When Sean and Jules approached me about writing an opinion piece on the recent LLF decision to limit the majority of its awards to GBLTQ writers, and the subsequent contretemps between straight and GBLTQ authors, I was happy to give them the opportunity to use this site as a platform to present their position. Since I and others had posted or commented here on the issue, I thought it was only fair that they be allowed to express their opinion here as well; there are always 2 sides to every story (or 3 or 4). I hope that bloggers, authors and readers alike, will comment on what Jules and Sean have to say, but in a non-confrontational way. I believe in freedom of expression, but being rude or vicious is not acceptable here! (BTW the captions under the photos are theirs).g
Hi, I’m Jules. I write books. I’m queer. I’m going into my senior year of university with a major in Psychology (concentration on Social Psychology) and a minor in
Peace & Social Justice Studies. Since I owe a lot to a specific few professors with nods to Social Justice, I figured I’d include that here.
Hi. I’m Sean. What she said. Except the degree in Psychology. Teacher/librarian/watcher of too much television.
There’s been a lot of well… kerfluffle, to put it nicely… lately over the recent announcement by the Lambda Literary Foundation that only self-identified members of the GLBTQ community would be eligible as authors to win the Lambda Literary Award. In the beginning, there was a lot of silly misdirection and what we can only assume to be misreading or misunderstanding about how this was going to play out, along with cries of “they have no right!” Fortunately, most of that has already been cleared up, so we’re going to take the liberty of skipping past that and going on to other issues. (For the record, there are no bed checks; they’re not saying that you can only write books in the specific category of GLBTQ that you identify yourself as, and they are a private organization with every right in the world to determine their eligibility criteria for awards.)
There are two main issues that we want to address here. The first is whether Lambda’s decision has any social importance, and the second is whether it’s worth getting this upset about.
There has been a lot of vitriol directed at LLF and a war cry of “reverse discrimination.” If you’ve ever had a class on social oppression, you’ll know why Jules, with a concentration in the area, bristles at the term, so we’re not going to use it here. Furthermore, in our opinion, we don’t believe that this is even the crux of why their announcement was important. It needs to be said that we are not speaking on behalf of LLF. We’ve written them a letter asking for clarification, but as of yet haven’t received a response. Considering the amount of e-mail they must be getting right now, that’s not surprising. All we know of their decision is what the rest of you know. There have been conflicting accounts of whether this was LLF’s original policy, then they changed to include straight authors and are now changing back; whether it has always been that the awards were meant for GLBTQ authors; or whether it was simply unclear up until now.
And that last bit is the important part. Why is it important to give visibility to GLBTQ authors? Aren’t we trying to strive for equality? Isn’t this equivalent to asking for “special rights”? That’s pretty much the same thing as asking why we need to have language in anti-hate-crimes laws in order to protect people on the basis of sexual and gender identity. I mean, after all, shouldn’t all crimes be treated the same? Shouldn’t all hate crimes be punished? Why do we have to specify exactly who is protected? Shouldn’t it be everybody? In a perfect world, yes. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need specific language to protect us or give us visibility. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be invisible to start with.
Let us give you an example. In her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Beverly Daniel Tatum relates the story of two students in a literature class. One student raised her hand in class one day to ask why they never learned about Black authors. Another student responded to this in his class response journal by saying, “It’s not my fault Black people don’t write books.”
Of course, that’s ridiculous. Plenty of Black people write books. But honestly, until I’m told otherwise, I (Jules) generally assume the author of any given book — even books on racial equality and discrimination — is White. Because White people are in the majority. Minorities are invisible, unless we make them visible.
In the beginning, you could pretty much guess that anyone writing GLBTQ literature was, themselves, GLBTQ. If they weren’t, they themselves were in a minority as a straight author who actually gave a damn about us and about what we go through. There wasn’t any real need to specifically shine a spotlight on GLBTQ authors of GLBTQ fiction; it could just be on the fiction in general. Recently, though, there’s been an explosion in the interest in GLBTQ fiction — specifically m/m, really. In fact, we could even call it a fad. Not that we mind — we enjoy it ourselves. Obviously, we write it and we read it. We read a LOT, too. And in all our reading, we’ve found out that it is pretty much a novelty to discover that the author of an m/m book is part of the GLBTQ community. That’s fine. We don’t mind. But it does mean that GLBTQ authors are becoming the invisible minority in their own genre.
