Sensitivity Reading

There’s a joke about two fish swimming along in the ocean. One fish looks at the other and says, “The water’s nice today.”

The other fish says, “What the *$@% is water?”

The first fish was aware of the water, aware of the world they were literally submerged in. The other fish had never even conceived of the idea that there was something unseen suspending them, supporting them, surrounding them, influencing them; they perceived their supposed world and took it at face value. Neither fish is good or bad, right or wrong, but one fish sees something subtle but omnipresent and the other doesn’t.

That’s the point of a sensitivity reader: they help writers (and organizations) identify their own blind spots —their own supposed worlds—and address where those suppositions and assumptions have the capacity to do harm.

Sensitivity reading is ideal for the writer who wants to do everything they can to make sure their writing is free of bias, misrepresentation, or stereotypes, even unintentionally. Sensitivity reading is not the same as editing, though all of my editing work will address overt issues; however, those who decide to hire me as a sensitivity reader will receive substantive feedback on any issues and how the writer might address these in the next draft. (Patrice Williams Marks, an author and sensitivity reader, explores this topic more in depth for those interested.)

If you’re writing about characters from marginalized groups you are not a part of, you need a sensitivity reader (even if it’s not me). It is simply too easy to write something hurtful or outright offensive without meaning to—and the consequences of publishing such work can be far-reaching, both for readers and for writers.

I take our line of work seriously. We are responsible for the characters and stories we portray (or, for organizations, our marketing and written materials) and it is our job to make sure our work is free of bias, stereotyping, and discriminatory statements. That might sound intimidating, but that’s exactly why sensitivity readers exist. You don’t have to do this alone.

I am particularly adept at sensitivity readings regarding representations of LGBTQ+ folks; women and gender nonconforming folks (including the use of the singular they); body inclusivity (fat empowerment); and representations of poverty. I do or have belonged to each of these groups, which is why over my lifetime I’ve attuned myself to spotting poor, and outright offensive, writing about my communities and me.

Feeling intrigued, but want to learn more? Set up a free 30 Minute Exploratory Conversation and let’s find out how we can work together!

Please note: I do not provide sensitivity readings regarding race, but I would be happy to refer you to readers who do.