Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Romance Writers, Ink: Showing their Homophobic Arses

'Rainbow Pride' photo (c) 2010, Charlie Nguyen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So, Romance Writers, Ink, an Oklahoma-based chapter of the Romance Writers of America was having a writing competition. It’s called More than Magic and is open to all forms of romance. In fact, so eager where they to include all kinds of romance that they said this:

Our judges are all romance readers. Within that group are RWI chapter members and members of other RWA chapters. We recruit judges nationwide and even worldwide (for e-books) and our only requirement is that they are regular romance readers. They tell us which categories and what “heat” level they prefer to read, so our entrants’ books get into the hands of people who might give them the most favorable rating. Our final round judges are chosen for the diversity of their romance reading interests and enjoyment, sense of fair comparison across all categories, and knowledge of the romance genre.[source]

So, let’s be clear - they will raise mountains to ensure that every and all kinds of romance are accepted and find a receptive audience. No matter how steamy, how explicit, what genre or category they fit in - no matter how out there, they will find a judge to look upon it favorably.

Except any romance with a same-sex couple. No, that’s not allowed and not accepted.

This is something we’ve seen before in speculative fiction. We can expect people to deal with elves and magic and dwarfs, we can expect them to deal with vampires and werewolves and witches, we can expect them to deal with space ships and aliens and phasers with 12078 settings (when all you use is the “kill” option) but gods forbid you include 2 people of the same gender who dare to love each other! That is just going far too far!

In fact, nothing I say could beat the excellent words of Courtney Milan:
Apparently, it’s possible for the MTM contest to get entrants’ books in the hands of diverse judges from multiple RWA chapters who are comfortable with all types of romances and heat levels. You can write M/F erotica. You can write M/M/F. You can write about aliens from another planet who have tentacles, or barbed sexual organs. You can write degrading rapes. None of those things are barred from entry in the More than Magic contest, and if you write them, they’ll try to find judges who are predisposed to like your books. But they won’t do that if you write same sex romance–even if it’s a sweet romance with no sexual contact whatsoever. No–when it comes to same sex romance, the fact that they might be able to identify judges in their chapter or outside of it who would be willing to read same sex entries and judge them fairly somehow becomes irrelevant. In that instance, the majority gets to say that those entries don’t belong.[source]

And why is this discrimination here? Because they’re UNCOMFORTABLE with same-sex romance

Really? You pride yourself on being able to find judges who will look favorably on any romance, no matter how out there or how explicit but you couldn’t find one who could endure the presence of those icky gays no matter how sanitized? Really? What does this say about your membership? And can we say again how gross it is that straight discomfort means that gay people have to be removed and hidden? Because the bigots are uncomfortable our lives get erased from the page? Why, again, does GBLT existence take a second seat to prejudiced straight folk’s discomfort?

The Romance Writers of America has released a statement:
RWA members are served by 145 local and special interest chapters, and those chapters are individually incorporated and governed. So long as chapters fulfill their obligations under state law, as well as RWA and chapter bylaws, and their programs and services support the professional interests of career focused romance writers, policy affords them rather broad latitude in determining which programs and services to offer. Absent policy governing chapter-level contests, RWA's board cannot intervene in the decisions of individual chapters. [source]

So they want to make it clear they don’t want to meddle with their local chapters. Really? This is the weak excuse? Because it’s several kinds of pathetic. Welcome to the 21st century and get yourself a non-discrimination policy for crying out loud! Why isn’t THAT included under the RWA bylaws? You are accepting these people as part of your organization, minimum behavioral standards should really be part of the membership process - otherwise your name gets affiliated with, say, homophobic bigots. This is basic PR, this is basic common sense. Are you really going to give your name and endorsement to people without any controls of their behavior? Do you value your name, your brand, that poorly?

And faced with this outrage (which is lovely to see) what does RWI do? Do they change their decision? Do they decide that being homophobic arseholes is a bad idea and amend their rules? No, they cancel their entire competition rather than get gay all over it:
After much consideration, RWI regretfully announces the MTM Published Author Contest has been cancelled. All monies and books received from entrants will be returned as soon as possible. We have heard and understood the issues raised, and will take those concerns into consideration should the chapter elect to hold contests in the future. Please note: our contest coordinator, Jackie, is a chapter member who graciously volunteered to collect entries and sort by category. It is unfortunate that she has become the object of personal ridicule and abuse. We recognize the decision to disallow same-sex entries is highly charged. We also opted not to accept YA entries. We do not condone discrimination against individuals of any sort. [source]
Now, shall we analyze what is wrong with this statement?

If you had heard and understood the issues raised then you’d be able to turn round now and say “shit, that was wrong. No homophobia in the future.” Not take this into “consideration”. What they should have done is forcefully renounce the homophobic nature of this policy and promise to ensure that there would be repetition of this sort of thing. Their failure to respond appropriately evidences that they don’t really care that this practice was discriminatory and only seek to put a lid on this scandal as quickly as possible, without making any substantive changes. 

Jackie may have volunteered, that doesn’t change the fact that if she was responsible for this little piece of bigotry, then she’s a homophobe. And homophobes deserve ridicule at the very least, they positively invite it in fact. Her volunteering to be a homophobe doesn’t really redeem this and spare me the making the homophobe into a victim, really. It’s tiresome.

No, the decision to discriminate against GBLT content isn’t highly charged - it’s prejudiced and discriminatory. And this is not even remotely comparable to YA content and the fact they make this comparison shows just how clueless these people are. And if there’s one thing this whole dreadful fiasco has shown it’s that they are more than willing to discriminate against us.

And let’s look at the REACTION to this contest being closed.  There is actually a claim that they are being BULLIED.  Yes, BULLIED because their homophobic policy has received negative attention and how dare GLBT and their allies speak forcefully about this very public exclusionary tactic.  It is not an accident that the chapter did not decide that heterosexual couplings are not problematic.  No matter what area of the media we examine, when it comes to sex and sexuality, heterosexuality has always been given preferential treatment despite the cost to GLBT people.    

In recent months there has been much attention to the rising tide of GLBT suicide in response to anti-gay bullying.  This is the cost of actively targeting and erasing the GLBT community.  What they had planned for this contest is absolutely not harmless and to then turn around and suggest that they are being bullied for being held accountable for their actions is not only a denial of their culpability but it amounts an attempt to take on victim status.  Suddenly they're being victimised because their bigotry has not been allowed to pass by unnoticed and unremarked upon.  Their reaction is classic and quite honestly typical of how far too many privileged people respond when called out on their actions.  You don’t exist with a right to oppress people and know one has to accept the targeting of their person in silence. 

All in all, this is one great stinking, homophobic trainwreck.