Imagine attending an awards ceremony for accomplishments in African American literature, and almost every single nominee or winner was White. Wouldn’t you start to think something was wrong? Not necessarily with the authors, Black or White, but with the system? Wouldn’t you want to encourage African American kids to become writers somehow?
It’s important for the world, especially for kids who are confused about their own identity, to know that there are GLBTQ people accomplishing things. This is why Harvey Milk and others were and are great proponents of being “out” as being the most effective form of activism. We have to be visible. If no one knows who we are, then why are they going to care about what happens to us? You could make an argument for GLBTQ fiction, even m/m in general, as being a form of this. Sure. We won’t say it isn’t. But it is fantasy. The real world needs to know about real people. Maybe LLF’s decision wasn’t enacted as smoothly as it could have been, but it is actually important as a means of shining a spotlight on a group of invisible authors.
Now that that’s taken care of, we’d like to address some of the main issues of the fallout from this decision, and that is the reaction of authors both straight and queer. It has been, to steal a phrase from the part of the United States Jules is from, A Great Unpleasantness. (For those of you not up on that particular part of US-history, it’s a reference to the Civil War.)
There’s been mud slung — from both sides of the fence, really — and it’s been extremely ugly.
Here are some of the things we’re hearing:
• Unnecessary call backs to racism/segregation – e.g. drinking from separate watercoolers, lynchings. (Google “lynching parties” if you want to know why this is horribly offensive, not just to GLBTQ but to Black folks.)
• Comparing LLF’s decision to the Nazis’ war crimes of murdering swaths of GLBTQ folks along with the intellectuals, Jews, etc. Because not being eligible for an award is just like being killed by starvation, incinerators, gassing chambers, firing squads, etc.
• “They’re just mad because straight people are writing better gay fiction than gays are!” Thanks, guys.
• That the decision is an elaborate plot against certain popular m/m authors to prevent them from “sweeping.” (For the record, they also put a rule in place to prevent sweeping, so this is irrelevant.)
• “After all we’ve done for you, this is the thanks we get!” Being an ally is not about getting cookies. If the only reason you do nice things is to get recognition, you’re not actually being all that nice.
• “LAMBDA is now as bad as the Westboro Baptist Church!” Which, among their many heinous crimes, wanted to erect a memorial to the murderers of Matthew Shepard that basically said, “The kid got what was coming to him; he shouldn’t have been a fag in the first place.” Not kidding. Wiki it. We think this is a grossly unjust comparison.
• “We’ll just set up our own awards then!” Okay, fine, if you feel like you need an award, go for it. All the best to you, and we mean that sincerely.
• “Maybe we should just stop writing gay fiction!” If the only reason you’re writing gay fiction is to win awards… Well.
• “Any minority should not be able to limit their own awards to protect or celebrate their minority!” Those minorities may not agree with you.
• “Not ready for mainstream assimilation yet, guys, or just unwilling to give up your special victim status?” (Direct quote. Not kidding.)
• “Well, so and so reckons it’s wrong, and S/HE’S gay!” That may be so, but no person is the spokesperson for their whole social group. If a gay person then thinks that the decision is just fine, do the two opinions cancel out, or do you just not want to acknowledge their feeling because it doesn’t coincide with yours?
• “Whoever wins this year should know that they won without competition.” What you’re saying is that a gay person can’t win this award on their own merits, or that gay people cannot write books that are worthy competition.
There’s also been some hurt and offense taken by the straight authors who are not happy that someone called straight-written m/m books “prurient fetishizations.” We respect that this is probably very hurtful to people who do not consider themselves to be fetishizing gay people in their fiction.
Well, firstly, let me just say that all erotica involves fetishization of some kind, so let’s not go claiming that it doesn’t exist. Secondly, this is coming out of the fact that we ARE sometimes fetishized. Maybe not by you, specifically, and maybe not in your books, but there are some m/m fans who treat Pride celebrations as their own private peep shows. Same-sex couples at fandom conventions are asked to make out in order to give some yaoi and yuri fans a cheap thrill. On a recent board, I (Sean) heard someone wish that the first couple to be legally wed in South Africa had been “more photogenic.” As if our struggle for equality takes a back seat to them having something pretty to look at.
And honestly, besides this, sometimes we aren’t portrayed realistically in GLBTQ books and media. Sometimes our lives are caricatured, or our struggles simplified or overlooked. Let’s be honest; it’s not all gay bashing and getting thrown out of our parents’ homes. There are subtler forms of homophobia and oppression that often don’t get portrayed in the genre, many of them from people who consider themselves to be helping.