Recent discussions in the book community, both on youtube and on twitter, have sparked some claims that it’s hard for allocishet reviewers to review queer books because they fear saying the wrong thing and getting backlash from the lgbt+ community.
I personally find so many things about the statement untrue and problematic – but I want to address that by posting this “guide” to reviewing queer literature, and what you should and should not be including.
I also want to boost some queer reviewers and voices, and those links will be down below.
The fact is, reviewing queer literature is really not that hard – but there are some important things people need to pay attention to and address when they talk about queer books, and those I will talk about below.
MENTION WHO IS LGBTQIAP+ SPECIFICALLY AND DIRECTLY: If you are reviewing a book with a character on the lgbt+ spectrum, mention exactly which identity they represent if you can. It is NOT enough to say a character is “lgbt” – thats saying the character is lesbian, gay, bisexual AND trans which they will not be. In the interest of being accurate and respectful, say exactly which is their identity.
For example, “Emi in Everything Leads To You is lesbian”, “Aristotle in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is gay”, “The main character of Queens of Geek, Charlie, is bisexual”, “In Dreadnought, Danielle Tozer is a transwoman”
If you don’t know their exact label – do the best you can and remain as specific as you can. In fantasy, for example, sexuality of often coded not stated. Mention the details you can about a character – for example, “In Six of Crows, Jesper is depicted as being romantically interested in both men and women”, or you could say something like “the character is an f/f relationship”, “an m/m relationship”, or similar. Be as specific and accurate as you can, and most importantly say SOMETHING about their sexuality if it is in the book.
DON’T SPEAK ABOUT REPRESENTATION IF IT DOESN’T REPRESENT YOU: this one applies to both queer and allocishet people – unless you are personally represented by the identities portrayed in the book, you do NOT get to talk about if the representation was well done. Do not make statements like “this depicted life as a gay teenager very well” or “I don’t think bisexuality was portrayed right”, because unless you live as one of those identities you cannot really know, and you’re centring your opinion on an issue that doesn’t effect you.
Instead, search for and link #OwnVoices reviews. An #OwnVoice review comes from a person who shares the ID of the lgbt+ character. With permission, link these reviews to your own. You can say something like “I am not trans, so I cannot speak for the representation in If I Was Your Girl, however, I am attaching a review by ___trans reviewer___ who can speak more accurately on the representation”
It is NOT your job to make statements and judgements on representation you do not experience, so don’t do it! You may feel like this makes your review “not yours”, but you are not taking away from your own thoughts, just supplementing it with others. There is a plethora of other things to talk about that isn’t representation.
READ A RANGE OF BOOKS FROM THE LGBT+ SPECTRUM: If you are serious about reading and promoting queer literature, then make sure you are reading ALL queer literatures. LGBTQIAP+ is a spectrum, you should be reading lesbian, and gay, and bi, and trans, and intersex and asexual/aro and pansexual literature. It is not enough to just read popular (overwhelmingly often m/m) books and call it a day. There are dozens of lgbt+ recommendation posts, videos and lists out there, find them and diversity your reading!
DO YOUR RESEARCH: Before reviewing a book, look at other reviews and what queer voices in the community are saying about these books. Reading other reviews and listening to queer voices can help formulate your opinion. It also prevents you from including incorrect or offensive information – such as incorrect pronouns, incorrect ID’s or incorrect terminology. Remember there is an entire community of people who are personally effected by these issues. Also, check out author twitters because they will often tweet about how their characters should be talked about. For example, the author of Mask of Shadows tweeted she wanted her character to be addressed by they/them pronouns in reviews and that must be respected!
THE DO NOTS
NOT MENTIONING A CHARACTERS SEXUALITY DOES NOT EQUAL NORMALISING THEIR IDENTITY: I’ve seen many reviewers recently claim they don’t specifically mention a characters ID, as they want to “normalise” the characters gender or sexuality. This stance is extremely privileged, and frankly incorrect. Heteronormativity is so rampant in society, people will assume that a character is allocishet until proved otherwise – so you MUST mention ID’s in the name of visibility. DO NOT ERASE IDENTITIES, it just plays into closet culture.
STOP THINKING BOOKS SHOULD EDUCATE YOU OR THAT QUEER IDENTITIES NEED TO “ADD TO THE PLOT: Queer characters and literatures do not exist to educate you on the queer community – they can, but it’s not their PURPOSE. They exist for entertainment and to tell a story, just like any other book. Reviews including phrases like “The gender-fluidity wasn’t properly explained” or “I didn’t learn much about being trans” are offensive and belittling. Queer characters, just like allocishet characters, exist just because they do, because these people exist in REAL LIFE.
