Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Letter to "XTRA! West," 2.0

A couple days ago, I received an email from Robin Perelle, Managing Editor of "XTRA! West," "Vancouver's Gay and Lesbian Biweekly."  She wrote the following:

Thank you for taking the time to add your voice to this important discussion. I’m glad you did. I would be happy to run your letter in the next issue, but we need to trim it first. Your letter is currently 871 words. Letters should not exceed 250 words, in order to give as many people as possible the chance to speak each issue. Could you please send me a shortened version of your letter as soon as possible? 

Excited as I was, the task of cutting 871 words to just 250, while keeping the tone and spirit of the original, seemed daunting, to say the least.  But, hey, I'm a writer, and someday I hope to write for "XTRA! West," so, as far as I was concerned, there was no time like the present to prove to Robin that I was up to challenge of meeting their word limitations.

(A brief word about why my original letter was so long in the first place: Yes, I knew the word limit on letters to the managing editor was 250; however, the issue I wrote about, "sex without shame," had been discussed at some length in several recent issues, and I was certain Robin would be unwilling to publish anything further on the subject. She had herself written an editorial, taking the position that gay people should not be ashamed about having gay sex, and, in fact, should celebrate it, and "XTRA! West" was merely helping us do that by publishing columns and articles with that focus.  With no hope of getting my letter published, I figured I could write whatever I wanted to say, regardless of how many words I used.  Other readers might not see it, but Robin would, and she was the one truly in a position to make a difference about the content of the paper.  Alas, I was wrong.)

With not much time to submit a much-reduced version of my letter, I went to work--printing my original letter; hand counting the words per paragraph; slashing those I knew for sure I didn't need in the revised copy; highlighting those sections that I felt were the gist of what I needed to say.

At first, I tried to keep much of the same wording, but that was impossible.  I had to reduce by at least 671 words, or roughly 71%. Clearly, I couldn't keep a section here and a section there and meet the word limit while keeping most of what I wanted to say.

So, then, I started to think about a different approach altogether. Several opening lines came to me, and I worked with each one, but, projecting ahead, I knew that none but one would allow me to meet the word limitation and still get my point across.

Below, you'll find the final version I sent to Robin yesterday.  Yes, the tone is quite different from the original, which is contained in the post prior to this one, but I didn't think I could write the letter any other way. I was concerned that Robin would advise me she no longer wanted to publish my letter because it was so different from the original, but she seems happy with it.  She sent me an email yesterday to say that my revised letter would be added to those to be published in the upcoming issue.

(Now, if I could just get a paying freelance job from "XTRA! West."  I'd love nothing more than to be on the ground floor of helping them to change and improve their content to meet the needs of the entire gay community, not just the young, club-hopping, single male.)

Dear Managing Editor:

Are you gay or lesbian?  Middle-aged?  In a long-term, committed, even monogamous relationship?

Do you believe that being gay and having gay sex don't define you? That you're a human being first--and gay second?

Could you care less about what the straight community thinks about you having sex with the person you love?

Do you think we should be satisfied with XTRA! West's columns about twenty-somethings seeking love but settling for sex; articles about kept twinks, public sex, S&M, prostitution, and polygamy; reviews of gay and lesbian porn; ads for escorts, bathhouses, and phone sex?

What would you think if XTRA! West published more columns and articles that build up our community; present what's positive about being gay and lesbian; celebrate what makes us unique; feature role models and people of substance; represent all segments of the community, including gay and lesbian couples?

Do you believe that self-hatred is one of the biggest problems in the gay community, leading to risky, destructive, and homophobic behavior. That a newspaper, like XTRA! West, perpetuating through its content the myth that all gays are about is sex, will do little to help us with our greatest challenge--to respect and love ourselves?

Then join me in hoping that we're heard.  We deserve better than this, and we know XTRA! West, the most influential publication in our gay and lesbian community, can provide it.


  1. Very concise, direct, and well-done. Hats off to you, my friend!

  2. Good letter Rick - I like the more positive approach. Not only did you cut your word count down, but you presented the subject in a completely different manner....just like a writer should be able to do! Way to go!

  3. Thanks, Wendy.
    What I liked about the new version is how each of the sentences, until the final paragraph, asked a question. I thought this would involve the reader more readily, as opposed to me merely recording my opinions. When I see something written with questions, I seem to be drawn into it, as though the writer is asking me personally. And I feel compelled to answer them, therefore, as I said previous, involving me more.
    I hope anyone reading the letter in "XTRA! West" will feel as I do, and that we'll see change in the newspaper's content. That was my ultimate goal for writing the letter.
    Thanks again, Wendy, for your comment. I guess we'll see what happens.

  4. Wow, Jeanette. Just as I responded to Wendy's comment, yours turned up.
    Thanks for the comments. Yes, I think the revised letter is presented in a more positive manner. After I got all the venom out of me in the first letter, I was able to stand back from it and be more objective. I think that improved it, and, hopefully, more people will be engaged to read it.
    The more I worked on cutting the word content, the more I realized I wouldn't be able to change a word here and there and achieve the 250 word limit. Major reconstruction was needed, and I believe I discovered a format that was still true to what I said while being more inviting to the reader. I hope so anyway.
    Thanks again for your comment, and your interest in what I have to write. You know I appreciate your interest and encouragement.