Puzzling Through the Lauren Hough Lambda Literary Situation
The result isn’t necessarily greater justice. The result is more people paying lip service to progressive orthodoxy, and playing snitches-and-saints to become part of an in-group to win awards.
On March 5, Author Sandra Newman announced a new book on Twitter. THE MEN is a story about how, in a not-so-distant future, everyone with a Y chromosome disappears.
Some members of the trans community approached this release with skepticism, because previous books with premises of “gendercide” have, to them, been transphobic or transmysognistic. After all, if all “men” disappear, what about trans women with a Y chromosome? What about trans men who have no Y chromosome? How will the author portray trans people? Will she erase them?
Author Lauren Hough, a nominee for a Lambda Literary Award for her essay collection LEAVING ISN’T THE HARDEST THING, jumped in with her opinions of Newman’s book. She and Newman are friends, and she read the book and loved it:
She also insulted some critics of Newman’s book on Twitter and questioned if they had even read it, or if they were simply piling on Newman for dare writing a book that may, by its premise alone, exclude or mischaracterize trans people.
Not long after this, Lambda Literary pulled LEAVING ISN’T THE HARDEST THING out of contention for an award, as reported in the New York Times.
Why, exactly, did Lambda Literary governance pull Hough’s book? I’m trying to map it out in my brain.
See, Hough’s book was not problematic. It was a NYT Bestseller.
According to Lambda:
An award organization can nominate or not nominate, or give or not give an award to anybody they want. I’m fine with that.
Still, if Lambda was aware of a series of now-deleted transphobic tweets, why give her the nomination in the first place? Lambda Literary seems to have judged Hough a transphobic bully based on I’m-not-quite-sure-what. Rumored tweets, now deleted? Screenshots of tweets that no longer exist?
Adding to the noise: a subset of Twitter has hated Lauren Hough since she went on a Twitter tirade in 2021 about her critics. That tirade only made Hough more popular, which has made a quick-fuse out of anything she says today.
Hough would likely not have been on Lambda Literary’s radar had she not supported a book members of the trans community felt could be problematic. She was brash to critics of Newman’s book on Twitter, and spared no use of the f-word to make her feelings known. As many of these trans and trans allies frame it, she “went on a rampage against the trans community,” which the Lambda Awards exists to promote.
But, did she?
The questions I might ask as I puzzle through this are as follows:
- Was Newman’s book transphobic? Suspected of transphobia? Offensive to all trans people? Merely a few? Open to interpretation?
- Assuming Newman’s book is transphobic, does the fact that Hough liked the book make her transphobic by proxy, and therefore less eligible for an award?
- Was Hough transphobic to Newman’s critics? Or was she rude to critics who happened to be trans people and trans allies? It’s a distinction, and, I feel, an important one.
- Has Hough exhibited clear “disdain and disrespect for an entire segment of the LGBTQ community” as Lambda states? Many of Newman’s critics certainly feel that way, but that’s a harsh accusation when the evidence is “now-deleted Tweets.”
Many people feel deeply about this issue. Many people are upset I might turn it over in my head rather than seeing it as an open-and-shut case. But here I sit, wondering if a book like THE MEN, which isn’t to my taste, really even has to be for everyone and inclusive of everyone.
Should public behavior and opinions exclude people from awards? Certainly — but in what circumstance and based on what evidence? Those circumstances and that evidence seems to grow more restrictive by the day, and more weighted toward heresay, rumor, and hurt feelings.
21st-century progressive culture instructs us to believe the “injured party" at all times, at risk of being a supremacist.
But is the result greater justice. Or is it quiet resentment?
For certain, the result is more people paying lip service to orthodoxy, and playing snitches-and-saints in order to become part of an in-group to win awards.
The situation feels, to me, like another nail in the coffin of public discourse. And, while this feeling might be unorthodox, it is sincere.
It also seems the absolute worst thing you can do for your writing career is engage people with grievances in any form of “discourse" on social media.