When I am Too Much

Recently, I had an essay published in one of my bucketlist magazines. See it here at The Offing. I have a story to tell y’all about publishing and what happens when you are in fact too much.

That essay came about because I was contacted by an editor I am familiar with and they asked if I could do a piece about race and gender. The first version of this essay was more dry. It lacked flavor to me and I felt like I was trying to engage too many things when this story was very enclosed to me. The original version had lukewarm feedback and the editor wanted more.

I did this version and to me this is it. I’ve been experimenting with trying to place more literary styled essays in not lit mags specifically. A successful example of that is here at Wear Your Voice.

Editor #1 had reservations. Some of their feedback:

  • I lead with fear of death as a Black Man
  • I refer to my masculine gender expression with a personified phrase “the boy”.

However, the most tap danced around feedback came down to the fact that this work doesn’t engage with gender in the way that they wanted. They wanted Sassy Black Queen and got Terrified Black Femme. The suggested edits stripped specific mention of Blackness to turn it into a #metoo piece without the connective tissue.

A story that is not mine.

I decided not to go further with that editor because the story they wanted was a pastel version of my story with a rainbow on it and not a memory and meditation on a real fear in my life.

I shopped the piece as it appears at The Offing around for a while. Most responses were lukewarm and boiled down to, yes this but not like this.

Much of the feedback was tentative and trying very hard not to say, this is way too Black while saying, this is way too Black. One editor said that they didn’t think it was broad enough. For a memoir based issue of a magazine. I read broad as relatable to White folks and I noped out. The feedback was never about the quality of the piece. Every editor said the work was solid, it was always related to my expression of Gender, Blackness and fear.

The problem here is this. If you are not a marginalized person and you are seeking work from marginalized people, insisting on “broader relatability” backfires. You won’t get authentic work. You won’t get the best work. If you can’t engage with things that aren’t strictly uplift, either mention it up front or don’t seek the work.

This is the same problem I talked about in this entry,  When in the Wear Your Voice piece I talk about being denied humanity, this is what I am talking about. I am talking about the idea that work from marginalized people must be palatable to whiteness is to deny us our humanity. When folks insist that, my story about gender expression and sexual harassment end on a more chipper note, that is a denial of what actually happened.

To demand this shiny version of someone, the happy ending, the creator is turned into a 2d version of themselves and that is erasure and it feels shitty. You can’t ask for the realness of talking about identity, and then say, no not like that. It just don’t work.

Back to the piece at the Offing. Chanda specifically told me they loved it and it made me cry. I’d put it on Etsy for a minute because y’all know that’s how I do. If I can’t sell a piece to a magazine I’ll do that. Or put it on Medium etc. Or tuck it away for later. Here’s the thing.

My experience with gender expression isn’t theirs and yet, they still enjoyed the work. I’ve heard from readers who are White cis folks who felt something and enjoyed the work. Some folks who read the piece thinking it would just be a nice read because they are not Black Femmes and found some part of themselves in the work.

And it is, what it is.

A note for editors.

If you want to feature or highlight marginalized folks, take what they give you. Don’t try and plasticize it or tone it down or make it nice for non marginalized folks to read. Be uncomfortable. Be willing to let your readership be uncomfortable because, isn’t that what art is.

That’s it for now.

 

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2 thoughts on “When I am Too Much

  1. I’ll go further–editors should encourage their marginalized writers to be bolder when they need it. They should be able to tell when they are holding back out of fear or trying to fit in based on being rejected so many times. They should be able to say yes, more of THIS, challenge the reader. If they are not understanding something they can ask questions and once they do, maybe they will even have good suggestions about how to bring that unfamiliar reader further in to understanding your experience. If they shy away as soon as they feel discomfort or don’t want to admit they don’t understand instead of engaging, they miss out on some great writers and equally, on the chance to widen their group of regular readers. (And isn’t everybody worried about getting enough clicks and enough revenue to keep going? Right?)

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