It’s that time of year again: lammy nominations! Oh, how I love and hate them. At best, I have complicated feelings about the Lambda Literary Awards. As Autostraddle writer Carolyn reported last year, in 2004 (!!!) a transphobic book made it onto the trans lit shortlist; it was only removed after protests. Last year when The Collection: Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, a short story anthology edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod, won in the trans fiction category, it was the first time a trans author had actually won in that category. Trans and bisexual categories haven’t been around that long, and at times the categories haven’t accurately reflected books that were nominated or even won in them.
For example, Toronto writer Farzana Doctor’s lovely novel Six Metres of Pavement won in the lesbian fiction category a few years ago. I was really excited to see a Canadian writer of colour win this award. The thing is, the novel is mainly about a romance between two straight, cis people and the protagonist is a man. There is a secondary queer character, but she is not a lesbian and explicitly rejects the bisexual label (although she dates people of different genders) and prefers the term queer. Is it just me, or should we take it seriously when someone identifies as queer and not lesbian? Unfortunately, the Lambdas don’t actually even have a category that would reflect the character in Six Metres of Pavement. The worst thing about this whole fiasco is that it really fucked with my expectations when I picked up this book, and made me enjoy it a lot less than I would have if I had just read it knowing the author was a lesbian. When it’s called lesbian fiction, I expect there to be lesbians. That’s not weird, is it?
Them ruining my enjoyment of Six Metres of Pavement and quashing the distinctions between lesbian, bisexual and queer is probably on par with straight author Thrity Umrigar winning the lesbian fiction category last year for The World We Found. The whole debate on whether authors have to self-identify as LGBT or not has been going on for a while; the Lambda foundation have changed their minds about this a few times. Currently, books have to have ‘significant’ LGBT content to qualify, but authors do not have to identify as LGBT. As a lesbian, I’m all for people who aren’t lesbians writing about lesbians, as long as they do their research and seriously consider the responsibilities of writing about a minority group you don’t belong to. However, it pisses me off when there are fantastic books written by queer women in the lesbian fiction category and a book by a straight woman, with one out of four main characters queer-identified, wins instead. I just think the award should go to a queer author. Again, that’s not weird, is it?
There’s another nomination this year that I am pretty pissed off about: cis straight author Ian Hamilton’s The Wild Beasts of Wuhan is up for the lesbian mystery award. As I said in detail in my review of this book, I think it’s sexist, transphobic (both towards trans masculine and feminine folks), and classist. It brushes aside sexual assault like it’s not a big deal, praises the lesbian protagonist’s normative gender, contains gross, annoying product placement, includes a transmisogynist metaphor, and fails to address racism, sexism, or homophobia while the Chinese-Canadian lesbian detective is travelling the world. It’s terrible and offensive and just WHY??
On the negative train still for a second before I switch gears, I am SUPER disappointed Canary by Nancy Jo Cullen didn’t make the shortlist for LGBT debut fiction. It’s such a fucking awesome collection of short stories, and one of the best queer books I’ve ever read. I really don’t understand why it didn’t make the cut because it really stole my heart and is so well-written and funny and authentic and weird and smart. Cullen really nails working class and rural dialogue and does a fantastic job of creating and depicting ordinary people in all their eccentric glory. People, there’s a gut-busting story about a middle-aged lesbian going for a bikini wax for the first time after her long-term relationship ends and it doesn’t go exactly as she plans and the story is called “Bush.” Read more of my thoughts here and go get the book!
Anyway, like I said, complicated at best. That said, I am really excited about some of the Canadians who are on the shortlists this year. In particular, the second edition of Winnipeg writer, poet, and academic Trish Salah’s poetry collection Wanting in Arabic is up for a trans fiction award (uh, despite the fact that it’s poetry, not fiction, but let’s put that aside for now). Wanting in Arabic was originally published in 2002, and it’s been on my reading list for quite some time. It would actually fit just as well in a lesbian/queer section, yet another issue with the categories. To be fair, though, books are submitted by authors and/or publishers into specific categories. I just got a copy out of the library, so expect a review of it soon! In the meantime, Globe and Mail writer Margaret Christakos had this to say about the book:
Wanting in Arabic is a self-impelled keening for identification with a lost tongue, both that of her father’s Lebanese roots and her own metamorphosis…This indeterminate and determined voice chronicles the trans-self’s journey as a tour et retour de force…. With ethical toughness and carnal ecstasy, Salah’s writing bosoms up every damn dam in the literary waterway.
Doesn’t that sound AWESOME? Salah is also one of the poets included in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, edited by T.C. Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson, which is up for LGBT anthology. I’ve heard very, very good things about this collection; in particular, one writer friend told me it would “further complicate and torture my definition odyssey.” Haha. The unique thing about this anthology is that it includes detailed poetic statements from all of the poets in addition to their poetry, where they address the relationships between language, identification, embodiment, and activism and give a context for their work. Salah is the only Canadian that I know of so far in this book, but there are probably (hopefully?) some more that I haven’t heard of in here as well.
Two west coast authors, Amber Dawn and Andrea Routley, have also been nominated in the lesbian memoir/biography and LGBT debut fiction categories respectively. Personally, I think How Poetry Saved My Life is a shoo-in. It’s such an amazing, unique book, that goes from personal essay to stories to erotica to poetry and back and from funny to heart-breaking and everywhere in between. I love this book so much every time I write about it, I end up using clichés like “everywhere in between” and “I laughed and I cried.” Plenitude Magazine editor and founder Routley’s Jane and the Whales is uneven like many debuts, and I don’t think Routley and I share a sense of humour, but it is a powerful collection of short stories by a writer with a serious gift for depicting a particular brand of west coast characters in a darkly comic way.
To see a complete list of the Canadians nominated (including men and Canadian women Mel Bossa’s bi men’s romance and Tracey Richardson’s lesbian romance), check out this Quill & Quire list.