Sunday, March 20, 2011

Whose stories are these anyway?

The Lambda Literary Foundation has announced its 2011 award nominees.
There is one graphic novel on the list Jon Macy's Teleny and Camille (which I've not read), and only one comic anthology.
The anthology in question is Justin Hall's Glamazonia, the Uncanny Super Tranny.
Now I like Justin just fine, and do enjoy the strip in a casual way. But the collection is nominated in the category of Transgender Fiction.
Well, yeah, I suppose it is. Technically. But it's not what I first think of when considering this work.
It's about a superheroine drag queen who is gay male identified.
Drag is part of the trans community. Transgender is a blanket term. But it's sort of like your cousins. You enjoy their company, you're glad to see them, but you really don't have that much in common with them.
To further complicate the issue, Justin isn't trans in any sense.
Does that mean his voice on the issue is invalid?
Not necessarily. Just as men can write intelligent, capable women, and white people can write plausible people of other races as characters, so can someone write outside their own sexual experience and identity. But to have that someone nominated for an award as representative of that community is, well, problematic.
See, my problem with Glamazonia is not that it's unfunny or that it doesn't speak to part of the trans community. It is funny, and it does speak to a specific subset of what passes for a trans community.
But it's very gay male identified, and wrapped in a language, philosophy and way of life (I loathe the term lifestyle) that is removed from the experience of a great many trans folk.
It's good work and deserves recognition. I'm not sure if it belongs in this category, though, for the reasons enumerated.
One of the complaints many cisgendered women have about drag is that it feels to them like a form of blackface- a sort of parody of their identities. I see their point. When I read someone else's version of who I am, who we are, who anybody outside their own experience is, it chafes more than a bit. It's kind of like Lenny Bruce said about the cop testifying at Lenny's obscenity trial: someone is doing your act, and you're being judged by their performance.
Now, Justin fully recognizes this issue, and is very responsible in discussing it. This clip from the Queer Press Grant panel at last year's San Diego con is an example of that. Go to about 10:45 in the clip.

So I cannot, and am not of a mind to, really take Justin to task on this issue. he does good work that deserves to be recognized.
But the LLA committee: well....
Why no recognition of graphic narrative as an inherent form? There are categories for fiction, nonfiction, some types of genre fiction, all broken down by sexuality or sexual identity.  It cant' be for lack of good work- why is Rucka's exemplary work on Batwoman (and J H William's engaging follow up) not recognized, or even the Archie issue with new gay character? The latter is not the apex of the form, but is certainly culturally significant.
Have we reached the point at which these narratives are more integrated, and  queer graphic narrative exists in the context of larger works and separate recognition is no longer necessary?
Well, that would be nice, but I don't think we're there yet. Closer than we've ever been, but still no cigar is no cigar, to mix a metaphor.
Lambda has never had an award category for Graphic Narrative, or Graphic Novel, or whatever nomenclature trips your trigger.
They've nominated Stuck Rubber Baby, and Alison Bechdel has won in the past. But given the immeasurable quality of their work, that's almost a no-brainer.
Now, i realize that these folks owe me nothing. If I want to see an award for this work, I can always start one on my own.
But given that these folks are already out there, so to speak, I shouldn't have to.

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