SFF market rejects our LGBTQ ad

Sep 9th, 2009 | By | Category: CG Blog

While advertising Crossed Genres through Project Wonderful, I’ve been placing a number of ads specifically calling for submissions to our upcoming LGBTQ issue.

On September 1, I placed an ad bid on Flash Fiction Online, figuring it was an appropriate site for a call for writing submissions. They had their system set so that they had to approve individual ads; this meant that the ad didn’t go through right away, which is fairly common on ProjectWonderful.

Here is the ad in question, exactly as it would have appeared:

The next day (9/2) I received an email notification that the bid had been rejected. The owner offered only this short message as explanation: “”Sorry, I don’t accept sexually themed ads.”

Feeling that the ad wasn’t particularly sexually themed, I sent a couple of messages to the editor Jake Freivald, requesting more clarification of the logic behind the decision. In doing so, here are some of the questions I asked him (for the sake of understanding his response further down):

    You said that you turned down ads from a modeling agency because you’re “a prude when it comes to this stuff”, which implies you did so because of the (however minimal) suggestion of sex. So I guess I’m wondering: if you had seen my image with just the image and no words at all, or just the Crossed Genres logo, would you have rejected it? It doesn’t seem that way – your comment about LGBTQ issues suggests that that was the deciding factor.

    Have you or would you publish stories in which straight people kiss? Would do so if it was a gay couple? And if so, how is this ad worse than that? Two people of any gender kissing is far more sexual than anything to do with my ad.

    I also feel the need to point out that instead of my ad, you’re running an ad with a woman holding a 40-oz of alcohol. How is that an improvement over an ad about a serious civil rights issue? Are pictures of alcohol use more OK than a picture of two women just lounging around? (By the way, in the original art those two women are sisters, interestingly enough.)

The following is the final email I received from Mr. Freivald. It is uncut and unaltered in any way, except to fix formatting that was screwed up in transferring it here:

    Jake Freivald Sat, Sep 5, 2009 at 10:00 AM
    To: Bart Leib


    I apologize for the delay in responding.

    > First, thanks for responding civilly; it would have been easy to assume I was
    > attacking your character or your zine, which I wasn’t.

    Absolutely, and I hope we can continue in that vein. We’re certain to disagree on large swaths of this discussion, and you may, before we’re done, *want* to attack my character (and because of that, my zine); however, I assure you that I am sincere in what I’m about to say, and arrived at it after a lot of thought and consideration. This will be really long, but (a) you wrote a decent amount to me, so if you can dish it out you can probably take it : ) and (b) I figured it was best to lay things out as clearly as possible, even if that means a lot of words.

    I’ll give you background first, and then get to the specifics of my position on the advertising.

    > In your message you said /”GLBTQ issues are inextricably linked to sex.
    > If they weren’t, then the women in your ad wouldn’t be lesbian.”/ This is
    > true only to the extent that the mainstream media primarily portrays queer
    > people as lesbians making out on TV shows, or gay people kissing at protest
    > rallies. The queer movement is not about gay people fighting for the right to
    > have sex with whoever they want – it’s about fighting for the right to LOVE
    > whoever they want.

    I respectfully maintain that this can’t be true.

    First, note that “love” can mean many things: it’s okay for a man to love a boy in one way, and not in another. The nature of the relationships we’re talking about are those that were traditionally male-female (more specifically, husband-wife) sexual relationships.

    Second, even with sexual love, there’s no law preventing any particular set of relationships: men can love men, women can love women, even men can love little boys[*] if that’s where their emotions and desires lead. We couldn’t stop that from happening if we tried. It’s the *expression* of love that we’re talking about, and specifically the normalization of the expressions of presumably sexually active non-straight people. This expression isn’t just sex itself; the relationships find expression in many different ways, some of which are not a big deal and some of which (marriage particularly) are.

    [* I am not implying that homosexuality and pedophilia are linked; I use it only as an extreme example.]

    While you say that “Sex…is not central to the Queer Agenda, any more than it is with straight people,” I disagree that sex isn’t central to straight people. Male-female monogamous coupling was traditionally the mechanism by which sex was managed within a society. While sex isn’t the only thing, it is one of the chief things. And, in Western culture, from these presumed-sexually active relationships came the basic unit of society: the family. Again, we can easily see this because of the fight among gays for the right to marry.

    There have always been exceptions to the composition of the family unit, but they were clearly exceptions, and they weren’t provided for in the same way that male-female marriage was. And you could point out that not every culture used monogamy as a standard, but most of those led to institutionalized ill-treatment of women.

