kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
锴 angry fishtrap 狗 ([personal profile] kaigou) wrote2009-09-30 12:17 am

lambda, literature, voices, and also, I live in the taj mahal.

[note: there are some minor errors in here where I conflated things -- like mission statement for org, vs mission statement for awards, whoops -- and I need to get around to editing or at least adding clarifications. until then, however, you'll find all corrections and discussions of such in the comments.]

There's a massive kerfluffle ongoing about the Lamda Literary Foundation (LLF) and its recent alteration to its rules of inclusion for its annual awards (LLA, or Lammies). After contemplating, working through a few kneejerk reactions and taking a big step back, this is me eating some of my original reactions now that I've got some distance from the original messengers, and it seems to me that the one bearing fault for this to-do is, unfortunately, LLF -- but not for the reasons most people are going on about.

In fact, the original fault, I would say, is actually that of a few authors (and by extension, their publishers), but LLF compounded this fault and poured gasoline on the fires of wank by some badly-chosen words and failure to communicate effectively.

Before I get into that, I should clarify something. If you read the thread about this at Dear Author, it may seem to you that I do a lot of the complaining myself that I may seem to be condemning, here. I do have a chip on my shoulder about the LLF, which is only somewhat relevant here but does tend to color my reactions when anyone mentions the foundation. However, my disagreements with the wider LGBTIQ† community -- of which I am a part -- does not in any way validate a non-member's disagreements. My complaints do not constitute giving you, the non-member, a right to use me as example or justification for your conclusions -- ones which, I can pretty much guarantee, I won't agree with. Why? Your premise will be faulty: you are not a member. Simple as that.

Secondly, the vast majority of my own complaints are, and always have been, centered on being a marginalized minority within the LGbt (little letters on purpose) community. Where I, and mine, are not invisible, we are treated as though others wish we were invisible. The few places in literature you may find us, we are nearly always stereotyped, caricatured, completely mis-represented, if not outright dismissed. So, yeah, I gots some complaints about my community, but I have the same damn complaints about the greater mainstream society. I'm not picking sides; I think pretty much both suck equally, some days. Just so you know.

Now that's out of the way, let's talk about literature.

In an academic/traditional sense, a 'body of literature' -- lesbian, black, Chinese, gay, women's, native american, ethnic, etc, etc -- is made up of writing by members of that group. For instance, "lesbian literature" is, by definition, a work whose author is part of the lesbian community. A piece of "black literature," then, is a work whose author is African-American, African-European, African-whatever: the author is black.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is 'African-American literature', having been written by a black American woman (Zora Neale Hurston). In contrast, Gone with the Wind may have significant black characters, and has sold probably a bazillion more copies than Hurston's book ever has or will, but Mitchell's book is not 'black literature'. And if you were to try arguing that it is, you would probably get laughed out of any decently-educated gathering, and rightfully so. Same thing would happen if you tried to argue that "The Lone Ranger" is Native American literature. You wouldn't get much farther than your opening statement and then you wouldn't be able to hear yourself talk, because everyone would be on the floor in hysterics at your absolute stupidity, if not ready to throw you out for your unmitigated gall.

See, 'literature' as a term -- in academic, literary circles -- does not mean 'books about X topic'. It means 'books by group-members about being group-members'. Let's review: Women's literature is women writing about being women; black literature is black authors writing about being black; Hispanic literature is Hispanic authors writing about being Hispanic. For instance, here's the definition for black literature, from AALBC.com: "African American books explore the place of Black people in society, in their families, in their faith, and in their own minds. Books by Black authors share the commonality of all human experience while also outlining the uniqueness of being a person of color." [emp mine]

Yes, in-group there are quibbles over in-out-designations but in this discussion, but those are strawmen. What's important here is that "writing by and about Hispanic people" simply means the author's, and story's, viewpoint is subtly informed by the author's own experiences as Hispanic. Or not; one can be a member of the group and never write a text that qualifies, if one chooses to write stories that are not informed by personal experiences.*

[ETA: I do not mean to imply that for a work to be considered 'literature' it must be voted on by a group's members, or some such. Nope. In the most general sense, {adjective}+literature just means the texts are by and about {adjective}. A group in part or whole may consider {adjective} to include A and B but not C, or may have other delineations -- but in the most basic academic, traditional, literary sense, {adjective}+literature is used to denote 'literature written by {adjective} about being {adjective}'. Also, some consider 'literature' to include non-fiction, such as memoirs, biographies, social commentary, and so on. It seems to be an open and somewhat political question as to whether or not {adjective}+literature requires a specific audience, whether {adjective} or non-{adjective}.]

What this type of classification does not designate, nor even measure, is whether the book is commercially popular. What makes the book a valuable addition to the 'body of literature' is that its author is a member of the group and the story is (in the eyes of the award-granting organization) a sterling example of a worldview informed by group membership. Not 'what it's Really Like to be One of Us' (because nearly every group will tell you there's no such monolithic What-It's-Really-Like story); it's quality storytelling about life-as-member by someone who has experienced it.

