Christian A. Young's Dimlight Archive
28Sep/09Off

The new Lambda Literary Foundation Policy Guidelines and you.

I'm a little later to the party on this than I'd like, but as an out queer writer who reads queer stories when and where he can find them, I've got a vested interest in this whole thing.

The short version is that the Lambda Literary Foundation (or LLF) recently updated its nomination guidelines for the Lambda Literary Awards.

In the past, a book with LGBT content could be nominated for a Lammy wholly on the basis of its content. Who authored the book mattered not; gay and lesbian, bisexual and trans, straight and asexual writers were judged equally. If it was a good story, and it was about us, it was welcome.

However, in the wake of continued discrimination in bookshops and libraries -- thank you, conservative evangelicals, for making mainstream the presumption that any acknowledgment of LGBTQ matters and people is automatically an inappropriate sexualization of the conversation that decent people should not have to endure -- that it was time to revise who was eligible for the Lammy.

"It seems more urgent than ever," they say, "that LLF be as active and supportive a service organization as we possibly can be for our own writers..."

Those writers being self-identified, out LGBT writers.

Now, I can appreciate their intentions. As a fledgling pro, the message that writing queer stories, or being an out queer person is probably detrimental to the career I'm only just starting. It's not far from the message that YA writers so often hear: girls will read about boys, but boys won't read about girls. Messages like this have a chilling effect on writers, whatever their own orientations and genders may be. Which, arguably, is why the LLF (and other groups like Broad Universe and the Carl Brandon Society) are necessary.

I get what the LLF was trying to do when they "took into consideration the despair of our own writers when a heterosexual writer ... wins a Lambda Award." That is, as they say, a fair cop. I'd love dearly to see more queer writers recognized.

But, you know, that despair is nothing compared to the despair I feel at the message this sends our straight allies, or to queer writers who make their stories in the closet, or to writers whose sexualities and gender are ambiguous or deeply private.

Does it mean a lot to me when a story I love is written by a queer person? Absolutely. But it also means a lot to me when a straight person is willing to write something difficult and beautiful about our lives. Telling our allies and friends that they're not welcome does nothing to advance our presence in mainstream literature. If anything, it closes a very valuable door.

It also, in spite of what the LLF wants to assure us, creates a culture in which an awards committee can vote a writer worthy or unworthy based on their own willingness to disclose facts about their gender or their private lives. Are we seriously asking our modern James Tiptrees to out themselves as Alice Sheldons? How could this possibly be useful or fair?

And really, how tacky is it to diminish the status of those (presumed) heterosexual writers who've won before? That larger, more inclusive pool surely had a number of excellent things in it. Are those stories somehow not the best anymore because of who their authors sleep with?

How is this not what the bookstores and the industry do to us? How is this helping?

At the end of the day, I think the LLF had all the right intentions and made entirely the wrong call. I sincerely hope they reconsider, or find a better way to pursue their goals. As much as I think the LLF's mission is laudable, I think the award is diminished by exclusion.

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