The short summary, for those of you who may not be aware is that there's been a series of discussions/statements/shifts on what the Lambda Literary Awards are and should be, specifically whether they are designed to honor LGBT writers or LGBT books. (To my discomfort, the LLA don't include Q -- I know "queer" is a controversial reclaiming word, but there are absolutely, positively members of our community who self-identify as queer (myself included) and are, as such, more appropriately defined with a label that includes the Q).
One of the ideas most tossed around in the discussion has been this idea that gay writers are sick of seeing straight people win awards for books about their world. And one of the responses I see most tossed around is "the Lambda Literary Awards want to know what you do in your bedroom."
Can anyone see why I'm upset yet?
One of the many things that has me upset is the fact that everyone involved has some valid points. The idea of awards honoring queer authors is good. So is the idea of honoring queer stories. Meanwhile, what is and what should be the purpose of the Lambda Literary Awards?
And even if the Lambda Literary Awards were to come up with a solution similar to that of the Carl Brandon Society (which offers awards both for a work of spec fic by an author of color and for works that deal with issues of race and ethnicity regardless of author identification -- which I think is a fantastic solution that I whole-heartedly support; I just don't think it works in the case of the LGBTQ community and the rest of this post is about why), we're still left with a discussion of "queer cred" that hurts, and, in fact, threatens, a lot of people, especially people who are bi, genderqueer, and/or trans.
In fact, as soon as there is a "queer litmus test," we've turned ourselves into the enemy. Searching out the queer for good reasons is still as potentially harmful as searching the queer out for the bad reasons. If we decide there's a checklist of what makes you queer, it gives anti-gay folk ammunition: it for bisexual people in heterosexual pairings creates the idea of thoughtcrime; for trans and genderqueer people it creates public rights to private bodies. That, in short, sucks.
But it also does nothing to resolve the issues of privilege within the LGBTQ community (and that's without my getting into the misogyny and racism that the LGBTQ community as a whole simply has not done enough work on addressing). Being able to be out privileges you (sometimes at costs); being closeted can allow you access to other privileges (at a cost), and each identity within the LGBTQ spectrum comes with yet more privileges and costs: we all know the degree of suspicion bisexual women are met with (there's a separate, different set of suspicions we throw onto bisexual men), and we all know the mainstream "rewards" (said loosely and bitterly) and headaches of fetishization (gay men in slash fandom; femme gay women in mainstream culture; various body types in the porn industry).
These types of issues, to some degree, plague all oppressed groups (again, see how the Carl Brandon Society has chosen to navigate the awards issue -- it looks sensible to me). But they are particularly weird in the LGBTQ community, because when I go outside and you see me, and you don't know anything about me, do I look gay? What does that mean? Am I gay because of who I fuck or who I love or because of my gender or the role I see for my body in the world? Where do the awards classify non-op trans people in same-gender relationships which some people, not having a clue, might argue are actually heterosexual in nature? What do we say about the person who has been married for ten years to someone of the opposite gender, but was married to someone of the same before that? For that matter, what about queer women who write about queer men or vice-versa? Do our bodies and creative impulses have to be in line with our sexual preferences as well? And what do we say to poly people who may have good reasons not to want to be out and take their circle of relationships with them?
How do we, as queer people, prove who we are?
That's the crux of it, really. That's always been the crux of it, with our little in jokes and code words (did the straight people get all the Wizard of Oz amusement at the end of The Rachel Maddow Show last night?) and gestures and habits that some of us don't like or engage in or even know? Who are we and what is our culture? How is that changing as we're more accepted. Are we losing things unique to a fictional, monolithic gay culture in the fight for marriage equality? I'm so struck by all the people I don't see marching in the Pride parades now like I did ten and twenty years ago, the Bears and the Leathermen, people who, despite the fact that I'm such a weird, queer, bi, lesbian, girl, man thing in my head, are the people who were my role models, who taught me about being gay and being an activist and living in this hidden place of codes between the worlds.
You people and your quaint little categories.
I think sometimes, often even, that the future of the gay rights movement largely includes our letting the boundaries blur. We don't get to be the big gay exclusionary fortress of secret coolness anymore, or whatever the fuck it is we were telling ourselves we were doing while we were just trying to stay alive.
Gay is more things than it used to be. And maybe, one day, in my lifetime even, it'll be a word that doesn't even matter, doesn't even mean anything, except to people who remember, and people who are old-fashioned, and people who see loss even in the advance of the best progress imaginable.
That's the moment we're at, and that this controversy with the Lambda Literary Awards defines: progress and loss, fear and regret, and a need to redefine community.
So what's my answer? I'm still not 100% sure, other than knowing that awards should do good things, not bad things. That's sort of the point. Awards = good, right?
Look, I do know this: stories matter.
Sometimes they come to me in the middle of the night, I wake up and I know there was once a person with a name, a history, a life -- and sometimes they died a hundred years ago and sometimes they haven't been born yet, but they're so real, they're right there, like I can touch them. I write them, when I can, and grieve them often, in ways I've learned to be smart enough not to talk about.
At times that bothers me, the silence I feel obligated to that comes with storytelling. It bothers me when I write, which is one manner of inhabiting a character, and it bothers me when I act, which is another. But I've learned to live with it because stories, and the people they are about, are, in the telling, more important than me.
I'm just a translator, a medium, a canvass and a liar. Their stories matter so much that in the telling of them, all I can wish is to disappear.
And I love them so much, the people I tell into being.
Which means that when it comes to the business of awards my gut says, honor them. Not me. Not writers. Characters. Stories. Honor them.
Which is just one more way of saying, I'm gay, I'm out, I am verrrrrrrrrry queer, but you know what? I'm pretty sure the Lambda Literary Awards don't actually need to know any of that.