There’s a distinct shift in publishing right now. We see it – most of us feel it, but some are having a difficult time grasping what it means to be an Ownvoices author. Even the term makes people lift an eyebrow. It’s in the same pool as ‘thought-police’ and ‘snowflake’, both labels slapped on anything remotely resembling uncomfortable change.
But that’s what we do, us Own voices authors, we change things.
My name is Taylor Brooke. I’m white – honestly, I don’t know what kind of white because my dad’s adopted, but I’m guessing Swedish, Welsh, maybe German. I’m cisgendered, and I’m bisexual. My privilege shows outright, which I’m fully aware of, but it didn’t always start out that way. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in South Orange County, with two loving parents who instilled liberal values in me. Love your neighbor, don’t hate, fight for what’s right, defend those who need defending. But living in that neighborhood, being friends with the people I was friends with, and going to the school I went to, didn’t shape me into the woman I am now.
To this day I’m still not sure if I was the only openly queer girl at my school, but I know I felt like it. I know that when I mentioned my girlfriend, other girls became interested in me, because I was unlike them. Their curiosity wasn’t hurtful until I hit my twenties. I looked back on my friendships and realized, despite the shallow nature of them, how untrue most were. Kids who were considered popular baited me into conversations about my sexuality. They hid behind a practiced ruse, a friendly smile and feigned curiosity. I can’t blame them for being curious – I was the black nail polish wearing, combat boot sporting, cuss like a sailor queer girl.
But their curiosity didn’t make me feel any better about myself. It just distanced me from them in the same way animals are distanced from onlookers at the zoo.
I protested Prop 8. If anyone needs reminding, that was California’s 2008 ban on same sex marriage.
I crowded intersection street corners with my non-school friends. We stood up for our community. We shouted and yelled and whistled for our future. I remember seeing a car drive by at one of the protests, covered in SMCHS stickers, with an eagle dangling from the rearview mirror, and hate-filled slurs spray painted across the car in our school colors. The car was filled with football players. They yelled things at us. They drove by at least four times for good measure.
On Monday I was called into the office to discuss the penalty for protesting while wearing my school uniform. The boys in that car were never spoken to.
It was the first time I felt isolated. My white skin and white neighborhood and private education had protected me from being apart, until right then.
I realized me being a girl made me appear weak. I’d known my sexuality was considered a sin, but I didn’t understand the depth people would go to make me believe it.
After that day, I started to focus. My perception expanded. I noticed that my own experience was amplified for others. I swatted boys away when they grabbed me at parties, I became loud, unabashed, wild in my defense of other women and the people in my community. After an attempted assault at a party – I’ll show you how a real dick feels. You’re just a tease. Your butch girlfriend is just a stand-in for the real thing. Hold still. – I might’ve broken his nose that night, I didn’t stick around to find out. I started carrying a knife with me afterward.
I moved on from my private school. My brother came out to me. My best friend came out to me. I remember my mom saying there must be something in the water when she realized how many of my friends happened to be LGBTQ+. There wasn’t anything in the water. We were just safer together, and after getting through high school, we knew it.
At the time, I was big in the fan-fiction community. I read a lot of fan-fiction and I wrote a lot of it, because that’s where I saw myself happy. I could sort through stories of characters that reflected my life and see them succeed, fall in love, and most importantly, live. After writing a substantial amount of fan-fiction, I started drafting my own original ideas. Things halted when I realized college didn’t peak my interest anymore, and when I got sick.
I was diagnosed with Endometriosis and PCOS when I was 20. I never considered myself chronically ill. Not really. I have a best friend with celiac, a brother with a heart condition, a mother with epilepsy – I know illness, and I wasn’t that bad. But I’m in pain every day. That counts, right? My dissociative dysthymia told me it didn’t.
This is the first time I’ve ever actually used the term dissociative dysthymia. I’ve never had the courage to say it in regards to myself.
But here I am, about to start promoting a new series, where the main character is autobiographical in ways I didn’t realize until I read the completed first draft start to finish. I researched dissociative dysthymia while I was writing it, paired with memories from old therapy sessions I’d tried to ignore for years, and understood on a quiet, peculiar level the truth behind this book.
It unfurled itself to me much like my first three published books did, a YA Urban Sci-fi about a group of kids toppling a tyrannical corporation. The trilogy opened to me as I wrote it, and as I became more comfortable with myself. A typically straight-romanced young adult novel became a polyamorous social justice journey with a diverse cast of characters.
Coming out to myself for a second time as an adult made me uninhibited and unafraid.
