I’ve long called attention to the existence of the Volunteer Auxiliary Thought Police. But, as much fun as being an amateur censor apparently is to many people these days, some amateurs now want to go pro. From Slate:
How “sensitivity readers” are changing the publishing ecosystem—and raising new questions about what makes a great book.
By Katy Waldman
… When she began to craft her second novel, The Upside of Unrequited, about twin sisters navigating the shoals of high school romance, she was determined not to make the same mistake. And so before her manuscript went to print, she reached out to a group of “sensitivity readers.” These advising angels—part fact-checkers, part cultural ambassadors—are new additions to the book publishing ecosystem. Either hired by individual authors or by publishing houses, sensitivity readers are members of a minority group tasked specifically with examining manuscripts for hurtful, inaccurate, or inappropriate depictions of that group.
The sensitivity auditing of this young adult novel about twins raises a question: are twins considered a minority group worthy of sensitivity concerns? Or are twins, like left-handed catchers and albinos, not worthy of minority status? If not, why not?
On the site Writing in the Margins, which launched in 2012, the author Justina Ireland articulates the goal of this new fleet of experts: to point out the “internalized bias and negatively charged language” that can arise when writers create “outside of [their] experiences.” In April of last year, Ireland built a public database where freelance sensitivity readers can list their name, contact information, and “expertise.” These areas of special knowledge are generally rooted in identity (“queer woman,” “bisexual mixed race,” “East Asian, “Muslim”) as well as in personal histories of mental illness, abuse and neglect, poverty, disability, or chronic pain.
… Albertalli—who totaled 12 sensitivity reads for her second novel on LGBTQ, black, Korean American, anxiety, obesity, and Jewish representation issues, among others …
Okay! So apparently twins aren’t an identity politics category the way, evidently, anxiety is.
I went to Ms. Ireland’s database of Sensitivity Readers and searched for “twin.” While I found 145 mentions of “LGBT” in the database, I found only one “twin” text string. Here is the only person in the Sensitivity Reading Industry that mentions “twin.” Under Area of Expertise:
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.
So being a twin is not an identity politics category. But not being a twin can make you a “womb twin survivor.”
I remain interested in why some things qualify as identity politics categories and others do not. Is it simply a lack of identity politics entrepreneurship by albinos and left-handed catchers (baseball is extremely biased against lefties playing catcher despite no agreed upon reason for this discrimination). In the database I didn’t find any mentions of “albino” and only two for “left”, including:
I am a biracial, white-passing queer Latina (3rd-gen. Mexican American) who grew up in a wealthy, majority-white suburb while living below the poverty line. I have bipolar/generalized anxiety/depression diagnoses and related psychiatric hospitalization as well as PTSD related to religious trauma. I come from a fundamentalist evangelical Christian background that I have since left. I am especially interested in the intersection of mental health and religion as it relates to gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity.
Another sensitivity reader listed the following Qualifications:
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.
Perhaps somebody should alert the spouse of this “not-quite widow?” Or would he/she/ze reply, “The sooner I am put out of my misery, the better”?
Back to Slate:
… The site Writing in the Margins recommends $250 per manuscript as a starting fee. … Indeed, for the readers themselves, it can be grueling work. Angel Cruz, who advises on Filipino culture, the diaspora, and Catholicism, described sensitivity reading as “emotional/mental labor.”
… Though authors from all backgrounds use sensitivity readers, the stomach-churning image of a white person wafted down the path to literary achievement by invisible minorities remains.