Friday, October 9, 2009

Don't Judge A Book By It's Cover - Because That's Where You'll Find Out Who Wrote It - And Who They're Sleeping With! The Lammies, The Cybils, & Me

Awards, Awards, Awards.

So, why all the hoopla and controversy about awards?

Well, think about it - there are SO many books published every year (172,000 - just in the U.S.A. last year) that getting noticed - and read - is a challenge. Less than 25,000 of those books sell more than 5,000 copies. (Stats from here.)

So Awards, and reviews in the major journals/newspapers/blogs become really important.

Hence, the rise of the Cybils, a book blogger literary award for Children's and Young Adult books. And I'm really excited to be part of this third year of the Cybils Awards as an Judge!

But there are other awards that have a long history, and recently the Lamdba Literary Awards changed the way theirs works.

See, The Lamdba Literary Awards (the Lammies) used to be for BOOKS that were GLBTQ in content.

Now, they're saying that the AUTHORS have to self-identify as part of the Gay Community for their GLBTQ books to qualify.

That's a HUGE change - and one that would eliminate a lot of wonderful books that might otherwise not find their audiences.

I'm thinking of Ellen Wittlinger, author of one of the few transgender teen novels, "Parrotfish," (a finalist for the 2008 Lambda Literary Awards) and also of "Love and Lies: Marisol's Story" (a finalist for the 2009 Lambda Literary Awards) and "Hard Love" (Which WON the Lambda Literary Award in 2000.)

Ellen is a straight woman, but she is an Ally and Advocate who has done SO much for our community. She writes brave books about Gay characters, she does her homework and her books make an impact - for the good - on Gay Teens.

To tell her, and authors like her, that she can't be considered for any future awards because she herself isn't a lesbian, or bi, or transgender, or questioning - to tell her that her books can no longer qualify because she fell in love with a man (gasp!) is so contrary to what we should be doing as a community.

Instead of encouraging our ALLIES and everyone else to celebrate our lives and yes, create stories that celebrate and incorporate being Gay, Lambda's shift feels like a slap in the face to those same people who are trying to move the world - our world - in a better direction.

Now, I'm a gay man. And I do love the idea of an organization saying "Hey, we're here to help GAY authors get noticed." I think that's awesome. I could use getting noticed. And there are certainly publishing contests for minority authors (Like The Lee and Low "New Voices Award" Contest), and while I might be wistful about not being able to submit to those contests, I appreciate that they're trying to do a bit of affirmative action, to give underrepresented writers from their communities a shot.

But to take an established awards program (this year was the 21st annual event) and switch its focus to be not about the books' orientation but about the authors' orientation, too, feels like the wrong way to go about it.

I would have suggested Lambda create a new category of awards, something like "Best Debut Gay Author" and "Best Debut Lesbian Author," etc... That would shout-out and create a new buzz for authors who are GLBTQ, without shutting out Allied authors from the overall awards.

And as I'm now going to be a JUDGE for the Cybils, I've been thinking about this a lot. I have friends who have had their YA books released in the time period that qualifies them. And I'm going to have to be very careful to be as author-blind as I can be - to really judge the books on the books themselves, and not let any information about WHO the author is influence my "reading" of those books, as best as I can.

A sculpture of Lady Justice from 1543,
on display in Berne, Switzerland.


I think this is why Lady Justice is blindfolded - we all joke that she's blind and it means she (Justice) has no compassion - but I think the original intent may have been that when you judge something, you weigh it with a sense of impartiality.

And I think that books should be judged that way, too.

So, I would hope that the Lambda Literary Foundation re-considers what qualifies a book to be considered for their awards. I think it should be the BOOK itself - rather than who the author falls in love with.

I hope as well that Lambda creates a new awards category to recognize budding GLBTQ authors - I think that would be great.

And I also hope that as a judge for the Cybils, I and my fellow judges will be able to put aside the information of who wrote what, and simply read and judge each book on its own merits.

Because there are so many books out there - and some really deserve to be noticed!

I'm curious. What do YOU think about the Change in Lambda's rules?


Namaste,
Lee



You can read more about the Lambda Literary Foundation's guidelines change here
.