There is no Lone Ranger, there is no Scarlett O'Hara: there are no westerners retelling their stories to make them palatable as best sellers (cf Memoirs of a Geisha), there are no white men casting the community through mainstream society's eyes (cf On the Rez), there are no privileged authors setting the parameters while the minority group has to be content with being defined by the dominant culture (cf the list is absolutely endless on this one). A community's literature is defined as stories told by the community. It's the group's self-defining literature, and that singular body of text is the sole standard for comparison.

This is where LLF went wrong.

For starters, they gave their redefined mission statement as "the Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on the LGBT content, the gender orientation/identity of the author, and the literary merit of the work." Regardless of intention, this comes across as though the definition is written to fill an absence of some sort, like this wasn't previously clear or something. For the past twenty-one years, LLF's mission statement has been simply "to celebrate LGBT literature and provide resources for writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, and librarians..." That's it.

Seems pretty clear, you'd think -- if you understood the notion of 'body of literature' as it's defined in a standard literary and academic sense. Which, hey, LLF did, so they never explicitly defined "LGBT literature" because it was so goddamn freaking obvious that there wasn't a freaking need: LGBT literature is written by LGBT authors about being LGBT and black literature is by black authors about being black and Hispanic literature is by Hispanic authors about being Hispanic. But, when LLF redefined and stated explicitly what had always been implicit, it came across to many -- including me, I will admit -- as though they were drawing a line that had not existed before.

Which is just plain stupid, because the line has always been there, same as any other award, right there in the name. Literature. LGBT literature, to be exact, but otherwise defined and understood the same as any other body of literature.

Problem is, it seems LLF didn't have the foresight to realize how rephrasing would come across. That misjudgment opened the doors wide to the wank all over the place now (some of which, I admit, I echoed myself in the first reactionary hours). This response boils down to "oh, for so long you've been dedicated to LGBT content and now you're closing the doors to any content that isn't LGBT-produced." Erm, no. The doors have always been closed to content produced by non-LGBT authors, thanks to its use of the phrase LGBT literature**. (There are ally-like awards, however, though it seems they don't get a lot of press -- a Bridge Award, and two or three others I can't recall right now.)

If we could go back in time, I'd suggest LLF do two things. One, it would preface its clarification with a blunt expression that "since some folks out there seem to have forgotten or misunderstood what, exactly, it means when you say 'such-and-such literature', we are stating our mission as explicitly as possible to prevent future misunderstandings". Two, LLF would remind readers in the same press release that there are, and remain, awards that recognize non-LGBT authors who have written excellent and respectful LBGT content.

However, if we really want to settle things, we need to go back a bit further, and retract any award given to an author who is not part of the community. That's right. Before anyone goes ballistic over that, let's have an analogy.

Author X writes a story about dealing with drug addiction, a life gone horribly wrong, the horrors of jail, and thousands of people read it, are moved by it, declare they can relate to it -- and then we find out James Frey is a big fat liar. If Narcotics Anonymous gave out annual literary awards for memoirs of dealing with and healing from drug use, I'd say they're completely in their rights if they took back any award they gave Frey. False memoirs make for the easiest example, here, because it's pretty cut-and-dried: the author sold the work based on credibility of being A, the author is not actually A, therefore the work loses credibility and validity. Plus, the work loses rights to inclusion in any minority other than, perhaps, "white kid tries to capitalize upon minority group".

But when it comes to literature, the group's literature, the purpose of declaring "women's literature" or "gay literature" or "black literature" goes deeper: it's an affirmation of the community, and inclusion on false grounds is therefore an even deeper betrayal. The group's literature is something distinct, a self-defining point outside of (or in spite of) the all-powerful scope of the mainstream heteronormative [white, Christian, male] culture.

Another example.

Let's say you're a young woman coming of age. Let's say a librarian hands you books meant to inspire you, to broaden your imagination, books that are women's literature to show you perspectives by other women about what it's like to be a woman in this world. Let's say you read The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories by Hisaye Yamamoto, Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, The Eye of the Heron by Ursula LeGuin, Sula by Toni Morrison, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter, Meridian by Alice Walker, Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo, Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee, and The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick.‡

What a wealth of stories! What a variety of insights and older-sister points of view to welcome you, the young reader, into this world of Being A Woman, as presented by such a vast variety of other women writers.


Imagine if you discovered that half of these authors were, in fact, men.

This is where I wait for the cries of, "it doesn't matter, as long as it's a good book!"

Oh, I call bullshit.

Really. Because you're missing the goddamn point.

The point here isn't some measurement of "these are good books," --- it's that "these are good books by women". If you make the "by women" part false, then you are undermining the foundation of what makes these books important to the community it was written by and about. If you could set aside your political irons in this fire (unconscious or not) for a few minutes, I think you might see what I'm saying here.

