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Books Are Safe Spaces Now

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posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 04:58 PM
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Have you heard of "sensitivity readers?" Guess what? It is becoming increasingly likely that you've read their work if you've read any recent contemporary fiction.


When Becky Albertalli published her first young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, with the HarperCollins imprint Balzer and Bray in 2015, she never expected it to be controversial. She’d worked for years as a clinical psychologist specializing in gender nonconforming children and LGBTQ teens and adults.* Yet her book—about a closeted gay kid whose love notes to a classmate fall into the wrong hands—contained a moment that rubbed readers the wrong way: Simon, the sweet but clueless protagonist, muses that girls have an easier time coming out than boys, because their lesbianism strikes others as alluring. At a book signing, several people approached Albertalli to complain that the scene played too readily into a narrative they’d heard many times before. Online, commenters condemned the “fetishization of queer girls” in the book as “offensive.” Albertalli hadn’t originally given the passage a second thought: the character was obviously unworldly; elsewhere, he asserts that all Jews come from Israel. But in the latter exchange, readers pointed out, Simon’s Jewish friend immediately corrects him. The lesbian line, a snippet from the narrator’s interior monologue, receives no such rebuttal.


So basically, this is how Slate opens their article on the subject. The author, who has extensive knowledge on the subject through work experience, gave her male protagonist a typical societal cliche thought -- namely that most of society has trouble with the idea of hot lesbians coming out of the closet. I don't think this idea is alien to anyone, but it upset some of her readers, so she felt suitably chastened and appalled on their behalf.

And in today's world of social media lynchings, who can blame her for being afraid? If you catch too much of the wrong kind of attention for the slightest infraction of the SJW rules, your life can be over just as thoroughly as if a howling mob had slipped a rope over your head.

So when she wrote her next book, she resorted to a new niche industry growing up in and around publishing. She hired what is called a "sensitivity reader." These are basically people who apply with all their special beefs (victim classes) in life and then read manuscripts looking for ways in which they might be offended.


In one draft, Albertalli—who totaled 12 sensitivity reads for her second novel on LGBTQ, black, Korean American, anxiety, obesity, and Jewish representation issues, among others—had described a character’s older sibling, a black college student, as a “bro,” the kind of frat boy she’d gone to school with in Connecticut. “In my head, he was part of that culture,” she says. But the two women of color reading the manuscript whipped out their red pens. “Without consulting each other, they were both independently like, ‘Nope. That’s not a thing,’ ” Albertalli recalls. Historically black colleges have a wildly different conception of Greek life, with fraternity members resembling superstar athletes more than dudes doing keg stands. “So, yeah,” Albertalli (who characterizes herself as “white, chubby, Jewish, anxious”) finished sheepishly, “I definitely had to rethink that character.”


So, more or less, 12 people read her book and told her how she was doing it wrong after she had written it. This wasn't in the realm of fact checking as you usually think of it but more of how she described characters or had them thinking. They were policing her characters for their thought crimes, policing her for her thought crimes.

I can see where in some instances this could be helpful. There is a reason why you are told to write what you know, and typically an author builds their own index of experts who are often willing to help advise them when they're not accurate on subjects. Research if a big part of every book, but this is less research for a book and more about the editorial process. This is a step after the manuscript has been written, and the author had to more or less rewrite an entire character.

Maybe it wasn't essential, but what if the character needs to go against type? What if there is a needed individuality that is removed because a sensitivity reader can't handle the body blows?


Some publishing houses provide their own sensitivity readers, particularly in genres—such as young adult literature—where the industry feels protective of its audience. Stacy Whitman, who helms the middle-grade imprint of Lee & Low Books, explained that on most manuscripts her team consults a plexus of “cultural experts” they’ve discovered through “networking and research.” The responses flow back to the author “as part of the editorial process,” and each reader earns a modest honorarium. (The site Writing in the Margins recommends $250 per manuscript as a starting fee.) By the time Whitman started at Lee & Low in 2010, she told me, seeking input from reviewers with firsthand knowledge of minority traditions and experiences had already become standard practice at the company.


Sometimes, your publisher just does it for you whether you want it to or not because they have to protect the children from wrongthink.

And as the article points out, after you solicit sensitivity readers, you could still offend people. After all, something one reader may pass could still end up being offensive to another, even after a sensitivity reader passes it.

And then there is the issue of what happens when the sensitivity reading conflicts with the narrative.


