Wednesday, 30 September 2009


Thanks for everyone who gave suggestions and double thanks to Ann Somerville: for helping put it together for my ludditeness

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Lambda Awards - disagree if you must, but put the privilege and homophobia away

LLF made their awards for GBLT authors only. They did this because GBLT people are a marginalised group. GBLT people face discrimination, silencing and prejudice with depressing frequency. We are also frequently turned into fetishes or gross parodies - or rendered completely invisible.

In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be necessary. In a perfect world GBLT authors would have exactly the same chance in all things as straight, cis people would. This is not a perfect world. It is not a perfect world for us and many other marginalised bodies. This is why safe spaces were created. This is why we have places where we can be without having to hide, without having to apologise, without having to adapt - and where we are not the minority, where we are not other.

And so we have the Lambda awards - for GBLT authors to present their work and have it celebrated in a place where straightness is not the norm, where GBLT people are not ‘other’ and something we can be part of without the constant poking and needling that the world loves to throw

We aren’t the only marginalised body that has created an award for ourselves. We have the Orange Awards, the BCALA, the Coretta Scott King Awards. If white people tried to enter an award for black authors or men started whining about not being able to enter the Orange awards we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion - or the people talking about it wouldn’t. Because we’d recognise the whiner as silly and prejudiced.(not to say that there aren't ridiculous people protesting these awards - because there are. Sadly there is no shortage of crazy in the world)

That said, I can understand that some people disagree. I don’t agree with their disagreement but I respect that they do. And it is easily (and has been easily) possible to express disagreement without being an arsehole. No, really.

So why are so many people - so many supposed ALLIES! - resorting to homophobia and extreme privilege? Let me lay it down as I see it:

If you are implying that GBLT authors aren’t as good as straight authors then that’s homophobic and transphobic. Straight and cis authors will dominate because of societal prejudice and because you OUTNUMBER US. Many many many times over.

If you are denying, oblivious or dismissive of the very real societal prejudice GBLT people face or are trying to look at this in isolation to the very real prejudice GBLT people face then that’s homophobic and transphobic and grossly privileged.

If you are comparing these awards being kept for GBLT people to any real life prejudice GBLT people or ANY marginalised group face then you are diminishing us and them - and are being homophobic and transphobic (and likely racist/etc as well) and grossly privileged.

If you even consider using extreme hyperbole - including pink triangles, comparing LLF to the Westboro Baptist church, comparing this to segregation, lynching or mentioning straight authors closeting themselves - then you are being inexcusably and extremely homophobic, transphobic and privileged

If you are discussing any kind of “retaliation” whether it’s “I will never write GBLT again!” or “We’ll make our own awards and exclude GBLT people!” then you are homophobic, transphobic - and a spoiled brat having a temper tantrum.

Now, if you consider yourself an ALLY and have expressed your disagreement in any of these terms then I ask you to relook and rethink. I’m not saying don’t disagree - disagreement is fair enough and can be done respectfully and sensibly (though you may still look clueless and privileged, well, everyone not part of a group can be that) and not resorting to the offensive bilge we have seen smeared around the place.

If you identify as GBLT and are even thinking of cracking your teeth saying these things then PLEASE wake up. You may be deeply involved in the m/m genre, you may have a lot of straight, cis friends, fans and favoured authors in the genre. It may be instinctive to defend them - but, in the name of all that’s holy, THINK. Look at what is being said - LOOK AT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING. You are giving credence to this thinking! You are SUPPORTING the fool memes of “gay special rights” and dismissing homophobia, overlooking transphobia and dismissing societal prejudice. You are not only handing weapons to the our common enemies but you’re sharpening them first!

Yes, disagree - most certainly disagree. But if the disagreement falls into screeching privilege and gross homophobia and/or transphobia then you have crossed a line. And if a friend of yours does it or someone does it in your space you need to slap that down - because no matter how big a friend they are, no matter how big a fan, no matter how much you admire them or how integral you consider them to your genre and community - if you tolerate and accept prejudice, if you let gross straight or cis privilege go unchallenged then it WILL come back and bite us on the arse. It WILL be used against us.