If I were the young woman being handed these stories and told, "these are stories by women that contain something about what they understand of what it means to be you, to be woman, to be what-you-are," and then found out half, or more, were actually men, at my age now, I'd be pissed. The less-secure, younger me, though... would likely just feel kind of defeated. Y'see, it'd be reinforcement: it'd be saying that men are the arbiters of women's points of view. It would be saying that women do not speak for themselves, and even when it seems like they might be, actually, no, it's men doing the speaking.

Or if half those names were actually men's names -- Angela, Ama Ata, Cynthia, Joan, Alice -- and I knew going into it that I was reading "books written by men that are about what it's like to be a woman", maybe at first I wouldn't think much about it. But eventually, I believe, I would. Eventually I'd be asking myself: why are all these men writing stories about what it's like to be a woman, and why aren't there more stories by women about what it's like to be a woman? Wouldn't a woman kinda, y'know, have some insight -- or at the very least, have the right to have input -- on contributing to this generalized, vague, but definitely there, dialogue on "what life is like as a woman"?

Eventually it'd become less about "is the book good or bad," and more about the fundamental issue of: why are men getting say in this, when men aren't women? Where are the women's voices? And if that went on long enough, unanswered, eventually I might end up concluding: there aren't any women's voices because women's voices aren't worth listening to. That's why it's all men doing the talking.

Once you accept that view, why bother talking, after that? You're not just drowned out, you're defeated. You take whatever you can get, because you figure that's the extent of your options. In the gay version of this tale, I would have to accept the "gay lover dies in conflagration" or "gay sidekick" because it's at least something of me in the story. In the black version of this tale, I would accept the maid, the nanny, the chauffeur because at least it's a black face on the screen, and it's not great but it really is better than nothing at all. None of those stories are really accurate to the real people they're representing, but in the absence of our group's own stories, sometimes you take what you can get.

The history of minority literature is wrought with minorities carving out a small area for themselves, and still having to swallow the mainstream/heteronormative view that the minority perspective requires a complement. In the eyes of the majority (be it white, male, Christian, or straight), we-who-are-not-majority are lacking, and thus deficient, we require the majority's input to make us complete; as one Amazon review put it, too often the "right of white writers to examine the lives of black people is accepted without comment" -- or the right of male writers to examine women's lives, or straight writers to examine gay lives, etc, etc.†† Oh, wait, no, if there is comment, it's expected to be limited to gratitude from the minority that it has been validated and recognized by the majority.

But if that minority group says it should get to decide for itself, and isn't all thankful, suddenly we get RaceFail-part-infinity, Revenge of.

Set aside your personal concept of civil rights versus racial rights versus sexual rights and all that jazz. Just look at the basic dynamic going on when the LGBT folks tell the straight folks where to get off. It's the same damn thing, and if you can't see that because you're too busy insisting there's no correspondence between your special kind of minority and the oppression your people have suffered, and the LGBT minority and the oppression it continues to suffer, then your homophobia is showing and you're actually just more of the problem, not the solution.

Yep. Same dynamic: second verse, same as the first, baby.

The thing is, awards like LLF, the Native American Literature Symposium Awards, the Man Asian Literary Prize, the African American Literary Awards, the Christy Awards, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the NAACP Image Awards, the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) Literary Award, the Native American Youth Services Literature Awards, and so on, are all based on the author's inclusion in a community. Not all of them state explicitly that they expect the winner to be a member of the community, but I'd say LLF needs to take a few tips from the word choices used by those orgs who do. For instance, the American Indian Youth Services Literature Award is a children's book award "created as a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians". Notice the subtle but important detail of "by" and "about". That's all it takes, no need to get fancy.

There are other awards, which do not require the author's personal status match the story's content. In those cases, without exception, the awards mission statements are clear and explicit that one does not have to be Jewish, or black, or LGBT, or Italian, or feminist, or whatever, as long as the content is.‡‡ And yes, they all specify that the award is not for 'such-and-such literature' but for 'such-and-such content'. A subtle but crucial distinction, and one that underlines the argument I've been making all along.

Plus, dear LLF, if you mimic the word order, you can bypass the red herring being tossed about by some of the snarkier elements in the peanut gallery, claiming that since LLF has 'literary excellence' etc coming last, obviously it's the least important. Then we wouldn't have to listen to any more of the imperious sniffing and the variations of 'I wouldn't want an award that doesn't recognize literary merit first and foremost, anyway.' (To which I say: gee, keep that up, and I bet you could eventually make a pretty good whine from those sour grapes.)

But as long as we're talking about merit and literature, what the hell, let's chew some of this along the way. For instance...

Til We Have Faces is a phenomenal, mythical, lovely work that retells old myths through a lens of questions about feminine competition and sisterly relationships. I recommend it as an excellent piece of literature, but it's not women's literature: it was written by C.S. Lewis. A guy, if you didn't get the memo, and thus not qualifying as author of women's literature. This doesn't mean that Til We Have Faces is not good literature, nor does it mean that Lewis automatically couldn't possibly "get" what it's like in sisterly relationships or the intricacies of competition among women. I think he did a damn good job getting it, actually. It's just not women's literature. Plain and simple, no judgment upon quality, no dismissal of value, just simply: not women's literature.