It’s not hard to imagine why sensitivity readers could potentially put authors in a difficult position. After all, where would we be if these experts had subjected our occasionally outrageous and irredeemable canon—Moby Dick or Lolita or any other classic, old, anachronistic book—to their scrutiny? Plenty of fiction—Portnoy’s Complaint, or Martin Amis’ Money—is defined in part by a narrator’s fevered misogyny. Novels like Huckleberry Finn derive some of their intrigue and complexity from the imperfections of their social vision. In Portnoy, for instance, Philip Roth wanted the objectifying gaze of his protagonist—which by default becomes our gaze, since we apprehend the world through him—to make us uncomfortable. Perhaps he even wanted us to use the dubious precepts expressed in the novel to clarify our own beliefs.


Oh dear! Sometimes, authors use our discomfort with how they write and what to challenge our own beliefs and misconceptions ... how very, very inPC. Consider the difficulties of something like Lolita. Does it matter that we are seeing the novel through the eyes of a pedophile. What about if it were through the eyes of Dolores?

And after going through all this, they talk about how this might have a chilling effect on authors looking to stretch outside their comfort zones. I can't imagine why on earth that would be. If I had to attempt to write something with the character thought police over my shoulder, people I didn't even know, I'm not sure I'd want to either.




posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:01 PM
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a reply to: ketsuko

And they conclude by whining about how too many books about straight, white characters, likely written by straight, white authors. Obviously the answer is for their sensitivity readers to get off their butts and learn to write? Don't you think? If those people wrote narratives about the kinds of people they are, then those stories would exist with the characters accurate to those experiences with no extra policing necessary.

Oh, and just for fun ... a couple of sensitivity reader profiles.


LGBTQ+ — especially non-binary genders, grey-/demi-/pan-/asexuality and grey-/demi-/pan-/aromanticism. Mental Health — personality disorders (especially, but not limited to, cluster B); being a queer person with a diagnosis; depression; self harm; anxiety (including panic attacks); suicidal thoughts; dissociation and depersonalisation; living on mood stabilisers. Other — unhealthy and abusive relationships (esp. non-romantic/non-sexual ones), with focus on either the abused or the abused; disordered eating (without an ED diagnosis); womb twin survivor (being an only child; knowing/feeling a twin should’ve existed); migraines, sunlight sensitivity, insomnia; polyamory; working in the Arts as a queer person with a MH diagnosis; other correlations of the aforementioned things.


Womb twin survivor? I didn't know that was a thing.


I am Black (with Irish and Cherokee thrown in), autistic, aromantic, noetisexual, demisexual/asexual, Integrated Radical Non-Monogamist, Relationship Anarchist, autodidact, relationship fluid, disabled, single parent, in poverty, kinky switch/Dom/me, assigned female at birth, synesthetic, intersex, genderqueer, Army brat, survivor of several forms of abuse, left-handed, singleish, and pansexual. My disabilities and health conditions consist of endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, fibromyalgia, eczema, secondary anxiety and depression. I’ve had several major surgeries, survived more rapes than I can count, and narrowly escaped stalkers, domestic violence, and murderers. I’ve been writing cuil fiction, my invented intersectional queer and polya genre, for nearly 20 years. I am also a not-quite widow.


How do you become a not-quite widow?



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:02 PM
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a reply to: ketsuko

If I ever pen a novel, I will definitely seek out these sensitivity readers. If they're able to finish the book without becoming ill, I'll know I need to do some rewriting.



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:06 PM
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a reply to: ketsuko

I want sensitivity readers to read my book as well.

It'll be a "Scratch n Sniff" book about my life in Asian & European public bathrooms.



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:08 PM
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I just kept reading this and thinking ... now I know why books suck these days.



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:10 PM
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From link in OP:


As a push for diversity in fiction reshapes the publishing landscape, the emergence of sensitivity readers seems almost inevitable.

"Sensitivity Readers"?

Read that, Censorship.


Albertalli totaled 12 sensitivity reads for her second novel on LGBTQ, black, Korean American, anxiety, obesity, and Jewish representation issues.



edit on 2-1-2018 by intrptr because: spelling, bb code



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:10 PM
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originally posted by: ketsuko
a reply to: ketsuko

And they conclude by whining about how too many books about straight, white characters, likely written by straight, white authors. Obviously the answer is for their sensitivity readers to get off their butts and learn to write? Don't you think? If those people wrote narratives about the kinds of people they are, then those stories would exist with the characters accurate to those experiences with no extra policing necessary.


they likely do. it's a lot harder to get published if you're not coming from the dominant social paradigm. often writers who write characters of color who manage to get published find their characters whitewashed in cover art.