29 comments:

Caitlin said...

I don't know if you followed the controversy online, but I did, and after reading through all the reactions, I now fully support Lambda's decision.

At first I was a bit dismayed that some quality fiction might no longer get a chance at being recognized. But then I thought about what kind of market there is lately for gay books. Currently, there are a lot of straight female writers writing gay novels, and just in 2009, they overwhelm the number the gay authors. They also get more readership, in the LGBT community and outside of it. So I think Lambda is just shifting its focus to spotlight gay authors, so that their work gets attention outside of the LGBT community (which not many of them do). Though, I admit this doesn't seem to be happening in the young adult genre (just the adult fiction).

Though I understood Lambda's decision, I was still a little disappointed. However, I started reading a lot of the reactions to this, and I was extremely disgusted. Some straight authors who write gay novels truly are allies, but a lot of them proved not to be. There was a lot of homophobic and ignorant remarks, and disgusting amounts of smearing, and taking Lambda's words out of context. There was also a lot of falsehood being spread, such as Lambda took submission fees from authors then changed the guidelines, which was not the case. Submissions didn't even start until after the online discussions were pretty much over.

After this, I was pretty much leaning all the way towards Lambda's decision. Because with its original guidelines, you may get allies, but you also get the fakes that are just in it for appropriation and can't even understand the homophobia in their statements. I almost wished I didn't read through all those reactions, because some of my favorite authors were participating in bashing Lambda. It's made me see them in a whole new light.

I still have the same concerns I had before, but despite that, I now think Lambda made a good decision. I would rather not have homophobic authors competing for this award.

Lena Prodan said...

I think LLA re-emphasized their focus rather than changing it. That's their right.
It's too bad that there isn't another gay literature award that focuses on the book and not on the bed partner of the writer though, because what this means is that some very good books have lost any chance at visibility. And keeping good books out of the hands of readers shouldn't be the impact of any award.

Wendy said...

I'm not sure. Like you I don't really like the idea of changing the criteria of an established award to make it more exclusive and would probably rather see one of the new awards you mention. There's also a "who gets to decide" issue--Sara Ryan, for instance, is (if I have this straight) bisexual but married to a man, which I assume (I would hope!) is okay. But are there criteria for deciding who's eligible, is it based on author statement, or what?

And then, does accepting a Lambda award mean an author has to choose a label for him/herself, or what? Why would we want to support that? What if an author does not wish to declare as L or G or B or T or Q but in effect would have to by accepting the award?

Here's another issue: so I'm gay; I know comparatively little about transpeople. Say I write a book about trans issues. I wouldn't think I'd have a "right" to an award for that book under these criteria, in the spirit in which they're meant, but... wouldn't I, technically?

On the other hand, it really gets on my nerves when people who are "allies" think they totally get it. If one of my siblings were to write a "gay" book and think they had some cred because they have a gay sister, I would be so irritated. They know what it's like to have a gay sister, but not to be gay.

But that brings up another question: shouldn't Lambda be honoring books like that hypothetical one--books about straight kids with gay friends and siblings and parents? But surely we wouldn't expect authors of those books to necessarily be gay? Why would we want to cut out those books and authors? We need those books as much as we need the ones from an LGBTQ perspective.

ivanova said...

I agree with Caitlin. I support the change. I do realize how disappointing it must be for someone who thought they had a shot at winning and now they're not eligible anymore. I think the comparison to the Lee & Low contest isn't apt, by the way, because that's a contest that allows you to *publish* your book. Straight writers still have the same opportunity to publish books with LGBT content as they did before. The Lammy is more similar to the Coretta Scott King Awards, which are only open to writers and illustrators who are African-American. I think when the Lammy awards began 20+ years ago, they never dreamed there would be so many straight writers who wanted to jump on the gay bandwagon and write gay lit. The fact that the world has changed so much is a beautiful thing. This isn't the first time the Lammy has made big changes. When they started, they had a category for "AIDS theme."

I do think the reasons for making the change are more pressing for other genres than in YA. I'm an emerging writer, so it doesn't pull at my heartstrings to hear how Ellen Wittlinger, much as I'm a fan, won't be eligible anymore. She already won, so give someone else a chance! I say this with humor, because I know I would feel differently if I were at a different place in my career.