By that quarter, I also thought On the Rez was a thought-provoking work, but it's not Native American literature. Rosemary Mahoney's The Early Arrival of Dreams is one of my favorite works about China, but it is not Asian literature, any more than Barry Hughart's The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox is Asian literature. All of these are worthwhile and laudable books. All of them are by people who are not part of the community that gets the focus in the work. I would never argue that an outsider cannot contribute valuable input and insight for a community, but the insider's view is not incomplete in the absence of the external view. The group can carry the melody on its own, thanks, though others are certainly welcome to harmonize.

As for those who thinks the harmony line should be the main melody line: no law says you can't go around fussing about how you wouldn't want to be nominated for an award that doesn't care about whether "a book is good or not so long as the author is gay". Or, as one person commented to me, how this clarification in LLF's mission statement is "throwing away more than two decades of precedence, alliances and good will". Because, y'know, finding this out -- that you're excluded -- now changes everything for you, and now the award just doesn't mean a damn thing to you anymore.

Well, I gotta newsflash for you: when I handed over a copy of The Beautiful Room Is Empty and told my teenaged customer, "this book won a Lambda award, and it's about a gay character and the author is gay," -- maybe that statement would mean nothing to you, Ms Straight Writer Who Bemoans Being Excluded -- but you better fucking believe it meant everything to that kid.

It doesn't matter whether sexuality is fluid or can be deceptive or difficult to pin down as to whether one is 'really part of the community or not' -- all that is just more of the same batch of red herrings being juggled in the wankfest. What matters (and is now even more clearly defined by the use of the word 'openly' in LLF's mission) is that the author is part of the LGBT community, and by publishing, by taking the risk to have his/her name attached to works like Rubyfruit Jungle or The Delight of Hearts or Eighty-Sixed or Out of Time or The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans: and Other Stories, the author was, to a greater or lesser degree, outing himself. Or herself. Or hirself.

Not in a political sense as we know it now, but in a simpler sense of making the storyteller's voice heard. The author was speaking up and speaking out. The author was shaking a fist against the adage that silence equals death -- because a life of invisibility is its own kind of death, too.

That teenaged customer didn't fucking exist, not as his true self, can you get that? He was already halfway in hiding, learning to be invisible. He was learning already to keep quiet about who he liked, that the world around him would always show him pictures of smiling het couples, that even in places where there might be slightly more tolerance that he couldn't expect so many things het-folks would take for granted. The stories are so valuable because they exist in the place where these things do the most damage -- the imagination -- and the one place that could, potentially, be the most private and thus the most precious. In this last resort, this place of the mind, this child now had an ally. He had someone who had blazed the path before him, someone telling the story that might be his, or it might not, but it was a voice in his head telling a story that just might have him in the goddamn starring role for the first time in his entire life.

Do you have any goddamn clue how much that can mean? Have you ever, at any point in your life, watched a movie or read a book and said to yourself, "for the first time in my life, that is me, there in that story," and you realized that you've been settling all this time for stereotypical versions of you, incomplete versions of you, or no versions of you at all? And now, suddenly, you have someone telling a story that includes you? Triple the impact if you also know the storyteller is just like you -- because that moment is telling you, plain and simple: someone like you can speak up, and someday it may be you telling your story.

If you know what I'm talking about, if you have even the remotest inkling of what that moment is like, then, please, stop with the complaints about inclusion or exclusion. Really, shut up. Just fucking shut up, because you're being a hypocritical arse. You got your moment to see your future self in a fellow member of your shared group. Now step out of the way and let someone else have that chance.

A'course, it could also be that you're just so damn hypocritical (or homophobic, possibly) that you can't seem to see how non-het people might want, maybe even deserve, the same damn thing. Or you don't get any of what I'm saying about this kid and all those like him, in which case you're a fucking moron and not someone I'd want winning such an award in the first place.

I certainly wouldn't want to be the bookseller or librarian telling someone, "here's a book that won an award for its LGBT content, even though it's written by someone who's not actually gay and doesn't really think LGBT people should be respected when they want to speak for themselves, so how about you go have a read. You could sit next to that nice girl reading a bunch of male authors spouting off about life-as-a-woman, how about that?"

Thing is, LLF just compounded the issue by stooping to the level of its detractors, when it attempted to explain itself -- after the wank was already building, natch. LLF's framing was poor, inflaming the wank-fires rather than banking them: talking about gay authors 'despairing', or that this might be an author's one shot at a Lamda (what, do LGBT writers only get one book per? why do you make it sound like we couldn't write, say, TWO good books? or even, gasp, THREE good books?). LLF lowered itself to the what's-popular-must-be-good discourse when it circled the wagons on grounds of defending authors whose works aren't commercially popular. Result? Open invite to get the "our books sell, ergo, they're good books, ergo, we're just as good at writing; your books don't sell, ergo, you're not good writers" rhetoric currently going on all over the place.

