On #OwnVoices and the Importance of Sensitivity Readers

If you are the kind of writer who scoffs at the idea of sensitivity readers or content/trigger warnings, you’re exactly who we’re addressing here.

This article was written in collaboration with over a dozen writers and editors, all of whom identify as #OwnVoices or allies. We have reclaimed the word “queer,” and we use it here to lovingly refer to anyone and everyone under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, but reclamation is messy. To read a version of this post that strictly uses “LGBTQIA+” instead, select here.

If you’re writing LGBTQIA+ characters or stories about trans or queer identity, please ensure you aren’t doing so purely because you believe it’ll make your submission more likely to be accepted. The #OwnVoices movement was intended to give marginalized people space to tell their tales and should not be treated as a genre fad writers can leverage for professional gain.

Representation matters. We don’t want to discourage anyone from writing stories that feature a diverse cast of characters, but there is a world of difference between stories with diverse characters and stories where, for example, a queer character is a shallow prop, a depthless token inserted without realistic qualities or concerns in an otherwise all-straight cast, or worse, has their otherness fetishized. It is admirable to want to include more than your own personal experiences and to acknowledge the existence of people different from yourself (after all, that is what fiction is all about!), but it is the responsibility of a conscientious writer to consider the consequences of their words and how they may be interpreted, internalized, and turned into real-life values in the minds of others.

Your words have impact. Your portrayal of a queer character could be someone’s first exposure to the LGBTQIA+ community and shape their interactions with queer people they meet—for better or worse.

Just as you would research anything you write about in your fiction—which flowers grow best in deserts, or which explosives might be available to a young thief on a mission in the 1700s—please, take at least that much time to research the cultures and struggles of the people you’re bringing to life on the page.

To clarify: we aren’t asking for #OwnVoices writers to self-identify. We are, however, asking writers to take care and to take seriously their responsibility to the real-life individuals, issues, and communities they write about. 

Consider participating in writing communities with active LGBTQIA+ members who might be willing to read your work and share their perspectives. We recently added a “sensitivityhelp” channel to our own Discord server, and have created a way for sensitivity readers to identify themselves with badges. 

If you are the kind of writer who scoffs at the idea of sensitivity readers or content/trigger warnings, you’re exactly who we’re addressing here. Stop taking offense and start listening. Being inclusive can be hard. It takes real work, and none of it is easy. If you don’t want to do the work, ask yourself if you’re really doing anyone (including yourself) any favors by writing about people and issues you’re intentionally ignorant about.

TL;DR: We ask writers who submit works featuring LGBTQIA+ characters to use sensitivity readers to ensure they are not misrepresenting or doing harm to a marginalized population. We’re here to help you improve your writing and get published—this is one small step that goes a long way toward helping all of us achieve those goals.

We love to see diversity and inclusivity in fiction, but it can be difficult to write about people unlike yourself. If you’d like to learn more, we have created an extensive resource you can see here. However, if you only have time to check one, please visit (and bookmark) Writing the Other.

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