How do you make your exclusions?

I’m bringing the discussion from a loop where several authors were talking about the recent RWI contest flap. The question arose: how can you define the categories to include only het? Do you call het one category and GLBT another? Or do you look at the category and exclude things that could be within it? (Thanks to Kathryn Scannell and JB McDonald for defining the questions.)

This whole argument clarifies if you take a really good look at what is genre and what is sub-genre. Start with the broadest category, not the details.

Frex: the genre is historical, the sub-genre is het, another subgenre is GLBT. The genre is contemporary, subgenres are GLBT and het.

What RWI tried to do here is start with the details and call the pairing the genre. If we stand still for that, we negate that we are telling a story of people. We’ve bought into it so far by calling a story a GLBT historical or m/m paranormal, as if the first term is the overall defining idea.

A m/m contemporary has more in common with a het contemporary than it does with an m/m mystery or an m/m science fiction story. If it comes to grouping like with like, for a contest or, for that matter, shelves at a book distributor, all the contemporaries should go together, all the science fiction should go together. The gender of the protags is a detail, not a definition of the genre.

What the RWI wanted to do is to pick and choose amongst subgenres for their contest. Their own mission statement announces them as offering support for *all* writers. Not writers of het, but *all* writers. They have violated their own mission statement.

Before anyone jumps on me for this stand, I am aware that it argues against such contests as the Lambdas (who have created their own lumps over inclusion/exclusion) and the Rainbow Awards. However, I do think that any writer of het who is willing to stand up and say, “my book won one of these awards,” ought to be able to enter. That willingness ought to winnow the entrants considerably.

But it does seem to me that the battle needs to shift a little, from “are m/m stories valid?” which they are–we prove that every day at such publishers as Torquere, Dreamspinner, and Amber Allure–to “is the story good?” without doing a pants check on the characters. We’re a long way from being able to do that, as this RWI contest shows.

Everyone’s allowed to have their preferences: I’d rather read contemporary or historical than paranormal, and yeah, I’d rather read and write m/m pairings than het, but I am not about to tell anyone else that their preferences aren’t valid or that they can’t play in my sandbox. Or that their stories by definition have no place in my bookshelf: I have something of everything in there.  Stratification is something that humans can do awfully well: “literary” authors look down on genre writers, het romance writers seem to think it’s okay to look down on the m/m romance writers, but, hey, we’re all romance writers. But carried to an extreme, a contest category could end up being open only to stories with left-handed protagonists between 5 feet and 5 feet 6 inches tall, with one blue eye. Let’s be more inclusive than that.

6 responses to “How do you make your exclusions?

  1. Actually, the genre is romance, the subgenre is contemporary, and m/m is a detail, or a sub-subgenre if you like. One hears “contemporary” or “fantasy” or whatever called genres, but that’s based on the umbrella assumption that of course we’re all talking about romance. It’s a messy use of the terminology, though, and makes us sound very provincial to the larger fiction world.

    However you sort it, though, RWI screwed up pretty badly, and their mistake was very clearly based on the assumption that the sex/gender of the protags is a huge deal in a romance. And it is from an audience perspective — the audiences are almost completely different, with very little overlap on that Venn diagram — from from a genre-definition perspective, as you said, the plumbing of the protags has nothing to do with whether or not a book is a romance.

    Having a special GLBT category in a contest — stuffing all of us in the lavender ghetto — is unfortunately a common transitional point, partway between excluding us all together and letting us participate fully. Retailers do this too. It forces judges/voters to compare oranges with potatoes with lug wrenches, which is clearly stupid. It does seem to let the folks in charge see, in a dipping-the-toe-into-the-cold-pool way, that the sky will not fall if they let GLBT books into their contest. :/

    It’s pretty obvious, though, when a contest has categories for Contemporary Romance and Historical Romance and Paranormal Romance and SF Romance, and Contemporary Erotic Romance and Historical Erotic Romance and Paranormal Erotic Romance and SF Erotic Romance, but then has one category where all GLBT books, fiction and nonfiction, get stuffed [cough] that genre definition has nothing to do with it.

    Angie

  2. I think that they messed up big time…Instead of uniting and helping all writers they are making them more angry and they are moving away from them. We already have it hard enough and someone who is suppose to support us is making it even harder..

  3. Nicely articulated points Pam. Let’s hope the outcry will make them change their ways.

    If they have judges that aren’t comfortable reading GLBT romances, why don’t they just, I don’t know, recruit some that are? I feels a lot like an excuse to me.

    • What Pam said. [sigh] There were judges available — that wasn’t the issue. They’d had GLBT books in their contest before, and in fact one won last year. The whole problem was that some number of members of their chapter were “uncomfortable” being associated with a contest that allowed GLBT books to enter. Given the attitude demonstrated there, I suspect that being forced to promote a GLBT book as the winner of their contest the previous year probably made the little darlings clutch their pearls and walk around town with paper bags over their heads for a while, and determined that this travesty would never happen again. :/

      This was solely bigotry, nothing else.

  4. Actually, they let m/m books in last year and the sky *did* fall: Sloan Parker won top prize with an m/m/m book, which I have to think is part of what’s driving the lunacy. They’ve made themselves look very foolish, and violated their stated intentions at the same time.

    @juni – it wasn’t that they didn’t have or couldn’t find judges; they didn’t even look. Some of their members “were uncomfortable” with the entire idea. So yeah, a big honking excuse.

  5. http://www.themarysue.com/romance-writers-ink-gay-stories/

    I quite liked this article, and a lot of the comments on it. Particularly the one by commenter Colleen Coover, which includes:

    In this case, however, we have RWI making an exclusionary choice based not on the defined criteria of their contest, but upon the *identity of characters* featured in stories that otherwise meet all those criteria. That’s where we leave anything resembling fairness behind and step firmly in the poo pile of discrimination.

    Well said, I think.

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