The upshot is that now we're not talking about a playing field where the defining element is 'inclusion in a group'; now the ground is now defined by the opposition, since LLF couldn't be arsed to defend its own terms. The accepted literary/academic grounds for 'inclusion in a type of literature' has been shoved to the side by the rising popularity of M/M fiction, and now we've got a host of folks equating "literature" with "what sells", and it's this conflation what seems to be at the heart of the wank.

That is, the opposition is basically using the Lone Ranger example. Look, it's massively popular! with Native Americans! and Tonto even gets his own action figure! Sure, if you measure "good" by how much it sells, and you narrow your focus to "content only", then you're all-clear for making the argument that The Lone Ranger is Native American literature. But it's not.

Same with straight women writing queer fic -- thanks to LLF letting someone else define the grounds, the frame, and the terms, now we're stuck with a lot of folks running around squawking that if the book has content of X type, and sells a whole lot, then it Must Be Good and thus it must be considered 'X-type Literature'. And sure, "The Lone Ranger" had Native Americans and was majorly popular, but it's one of the last stories I'd give any Native American kid, if my goal was pride for/by/in one's community -- and that, a lot of folks seem to be forgetting, is the entire goddamn point of this freaking exercise. How in the hell are an outsider's words supposed to engender pride for community and my membership in that community?

Is any of this getting through?

LLF screwed up, there, because it's not the damn New York Bestseller List, and its goal has never been to recognize the best sellers that just 'happen' to have LGBT content. It was LLF's big honking mistake to frame its reply in terms of an author's despair about failure to compete against commercially viable works by mainstream/straight authors. Which is why I say: LLF, this is your bed, honestly. Because what you just did there amounted to validating the argument that sales records are a reasonable baseline for determining 'good enough to deserve award'. You lowered yourself, and the body of literature you're seeking to elevate, to the lowest common denominator, really: What Sells Most. That's a playing field that a) you can't win, being powered by the pockets of a minority, and b) do you even want to win?

I mean, let's be serious: Dan Brown's sold a bazillion and a half copies of, crap, whatever that piece of tripe was called -- and it's about as far from anything resembling intelligent, provocative literature that I can possibly name. If that book was literature and its sales records make it 'good enough' to deserve an award (ANY award), then my aged suburban ranch is the fucking Taj Mahal. We're well beyond spades being spades, at this point. We're into la-la-land supreme, and is this really the grounds upon which you want to be dueling, my dear LLF?

I didn't think so.

Unfortunately, you picked the phrasing, and now them's as complaining have grounds -- to which you gave credibility! -- to proclaim that your exclusion of non-members is, somehow, discriminatory. I'd feel sorry for you, but you did craft the statement and you did release it, so you've made your own bed. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have about sixteen hundred acres and a bunch of viewing pools and some of the most gorgeous architecture on this planet to call my home, and I suspect I'm in dire need of someone to do the lawn-mowing for me.

I will continue the rest tomorrow, most likely. Yes, there is more. That's how irritated I am.

† For those who like to pick on details: I switch back and forth between LGBT, GLBT, LGBTQ, LGBTIQ, even LGbt, and sometimes just plain 'queer'. Mostly because I predate the world salad, first coming into the community when it was still mostly GLB and the 'T' was a brand-new addition. The lack of I-for-Intersex or Q-for-queer or the tendency to put the entire rainbow under 'LGBT' and/or 'queer' is not meant to exclude, any more than the different ways of alphabet-souping carry any kind of intentional meaning (ie, "here you said LBGT and there you said GLBTQ, so here you are excluding the Q on purpose").

* This notion that a text is "informed by the author's own experiences and POV" is one of the reasons -- I think/suspect -- that popular fiction, especially SFF, tends to get short shrift in literary circles. SFF leans hard on the reality-card, or the not-your-reality card, which can make it difficult to gauge when an author's incorporating personal group-informed points of view, and when the author's, well, not. I guess. Maybe it's not so hard for those in SFF, but it's certainly a less accessible form of literature for those readers who are not already versed in the genre.

** According to LLF, they apparently weren't aware (hunh? they were booksellers!) of how {adjective}+literature is traditionally/normally defined (or they were and willfully ignored it and let the rest of us remain somewhat misled by the omission). Regardless, the fact that they selectively ignored this traditional understanding was, I think, a time bomb waiting to blow up in LLF's face. And lo, did the bomb explode: because LLF ignored the academic/standard concept of its own defining terminology and allowed non-members to accumulate privilege.

Yes, that's right: LLF let the heteros walk in and seat themselves at the table, and it's taken twenty-one years for LLF to get up the nerve to tell the hets that, see, actually, "LGBT literature" means "not written by straight people, whoops, sorry for the confusion." Which is to say that some part of me does see this as LLF making its own bed and now sleeping in it, but I think LLF could have at least tried to do that without stealing most of the blankets at the same time.

