Fired agent’s supporters flooded the hashtag #IStandWithSashaWhite
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
While August is traditionally a dead zone for book news, one tiny sect of literary Twitter has been busy. Tobias Literary Agency (TLA), a full-service agency that includes among its recent titles The Candy Cane Caper–a dual mystery-cookbook–and that is explicitly looking for non-white and marginalized voices to publish, has fired former assistant agent Sasha White for anti-trans comments on Twitter.
The news broke on Monday morning after lawyer Anya Palmer laid out the story, of course, in a Twitter thread. “Another woman summarily dismissed by a literary agency for daring to tweet her opinions on sex and gender,” wrote Palmer, including a screenshot of a statement from TLA about White, that reads in part:
“Tonight we were made aware of comments made by Sasha White on her professional and secondary Twitter accounts. We do not have any room for anti-trans sentiment at TLA. Thus, we have parted ways with Sasha.”
The agency has switched its Twitter to private since releasing the statement.
While White maintained a professional account for literary news, she dedicated her personal mostly to trans-exclusionary radical feminism. Her account bio reads, “[G]ender non conformity is wonderful; denying biological sex not so,” before ending with a hashtag in support of J.K. Rowling, the summer’s poster celebrity for cancel culture. Without an exhaustive review of her Twitter activity, the last year or so features pretty non-stop retweeting of content in support of Rowling and arguments for biological sex. You can find a pretty good round-up of her greatest hits in this thread.
“The reason [I] think pronouns suck is because thinking of people as “they/them” and pretending they’re not male or female is like color/race blindness for gender,” White says in a July 26 tweet. “It won’t help sexism or toxic masculinity. Men and women have unique and distinct experiences…which should be acknowledged, examined, and critiqued but not obfuscated. Gender nonconformity (with acceptance of biological reality) successfully defies gender roles but switching pronouns reinforces these same roles.”
“These statements are clearly not hateful,” said Palmer in her narrative of White’s firing.
Although TLA’s statement references anti-trans tweets from both White’s professional and personal accounts, she appears to have deleted them. It is worth noting, though, that White was only hired at TLA on August 5, and only began using her full name and photo on her burner Twitter account on July 25.
A handful of Twitter users rang the bell on White’s tweets on Sunday, prompting TLA’s quick action.
“A secret account exists for an 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,” said author Bethany Baptiste in a Twitter thread. “I can’t call myself a trans ally and withhold info that protects trans authors from transphobic agents. Do not query Sasha White (@sashasemyonovna). Her TERF account is @iamGrushenka. While she’s within her right to post whatever she likes, STAY AWAY FROM HER.”
“My pronouns are they/them. It’s easy to get wrong, so I put my pronouns in my bio,” tweeted Madeline Scott Pine. “Sasha White is a publishing agent who doesn’t believe in honoring my pronouns. Hi @SashaSemyonovna. Do you require the authors you represent to change their pronouns to what you agree with?”
“I’ll be honest, when I learned about a TERF agent, I thought she’d be protected by her agency and that the harm she caused would be swept under the rug,” she tweeted later, linking to the TLA statement. “But this was a very pleasant surprise.”
After releasing their statement on White’s firing, TLA has mostly stayed silent, shuttering their Twitter account and removing links to their list of authors from their website.
“I’d like to apologize for the content that was posted from said account. It’s not representative of this agency. My DMs are open,” wrote TLA agent Matt Belford, who later indicated his DMs are open to any trans and nonbinary authors looking to query.
On Twitter, podcaster and journalist Jesse Singal spoke to agency head Lane Heymont, who indicated the problem lies in White’s not including language in her bio stating that opinions are her own. Thus, she could be suggesting “she was speaking on behalf of the agency and those views are not in line with our beliefs,” Heymont said to Singal. “Therefore we had to part ways.”
White’s firing has become a call to action for the pro-Rowling, free-speech Twitter, which has overwhelming come to the fired agent’s defense. Her tweets since the firing have received thousands of responses, asking for White’s PayPal information to financially support her in her unemployment and decrying TLA’s perceived McCarthyism. Supporters flooded the hashtag #IStandWithSashaWhite.
“If publishers fire women for stating sex is real & if literary agents fire women for agreeing that sex is real, there will soon be no females left in the publishing industry,” tweeted user @amscanlon. “This is backdoor censorship. “
“Women are continuing to be vilified & fired for speaking about the harms of gender. This is the silencing of women,” tweeted another user Amy E. Sousa.
“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? We can’t think critically about anything if we’re afraid to think…even if that means being afraid to make a mistake,” tweeted White on Tuesday morning. “I’m not trying to represent any perfect ideal. I’m just someone who has had an intellectual arc, like many people. I’ve sometimes reacted defensively to what I see as ongoing pressure on hard-won women’s rights.”