Books by people of color: A rec list

In early 2016 I realized that the overwhelming majority of books I had read were written by white authors. It was one of those “duh” moments that formulated my privileged-white-person-becoming-aware-of-pervasive-systemic-racism process.  To some extent, I blame American public schools, the media, and the publishing industry, but the bottom line is that I had neglected to examine all of the ways that white supremacy has seeped into the cracks and seams of my life.  So, I made a resolution to only read books by authors of color for a year.

I highly recommend that other white readers do this: if not a full year of avoiding white authors, then a close examination of the diversity of the authors you’ve read and conscious effort to expand it.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: listening to people of color has never been more important than it is now.

I’ve created a list of some of my favorites.  I did my best to include a variety of genres, but there are definite trends.

Feel free to add your recs if you have any!

Nonfiction – Essays

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

This is a collection of thoughtful, well-written, and occasionally hilarious essays on gender, race, sexuality, body type, higher education, and Scrabble. Anything by Roxanne Gay is worth a read (I’m currently reading Difficult Women, which I love so far), and this award-winning bestseller is a fantastic place to start.

Ljeoma Oluo’s articles

Okay, you caught me. Two items on this list aren’t physical books. To my knowledge, Oluo hasn’t published anything off the internet (except for the Badass Feminist Coloring Book, which I discovered while researching her and will be placing on my wish list right…now.) Nonetheless, her writing is far too important to exclude, especially now.  I specifically recommend “Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement” and “When a Woman Deletes a Man’s Comment Online.”

Nonfiction – History

God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis

This one was obviously written for people who either read about history for a living or want to read about history for a living. I am not one of those people. Still, it was worth pushing through the dense material in order to see a perspective on Medieval Europe that we never got in my overwhelmingly-white American public school.

Nonfiction – Memoir

The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin, a lesbian speaker and activist from Jamaica, describes her childhood, biracial identity, adolescence, coming-out, and emigration to the United States.  Her story is emotional, charming, and powerful, and the audiobook – which she narrates – absolutely blew me away.

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

This memoir was published long before Obama ran for president, and it beautifully outlines the way that his biracial identity and early activism uncovered complex issues about American race relations.

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith

I think, at a minimum, every American needs to read or listen to this book. Smith uses his life experience to illustrate hard and complicated truths, not just about the experience of black men in America but also the experiences of women, LGBTQ+ people, people with mental illness, and people with multiple marginalizing identities. There’s an audiobook narrated by actor Kevin R. Free, and it is phenomenal.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

A lawyer in Alabama who started a non-profit organization to provide legal counsel for Death Row prisoners – among a myriad of other things – Stevenson uses tragic and horrifying case examples to highlight the cruelty and racism in the American criminal justice system. This is another book that all Americans – especially white Americans and/or people who feel complacent with our justice system – need to read or listen to. (Stevenson reads the audiobook.)

Fiction – Non-speculative

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

A famous jazz musician dies, and his death reveals to the world that he was transgender in an age when trans issues were even more poorly-understood than they are today. The book uses alternating points of view between between the late musician’s wife, adult son, and people with varying degrees of involvement in his life in order to weave a tragic and heartwarming story.

Burnt Shadows by Kamala Shamsie

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Kamala Shamsie (see also: In the City by the SeaKartography), but this one is my favorite. It follows a survivor of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki as she transitions from houseguest in a British home in Delhi, to refugee in Pakistan, to wife and mother in Karachi, to elderly woman watching New York City struggling to recover after 9/11.  There is love and tragedy and destruction and the sense that everything is endless and cyclical.

(Kamala Shamsie is my former creative writing professor, which is how I found out about her. I wish she were better-known because she is a fantastic writer with important things to say, especially about politics in the Middle East and the USA.)

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Tragic and complex and layered, this series of interconnected anecdotes centers on two Native American families living on a reservation in North Dakota, meandering between time period and point-of-view as aimlessly as many of its characters wander through life.  Several of Erdich’s other books are on my to-read list.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a good one for people who like unreliable narrators and hazy, ambiguous non-solutions to mysteries (I’m told that many of Ishiguro’s books are like that, so check him out if that’s your thing).  Slightly creepy, it’s a beautifully written study of mothers and daughters in post-WWII Japan and beyond.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

A man in an unnamed Arab country narrates the 24 hours of his life after his grandmother discovers him and his boyfriend in bed together.  As he attempts – and fails – to go about a normal day, we see commentary on politics, society (Arab and Western), marginalization, and family secrets, all through the eyes of a traumatized man trying to redefine himself in a world that consistently fails to understand him.

