February 4, 2012 by Anne Tenino
You know what I hate in my romance? Non-consensual sex for titillation. Dubious consent is also on my short list of things to be avoided most of the time, in most situations. That said, I will read both non-con and dub-con when necessary: someone has asked me to offer an opinion on their book; I’m critiquing; or it’s a book I want to read, it’s just this one place where I get uncomfortable.
This is the way I see it; being “uncomfortable” is my problem. I have a right to be uncomfortable, but I don’t have a right to tell the author that I think the element that makes me uncomfortable (non-consensual sex) doesn’t belong in their book simply because I find it off-putting.
On a personal level—e.g., I demand non-consensual sex be removed by all authors—this is narrow-minded and disrespectful. Let’s move it to a professional level and see what it becomes, shall we?
Pretend I’m a writing professor. It’s my job to read the works my students produce and grade them on these works. One of my students writes a work glorifying non-consensual sex. Instead of reading it and grading it on its merits, I insist the student re-write the work so that I won’t be made uncomfortable. If you had a professor who did this, what would you do? I know what I would do; I’d go to the head of the department and complain.
This kind of biased behavior does not necessarily rise to the level of discrimination, but it’s a building block for bigotry. It’s the dividing line between having an opinion, and forcing your opinion on someone else. It does potentially rise to the level of administrative action—the department head just may feel that some sort of punitive action needs to be taken against me if I refuse to read the work my student produced.
Now let’s take this to the next level. This time, we’ll change the game a little. I’m a volunteer judge for a professional romance writer’s award. What makes me “uncomfortable” in this scenario is same-sex pairings (c’mon, play along). I tell the organizers of the contest about my discomfort. In addition to me, a number of other volunteer judges also express their discomfort with same-sex couples in any sub-genre. I don’t know how many judges, but say it’s enough that the contest organizers see it as a majority of judges being uncomfortable.
What do the contest organizers do? Do they make a list of judges who are uncomfortable with same-sex pairings and make sure these judges don’t have to read those books? No, they ban same-sex pairings from the contest. Is this discrimination? In my opinion, it is, but let me present you with a couple other scenarios to help you decide, in case you are wavering or unsure.
First alternative scenario: I am still a volunteer judge, but this time it’s not same-sex pairings I’m uncomfortable with, it’s my original complaint—I’m uncomfortable with non-consensual sex. When I go to the contest organizers and tell them, do they ban works with non-consensual sex from the contest? If they don’t, what does this say about the fact that they did ban same-sex pairings?
Second alternative scenario: I am, again, a volunteer judge, but I have a totally different situation I find discomfiting. This time, I’m uncomfortable with interracial pairings. When I go to the contest organizers with this (assuming I have the balls), do they ban interracial pairings from the contest? You know the answer to that one is hell, no. I wouldn’t be surprised if they banned me from the contest if I objected to that kind of pairing.
See, they might explain to me, race is something you can’t choose, just as who you fall in love with is something you can’t choose. Or maybe they just tell me that interracial romance is something that some people like, it’s a legitimate pairing, and if I can’t suck it up and read one if I’m given one to judge, than I’m not welcome to be a judge.
If my objection was to non-consensual sex, they could have the same response—read it if you’re given it, or don’t judge—and likely no one would fault them. So, why is it okay for them to ban same-sex pairings? LGBTQ romance has a number of features in common with both interracial romance and non-consensual sex. All three are something that real life protagonists have no control over. You can’t choose to be black anymore than you can choose to not be a lesbian. You can’t decide that man won’t rape you. Further, none of these three by themselves constitute a separate genre. Interracial pairings can occur in any sub-genre; paranormal, sci-fi, contemporary, even historical. Same with non-consensual sex. Ditto with same-sex pairings.
That was a lovely little exercise in hypotheticals, wasn’t it? Except in one case, that was not hypothetical, it’s actually happening. Romance Writers Ink, a chapter of the national organization Romance Writers of America, has banned same-sex pairing entries for their More than Magic contest in all categories. (the rules and information page can be viewed here: http://rwimagiccontests.wordpress.com/rwi-contests/2012-more-than-magic-rules-information/)
You may have already heard about this. Rainbow Romance Writers (another RWA chapter) members are making an effort to call attention to this situation. RRW has already tried the diplomatic route by contacting the RWA. The RWA has declined to take any action. (I’m willing to bet if it were interracial pairings that were banned, the RWA would be addressing the situation. Tout suite.)
Banning same-sex pairings is one of those cases where discrimination is considered to be a matter of personal choice. Since people who identify as LGBTQ aren’t categorically protected from discrimination in the United States it’s considered okay to one of the categories that still discriminates against them. That doesn’t make it right, that just makes it rationalized, bureaucratized bias.
As unfortunate as it is, this sort of discrimination will not change unless we make the practitioners of it ashamed. The way to make them ashamed of their behavior is to point out how wrong it is, and what it says about them as people and an organization. It says if they can come up with a good excuse, discrimination is okay.
If you are as pissed as I am about this, there are a number of things you can do. You can email the RWA at email@example.com and voice your concerns and objections to their refusal to end the same-sex pairing ban. You can also email the contest coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your views. You can reTweet messages with the #Rom4all hashtag (which may or may not include #LGBT and #RWA hashtags). You can spread the word about this blog post and the others on the same subject. You can encourage others to email the RWA.
It’s not our turn to suck it up and take it.