I particularly respected two men in the literary field. They were both authors, good ones, but it is in their capacity as editors that they particularly excelled. I was an out-dyke writing in the 90s when I first encountered each of them. One edited me in poetic form and the other in novel. I admired both of them very much. What I found in these two men, beyond great intelligence and skill, was great sensitivity. I more than trusted them with my work.
Since I had last published with them, editor number one’s press had become a beanstalk to poetic success, and my book didn’t make it through the last of their now-rigorous cuts. I’m not sure what my reaction to this might have been after having placed two previous books with them, because I was busy reacting to the editor writing that he was thinking of my breasts while he wrote me the letter.
It barely matters, but I’ll say this: He and I had never had a relationship that involved sex or flirtation. He lived on one side of the country and I on the other; he was straight, I was gay. Of course I had seen him at readings, and met his wife, and of course, as in the usual editorial processes, he had edited my books, full of material often graphically sexual, exceedingly closely. One summer, he and his wife came to stay a couple days at my house, but here again, though we sat on the porch editing my new collection, our visit was merely cordial.
When I got his letter, I tried to figure out why he might mention my breasts. He knows I’m a feminist; he himself is contemporary and no dinosaur. From where had he drawn the context? I thought back to the bedroom where he and his wife stayed. There I’d hung two photographs of me nude—one nursing my eldest daughter and one a silhouette of me pregnant with my younger child. Had he sexualized my fertility? Thinking of that made this breach even creepier.
Then I wondered whether he’d ever judged my work on merit, or whether, in fact, I’d been published because he was hot for me. I scanned back for evidence yay or nay, but thankfully was able to confirm he’d loved my poetry before he had seen images of my breasts.
I wondered, though, if he understood, even on some foggy level, how betrayed I felt.
I declined at the time to take the matter public, to tell the rest of his press, or the writing community, what he’d done, but I wrote him to let him know of my dismay and anger. He didn’t respond and we haven’t spoken since. I imagine he talked to the rest of the press, saying what I don’t know, for relations there chilled. To think that the press supported this behaviour, however he presented it, is sad. To think that his letter is now in my archives, a permanent record deposited at a Canadian university which may be commented on in student theses, is sadder still.
Editor number two didn’t do anything at all with me in mind, but on his well known website, he published a list of many dozens of books important to writers; I happened across his feed on FB and was flabbergasted to see just four or five books authored by women. I took him to task—saying that since women had written many important books, this selection had had to be idiosyncratic. Readers jumped to his defense. He wrote me privately to say, in essence, ouch, and I wrote back to say that I had been fighting these kinds of numbers for 30 years, and that I was stumped as to why he was participating in making an on-going gender imbalance worse. Perhaps if I had paid greater mind to his website, I would have seen other examples as egregious, I don’t know, though I still like to imagine not. In any case, that was the end of what had been a lovely and supportive friendship; his request that I become his site’s LGBT editor died on the table. When he came to town to read and I asked him to go for coffee, he didn’t even reply.
Two brilliant men, downed by sexism, and the waste infuriates me.
Jane Eaton Hamilton is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry. Her poetry volume Love Will Burst Into a Thousand Shapes is coming out fall 2014. Her work has appeared in the NY Times, Macleans, Salon and in other periodicals. Jane lives in Vancouver.
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