I was just thinking about an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation (“The Outcast”) that included a gender-neutral species—the J’naii—known for actively discriminating against and biochemically “reconditioning” any member of their species who identified as male or female. This was a deeply unsettling episode for me as a kid because it dealt with issues I’d never considered, and it was also unabashedly philosophical/moral in nature, with virtually no explosions or phaser battles to distract the senses. However, that turned out to be a good thing because the episode got under my skin and it got me thinking about something that most other television shows didn’t even bother to address.

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During one pivotal scene toward the end of the episode (meaning you should stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers), a J’naii named Soren—who identifies as female and enters into a relationship with Commander Riker (because of course)—gives an impassioned If-you-prick-us-do-we-not-bleed type speech. Throughout the whole episode, Soren has been fairly restrained in her physical mannerisms, which some critics mistook for wooden acting but which I actually think was done to set up a contrast to her speech (“What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”). Given the fact that we’re talking about the final few minutes of a serial sci-fi show, you might expect a fairly easy resolution, but Soren’s speech falls on deaf ears and Soren is essentially led off to the gallows.

Predictably, the moral clusterfuck that is the Prime Directive gets brought up in this episode, though Picard’s attitude seems to be that he’s willing to turn a blind eye should Riker decide to intervene on Soren’s behalf. As for Worf (the ship’s fairly conservative traditional male warrior), he goes from being decidedly put off by the J’naii to risking his life in an attempt to save Soren from reconditioning. However, that seems to be done more out of loyalty and friendship to Riker; Worf doesn’t actually witness Soren’s courageous speech, though I wish he had because he, at least, might have recognized her courage for what it was–and not how Soren’s judge sees it, which is simply as the sad ramblings of a pitiful deviant.

There’s also an important point buried in the episode: as an allegory for LGBTQ rights, it’s stating that of course it’s genetic, not a choice. After all, if it were just a choice, why would the J’naii even need whatever inquisitor-like machine of doom they keep waiting in the next room? That brings us to the episode’s gut-wrenching conclusion, wherein the writers make a bold and unexpected decision: Riker and Worf arrive too late; Soren has already been reconditioned to the point where her old identity has been completely [brain]washed away.

The backlash from bigots comes as no surprise, but what did surprise me when I researched this episode was a mention in a couple forums and on Wikipedia that it apparently also got some criticism from the LGBTQ community. As the story goes, some took Soren’s fate as actually advocating such reconditioning (or at least implying that gender identity is so superficial that it can be effortlessly wiped away). When I heard that accusation, I got all geared up to leap to the episode’s defense, and maybe even toss in a clever line about how its critics must also think that Blade Runner is secretly in favor of the enslavement and murder of synthetic humans. However, I looked around and… well, the only criticism I could actually find came from Star Trek fans who thought the episode was preachy and boring.

That struck me as odd, though, because the scenes that receive the most criticism—Soren’s speech, for instance—are incredibly emotional. That brings me to my next point: I wonder how many of the people criticizing the episode as “boring” actually feel that way (which is perfectly fine), and how many are just doing what far-right talking heads do when they pooh-pooh Jon Stewart’s scathing and hyper-articulate political diatribes by saying they’re “not funny.”

Also, the episode wisely shows Soren’s judge as misguided but seemingly earnest and sincere in her concern… just as, on some twisted level, those trying to “cure” away the gay probably actually think they’re doing the right thing. And in contrast to the accusation that the episode is ham fisted, one important scene shows Riker and Soren trying to save a couple other J’naii from dying in space. Needless to say, they activate the transporter without stopping to ask what the dying J’naii think about the same reconditioning process that has Soren living in constant terror. Nor does Riker or anyone else approach them later and ask how it feels to have their lives saved by a “deviant.” So in my loudmouth estimation, what seems at first like a passing and fairly meaningless action sequence could actually be taken as the whole point of the episode.

Indeed, this episode as a whole can even be seen as embodying the very ideas of the whole Star Trek franchise, which were always less about warp-chases and rogue nanites than the kind of moral quandaries that come about when a species wields near god-like technology but still can’t shake off the age-old problems of ignorance and moral ambiguity.

