problems with diverse books: recognizing nuance and mixed rep

Okay, here’s the issue: a lot of media with problematic elements also has elements that help minority groups.

See, this isn’t an isolated thing. I have quite literally seen ownvoices books get called out for being discriminatory towards those groups while the author was in that group. One example is Dreadnought by April Daniels. I saw one reviewer call this premise “inherently transphobic”, despite this book being written… by a trans author. It’s totally valid to dislike or even think the book was transphobic, but disliking something is not the same as calling it trash. This is also a weird case because the author has at this point has said a couple of racist things on twitter and hasn’t really apologized :/ But the point still stands: calling out ownvoices book you have not read, or indeed decrying any ownvoices book as “unreadable trash” because of its portrayal of that specific group is a bad move.

Of course, everyone is perfectly allowed to dislike an ownvoices book or point out issues with the rep; I’ve disliked plenty of books because I didn’t love their handling of things. But decrying books as trash because the representation is mixed, or one-starring ownvoices books without reading, has incredibly gross connotations. It is also absolutely okay to mention triggering or gross elements to any book. But saying ownvoices lgbtq+ books that get published are unreadable trash because they have homophobic elements means lgbtq+ kids get waaaaaaay less rep.

I know people know this, but it’s okay to like things with problematic elementsMost media has problematic elements! I have done problematic things! You have done problematic things! We can’t just decry any media with issues as trash that everyone unproblematic hates when it does have good sides. That’s… I mean, it’s not going to go good places. We live in a problematic society, and unfortunately, this is the result.

Saying that someone is trash for liking a book that contains a gross trope isn’t… right. Disagreeing with them, debating with them? Absolutely fine. Saying they’re automatically trash? Um, nope. They probably didn’t notice. Is that good? No, not really. Should we talk about it? Fuck yes. Does that make this person trash? Nah.

okay, what is she even saying anymore // tldr

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should ignore gross things. I think the main thing is that we need to stop saying a book is either fabulous or irredeemable trash that no one should read or they are trash. You can love a thing and think the thing has some great rep, but still acknowledge that many have problems with the thing. And you still shouldn’t ignore that some people believe your favorite things are problematic. At the very least, think through the complaints and discuss them in your review.

My point here is that we can recognize nuance in books that have issue and disagree with each other about them. That doesn’t mean we should ignore problematic tropes, but I feel like we, as a community, have to first acknowledge that something’s rep of a certain group can have both good and bad elements.

I am not saying “homophobic portrayals are fine because at least there’s added diversity!” But I am saying that to me, mixed rep is better than no rep.

17 thoughts on “problems with diverse books: recognizing nuance and mixed rep

  1. I loved this! I must confess, I call books trash. I call characters trash as well. I don’t say that because of problematic situations though. I usually say it if I genuinely feel the book or a certain character was trash lol. Diverse representation is actually a double edged sword. When people PROPERLY depict diversity and it saturates the market, people reading begin to think the real world is this diverse and refuse to believe those within the diverse groups that tell them otherwise. At the same time, the lack of diverse media keeps people insensitive and believing there is only one way to see things. This is probably why I don’t think mixed representation in media can lead to misrepresentation in media and that isn’t necessarily better than no representation… it just becomes a new problem. I loved reading this though!


  2. your discussion posts are always 👌👌👌!! I couldn’t agree more, the ability to recognize both the good and bad in diverse books is SO important. And I don’t think there’s nearly enough discussion around the fact that diverse rep is never going to please an entire group?? I’ve personally noticed this in a LOT of books with bi rep recently, and it really irritates me to see one or two people decide they didn’t love it and then listen to everyone else just piling on and assuming it’s terrible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All of this. I’m sure my life would be considered bad rep by some if it were a book. (she doesn’t label her orientation. How dares she.)

    I think it’s more difficult to judge a book when it gets one kind of rep right but not another (which is not ownvoices). The Tiger’s Daughter situation. I’m currently reading it, I like it so far, and I know it gets Japan completely wrong. I’ve recently been on the other side of this – I hated a f/f book because it was a xenophobic mess. I don’t really know what to do in these cases, but in both of them I would be uncomfortable with reviewers who are not affected by the bad Japanese rep/the xenophobia against Italians rating the books one star without reading them.
    There’s always that “you can’t like the book that represents you” aspect, which… no.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree. I prefer mixed rep than none. I am a member of four marginalized groups: I’m a black, bisexual woman, living with bipolar disorder. Although I also have a learning disability too. It’s not obvious until the subject springs up.

    That being said, we have variances in the groups for which we belong. We have our own issues that we need to discuss and it’s okay to use those issues as characterization. I’d rather an author, as part of those groups, write problematic characters, than someone from outside missing a mark or two.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You deserve a round of applause for this blog post.

    I’ve been wanting to put up a discussion post very similar to this for a while, around the reactions to mental health lit. Same as you I have come across so many ownvoice books that have been treated in the worst way because one person doesn’t agree or personally relate to THAT portrayal.

    In mental health lit I have seen so much criticism for both if a book is too much of a ‘typical’ portrayal of a disorder but also if it’s a ‘less typical’ portrayal of a disorder.

    There is obviously no win win to this – but if you don’t relate that doesn’t mean the book is bad? Maybe it relates to someone else? Like that author’s ACTUAL EXPERIENCE.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Same! I feel like representation is better than no representation, even if I don’t feel that the representation connects to me personally.

    Like, I read this book, and it was vv tied into Chinese culture but did I relate to the Chinese main character (outside of her saying Chinese words sometimes)??? NO. But just KNOWING that she was Chinese and that like, most of the cast was Chinese was enough because annoyingly, white is usually the default. And it really shouldn’t be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES. EXACTLY. EXACTLY. I just read Tyler Johnson Was Here, and there was a lead who was casually a lesbian. Nothing to do with the plot, she was just there, existing and liking girls. And you know what? I’ll fight anyone who considers that worse than no rep at all. I needed that in second grade. People NEED that. Just because more complex rep is important doesn’t mean side characters as rep are bad

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (wow i’m replying super late soz i went on a hiatus ❤ also apparently i wasn't??? following??? your blog??????????????/ but yes it's fixed ❤ )

        HONESTLY YES. I AGREE SO MUCH. We need people to know that being these things is okay! Reading a book with a Chinese main character still makes me happy EVEN IF I DON'T CONNECT WITH THEM because guess what? I CAN RELATE TO THE CHARACTER

        Liked by 1 person

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