Why our #OwnVoices Matter

Tricks in the City author Sassafras Lowrey has written a new article for MathewsPlace.com on why LGBTQ+ voices matter, take a look.

Why our #OwnVoices Matter

By Sassafras Lowrey

The first time I remember hearing the word “gay” on TV was the news coverage of when Matthew Shepard died. I didn’t see representations of out gay people anywhere in the magazines, TV shows, movies or books that came into my home growing up. Now looking back, I know there was so much queer art happening, but I was sheltered in a conservative suburb and had no idea that those things existed, or where to find them until I ran away and arrived in a city and found queer culture and art. Now, twenty-two years later, there are so many representations of the diversity of queer lives, identities and families in both mainstream and independent art and media. You can log onto Netflix and see LGBTQ+ stories, you can go on Amazon and be overwhelmed with thousands and thousands of LGBTQ+ book options. Some of this work is developed by queer artists, and unfortunately much of the LGBTQ+ art what has historically been most uplifted in mainstream has been made by straight/cis people. This is why we need our #OwnVoices in media, and here are a few suggestions:

Allies representing LGBTQ+ people:

Let me be very clear: we need LGBTQ+ allies in every part of our lives, including in the arts. We live in a beautiful, diverse world and I think it’s incredibly important for cis/straight artists and creators to develop work that features that diversity including representations of LGBTQ+ people. We need this kind of representation, but is it enough to have work created about us?

Everyone of course will feel differently about this, but I believe that there is a difference between books or art that is created about us, and books/art that is created by us and for us. Again I’m not suggesting that allies shouldn’t include LGBTQ+ characters in their work; they absolutely should. But if they are going to do so they need to be hiring “sensitivity readers” meaning someone who is of the marginalized community being represented who is brought in during the editorial process to review what has been written to ensure the representation is appropriate and accurate to the marginalized community the author is representing. Similarly, publishing houses and producers need to truly be allies and bring in LGBTQ+ people to develop and create new work: books, TV shows, movies etc. to represent our communities.

Small/Independent publishers and film festivals have led this movement of inclusivity and slowly but surely thanks to a lot of organizing and activism from LGBTQ+ artists, we are increasingly seeing these kinds of big shifts in representation happening in mainstream media as well.

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#OwnVoices

You might have heard the phrase Own Voices or seen the hashtag #OwnVoices online. This rallying cry was developed on Twitter to advocate for diverse books to be written by and for diverse authors — specifically writers of color, writers with disabilities, and writers who are LGBTQ+. The ideas behind the hashtag is that it’s not enough for those who have more privilege, and so (often) more access to publishing opportunities to write stories about our communities. Instead, marginalized creators need to be given the chance to publish books by/for our own communities. The #OwnVoices movement has particular traction around Young Adult/YA authors and has now become a commonly used phrase/framing for understanding the importance of work being created by marginalized writers for the enjoyment by people who are members of the same marginalized community.

Don’t See It? Make It!

For me as an author, this is something that has always been very creatively important to me. When I am writing novels, I intentionally choose to center queer characters. I set my books within queer culture and communities. Instead of a book that is “looking in” on our community, I position my characters from within that world and a big way I approach this I intentionally don’t define commonly used LGBTQ+ identities or community experiences.

Some straight/cis readers have let me know in reviews that they find this off-putting. From my perspective, though, this is about centering queerness; straight/cis readers are able to use Google for any terms or ideas they are unfamiliar with. Sure, there is a risk that some of these readers might feel “excluded” in some way when they read my books, but I’m ok with that. I’m ok with that not because I intrinsically want people reading my work to feel left out, but because it’s far more important to me that when queer readers pick up one of my novels they feel like they can immediately recognize their lives, families, identities, communities, friends on the pages and know instantly that my book is for them/us.

The primary reason I started writing books was that even though by the time I started writing I had found more books about LGBTQ+ people, I still couldn’t find characters that looked like me or my friends — queer folks who had run away, who didn’t have relationships with our parents. At this time in my life when I first started writing, I wanted books that centered queer friends building homes and communities together and I couldn’t find those kinds of books, so I wrote them. This was similar to the approach that other artists I met were taking as well. This was before the hashtag #OwnVoices was a thing. This was well over ten years ago before Twitter and hashtags even existed!

Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison has famously been quoted as saying “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

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If you find yourself reading books, or stories, listening to music or watching TV or music and not feeling like you’re represented — you can change that! You have a unique worldview, a unique experience and it’s worth sharing! Write the poems you have always wanted to read, or the stories you need the most, create films that speak to your particular queer experience. We need more representation and a wider diversity of queer stories making it into the world. I can’t wait to see what you create!

About the Author:

Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. www.SassafrasLowrey.comMatthew’s Place

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Tricks in the City

For Daring Dogs and the Humans that Love Them (Trick Dog Training Book, Exercise Your Dog)

A fun and unique dog training book by Sassafras Lowrey – 2019 Do More With Your Dog! All Star Trainer of the Year.

Your dog can become a star. Go beyond basic dog training and discover your puppy’s hidden talents. Tricks in the City provides step-by-step training instructions to help you teach your dog tricks, from basic to advanced.

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