Most of us have those moments when we read/see/hear/notice something that pushes all of our buttons. Often this happens watching the news or browsing social media. There is a tendency to want to respond immediately. Strings of expletives might pass through our minds, sometimes spewing forth as words. When the topic of the WTF moment touches on an area that is core to one’s identity, it can be particularly difficult to deal with. The temptation is to reach through the computer and give a Darth Vader Throat Hug™, or perhaps wish for the ability to make people’s heads explode like in the film Scanners. This can be and often is more difficult when one is a beta reader or sensitivity/diversity editor for a writer. The challenge is being sensitive with one’s comments. Or not.
My own strategies in dealing with the stresses of these moments vary depending on my mood. It is not unusual for me to vent a string of expletives to myself. Sometimes I will vent with a trusted friend, someone who understands that it is venting and who I support when they need to vent. This is a good thing. Venting can help with not letting the crappiness sit and fester into something unhealthy. Once the initial reaction is dealt with, it becomes possible to make comments that might be helpful, rather than ones that just lash out.
If someone is seeking a sensitivity beta read or a sensitivity/diversity editor, it is an indication that they are at least slightly open to learning. When providing feedback to people, this is the point I try to start with. The purpose of the edits is to help the writer become better. Thus, some diplomacy and tact is required. My comments explain why something is not good and make suggestions on how to tighten up the writing. Sometimes the comment is along the lines of, “BURN THIS WITH FIRE AND SEND IT TO THE PITS OF THE INFERNO,” albeit phrased in a much more polite fashion. Depending on the problem with the text, I might include a link to a resource directly related to the topic. The comments and suggestions are, at their root, educational instead of just being critical. Constructive criticism is also a good thing.
Related to this is the question of what to do when someone asks for feedback or editing and then discards the suggestions. First, re-read the paragraph on venting. It is incredibly frustrating when the writer does not pay attention to the feedback and edits.
Second, try to let go. Once the edits and feedback are sent to the writer it is beyond one’s control. It is up to the writer to do their own work and deal with their own stuff. As a person who tends to feel quite strongly about things, this takes some work to achieve. Yet, at the same time, the stress of holding on to it will lead to increased fibro pain and heightened sensitivities related to being autistic. Not healthy.
Third, work to develop practices that aid in one’s resilience. That might mean going for an outing, taking a walk, or doing other activity that takes one outside one’s usual space. For others, it means listening to music that helps. Two activities that help me are reading and video games, particularly ones with immersive, interesting plots. I do these instead of watching movies or television. For others, movies and television are the answer. Sometimes I work on my own writing, my poetry, my fiction, or other writing. Internally I might be thinking something like, This is how one does this properly! At the same time, I strive to be aware of what in my own writing could be problematic.
We all make mistakes, we all screw up. The challenge is to not make it a lifestyle choice. Pay attention to what feedback one receives, and try to be sensitive in the feedback one gives. Most importantly, delete the expletives before copying feedback into the final review document (or not depending on the context).
Lastly, it is okay to say no to being a beta reader or sensitivity editor if one does not have the emotional or psychological energy to deal with the topics involved. It is emotional labour, it is work, and it can be exhausting. Saying no can be one of the healthiest ways to take care of oneself. One cannot continue to do the work if one is out of energy. One must have enough in reserve to give the occasional metaphorical throat hug.
Talia Johnson is a multi-faceted woman who is transgender, autistic, Jewish, queer, and more than the sum of her parts. Her work centres on bridging faith and queer communities, facilitating workshops, educating, speaking, writing, one-on-one coaching, counselling, and mentoring. She is a queer and trans sensitivity editor for writers and publishers. Talia’s most recent poem, Holy Love, appearS in the Resilience anthology from Heartspark Press. She is currently studying in Kohenet towards becoming a Hebrew Priestess, and working toward entering graduate school at the Master’s level. Her studies bridge faith, queer, and psychology using queer and feminist intersectional approaches. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.