Also, "falling in love with a man" does not disqualify a woman writer from winning the Lammy. The people at Lambda aren't going to put anyone through a test or a kiss-machine to see how gay they are, it's all about how the person identifies. I am on the forum at Outer Alliance, a group for SF/F writers who are interested in LGBT advocacy, and in addition to the many straight writers who are on it, there are many bisexual writers who ended up with a partner of the opposite gender. And these people were saying even though they can "pass for straight," they go to the Pride parade every year and bring their kids! Awesome! Being LGBT is so great that no one wants to give it up! Oh, it's not just a phase! I also don't think it's "outing" someone to ask them to identify as LGBT to accept an award for LGBT writers. Much as I'm sympathetic with my brothers and sisters in the closet, especially teens and senior citizens, I do think 90% of the time the best cure is to get out of the closet. I want my award-winning LGBT writers to be out and proud.

It's a bit flippant to say that straight writers who want to qualify for the Lammy should just go date someone of their own gender or explore their trans side, they'll have fun and learn a lot, but that's what I wanted to say after reading the crapola-storm online following the Lambda change. Like the commenter before me, I was really shocked at the kinds of things these supposed allies were saying. Some people really displayed very ugly colors. It was really depressing. If you're having a bad day, don't go read it.

It would be nice if someone else in this very depressed publishing market wanted to create another award for LGBT books that would be inclusive to straight people. Two awards better than one!

Paula said...

It's amazing and a little disheartening that it's becoming increasingly complicated to honor books that fall outside of the designated "mainstream."

This issue parallels the issue of "brown" books i.e. books by people of color. Awards like the Coretta Scott King and Lee and Low's New Voices award were created because mainstream awards didn't/don't recognize these books enough. Critics flail the awards for exclusion, convenientaly forgetting the awards were created b/c these books have been/still are excluded. Vicious cycle!

Like Lee, my issue with the new guidelines for The Lammies is that it's changing an established guideline - taking the focus from the book and putting it on the author.

If that change is made without adding new categories, those like Lee suggested, it seems to shoot the awards' purpose in the foot.

Surely there's a way to keep the focus on the books without shortchanging the readers.

Emily Wing Smith said...

Wow--these are such interesting comments! Very eye-opening to me, as a straight female who wrote a YA novel with "gay content."

I put gay content in quotes because since I'm not a part of the LGQBT community I'm not sure if there's a more appropriate way to refer to the content of THE WAY HE LIVED.

Maybe that's the point of Lambda making this new distinction in the rules.

I attended a lunch with other LGQBT writers for the first time at a conference this summer, where I was introduced to the term "sympathetic."

I loved that idea--someone who admits she doesn't understand what it's like to be LGQBT herself, but appreciates those who do.

I can't write an authentic book about being gay. But I can, as Wendy said, write that book about "straight kids with gay friends and siblings and parents."

I can write about how Mormon LGQBT kids get treated, because not only do I see that culture every day, I am a part of that culture every day.

If someone who wasn't Mormon wrote about this topic, it would probably cause a lot more of a stir than my book has. It'd be easier to argue that those "outsiders" got the facts wrong.

Would Lambda think the same think? That as an "outsider" (a sympathetic one, but still) I got the facts wrong?

If so, I'm happy not to even be considered for the award--the last thing we should do as writers is perpetuate stereotypes.

Amy Baskin said...

Hi Lee,

Thanks for posting your considerate thoughts. I've always been impressed with the Lamda Awards for judging books based on content. To borrow and change MLK's turn of phrase, Lamda had judged books not on the sexuality or gender of the author, but on the content of the books characters.

I disagree with the assumption that because a person is not gay (or black, or female, or male, or old, or young, or alien) that s/he does not have the capacity and strength of imagination to write a convincing character. Our human capacity for empathy is strong. To exercise that capacity through creative acts can,in fact, make it stronger.

I encourage all of us as artists, and humans, to consider this.

HWPetty said...

I think ALL awards should be based on the work and not on the person. But I think this is especially true in the art world.