Fiction – Spectulative (Sci Fi/Fantasy/Magical Realism)

Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Anything by Octavia Butler is necessary reading (I read and loved Kindred, and the rest of her books are on my to-read list). She was woke before most white people knew woke was a thing, and she used sci fi/fantasy to illuminate difficult truths about racism, sexism, and classism in America. These two books, about a new religion fighting to emerge in a harsh, dystopian America, are beautiful, tragic, and surprisingly prophetic.  The second book in particular has some frightening parallels to our current political environment.

The Fifth Season/The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The first two books in what is so far an incomplete series, these novels represent epic fantasy at its finest.  My words can’t do them justice, except to say that Jemisin 110% deserved the Hugo award she earned for the first book.  She is another author with several books on my “to-read” list. The audio books, read by Robin Miles, are also mind-blowingly good.

Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

Most people know Amy Tan from The Joy Luck Club, though I actually enjoyed this one more. This book fits the “magical realism” genre because the narrator is speaking to us not long after her tragic and sudden death, describing a group tour through China and Myanmar that goes horribly wrong in part because she isn’t alive to lead it. The Bonesetter’s Daughter is also a good real-world-fantasy book.

Infomacracy by Malka Older

In the somewhat-distant future, our political, social, corporate, and globalization systems will have undergone some massive changes. Two parts political thriller, one part biting social commentary, this book (the first in a yet-incomplete series) holds up a funhouse mirror to politics, capitalism, and the information age, showing us a caricature of where we could be headed.

Fiction – Young Adult

Akata Witch by Neddi Okorafor

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the Harry Potter series. There is magic, detailed world-building, compelling friendships, and an emphasis on standing up for what you believe in, even when it’s hard, even when it’s terrifying, and even when you have virtually no idea what you’re doing.  (I also enjoyed Lagoon and Binti.)

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid only far more profound and compelling, with an added focus on disability, segregation, poverty, death, and injustice to Indigenous people. At the same time, it somehow manages to be uplifting and occasionally hilarious. I fell head-over-heels for the protagonist and was genuinely upset when the story ended.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Another disabled-underdog protagonist with a sharp voice and compelling fish-out-of-water story; simply subtract the illustrations and add alternating points-of-view to create a more comprehensive look at this character’s life.

(If you liked one of the above two books, chances are good that you’ll like the other. Obviously, I highly recommend both.)

Shadowshaper by Daniel Older

This urban fantasy condemns police brutality, white supremacy, cultural appropriation, and gentrification. The magic is fascinating, the world-building complex, the story twisting and mysterious.  The audiobook, narrated by Anika Noni Rose, is phenomenal to the point where I would almost recommend that over the written version.  Her performance adds life and depth to the characters, sweeping you along with every step of the plot.

If You Could be Mine by Sarah Farzian

A teenage girl in Iran is in love with her (female) best friend, in a country where being gay is a crime but being transgender is not. This book uses the forbidden-queer-teenage-love story (see also: Finlater by Shawn Stewart Ruff) to explore issues of sexuality and gender identity in a way that is thoughtful, sad, and surprisingly uplifting at the same time.

Short Stories

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

A series of moving and beautifully written short stories about Nigerian women of different ages, classes, and sexualities.  I also enjoyed Under the Udala Trees, which is a full-length novel about a gay woman growing up in 60s/70s Nigeria.

Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin

Yet another fantastic author who has produced a bunch of excellent works, Baldwin is particularly focused on the intersection between the black male identity and the queer identity in America.

Karma and Other Stories by Rishi Reddi

I actually read this series of somewhat-interconnected stories a few years ago. Each story depicts Indian American culture in a different way, presenting the different struggles, losses, and successes that Indian people of multiple generations face in America.

The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

This one is actually a single short story, rather than a collection.  It’s available to read for free here at Tor.com, so I’ll let the story speak for itself. Check it out!

Honorable mentions: 

(books and authors I enjoyed but didn’t include because I had to cap this list somewhere)

Nonfiction: A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Non-speculative Fiction: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Speculative Fiction: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino,  The Between by Tananarive Due.

