Personal Taste, Public Responsibilities & Discrimination #Rom4All #LGBT #RWA18
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and voice your concerns and objections to their refusal to end the same-sex pairing ban. You can also email the contest coordinator at email@example.com 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.
In related news: http://ronkemp.blogspot.com/2012/02/teacher-puts-own-bias-above-students.html
I couldn’t ask for something to more perfectly illustrate my point. How fortuitous. 🙂
Great post, Anne. Really shed the light to the ridiculousness of their decision, isn’t it?
Thanks, Cleon. 🙂 I started writing this as a way to get it all straight in my head (pun unintentional), but it turned into pretty much what I wanted in a blog post.
I have already emailed an open letter to RWA and RWI. This is not acceptable.
That’s great to hear! Hopefully you’ll get a response, PD.
I loved your post! These are wonderful examples of what people consider politically incorrect to object to reading versus what it is still “okay” to be “subjected” to! I submitted my opinion to them as well–I told them they needed to find a few more open-minded judges if their argument was that the judges were having a hard time reading the submissions!
Thanks, that’s nice to hear. 🙂 Yeah, to me the “our judges are uncomfortable” excuse seems like just that—an excuse. Glad to hear you registered your opinion.
They definitely need some more enlightened judges. Email sent. Thank you for such a well thought out post, Anne.
Thanks, Britta. 🙂 I saw you tweeted, too, I appreciate that. And as far as the judges are concerned it’s becoming more obvious that finding judges isn’t the problem.
Even more upsetting, I’ve heard that the problem was NOT that judges wouldn’t judge GLTB entries, but that the chapter members didn’t want to be known as a chapter that accepted GLBT entries in its contest. Which, to me, is a hundred times worse.
I’ve heard similar rumors, Milena. I wish I were more surprised. Instead I just feel cynical… Thanks for the comment. 🙂
I was reading on Courtney Milan’s Blog this morning Anne a reply by Larissa Ione where she quotes a response from MTM being that it was never about the Judges.
And it does make it worse. It’s about Romance writers discriminating against love.
That’s what I’d heard, but hadn’t actually read the response. Thanks for the link!
You are welcome. Heidi Cullinan just published another blog post about “Now What” you may want to see.
I do get your main point here, I personally get “uncomfortable” by BDSM but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed as long as it involves consenting adults. However, I’m worried about your statement that you think that a student work “glorifying non-consensual sex” should be accepted. The huge difference here is that non-consensual sex is actually illegal!
I have no problem with writings involving non-consensual sex, even though it does make me uncomfortable, as long as the acts are not “glorified” but describing something horrible that happend to one (or more) of the characters in the book and is essential to the story.
My views are probably influenced by the fact that I for the last 20 years have been working as legal councel for an orginazation that helps victims of sex trafficking and other kinds of sexual abuse.
When interviewing perpetrators they often refer to how they perceive non-consensual sex to be something largely accepted by society because of how it’s been represented in media, mostly books and films. To us who are working with these issues this is a huge problem!
We’re seeing how it’s getting increasingly difficult to get convictions for rapists and people who otherwise force victims to sexual acts, even when their crimes are very violent. This is because there seems to be a growing acceptance for these crimes in society, a sense that the victims “secretly wanted it”, that it’s somehow some variation of consensual BDSM.
You and I don’t live in the same country but I have heard colleagues from USA complaining about the same thing lately.
A student work in the country I live in might not be accepted if it “glorifies” selling drugs or committing murder or rape, unless that was what the assignment specificly asked for. At least I sincerly hope so!
As you have probably understood by now my problem with what you wrote is with that single word, “glorifying”. Writing about criminal acts in itself is of course not a problem but “glorifying” them and by extension encourage others committ them is.
I’m a fan of your writings and I can’t wait for your next book to be released but since I read this post I have been thinking about it so much I felt I needed to voice my opinion. I want to stress that I do agree with your main point in article and that I think all kinds of discrimination is wrong. However, this does not apply to things that are actually illegal, as long as you live in a democratic country that respects human rights and equality.
“Glorify” was a pretty awful word choice, wasn’t it? I honestly think I let my own prejudice get a little to involved, there. I hate non-con, and I think that word was my subtle way of venting my feelings on it.
I live in a very different world than a lot of people walking the earth. Whether we actually have all these liberties and assurances of justice is a matter of debate, but within the US we at least have the illusion of it. But I’ve seen enough of the rest of the world that I know it’s not that way for the majority of people on the planet.
I’m thinking about changing that single word. Meanwhile, let me go on my soapbox for a minute.
Human-trafficking—a majority of which is child-trafficking—is one of the most serious problems facing the world today. It’s everywhere, including the United States. Educate yourself about it, peeps. The only way it will ever stop is if we all get involved. I’ll work on getting some general information together, and posting it either here or on Chicks & Dicks.