Similarly, making comments that the queer identity didn’t add to the plot are inappropriate. What does a characters cisgender, heterosexual identity add to the story? No one talks about how Harry Potter being straight added nothing to the story, so why do I see negative reviews about Mask of Shadows, taking away stars because Sal’s gender-fluidity “added nothing to the plot”. Sexuality is not part of the plot, some people just ARE queer, and thats that. Implying or outright saying that a characters sexuality needs to add something to the plot others queer identities, and infers they are only appropriate and valued when they are for the benefit of allocishet people. Look, just don’t do it.
DON’T TREAT SEXUALITY/GENDER AS A SPOILER:
Sexuality / Gender not being a spoiler is a discussion which has been going on for FAR TOO LONG. The fact is, mentioning a character ends up with another character of the same gender, or is trans, or asexual, or gay or whatever IS NOT A SPOILER. Treating it as so means you erase queer identities, and essentially “closet” the characters within texts. You cannot treat sexuality and gender as a spoiler, because it further perpetuates “closet culture”, that people’s identities should be hidden and not talked about – a culture which is extremely rampant and extremely toxic. You are also preventing other queer readers from finding and accessing literature which may represent them. For some people, especially kids, finding this representation can be life-changing – it changed my life. So please, please please outright include these things in your reviews.
Also, if a book DOES treat sexuality like a spoiler throw it in the trash where it belongs. For example, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline features a character who is “revealed” in a plot twist moment to be a lesbian – this is terrible, as her identity has been masked and hidden throughout the story, and then used as a quirky plot device to gain a reaction. It makes a mockery and a show of sexuality/gender, which is NOT okay. If a book does this, DO NOT RECOMMEND IT ON IT’S REP ITS TRASH.
DO NOT CENTRE ALLOCISHET WRITERS QUEER CHARACTERS: Too often when lgbt+ recommendation videos or posts are made, the characters and series mentioned are not ownvoices, and often are m/m ships written by women. For example: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, The Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, All For the Game/The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic, Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda/TheUpside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – these are all very popular and recommended “queer lit” which are not ownvoices, and troubling, don’t even include lgbt+ main characters in some cases. You can like these books, and many of us queer people DO like some of these books, but remember they are NOT ownvoices, they do not promote queer voices, and promoting solely these works tells people you don’t care about the real queer people who write and produce queer literature.
STOP FETISHISING OR INFANTILISING QUEER CHARACTERS: Consider this: Queer people, are full complete real complex people who deserve the same respect as anyone else. Fetishising or infantilising queer characters is extremely toxic and harmful and honestly .. gross?
Queer characters and their struggles do not exist for the entertainment and pleasure of allocishet people. Similarly, allocishet people do not get to dehumanise and fetishise queer people for expressing their identity. This is a massive problem on goodreads – especially in the way women treat and talk about male on male romances, but can also apply to men speaking about lesbian relationships.
DON’T SPEAK OVER QUEER REVIEWERS: If someone within the community tells you your review is inaccurate, offensive or has any other issue – don’t fight them. Don’t silence them, don’t get defensive. Accept your mistake, change and fix it, and then be proactive about doing better. Many of us are happy to help educate, but we don’t appreciate when allocishet people centre their own feelings in a discussion which does not involve them. Listen to and learn from those within the community.
LISTENING AND LEARNING IS THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO
The fact is, there are hundreds of people out there who educate and teach and talk about these toics and who are putting out great content related to the queer community. If you are interested in being a good ally, and making good reviews, you need to follow them, listen to them, and learn from them. So, I’m including some below.
Cece is a lesbian woman who runs a great booktube, where she often centres queer literatures.
Sam has also been very vocal on this issue, and an advocate for visible queer representation in books
Joseph is a gay man with a high focus on reviewing queer literature and who sometimes posts queer discussions
Chelsea is a bi blogger also with a focus on reading diverse books. She also talks about queer issues on her twitter
Tasha is a lesbian woman who discusses lgbt+ issues on her blog and twitter, and is an advocate for diverse reading. Her discussion, How to be a Good LGBTQIA+ Ally on BookTube and the Book Community, also relates to my blog post and is well worth the read.
THERE ARE SO MANY MORE OUT THERE ! So go forth and find them, promote them, listen to them, learn from them!
If you are allocishet, I absolutely urge you read, promote, recommend, review, share, discuss and buy more queer literature. But do it respectfully, and do it right.
I hope this post helped, and I hope allies will continue to support the community in a meaningful way. If you wish to be added to my list of people to follow, leave your links below or tweet me and I’ll add them to the post.