Just when I thought my week was nothing but getting a stitch in my side from the treadmill of catching up with the work I missed last week, here comes Romance Writers Ink with their More Than Magic contest, in which they fabulously and hilariously show themselves as a pack of oblivious bigots. Romance Writers Ink is the Tulsa, OK chapter of Romance Writers of America, which is kind of a big deal in the publishing industry. According to the Guardian, RWI amended the rules of their More Than Magic contest this year to say:
– Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.
Now, those who don’t read romance novels, don’t hang out with a lot of people who read romance novels, and don’t keep up with publishing industry discussion may now be thinking, “Yeah, that’s unfortunate, but if it’s what their readers want…” No. This is not about responding to reader preferences. There is a major market for same-sex romance fiction. There are lots of people who are totally happy to pay money for novels about two men or two women falling in love and pleasuring each other. If RWI is trying to set their contest rules in a way that pleases everyone, this is a very strange way to go about it.
Why did they make this change? Kari Gregg got in touch with RWI, and this is what happened:
So…I emailed the contest organizer to ask why this change was enacted. The contest organizer replied that RWI chapter members were “uncomfortable” with accepting same-sex contest entries. “Same-sex was just too much.”
Yeah, you read that right.
Romance is defined by RWA as a love relationship between two individuals, but RWI has unilaterally redefined romance as existing between one man and one woman for MTM.
And at RWA headquarters, no one seems to be willing to do anything about that. Chapters, apparently, are allowed to run their contest as they see fit, limiting contest entries by category and genre as appropriate. The only problem with this response is that LGBT is not considered a category or genre by RWA. If you look at the categories and genres for which RWA’s national awards are separated into for Golden Heart and Rita contests (2011 winners list), you will not find a LGBT category. Because there isn’t one. LGBT stories are entered into GH/Rita in the Paranormal category. Or Historical. Or Romantic Suspense. Whatever category fits the story without regard to the gender or sexual orientation of the protagonists.
Again: all it takes is a little browsing around the Romance section of Amazon or Barnes & Noble to see how odd that “just too much” part is. This is not a genre that’s known for tiptoeing around easily offended sensibilities. Courtney Milan gives it to RWI with both barrels:
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.
Yes; barbed sexual organs. She did not just make that up. Meanwhile, RWI is uncomfortable with stories about two dudes or two gals getting together. Milan is also unsatisfied with RWA.
Others have taken a variety of tactics. They’ve written to RWA (who apparently sanctioned this nonsense). They’ve written to the contest directly. I suspect that writing to RWA and the contest will result in much handwringing–there’s nothing in the P&PM or the Bylaws that prevent this, not without stretching overly much. There’s nothing in the P&PM that prevents a chapter from barring interracial romance, either. What should prevent such things from happening–is good sense and common human decency.
While we can put pressure on RWA to create and maintain more egalitarian guidelines, RWA as an organization moves at a snail’s pace.
Here’s the thing: some people like to buy and read same-sex romance. Some people like to buy and read het romance but are totally uninterested in same-sex fiction. Might there be some romance readers who are so homophobic that they’ll ignore the contest’s output if same-sex entries are included? Possibly, but if so, they’ve been ignoring the contest for years already; this is a new development. However, there are a lot more readers who either do like same-sex fiction, or maybe are indifferent to the fiction itself but don’t take kindly to needless exclusion, and who are getting seriously pissed off about this, and RWI should have seen that coming. I find it really funny that they apparently didn’t.
It doesn’t end there, though.
In response to the outrage, RWI went ahead and cancelled the contest rather than change the rules back to their previous, non-homophobic stance.
The Tulsa organisation has now cancelled the competition, saying in a statement on its website that “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,” added RWI. “We recognise 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.”
“We do not condone discrimination against individuals of any sort” roughly translates as “I CAN’T STOP MY HANDS FROM HITTING THIS KEYBOARD.”
And then they expect us to believe that they’re not bigoted against gays and lesbians, no, not at all, because they also disallow YA entries.
There are different arguments to be made for refusing Young Adult fiction in a romance contest. One is quantity control: YA is very popular lately and everyone and their sister is joining in the fun, so keeping the contest limited to adult levels is a way to keep the number of entries at a manageable level. Another is that, since Young Adult really means high school kids, and the novels have to be written accordingly, it may be very tricky to judge romance novels intended for that audience. Excluding YA from the contest may be problematic, but it’s a very different type of exclusion than barring same-sex entries. Wrong answer, RWI.
The butthurt about People Being Mean on the Internet is just the icing on the cake. If Jackie didn’t have any say in setting the contest rules, then it is indeed unfortunate if she bore the brunt of the anger directed at RWI. That being the case, she should blame RWI for making the rules that got them on the shit list. If she was aware of how they had changed their rules before she agreed to coordinate the contest, then she probably should have thought about that before she painted the target sign on her back. The news that her feelings have been hurt, even if she’s not in a position of authority in this contest, isn’t going to quell anyone’s anger over this.