Dear Lambda Literary:
This is my open letter to you as a queer author, as the editor of a Lammy Finalist book from last year, a regular reviewer and contributor to Lambda Literary online, and, most importantly, as a reader whose life has been saved by the queer books I read. This morning, when I awoke to the news that you have finally caved to mainstream pressure and decided to (with the exception of three awards) open the Lammys up to straight writers, I was angry, sad, and heartbroken.
Queer books saved my life, again and again. They helped me to imagine a place in the world, and helped me – the scared alone, homeless queer teenager–to believe that I could survive. Books gave me hope. Queer books gave me life, and they helped me to believe that I could tell my own story. I tell everyone in my writing workshops that storytelling is social justice work, that only they are qualified to tell their stories. Now we have the most powerful force in LGBTQ literature telling us that our voices don’t matter, that they are not important or special, and that we need to make room for privileged oppressors to write about us- our lives, our community, and our families. We are supposed to act like this is “progress” – I don’t think so.
Call me a queer separatist if you want, but I am incredibly disappointed to watch Lambda Literary take this conservative step. Lambda has been the place where queer authors have been able to come together, to connect, to have our work recognized from within our own community. It has been the place where we have (theoretically) not had to explain ourselves in the way that so many of us must when we write in interact with straight authors and audiences. As queer authors, we compete with straight writers every day in Amazon rankings, on bookstore shelves, and in every other literary venue. At the Lambda Literary awards this year, where my book was a finalist, I was horrified by the self-hating and downright offensive remarks made by Pioneer Award recipient Edward Albee. He spoke about how those of us who write from queer experience are lesser authors–much to the audible anger of many of us in the audience. I was at the time shocked that Lambda Literary would have given an award to someone who would say on stage things that seemed to go so against everything the organization stood for. Now, I can’t help but feel like it was an intentional sign of what was to come.
I didn’t start writing books to get rich or famous. I started writing to save my life, and to reach out and connect with other queers. That is the root of why I write today, and it is why I will always write. I want to write dangerous stories, complicated stories, the kinds of stories that show just how queer our world really is, and I want others to have the space to do the same. We need more queers to write about ourselves and our communities and the last thing we need is to encourage straight folks to write more books about who they think we are, and what they think our world looks like. This morning on facebook in response to the Lambda news, Liam Wolf, one of the Kicked Out contributors, said “This is ridiculous. How can a straight writer tell the heartache, frustration and joy of a queer life if they’ve never lived it?” I couldn’t agree more.
These are our stories, our lives, and we are the only ones qualified and capable of truly writing about them. It is my hope that the straight authors who are truly allies will realize this and not nominate their books for the Lammy awards, knowing that it is not a space they belong. Since the news broke my phone and email have been filled with emails and texts from other queer writers angry that Lambda would sell us out in this way. Many of us are thinking about ways to speak out and mobilize – the idea of starting our own truly queer literary awards has even seriously been thrown around realizing that the only option might be to take our community back.