I am generally a fan of our friends at Book Riot, but sometimes their views on diversity in book publishing are a little misguided. This latest by Constance Augusta Zaber is on a subject I have some experience with, and it articulated for me a little about what I find so problematic about the quest for diversity in fiction.
Zaber writes about literature with a transgender theme, and her point is this: they are all the same story. No matter what other architecture the plot might provide, there is always the transition thread, where they learn about the trans community, come to to their friends and family, and begin the treatment process. These stories are all ‘interchangeable,’ Zaber says. And she would like to see a greater diversity than this one narrative.
Fair enough. But then, she says this:
“Now let’s be clear, this question isn’t just directed at cis authors [link added] but to the larger world of publishers and readers. Authors may start the process by writing or pitching a book, but that book still needs to make it through the gamut of publishing and marketing and sales before it will ever show up on a bookshelf…and so with that in mind I’ll restate my question, “Dear cis people who read books about trans characters, who write about trans characters, who turn manuscripts about trans characters into books about trans characters: when do trans lives become too boring for you to read about?”
Okay, now let’s back up for a second. First of all, it doesn’t need to make it through a ‘gambit’ anymore. I can publish to the Kindle store—as can anyone else—with a manuscript and a handful of clicks. If Zaber wants to see more diverse stories, why doesn’t she write one? If she wants readers to see a different world view, why doesn’t she share one?
Secondly, I am not clear on why she thinks this is the reader’s fault. If these more diverse are simply not available to me, how am I going to read them? Why is she blaming an innocent content consumer for the lack of content being provided to them?
And finally, I find the language of differentiation she uses to be a bit problematic. ‘Cis people who read books about trans characters’?’ Really? I just come away from phrases like that feeling like she expects to qualify readers to read these books, somehow. If you are a trans person like her, it’s totally fine to read widely in this genre, as she states she has. But if you are a ‘cis person’ you are offending her by reading these same available titles?
The ironic thing for me is, I actually do have some experience reading in this genre. And I do have a loved one who is a trans person, has written a trans-themed book, and whose book does cover the ‘memoir of coming out’ arc that Zaber rails against. And my response, therefore, is ‘and?’ If that’s my loved one’s experience, and that is the story she wants to share, why should Zaber stop her? If someone else has a different experience to share, they are are free to to do.
I guess I feel that in the end, reading as a pastime is threatened enough already without telling innocent readers that they have to somehow be deserving to read in a particular genre, and then blaming them when they don’t read the books in this cannon that are not approved by you as being worthy. And if you want to offer them more diverse stories, Ms. Zaber, perhaps you and your more diverse community of peers can get your lovely trans selves to the computer and write some.