I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth, about whether I need to write this blog post. When people are smearing you all over the writing community, it’s hard to just sit back and take it. But I’m exhausted, and scared. I can’t take any more abuse and bullying. I just want it to go away.
However, I’m not the only person who has been a victim of the particular group that’s smearing me and ruining my life and career. Anyone familiar with YA Book Twitter knows which group I’m talking about. It’s headed by a few very popular authors who have a lot of connections and power in the industry. These people do a lot of great things, have a lot of great ideas. But they also have a lot of problems.
These authors have a big following, and those followers apparently think they can do no wrong. Everything these authors say, their followers back them up. Whenever they call people out (which is a lot), those folks get drowned in a sea of vicious ally tweets. But every time these authors display problematic behavior of their own, their fans accept their excuses, believe their gaslighting, and attack the people who are calling them out.
Now, a lot of people are afraid to speak up and express their opinions about anything, for fear their opinion will be deemed “wrong” and they’ll be subjected to painful dragging.
People in the back threads of YA twitter whisper about it a lot, but what can you do? These are the folks who can—and do—destroy the careers and reputations of writers, bloggers, and readers over issues which often seem really minor and subjective to anyone not caught in the echo chamber of YA Book Twitter.
A lot of people have suffered because of this group. I’m one of them. At this point I have nothing else to lose, it seems like, so I feel like I should step up and talk openly about all this, for the benefit of those who still do have something to lose…and in the faint hope that perhaps YA Twitter can make some steps toward healing and acceptance.
I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. But I just need shit to change in YA Twitter. A lot of us do. So I’m gonna have this convo, for better or worse, in hopes that folks actually listen for once.
A little over a year ago, on the date THUG released, I wrote a blog post.
I’ll backtrack a bit. For those who don’t know, I’m an Own Voices writer. I’m neurodivergent and queer.
Being an own voices author is really difficult. In my case, it involves disclosing a whole bunch of things about myself that don’t exactly look good on a resume and cause a good deal of prejudice to come my way. But I decided at a turning point in my life that I’m going to be honest about my neurodivergence and embrace it, because people like me have nothing to be ashamed of.
My first book I pitched with a neurodivergent main character is The Other Place. It’s written in first person, present tense, with a very different sort of voice because the main character is schizophrenic.
I got all sorts of really exhausting rejections on that one. “Great writing, I just can’t identify with the character.” “I really wish this book were more about overcoming schizophrenia.” “Our reader recommended we take this on, but we already have a book about schizophrenia on our list.” There were other rejections, too, but they basically boiled down to “This is just too neurodivergent.”
I did get The Other Place published, though! Hooray. Then I moved on to pitching a YA with another psychotic main character and started getting a lot of the same kind of rejections.
So, anyway, THUG came out. I was excited for it, because it looked like something I could identify with, even from my white point of view. My partner was almost killed by police when he was having a nonviolent, unarmed psychotic episode, and everyone tried to blame him for it. I was so glad to have a book that talked about the problem of police violence coming out.
However, I hated how the publishing industry was patting itself on the back for publishing that book. Why wouldn’t they publish it? It’s just a great book. They didn’t deserve any of the kudos. Those go all to Angie Thomas.
Going back to the blog post.
At the time, I had literally about ten blog readers, all of them neurodivergent people like me and all of whom I knew pretty well. So, I felt comfortable in my audience and didn’t over-think the post too much. I told about my experiences, went on about how happy I was THUG was being published, but indicating that the publishing industry has a long way to go. I said I felt like they were using own voices writers as trophies, holding us up saying, “Look what we did!” Then, they’d go back and reject a bunch of other own voices writers because they already had their trophy, thanks.
I know now that including THUG in that post was hugely wrong. Yes, I know the book is important on its own merits, and I thought I’d made that clear in the post. But, you know, when writing from my own point of view, for my own friends—especially because I’m autistic and have very different social consciousness than most people—I don’t always correctly anticipate how stuff looks to others, and how it can hurt them.
The first comments I got were from my friends, that they liked the post, but it was fairly quickly that someone who wasn’t my friend pointed out that I’d done it wrong.
However, the way they pointed it out? They told me that I was “trashing” THUG and “griping” about the industry.
Hold up, I said. I’m not trashing the book. And I’m a marginalized woman talking about my experience as an own voices author. That isn’t griping.
People started calling me all sorts of saneist and ableist slurs and saying stuff that triggered my PTSD. But I did finally (after about 15 minutes) get it through my thick skull that, oh, wait, I can see through all their ugly ableism what they mean. I apologized and changed the post.
But this is YA Twitter. That wasn’t enough for them. I was dragged by literally thousands of people who said that I didn’t have a right to speak up as an Own Voices writer, that I can’t write, that my opinion doesn’t matter, that I need to shut up, blah blah blah. And when I pointed out that, hey, I’m trying to listen here, but you’re being awfully ableist with some of this shit, they said I was using my neurodivergence as a “shield” or “weapon”.
Now, I can understand how neurodivergence could seem like a shield or weapon to folks who only pick up the identity when they’re trashing other disabled people. But for me it is something that is with me always. It affects every word I say, everything I do, every thought I have. It can’t put it down, even when I’m in a good mood. Even when I’m alone. It is who I am. It causes me a lot of problems: I misunderstand what people say. I say the “wrong” things. I freak out. I withdraw. Sometimes I believe everyone is a spirit sent to give me clues that will lead me to the afterlife. But there are a lot of cool things about me, too.
So, here I was, a neurodivergent human being, trying to cope with millions of tons of abuse. I almost ended up in the hospital. I was eventually diagnosed with an exacerbation of my PTSD because of this incident.