Art should always be about the work and not the creator. Interpreting art in light of the artist muddies the truth of the piece, I think.

I like to think of books as works of art, placed on shelves instead of hung on walls. The reader approaches the work with their own world perspective, adding to the art and taking what they will when they finish.

I don't care if the author is amazing or a bastard, the work should stand on its own apart from all of that.

Obviously, an award system can make their own rules. But awards are diminished when they focus on outside factors.

One example is how many books receive awards because of sales. It's like the thinking is, "Well, if millions of people are buying this book, it must be awesome," rather than taking a look at the work on its own merits.

Hayden Thorne said...

I've already posted my thoughts - brief though they were - on the Lammies. I'm still disappointed, truth be told, because I can't participate, but on the other hand, I support the LLF's decision. It's theirs to make, not everyone else's.

The outcry from the straight women who write M/M fiction and some of their GLBT supporters gave me enough reason to throw my weight behind the LLF decision because of the obnoxious and offensive language they used. I don't care if they're protesting against the exclusion of straight writers. That's fine. But to go off the deep end and compare their exclusion to wearing pink triangles, lynching, and all other kinds of ridiculous comparisons? Nuh-uh.

Trivializing the real sufferings of gays, Jews, and ethnic minorities to their exclusion in an award? Really? I think that's when the definition of "straight ally" had to go through a wringer and needed to be reassessed from a bunch of different corners, including mine.

Even at mailing lists today, I see someone share a bad review of her book, and automatically, it's "He's biased against women writers! What a jerk!" Yeah, whatever, dude. Whatever. Lay off the paranoid pills for a bit and have some tea and crumpets or something.

If the LLF were to reconsider their decision, that's fine. Perhaps they'll set up a set of categories specifically for straight writers of GLBT fiction, while honoring queer writers in their own categories. Then everyone will be happy, and some of us straight writers won't be so embarrassed to call ourselves allies of the GLBT community.

susiej said...

It seems to me the qualification is doing the very thing that created the need to qualify-dividing people up into groups.

If a gay or lesbian author wrote a really great book whose MC was straight, I wouldn't want them cut out of a possible award because they were gay.

Female authors write about men and vice versa. Adults write bout teens. Good people write about evil people. As a fantasy writer, I'm encouraged by editors to include people of color and I agree with that idea, though I am not one of those. Can I write it believably? I think so- we all have similar feelings,fears, desires.

In fact that's one of the themes of my fantasy work- conflict between races and overcoming prejudices- seeing the sameness not the difference.

I'm not gay, so some might say this isn't my arguement. But I'm a human and I sure do want us to treat each other equally.

Lisa said...

Oh gosh. Lee, I hadn't heard about this until your post. Thank you.

My feeling, at this moment, is of disappointment and anger. As you and others have stated, these awards have always been for the work, not the author's identity. And that's where I believe the focus should be.

I've blogged before about authenticity in queer YA fiction, and I stand by those remarks: in general, I don't think non-queer authors write about queer experience as authentically as queer authors. BUT, sometimes they do -- Ellen W., of course, being a prime example.

I just read some of the discussion on Dear Author, where the main point of discussion seems to be straight women writing gay male romance for a largely straight women audience. Frankly, I don't understand why this would be an issue; the (queer) LLF judges should be able to judge the authenticity of the material while blind to the author's orientation. It isn't as if a panel of straight women is handing out that award.

Moreover, historically "significant LGBT content" has not meant the protagonist had to be LGBT. Hard Love was narrated by a lesbian character's straight male friend. Luna was narrated by a transgender character's cis sister. Neither of the two primary characters in Mousetraps (shortlisted last year) was overtly queer, though they were subject to homophobic bullying. I think that authors of any orientation can write authentically from the perspective of someone who is close to a queer person, and that literature that represents those experiences is important, too. (Though I would, I admit, be very unhappy with a Lammy shortlist that only included books with a "gay best friend.")

