#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 2017/18 Classroom Wishlist

This school year marks my fifth year of being an English, Journalism, and now Creative Writing high school teacher. In the past years, I learned that one of the most effective--and important--ways to connect with my students is through book recommendations. More importantly, book recommendations that click with them because they find themselves and stories that they want to see in these books. My classroom is really diverse, most of my students are high school seniors who can't remember the last time they read, let alone finished a book. It's my favorite thing to recommend books to my students because it opens up a conversation about their background, their likes, dislikes, and oh-so-many issues that they have with reading or people who assign books seem to have with them. IMG_0814

Some of my favorite discussions and moments I've had with students in the past include:

  • The student who breezed into my classroom enraged because there were not nearly enough queer YA books about characters that don't identify as gay boys in our library.
  • The student who excitedly talked to me about how much she loved that one of the supporting characters in a book I recommended was a hijabi Muslim girl. She had never seen characters like her in books and devoured that series.
  • The boy who slightly blushingly asked me if I had any YA romance and the happy astonishment in his face when I said yes and asked him whether he wanted straight or queer romance. He hadn't known that people wrote queer YA romance.
  • The group of three athlete boys who decided to make reading between them a competition because the book I recommended (and had enough copies of for all of them) grabbed them so much that they couldn't put it down.
  • The girl who checked out books from me all through the school year and kept one of the books all through summer only to come back the next school year, apologizing that she had kept it so long, telling me that she had lent it to a friend, so she figured she'd pick up a new copy for me. Also, could she come by every once in a while to visit and talk books now that she had graduated?

There are more moments like these, but the above are some of my favorites.

I always make time for students reading in and out of my classroom. I also always try to keep my classroom library as up to date and diverse as possible, because while our school library is amazing and probably one of the most diverse in the state, nothing beats being able to pull a book from the shelf and talk to a student about it right away--never mind using examples from a lot of them in my English and Creative Writing classes.

So, here's my classroom wish list for the 2017/18 school year. Some are debuts,  some have been out for a while, and some are only available for pre-order right now.

Anyway, I'm sure this list will grow. Let me know if you have any other recommendations--I am especially looking for YA by and about Pacific Islanders, Latinix, and disabled folk.

#DiverseAThon Wrap-Up

I set myself a fairly lofty goal with reading four diverse novels for the January 22 #DiverseAThon and despite work craziness and the world feeling like it's imploding, I made it through almost all of them! 25014114

 

 

First, I read Adam Silvera's HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME (full review here) and yes, I'm still thinking about this book. It broke me in the best of ways and then stuck with me, both for personal reasons and as a writer who strives to get the emotional connections between characters just right. HISTORY is definitely one that will stick around in my favorites for a while.

 

28220826My second #DiverseAThon read was WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore. This was my first book from this author whom I had heard so many great things about, from #ownvoices to gorgeous, vivid prose. WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS definitely made good on those promises. I loved McLemore's lyrical take on magical realism interspersed with may moments that made this book very real in contrast. As someone married to a trans woman I couldn't help but feel for both Miel and Sam and I loved how this book also connected to McLemore's own story. I did find the plot a little hard to navigate at times, but the fantastically complex characters very much made up for it. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves magical realism and would love to see queer and diverse characters represented in it.

 

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Next up was OF FIRE AND STARS, another #ownvoices debut by Audrey Coulthurst. This has been a book I've been wanting to get my hands on for a while. Princesses, horses, and girl-kissing--what's not to love here? I did really enjoy Denna and Mare's story although Denna's passivity really annoyed me at first. The plot itself starts a little slow but once things start happening and both main characters start growing into themselves and take charge of what's happening, I couldn't put this book down again. My favorite scene in this is a massive spoiler, but I loved how this is far from your typical love triangle story. While Denna begins her story promised to a prince and ends falling in love with his sister, I really liked how we grow to like all characters involved here (except the ones doing the assassinating, of course). So I'm hoping there will be a sequel, because I want to know what's happening next!

 

9780143111597Finally, here's the book I barely started yesterday, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is a re-read for me since I first read it nearly ten years ago when I first embarked on the quest to find queer science fiction and fantasy and this one kept cropping up in people's recommendations. It also is one of my favorite books of all time, both for Le Guin's beautiful lyricism and the complexity with which she tackles gender politics in this book originally written in 1969. Though this story never fails to break my heart, I still love it with every re-read. I'll be finishing it up today or tomorrow, so again, I'm happy with my queer, blue book reading choices for this #DiverseAThon.

