So in the past few days there has been a big twitter trend of #IStandForDiversity… now the issue of diversity and diverse representation in arts/media/society in general has always been there but just last week there was a video posted on YT titled “The Problem With Diversity In Books” i wont name the creator. It basically is saying (after a 2-3min introduction of ‘suspense-building’ that really isn’t needed) that diversity isn’t needed in our literature and actually is a bad thing?
This has caused a lot of people to basically react with “WTF?!”… and I for sure agree.
I’m not going to go into a response to this video and everything that is wrong with it (although I have plenty to say) but what I do want to talk about is how AMAZINGLY our book community has banded together since to point out why we need diversity in our literature and how we can help each other find diverse representation in the books available to us.I want to tell you exactly WHY I STAND FOR DIVERSITY and how you can too with a Read-A-Thon coming up next week.
I for sure stand for diversity of all races, sexuality, genders, cultures, religions and umpteen other categories I could get into. I will also be the first to put my hands up and say “I do not read enough diverse literature at the moment!!” but that is something i have been working at this year and will focus on even more heavily next year in my reading goals.
The two main areas of diversity in reading that are of immense importance to me are diversity of sexuality and diversity in illness/ability. These, not surprisingly, are because they relate directly to my life. I am a Northern Irish queer woman living with two invisible illnesses – one mental health issue and one physical health issue.
If, while I was growing up, I had books readily available to me in bookshops and libraries that openly showed non-hetero-normative characters I would have had a very different upbringing. I knew from being very young that in some way that I wasn’t heterosexual, but for the first 5-6 years of experiencing these feelings I went through various phases of thoughts thinking there was something inherently wrong with me. I wasn’t a normal girl, there was something wrong with me, i didn’t fit in like I was some kind of alien (lets not get into the religion vs sexuality issues I had, I would be here for daaaaayyyys). Then came the ever so fun phase of my life where I basically forced myself to date boys – find ONLY boys attractive, maybe I could fix this little problem or the very least sweep it under the rug. That didn’t end well at all.
The thing was there was no queer representation on TV, in films, or in books that was open and out there, not being hidden or being advertised as ‘adult’ or ‘inappropriate’. In fact I remember the first time I bought a lesbian focused novel, I was visiting London with my (very christian) big sister who I loved and respected 100%, we went into Borders Bookstore and I wandered off desperately seeking out some LGBTQ+ literature and when I found it I was both horrified and amazed to find that, being in the vast metropolis of our capital city, there was a whole section with a big hanging label saying “GAY/LESBIAN FICTION”. I literally picked up the first book I could find with female pronouns and names in the blurb and ran like fuck to the til, paid and shoved the book to the bottom of my bag, red-faced and holding back tears.
It brings tears back to my eyes thinking about that experience and about the fact that despite things having moved vastly on since then there is still most likely teenagers out there having similar experiences now because diversity in literature and media is STILL NOT NORMAL ENOUGH.
When it comes to the other side of my diversity coin, illness, I am currently in that stage of life seeking out literature with protagonists who are living with the same disorders as myself (Borderline Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety, Fibromyalgia and Vasovagal Syncope). I can find a good amount of ‘mental health’ YA fiction and this is great but so much of it is completely focused on the one issue, say eating disorders or self harm and its wholly about the journey of the person going through therapy or the points in life leading up to getting help etc. What I am looking for is stories about characters who live their everyday lives with these issues… how they cope with going to school or uni, doing the grocery shopping, dealing with friends who can party much later than them etc, a great example being ‘The Rest Of Us Just Live Here’ by Patrick Ness.
I think I’ve likely rambled on too long already and made my point several times over. So i’ll leave you with the details of the diversity read-a-thon next week. Take part chums, read outside your comfort zone and you own views and experiences. Encourage others to do so. I truly believe that equal representation in literature, arts and media can save lives because it shouts from the rooftops that WE ARE NOT ALONE!