Gender-Free Story Round-Up!

Being the conclusion to the gender-free writing challenge I issued back in June.

Part I: Lessons Learned

First, a bit about lessons learned.

Not everybody who sent a story in mentioned explicitly how they would like to be credited, and some of the published entries bear credits while others don’t. Accordingly, I’m going to let the bylines the authors created speak for themselves.

When I do something like this in the future, I’ll make more of a point about standardizing entry formats so we can capture that kind of information. I’ll also try to make the constraints more clear. The original post called for “a story of any length with at least two characters and no references to their gender.”

What I meant was (and this was clarified later) that no character who appeared or was referenced should be gendered in the text, but I saw some people boosting the post explaining that the requirement was “a story where at least two of the characters don’t have gender”. I didn’t get any stories that had a boy and a girl and two gender-nonspecific people in the background, thank goodness, but there was at least one submission where an arguably pretty clearly gendered character is referenced at multiple points. I’ve left that in the link round-up, because of the initial ambiguity.

I did remove entries I considered to be overtly hurtful to a group of people. I wrestled with myself over this (it’s one of the reasons the judging is coming as far into August as it is), because I didn’t mention any such criteria when I laid out the challenge. But one of the points of this challenge is to encourage greater gender (and to an extent, sexuality) diversity in writing, to help make non-binary and genderqueer writers and readers feel more welcome in the growing online literary world, and you can’t welcome one group by stepping on another, especially when the groups overlap.

The last lesson has to do with the deadline. About half a dozen people asked me if I would extend the deadline another month, and I did, but far fewer people took advantage of that extension than asked for it. The entries were pretty strongly front-loaded to the beginning of the period. Next time, there’s going to be a larger window (and quite a different set-up in general), but there’s definitely a thing to be learned here about deadlines and their usefulness.

Part II: The Round-Up

Thank you to everybody who participated!

Part III: A Winner And Such

It needs to be said that “On Finding Yourself In Bars” is one of my top picks of the bunch, but it’s also written by my partner, Jack Ralls, who helped organize all this, which is why we agreed it would not be up for consideration.

So who wins?

I’m going to give first place ($25) to “Pie Day“. Second place ($15) goes to “7 Questions for the Angels“. Third place goes to So, “How Was School Today“.

I enjoyed these stories quite a bit, but one of the things I enjoyed the most about them is how real to life they were (even the one with a couch-surfing God). They deal with the personal, the spiritual, and the everyday, and they do so in a way that shows how incidental gender can be and how arbitrary our assignments and assumptions of it often are.

We’ll be getting in touch with the authors of those pieces over the next day or so about the payout arrangements. If you’re one of them, feel free to email us back with your PayPal address, if that method is amenable to you.

Part IV: Looking To The Future

I want to do this again, but bigger and on a more formal scale, and possibly with more categories for different ways of playing with gender conventions. Basically, an annual awards deal, covering a year at a time, every year, in order to not shut out pro publications. This is going to take a lot of planning and coordinating (we’ll definitely need more help), but we have time to work it out. The first period of eligibility will be 2017, which means the award won’t be awarded until 2018. I will especially be looking for non-binary, genderqueer, and agender people to help judge. More details to come early in 2017!