Disagree if you must, by all means. But don’t be a tool of straight and/or cis privilege. Don’t hand weapons to the phobes. And don’t let your spaces be places where such vileness can grow.

ETA To note, as pointed out by Krynn in the comments, there is a steady transphobia here in the sense that there's an assumption that there will be no heterosexuals in the awards - completely ignoring heterosexual trans writers

I admit that I am very lazy with my language too often, and use "straight" as a general term for "heterosexual and cisgendered" which is neither an ideal descriptor nor a common one nor a good one since our trans brothers and sisters do deserve more recognition than that, and I'll reword things to be more appropriate

Saturday, 26 September 2009

This? This is my not amused face. The Lambda Awards

The Lambda Awards by the Lambda Literary Foundation are book awards for GBLT authors. In the past they have allowed straight people to submit entries. They have now decided to limit the awards to GBLT authors since an award designed to elevate, protect and showcase GBLT talent became swamped by oodles of straight authors of both gay fiction and m/m romance.

To note: I would have linked as friend’s post who admirably summed this up, but since his entry is private I won’t foist the debate, controversy etc onto his space. It’d be rude. But I will say that I don’t claim originality for all of the ideas expressed here. The snark and slap downs are mine though.

Now, personally I don’t generally care overmuch. Mainly because I don’t pick or choose the books I read based on awards and I have no earthly chance of ever winning any literary award anyway, but I do approve because, as I’ve touched on before (and will likely post more on later), it’s vitally important for marginalised groups to have their own space. In a world that is 99% about straight people, it’s necessary for mental well being, awareness and confidence to have a few corners that are about us. It’s nice to have a place where you aren’t an “other” where you aren’t the odd one, the exception, the anomaly.

The Lambda Awards are one of these spaces and they have taken steps to make sure it stays that way.

Thankfully, most authors - including straight authors of GBLT fiction and m/m romance - have been sensible, respectful and understood fully. I am glad to see that the vast majority of people have brains, decency and grace.

And some people are not happy. In fact, there is a wailing and a gnashing of teeth. And a lot of very ugly straight privilege being waved around that is giving me a headache. Some of the comments are obvious in their stupidity. Since I’ve spent a very unproductive couple of days trying to educate the clueless and venting my spleen on twitter (sorry for falling off the map - I had my righteous anger on) I may as well knock up an LJ post out of it, so let’s look at some whines

1) It’s not about you
This is an award for GBLT authors. That doesn’t mean LLF is saying straight people shouldn’t/cannot/are incapable of writing books with GBLT characters or themes. It’s not saying anything about what straight people can/cannot write - because it’s not about straight people. I can’t emphasis this enough. LLF is not doing this to stop a popular title from winning (seriously, did you buy performance enhancing drugs for your ego?) nor is it doing it to exclude good straight writers because the GBLT writers can’t compete (yeah, see this is when ‘selfish, privileged whining’ crosses the line to active homophobia). LLF is a GBLT award for GBLT authors. it’s not about straight people. Get over yourselves already

“It’s Unfair!” Unfair... Seriously? You’re whining at a group of people who are fighting tooth and nail to get basic rights recognised, who are pilloried by major religions and political leaders and who are afraid of openly declaring who we are for fear of physical assault about FAIRNESS because of a BOOK AWARD? How about this? When the straight world gives GBLT people the same rights, privileges and respect as straightness gets THEN you can come and talk about how unfair this book award is.

“It discriminates.” The world discriminates - sadly very much against GBLT people - and that includes GBLT authors. We don’t WANT gay awards. We very much want awards like this NOT to be necessary. We’d love it if the world was equal and we didn’t have to make our own spaces. But it isn’t - and that’s why these awards (and awards that celebrate women authors and POC authors) are so extremely necessary.

