Advocacy as work and coffee as compensation

In the aftermath of the SF Signal debacle I recommended several ways of supporting disabled voices, particularly disabled writers and activists. One of those was: “Pay us. When you offer to publish us, invite us to conventions, ask us to share our expertise, pay us.” Later, Katherine Locke tweeted me and suggested looking into Ko-Fi, a service that let’s you ask people to “buy you a cup of coffee”—or, in other words, donate $2 to your PayPal.

I followed her advice, tweeting out a link and asking people for coffee. The donations started coming in. $2 here, $4 there, occasionally even $10 or $20 (from some especially generous people), and I quickly had enough to cover over half my credit card bill for this month. As someone who doesn’t have a job (for a variety of reasons, not least of which are disability-related), this was huge for me.

What was even cooler was seeing so many other people in the YA community tweet their own Ko-Fi links. It was a day of support, in terms of boosting but also in terms of money. It was invigorating seeing so many people I respect and admire stating that their work is worth financial compensation.

That afternoon I said:

[Embedded tweets: It’s hard enough accepting that your writing has value, but it’s even harder recognizing your less concrete work does too. Advocacy in particular is hard for me to see as “work” worthy of being paid. Advocacy doesn’t feel optional to me. It feels like survival.]

This has been on my mind a lot, especially now that I’ve been pitching and publishing personal essays. My advocacy now has three main branches (in no particular order): 1) my work with Disability in Kidlit, 2) speaking and boosting on Twitter, and 3) my essays. (If I blogged more on here, I’d probably include that as 2a, but as it stands, I don’t view it as a major component. For now.)

So far, I’ve been paid for all my published essays, and I intend to continue that trend by only pitching to and accepting invitations from venues that are willing to pay me. (Of course, there are exceptions, because I understand that some sites, especially those that are “niche” and/or run by marginalized people like, for example, Disability in Kidlit, can’t afford to pay their writers.) It took me several months to come to a place where I was fully comfortable taking that payment, though. My essays are intensely personal and (so far) focused on my disabled identity. I was worried that accepting money would mean commodifying my disability in some way, playing into the abled gaze by the very act of speaking within spaces created by said gaze. Of course, by that logic, the only ways to subvert it would be not to speak at all or to speak only in places the disabled have built, neither of which are fulfilling solutions for me.

So I speak, for a fee. My essays are work and that work is valuable. It’s valuable in terms of advocacy—sharing a new perspective, contributing to ongoing dialogues, critiquing feminist spaces, encouraging an examination of privilege, etc.—but it’s valuable in terms of dollars too.

As hard as it was to come to that conclusion, it’s been even harder to recognize that that second branch, the social media branch, is valuable in a similar way.

[Embedded tweet: But [advocacy is] work too. It’s time. It’s intellectual and emotional labor (both of which have physical consequences). It’s risk. It’s hard.]

My tweeting doesn’t bring revenue for anyone the way that my essays do for the sites that publish them, but that’s the only substantial difference. In a lot of ways, the advocacy I do on Twitter is more draining than my essay work. Essays are written in isolation, edited (ideally) by someone trusted, and then out of your hands once published. Twitter is both a stage and a conversation. And when the spotlight swings to you (for instance, when something outrageous happens, like with SF Signal), it’s doubly exhausting to have to succinctly, thoughtfully express yourself while fielding real-time feedback and expansions and questions and pushback and everything else. It’s work.


Today, Dahlia Adler tweeted the following (which I’m pretty sure was completely unrelated to any of what I’ve been talking about, but which pinged for me because I’ve been thinking about these things):

[Embedded tweets: As an author – as a *person* – you need to believe and embrace that your work has value. Because you *are* writing words assigned a value. I get impostor syndrome. It SUCKS. But if you can’t genuinely believe that your work is worth something, how can you ask people to buy it?]

While she’s speaking more about fiction, she brings up another important, salient point: words are valuable and so is the act of stringing them together. Valuable in terms of critiquing, reflecting, celebrating, and creating the world we live in. But also valuable in terms of money.