†† I have already been misunderstood once on this point, so I'll clarify: I do not mean outsiders cannot write a good story, or even an accurate story. I believe they/we can, and in fact I believe it behooves them/us to try. I'm just saying that outsiders shouldn't be the only ones doing the talking.

‡ I mention so many because, yeah, former bookseller, I can't not push books, given the opportunity. Find these books! Read them!

‡‡ In fact, for those folks really fussed about being 'excluded' from the LLF, you're doing a lot of barking when you could just be bugging the awards organization that is a) older than the LLA, b) geared towards content without regard to author, and c) might actually give a damn what you, as outsiders, have to say about it. That would be the Stonewall Awards, by the American Library Association; they recognize excellence in LGBT content, regardless of authorial status in/out of the LGBT community. You want prestigious award to plunk down on straight-female romance author's head for writing gay-romance? Go get yourself a Stonewall, which is and always has included you, and leave the LLA folks alone.

continue to part II: random thoughts and follow-up commentary

[identity profile] kellicat.livejournal.com 2009-09-30 05:54 am (UTC)(link)
You're the first person who's given me a coherent explanation why the Lambda foundation wants its award to go to LGBT writers. I think the reason so many straight writers of gay characters are mad is the fact that they changed their minds now in the middle of the nomination process. They honestly should have cracked down on that a lot sooner if they were really trying to promote LGBT literature rather than books with LGBT content. It's too bad they did not give nearly as good an explanation that you did.

As a woman questioning her sexuality, I don't just want to read works written by heterosexual men. I like to read literature written by women for women*. I definitely believe LGBT should have the same privilege.

*By the way, if you have any good book recs about women questioning their sexuality, I would be really happy to hear them

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[personal profile] elf 2009-09-30 07:24 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much for this. You've helped clarify several points for me, both about why the change was a re-affirmation of the original goals, and how the LLF scrambled the execution of that change.
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[personal profile] brithistorian 2009-09-30 01:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for posting this - I came sort of late to this story so I didn't really know what was going on until I read your post. It sounds to me like LLF could have handled this better, but even more that a bunch of straight people need to just step the hell back and get a clue.

Out of curiosity, is there a particular straight writer who's behind all this? I've seen people throwing around references to "female" and "romance writer," but I don't know if they're just using those as placeholders or if there's a specific person involved.

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[personal profile] elf 2009-09-30 03:09 pm (UTC)(link)
This post has been included in a Linkspam roundup.
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[personal profile] glass_icarus 2009-09-30 03:29 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for this.
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[personal profile] annotated_em 2009-09-30 03:50 pm (UTC)(link)
On the whole, Yes. This.

In the specific, one thing:

"What matters (and is now even more clearly defined by the use of the word 'openly' in LLF's mission) is that the author is part of the LGBT community, and by publishing, by taking the risk to have his/her name attached to works like Rubyfruit Jungle or The Delight of Hearts or Eighty-Sixed or Out of Time or The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans: and Other Stories, the author was, to a greater or lesser degree, outing himself. Or herself. Or itself."

Um, about that "itself"... I'm not entirely sure that's a good word choice, there. While I'm cisgendered, and I really really don't want to come tromping in and pretending to speak for those who are trans*,my understanding is that using "it" as a pronoun to refer to those to don't identify as cisgendered is fairly offensive. Maybe "hirself" or "themselves"?

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[personal profile] wishfulclicking 2009-09-30 04:34 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks so much for this post. You said a lot of things I was thinking very eloquently and you made book recs that I really want to check out.

You've managed to cut down to the core issue here and made it so clear.

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[personal profile] ex_wicker969 2009-09-30 04:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I remember how I felt holding Rubyfruit Jungle in my hands as a teen but I've been really wrestling now with being critical of LLF's handling while believing they were ultimately right. You've put the words to connect the two that I couldn't. This helped a lot. Thank you. :)

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[personal profile] branchandroot 2009-09-30 04:43 pm (UTC)(link)
*high five* Yes, let's hear it for understanding the context. At the start of this fuffle I took a quick glance through LLA's front page and brief mission statements thereon and wondered how anyone could possibly think they were content focused.

I certainly agree, too, that they need someone on board who has a little more facility with words or possibly basic historical smarts (and maybe brain cells too). Because, goodness. Want some salt with that shoe leather, LLA? Sales figures, yet. Dearie me.
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[personal profile] ldragoon 2009-09-30 05:23 pm (UTC)(link)
Excellent post! Thank you VERY much for writing this up. It all makes perfect sense to me. Reminded me of the irritation I felt when everyone and their mother was recommending Memoirs of a Geisha and She's Come Undone to me. I read both, and thought it was pretty damn obvious both were written by men. It made my blood boil to listen to everyone going on and on about how "authentic" the books were and how the male authors had done such a good job "capturing" the female experience. WHATEVER.

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[personal profile] stoneself 2009-09-30 07:14 pm (UTC)(link)
made of awesome
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[personal profile] elspethdixon 2009-09-30 08:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you so much for this post -- I've been sort of flailing around reading various people's takes on this, most of which are super-polarized and a depressing number of which contain fail somewhere within them, and I think you hit the nail on the head in several places, and helped me clarify some things inside my own head.

