What Happens When a Romance Writer Gets Locked Out of Google Docs

On May 29, 2007, journals and communities began disappearing from LiveJournal. The missing journals and groups went unclickable, mute, struck through with a single-line font effect. To a banhammer, every query looks like a nail: depictions of rape disappeared, but so did posts by rape survivors. The same was true of incest, abuse, and violence. The ensuing exodus of users led to the founding of DreamWidth, Archive of Our Own, and the Organization for Transformative Works. Today, all three are still operational.

While it’s still unclear what exactly happened to Renee’s docs, or if it’s just a fluke, the effects of mishaps like this are complex. Even though it’s now commonplace, there can still be unease around letting major corporations store personal writing. For authors who write about sex, say, or queer people trying to find a voice, hearing that your content could be flagged as “inappropriate” can have a chilling effect. The problem, says bestselling pseudonymous author Chuck Tingle, is that companies like Google now function like utilities. “It’s the same as water and electric,” he says.

Tingle would know: His “Tinglers,” erotica pieces he releases as Kindle Singles, led to his contract at Macmillan for the queer horror novels Camp Damascus and Bury Your Gays. Those early singles were written without the benefit of editors, often within a matter of hours. They’re sloppy. “They’re punk rock,” he says, but they also helped him build a community around the “underdog genres” of erotica, horror, and comedy that his work falls into. If Amazon decided to stop selling his Tinglers, it would be a big blow, even though he now has a book deal.

Appropriate is a word with two usages and meanings in common parlance. The first is as an adjective, as in the message Google sent to Renee. It describes suitability in context, fitness to purpose. The second usage is as a verb, and it’s much closer to the original Latin appropriatus, which means “to make one’s own” or “to take possession of.”

Whether we’re discussing the “appropriation” of cultural slang or a piece of real estate, we mean a transfer of ownership. But both meanings of the word spring from that Latin origin and its antecedent, the word privus: the word that begat (among others) the words private, property, and proper. All of these words grew from the same source, and in one way or another they all describe qualities of belonging.

This is a story about belonging.

Accessibility, infrastructure, and organization are all important to Renee as a writer and as a person in daily life. She tracks more than just her word count: she tracks meals, moods, and medications. “We have to be organized,” she says.

By “we,” Renee means her fellow disabled people. The first time one of her patient portals experienced a privacy breach and sent her a letter about it, she was 16. By then, she’d had to give up hockey, moving from the ice to the bench to the couch. “I’m always in pain. That’s a part of my illnesses. That’s going to be my life. I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve accepted that.” She tracks her symptoms meticulously in part because the faster her appointments end, the sooner she can be back in bed.

“Listening to me now, you wouldn’t know that I’m chronically ill and disabled,” Renee says. “You can’t really see it either. My illnesses, my diagnoses, are invisible.” For this reason, Renee has experienced disbelief and gatekeeping when she uses a cane, wheelchair, or forearm crutches as a twentysomething. She has written similar moments into her fiction, like a scene wherein one character is second-guessed because she’s in a wheelchair one day and not using it the next.

Renee sees her work as opening conversations about disability and the perception of disability. Until Google Docs locked her out, she had the data to back up her hypothesis, in the form of long comment threads between reader and author. It remains the goal of her published work. “If even one person second-guesses” the way they think about disability, she says, “I feel my writing has done what it needs to do.”

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