On the issue of self-identification, I think that the comparison of sexual orientation to ethnicity, while tempting, is fallacious. Sexuality, unlike ethnicity, is fluid. I think it's perfectly within the realm of possibility that a straight-identified author could write a queer book (making them ineligible for a Lammy) and later come out. Bummer! Plus, I think requiring queer self-idenitification puts an unfair burden on authors who are bisexual or trans -- and not just because it forces them to be out (which would be nice, but I don't think it should play into a judgment of literary value). Is the bi author partnered to someone of the other sex going to be challenged if they win? Ditto for trans authors who "pass" (a term I don't like to use, but at the moment I'm not coming up with a more suitable one, sorry) well. Maybe self-identification is good enough for the judges, but I can envision a backlash in the (jealous) (losing) writer's community -- demands for an author's sexual or gender history. What should be an honor could turn into a degrading expose.

I write these comments as a queer person who would, potentially, still qualify for a Lammy under the new guidelines. And I am totally with Brent Hartinger who wrote this on AfterElton: "if I write the best gay book in a given year in a given category, I want it to be the best gay book in that category — not merely the best gay book in that category written by a GLBT author." I agree with you, Lee, that there would be other, better ways to honor out queer authors than to suddenly change the rules for these prestigious awards.

Mayra Lazara Dole said...

Hi, Lee.

As a lesbian YA LGBTQ Latina author, I support Lambda's decision, but I see your valid point. Perhaps LAMBDA can form a "Gay Friendly" award. I think it's important to see both sides and respect others' opinions. You mention "Ellen." She's won many awards and I'm sure she wouldn't mind stepping aside to give authentic lesbians and LGBTQI's a chance to shine. I love Ellen's books and I can see why she's won so many awards...
Paz!

Sarah Laurenson said...

I love Ellen Wittlinger. Her books are awesome. (And for FTC purposes, I did not receive any of them for free).

I don't particularly care that she's straight. It surprised me a little, but not that much. I write about characters who are where I've never been. Right now, I'm writing boy books and I've never been a boy. Been mistaken for one, but that doesn't count as being one.

If a book accurately portrays a GLBTQ character in a light that is helpful to GLBTQ people, why do I care who the author is sleeping with? Isn't that an invasion of their privacy? Isn't that what we fight against - all the freaking time?

Though I do understand this is a parallel argument to the one that recently occured on Editorial Anonymous' blog about the Coretta Scott King award and its focus on black authors. So there are very legitimate reasons for this rule change.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Just a quick clarification: I don't believe being gay or atraight or whatever is defined by who we have sex with.

But aren't the majority of people in that middle part of the gay / straight spectrum and can reasonably identify as bi?

How are we defining GLBTQ in this respect?

Lee Wind said...

The discussion of the Coretta Scott King Award on Editorial Anonymous that Sarah mentions is here:

http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/search?q=coretta+scott+king+award

And it's a fascinating analysis of a very parallel situation.

Thanks everyone so far for your thoughtful and heart-felt comments - I'm really enjoying this discussion!

Namaste,
Lee

Caitlin said...

"But aren't the majority of people in that middle part of the gay / straight spectrum and can reasonably identify as bi?

How are we defining GLBTQ in this respect?"

You self-define. It says it in the link Lee provided. Lambda is not going to do any checking (or defining because they've stated that gender/sexuality is fluid and mean different things to different people). It's an honor system. They're going to assume that if you submit, you belong to the LGBTQ in some way (that includes bisexuals because they're right there in the acronym), and hope that straight authors will understand and not submit fraudulently.

Their full statement is on Lee's link.

Wings in the Night said...

When I first read the post I was disappointed in the decision, but my attitude is: It's their award. Let them do what they want with it.

I felt a bit more educated when I read Caitlin's comment (at the top). It is more disappointing to learn the number of straight authors writing gay themes who now feel compelled to spill out all kinds of venom against the people they are writing for just because they can't have an award.

I guess I'm too naive. And, being unpublished, I still don't write to receive awards. To me, writing is about storytelling, and nothing more.

While I think I now understand Lambda's intent, I also think this kind of isolationism doesn't work. But, like I said, it's their award and they can give it to whomever they like. And withhold it from same.

As to anyone who feels betrayed by the authors who wrote good stories, the same concept holds true: Is it about the author or the story they told? If they told a good story then enjoy it. And forget what the author really is.

Just my input. Hope I didn't offend.