I was initially divided on the rules change, because LGBTQ content of any kind is so rare that even the stuff written by people who aren't LGBTQ are often things I treasure, and because of the identity policing that's lurked around the fringes of the debate ("Who's queer enough?"), but the more I've thought about it, the more I think it's a good idea in principle. Also the more I want the loudest of the "reverse discrimination!" people to shut up and stop making M/M romance and slash look like a pit of immature fail.

Also, word on the difference between members of the LGBTQ community arguing and about the LLF and cis-gendered straight writers complaining. Bisexual writers or trans* writers saying that they feel excluded or marginalized within their own community is not at all the same thing as cis, straight writers feeling excluded from an award that's not supposed to be about them anyway.
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[personal profile] susanna 2009-09-30 08:26 pm (UTC)(link)
This was the best entry I read on the whole affair so far.

[personal profile] logophilos 2009-09-30 11:52 pm (UTC)(link)
This is so brilliant! Thank you (straight female author here)

Well, I gotta newsflash for you: when I handed over a copy of The Beautiful Room Is Empty and told my teenaged customer, "this book won a Lambda award, and it's about a gay character and the author is gay," -- maybe that statement would mean nothing to you, Ms Straight Writer Who Bemoans Being Excluded -- but you better fucking believe it meant everything to that kid.

Yes! This!

I said something like this in my blog last year (http://logophilos.net/blather/?p=456) when a huge fight broke out on Dear Author (http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/11/18/does-an-author-have-to-live-it-to-write-it/) over whether authors needed to live it to write it (no, they don't of course). Gay romance became the focus, and it was apparently insanely difficult to get people to distinguish between books *about* gay people, and those *by* and *for* gay people, and why authenticity mattered more in some cases than in others. A number of GLBT authors and bloggers - the same ones leading the anti LLA charge now in fact - confused the issue by claiming all that mattered was the book. But I didn't agree with them, and don't now, and you've just crystallized why

When a minority group is looking for a genuine expression of genuine experience, it doesn't matter how good an imitiation is. It's *not* what they need or want. Too many of my fellow m/m authors think all that matters is 'fooling' people.

I want to write gay people authentically and respectfully. But I never want anyone to think I'm speaking *as* a gay person, because that's a crock.

I support the LLF and the LLAs and what they're trying to do. They might have done it clumsily or whatever but their goals are unarguable, at least to me.

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[personal profile] flamesprite 2009-10-01 04:20 am (UTC)(link)
Fantastic post, epic even!

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[personal profile] kaizoku 2009-10-01 04:25 am (UTC)(link)
The point here isn't some measurement of "these are good books," --- it's that "these are good books by women". If you make the "by women" part false, then you are undermining the foundation of what makes these books important to the community it was written by and about. If you could set aside your political irons in this fire (unconscious or not) for a few minutes, I think you might see what I'm saying here.

Yes! I feel like this is what we've been trying and trying to get at and this clicked it.

I'm sort of amazed that the "GLBT literature as lit about and by GLBT people" thing slipped by everyone. It does seem like the LLAs are coming from a less academic background, so maybe that is why. And like you said, maybe just our desperation for something, anything with people like us in it.

I have a few small quibbles. I don't want to come across as an apologist for the LLF - I'm not at all involved with them and I'm aware that they've had issues in the past though I don't know that much about them.

For starters, they gave their redefined mission statement as "the Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on the LGBT content, the gender orientation/identity of the author, and the literary merit of the work."

That's not their mission statement. The new mission statement is here - it's the bit that's bolded.

Two, LLF would remind readers in the same press release that there are, and remain, awards that recognize non-LGBT authors who have written excellent and respectful LBGT content.

Um, they did actually.

However, if we really want to settle things, we need to go back a bit further, and retract any award given to an author who is not part of the community.

Do you actually think they should do that now, or is this one of the things that, if we could go back in time, they should have done? I ask because already there are people referencing your post and saying "well, I'll accept this but ONLY if they take back the awards they gave to straight, cis authors before." (Obviously they didn't read the third paragraph of your post.)

I do agree that the LLF could have handled it better... but saying that the "to-do" is their fault? Um no. The people who have put their transphobia, homophobia, racism, and sexism on display in the wake of the decision are responsible for their own decisions to do so. The LLF could have handled it in the very best way possible... and I'm sure some people still would have reacted the same way.

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[personal profile] hammerxsword 2009-10-01 10:51 am (UTC)(link)
Very awesome post!
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[personal profile] sparkindarkness 2009-10-01 01:21 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you. Thank you more than I can say. You have managed to sum up how important this is better than anyone I have read. If people read no other post about this fail ever, they should read this one

but you better fucking believe it meant everything to that kid.

This. So completely, utterly this.

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[personal profile] mjules 2009-10-01 02:38 pm (UTC)(link)
I haven't taken time to read all the comments on this post so forgive me if I'm being repetitive or just plain silly, but...

