Friday, March 10, 2017

Biographies and My Decision to Disclose

Back in June, I wrote a post on the difficulties of disclosing disability status as a writer.  It's something I think about a lot, especially since I started this blog.

I went for years without mentioning my disability in my cover letter.  While I put it on my social media profiles, I knew most editors wouldn't check the links in my biography.  I didn't worry about it affecting anyone's decision on my work.

My old biography:  Jennifer Ruth Jackson can't draw or act so she writes poems and short stories.  Her work has been published in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Kaleidoscope Magazine, and more.  When she's not writing, you can catch her playing video games or making jewelry.  She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their houseplant, Hubey.

It felt safer to me that way.  No one could claim I was using my Cerebral Palsy (and other disabilities/conditions) to sway an editor's opinion and editors were less likely to discriminate.  But, it didn't make me feel I was representing my true self.  I am not my disability, but it shapes me and makes me who I am.

I really enjoy seeing disabled/neurodivergent writers in print.  There is a tiny thrill each time I come across a piece by "one of us".  It reminds me that I am not alone, that I am not a magic cripple who is the last of her kind.  In a world where nondisabled/neurotypical writers claim most of the spots in literary magazines and presses, it is vital to see one another succeed.  It's also good for nondisabled/neurotypical readers.

So, to that end, I wrote a new biography.  It does not outright say I'm disabled, but it does.

My new biography:  Jennifer Ruth Jackson is an award-winning poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in Verse Wisconsin, Kaleidoscope Magazine, and more.  She runs a blog for disabled and/or neurodivergent writers called The Handy, Uncapped Pen from an apartment she shares with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @jenruthjackson

The mention of this blog (while possibly shameless publicity) will lead most editors to the correct conclusion... that I'm disabled.  I wanted to broach the subject without framing it in a way that would elicit pity or conflicting emotions.

Maybe, if I'm not afraid to proclaim my disability status, it will encourage others to begin writing or take a chance on the publishing industry.  Even if it doesn't, it still feels like I'm putting a truer version of myself out into the world.  And that alone is worth it.

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