up writing something harmful for their readers.

It’s easy for someone not of the marginalization to not understand why using certain wording or stereotypes can be harmful, but it’s imperative that they eventually understand. Someone who is queer can write racist lines. Someone who is gay can write transphobic content. This isn’t exclusive to allocishet white people. It’s as simple as saying this: if you’re ignorant about something (a marginalization) then there will be a chance that your ignorance can hurt someone. Even if you research for years, there might always be something that slips through.

One of the best examples I can think of is Juliet Takes a Breath (Gabby Rivera). While Juliet has been known to have wonderful black lesbian representation, others have called it out for being transphobic as well as racist against Native Americans. I myself won’t be reading it because of the transphobic lines I’ve seen, but the book can and will still be important to black and lesbian people.

Another example would be Everything, Everything (Nicola Yoon). Despite the amazing black girl representation in Everything, the whole story line is highly ableist and basically belittles having disabilities. Many people have related to the protagonist and says the book is important to them, but others have also said how harmful it has been to them.

That’s another thing. A book can be harmful to some and still be important to others. People read things differently, and, as I said before, not everyone is aware. I’ve read plenty of non-binary books in which there is a representation that could have been done better, like the POC rep or mental illness. However, I still enjoyed them for the representation they gave me, personally. 

Marianna at Boricuan Bookworms also wrote this post on Diverse Books Being Problematic and I would highly recommend giving it a read if you want to know more.

How do you feel about #OwnVoices writers writing problematic content? How do you react?

5 thoughts on “Authors Aren’t Infallible, Part 2: #OwnVoices Authors Writing Problematic Content

  1. I call it out, but I have to admit that I’m very nervous everytime I do so, because of the possible backlash. I also call out if #ownvoices authors do harmful or disrespectful representation of their own marginalisation – however I only do this, if if I’m writing the review from an #ownvoices perspective or #ownvoices bloggers have called it out and I want to mention this in my review. This isn’t like saying “this isn’t my experience, therefore it must be wrong” but mentioning that the rep isn’t nuanced or something like that.

      • Yeah. I ended up writing a long thread about that because sometimes I call out even though I’m not #ownvoices.

        And sometimes, we don’t realise or we ignore oppression done in our community, because we are focussed on fighting our oppression. That’s why sensitivity readers for non-repped or repped but minor characters are also useful.

        And sometimes someone might not want to say that they are coming to their opinion due to their own experiences.

  2. I feel like the discussion around ownvoices books generally has become incredibly over-simplified. So many people expect that everything in an ownvoices book is going to be perfect and that leads to people either completely missing problematic aspects of the book because they don’t expect it to be there and they let their guard down or noticing it and getting REALLY angry about one or two lines in the book (I suspect because it ends up feeling like a bigger disappointment after expecting the book to be sensitive to representation issues). I want to write a post about this but I’m kind of afraid that I won’t be able to get my thoughts written eloquently enough to actually say what I want to without misspeaking and offending someone. When it comes down to it, I think we all just need to remember that yes, ownvoices books can be incredibly comforting and well-written, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be perfect AND that it’s okay for books to be imperfect. Sorry my comment is so rambly, haha.