Young AdultWaters Between by Joseph Bruchac, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova.

Short Stories: Let the Dead Bury Their Dead by Randall Kenan, The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Other authors to check out: Isabel Allende, John Chu, Toni Morrison, Gene Luen Yang, Malinda Lo, Salman Rushdie.

Authors I haven’t read but I’ve heard good things about from multiple and/or reliable sources: Shamim Sarif, Audre Lourde, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Junot Diaz, Nalo Hopkinson, Gabby Rivera, Zadie Smith, Manil Suri.

Beyond the Women’s March: A PSA for fellow white people

Between 2014 and 2016, I attended several protests and rallies in Boston responding to the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the non-indictments of the officers who had killed them.  Although I didn’t keep a diligent count of the demographics, it did not escape my attention that visibly fewer than half of attendees were white, more than half of white attendees were women, and more than half of white people at these events presented as queer in an obvious way.

So it seems that, despite their abundance, cisgender, heterosexual, white people – especially men – are a rarity at Black Lives Matter events in Boston.

But the few cis-het white men who did show up? Wow, did they enjoy leading chants.

In the proximity of a cis-het white man, we rarely if ever experienced more than a few seconds of relative quiet without him bellowing a chant and expecting the crowd to follow along.  Cis-het white women were similar.  Often, chants initiated by white people would interrupt and ultimately drown out a chant led by people of color.

This is a problem.

It’s a problem that we white people didn’t show up when the Black Lives Matter movement needed us, and it’s a problem that those of us who did felt that our voices needed to be heard more than others.

Why?  First: Black Lives Matter exists because white people have systemically ignored black voices for a very long time. We do nothing to help the cause if we show up only to speak over them yet again.

Second: chants led by people of color were different from chants led by white people.  White people raged against racist police; people of color decried white supremacy and a corrupt system. That difference matters.

Then there were the white people who happily joined or started chants that we have no business shouting, such as “I can’t breathe” (yes we can – we aren’t the ones that systemic racism is oppressing) or “Whose streets? Our streets!” (Yes, they are our streets. That’s the problem!).

All this to say, the few cis-het white people who do show up for Black Lives Matter consistently fail to listen to the voices we are trying to support. 

Which brings me to the the Women’s March.

Anyone who hasn’t avoided the news for the past several weeks has likely heard about the overwhelmingly-well-attended Women’s Marches around the world on January 21st.  News sources disagree on how many people attended, but minimal estimates count millions of people at marches in all 50 US states, at least 60 countries and all seven continents. Everyone except Sean Spicer seems to agree that the D.C. Women’s March alone was better-attended than Trump’s inauguration.

This fact on its own is fantastic. My girlfriend and I attended the Boston march with some friends and the experience was powerful and moving.

Unfortunately, after the march I heard and read too many stories about black women, indigenous women, Muslim women, disabled women, and trans* people being ignored or outright disrespected by well-meaning white marchers. So there’s a few issues that we white people need to address before we become too complacent about our role in improving the world.

First:

Congratulating ourselves on organizing a protest that resulted in zero arrests. 

Again, this is an objectively good thing.  Peaceful protests are meant to be exactly that, and the fact that organizers managed to keep all events free of rioting or aggression is a feat to be commended.

That said, we as white people can’t take all the credit for this.  In the days following the march, I witnessed a trend of self-congratulatory posts gradually evolving into white people wondering why, if we managed it, the BLM and No DAPL protestors couldn’t avoid violence.  Why couldn’t they just do what we did?

This is where white people need to stop and check our privilege.

At every BLM protest in Boston, I saw long lines of mostly-white-cis-het-men police officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, staring straight ahead with blank expressions, occasionally resting their hands on their guns.  Full riot gear was rare in Boston, but I did see it from time to time. As instructed by march organizers, we ignored the police and kept to our route, but the tension was palpable.

At the Women’s March, the atmosphere was completely different. Police officers still lined the route, but they were visibly more relaxed than any of the officers I saw at BLM events.  Many of the officers at the Women’s March were smiling. Some made eye-contact with people in the crowd and nodded. One or two even cheered.  I didn’t personally witness this, but there are videos of police high-fiving marchers in other cities.  I saw no riot gear in Boston. No officer’s hand was anywhere near a gun.