Advocacy in all its forms may be largely about survival for many of us, but why can’t we thrive too?

Our work, our voices, our advocacy, our expertise, our vulnerability, our passion, our time, our effort are all worthy of financial recognition. I’m thrilled so many people (especially marginalized people) spent the other day asking for monetary support, and I hope we’ll continue to do so.

I hope we’ll continue to assert that our work—all of our work—has value. 


Buy me a coffee at  

January Roundup

In an effort to keep better track of my life, I’ve decided to start posting monthly round-ups of notable things I read and any news or publications of mine that came out. Hopefully you’ll find some interesting tidbits in these posts!

Recommended Reading



THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson is a stunning sci-fi set in a futuristic Brazil. Several hundred years after the world as we know it ended, June Costa is an artist in Palmares Tres. When she meets Enki, the newest Summer King destined to die within a year, the two start a blistering campaign of art-as-revolution. A fascinating look at art, politics, technology, order, tradition, and ambition, this is one of the most fully formed sci-fi worlds and compelling sci-fi stories I’ve read. (Also, it’s hella queer. Just queer all over the place.)

In DELICATE MONSTERS, Stephanie Kuehn creates yet another darkly beautiful study of humanity. The language is magical, but it’s the characters who will haunt you. Sadie, Emerson, and Miles all have fascinating individual stories but it’s the ways in which they converge and interact that make this book unforgettable. I’m hesitant to say much about the actual plot because I think it’s best to go in with as little information as possible, but suffice it to say you may not want to read this one right before bed.

A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE by Brittany Cavallaro doesn’t come out until March, but you need to put this one on your TBR right now. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that can be accurately described by “cute as all get out” and “contains quite a lot of hardcore drug use.” The premise—Sherlock Holmes’s and John Watson’s descendants meet at boarding school and solve murders together—is fantastic, but the execution is even better. And Charlotte Holmes is already in the running for my favorite character of 2016.



There’s only one link in this section, but you’ll find a veritable treasure trove of essays within. The People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! Kickstarter is kicking ass, and as part of the campaign, they’re posting daily essays by people of color about genre fiction, writing, reading, identity, and so much more. Some of the authors included are Alyssa Wong, Aliette de Bodard, Julia Rios, Ken Liu, and S. L. Huang. I sincerely recommend taking the time to read through every essay already posted, then checking back regularly for the rest to come. And make sure you donate to the Kickstarter if you can while you’re there!



I read barely any poetry this month (and no short stories—whoops!), but the one I did read was exactly what I needed. “Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving Up” by Kaitlyn Boulding is beyond comforting and a lovely meditation on self-care that I’m sure I’ll come back to again and again.


News and Publications

I HAVE AN AGENT!! I’m so thrilled to be represented by Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

My essay, “Nobody Catcalls the Woman in the Wheelchair,” about street harassment as a disabled woman and the exclusionary language feminism tends to use to discuss street harassment, was published at The Establishment. It was also reprinted at the Huffington Post and linked to on Autostraddle.

Issue 8 of Uncanny Magazine included my poem, “tended, tangled, and veined.” It’s about names, roses, living glass, gender, and identity. It was also read beautifully by Amal El-Mohtar on the Uncanny Podcast.


The title says it all, or most of it anyway. I HAVE AN AGENT! I am officially an AGENTED WRITER-TYPE PERSON! It honestly still doesn’t feel real. Not to be too cliché, but I keep expecting to find out someone drugged me with an experimental hallucinogen and my trip involved career advancement instead of bloodthirsty unicorns or whatever.

So, how did this happen? Mostly in the usual way, but I’ll give you the whole story anyway. Just in case you’re interested.

This doesn’t start with me as a child dreaming of the day I’d publish a book. I didn’t grow up scribbling stories or daydreaming about characters and adventure and magic. Beyond a few (truly horrendous) fanfics in high school, I didn’t write for fun. There are a few reasons for that, some of which I’m still parsing out, but the big one was that it never occurred to me to try.

