Bisexuality / Writing

Nobody’s Content Warning

Or: A Clusterfuck in I Don’t Even Know How Many Parts Anymore

(Before we get rolling, it’s occurred to me that I haven’t blogged much about bisexuality, though I’ve tweeted about it plenty. So if you weren’t aware that your friendly neighbourhood weirdo was bisexual, now you are. Just, you know, bi the way.)

I’m mad as hell that I’m writing this post, but I’m writing it anyways. Why? Because during Bisexual Visibility Week—a week of celebrating who we are, of being here and being proud—there are still people who try to make us into something less, who would prefer we pick a side, or better yet, who would prefer that we sit down and shut up rather than insist on occupying space in the world.

I refuse to be less, I refuse to pick a side, and I’ve never been good at sitting down and shutting up.

Now, as to the events that led to this post being written, let me ‘splain.

… No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The short version is that VOYA (meant to stand for Voices of Youth Advocates) magazine posted a biphobic review of Kody Keplinger’s book RUN, since pulled, which gave the book a content warning and indicated it would be better for more mature readers because of two things: multiple references to the main character’s bisexuality and swearing. (I wish I was paraphrasing that more heavily than I am. If you want more detail, I recommend this fabulous post, reblogged from the lovely folks at Bisexual Books, who have been noting things as they happen. Have a read. I’ll wait.)

As you might imagine, people had things to say about this—not only bi authors and readers, but allies and professionals in the publishing industry who don’t have their heads jammed far enough up their own asses to give themselves a colonoscopy. VOYA is a library magazine: reviews like this help influence the books that end up on library shelves, and in turn influence what books young queer people might come across. This review tells bi people that we are something to be warned against. Many people took to social media and email in order to let VOYA know that this was not okay, and, given the chance to correct their mistake and do better, VOYA instead dug themselves a deeper hole.

They have consistently refused to acknowledge that issuing a content warning for an entire group of people based on their sexuality is hurtful and wrong; they have yet to issue an apology which actually admits and accepts their part in that harm, instead using versions of “sorry you feel that way,” which anyone out of kindergarten knows isn’t a real apology; they have posted correspondence to their website after telling the person who wrote it that it should be “private”; they have accused bi people of looking for a witch hunt because it’s Bi Week; they have engaged in tone policing, undermining the responses from some individuals based on the fact that they contain emotion… The list goes on and on and fucking on.

I am not part of the YA community, and a large part of the conversation around this has rightly focused on the impact issuing content warnings for sexuality will have on young queer people. Many in the YA community have already said these things, and said them eloquently and brilliantly, likely more so than I can. But I don’t want to be quiet and let anybody think that maybe I’m quiet because, deep down, I don’t really disagree. Maybe I kind of agree. Even though I myself am bi.

Let’s get one thing, the only thing about this post which will be, straight: I don’t agree. I am not in the middle on this. I am firmly on the side of disagreement, and as evidenced by writers like Victoria/V.E. Schwab requesting that her books no longer be sent to VOYA for reviews and agent Barry Goldblatt removing his ads (and therefore the revenue VOYA earned from them) from their site, I believe VOYA is causing harm—not only to the young bi folks who will see the content warnings VOYA consistently applies to books featuring bisexuality and female leads and internalize them, will learn that they are something to be warned against, something to be cautious of—but also to the authors, readers, reviewers, and others their responses have belittled, and who they have tried to erase by deleting comments on social media. They are, in a word, self-destructing—but the review is being/has been pulled.

Taking down the review is not enough. They need to apologize, properly and sincerely, for the initial harm they caused and for their grossly inappropriate response to everything since. They need to say “We are sorry that we caused harm,” not “We’re sorry that you felt hurt.” They need to go back through their archives and remove the content warnings given to other books with bisexuality and F/F pairings, and reconsider what merits a content warning—RUN features a sex scene between two straight characters, which went unmentioned, yet the mere references to the main character’s bisexuality drew the content warning. They need to outline how they are going to improve in future. They need to be educated on how to treat their fellow human beings as such regardless of sexuality or any other identity or characteristic. They need to recognize that no one’s existence merits a content warning because of their sexuality.

In short, they need to do better. If I were to come with a content warning, it would be because I swear like a goddamn sailor and, as shown above, make terrible puns, not because I happen to be attracted to more than one gender. I’m happy to warn people that I curse, if they don’t seem like cursing kind of people, and from then on let them decide whether to continue following me on social media or reading my blog or what have you. Similarly, when I do get my books and their many, many unrepentantly bisexual MCs out into the world, I will happily advise readers that yes, there is violence in both the language and the characters’ actions; yes, there is sex; yes, there may be mention of trauma; but I will never warn them about the sexuality of the main character. I will shout it throughout the internet, because we need books with bi MCs, but it will be to share, not to warn. It will be a message for the other people who never see themselves in most forms of media, a message that says Look! Here’s a person, a person who succeeds and fails alike, and they’re like you! You’re not the only one! And if it reaches one person, if it makes them feel less alone, I’ll have done well.

I will give out content warnings where they’re appropriate, because sometimes they are, but I will never apologize for my or my characters’ sexuality and those identities should not and will not carry the need for a warning. The people who feel otherwise, who want to be warned about my sexuality as if it’s any of their business or as if it’s something they need to brace themselves against, are usually the same people who want me to feel lesser, who want me to pick a side, who want me to sit down and shut up, and I won’t, I won’t, I won’t. I’m already occupying space in the world, and I won’t apologize for it or warn you about how I plan to live my life. Your problem with my existence is exactly that—yours. Not mine.

I am a person. I am bisexual. And I am not a damned content warning.

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