    I should point out that I used to firmly believe that gays and lesbians should be able to marry. It’s a contract, I thought, something that the government allows consenting adults to enter into. Why should I disallow some just because both people signing the contract are the same sex?

    I held this position for about ten years. Then, six or seven years ago, I realized that my position was wrong: understandable, but wrong. I had come to believe that marriage was just a contract because straights — not gays at all, but the vast majority of people — had undermined what marriage was really about. The widespread use of contraceptives attempted to separate sex from its essential[*] companion, the bearing of children; the normalization of out-of-wedlock child rearing has in many ways already disrupted the meaning of marriage, often with disastrous results; relatively easy divorce has undermined parental rights, stability of families, inheritance, and so on.

    [* Yes, “attempted” and “essential”. Contraceptives aren’t 100% perfect, so “safe sex” really implies *thinking* that you’re safe, when in fact you could have a child who becomes a burden. What a disaster for our children and our families! Only in a contraceptive society could a child be a “mistake”. Only in monogamous marriage-for-life is there truly “safe sex”.]

    Is sex the *only* important aspect of marriage? No, of course not. Nobody that I know believes that. But although it is not sufficient for the proper function of marriage, it is essential to it.

    If marriage, sex, the family, and society were properly linked, then society would specially support the natural source of the fecundity of the human race and the stability of its societies: the monogamous, child-bearing family.

    In a nutshell, then: as a society, I believe that we are completely screwed up about the relationships of family, sex, and society. I reiterate that straights have done this. We are to blame.

    And it’s because we’ve done this that we think, as a culture, that “gay marriage” and “straight marriage” are essentially the same. It makes us think that the issue is fairness and equality. It leads us to view the issue as a civil rights issue, as you do. I sympathize, deeply, because I thought the same thing for a long time.

    I would like to make it harder for divorced people to remarry. (I nonetheless have divorced friends.) I would like to (and do, where possible) educate people on the need to avoid sex outside of marriage. (I nonetheless have single mother friends and even family members.) I would like to encourage married couples to avoid contraception, preferring instead that they abstain from sex periodically and understand that when they’re having sex, they’re open to having children — especially if there’s a serious medical or financial reason for avoiding having children. (Nevertheless, I know more people who contracept than people who don’t.)

    Right now, you’re probably wondering where I found the time machine that took me from the 50s to the ’00s. You may even think that I’m cruel, or deluded, or just nuts. That’s okay; I understand. Let me return from the general societal issue to my little Web site.

    I said “I’m a prude when it comes to this stuff,” and I turned down you and the modeling agency for similar reasons. Non-explicit sexually oriented straight photo shoots tend to glamorize sex outside of marriage, even though it’s never explicitly said that the models aren’t married. They’re prurient and voyeuristic, neither of which fits the role of sex in society. I understand why people think they’re cool — I used to not think they were a problem either — and although I don’t think the people doing the shoots are “bad”, I do think that they’re misguided and I don’t want to do anything to promote or condone their photo shoots.

    Similarly, your LGBTQ issue makes perfect sense to me. I understand the issues, I understand why they would fight for equal status with straights, and I understand that LGBTQ people are children of God — literally — and as worthy of respect as any other human beings. I also believe, however, that those who promote “gay rights” are acting under misguided beliefs about what we should or shouldn’t do as a society, and I don’t want to promote or condone those behaviors or beliefs. (I should emphasize that *being* gay — having those feelings — is simply how LGBTQ people are, and attaches no guilt to them.)

    So yes, I’m a prude. I knew what your image and acronym meant, and while I don’t condemn you for following your beliefs, I also don’t want to have that particular ad on my site. I also know that if one of my children asked me what LGBTQ means, it would open up things that I just don’t think they need to be exposed to at nine years old. I’m in the same basic situation as with the modeling site.

    Which leads me to more of your questions. I hate the malt liquor ad. I originally approved that advertiser with a different ad — also a little edgy, but not quite like that — and my settings are “automatically approve any ad for any advertiser I’ve already approved.” So I could go back and ask them to change it — I’ve thought about it, and your email may prompt me to do so — but I haven’t done it yet. However, if my eight-year-old saw it, I could simply say, “That is a magazine about people who do bad things.” I can’t say that about LGBTQ people, can I? The issue is incredibly more complex than that, and I don’t want him to go around saying gay people are bad.

    Regarding kissing in stories: I won’t make a blanket statement here. As a publisher, I’m not asking for falsity, and different sexual relationships are an important part of life. I don’t think I’ve published any “perfect” characters. I would probably not publish stories where the purpose was to justify or condone homosexual relationships, polyamory, and so on — I reject all “message” stories, even those that I agree with — but that doesn’t imply that stories containing those elements will automatically be rejected.

