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.