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What did you read for #DiverseAThon? If you didn't participate, what diverse books are on your TBR? Let me know in the comments.

My #DiverseAThon TBR January 22-29, 2017

I love reading challenges and #DiverseAThon has been one of my favorites. This upcoming DiverseAThon goes from January 22 - 29, 2017 and is aimed at reading a wider range of diverse authors. Because I clearly like to commit to these things last minute, and my goal is to read at least 150 books this year, here is my TBR for the next week. Apparently my theme for this #DiverseAThon is queer and blue. I am not complaining.

HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME by Adam Silvera

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When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

I can't wait to read this book. MORE HAPPY THAN NOT broke me in the best of ways and I am anticipating many tears with Adam Silvera's second book, but that doesn't put a dampener on my enthusiasm--quite the opposite.

WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore

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To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

I have been excited to read this ever since mentions of it first came up in my Twitter feeds. The prose of this looks gorgeous and I finally was able to pick it up during last year's Siren's conference. I'm looking forward to lots of magical realism and even more magical prose.

OF FIRE AND STARS by Audrey Coulthurst

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Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile kingdoms. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a land where magic is forbidden.

Now Denna has to learn the ways of her new kingdom while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine, sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, they discover there is more to one another than they thought—and soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

A subversively queer take on a princess story? Fighting princesses and girl kissing? Sign me up. I received this in last month's Owl Crate and have been looking forward to read this ever since. We need more epic fantasy for teens and adults alike that feature trope subversion and girl-kissing, so I'm ridiculously anticipating this one!

THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin

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A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world,The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

This will be a re-read for me, but since Penguin released this lovely hardcover edition I figured the time is now. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS was first recommended to me when I first started to ask about queer science fiction and fantasy recommendations. I picked up my first raggedy and well-loved copy at a used bookstore and it has been one of my favorite books of all time ever since. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS taught me so much about gender and how to write it, not just in science fiction and fantasy, but in general, and it will always have that special place in my heart filled with that kind of sense of wonder you feel when you realize, "Wait, people write like this? Does that mean can write like this?" It certainly was educational and empowering for me. I can't wait to revisit it. If you haven't read it yet, what are you still waiting for?

So, that's my TBR for this week's #DiverseAThon. All blue and all queer. Only one of these things is a coincidence. I'll be sure to keep you updated on my thoughts both on Twitter and on Goodreads. If you are joining #DiverseAThon, please let me know, so we can exchange thoughts and book recs! That's the point of it after all.

Happy Reading!

Alex

League of Utah Writers Fall Conference Schedule

alex-harrow The League of Utah Writers Fall Conference is only a week away and I'm gearing up to have a busy Saturday full of panels and workshops that I will be moderating and teaching. This is the first writing conference that I'm an official panelist, moderator, and presenter, so I am extra excited.

This year's League of Utah Writer's Fall Conference is a full two-day conference on Friday, September 23rd and Saturday, September 24th at the Marriott in Provo, Utah. Register here and find the full schedule here.

It's going to be a fantastic conference with classes and panels on craft, publishing, marketing, genre-specific fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and self-development.

Here is my schedule:

Saturday, September 24:

1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.

Panel: Books You Should Have Read

ROOM: BIRCH

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2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Panel: Writing Diversity

AMPHITHEATER

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5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Presentation: How to Write Diverse Characters

ROOM: CEDAR

I will be attending both days and attend panels, presentations, and of course happily chat my heart out with everyone during the day or during bar con, so come find me, say hi, and have an amazing time!

Cheers and happy writing!

Alex

 

Gotta read them all: my #ReadThemAllThon TBR pile

readthemallthon Because I'm a giant PokemonGO nerd, I couldn't resist joining this Pokemon-inspired reading challenge. You can find more on what it is and the rules here, but basically you commit to reading 8 books that correspond to the 8 gyms of the Indigo league over three weeks. The #ReadThemAllThon starts today, August 14 and ends on Sunday, September 4th.

My starter: Charmander, I choose you!

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Here's my #ReadThemAllThon TBR:

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This one has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while and I have heard so many good things, so I can't wait to dig into it!