It is unfair for white people to claim credit for the difference in police response to the Women’s March.  Many of the marches changed their routes at the last minute (which they are not supposed to do), and at Boston alone I saw tons of people ignoring requests that the police had made before the march: holding signs with wooden pickets, wearing backpacks, and carrying bags that were not at all transparent.  Meanwhile, BLM marches in Boston showed zero threat of violence on the part of the marchers, no weapons, and no engagement with the police.  Like the Women’s March, BLM events had volunteers specifically present to make sure that attendees followed all of the rules.

In short: the palpable difference in how the police treated us had nothing to do with attendees’ behavior.

Police felt more comfortable with the Women’s Marches because they consisted primarily of cisgender-heterosexual-white women. People of color and LGBTQ+ people were present, yes, but cis-het white women were the clear majority, and this prevalence put the police at ease.  White women are not a threat.  White women are “on their side.” Events consisting primarily of people of color marching for their lives feel more threatening to the police, and as a result they are treated differently.

So think twice before you say something smug, comparing the Women’s March to the BLM or NoDAPL movements. Acknowledge your privilege and the role that it played. Sit with that. Process it. Feel uncomfortable with it.

Then use your privilege for good.

How do we do that? The obvious answer is to attend more events supporting people of color. I have frequently seen or heard people of color asking: “Where were all of you when we marched for Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown…(etc)?”

In general, we weren’t there, but we can change that. We can attend protests and rallies supporting people of color, Muslims, refugees, and indigenous people. We can show up for marginalized people and pester our friends into joining us, and it will do these marches good. The increased presence of white people – especially cisgender-heterosexual-women, will likely help the police to feel less threatened. It’s sad, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s true.

Walk on the edge of the crowd, where you will be most visible.  See a woman of color holding a particularly contentious sign? Walk near her. Watch her back.

I did not come up with these suggestions, by the way; women of color have been saying all this since before the Women’s Marches took place.

Can’t show up physically? Research other ways to support people of color and their causes, whether by donating money, spreading the word, or doing something else that these movements are asking for. The Women’s March is a perfect example of how white feminists need to improve at listening to and supporting  people who are marginalized in other ways.

Which brings me to my next issue:

Ignoring the needs and struggles of trans* people.

(I’m using “trans*” as an umbrella term for trans men, trans women, and everyone who identifies as gender non-binary.  I did not invent this term.)

Although Boston’s pre-march program made a fantastic effort to include women of color and disabled women, at most a few cursory mentions were made to trans* people.

Worse, many marchers’ signs mentioned “uterus,” “ovaries,” and other reproductive anatomy that cisgender women often mistakenly assign to all – and exclusively – women.  After the march, I heard and read responses from trans* people saying that these signs and slogans made them feel invisible, excluded, even dysmorphic.

Simply saying “trans women are women” helps no one if we’re going to exclude trans* people from our actions. Already we’re ignoring trans men and non-binary people when we claim abortion as a “woman’s right,” but using “uterus” or “ovaries” as a stand-in for “women” excludes trans women from the conversation.  Trans* people are already fighting for recognition, inclusion, and safety in a country that is openly hostile to them, and for many people losing Planned Parenthood means losing access to vitally important hormone therapy.  It’s unfair and counterproductive for cisgender women feminists to exclude trans* people from our cause, but unfortunately it seems to happen unintentionally.

So how do we counter it? Again, I have a solution presented to me by a person who was directly affected; I cannot overstate how important it is for white feminists to listen to marginalized groups.

Instead of focusing on reproductive rights specifically, lets fight for body autonomy for all.  Let’s acknowledge the services that Planned Parenthood provides to trans* people. “My body, my choice/their body their choice” does not need to specify cisgender women. It can include trans men and non-binary people who need abortions and birth control. It can include trans women who need access to hormones. We can protest Trump’s open and unapologetic history of sexual assault without implying that only cisgender women are ever assaulted.

Beyond that, lets show up for trans* people when they need us.  There’s plenty to do, especially now.  If you live in a state where trans* students could be affected by Trump’s withdrawal of trans rights from Title IX, find out what you can do to fight back.  If you live in a progressive state with its own anti-discrimination policies, research ways to support trans* people who need help.  This article is a great place to start.

Speaking of extra work, issue #3:

Potentially quitting activism after the March “high” wears off.