Not until college, when my writing-major BFF suggested I take a creative writing elective. I figured it might be a fun way to spend three credit hours, but didn’t think too much of it. COLOR ME SURPRISED when I discovered, wait a minute, I’m really really really into this. Between that class and another one I took later, I also figured out I might have a knack for this whole stringing words together thing.

I kept writing, but I wasn’t doing it in any serious way. I toyed with the idea of writing a novel, and I wrote maybe 5,000 words on two different ideas before moving on. I was getting a political science degree! I was going into a nonprofit master’s program! I wasn’t A Writer.

Until halfway through said master’s program when I realized, no, wait a minute, I absolutely am a writer. Not only that, but it’s what I want to do for my career.

After graduating, I was accepted to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in San Diego. I’ve talked at length about the experience before, but suffice it to say this was the single greatest boost to my writing up to that point. Not only because of all that I learned and the people I met, but because it solidified my previously shaky confidence in my dreams and abilities.

A few months after I got home from those intense six weeks, I decided I was finally going to write a novel. I started it in November 2014 and by January 1, 2015, I had a finished draft of a middle grade contemporary. I sent it to my betas, revised through February, sent it to them again, and did one more smaller revision in early April.

And then I started querying. I sent out my first batch at the end of April. My first two responses came less than a week later within an hour of each other, and they were both full requests! That was more than a little unexpected.

Also unexpected? The terrifying and painful health stuff that hit me in June. Suffice it to say that I was out of commission for the entire summer. I didn’t send out any more queries, and when the (really very lovely) rejections on the fulls came in, I couldn’t quite bring myself to care. When you suddenly can’t eat anything and you realize you’ve been dealing with depression for months on top of that? Querying becomes significantly less of a concern.

But I eventually got feeling better and I started sending out more queries. I got more and more full requests, along with some more wonderful rejections. (Seriously, personal rejections are the greatest gifts.) I didn’t query systematically, though. I kept a spreadsheet, but I didn’t update it as regularly as I should’ve. I didn’t send out planned batches of queries so much as periodic, spur-of-the-moment ones. I did my research on everyone, of course, but I did it in a spread out, unorganized way. A lot of times, I’d see an agent tweet something that made me think they’d be a good fit and go from there.

So when I saw Beth Phelan was hosting a query contest for diverse writers on MLK Day, I immediately researched her interests. Lo and behold, she wanted middle grade contemporary, and my particular flavor of it, too! I honestly don’t know how I’d missed her before this. I’d looked into The Bent Agency and even queried other agents there, but somehow Beth had slipped past me.

I queried her on that Monday, MLK Day. Something like an hour later she requested the full! This was super exciting, but I’d had enough “I really like it but I’m not the right fit” rejections on fulls by this point to know not to get my hopes up. Plus, since she promised personal feedback to everyone who entered, I didn’t expect her to read the manuscript anytime soon. I settled in to wait with more caution than optimism.

Wednesday night, I woke up and checked my phone for the time. It was almost 1am and I had an email from Beth. I knew such a fast response had to mean a rejection, but I felt a weird flutter of hope regardless. I opened the email. Read the email.

It wasn’t a rejection. It was an offer.

I legitimately didn’t know how to react. You have to understand I was still half-asleep. This could SO EASILY have been a really cruel dream, but I kept staring at the email and it didn’t go away. When I woke up the next morning (although, let’s be real, I didn’t get much sleep), it was still there. She really wanted to be my agent!

We talked that afternoon, and it was perfect. She fully understood the story, the characters, the themes, everything. I could tell her edit suggestions would make the book even stronger, and I honestly wanted to start working on revisions right then. But I told her I’d get back to her in a week.

Nothing about the next week felt real. I think my brain was experiencing so many feels–excitement, fear, anxiety, euphoria, disbelief–that it shut down entirely and refused to process any feels at all. I spent a few days in a haze, not a bad one, but a haze nonetheless. All the agents who still had my full started responding, saying they loved it, but they’d step aside for the greater interest.