3) Prejudice
“The genre I write is marginalised.” This is true - gay romance, m/m fiction, f/f fiction et al is a marginalised genre. Undisputed and we all agree that’s wrong. But why is this LLF’s responsibility to address? It’s about GBLT people not genres (not about you, remember?) This is an attempt to redress very real prejudice against people - and I think I’m not alone in saying that prejudice against GBLT is a wee bit more serious than the marginalisation of a genre.

But yes, it is wrong. But it wasn’t GBLT people who disenfranchised the genre. It is the mainstream (straight) that keeps the genre down - why are you attacking a GBLT organisation and not the mainstream literary awards?

“I’m a woman, so I also face prejudice” agreed. And? The fact you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t have straight and cis privilege any more than my being gay means I don’t have male privilege. Arguing you should be able to enter a GBLT award because you face sexism is as foolish as me saying I should be able to enter a woman’s award because I face homophobia.

4)Petulant Flouncing
“This is anti-straight bigotry! You’re oppressing us.” I’m not even going to dignify that with an intelligent response.

“Well we’ll make our own award for straight authors only!” Ummm, why? To prove to the world you’re homophobic? You don’t need to go to all that effort. Believe me. If the award is about the GENRE then there will be no need to exclude authors. If it is about the AUTHORS then you are implying that straight authors are somehow oppressed or discriminated against and need a safe space. Or it could be that you’re stamping your foot and having a tantrum.

“Fine, I won’t WRITE GBLT EVAH AGAIN!” are you saying that you only wrote GBLT in the hope of winning an LLF award? Really? Well, don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out.

“Then I’ll have to CLOSET myself to enter the award.” You didn’t. You did NOT say that. Really. You did not compare the horrible reality of gay people having to lie and act and hide to desperately survive in the face of homophobia and internalised self hate with you PRETENDING TO BE GAY TO WIN AN AWARD?! You did NOT make that comparison?

“This is like segregation!” Aw c’mon there’s no justification for that amount of ignorance. You cannot seriously compare the attempt to create a GBLT award for MARGINALISED people with the systematic oppression of black people by racist white society. There is so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin.

"pink triangles" Uh-huh. First, let me scream "GODWIN!" Then let me just gape in wonder that anyone would think ANYTHING about this is even REMOTELY comparable to the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.

Really I'm in awe at how low this has gone in places and deeply thankful that most responses have been more... moderate

Monday, 21 September 2009

Legitimate Criticism is not an acceptable Doorway for Bigotry

I’ve spoken about criticisng respectfully as an outsider but now I’m going to ramble on about the unpleasant habit some people have of using criticism as a method to express their prejudice (hence the need for the former post)

Recently there have been a few cases of marginalised people doing stupid and naughty things. Kanye West at the Music Video Awards, Serena Williams having a tantrum with a ref and, in the more distant past (though updated with near weekly fails) there is Perez Hilton, well, Perez Hilton just about every time he’s opened his mouth. Included here for completeness and general overview (and because of point 6 which I risked doing exactly what I was cautioning against)

All of these people have been, rightly, criticised for less than acceptable behaviour. No problems there - all of these people have done things severely worthy of criticism. And then there’s a criticism that makes you want to headdesk - where people are basically treating it as an excuse to let that bigotry hang free.

So let’s look at some bad criticism and Sparky’s guide to why it fails.

1) Any and all uses of bigoted language.

Why it Fails
Do I even need to say this? Kanye West was an arsehole, a brat, a selfish prat and many other things. Accurate, if crude, descriptors all. The N-word? REALLY unnecessary and unless he’s started eating small children while I wasn’t looking, makes the “critic” (racist arsehole would be a better term) look waaaay worse than he ever was. Criticism is legitimate. Using it to pull out the inner bigot isn’t.

2) “Serena Williams’ unprecedented rampage... wild... savage...”

Why it fails
Excessive hyperbole. Serena Williams is not the first sports person to throw all her toys out the pram because a ref decision went against her. Footballers do it on a near weekly basis. John McEnroe had a whole marketing persona based on him spitting his dummy out and breaking tennis rackets.

