There is an ongoing conversation in various venues about the identity of writers - specifically, marginalised writers and whether or not it truly matters whether a writeR is a POC, GBLT, disabled or holds another marginalisation. We know a whole lot of people are quick to ask who cares whether an author is POC, GBLT et al? Why is this relevant?
Well, we do, and it is relevant. It’s usually one of the first things we try to find out when coming across a new author.
We’ve spoken before about the gatekeepers that marginalised authors face. We’ve seen the drama in YA trying to exclude gay characters, we’ve seen the white washing that covers face if they presume to show a POC. This is one of the reasons we’re supportive of webisodes and self-publishing, because there are a lot of gatekeepers out there that make it hard for maginalised people to be traditionally published. With these gatekeepers, it is reasonable for marginalised people and their allies to try and turn the tide by deliberately going out of their way to support marginalised authors.
Even when marginalised authors do write about their own marginalisation and are published, it greatly increases the chance the book will be shelved as niche and considered undesirable for mainstream consumption. It becomes all the more important to buy the book, support the author and to say this book belongs on the shelves.
There’s also a matter of authenticity. And this doesn’t mean that privileged people can’t write marginalised characters. In fact, we don’t even think it’s hard for privileged people to write marginalised characters - but it’s a very common excuse not to do so. Which is a reason why we seek marginalised authors because so many privileged authors keep writing trope laden stereotypes that it has frequently reached a point where we wish these authors would erase us; erasure would be preferably to the offensive portrayals they create.
But even aside from that, there is power in a marginalised person telling their own story. There is a power in authenticity. It matters, in genres that are erased, where our own writers are so rare, to be able to pick up a book about us, by us. In so much of life our stories, the narratives of our lives, are either completely ignored or are framed and shaped by the oppressor. It is white people who we repeatedly see talking about race. It is straight people declaiming their opinions on GBLT people. It is the able bodied who speak on disability. Our lives are common property to be picked over and we are often not considered to be experts or experienced in our own lives.
We know this authenticity is valued, because we know there are a horrendous number of privileged writers appropriating marginalised identities in order to claim it. In the M/M genre we saw this with numerous authors who weren’t gay men, pretending to be gay men; but it’s hardly unique to the genre - People of Colour (The Education of Little Tree, anyone?) and disabled people have faced the same identity appropriation. By pretending to be marginalised, they deceive the community that is seeking this authenticity, the community that is seeking a shared experience, a shared culture or just a shared understanding.
With these people peddling fake authenticity, it becomes even more important for marginalised people to find actual marginalised authors - if nothing else but to actually make sure they are noticed among the fakes.