I’ve struggled a lot with how to approach this post.
As the conversation for inclusivity in books, but not just books, but mirrors in media or all forms of entertainment, shifts and will continue to, I don’t think I need to tell people we need more inclusion in books.
But I think when it comes to inclusion we stop at one identity. Most people are an intersectional group of identities and are not able to survive as one without the others. When Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the scholar who created the term in 1989 coined it, I don’t think she could’ve been prepared for just how important it would be now, and how we approach conversations about being marginalized today.
It’d been difficult to express how different feminism treated women versus being a person of color, as if they were two separate issues. This is something I’m understanding more now, that it is difficult to say my struggle with identity has been separate, when I have no choice but to walk through life with each one.
I’ve struggled with identity so much growing up, being a Black person in a non-Black Latinx culture, where I’d always been too Black for Latinx spaces, and too Latinx for non-Latinx Black spaces. I can’t begin to illustrate my struggle with sexuality, a nearly twelve year and ongoing struggle for how I articulate it.
I’ll admit off the bat, I wasn’t educated on what my attraction to the typical straight, cisgender abled man meant, and what it meant if I wasn’t always attracted to someone who identified as such. I was about eighteen when I knew I wasn’t straight, but I wasn’t exposed to culture outside of my heteronormative/cisnormative world.
Up until 2013, I wasn’t even comfortable using a term that wasn’t straight. I remember being in high school, being one of those six kids in the Gay/Straight Alliance. I was one of those overly invested allies, that fought tooth and nail for kids who were openly LGBTQ+ because they were out and proud. I was too scared to be that kid, so I thought by overcompensating for them, at least they’d know someone supported them, in the way I wish I’d been brave enough to do when I was younger.
And it sucks that that’s considered bravery. To just be yourself. I’m certainly not brave because I’m a Black-Latinx person. I didn’t have a choice in the matter (and if I did, I’d still choose to be Black-Latinx because we’re awesome) and the things I face are difficult both because and despite it.
But I’d always been more comfortable admitting my attraction to myself, but denying it to others, including family. I didn’t feel bisexual, and I wasn’t a lesbian. Before a few years ago, I didn’t even know there were terms beyond gay, lesbian or bisexual. It’s sad, but because I didn’t know how I identified, it was just easier considering myself straight.
We gain most of what we know from the people in our life first, but then the media has a strong influence of what we learn past curriculum or from our parents. For as long as I could remember, there were no Black female faces who were LGBTQ+.
And I’m not even going to go into detail (because it would take hours) how LGBTQ+ representation is often used as a source of ridicule or comic relief. There were no filters in the 90’s and 00’s, so it was perfectly normal to watch queer folk get mad fun of or worse, put at great risk or harm, with no PSA about this is wrong.
Add on the lack of Black queer voices that were women, and I felt even more pushed out of a community that I feel, sometimes even now, doesn’t want me there.
But I don’t need media to feel as though I can’t talk about it publically; I got family that make me feel bad enough. I have a few openly bisexual and lesbian/gay first cousins, and since they’ve always been out and proud, they’ve always been subject to ridicule. Since I’ve been questioning so long, it wasn’t until my aunt outed me that people in my family found out.
I talk in comments sections, to friends, on Twitter about being queer. But it wasn’t until I spoke at a public panel that I admitted I’d always felt pansexual, I just wasn’t educated on the term at the time. Even now, I feel boxed in by label, but I’m proud that I acknowledge it now, because even when I’d started blogging, even when I made friends with people who were accepting, I just wasn’t ready to say it.
Books have done an okay job at representation, but I think we can all agree they can still afford to do better. I still can’t pick up a book that I’ll love, that won’t ask me to leave one of my identities at the door.
I can find a book where the character is Black, but I may have to leave my latinidad outside. If I find a Latinx character that’s on point, my Blackness might not be invited to that conversation. And being pansexual, and a part of the LGBTQ+ community, you can just forget it. Books have been getting better with LGBTQ+ representation, but they’re still overwhelming cisgender, White and abled. And those are just the good ones, I’m not referring to the ones poorly researched and offensive.
The conversation about inclusivity in books is always changing. First we needed diverse books, now we want own voices. Who knows? It may evolve to a new conversation once some of these needs are being met (which isn’t likely to happen). But the one thing that shouldn’t change is our need to all do better.
About the Author
Guinevere is one half of Twinja Book Reviews, a blog that celebrates inclusivity in books, and half of the book writing duo G.L. Tomas. When she’s not preparing for the zombie apocalypse, she can be found playing Final Fantasy X for the 8th time and teaching non-Caribbean folk that guava and cream cheese go together.