Brent Hartinger said...

It's an interesting controversy, but in the end, it comes down to the purpose of the award: is it for gay writers, or is it for readers interested in gay books? If it's the former, the change is understandable (I guess). But if it's the latter, this is a terrible policy, as it will exclude many wonderful books (often the "best" books of the year). I also think it will, over time, erode the credibilty of the award itself, so I don't really even think they're doing the gay writers that much of a favor by doing this.

I'm intrigued, but a little sad by the debate over this. It's a reminder how differently different people see the world. For me, art is literally about breaking down barriers between people, about finding connections between human beings. I absolutely reject the notion that I can't write authentic straight characters, just as my friend Ellen rejects the idea that she can't gay stories. This is an insult to our allies, and a misundertanding of what it means to be both human and an artist, at a time when we should be building bridges, not knocking them down.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm not reading the correct loops, lists, blogs, twitters (don't twit or whatever it's called)facebook entries, etc. because I haven't seen this venom supposedly gushing out from straight female authors who write gay fiction.
All I've seen is dismay from gay authors and straight authors alike about a situation over which they have no control.
The very fact that there is discussion is the best thing to have come out of a very delicate concern.

P.A.Brown said...

I have a problem supporting an organization that claims to want to support gay authors but every year has consistently ignored some of the longest standing gay authors out there. Authors like Victor Banis who pioneered (and almost went to jail) fighting for the right for gay authors to write books and for gay readers to read those books without getting arrested. Yet this man has never received a Lammie, and has had his efforts and accomplishments ignored and sometimes even ridiculed. What is that all about?

Ellen Wittlinger said...

Thank you, Lee, for pointing me to this discussion (and for your kind words as well.) I hadn't heard about the Lambda rules change or the ensuing controversy. Yes, I'm very disappointed about this, but not because I want to win more awards (although, honestly, who doesn't?) but because the fact that I'm not eligible anymore makes me feel as though I'm being pushed out of the field.

Writing GLBT characters is where my passion lies. I lived in Provincetown for years, live in Northampton now, and love my GLBT friends. I write my books because I want gay teens to feel good about themselves and I want straight kids to better understand their GLBT peers. Of course, there are other things I can and do write about, but this is where my heart is. It has nothing to do with "jumping on the bandwagon." (If I was looking for a lucrative bandwagon, it would be vampires, not books about gay kids.) In fact, as a straight author writing GLBT characters, I am sometimes at a disadvantage for doing marketing or school visit appearances. Some schools want nothing to do with me because I write GLBT books and those which are forward-thinking want to invite authors who are gay themselves so they can tell kids, "Look, it's okay to be your true self: I did it." (Which I completely understand.)

As to the question of whether allies really "get it," I think it should be said that writers are constantly writing characters which are not like themselves. If you could only understand your own motivations--or people just like you--your fiction would be pretty awful. In fact, I often find that I understand less about the characters who are most similar to me--I'm too close to them to "get it." No author has personally stood in the shoes of all his or her characters--it's an impossibility. and yet it is our JOB not to write stereotypes.

I did not see or participate in the earlier online debate about changing the Lambdas. I'm saddened to hear that straight authors came off sounding homophobic. But I also know that these online debates seem to bring out the worst in people (and sometimes the worst people!) so I would be cautious about tarring everyone with the same brush.

As to the fear that homophobic authors might get the award, it seems to me unlikely that many authors who write GLBT fiction would turn out to hate/fear gay people. And if they do? Well, a short story here: when I was young, I met an older male poet who I had idolized for his beautiful love poems. Over the course of a weekend in his presence I realized that he was actually a misogynistic creep. Obviously, I no longer felt quite the same way about his work as I had before, but it didn't change the work itself. He was a wonderful writer who deserved the praise his work received, no matter that he was not a great human being.

For those of you who enjoy my writing, thanks so much for your support. I know there are probably GLBT people who think I don't get it right too, but I don't expect everyone to have the same opinion. How many times has an award-winning book--Newbury, National Book Award, Printz--left you thinking, why did they like THAT? We all have different, personal criteria for why we love the books we do, and I respect that. But just because a book doesn't tell YOUR story, doesn't mean it doesn't tell someone else's truth.

