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Profit, #OwnVoices, and supporting LGBTQIA+ people

Amy Leibowitz own voices pride month

I’ve come under fire before for speaking about allosexual/alloromantic (i.e., not asexual/aromantic), cisgender, heterosexual people writing about LGBTQIA+ people. So I’m prefacing this with a couple of important points:

  1. I’m speaking specifically about those who identify themselves as not being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, not “people we think must be allocishetero"
  2. I’m not calling for any kind of limit or ban on what people can read or write or publish
  3. I’m not in any way suggesting that #OwnVoices books are inherently better written or better quality, only on average more authentic (and #OwnVoices does not exclusively refer to LGBTQIA+ books; there are many, many subjects the term applies to)
  4. I’m not recommending any rules, only recommendations that a given person can choose to take to heart or ignore
  5. I’m asking for some thoughtfulness, and that is all

This year, there seems to have been an upswing in conversations around corporate sponsorship during Pride. Some people feel corporations are taking advantage of the rainbow themes and are otherwise not so good with support for LGBTQIA+ people. Others feel that the positive tone and overt display bring a type of awareness we haven’t enjoyed before and that it’s a good sign.

Whichever side of the aisle people fall on, one common agreement is that companies should do more than slap rainbows on themselves or their products and demonstrate ongoing, consistent support for us.

I think this is true with writing as well. When I began writing about LGBTQIA+ people and themes, I still wasn’t out. I hid every bit of writing I did that could be interpreted as implying something about myself. None of those early writings are published anywhere, not even on my personal blog.

When I did begin sharing my work publicly, I felt it was necessary to own who I am. I made a very public declaration. I lost some old friends; I gained some new ones. My life is, overall, better and happier now.

The important thing for me, though, was that I didn’t feel I could in good conscience continue writing about LGBTQIA+ people without owning who I am. I think some people are not as safe as I was and still am, and I respect that. This is my journey, and I can’t tell anyone else when or how or why to come out.

What I do want is for allocishetero people to understand that, and I think some truly don’t. I’ve heard some even say things like how they can’t “come out” about writing gay romance and how because of that, they understand what LGBTQIA+ people go through.

No, they don’t. And I wish they would stop using that comparison. Those are not equivalent, not historically and not now.

More significantly, during Pride Month, I would love for allocishetero people to understand that this is not the month to benefit from our community unless that extends to all of us, every identity and every expression, year-round.

The vast majority of books about the LGBTQIA+ community feature cisgender men who love men. There’s an increasing number of books with bisexual men and an occasional asexual man. There’s some degree of diversity in other ways, though nowhere near enough. But overwhelmingly, these books parallel what many of us experience in real life: the representation of the entire community is able-bodied, cisgender white men.

My big ask is that allocishetero writers be mindful of this. Understand the power dynamics. Use some thought before believing that this (saturated) market is the next big thing. Write with this knowledge rather than profit in mind. And above all, consider deeply the reasons for writing primarily or exclusively about a community to which they don’t claim to belong.

During Pride Month, make a commitment to us. Is it necessary to release a book this month? Or could it wait, and your support could go toward writers from our community? Can you donate to a local or national charitable organization that helps us? What might you do the rest of the year to show us that you genuinely care about us and our community?

Finally, one last thing for those of us who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m calling us in. For a while, writing about able-bodied, cisgender white men was highly profitable, it’s less so now. This is a good time for us all to consider how we might bring other, less visible members of our community to the forefront and write the heck out of #OwnVoices books. This is an important moment in which we, too, should think about why we wish to write primarily or exclusively about parts of our community that don’t describe our own identities or experiences.

Not only that, we can support each other in this effort. I’d love to see us try, heading for a time when both real life and books have no bounds. Let’s make it happen.

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