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Monday, August 29, 2011

Lambda Literary Award: Celebrating the LG, Kicking the BT in the Ass

I won't profess to understand the full history of the Lambda Literary Foundation (to which the award belongs). As a Foundation that has in recent years honored lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and other-sexuals (genderqueer, etc.) writers, the place is near and dear to my heart.  But then they announced this:
LGBT authors will be recognized with three awards marking stages of a writer's career: the Betty Berzon Debut Fiction Award (to one gay man and one lesbian), the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize (to one male-identified and one female-identified author), and the Pioneer Award (to one male-identified and one female-identified individual or group) - Awards for the remaining Lambda Literary Award categories will be based on literary merit and significant content relevant to LGBT lives. These awards will be open to all authors regardless of their sexual identity - All book award judges will be self-identified LGBT
The above is the result of a lot of discussion and arguing among differing camps of the LGBT community (supposedly, though I've yet to hang out with any LGBT people who disagree so much as to make a concession like the above remotely rational).  But it is also the third major response to criticism about how the awards are structured.  According to their 20+ year history, the award went from accepting submissions "based solely on a book's LGBT subject matter" to being restrict to self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer authors" in 2009.  This, apparently, is what has created the divide.  Some believe the award should go only to writers of the LGBT persuasion (broadly defined), while others think that the awards should reflect LLF's function to promote positive LGBT images, as their mission statement makes clear:

The Lambda Literary Foundation nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers.
But even more importantly:  the previous guidelines couldn't be reasonably enforced, as Nicola Griffith points out in her post on the recent changes -- "if you can't substantiate (check, prove, police, ensure) eligibility, it's pointless."

The problem, then, has to do with representation.  The new categories are oddly LG- and gender-normal-centric.  One of the new awards (for debut fiction) is oriented only towards gay and lesbian people (both of which would be associated with standard genders); the other two are geared towards people who identify as male or female.  The other categories, presumably, are open to just about anyone, so long as the content of their work is relevant to LGBT people.  But the new awards are oddly exclusionary, giving the T side of the "LGBT" label little room to "play."  Where exactly to transgender or transsexual or genderqueer people fit into all of this?  While Cheryl Morgan and I have had our differences (in days of yore, as they say), I think people should read her slightly angry response to the changes, or at least this juicy quote:
First of all, why is one award specifically restricted to “one gay man and one lesbian”, while others are for “male-identified and female-identified” people. At least the latter appears to include some bi people, which the former seems to exclude. As for trans people, apparently they are OK for the first award if they identify as gay or lesbian, but not otherwise, and they are OK for the other two awards is they are male-identified and female-identified, but not otherwise.
Let's face it:  When an important award which is supposed to celebrate LGBT issues in literature doesn't get how its policies discriminate against its own target demographic, then something is seriously wrong...

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