Finally, I want to say I agree completely with Brent that art is about breaking down barriers and understanding our common humanity. I do feel insulted by the decision of the Lambda committee; how can I not?

Ellen Wittlinger

Liviania said...

As a reader, I'm disappointed by the change. I like to believe that people are capable of enough empathy to write about experiences outside their own authetically. One of my favorite authors recently added her picture to the back of her books because people were convinced she was a man since she wrote men so well and didn't want a backlash when a book with a female protagonist came out. I think it's sad that she had to proclaim she was a female in order for her character to be believable - and that she previously had to hide it for her male characters to be believable. Her gender doesn't matter, what's in the book does.

Ellen Wittlinger's HARD LOVE introduced me to LGQBT fiction. I loved it and began reading other books with similar themes. I identify as asexual*, and I'm not sure I'd ever even known there was a term for it if the novels I read hadn't gotten me interested in the spectrum of human gender and sexuality. Yes, it's nice to recognize marginalized authors. But to me, it's the book's content that carries the day. I want the Lammys to help me and others find the best books to read about a particular human experience, rather than the best books to read about a particular human experience by a particular subset of humans who needed to extrapolate less.

*If you go to my blog, you won't find anything on there that identifies me as such. This is my other problem with the rules: those who need to know my orientation know it. Those who don't can assume whatever they want about me. I believe my relationships are my business and prefer to keep them that way.

Erastes said...

Well said, Lee. I couldnt agree more with every word.

NL Gassert said...

I’m torn about this issue. I’m bummed that I’m disqualified, but I support the right of any group to refocus their efforts/awards/guidelines. I’m okay with the idea of the Lammies wanting to celebrate glbt authors, but I’m sad to lose the chance to celebrate glbt content regardless of its creator’s sexual orientation.

Like my glbt-counterparts, I struggle to gain mainstream acceptance for my glbt-oriented writing. I want to find the largest possible audience and bring down a few barriers in the process. Now I suddenly find myself excluded from the very group I’m fighting to see included. Ouch.

One thing, though, I’m certain about: making this about authenticity isn’t working. Authors constantly write about subjects, themes and characters they have not experienced first-hand. Men write about women, women write about men. Humans write about aliens and some authors even give voice to animals. Don’t I know more about men than the gay author who writes about a lesbian? So, no, this being about authenticity doesn’t work for me at all.

Jesse Marie said...

I just want to take a moment to thank you Lee for providing a safe and thoughtful place to learn and discuss these issues. I am currently sifting through the information and comments to define my thoughts on this topic.

Tess Sharpe said...

I'm a straight female who writes LGBT lit. M/M and F/F.

I personally think it's awesome that the Lambda is focusing on gay authors--spotlighting them will help their books sell and greater spread the messages of those books. Gay authors should be honored. And Lambda should have the freedom to change their focus and policies whenever they want. They are a organization focused on gay issues--it seems perfectly reasonable to focus their energy and attention on gay authors.

I disagree on the comments of how straight people can't authentically write LGBT lit. I may not be gay, but I also don't have superpowers or shoot people, yet I write about those things too.

I don't see my books about gay teens as more or less authentic just because I'm not gay. Yes, I did extensive research on hate crimes. Yes, I talked to many members of the gay community--teens and adults, including my Uncles who raised me--different perspectives and reactions are always influential in my writing. I even spent a great deal of time on hate boards and sites reading their propaganda (and spent the next four days showering). But research is something I do for every book--I would approach a book about sports or death or romance the same way.

I am not saying I know personally what it feels like to be gay--of course I don't. But if we all wrote about only the things we knew about personally and emotionally, the world would probably be missing a lot of great books.

Just my 2 cents. Am loving this discussion!

Lucia Moreno Velo said...

Thanks, Lee for posting this in the mailing list. I was busy with the Spanish 3rd National LGTB Families Meeting and had not read about it.

There, I hope that establishes my credibility should the Lamda people ever consider giving *me* an award.

Well, although everything I want to say has already been said in these comments, I'm still going to bore you with my two cents:

I do believe that when the Lammies where first thought up nobody thought straight people would write LGTB books. To me, this sounds like they are trying to get back to their original intent.