you're spending a lot of time complaining about a non-issue, imo. writers often do want to make sure they're writing knowledgeably for a diverse audience and not needlessly upsetting people or writing in ways that ring false to members of different cultures.

and when they do want to play against type or use a reader's discomfort as a part of the narrative, that's often pretty easy to tell when coming from a skilled writer, vs. just making a stupid characterization out of unfamiliarity.

of course if you don't like you, you can also write your owon books, don't you think?
edit on 2-1-2018 by fiverx313 because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:11 PM
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a reply to: fiverx313

That's what self-publishing is for. After going through this process, is it my book of 12 or 13 other people's? I said above that I can see a use for it but I'd want people I know and like to do this level of advising. They're called test readers and most authors also have them on their own.
edit on 2-1-2018 by ketsuko because: (no reason given)

edit on 2-1-2018 by ketsuko because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:12 PM
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originally posted by: ketsuko
a reply to: fiverx313

That's what self-publishing if for.


wow

also, wtf does this have to do with safe spaces? especially when talking about a book about gay teen issues? plenty of parents will be quick to complain about that book even EXISTING because the whole world needs to be a safe space for some people who already dominate every damn thing.
edit on 2-1-2018 by fiverx313 because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:13 PM
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a reply to: fiverx313

Wow, what? A lot of people self-publish these days.



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:13 PM
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a reply to: ketsuko

I love books i've got an entire library of which half is dedicated to Organic living and Scientific finds. The other half to the unknown, space, conspiracies and out of the box thinking.

I can't even fathom the fact that they've now got sensitivity writers. To me, that's a huge insult to free thinking.
edit on 2-1-2018 by Sapphire because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:14 PM
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a reply to: DBCowboy

While I appreciate the humor,what ketsuko has brought forth here is very disturbing.

Imagine jd Salinger writing a catcher in the rye under these conditions..

It's just another line of code in the matrix designed to stifle ..




Respectfully,
~meathead



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:16 PM
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a reply to: Mike Stivic

I can't respect any attack on free expression.

I'll always meet it with humor, scorn, and belittle it at every opportunity.




posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:16 PM
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a reply to: Mike Stivic

A lot of the best books of the past would not have passed muster for various reasons.



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:18 PM
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a reply to: ketsuko

I've got the solution.

Warnings on books.

Because idiots will be idiots and when people get offended by fictional characters, in a book that they chose to read. We can then turn around and say...

What you can read the book but not the warnings?
Special kind of stupid ain't ya?




I am Black (with Irish and Cherokee thrown in), autistic, aromantic, noetisexual, demisexual/asexual, Integrated Radical Non-Monogamist, Relationship Anarchist, autodidact, relationship fluid, disabled, single parent, in poverty, kinky switch/Dom/me, assigned female at birth, synesthetic, intersex, genderqueer, Army brat, survivor of several forms of abuse, left-handed, singleish, and pansexual. My disabilities and health conditions consist of endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, fibromyalgia, eczema, secondary anxiety and depression. I’ve had several major surgeries, survived more rapes than I can count, and narrowly escaped stalkers, domestic violence, and murderers. I’ve been writing cuil fiction, my invented intersectional queer and polya genre, for nearly 20 years. I am also a not-quite widow.



A not-quite widow?

Lol, come on this isn't real... Not to belittle anyone or how they identify but this has got to be a work of fiction.

She/he/it is singleish too, a married-singleish person who's married partner is about to maybe or maybe not die.

I mean in all honesty if this is a real person then maybe they should write some books, call it comedy, call it memoirs or fiction. Either way the life they've lived is much more entertaining than the book this thread is about.

Hahahahaha, what a world.



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:18 PM
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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,

I don't know why, but some times I feel like a good old fashion book burning.

Has anyone really taken a good look at what we call art,acting,literature in the 21st century ?

It's pure SNIP.



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:19 PM
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a reply to: fiverx313

So you don't think a gay teen is capable of having regular stereotypical thoughts about lesbians? Is that where you are taking this?



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:19 PM
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a reply to: DBCowboy

I said I appreciate your humor ..

Sheesh..maybe I need a sensitivity reader for my posts....


Respectfully,
~meathead



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:20 PM
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a reply to: RAY1990

This person pulls down $250 for every manuscript they read and dissect.

Hmmm ... $250 ...

As fast as I can read, maybe I can develop some victim status and become a not-quite widow myself ...

edit on 2-1-2018 by ketsuko because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 2 2018 @ 05:22 PM
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edit on 2/1/2018 by dug88 because: (no reason given)



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