    Flash is so dense — there’s little room for extraneous material — that it’s unlikely that I’ll receive a story that contains content of the type found in Jay Lake’s Outer Alliance post, which you can find here:
    http://www.jlake.com/2009/09/01/culturewriting-outer-alliance-pride-day/ …unless the *point* is having those kinds of relationships. But Jay’s writing here is true, and it wouldn’t prevent me from publishing a longer story that contained it. There are always characters whose lives don’t live up to my ideal. My own rather mild life has not lived up to my ideal. I have been egregiously wrong in what I have done (and I’m not just talking about sex here). Should I expect the invented characters and cultures of a story to be any different?

    That said, I’ve only published one story that focuses on divorce, and it shows how dysfunctional divorce is (without being a “message” story): http://www.flashfictiononline.com/f20080302-downstream-from-divorce-glenn-lewis-gillette.html

    Why not put all of this in my guidelines? Because for the most part it isn’t necessary and would be confusing. It would probably give a lot of people the wrong ideas about what I would and wouldn’t publish. Better to have them send me the stories, and I can respond with a simple “not right for me” if it doesn’t fit.

    Regarding ads: I know of your magazine and see nothing wrong with it. If you had submitted an ad with the same picture, but without the GLBTQ wording on it, I probably would have accepted it. (Though I probably wouldn’t have clicked through to see that you were promoting a GLBTQ issue.)

    This is probably far more than you wanted to hear, and despite my best efforts here there may be things that I’ve said that sound different from how I would hope that they sound. I hope that however strongly you disagree with me, you understand that I say all of this with respect and without malice.


I debated for some time about whether to post this here. Eventally, after speaking with several people about the situation, I decided that members of the SFF community who are LGBTQ-friendly had a right to know this: people make decisions on dealing with businesses based on their policies all the time, and this directly affects the policies of Flash Fiction Online.

I want to thank the members of Outer Alliance for offering me their constructive and (mostly) calm opinions.

In the meantime, we’re going to continue advertising our LGBTQ issue to venues that will accept it, and work hard to make it the best it can possibly be.

We’d like to encourage LGBTQ and ally writers to write your best queer fiction ever, and get it out there for people to read (even if you don’t submit it to us).

Deborah Hoag, a member of the Flash Fiction Online editorial board, left the following comment in response to this post (added with her permission):

debhoag September 9th, 2009 8:29 pm edit

I’ve been on the editorial board at FFO since it’s inception, and frequently disagree with Jake about pretty much everything, which makes it pretty surprising that I’m still there, I guess. I also write for a magazine (Polluto, from Dog Horn Publisher in London) which delights in exploring the boundaries of human sexuality. My experience has been that our sexuality gilds everything we do in beauty. I’m also a lot pithier than Jake. So, I’m about done. But if it had been up to me, I would have run the ad, gladly. It was not a decision that I was aware of, but I avoid anything smacking of business with all the loathing I devote to politics and PTA meetings.

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  1. […] click here to read the remainder of this item at the Crossed Genres […]

  2. I’ve been on the editorial board at FFO since it’s inception, and frequently disagree with Jake about pretty much everything, which makes it pretty surprising that I’m still there, I guess. I also write for a magazine (Polluto, from Dog Horn Publisher in London) which delights in exploring the boundaries of human sexuality. My experience has been that our sexuality gilds everything we do in beauty. I’m also a lot pithier than Jake. So, I’m about done. But if it had been up to me, I would have run the ad, gladly. It was not a decision that I was aware of, but I avoid anything smacking of business with all the loathing I devote to politics and PTA meetings.

  3. This is regrettable. Thank you for posting about this.

    He’s free to hold that editorial opinion, and I’m free to avoid him and all his works, and advise my friends of his opinion too.

  4. I feel it was very important to expose homophobes like this. Thank you for sharing this with everyone. This guy is a complete homophobe and I won’t be submitting to FFO or recommending friends to submit there.

  5. […] responded and questioned the decision leading to Bart posting this blog post exposing the market as pretty unlikely to accept queer-themed stories: I would probably not publish […]

  6. Thanks for letting us know where not to waste our time. I think you made the right choice.

  7. […] I lost count of all the posts and retweets about the rejected ad. A lot more people read about it than commented, though… as near as I can tell, over 1,100 […]

  8. I was greatly saddened to read this as I am a gay writer who has previously sold stories to FFO. While I don’t agree with Jake’s decision, I also don’t believe he has arrived at his views from a place of hatred. He states that he once supported gay rights. Let’s hope that he returns to that worldview, not because of “pressure” or negative press, but because a conscience-led examination has guided him back to the fold.

