Book publishers vet with sensitivity readers

'Sensitivity Readers' could undermine artistic creativity in new books and movies (esp. fiction for young adults)

Kat Rosenfield offers a disturbing article in Reason (the Aug-Sept 2022 print issue) Sensitivity readers are the new literary gatekeepers with the byline 'Overzealous gatekeeping on race and gender is killing books before they're published or even written.

Apparently trade publishers, literary agents, and sometimes authors themselves are hiring 'sensitivity readers', most of all for fiction aimed at the young adult market.

It seems like there are cross purposes. One issue is whether the work has a representative selection of characters, especially by race and gender or with respect to 'queer' issues in some cases (if the setting is modern). Another is whether the author has the own 'lived experience' of the character 'e' is trying to represent. You are not supposed to 'steal' an 'experience' that is not 'yours' (CIS below).

It is disturbing to have outside interests want a novel to have characters representative of other (maybe marginalized groups) when doing so would not it a protagonist's story circle or character arc. There have also been suggestions that sound truly over-woke or absurd, like the idea that a novel based on the disappearance of the Y chromosome is somehow 'transphobic'. (This reminds me of the 2006 film 'Children of Men', already mentioned here before.)

I haven't heard yet of the self-publishing companies 'offering' that kind of editing.

Another question would be if script-readers (often themselves young and right out of college) working for movie production companies are evaluating scripts along these lines. Again, group or intersectional 'wokeness' would disrupt normal storytelling and individual personal motivation, as most of us understand it.

Final Draft 11.0, in fact, offers the capability to keep track of characters by various identity groups (to assist with 'diversity casting', I suppose).

I believe that the two remaining scripts to do based on my DADT books would not necessarily present these problems. The script I am working on now (based on a 2005 backstory when I was substitute teaching, given in Chapter 3 of DADT Book III (2014)) would probably be OK. The leading protagonist is a white, high-achieving teenage (senior high school) boy from a military family, ambiguous about sexuality as the story starts. But a major supporting character is a black gay teen (cis, binary) who is a champion swimmer. These properties fit into the plot in a subtle way.

More testing would be sensitivity readings for disabled characters. One issue lurking in the background of some of my fiction would be a belief that certain individuals can never be perceived (by me the author at least) as sexually attractive or desirable for an intimate relationship because of an overlay of personal puritanism on top.

The Little Platoon talks about 'LGBTQ-defcon' levels in sensitivity readers, but also mentions sensitive reading in the past, of Charles Dickens's 'Oliver Twist' (there was a film in 2005 by Roman Polanski).

What has happened to our culture? A whole generation is sheltered as to its feelings and depending on group victimization as a source of identity. What happened to the anti-fragility expected of individuals who were a bit different (like I was) as expected in the past? I've written my own books as if morality and character were always an individual matter, not a property of a person's tribe or all possible intersectional groupings. The CIS video (Lionel Shriver) hits this point at about the 13 minute mark. 'Art is not based on virtue'.

I wanted to mention that the New York Times has a controversial short film as an op-ed, 'How I Had an Abortion at Home in Texas', which I wrote a Twitter thread about, concerning the legal risks even to people who report it. I won't embed it here, but my Twitter thread on it is here.

(Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2022 at 11 AM by John W. Boushka)

Also story on Hollywood sensitivity readers!