I look for calls for submissions on a daily basis. Most of these come into my email but sometimes I will just happen to stumble upon something. I’ve started trying my hand at flash fiction so began looking for flash fiction contests without an entry fee.
It’s always a weird position I am constantly fighting. Do I submit my disability themed romance featuring two gay men to a mainstream publication or do I create something that’s normal and won’t break any traditions? It’s a hard thing to ponder on a daily basis.
I stumbled upon a flash fiction contest ran by Debra Owens of the creative writing institute. One of the rules says, at the time of this writing, they don’t want the following, in addition to several other things they do not want,
“LGBTQ themes and issues — some have asked if they can use gay characters. It depends on the story and content. We are not looking for straight OR gay characters. We want “people stories” that all readers can identify with.”
My eyebrows rose. This told me that they didn’t want to even have me at the table. That’s fine, I thought. There’s plenty of other calls for submissions that proudly welcome us with open arms, no matter what stories we have to tell.
It didn’t bother me that they didn’t want LGBT stories. What bothered me was her responses to some of the various other people writing in expressing their thoughts and feelings. Amy M. Leibowitz posted a blog post where she printed one such hateful and vindictive response. This isn’t acceptable in my book. It never will be. Even though Amy M. Leibowitz disagree very vehemently on Amy’s take on Simon, by Becky, and his story, I agree that Debra’s reply was much worse.
I looked into it a bit more and looked at some of the other replies Debra has sent people. I read them, and I absolutely don’t agree with them. So why did I choose to write to Debra? Because I hoped that she will learn and grow. That’s all. I actually have no anger at all towards her, I just hope she matures and grows into a more open-minded judge and editor. And, if she doesn’t, that’s fine. I just won’t submit to any of her contests.
Instead, I will focus my attention on positive contests, like this counter contest for LGBT flash fiction writers, because, there’s history within my two worlds as a blind gay man that many deserve to see.
I still decided to write to her to express my disappointment. I still wasn’t even angry at her. I just hope that her and others like her, understand what they are missing out on when they limit themselves to familiar and comfortable writings.
The letter I sent.
Dear Debra Owen.
My name is Robert Kingett and I am a blind, and gay, journalist and author.
I obviously didn’t enter the flash fiction contest. I, instead, chose to write to you about the fact that you are not looking for LGBT themes or issues in your flash fiction contest.
I’ve seen from a few places online that you initially had the text as simply LGBT. I want to try to explain a few things to you even though I am pretty sure you don’t want to hear any more opinions. I want to try to reach out and to help you understand why your words and word choice are problematic.
When you wake up in the morning, your first thought is about something ordinary. Plane, and something that fits inside all of our heads. How the day will go. How we will get to work on time. How we will have fun after paying the bills. There’s one aspect of life that you never will have to think about and that is, how the rest of the world looks at you just for being who you are.
I don’t speak for all LGBT people, naturally. I don’t even speak for all disabled people, but I have a pretty good idea of their daily struggles because I have those same thoughts as well, as a member of two minority groups that have been severely ignored and cast out just because we don’t fit the normal. Or rather, what people think is normal.
Even if you don’t like LGBT content by refusing to read any body of work that deals with these historical themes, I want you to understand that you are doing yourself a disservice by completely shutting out our struggles. You’ve said that you don’t even want to listen to us or hear us or our struggles and that’s limiting your scope.
The point is, I think about these issues. Other gay writers have as well. It’s not easy to turn off or turn away. In fact, it’s what helps us tell our stories, even if you don’t want to read them or don’t want to like them. You have a luxury none of us have. You have the luxury to go through an entire hour without thinking about how others will perceive your very existence. Society questions our existence daily, but we exist. We’re not going anywhere. The fact that an opposition contest has sprung up because of your word choice should tell you that literature that talks about these themes will be printed and discussed. There’s history that makes for great storytelling even if you don’t want to read it.
Writers and editors grow from learning about experiences. I hope that, one day, you can find the value in reading uncomfortable subjects.
Nobody is saying you have to like LGBT stories. I don’t like all LGBT stories I read but I also like many more LGBT stories.
I’m not even angry at you. I’m just extremely disappointed that You’ve chosen to say that you don’t want to have a certain type of content in such a harsh manner.
I hope you find peace within yourself to look hard at who you want to be as a writing instructor and editor. Experiences cultivate great writing that challenges us, binds us, and pushes the conversation forward. I hope that you will learn to embrace those experiences and let them stand on their own as great writing, even if it tackles LGBT themes you don’t want to hear about.
Sincerely, Robert Kingett.