  9. Hi, Rod, and thanks for the comment. I enjoyed working with you and liked you before I knew you were gay, and now that I know, I still like you and would enjoy working with you in the future, if you care to do so.

    You’re one of the very few who has shown a modicum of actual tolerance — mutual respect despite fundamental differences — and I appreciate it.

  10. […] read. Go take a look at what Gordon Brown has to say about gay people, and then take a look at what Jake Freivald has to say about them, and ask yourself which one of them sounds like the better human […]

  11. Well, I won’t be submitting to that site anymore – not out of a sense of hatred, but because my world view has led me to a place of conscience that suggests I don’t want to be involved with it in any way.

    I’m tempted to go on a rant here about how deeply rooted in BS the ‘position’ offered is, but won’t for three reasons: I’m just plain tired right now, the audience here is already well aware of the flaws I’d point out and (hoping this isn’t true) the folks who espouse such views rarely, if ever, look into anything that might disabuse them of their ill-founded beliefs.

    So, I do the only effective thing I can and remove myself from involvement.

  12. Hi all,

    I am also on the FFO staff, and have been there since the beginning. I disagree with the decision made regarding the ad and the interpretation of LGBTQ issues. In fact, I have long been a supporter of LGBTQ issues; I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, after all! But I have very strong respect of Jake as a person and as our editor, and I would like to make the point that we have never rejected a story based on any gender, religious, ethnic, or LGBTQ issues. And I’m proud of the diversity of backgrounds represented on our staff. And like Jake said, send us any and all stories.

    With much respect,
    Sabrina West
    FFO Staff

    I understand why people are now reluctant to submit, but I urge everyone to take another look at the quality of the work we publish.

  13. […] so he wrote to Frievald seeking explanation.  While Frievald’s response — you can read it here on the Crossed Genres blog — was civil & thoughtfully written, it’s essentially again of the “love the […]

  14. I posted this originally at the Outer Alliance blog, but I thought I should post it here as well. I’ve changed the next-to-last sentence slightly, and I’ve incorporated two comments into this one post. Otherwise it’s the same content.

    I would like to clear up one aspect of my post.

    Brandon Bell says here:
    …that I used a “familiar tactic” when I said, “men can love men, women can love women, even men can love little boys[*] if that’s where their emotions and desires lead.” But the quoted email was a private communication between Bart and me, not a blog post. I wasn’t employing rhetorical tricks trying to convert the undecided or to rile the faithful.

    In other words, I wasn’t using “tactics”. If I had wanted to, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen that one.

    In the original email, Bart said that this wasn’t about marriage, but about being able to choose whom you love. My point was that you can’t necessarily choose whom you love. That’s true regardless of whether you’re straight, gay, or even otherwise inclined.

    I should be sensitive to the fact that GLBTs often feel under attack. I thought my disclaimer was sufficient to let Bart know that I was not “stat[ing] directly or imply[ing] that m/m love is tantamount to raping kids” (a reaction from an OA member blog), but apparently it wasn’t, and I apologize to the GLBT community for making you feel that way.

    Similarly, Bell says, “Here we see the casual listing of homosexual relationships with polyamory. Becuase we all know the Gay sleep around.” Again, this isn’t a tactic. I was talking about “different sexual relationships”; I can think of at least one well-known polyamorous figure in science fiction, one whom I respect: I don’t think it impugns homosexuals or him to mention the two arrangements together. Perhaps if any GLBT people think it does, they could explain to me why. (Again, that’s not rhetoric: I simply don’t know why you’d feel that way.)

    I’m not saying these things to argue, but because I don’t want people whom I respect to think that I equate them with child rapists.

    Thank you.

  15. […] became aware of The Outer Alliance when a friend linked me to the Crossed Genres blog post about how their ad soliciting submissions for their upcoming LGBTQ issu…. The Outer Alliance helped spread the word, and supported Crossed Genres in figuring out how to […]

  16. […] after Bart Leib on Crossed Genres‘ blog [Ref #3] & Outer Alliance posted [Ref #4] about FFO as a queer-unfriendly market, Bart Leib was […]

  17. […] Had a bit of controversy […]

  18. […] It’s fairly simple.  You say something like this: Second, even with sexual love, there’s no law preventing any particular set of relationships:… […]

  19. […] First, I am removing Flash Fiction Online from the list. It’s (rather belatedly) come to my attention that the editor, Jake Freivald, holds many views that I strongly disagree with, as evidenced by this blog post. […]

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