I shouldn’t have included THUG, it’s true. But I apologized and changed the post, and the underlying point I was trying to get across is still relevant: publishing has a long way to go before it’s really unbiased. I don’t think what I did deserved what I got.
After that incident, I was put on a block list. I had agents who had my full ghost me. And I kept getting abuse.
More than a year later, I’m still getting abuse. And it is abuse. When there’s nothing you can do to stop it—no amount of apologizing, introspection, and learning about oneself that you can do to satisfy people—then it is just straight-up abuse. And these people are intent of driving me out of the industry. I guess they think that kicking a marginalized woman out of publishing is a big win for diverse books.
Recently, I volunteered to be a mentor on WriteMentor. I was really excited to help another neurodivergent author get into the industry. But soon after the sub window opened, the organizer, Stuart White, approached me. A friend had told him if he didn’t kick me out as a mentor, then this group that had abused and bullied me before would tweet that the contest was problematic. They told him that POC wouldn’t enter the contest because I was a mentor.
So, he dumped me. “It’s just business.”
It doesn’t matter that entrants get to choose which mentors they submit to, so prospective mentees wouldn’t have to deal with me in any way if they didn’t like me. It doesn’t matter that several neurodivergent and disabled folks said they felt more comfortable entering the contest because I was involved. It doesn’t even matter that I’m not out here being problematic – at least no more so than any of us. I wrote one blog post that some people took issue with, which I edited and apologized for within minutes of being called out, and otherwise I’m just a neurodivergent activist out here doing my thing to make the world better.
None of that matters. Ask yourself why none of that matters, and why it’s so important to kick a neurodivergent activist out of publishing because of what I did.
I’m not the only marginalized person these folks have bullied. In fact, they do it so much that they’ve been written up several times in mags with huge circulation. They especially enjoy trashing on disabled and neurodivergent women, it seems like. When they’re called out on it, they make a million excuses, and blame their victims…which is what they accuse their victims of doing. But with them, it works, because they’re popular. They’re the cool kids.
I feel like I’m back in middle school, trapped in an environment that is completely controlled by these cool mean girls, and I have to remind myself every moment that they’re not the whole world. It doesn’t matter what I do – they’ll twist it to make it look like I was trying to do something else. They’ll point out every mistake, every failing. They’ll call me “stupid” and “gross” and “trash” and “useless”. Anyone who thinks of being my friend, they’ll tell them, “You don’t want to hang out with her. Did you hear what she did?” Even if my friend is not persuaded by those arguments (and cool girls are persuasive – that’s part of what being cool is), they’re left with a choice: stick by me, and be ostracized with me, suffer the same abuse that I do. Or ditch me and save themselves the trauma.
I don’t blame people for picking the latter. I really don’t. But it’s something we need to stop doing if we’re going to evolve as a community, as a species.
I always say that intent does matter. If a person (especially someone neurodivergent with communication issues) says something and you misinterpret it, why would you claim injury when they try to explain what they really meant? Doing so is weaponizing your neurotypical privilege – the privilege of understanding language in the way the majority does. The privilege of communicating easily with others.
But, I have to say: intent doesn’t matter when you uphold discriminatory systems, like Stuart White did. He may have gained ally points for caving into pressure, but in the meantime, he caused real and measurable harm to a marginalized woman, and to the community as a whole. One fewer neurodivergent writer will get a mentor, thanks to Stuart White.
If you don’t see that as a problem, then just admit you don’t care about neurodivergent people and go home.
“But you deserve this harassment because you’re racist!”
Ok. Sure. Except I’m not out here being any more racist than anyone. I work on my mistakes and biases. The group that called me out, doesn’t. They’ve showed their asses so many times: putting ableist slurs in their books without apologizing, piling on disabled women for just existing, saying extremely heterosexist things, refusing to take down memes that are insulting to First Nations people. They never apologize, and they always do it again. But somehow those of us who make one wrong move that we immediately apologize and feel awful for deserve to be ostracized for the rest of our lives.
When popular people make mistakes, folks gloss it over. They make excuses. They forgive and forget. But the rest of us aren’t so lucky. One mistake or oversight can cost us our whole career – or worse. If we cross the wrong person— who is powerful, and toxic, and will not let it go – they will destroy us.
I know that these folks have endured bigotry and trauma in their pasts, and that’s where some of this venom comes from. Trauma in our past can make us see threats where there are none. It can make us read ill intent into people’s words and actions that isn’t there. I know, because I go through this, too. But part of healing is learning to work through that trauma and not have it affect your relationships. I try really hard to not make others pay for my PTSD-driven interpretations of their words and actions. If I freak out because they’ve said something that hurts or offends me, I take their word for it when they say they didn’t mean it that way. Their intent does matter – way more than my PTSD reaction does. My feelings are still valid, but I don’t have the right to make others pay for that. Making others pay is where toxicity starts.
Having your feelings hurt is harmful – but if the person who hurt them didn’t mean to, is that true harm? And do you have the right to intentionally harm them in return?
Just because a person is marginalized doesn’t mean they aren’t bigoted. We’re all bigoted. We all need to work on it. And we all need space to improve and do better. If we can’t offer that as a community, then soon there will be no space for any of us.
Just because someone is right sometimes— does great things and has great insights sometimes —doesn’t mean their ideology is perfect. None of us are right all the time.
These are complex issues, and we need to allow room for the discussions of the complexity without shutting each other down and only letting the blue check marks speak.
I really want to just give up. But writing is all I know how to do. It’s a coping skill for me, which has got me through some really tough times: abuse. Homelessness. Prison. Addiction. And worse. I can’t give it up. But I’m gonna be switching up how I go about my career.
As Kid says, I’ve been through worse, and I’ll make it through this, and I sure hope she’s right.
All the other ones who have been hurt by this group, or any other bullies: you’re not alone.