Social media gives people unprecedented access to authors. Many people in turn feel entitled to creators’ private lives. The opposite of death of the author—life of the author, so to speak.
Certainly, our lives shape our stories. We write ourselves into our work, often in ways that might not be obvious to the reader. I may write a story about Chinese Americans but use the voice of an alien to speak my truths. Who’s to say that the Chinese-American characters are any more representative of me and my experiences than the alien?
Humans are complex, and we have massive capacity for empathy. I find it limiting to say that only people who have been through a certain experience can portray it in a way that resonates with others with that lived experience. I also find it limiting to constantly view a work through the lens of the author’s life, particularly when it comes to the speculative. We write in these genres to escape our lives. While we are still anchored to our realities, there is much that goes beyond it as well.
Still, demands for authors to disclose parts of their identities come with a cyclic frequency, particularly as the industry becomes more aware of systemic oppressions and seeks underrepresented voices. When an author voluntarily discloses part of their identity, fans may find their experience of a work augmented, knowing that the creator was writing from lived experience. Disclosing identities can also help editors and publishers ensure that they have a balanced representation of authors.
But the choice to disclose is for the author to make. You have the right to privacy and boundaries. No matter the discourse, no matter the outrage du jour, you don’t owe anyone disclosure.
You don’t have to tell anyone about your racial or ethnic background. You don’t have to tell people that you have family of a certain heritage. You don’t have to provide a genealogy for everyone who asks.
You’ll probably have to provide pronouns for yourself at some point, but you don’t have to tell anyone your gender, or your sexual orientation, or romantic orientation. Even if people are asking whether you’re queer so they can evaluate your work. Readers can evaluate your work without that information, especially if you’re closeted.
You don’t owe anyone details about your medical history or proof of disability. You don’t need to provide details of any of your personal history, regardless of how intimate or banal.
Disclosing can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be incredibly marginalizing and stigmatizing, particularly if the identity you disclose isn’t considered as acceptable as others. Only you can make the choice that feels right for yourself. Just remember that, no matter how entitled people get, no matter how much pressure there is to disclose something, you don’t owe anyone access to your private life. Your work can stand for itself.