Michael Matteo: Identity politics – Straight white male writers need not apply

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

There was a time in America when writers were judged by the content of their creativity, and ability to produce thought-provoking fiction that engaged readers, who really didn’t care about whether a writer was gay or straight, male or female, black or white.  The ability to write well was once solely judged by the power of the words a writer chose.  However, in literary markets today being white, male, and straight means that either you will have to lie about your identity for an editor to even consider something you’ve written or try and find a publisher who will overlook your heterosexual, white maleness.  

As a writer, I’m always checking out websites for opportunities to have my work published or produced and I have discovered how many publications of magazines, books or production companies stipulate who can and who cannot submit work to them based upon who the writer is instead of how well a writer writes.  I realize that all publications have agendas that they promote, and they must cater to their readers, but to deny a true wordsmith the opportunity to read his/her work based upon external, phenotypical characteristics is discriminatory.   Many publishers rationalize that this is not discrimination and claim it’s simply a quest for “diversity.”  We have seen this same tired argument against merit by those who claim that they are merely exercising their right to level the playing field for “marginalized groups” who have been discriminated against in the past, so they basically discriminate to cure the problem of discrimination.  To the woke, liberal minds, who occupy many high-level positions in the publishing industry, this makes perfect sense and they see it as justifiable.  

Take a look at the following post, which was on a screenwriting website:

“We are looking to add authenticity to the female lead role of this project, so female-identifying writers are preferred. Please make a note in the message space if you are a female writer and what your experience is writing authentic female characters.”  Is this producer assuming that a straight white male, can’t write female characters?  Now, to be fair, this post says they “have a preference” for “female-identifying writers,” yet there are many other posts that are far more discriminatory.  

Look at this post from a company that listed Grimscribe Press criteria for a submission: “They publish literary horror inspired by Ligottian and/or related themes, and also non-fiction, poetry, and artwork on these themes. For this submission period, they only want submissions from writers who are not male.”  

Many publishers imply who they would prefer submissions from, but others are far more blatant as expressed by the following posts:

LUPERCALIA press will showcase art and writing by trans and queer creators that focuses on themes of transgender and queer sex/sexuality/excess/celebration. “We do not have any strict definition of how trans or queer manifests in your personal identity, nor do we want to be gatekeepers. If you say you are trans or queer, we believe and accept that in you.”  It’s so nice that they don’t’ want to be “gatekeepers” and will believe it if someone claims to be “trans” or “queer.”  So, I guess writers don’t have to send them videos of writers doing “trans” or “queer” things because this publisher is so “trusting.”  

You must be a queer person of color/Indigenous/Aboriginal to submit to Anathema. Accepts fiction and nonfiction. Fiction: 1,500-6,000 words (soft min/max, but please within that general range). Original fiction only, no reprints. Must have some speculative content, however slight. No restriction on genre. Non-Fiction: 1,500-3,000 words (soft min/max, but please within that general range). This publication has very specific writer requirements, are there that many queer people of color/Indigenous and Aboriginal writers out there?

This isn’t a phenomenon that is unique to the United States and notice that this publisher even mentions “diversity”  in its post.  “Jaracanda Books is based in London, United Kingdom. As it welcomes diversity when it comes to both authors and writings, this independent publisher is renowned for their interest in books written by Africans/African Americans, women, and people of color, especially if they tell the stories of powerful characters who belong to underrepresented groups.”  Once again, this publisher isn’t saying, “If straight, white male, you need not apply.”  Yet, from the wording of the ad, a straight, white, male who sent them a proposal would be greeted as warmly as a black person at a KKK meeting.

Even large book publishers are going down this discriminatory path.  This was a listing for HarperCollins Canada that specified that you wouldn’t need an agent to work with them if you are black, Indigenous or simply a person of color, as they posted the following: Authors who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color are free to submit middle-grade manuscripts to this publisher without having to work with an agent.”

Publishers today have every right to create guidelines for what they will and will not publish based upon their mission statements.  It would be a waste of time for someone to read the guidelines of a publisher and submit something outside the scope of what is included in the guidelines, as a publisher is not obligated to publish content that is outside the scope of their political agenda.  However, the publishers listed above, and many others too numerous to list, are not rejecting unsuitable material; they are rejecting writers based upon identity politics.  Good writers come in all colors, genders, religions and sexual orientations.  If a bakery can be sued for not making an LBGQT cake because it violates the bakery’s policies about this kind of cake, shouldn’t the same apply to publishers who go out of their way to exclude writers based upon a writer’s personality? As I looked over thousands of publication guidelines, the one group that was noticeably absent from discriminating against writers were, you guessed it, straight white males.  No publisher that I researched said, “Only straight, white males can submit.”

As the cultural war rages on those who seem to judge everyone and everything based upon race, sexual orientation, gender etc., it is vital to point out hypocrisy wherever it exists.  To pull books off of school reading lists because the writer was a white male, without any regard for the quality of the writing is unjust and myopic.  To deny the talent of a Shakespeare, Mozart or Beethoven simply because they were European white males, and to deny modern-day straight, white, male writers opportunities to be published simply because of irrelevant physical characteristics, and not even allow them to submit their work is the same practice that was used to deny opportunities to people of color or others who had different lifestyles in the past, and two wrongs have never made something right.


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