Basically - it is no more unacceptable for a marginalised person to lose their temper/say something stupid/whatever than it is for a non-marginalised person. If the white guy doing it would only earn a tut and a headshake from you, then the black woman doing it shouldn’t earn your outraged and furious condemnation.

3) “I never ever comment on sports usually - but...”

Why it fails
Well, why are you mentioning it now? Hundreds of sports personalities have arguments with refs, umpires et al. Millions of gossip columnists say shit that is awful - and that you routinely ignore.

I’m not saying don’t criticise. I’m asking you to examine WHY you’re criticising. IF behaviour is worthy of criticism and IF you would NORMALLY comment then go right ahead. But if you completely ignore it when a white person does it, then commenting on it when a black person does it looks bad. If you wouldn't think to mention it when a straight person does it, but simply have to talk about it when a gay person does it looks wrong. To repeat again - I had a colleague who loved to tell me all the details of any and all incidents of crime committed by immigrants he could find. He never said anything inaccurate - but he never spoke about crime UNLESS it was committed by an immigrant. I think it’s pretty clear why.

4) “Kanye West, a black entertainer...” “Serena Williams, a black sportswoman...” “Gay gossip columnist, Perez Hilton...”

Why it fails
If you were talking about Eminem saying something foolish - you wouldn’t identify him as the “white straight entertainer.” There’d be no need - his race and sexuality would be deemed to be a) obvious and b) irrelevant. It is equally true when the fool in question belongs to a marginalised group. Why are you emphasising or reminding people of their race/sexuality etc? Why are you acting like it’s relevant?

5) “Kanye West shows what is wrong with the black...” “Perez Hilton again shows the sexism/racism of the GBLT community”

Why it fails
When black people get together, put a crown on Mr. West’s head and announce him their supreme leader, I’m sure they’ll send us a memo. Until then his actions and speech reflect himself and ONLY himself. When the Gay Mafia appoints Perez Hilton as Commander in Chief of our marriage and morality destroying armies then we will let you know. Until then he is not a spokesperson, avatar or poster child for the GBLT movement or any part of it.

If you have a legitimate, sensible criticism about a community or movement, then go for it - respectfully. But don’t pluck out the bad actions of one person and decide that this is somehow indicative of absolutely everyone within the group.

6) “Perez Hilton is a disgrace to GBLT people.”

Why this fails
Fail 1 If you are NOT part of the marginalised group in question (in this case, if you are not GBLT) then it’s presumptuous in the extreme to dictate who is and isn’t a fit representative of that group. Sure, he’s a fool beyond all measure all too often - but it’s not your place to say it or to choose which GBLT people are appropriate “spokespeople” or not (aside: In my view no-one is or everyone is). We don’t need or want you policing us or playing “good minority/bad minority”

Fail 2 If you ARE part of the marginalised group then STOP PLAYING THIS GAME. You are feeding the fools at no. 5. The correct answer isn’t to say “Perez Hilton is a disgrace to all GBLT people” but to say “the man’s an arsehole - his sexuality is irrelevent.” He doesn’t disgrace me. He doesn’t shame me. I have no duty to apologise for him nor do I have any sense of collective responsibility or blame for what he’s done. He is not my friend or family. I have no power over his actions and no influence over them.

It is deeply homophobic to judge me or other GBLT people on the basis of what he has done/said. We do not have a duty to denounce him, we do not have a duty to apologise for him. We need to fight against the idea that all homosexuals should be collectively punished for the act of one - not feed into it.

There is nothing wrong with criticism. And when people have decided to show their arses and arseholery there’s absolutely nothing wrong with calling them out or expressing your anger, disappointment or disapproval. But the how you express it - and the WHY. Well that needs examining. Because no amount of arsholery justifies bigotry

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The delicate art of criticism as an outsider

The delicate art of criticism.

I’ve spoken before on how important unity and intersectionality is. But I want to add to that with a problem I’m seeing over and over with people who are trying to promote it - the delicate art of criticising a marginalised group/movement - ESPECIALLY if you are not a part of it or see to have different priorities than it.