I unpacked socially integrated habits and norms. I thought of an old friend who made a successful career in the adult film industry, and how I’d come down on her like a sledgehammer over it. I immediately apologized to her, because I was disgusted with myself, and because I was different now. I stopped laughing at jokes that weren’t funny to fit in. I made friends outside my white-cis bubble, listened to their experiences and learned. I got louder and louder and louder. I wrote characters who were loud, too.
I re-painted walls in my mind, reconstructed areas and knocked down doors. There was a lot to fix, and I’m still fixing it. My misogyny, my dismissal of my own illnesses and fear of weakness turned into an arsenal of feminism, self-love and pride. I cut out people who didn’t belong or deserve to stay. I did research. I got involved. I changed. I went to vocational school for special effects makeup artistry, and I started writing again.
After an invasive surgery and a new job, I leased an apartment, I broke up with an emotionally abusive ex after 4 more-bad-than-good years, and I asked my brother (roommate at the time) if an outline I’d written up was worth fleshing out. He said do it, so I did.
I wrote Omen Operation, book 1 in my poly YA sci-fi trilogy that year. It was my first publication.
Three years later I sent my brother a scene from my would-be fourth novel and asked the same question. He said it has potential.
I wrote Fortitude Smashed, a bi romance with a mentally ill MC last year.
My story isn’t one of hardship or a bad upbringing. I was raised in a loving, comfortable environment. I had everything I could want and more. The perception that our stories are somehow more tragic or more controversial isn’t always true.
Do I have an expertise and a right to write bisexual stories? Yes.
Do I have an expertise and a right to write chronically ill/mentally ill stories? Yes.
But having a right doesn’t always translate. So here’s why I choose to.
I grew up from the girl who was 16, standing in the office at her Catholic school, being laughed at and taunted and threatened by grown men who thought I was less than them because of my sexuality. I wrote angry poetry and heartfelt stories. I let myself come to life on pages and I hid inside them.
I listened to survivors, to POC and other marginalized voices. I learned how to deprogram myself, to shake off the white-cis normalization I’d grown up in. I’m still doing this every single day, and I will for the rest of my life.
I felt alienated by my illnesses. I no longer felt pretty or strong. The typical road to motherhood had been stripped from me. I would never find a husband or a wife, or both, who would want a cis-woman without the ability to create life. My grandmother’s voice rang in my head when do I get great-grandchildren? My mother’s so this ends here as she playfully gestured to herself, because I chose to adopt later rather than rush into assisted pregnancy in my early twenties.
I’m writing for the me before my books.
I want young people to be proud of who they are. I want them to see themselves, their friends, their lives on pages in published books. As much as I love fan-fiction, it shouldn’t be the only safe place for us to go for stories. I can only imagine how confident I would’ve been if the social norms ten years ago had been combated like they are now.
I want young women to love themselves and their bodies. I want them to see themselves as strong, capable, happy characters. I want them to know that challenging oppressors is a good thing, that learning and growing is natural and beautiful.
I want women and men growing out of childhood to know that love is endless. I want them to see that mental illness isn’t dirty or stagnant, that a prince or princess might not fix it, that you can be happy anyway.
I want girls to stand up for other girls, to see that sexuality isn’t reserved for closed doors or locked rooms.
I want my readers to have the characters I wish I’d had. The ones that will teach them, fight for them, that will mirror them and reassure them. I hope I write books that help people stay alive, that make magic seem attainable and love feel raw.
I hope I write books that me when I was 16, and 19, and 21 might finish reading and think I’m going to be okay.
I wish I’d had those books then, but I’m incredibly grateful that I have them now. The Own voices community is growing and strengthening. Diverse book bloggers are ferocious and brave – their courage inspires me daily.
I count on my straight allies to lift my voice when I need it, just like I’m expected to lift POC and other marginalized voices around me. As a white-cis author, I have a head-start in this race. It’s my duty to cheer my peers on, and most importantly, not to stand in front of them.
Publishing is changing. We’re changing it. Us snowflakes and thought-police and sensitivity readers and bloggers. We’re demanding better, we’re standing strong, we’re taking the criticism and we’re still writing.
We’re still here. We aren’t going anywhere.
I write Own voices books to remind those uncomfortable folks who lift their eyebrows at us – the ones who want us to keep it kind.
My existence isn’t a trend, and quite honestly, I’d rather keep it fierce.
About the Author:
Taylor Brooke is a traveling story-teller, believer in magic, and a science fiction junkie. She writes inclusive LGBTQ+ novels for teens and adults. The first two books in her young adult trilogy The Isolation Series are nominated for Bisexual Book Awards. The third book Legacy Strain will release June 6, 2017. The first book in her romance series Fortitude Smashed was acquired by Interlude Press and is slated for a fall 2017 release.