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

464 pages; +46 CP

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How It Went Down has been on my classroom reading list for a while. I am anticipating this to be a tough read, but an important one.

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

352 pages; +35 CP

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So many authors I love, most recently the fabulous Gail Carriger, keep recommending this book, so on my TBR it goes.

Jessamy's life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family she can be whoever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom's best contenders. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between two Fives competitors--one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy--causes heads to turn. When Kal's powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes's family apart, she'll have to test her new friend's loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

464 pages; +46 CP

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I loved Sara Farizan's debut, If You Could Be Mine and am so excited to read this one!

Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is a relief. As an Iranian American, she’s different enough; if word got out that Leila liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when beautiful new girl Saskia shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would. As she carefully confides in trusted friends about Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila begins to figure out that all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and some are keeping surprising secrets of their own.

320 pages; +32 CP

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Another one who's been on my TBR pile for too long and I have heard so many wonderful things about.

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father's kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran's queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar's wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire...

But Akaran has its own secrets -- thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

352 pages; +35 CP

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Girl pirates and time travel? Hell, yes.

Heidi Heilig's debut teen fantasy sweeps from modern-day New York City, to nineteenth-century Hawaii, to places of myth and legend. Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father's ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. The Girl from Everywhere, the first of two books, blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility. Its witty, fast-paced dialogue, breathless adventure, multicultural cast, and enchanting romance will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir, Rae Carson, and Rachel Hartman.

Nix's life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix's father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he's uncovered the one map he's always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix's mother died in childbirth. Nix's life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix's future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who's been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

464 pages; +46 CP

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Another one on the "everyone keeps recommending this, so it must be amazing" list.

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers maintains the magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman as their Sorcerer Royal and allowing England’s  stores of magic to bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up, an adventure that brings him in contact with Prunella Gentlewoman, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, and sets him on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

384 pages; +38 CP

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Post-apocalyptic queer SF for the finish!

In a futuristic society run by an all-powerful Gov, a bender teen on the cusp of adulthood has choices to make that will change her life—and maybe the world.

Fifteen-year-old bender Kivali has had a rough time in a gender-rigid culture. Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians?What are you? people ask, and Kivali isn’t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither? Now she’s in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she’s ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift—the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the "knowings" inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her? A coming-of-age story rich in friendships and the shattering emotions of first love, this deeply felt novel will resonate with teens just emerging as adults in a sometimes hostile world.

288 pages; +29 CP

I'm super excited about this diverse list of books, authors, and characters and can't wait to dive in. Let's do this!

If you're joining or have joined #ReadThemAllThon, leave the link to your sign up post in the comments so we can cheer each other on.

Go, Team Mystic!

We Need Diverse Books: Especially in our Classrooms.

book-rainbow-01-e1325017684748 Every year I make a list of diverse books that I want to add to my classroom library.

I teach at a school with a very diverse student population and it's easily my favorte thing about what I do.

I've found that handing the right book to the right student--especially those who thought they aren't or never could see themselves represented in a book ever--is one of the most important connections I can make with a student. Diverse books make a difference in the lives of my students every day.

Just last year I had a student come to me enraged and disappointed because she wasn't able to find any books with queer girl main characters. I was able to hand her a few I had on hand, but this has definitely been a bit of a gap on my classroom shelf as well. Same for books about trans or genderqueer characters. I have a few I love and hand out often, but there's always more I feel I can do.

This year I want to expand my list especially as far as queer characters, POC, and characters with disabilities are concerned.

So here's a list of 25 diverse books I want to add to my classroom library in 2016/17:

Of course I feel like I've totally forgotten some. Drop me a comment with any other suggestions, please!

I'm especially looking for any YA featuring Polynesian characters. If you have ideas, please share them with me.

On reclaiming the word queer and doing your homework as a writer.

635928439207888199-1220006261_b530d84e-efdc-4b8e-b6a7-10c775acba5b Language is pretty complicated.

As writers we are especially aware of that, agonizing over just the right turn of phrase sometimes for hours at end. But there are also questions. Such as, what language is okay to use? Can we use words that don't "belong" to us, culturally? What about so-called "reclaimed" words?