This does not mean I agree with the decition.

Although I am a lesbian and, contrary to the mayority of lesbians, I can prove it because I am legally married to another woman (ha!), I am also a writer for adults, YA and children. I write stories with straight themes and characters all the time and nobody questions my right to do so and my ability to grasp the authenticity of straight relationships. I write, not only *about* children and YA, but *from their point of view* and nobody doubts my ability to do it even though I am an adult. I hope no one will ever challenge my ability or authority to write about straight adults, children and YA, and from their point of view.

I am also a native Spanish speaker who sometimes writes in English and so far no one in my huge community of English-speaking readers (aka the Madrid Writers Critic Group, population 10), has told me I'm not qualified.

Then there's the matter of criteria. How to prove someone is LGTB? All those women writting M/M stories could just say they are bisexual "who just happened to end up with a man". There is way to prove this false.

Sexuality *is* fluid, and as a Spaniard I can also bear witness that etnicity is, too. Because I am a Spanish native speaker, when I have lived in the US I was legally "Hispanic", while being white as white bread and coming from an European country. I like to say that I am "trans-racial". (I cannot, alas, apply to the Lee and Low price because I do not live in the US. Drat.)

I am sorry to hear that *some* straight people have lost their nice words over this issue, but I don't think that is a reason to ban *all* straight people from the Lammies.

Then, again, it *is* their price.

I'm curious to see how this is going to affect the Lammies. Will closeted authors take their LGTB-themed off the list to protect their secret? Will critics and public view the price as less worthy because the entry is restricted?

I think the price will loose its caché. At least to me.

Hugs,
Lucia

K T Horning said...

There are very insightful comments posted here that help me see both sides of the issue.

While I can appreciate that the LLA can set whatever terms they want to, to me this seems like a step backward. One of the things that gives me the most hope for the future is that fact that young people (e.g. those under 25) seem to be increasingly comfortable with fluid sexuality and gender identity, and don't like being put into boxes. I imagine that the next generation will view this decision as misguided and rather quaint.

All authors who write great books about GLBTQ characters should be commended.

Jane said...

I know I'm late here, but for other late readers of this thread, I'd just like to respond to the "I write aliens, so why not gay people?" argument. It got way under my (white, cis, bi) skin during RaceFail09, so I can't leave it alone.

OK, I write supernatural beings and aliens and people from fantasy cultures too. And I hope I write both heterosexual and LGBTQ people authentically. BUT these two statements are in no way the same. I get to MAKE UP the werewolf psychology. I get to INVENT the aliens physically and emotionally. Nobody can ever say I am not authentic with them, because there IS NO authenticity to be had.

If I write a person of a different ethnicity, from a different real culture, from a different sexuality, from a different physicality than my own, there are actual people living the life I'm writing about! And they know something about it! Though it is true that every group's experiences are varied, and a true experience could seem incredible to another member of the same group because they have not lived it that way, it is not true that members of a group cannot ever spot something as inauthentic. That's the thing about privilege: it is invisible.

Privilege is that set of blinders that prevents me from seeing what people (with different blinders on) can always see, cannot avoid, have glaring out at them all the time. It may be true that a writer can feel no difference between writing imaginary creatures and writing real people of a different type than the writer is herself. See, but to the reader--for instance, to me, as a reader? There's no comfort in being told that if you can write a dragon, then you can totally write about me.

As for the Lammy rule change, I initially read some of that faux-ally-this-is-just-like-being-put-in-concentration-camps! stuff, so my first response was, oh yes, bring on the rule change, because straight writers have all the rest of the awards to play in, and look at them smearing their privilege all over this one.

But actually, now I think about it, this is not totally true. While books by straight authors have no trouble being included in straight-by-default awards, that's only true when the books are also straight by default. Queer books are marginalized no matter who writes them, and I do feel they deserve recognition when they're good, also no matter who writes them. If they were inauthentic, the LAMDA committee wouldn't be choosing them for awards, right? So, um, I end up torn on the actual subject of this post.

Just, you know, I may be a minority but I am not a space alien. Please, just lay off that comparison.