Submittable Tips (and Warnings)

The proliferation of journals accepting work through Submittable.com has unquestionably made the submissions process much easier for all involved, but it has also led to a few bad habits that can easily irk editors and give your work a higher chance of being rejected. Luckily, these habits are easily corrected.

 

But first, let’s talk about how to make your life easier…

It’s a good idea to keep a template for a cover letter saved somewhere on your computer. Remember, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s the general consensus among editors that cover letters should be short and sweet. After all, this is a cover letter, not an interview. Still, even if you have a template, cut and pasting your cover letter can be tedious, especially if you’re the kind of writer who sends of dozens or even hundreds of submissions. Luckily, Submittable has a feature had allows you to add a template cover letter, which will then be automatically added to every submission (though you can tinker with it before you send your work). Just click “profile”. Then, in the “Bio” box (which, admittedly, should be called something else), simply type your template cover letter.

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In my case, I leave certain things in CAPS so that I remember to change them before I actually send a submission. Also, underneath my template cover letter, I add an actual bio.

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Now, when I go to submit to an actual journal (Hayden’s Ferry, for instance), here’s what I see:

So all I have to do is add the name(s) of the piece(s) I’m submitting in the “Title” box, tweak the Cover Letter to include the write names, and I’m good.

WHAT NOT TO DO:

A growing number of writers have figured out how to amend their profiles so that their bios are automatically included in submissions, but then they submit their work without adding a cover letter. This means that when editors (like me) get a submission, all the “cover letter” box lists is their bio. Why is that bad? Well, for starters, it’s a good way to give an editor the impression that you know zero about their journal, and you’re really just shot-gunning submissions to as many journals with as little effort as possible.

Yes, simultaneous submissions are a good idea. No, editors are not gods who need their asses kissed. But if you’re going to ask someone to consider your work and possibly publish you, this is just the wrong approach. Remember the golden rule when it comes to cover letters: do no harm. Not even including one (unless the journal specifically instructs you to, which almost no journals do) definitely counts as causing harm in the eyes of most editors.

Another Bad Habit:

Maybe this is just me, but I consider it a professional courtesy to inform editors if my submitted work is under consideration elsewhere. That isn’t just a statement of honesty; it also lets the editor know that I checked their submission guidelines to make sure that simultaneous submissions are allowed at that particular journal, meaning that I know a little bit how this process work and I respect the editor’s time and attention.

Reading Fees:

This is where things get a bit contentious. While most journals (including Atticus Review) do not charge reading fees, a small number of journals do. How small? About three bucks. This is hardly earth-shattering (I spent less at the coffee shop where I sat down to write this), but some writers oppose such fees on principle, while others (myself included) have no problem with them. After all, it’s not like journals are raking in money hand over fist. Financially speaking, most journals are barely scraping by, and most editors (myself included) work FOR FREE. Reading fees are just a small pittance to help keep the lights on. Still, if you have an ideological objection, that’s fine. Submit elsewhere.

If your work is accepted…

…email the editor and thank them. After all, this is something of a partnership and as any couples therapist will tell you, no partner likes to feel unappreciated.

If your work is rejected…

…don’t send hate mail. Seriously. Don’t send hate mail! I get that you’re upset, but no matter how justified you think you are, you aren’t. Think of it this way: remember that time you asked somebody out, they said no, and you were disappointed? Well, did you immediately call them a bitch/asshole and try to make everyone else hate them? If the answer is yes, that’s probably why you’re having trouble getting a date.

If you sent work simultaneously, one of the poems gets accepted, and you need to withdraw it from other journals’ consideration…

…check the journal’s guidelines. Some journals want you to email them, informing them of the withdrawal. Others want you to withdraw the entire submission on Submittable, then resubmit from scratch with the accepted poem omitted. But most journals opt for an easier method: just add a note to the submission, visible to the editors, saying which poem is no longer available. To do this, click on the submission, then click “activity”, and add your note.

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When in doubt, go with that final option. And remember, no matter what you do, the same rule applies: be nice, or stay lonely.

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