Literary agency rejects more than books
Books | Firm boots an employee for not espousing transgender ideology
by Megan Basham
Posted 8/25/20, 07:47 pm
In the latest cancel culture news, a literary group fired a young agent after less than three weeks on the job when transgender activists spotted some of her tweets they found offensive.
On Aug. 5, Sasha White, a 25-year-old editorial assistant, announced on her professional Twitter account that she had accepted a position in New York at the Tobias Literary Agency, a boutique firm specializing in horror and mystery novels. From that point, she used her agency-identified account to post general and publishing industry news and solicit manuscripts from potential clients.
White used a separate, personal account not linked with the agency to voice support for a branch of the women’s movement known as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF), which argues for women’s political rights on biological grounds. Among the comments her critics flagged as “transphobic,” White said, “Being a man who doesn’t identify with men doesn’t make you a woman.” She also expressed support for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who has made similar public remarks.
On Sunday, author Bethany Baptiste, who is not a Tobias client, spotted the posts and tweeted, “A secret account exists for a TERF that works in the publishing industry to express all their transphobic views in the name of RADICAL FEMINISM. I am disgusted by the FILTH I read. It terrifies me to think this person has the power to gatekeep trans authors.”
Later that same day, Baptiste named White as the owner of the account. “I can't call myself a trans ally and withhold info that protects trans authors from transphobic agents,” Baptiste wrote.
Thousands of people in the publishing industry piled on. “No job is going to be ok with [White’s views] unless your job is transphobia,” said Emmy-winning television writer Shadi Petosky. Author Bryan Young, a Tobias client, also weighed in, saying, “There’s no room in publishing or the world for the sort of harmful transphobia that was on display.”
Within hours, Tobias President Lane Heymont announced in a statement that was later deleted that the firm had fired White: “We do not have any room for anti-trans sentiments at TLA. Period. Thus we have parted ways with Sasha. In honor of the Trans community we have made a donation to … provide rent or Gender-Affirming surgery for Black Trans people.” The agency then set its Twitter account to private.
Among those cheering White’s firing was Kaitlyn Johnson, an agent at Belcastro, a competing agency. “Thank God,” she posted when news of White’s ouster broke. “[Tobias] did right and immediately cracked down. We are here to protect trans writers not open the doors to more harm.”
I asked Johnson when she believes religious or political opinions require cutting ties with an agent or author. “When it comes to political/religious beliefs, there is rarely an issue,” she told me. “The conflict I notice is when one side attempts to push or force views that are harmful to others or are very clearly detrimental. For agents, we act as gatekeepers of a sort. Authors often need to go through us to be placed before editors. So, I do think there's is a need for transparency in the values an editor holds and how those may reflect on the stories they allow past the finish line.”
For her part, White tried again on Tuesday afternoon to clarify her views, tweeting, “I see women as a distinct political class but not to the detriment of others’ rights. That is not hateful or bigoted. Does that mean I shouldn’t have a job?”
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Megan is film and television editor for WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All. Megan resides with her husband, Brian Basham, and their two daughters in Charlotte, N.C. Follow her on Twitter on @megbasham.