Thank you, and I think I love you, and I'm pretty sure it's not legal in my state and I don't really wanna get married anyway but here, have this ring as a token of my affection.

No, seriously. Just, yes. I needed that.
Edited 2009-10-01 14:39 (UTC)

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[personal profile] recessional 2009-10-01 06:32 pm (UTC)(link)
What's actually kind of awful is when you have that moment of absolute recognition . . . and then realize that because this creator (mine was a TV series) is not a group member, does not actually seem to understand viscerally, that it was an accident, and they will screw it up.

(Mine was actually "Gifted caretaking older siblings of disabled dependent younger siblings", but hey).

I read Malinda Lo's Ash the other week. And it was a sweet little book. But I wound up looking at it afterwards with a kind of an ache in my chest trying to think about just how much my thirteen year old self needed that book, back in the 90s when it wasn't there, and all she really had to replace it was a secondary character in a Lackey novel (which was important, but not the same.)

I just, yeah. Thanks for this.

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(Anonymous) 2009-10-02 06:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't know (and I may be misinformed on this, please let me know if I am) of another phenomenon within the fiction world where a fairly large group of authors from Group X write *solely* about the lives of members of Group Y. Which is what's had me headscratching about this whole thing.

I mean, I know there are *individual* authors out there whose field of study or literary focus doesn't mesh with the community to which they belong. I just don't know of any subset of fiction (other than, maybe, f/f erotica by and for straight men) where a whole group (for lack of a better term, forgive me, the NyQuil) focusses only on works depicting the members of another group. As in, a buttload of white authors who ONLY write about black characters, or tons of men who only write women's stories (or vice versa).

Which just makes me feel...I'm not even sure how that makes me feel. Have to think about it more.

-Kirsten Saell

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[personal profile] ajnabi 2009-10-03 07:24 am (UTC)(link)
I love this post. It's well-written and eloquent and explains everything about this so well. Thank you.

I don't know if I've ever had a complete epiphanous moment of thinking, "Wow, here I've found someone exactly/almost exactly like me" -- because there are so few books about really intersectional identities, maybe? -- but I've found parts of myself in so many books by and about women, lesbians, people of color, etc. And I think.. it has helped me piece together my identity more. And if I didn't have that, I honestly don't know where I would be. A couple years ago I felt so defeated because I couldn't find myself anywhere. Because.. well, I was in the middle of this system that was diagnosing and labelling me, and I felt like something was wrong with that, but I used that feeling self-destructively. And I'm trying to build myself back up again now. And the only reason I've been able to at all is because of the voices of feminists, PoC activists, mental health activists, GLBTQ activists, and so on.

I was just talking to a friend about the concept of allyship -- and this whole spectacle privileged people are making of themselves -- and, honestly? I think it'll be a very long time before I will be able to assert myself more confidently as an ally (of trans/genderqueer/intersex people, people from other communities of color I don't belong to, people with lower class status than me, etc) -- because I think it takes a lot (of learning, of privilege inspection) to be an ally. And being an ally isn't about boasting about it. And I think I have done that in some ways in the past, and I've also seen and felt the betrayal when so-called allies do that to groups that I'm a member of.

Thanks, especially, for the very succinct and clear definition of bodies of literature such as black literature, lesbian literature, etc. The by and about clause is so, so important. And I don't think I really completely realized that that was exactly what terms like "black literature" meant and.. now I understand it a lot better. I was always wary of using terms like "lesbian films" because I felt like I had to assure my straight friends that they could still be films they'd enjoy. I would use the same old trope -- it's not JUST about lesbians! -- and for a while I thought maybe the term "lesbian films" was even derogatory, but... it really isn't. It really, really isn't. And. Yeah. Your post really, really helps me clear up some of my internalized homophobia about that.

Thank you, again.

[personal profile] maire 2010-06-16 08:48 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you. It's an excellent explanation, as usual!

Now if only someone would write a book about motherhood that I could recognise myself in (preferably SFF).
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[personal profile] jaaaarne 2012-02-14 04:05 pm (UTC)(link)
Sorry for such a late comment, I stumbled across this post only today and almost by accident. I just wanted to say thank you, because you made me realise something important.

I've always been against positioning gay literature as a separate entity. I was (and still am) convinced that books about gay characters should be included into mainstream genres they fit (ex. an adventure novel with a gay character should be labeled as Adventure, a sci-fi novel with gay a character is still Sci-Fi etc.) It was this post that suddenly made me see that all this time I was actually mixing up two different things: gay literature (books written by gays about being gay) and gay fiction (books with gay charcters including gay protagonists). Turns out what I always had in mind when speaking about the desired inclusion into the mainstream was not gay literature, but a broader concept of gay fiction. Gay literature as a product of a particular group of people is, by all means, an entity in itself.

Now that I've finally realised this and everything has neatly fallen into place, I feel rather stupid. :) Thank you for writing such a brilliant article. One learns while one lives, so better late than never. :) Thank you.