Hello Everyone and welcome. Today my guest blogger is author Jax Meyer. Be sure to enter the giveaway for her new upcoming book, A Marine Discovery.
The Power of Own Voices representation
I’m relatively new to Lesfic, both as a reader and writer. I didn’t know it existed until I was searching for an escape from the political nightmare that was the United States in 2017. Once I found it, I was hooked. Why? It went beyond the endorphin rush that comes from watching two people fall in love. For me, reading has always been my preferred way to learn about the world.
Some of my experiences are a touch unique. I’m autistic, which means I view the world and people different from people who are neurotypical. I prefer books over conversations because people rarely share what’s behind their emotions or actions, whereas good books do. This works well when people write what they know. It can be dangerous when writers don’t research. There are countless examples of harmful representation, but if you want some hilarious examples, check out the Twitter account Men Write Women. https://twitter.com/men_write_women
Over time I’ve discovered even more power in own voices books. If this is a new term to you, own voices mean that the person writing the book shares a background with the character. This is typically applied to underrepresented characters including race, religion, sexuality, gender, neurodiversity (which includes mental health, autism, ADHD, etc), disability, etc.
For my entire life, I knew I wasn’t normal. It wasn’t until well into my 30s that I truly understood how different I was. Now, at 41, everything is changing, and it’s almost entirely due to my exposure to the own voices movement (#ownvoices) on Twitter, or its influence in literature.
I came to the realization I am autistic after reading threads written by autistic people discussing how autism expresses in their life. This is crucial because almost all of the information presented by experts is wrong. Straight up wrong. How could this be, if they are the expert? I’d like to share an excerpt from my newest novel, A Marine Discovery, where the main character, Cam, is realizing for the first time that she’s possibly autistic. Part of the diagnostic criteria is that a person shows significant impairment in their life, which pissed both Cam and me off. Here she’s explaining why this criterion is garbage to an autism researcher.
“If no one knew to look for people in the Asperger’s end of the spectrum until recently, and they didn’t know what it looked like in girls, that doesn’t mean we are okay. It means we learned to fake it. To copy people so we didn’t stand out so much. Then, when we talk to an expert, we’re expected to somehow put words to emotions and behaviors we never had words for before.
“And if we don’t know that something isn’t normal for everyone else because it’s the only thing we know, how can we tell you? Even better, when we’re looking for insight to handle life better, we’re penalized for somehow discovering coping skills out of necessity. How is that fair?” Cam’s leg bounced rapidly, but it wasn’t enough. Cam wanted to jump up and move, to release this energy ready to explode.
Jax Meyer – A Marine Discovery
Dr. Bravik’s tone was understanding as she replied. “It isn’t. Just because someone doesn’t mean the clinical definition of autism or Asperger’s disorder doesn’t mean they aren’t on the spectrum. It means that the medical community doesn’t see how they can help. This is why we need more research. If we only look at those most impaired we miss the ways people like you would benefit from support.”
I spent 40 years fighting my neurology because I didn’t know any other options. The experts only have limited insight and too often are blinded by their own biases. The same goes for writers. Without proper research, which requires listening to those living what your character lives, you’re at high risk of writing a stereotype or caricature, further harming those who are already underrepresented.
Own Voices has allowed me to recognize not only my autism but also that I very likely have ADHD, which itself is a spectrum and completely different than I was taught growing up in the 1980s. I’m willing to bet that, unless you’re a part of the autism or ADHD communities on Twitter or Reddit, you’re probably holding a lot of outdated or incorrect ideas about both.
The power of own voices also shines when authors utilize them. When I read Jae’s (aka Sandra Gerth) Perfect Rhythm, I finally understood that I was somewhere on the asexual spectrum. While not asexual herself, she spoke to multiple people who were and made sure to represent the community well in the book. The same goes for Cara Malone’s Rulebook series which features an autistic main character. While not entirely my experience of autism, I’ve spoken with multiple autistic people who did relate to Max’s experiences. Both of these books were the first I’d read since Stone Butch Blues which represented a part of myself in print.
Now, as an author who writes from an Own Voices perspective, I continue to research. Every representation has its own range of experiences. My characters’ experiences are often different than mine, but there are also many ways in which they are the same. I choose carefully to ensure not only a story people will enjoy reading, but that readers are learning more about experiences beyond their own.
I know who I am now is only possible because of own voices books and communities online. If you’ve found yourself relating to my characters, but then say that the ‘official’ websites don’t sound like your experience (which happens frequently with autism and ADHD), please go to Twitter and start researching. Feel free to send me a message as well. You may find you aren’t autistic, or asexual, but you might also discover important insight into who you are.
My journey is just beginning, as a writer and as a neurodiverse person. Yet every person who’s messaged me to say they could relate to Cam or Ash has lifted my heart and encouraged me to keep exploring these issues. It keeps me reading as well. Search for #ownvoices on Twitter and see just how much is out there to learn.
Have you read an Own Voices book that completely changed your perspective about that topic? Share it in the comments.
I hope this has been helpful. If you’re curious about my books, including A Marine Discovery which includes the excerpt above, they can be found at Amazon and are all currently available in Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t have an Amazon store, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Me: Also see Jax Meyer’s Amazon Author Central page
I can be found on Twitter, of course, at Twitter.com/Butchjax. I often retweet posts I find particularly insightful, so if you’re looking to learn more about anything I mentioned above, find me!
Thanks for reading!
Me: I want to add that Jax is having a giveaway for her new upcoming book debuting next week, A Marine Discovery. Here is the blurb:
In more than five years together, Marines Cameron Warren and Sharon Rodriguez have weathered every challenge thrown at their relationship —including Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
But the world changed on September 11, leaving Cam to face civilian life on her own while Sharon heads to Iraq.
For seven months, Cam reluctantly faces new challenges: making new friends, supporting those left behind, and realizing for the first time that she’s autistic. It’s hard, but everything returns to normal when Sharon comes home. Or does it?
Doesn’t this story sound great? Be sure to enter the giveaway for your chance to own this book. All you need to do is add a comment in the comments section of this blog. If you have questions you can email me here.
I want to thank Jax for joining us today. Her books are available on Amazon. Stay tuned for next week when I’ll have something new.
Until Next Time,
Photos subject to copyright.