Why We Value Sensitivity Editors for Nothing Without Us

Sketch of Cait Gordon, in black and blue digital ink

Nothing Without Us is an anthology where the stars of the show identify as disabled, Deaf, hard of hearing, neurodiverse, and/or who manage mental illness, chemical sensitivities, chronic pain, and/or other conditions. These are primarily own-voice tellings from authors with lived experience from under the “disability umbrella.” Because the quality of the representation in the stories deeply matters to us, we’ve hired sensitivity editors to make sure we don’t miss anything that could hurt someone.

You might ask why we would need sensitivity readers, since our stories are written by people who are disabled themselves. But even someone who is disabled might not be aware they might accidentally use terms or expressions that are rooted in ableism. It’s not hard to do because our language is so entrenched with them:

  • “That’s crazy awesome!”
  • “You’re so dumb.”
  • “Are you so blind you can’t see the truth?”

I’ve even used ableist terms in my own writing before I was introduced to Disabled Culture and learned about this. So, in our anthology, we’ll do a sensitivity edit to make sure any terms without nuance or context are replaced.

Another type of sensitivity edit we’re doing is for cultural representation when a story even so much as lightly touches on a culture of which the author is not a member. As editors-in-chief, Talia and I cannot presume to know all the things, and so far, we’re receiving invaluable feedback to pass on to our authors. It’s so worth it to take the time to have cultural representation vetted by people who identify with that culture and understand it from an own-voices perspective. Pay close attention to them. If they say a thing is a harmful trope, believe them!

Lastly (but not leastly?), we have Talia as our sensitivity editor for queer and trans characters. (This is what she gets paid to do for other projects, folks, if you’re looking!) While a whopping half of our authors are writing own-voice queer and trans narratives in Nothing Without Us, it’s always nice to have another human do an editing pass for sensitivity. So, this will happen, too.

More often than not, these edits are just tweaks and context adjustments. And even if there are more corrections to be made, the story just gets better and becomes open to a wider audience, so they can enjoy it without feeling like: ACK!

We truly don’t want any ACK! reactions from readers. Hopefully these sensitivity edits will eliminate the ACK! Factor.

Our desire for Nothing Without Us is for it to be as awesome as it can be, so people can experience these protagonists fully. I know I’ve learned so much from these stories while being entertained and engrossed by them.

One more thing: A huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting our Kickstarter. We’re so excited that these stories will belong to the world!

And now I must get back to work. Stories need editing!

Cait Gordon

Cait Gordon is a disability advocate and the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers (Fall of 2019). When she’s not writing, Cait’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She’s also teamed up with co-editor Talia C. Johnson on the Nothing Without Us anthology (Fall of 2019.)

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