I talked with Beth again and it just made me even more sure that she was The One. When I hung up, all I wanted was to sign with her as soon as I possibly could.

And this morning, sign is exactly what I did!

I am so honored and thrilled to say that I’m now represented by Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency! I can’t wait to start this next phase of my career with her. Time to get started.

Microaggressions and Erasure
of Disability in Diversity Discussions

I don’t know how to write this. I honestly still can’t decide if I should—even as I’m writing it—because I’m afraid I’ll be misunderstood, or because I’m afraid I’m overreacting, or because I’m afraid I’ll be perceived as overreacting. All of the above, really. But I’m more afraid of not saying anything, of letting it blister only to burst open deep and raw over and over again. I’m afraid there’ll come a day when I choose to withdraw from this community altogether rather than be scraped open one more time.

Before I start, I want to be clear that nothing I’m going to say is directed at any one person or event. This is something that’s been happening for as long as I’ve been part of the YA community, but it has admittedly been happening more frequently lately since diversity discussions in general have been happening more frequently. And maybe that’s why I’m saying something now even though I’ve been planning to write this for ages: because the little hurts are coming in quicker succession and turning into bigger ones. Bigger hurts are harder to ignore.

I also want to make it clear that I admire the hell out of every single person in this community fighting for more and better diversity, risking their careers and well being to do so, and facing unconscionable harassment and abuse for speaking at all.

Having said that, I’m finding it harder and harder to feel welcome in these diversity discussions. And no, I’m not talking about the ones that are focused on racism or transphobia or anti-Semitism or Islamophobia or any other specific marginalization. Those are all incredibly important conversations where my voice does not belong, except perhaps to boost the voices of those who do. My voice doesn’t belong in discussions about A Fine Dessert or For Such a Time, for example. Beyond boosting those affected, my voice would be derailing at best and actively harmful at worst. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the general diversity discussions. Sometimes these develop from those specific ones, sometimes not. Regardless, we have a lot of (sorely needed) conversations about diversity and marginalization in this community…and disability doesn’t always feel welcome there. I’ve started dreading these conversations because they inevitably turn into a string of microaggressions and erasures.

It’s in the way disability is so rarely listed in definitions of diversity.

It’s in the way people say, “You’d never say [X] about someone disabled! Why say it about [other marginalized identity]?”

It’s in the way books with disability tropes and painful portrayals are included again and again in recommended lists and award nominations, even after #ownvoices critics have spoken out against those titles.

It’s in the way those harmful portrayals are often the only ones recced at all, and how #ownvoices writers tend to be overlooked entirely.

It’s in the ableist language used so often and so casually to make a point: “Those people are CRAZY!” “Anyone who says/thinks/does that must be INSANE!” “You’d have to be BLIND to ignore that!”

It’s in all the times someone has said “differently abled” or “wheelchair-bound” or “handicapable” in an article promoting diversity.

It’s in the lack of captions or descriptions of photos, GIFs, and videos. Again, in articles promoting diversity.

It’s in the shorthand we use for privilege: white, and sometimes straight. As though sexuality and race are the only possible axes on which to be privileged or marginalized. As if abled privilege doesn’t exist.

It’s in the way so many people—even those committed to diversity—can’t list the last book they read with a disabled character.

It’s in the way disability is so rarely included when people list the intersectional characters they’d like to see.

It’s in the way people respond to my voice. There’s sympathy, always sympathy, but rarely solidarity. When my voice is boosted, people say, “Listen.” But most don’t say, “This is wrong.”

It’s in the way I’ve seen authors use #ownvoices to describe themselves writing disabled characters—because someone in their family has a disability.

It’s in all the ways we’re ignored, erased, or trampled on during these discussions.

I am white, so I am absolutely privileged. But I’m also disabled (not to mention queer), so I am absolutely marginalized. I have valuable things to add to discussions of diversity, but I don’t always feel comfortable speaking. I worry I’ll be derailing if I focus on disability, or that I’ll be seen as a white girl trying to play oppressed, or that no one will care anyway.