This post is my attempt at a response to a question one of my writer friends asked me the about the label queer over dinner the other day. We were been talking about inner-culture language (meaning language and terminology used by members of a specific community) and inter-culture language (language and terminology that are related to specific cultures but are used by people who aren't members of that community).

Specifically we talked about the common assumption that the label of "queer" has been reclaimed by the LGBTQIA+ community and so it's fine for cis, straight people to use it. Or is it?

For me, this brought up conflicting reactions, because, again, language is complicated.

On the one hand, I've totally adopted the label of queer, because to me it's a better umbrella term and honestly quicker/easier for people to grasp than referring to myself as a bisexual (really, pansexual) cis-woman. Queer is just shorter and more to the point while also encompassing some less easily classified parts of my personality. So, yes, for bios, whether on this blog or on Twitter, it definitely makes sense to me. More, it feels right to me.

However, when my friend asked me if it was okay for non-LGBTQIA+ people to refer to me or others as queer, the answer got a little more complicated. Because, sure, I'm fine with it. It's not a term that offends me in general, but I am clearly coming at this from a place of privilege. I've never been called a queer as a slur and while some argue that queerness in itself implies being Other or being contrary, that's honestly part of my identity. But again, that's my identity and I get to decide these things.

But as far as someone outside of the LGBTQIA+ community to use the term queer is concerned? That's where things get tricky. Just because I don't have any issues with the term doesn't mean someone else won't feel the exact opposite. That's where inner- vs. inter-culture language comes in. What's okay to say inside of a cultural group often ceases to have the same meaning and shared culture when used outside of that same culture. But it's more than that. It's a kind of shared understanding and sensitivity that comes into play when using terms like queer or other inner-culture language. It's something that can become problematic when taken outside of the often unspoken safety net that a community like the LGBTQIA+ community often establishes for itself.

So, yes, I sometimes feel like a bit of a hypocrite when I tell people to please refrain from using the word queer when I'm perfectly comfortable with it and even use it to self-identify, but that's because I'm cognizant of how the term can be intensely triggering to others and I personally feel very strongly about keeping language safe, respectful, and inclusive for everyone involved.

Anyway, let's bring this back to writing. Also, let's widen the net, because just as safe and inclusive language matters when it comes to LGBTQIA+ concerns, the same is true for race, disability, age, and the gender spectrum.

There obviously are some things writers can--and should--do to ensure appropriate, safe, respectful, and inclusive language in both fiction and nonfiction.

Ask questions. 

Yes, this sounds trivial, but I honestly cannot overstate this. I often get into discussions where people aren't sure whether they can or cannot ask certain questions because they're sensitive or they feel awkward about having to ask in the first place. To be honest, and again, I can only speak for myself here, please ask. Don't be afraid to admit what you don't know and seek out an honest conversation with people who would know. And yes, that means people who are members of the communities you want to learn more about. Obviously, be respectful and be genuine, but also just listen. There's so much to be learned from honest questions and I personally feel like that's the most direct way to ensure you aren't overstepping or making anyone uncomfortable.

Ask more than one person.

The danger of a single narrative is huge. Again, as in my example, I may tell you one thing, but someone else in the LGBTQIA+ community may tell you something entirely different. Language, backgrounds, and ultimately comfort levels are highly individual. The more people you can ask about what the right course of action would be, the better. The worst possible thing anyone could do is to just pick someone as their go-to person for a specific group. Not only does that probably make the person  in question uncomfortable, but worse, it really doesn't serve the purpose getting informed in the first place. Getting informed by definition defies a single narrative.

Do your homework.

Language, just like any other aspect of culture, is ever-changing. Keep that in mind when doing research and asking questions. Also, be aware of what you don't know. Recognizing your own knowledge gaps and biases is a good way to establish what you need to find out.

Do no harm.

Finally, and most importantly, consider your intent. Will using certain language or terminology hurt or trigger more than it helps? Is there any positive aspect of using them at all? Are you still not sure whether a word might be viewed as offensive?

Then don't use it. Yes, it's that simple.

Again, my perspective on this is just one voice in many. There are probably tons of articles that express this much more eloquently, but the bottom line is be cognizant of what you say and write. Find out what you don't know. Be aware of your privilege. Ask questions. Avoid perpetuating the myth of the single narrative. Do your homework, and do no harm.

Be kind and happy writing!