I’m thrilled to see people still involved in activism more than a month after the march, but this is a problem that we as white people need to keep in mind over the next four years. Non-marginalized groups tend to lose interest in civil rights movements more quickly than marginalized groups do. White people get fired up on issues, sure, but we tend to spring into action one day and then return to our regular lives the next.

As a gay, cisgender, white, able-bodied, middle-class woman with chronic health problems in Massachusetts, I am protected by state law in the ways that my disadvantages might affect me.  My privileges take care of the rest.  I, like many people, have the ability to stop paying attention to issues that deeply affect minorities across the country.

But we can’t let that happen this time.  There’s too much at stake.

How do we counter this?

  1. Stay informed. Follow reputable news sites and fact-check everything you hear or read.  Listen.
  2. Pace yourself.  I’ve heard from multiple people in multiple contexts: this is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t push yourself to every event, just more than you would have attended before. Take breaks, engage in self-care, then come back.
  3. Don’t get discouraged when you do things wrong.  Most of the issues I’ve addressed above are things I myself have done. I didn’t protest police brutality until Michael Brown’s death in 2014, and even then I happily chanted “OUR STREETS” until the problem was pointed out to me. Acknowledge your mistakes and do better the next time.  Let your attempt to self-correct be the momentum that keeps you involved.

Speaking of self-correcting mistakes:

Speaking over marginalized groups.

I mentioned that this happened at the BLM events, and it happened at the Women’s March too.  As the last few speakers – all of them women of color – addressed the crowd, a chant gradually took over the audience.  People – most of them white – started shouting “March, march, march!” Our impatience to walk led us to literally shout over women of color who were trying to inspire us.

I will acknowledge that the size of the crowd meant people at the back couldn’t hear all of the speakers, but that does not excuse the people around me who started chanting. It does not excuse our tendency to value our white voices over other voices.

So let’s stop and listen. There are so many ways to do this, especially in the age of the internet.  Marginalized voices are speaking on Twitter, Facebook, on blogs of all sizes, at rallies, panels and public addresses. It’s time for us to listen.

It’s time to make sure our feminism is intersectional, meaning it includes people who are non-white, Muslim, poor, disabled, fat, and/or LGBTQ+.

It’s time for us to learn and acknowledge the ways that different marginalized identities interact and how their problems may differ by state, city, even neighborhood.

It’s time for us to listen to and amplify marginalized voices without speaking over them.

It’s time for me to shut up so you can start acting.  Listen. Acknowledge. Keep fighting. Keep showing up.

I’ll see you there.

It really IS about ethics this time: cultural competence, evidence-based practice, and LGBTQ+ issues in allied health

Two years ago, I was doing a home visit as part of my job as an Early Intervention speech-language pathologist (SLP), when a parent suddenly and unexpectedly launched into an angry, homophobic rant.  We had been discussing age-appropriate activities to encourage language development, and I had suggested several pretend-play ideas, a few of which clashed with this parent’s perception of the child’s gender.

In the resulting diatribe, during which the phrase “no [offspring] of mine” as well as several gendered and homophobic slurs were used liberally (so to speak), the parent argued that people could choose to be “homosexual,” that homosexuality could be triggered by gender-nonconforming behavior, and – of course – queerness of any variety  was  “unnatural.”  The other parent’s response made it clear that the two were in full agreement on this topic.

At this point, I became acutely aware of the fact that both parents were positioned between me and the door.

My mounting anxiety dissipated when, in a moment of dramatic irony, the tirading parent made this statement: “I’m [xx] years old and I’ve never met a gay person in my life.” I resisted the urge to giggle hysterically and/or pointedly re-introduce myself.  Instead, I directed the conversation to the previous topic and continued the appointment with every ounce of professionalism I could muster.

I should note that neither parent ever said anything even hinting at violence.  Between that and a fortunate lack of gaydar in the family, it was clear that my – and the child’s – safety  was not in question.  So, despite vehemently disagreeing with their beliefs, in spite of the many terrible situations that may arise as this child grows older, even though it gave me a bad taste in my mouth to even return to that house, I continued to work with the child until months later, when for unrelated reasons I left Early Intervention altogether.

In short: I did my job.

When I became an SLP in the United States, I signed a Code of Ethics by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA).  Among other things, this code clearly states:

Individuals shall not discriminate in the delivery of professional services or in the conduct of research and scholarly activities on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity/gender expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability, culture, language, or dialect.