I appreciate the explicit support I get. I do, truly. This isn’t about that. This is about all the subtle ways I’m told over and over again that I don’t count, that I don’t belong in these discussions. It’s the microagressions. It’s the erasure. It’s the apathy. It’s the fact that a supposedly safe space is feeling less and less so every day.

Maybe this is a horribly misguided thing to write. Maybe I should just delete it. But really all I’m saying is:

See us. Acknowledge us. Include us.


An open letter to the editor of

This is, as the title suggests, an open letter to the editor of about their recent homophobic, all-around disgusting article mocking slash fanfiction and those who read and write it. Her email is if you’d like to write a letter as well. (Thanks to Tess Sharpe for leading the charge.)

Dear Kaitlin,

Yesterday, your site posted an article ( that is actively dangerous to teens, particularly queer and questioning teens, in a number of ways.

We should really not have to tell you that it’s homophobic and NOT OKAY to say that queer kissing is “nasty as fuck.” And yet, here we are. I want to do more than that, though. I want to explain why it’s not okay. I want you to understand the harm your article could (and very likely did) do.

Not too long ago, I was one of the teens reading fanfiction that your article mocked. With one crucial difference: I didn’t read slash. I didn’t click on it. I wouldn’t even let my eyes linger on the pairings listed in summaries as I scanned for safer, cleaner fic with straight pairings. I didn’t dislike slash, but I dreaded seeing any hint of it. Just knowing it existed scared me because it was so clearly wrong, and if I shared any space with it (even virtual space, scrolling as fast as I could past it) might make me wrong, too.

At the same time, I was fantasizing about girls. I told myself if was just because I knew what girls looked like and felt like since I was one myself. I wasn’t imagining kissing girls because I liked them. I didn’t like girls. I liked boys. I wanted to kiss boys, like in the fic I read of my favorite straight couples. (You know what doesn’t seem possible when you only read hetero stories? Wanting to kiss boys and girls.)

At the same time, I was masturbating at night. I’d cry after, every time. Silent, heaving sobs that twisted in my stomach and lower, because I knew I shouldn’t be doing it. Because I knew it was wrong and I still didn’t stop. So I was wrong, too, right? (Het fic with more explicit sexual content existed, but I never read it. Sure, it wasn’t quite as wrong as slash fic with sex, but it was wrong enough. Nasty enough, one might say.)

It wasn’t until later that I realized I was so scared of slash fic and of sex in fic because I was curious. I wasn’t just afraid—I was ashamed.

Later, in college, I let myself click on some of those shameful titles before hastily closing the window. Even later, I finally let myself read them.

You know what I found? Stories where I could explore and engage my queerness and sexuality without judgment. I found stories that showed me sexual pleasure was possible and wonderful. I found characters who wanted to kiss people of all genders. I found out there were more than two genders to want to kiss!

I found myself in slash fanfiction.

It can be so hard to figure out your identity, to accept yourself, to love yourself, to recognize that you deserve a place in this world, that you deserved to be loved.

How dare you make that harder? How dare you mock the spaces that queer people and women and trans people have carved for themselves? When you tell teens that these stories are “nasty as fuck” or “inappropriate” (which is the language used after the initial reaction), you’re telling them that their desires and their questions and their creativity and their curiosity and their very selves are nasty and inappropriate.

Words matter. They have consequences. You should have known better than to publish that article at all, but since you didn’t, you need to fix it. You need to take it down and issue an apology. (Note: “I’m sorry if anyone got their feelings hurt” is not actually an apology.)

Of course, there were other issues with this article as well. Tess Sharpe has done a wonderful job explaining them here. In short: you linked children to sexually explicit content without any warning for them, and you used peoples’ writing without their consent (many of whom are teens and have since been harassed and bullied because of this violation). Read her letter as well.

You exist for teens. Presumably you care about them. If that’s true, address this. Acknowledge you were wrong and why you were wrong.

And never ever ever invade and/or mock teens’ safe spaces or interests or creativity or identities ever again.

Kayla Whaley