Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lambda fail

And no, this is not a rant where I take umbrage on behalf of all the straight female writers of m/m romance who've just discovered they've been disqualified from the awards. As touchy a subject as this is, I'm cursed to see both sides of it. I feel for the talented authors who in years past might have joined the ranks of Mercedes Lackey and Annie Proulx, but who are now excluded because they've become, on the whole, too successful.

That said, I'd guess the straight women professionally writing m/m now outnumber the gay men doing the same. The awards had not previously made an issue of the gender/sexual orientations of the authors--likely because up until recently virtually all the authors writing quality literature exploring GLBT themes were GLBT people. When a straight writer wrote a book good enough to win the award, it was cause for celebration. But now that a hundred other straight female writers are finding success with m/m, well, it's like they've crashed the party.

So while I feel for all the authors excluded, I'm not annoyed about it. But I AM annoyed.

Why, you ask? Well, before I get to the meat of it, let me steer you toward an appropriate and edumicational link: F/F vs. lesbian. If you were part of that discussion, you've already got some background info and might even be able to guess why I'm annoyed.

I'll admit, until this debate came up, the Lambdas weren't even on my radar. I was aware of them only as blurbs on book covers and websites, or on movie posters for Brokeback Mountain, but I'd never gone out of my way to learn about them. Never even considered entering. Now I'm pissed enough that I'd egg their website if it would do more than dirty my computer screen.

But after reading a bunch of comments in places like EREC and Dear Author, I checked out their website and discovered this:


LESBIAN: Books eligible for this category are those that feature a lesbian main character.
GAY: Books eligible for this category are those that depict a gay main character.

Betty Berzon Prize for Gay Debut Fiction
Betty Berzon Prize for Lesbian Debut Fiction

Gay Erotica
Lesbian Erotica

Gay General Fiction
Lesbian General Fiction

Gay Memoir/Biography
Lesbian Memoir/Biography

Gay Mystery
Lesbian Mystery

Gay Poetry
Lesbian Poetry

Gay Romance
Lesbian Romance


These categories are non-gender specific. All LGBT individuals are eligible.

LGBT Anthology
LGBT Children's/Young AdultFiction
LGBT Drama

LGBT Nonfiction
LGBT Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
LGBT Studies


BisexualFiction and nonfiction: novels, short story collections, anthologies, poetry, memoirs, cultural studies, public policy, law, history, spirituality, gender studies, etc.

TransFiction and nonfiction: novels, short story collections, anthologies, poetry, memoirs, cultural studies, public policy, law, history, spirituality, gender studies, etc.

See anything wrong with this? See why I might be pissed?

And even the LLF realizes there's something screwy here, because no book may be entered in more than one category, with the exception of bisexual and trans books, which may be entered in two. Because, in their words: "This exception is intended to bring more visibility to the most under-published segments of our LGBT community."

Um, no. No no no no.

While I would agree that transgender-themed books are pretty few and far between, books with bisexual main characters and bisexual themes being underpublished? Hogwash. Even dismissing the dearth of f/f/m and bi-themed f/f out there (often mislabeled by publishers and misconstrued by readers, further contributing to its invisibility) do you have any idea how much bi-male erotica and romance there is out there? You'd think no one had heard of m/m/f menage (except readers, that is, who gobble it up like popcorn).

But even setting aside all the menage romance out there, bisexuality is everywhere in GLBT fiction--it's just largely invisible. Or ignored.

Case in point: Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, one of my favorite books evah, and my intro at the tender age of 16 to guy-on-guy action. Oh, a stunning gay romance! Except not precisely. Yes, one main character is for all intents and purposes gay. The other--in fact, the hero of the story--is bisexual. Just because he's in love with a man doesn't make him any less bisexual. Yet his bisexuality is invisible. Ignored by the readership. He's defined by his current relationship.

Case in point: Ally Blue's Adder. No, I didn't manage to finish it (contemp setting, rock stars, megalomaniac hero--three strikes, you're out), but from what I read, the hero of this "gay romance" is--you guessed it--bisexual. As evidenced by this line, on page 7: "The swooping high of performing, coupled with the adoration of his fans, would carry him through the pain. Then after the show, he’d pick one lucky girl or boy from the audience to help him feel better."

Case in point: My own Crossing Swords. The heroine, Lianon falls in love with a man. Yes, there's some girl-on-girl action in it, but it's an m/f romance. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a het romance. Even if I'd left out the two f/f scenes, it STILL wouldn't be a het romance. Lianon is bisexual. She was married to a woman. She's still attracted to women. She's also *gasp* attracted to men.

I think you might find that there are many bisexual main characters in fiction, just like there are in real life (know any male politicians who've been caught on the down low lately? Somehow they're always described as gay men living in sham het marriages) but you won't find them labeled as such. Except in erotica. Plenty of bisexual erotica out there, haha.

But as far as stories about regular, monogamous, boring people who don't go from partner to partner as if they're playing a game of musical genitals, or engage in spectacular three-ways every Tuesday and Thursday night, well, if they're men who like dudes, they're automatically considered gay. If they're women who like chicks, they must be lesbians. And if they leave a m/f relationship to explore a same-sex one, they're inevitably seen as transitioning to their true orientation--as gays or lesbians!

Who perpetuates this misperception that all m/m stories (and relationships) are about gay men and all f/f ones are about lesbians? Who perpetuates the belief that every m/f romance--whether in books or in real life--is about straight people?

Well, everyone. Readers, writers, publishers, writers' organizations. And the LLF, with its stupid assumption that there are no bi books out there because you can only be bi if you're a swinger or promiscuous and you sleep with both genders over the course of a book and angst about how you can't decide who you want to be with.

You know what, LLF? I'm guessing, if you want to really get down to numbers, there are as many--or more--bisexuals out there as there are gays and lesbians. And just as many bi books. You just don't see them, or us.


M. A. said...

*sighs* I think all this complexity is best resolved by separating the categories. No one can be offended in that case.

Athena 101 said...

There's another pretty awesome blog post about this:

Elf said...

This post has been included in a Linkspam roundup.

kirsten saell said...

Hey, guys! I think even if they had combined categories: gay/bi-male and lesbian/bi-female for the 7 fiction categories, I'd be happy. Because there ARE bisexual characters in m/m and f/f (and m/f, lol), but publishers, contests, booksellers, etc, all kind of force them to define themselves as gay, lesbian or het.

And when you look at the definitions of the gay and lesbian categories, it just says the book has to have "a gay/lesbian main character". So technically, if it's an f/f romance and both characters are bi, it can't enter in that category. And if one of the two main characters is bi, the award itself only allows for acknowledgement of the gay one.

LLF allowing bi books to enter two categories is kind of a lame stab at tokenism--what if your book doesn't fit any other category? Or what if it best fits the lesbian romance category? You're stuck again calling a spade a club.

I'd say again, bi characters are probably not underpublished at all--just invisible. Unless you're talking menage. And if we're only labeling menage books as bi, doesn't that just reinforce the stereotype that bis can't be monogamous?

And of course, I totally missed celebrate bisexuality day. :(