Rebecca Day

That Lambda Thing

Posted by rwday on September 27, 2009

I’ve read a number of good posts on the decision by Lambda Literary Foundation to essentially limit their awards to GLBT writers, and I guess I want to get my own thoughts out there, for what they’re worth.

While I think sexuality is a continuum and very few people are totally ‘straight’ or totally ‘gay,’ I consider myself primarily heterosexual, and I certainly have not had the experiences that a lesbian woman would have had. This means that when I’m writing gay characters, I have to do research and draw from my imagination and empathy, and it’s possible that the resulting fiction may be less authentic than a comparable book written by a lesbian or gay man. I’ve seen that argued – that the awards have to change because straight writers can’t portray the gay experience as well as gay writers can.

And if so, that ought to be apparent to the Lambda judges, who are, presumably, members of the GLBT community.

I’ve seen it argued that there’s so much crap written by female M/M writers that it’s necessary to limit the contestants to members of the community. Um, yeah. Because crappy shapeshifting were-tiger slash always gets nominated. Or not. Seriously, badly written crap that fetishizes gay men is not going to be shortlisted for the Lambdas no matter what the sexual orientation of the author is any more than girl-on-girl porn for straight guys is going to be winning any awards.

We come back to the judges, who are members of the community. I have faith that they’re able to identify outstanding works that portray authentic GLBT themes and characters. If that is the goal of the awards.

But apparently, it’s not. Apparently the goal is to support and nurture writers who identify as GLBT. That’s not a bad goal – actually, it’s a fine goal, but it does represent a shift in priorities, and I think the better way for LLF to have handled this would be to announce the new priorities BEFORE submissions began.

I’ve also seen discussion using the analogy of race or gender. Should men be eligible for awards for women’s fiction, for example? I think that depends on the stated goal of the award. If it’s to honor women writers, then no. If it’s to honor books that accurately depict the experience of women, then as long as the book does that, I don’t care if it’s written by the biggest misogynist in the world. I judge a book by what is in that book, period. But that’s just me, and I recognize LLF’s right to structure their awards any way they please. I just think literary awards ought to be first and foremost about the literature.

Finally, LLF used the whole Amazonfail thing as an argument for their position, but Amazon did not target queer writers. They targeted queer-themed writing.

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4 Responses to “That Lambda Thing”

  1. Elfwreck said

    This post has been included in a Linkspam roundup.

  2. Christopher Wilson said

    I’m sorry for their decision. I have written to them indicating that I think content is actually much more important than whether or not the author is gay. (I mean, hello? It is a book we’re reading, not a CV.) I think “A Strong and Sudden Thaw” was one of the best speculative fiction/gay coming awareness novels I have ever read (two of my favorite categories!). Please know that you have many appreciative readers who don’t give a monkey’s about such things as awards, in any case. I know that a writer’s reputation rests in some part in the awards given (which in turn increases readers), but I hope you will just keep writing. Thanks for what you have given us thus far. I wish you much success.

    • rwday said

      Christopher, thank you. I can understand the idea of encouraging more gay/lesbian authors, and I also believe that those who have lived an experience do bring something special to their writing, assuming, of course, that they can actually write in the first place, but in this case, I think the decision was wrong.

      I don’t worry about awards myself – I’m really not writing much just now because of life, and frankly, comments like yours and the other readers here mean way more than any award anyway.

  3. Obsidian said

    Heh, I had to chuckle at the “crappy shapeshifting were-tiger slash” reference because I agree rather vehemently.

    I’m a gay male, and it was those books that initially made me reluctant to read “A Strong and Sudden Thaw”. I’ve had very bad experiences with new m/m fantasy and science fiction works nowadays that I tend to stick to books set in contemporary times. They are all so mind-numbingly shallow and fake. Kind of like reading those gushing angry tirades of budding treehuggers who don’t even know the first thing about biology. While the thought is nice and the ideals noble, the way it is latched on and treated almost as a fad, or worse – a fetish – drives me insane. But this is not an issue about authors not being able to empathize with their subjects because they aren’t like their subjects. It’s simply a matter of an author who did not do his/her fucking research, haha. Excuse my French. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m a staunch environmentalist but I also take my science very seriously. And yes, admittedly, there are some gems in slash fiction out there.

    Sexual orientation or gender has nothing to do with how well you can tell an LGBT-themed story. As a gay man, being gay is definitely not something “special” only gay people truly understand. These things we (LGBT peeps) go through can and do translate to universal human experiences anyone with any good sense of empathy can understand and relate to. I can certainly empathize well enough with transgenders though I don’t even have the slightest urge to wear drag or adopt traditional female mannerisms/roles. I can empathize with people who’ve been under slavery or the victims of the Holocaust even if I don’t belong to either ethnicities, etc.

    Suffice to say, your book was a very pleasant surprise. To put it on the same level as the slash fiction crap nowadays simply because it’s written by a heterosexual female author is insulting, to say the least. In fact, it scarily sounds like “reverse discrimination” to me. And yes – wrong.

    I’m reminded of Mercedes Lackey. She’s definitely not gay and yet her “The Last Herald Mage” series was the very first book I read that had openly gay characters who were not villains. I was still a lost and lonely teenager back then, slowly being eaten away with guilt inside, confused, and angry at how I was apparently born destined for hell all because I could not and can not bring myself to be attracted to the opposite gender. Books were my only solace, even then they tend to depict all gay people like me as evil, cowardly, traitors, devoid of any human feelings, almost demonic really.

    Lackey’s books opened my eyes and most probably saved my life. I drunk it in like someone stumbling over water in an oasis after wandering for far too long in a desert. I began looking for similar books, and it what kept my hopes afloat in the usually dark murky days of youthful angst made even darker by total societal condemnation. It’s not exactly highbrow snobby “literature”, but in a world where everyone, even apparently my own god and my own parents, hated my very existence, something as trivial as a swords and dragons story can send a very powerful message. Even more powerful when you realize that the authors are people who are sticking their necks out for us are people who aren’t even affected by what we’re going through.

    For that alone she deserves the Lambda award even if she’s not gay. She also deserves far more, and I think she knows that already. She touched more lives than any award could probably compensate for. It’s not even only her, there’s Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Catch Trap”, which probably everyone will agree is a classic in LGBT literature. It’s also not only LGBT issues, there’s Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” and the issues on racism.

    In the end, it’s just an award, so don’t worry too much about it, your books are awesome. 🙂

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