Criticising a marginalised group is delicate and difficult. Because we’re defensive. Yes, we are.

Ok, I know that’s annoying to read - we’re all tired of silencing techniques of saying we’re too “emotional” or “angry” or “hysterical” or “sensitive.” They are so often used to basically tell any marginalised group to sit down and shut up - and certainly anyone trying to silence you this way should be hit with a fish repeatedly until they can only twitch slightly.

But we are often defensive. We’re defensive because people under attack ARE defensive. We’re defensive and irritated by outside criticism because 90% of it is so utterly wrong. Best case scenario it’s so utterly ignorant that it makes your head hurt and the worst case scenario it’s some prejudiced arsehole taking any opportunity they can to bash you. In short, 90% of “criticism” is just yet another way the privileged world likes to give you a good kicking. This usually means that any outside criticism will quickly be greeted with hostility.

So here is Sparky’s guide to trying to be critical on important matters without causing the hackles to rise. I’m using the lens of people criticising the GBLT movement, but the same applies across the board

1) Be respectful. Remember, your audience is going to be angry and hurt - remember also you are talking about issues from the outside. If you want to be heard, blasting in with insults, homophobia, radical generalisations etc are going to annoy. You need to get past that initial anger and pain

2) Is criticism a habit? Do you only say bad things about homosexuals or the GBLT movement? Do you ever have any praise for us or our causes? Do you express outrage or anger at the abuses GBLT people face? If so what’s the ratio? 1 semi-positive post to 10 posts that are critical? Because if it’s all negative all the time, then you may want to consider why and whether there’s any point to your criticism - because it comes off as a homophobic screed. I follow one blog that is extremely informative and useful on some issues, but the blogger so constantly lashes out at gay people and the gay rights movement that I no longer consider it a safe place. Even if you think your criticism is valid - if you only post the bad it makes it look like you’re LOOKING for things to throw at us.

3) Are you criticising individuals and presenting their actions/words as universal or typical? We’re not all Perez Hilton or Dan Savage. It’s age old prejudice to present the negative actions of one member of a group as typical of all.

4) If you are criticising an individual as just an individual - is there a specific reason you picked them out? I had a colleague when I was at uni who was always ready to tell me about various crimes committed by immigrants. He never said anything inaccurate, nor did he use offensive terms - but religiously reported every crime he could find. If an immigrant wasn’t the criminal, he didn’t report it. He also felt the need to make it clear that the criminal was an immigrant every time. Again, trawling for the negative.

So, why are you talking about this person? Is their sexuality an important descriptor? For example, there are no end of epicly failing parents out there - so why did you feel the need to comment on the Lesbian couple’s ridiculous law suit ? Why was the lesbianism an important enough part of the story to mention?

5) Have you thrown any stones at your own glass house? This is one thing that is irritating and often leads to people lashing back. Are you criticising people/groups on an issue that your own group/movement is also failing on? If so, have you commented on your own group’s failure? In recent months I have seen many people criticise the GBLT movement on the lack of diversity in their leadership - coming from people who have not cracked their teeth on their own movement’s lack of intersectionality or diverse representation. If intersectionality is truly important to you, then you will address it as a whole - if you think it’s only important when discussing the GBLT community’s failing then it looks like the issue isn’t important to you - finding another excuse to criticise gay people looks much more likely.

I really think there is a lot of useful information out there and a lot of valid criticism. I think our allies - and all marginalised groups’ allies have a lot of useful things to add and maybe see things that we miss. But it is being lost either because it is poorly presented AND because there are so many people who are using the EXCUSE of the criticism to indulge their homophobia.

I am thankful that there are some wonderful people and wonderful bloggers and activists who are getting this right. Hopefully more and more people will listen to them. But the number of people screwing it up badly is turning a lot of people off - and making them less likely to listen to those who got it right.

The message is lost in the anger and the hurt - and nobody wins then.