“Culture” being the keyword here.  In signing the ASHA code of ethics, I agreed to abide by the principle of “cultural competence,” as defined here:

Cultural competence involves understanding and appropriately responding to the unique combination of cultural variables—including ability, age, beliefs, ethnicity, experience, gender, gender identity, linguistic background, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status—that the professional and client/patient bring to interactions.

Since neither my nor the child’s safety was in question, I had no ethical reason to refuse to work with this family. Had I chosen not to return, I could have delayed services for several weeks while the family waited for another provider to be assigned, simply because their belief system clashed with my identity. This was not what I had agreed to do as an SLP. This was not culturally competent.

I tell this story to make it clear that cultural competence and anti-discrimination work in both directions.

From time to time, I encounter articles or discussions related to queer issues in SLP spaces on social media.  For example, ASHA has posted a few articles about voice specialists who work with transgender people.  Typically, the response to these articles is overwhelmingly positive, which gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and makes me feel proud to have chosen this career.

Yet, there’s always that one person.

In response to articles about voice work with transgender people, the dissenter typically expresses the hope that insurance companies are not expected to pay for these services.  Other comments invoke the “love the sinner, hate the sin” cliche. On rare occasions, I have even seen comments similar to those made by the homophobic parent.

Every time this happens, there’s a sizable backlash to which the the dissenter  responds defensively.  You bigot, they say to people who find their homophobia and/or transphobia offensive, how dare you discriminate against my right to have personal beliefs?!

Moving past the issues with that statement – not because they’re irrelevant but because they’re outside the focus of this entry – I feel the need to point out that ASHA-certified SLPs are ethically required to put our personal beliefs aside in professional contexts. We can have our opinions, but we check them at the door when we’re working.  Neither is there room for personal beliefs, especially ones that have no basis in scientific evidence, when we discuss issues related to professional practice.

Which brings me to another Ethic in ASHA’s Code:

Individuals who hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence shall use independent and evidence-based clinical judgment, keeping paramount the best interests of those being served.

Evidence-based practice means that we make clinical decisions, such as who to treat, how to treat them, and when to stop, based on up-to-date and well-conducted empirical studies. If you want to believe that queer people are “unnatural,” you do so in your own time until you have scientific evidence to support your claim.

To that end, there is evidence to support the legitimacy of gender dysphoria, as well as mixed but largely supportive evidence that transitioning significantly benefits transgender people.  Further research is needed, of course, but we have passed the point of being able to claim scientifically or professionally that transgender people are “unnatural” or “wrong.”

Instead, we as SLPs should be questioning the role of voice in the transition process.  Is voice change a medically necessary component of transitioning?  Can hormone therapy sufficiently alter voice, or do transgender people require additional  services?  How do we differentiate between transgender people who medically require SLP services, and people for whom it is elective?

I am not a voice specialist.  I don’t have the answers to these questions.  If the research exists, I haven’t found it.  If it doesn’t, I hope someone is conducting it.  I’d love to read the results.  Until then, we need to approach this issue with cultural competence, relying on the research we do have and leaving our personal biases out of the discussion.

Cultural competence in LGBTQ+ issues is not limited to voice therapy. Queer people exist everywhere: in hospitals, rehab centers, nursing homes, schools. An Early Intervention SLP may very well be asked to work with a toddler who has two moms or two dads.  In any case, the ASHA Code of Ethics requires SLPs to treat queer clients/patients/students, families, and caregivers  with the same respect, dignity, and clinical expertise that we treat cisgender-heterosexual people, regardless of personal beliefs.  As a queer SLP, I am required to treat openly bigoted clients, caregivers, and families in the same way.

So yes, when a patient says “I disagree with gays getting married” during a language assessment, I put aside my emotional reaction in order to plan treatment.  Their belief that I shouldn’t be allowed to get married does not negate their right to regain their communication skills, just as choosing to treat this person does not invalidate my commitment to marriage equality.

If you want to attend a church that believes queer people are “unnatural,” if you choose to reject friends and relatives who come out, those are your decisions.  As soon as you project your beliefs onto the people you work with, you violate the code of ethics you signed when you became certified.  I agreed to abide by that code and I renew my commitment to it every year. I do so with the understanding the SLPs across the country are doing the same.