My Work: Identity and Control

As you may have been able to tell from the fact that I published one of my articles here, I've been conflicting with the editors of my college sex column. The column itself predates me; it existed before I started writing and I took it over in January of last year. I've been writing an article for it every week that school was in session since then.

About two months ago (maybe a month and a half) the paper had elections and I got a new set of two features editors. Right off the bat, they started editing my articles more heavily, and particularly turned the first one into a piece of sentimental drivel. This was annoying, but they did a little better the next few weeks.

I admittedly am not very good with deadlines, so it's not really fair to expect stellar editing in the time crunch I force them to. I recognize this, and take responsibility for that. My previous editors took the tack of just not changing what I wrote much, but one must account for style differences.

In any case, about a month ago, they started looking for a writer for next year and put out a call to basically the whole staff of the paper asking for submissions for my column. They didn't tell me they were doing this. They informed me the day I would have submitted an article that they had someone else interested in writing the column and they were giving them a shot. They told me after it ran that they were looking for someone for next year.

They told me they had another article for the next week, and because I had a large work load that week, I didn't submit one of my own. Both the articles they ran in these two weeks were very sex negative. The next week, I wrote my editors a letter asking them to consider sex positivity in selecting a new writer. I sent them the article I published here last week.

They responded (somewhat dismissively) to my about concerns surrounding the content of the column, but did not publish my article that week. I did not hear from them about said article at all for the next month, even though I emailed them asking if they might like a different one or whether they wanted me to keep writing at all. I simply picked up the paper every week and instead of my article there was another piece of painfully sex negative writing.

I finally wrote an email asking them to communicate with me more clearly about the column and let me know what was going on, saying that my feeling were hurt by being ignored. Just days shy of a full month had passed since they'd last responded to me.

My editor answered finally and made it clear that she had not even read my article (which I'd sent in a month before) until I sent my blunt feelings-hurt email. She said she didn't want to run it because it seemed like too much of a response to the articles they'd been running. She thought it seemed more appropriate as a letter to the editor.

She chastised me for being late with articles, which admittedly I deserved. She asked me to submit them no later than Mondays at 5. She said she would run a new article of mine the next week if I got it in on time.

I decided to pick my battles and just submitted a new article this week. I turned it in on Monday at 7pm, which I think is fairly reasonable. I didn't get a response and again I opened the paper to see someone else's article. This one was thankfully not as judgmental, but still relied on some negative language to make jokes.

Today, I received a letter from the editor in chief of the paper. She basically said she thought my article was too blunt about sex without "adding anything to the space." I'll run it as a separate post so you can judge for yourselves. I don't think this article was especially explicit, and it was much in the same vein as the ones I've written for a year with overwhelmingly positive response.

She explained that on Wednesday night, which is the night the paper has to be finished, the features editors had showed her my article and the one that they ran instead. She said she regretted "that we didn't have the time prior to publication to give you feedback and discuss your piece so that we could have run it. I would love for you to finish off a strong run by writing in our final three issues for this semester, but I think that also requires an equal commitment from you to make sure your articles are in early so that this situation doesn't present itself again."

She clearly thinks it's my fault that she only saw the articles on Wednesday, which means my editors are passing the blame onto me. This week, I got the damn article in on time.

So now I don't know what the hell to do. I'm feeling incredibly discouraged by this. Sure, I can try and write a new article super early for next week (in addition to writing a rough draft of my honors thesis by Monday) and hope that makes it better. Even if I do get it in early, I just don't have faith that my editors would give enough shits to do what needs to be done to publish it, especially if that means feedback. They've never given me feedback. Ever.

It also just really, really, really sucks to see the column I've worked so hard on, the column I started writing to try and counter the sex negativity it and the rest of the paper were filled with, revert back to the bullshit that's everywhere else in this freakin' society.

It hurts. it makes me feel like all the work I've done is being erased. I've had people, strangers, come up to me and thank me for writing what I do because it made them feel better about who they are and what they wanted to try sexually. I've gotten emails from random adults from clear across the country asking for sex advice because they didn't know where else to go.

I feel like they're taking that away from me, and almost spitting on the work that I've done. They don't value it, and they don't realize how much everyone else around here seems to value it.

I sound like such a diva, but I really think this is important. There is so much shitty sex writing everywhere. If you're an editor, why not seize the opportunity to do better? Why perpetuate negative stereotypes that actively hurt people, that make them feel guilty or unsexy or bad about themselves? Fuck that. Fuck that so much.

I also know that I've let a lot of my public identity get wrapped up in this column. Really, everybody on my campus reads it. I meet people and they recognize my name. These days, I meet people and they ask me why I'm not writing the column anymore. (And complain about the new writers.) I like being "the girl who writes that sex column," it makes me feel happy. I'm proud of what I've done.

I feel like that's being ripped away and it's part of my identity. Which is why I'm so (possibly unreasonably) angry about all of this. I'd been trying not to take it seriously, to just take the attitude of "I'm leaving and have no control over what happens when I'm gone anyway and this is just the way of the world so I should let it go" but the letter from the editor in chief today just sent me over the edge into full blown fury.

I'm hoping writing this has let me clarify and solidify my thoughts. I'm going to have to respond to this in some way, and it'd probably help if I can talk about it without getting choked up and angry. I apologize if it's ranting and rambling. If you've gotten all the way through it, any thoughts? Am I being totally unreasonable? Ugh, I hate this feeling.


Brianna J said...

Well - I've edited some things (not a newspaper, but still) and I could see how you missing the deadline, even by only a few hours, could really annoy them. Still they could just run it the next week. And since they had someone else lined up for it anyway, it sounds to me they are offended by/scared of/generally don't like your work. But since you've been there longer than them, they're afraid to tell you they don't want you to write anymore. Especially since you're popular iwth the students. So they're looking for excuses to not run the columns. There was nothing too 'blunt' about that column you posted! It looked to me just like any other sex column that I've seen.

I'm curious - what do you mean by a 'sex-negative' column? I thought that encouraging people to have sex was the whole point of a sex column.

It sounds like the new editors are just jerks.

Unknown said...

By sex negative I mean columns discouraging public displays of affection (especially for "unattractive people") or about how nobody wants to see old people talking about sex (in response to Sue Johanson, who is my hero) and dildos are scary. Among other things. Sigh.

I totally understand why they're pissed about the deadlines, and if they don't like my writing that's their opinion and they're entitled. They are the editors. I just wish they'd have the eggs to bring it up as that instead of beating around the bush. So to speak.

Unknown said...

I think that you have every right to be upset and frustrated. You worked really hard to build this column and you put your heart and soul into your writing. As someone who has worked in sex education, I know how frustrating it can be to see so much negativity about sex out there. And when it's being run in a public forum like that, it just reinforces stereotypes and the shame that surrounds sex in this society.

And those things that you mentioned that they were writing about are horrifying.

Unknown said...

It is pretty horrifying, but I'm trying to have one of those "accept the things I cannot change" moments. Thanks for the support, I appreciate the comments.

Anonymous said...

If there are people asking why you're not writing the column anymore, perhaps it would be worth a try to get them to write letters to the editor complaining about the switch?

Unknown said...

Good idea, thanks anon.

The Author said...

Your writing is the most cogent, reasonable and humorous writing on sex I've ever read, whatever the editors think and whatever happens short-term.

Perhaps the 'letter to the editor' is a good idea (put their email address up somewhere for readers to register their protest), although my support might be a little abstract coming from far off New Zealand.

On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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