Rejecting Diversity

If you’re a creative venue that claims to support diversity, and if you specifically seek contributions from people with marginalized identities, I’m begging you to be nice when you reject submissions. Rejection is a part of the process, but please be kind to the people who trust you with their vulnerability.

I had a story rejected from a literary magazine two weeks ago. I get at least one rejection a week, so I’m used to it, but this one really hurt.

Specifically, this rejection was from a magazine for LGBTQ people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and it encourages contributors to share their stories and experiences of feeling “monstrous,” with a firm resistance against the kind of “overcoming hardships” and “suffering beautifully” narratives that both disabled and LGBTQ people are expected to conform to.

Although it’s not required, the magazine suggests that you send a cover letter explaining your positionality. Given that this is a magazine for LGBTQ people with disabilities, you can imagine that there’s a lot of vulnerability involved in writing such a thing.

I submitted a story to this magazine, and they got right back to me with an extremely positive and enthusiastic response about a story that, in my cover letter, I explained was very open and honest about a difficult and sensitive topic. The next morning, they followed up with the standard “Thank you for your submission, but we will not be moving forward with this story at this time” rejection email.

Like I said, receiving a form rejection email is a super common experience, but this is a venue that aggressively claims to support a specific type of diversity. To me, the practice of soliciting stories written about sensitive topics accompanied by statements of vulnerability from doubly marginalized people only to respond with a flat rejection feels not just cruel but almost predatory. Like, the people involved with the magazine look good because they’re supporting diversity, but they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

Moreover, the magazine makes a big deal out of evaluating submissions on a “blind” basis, meaning that the initial readers evaluating the story are not given any information about the writer. Putting aside the fact that “blind” probably isn’t the best word for a magazine focusing on disability to use, this policy makes no sense for a venue in which personal identity is so critical. If I’m submitting a story about how an aspect of my identity sometimes makes me feel strange and inhuman, I want the reader to know who I am and what I do and what my background is and what I’ve experienced that has caused me to feel this way.

An impersonal rejection of personal stories about marginalized identity sent in response to specific solicitation of work from people with marginalized identities is just… mean, you know? It’s cruel and unfeeling. How difficult would it be for the editors to be sympathetic, even if – especially if – they’re sending a rejection?

Just to be clear, I’m not upset that my story was rejected. Rather, I’m upset because the magazine so specifically claims to promote diverse stories, and because the manner of rejection was so callous.

I’m not sure what there is to be done about this, save to caution people in marginalized positions to be cautious of venues that seem to be trying to capitalize on your experience of marginalization.

In the meantime, it’s probably a good idea not to submit sensitive work anywhere where rejection is going to be so personal that it actually hurts.