Monday, April 18, 2016

Little Miss Crabby Pants Comes Clean

Well that didn't take long.  Back from RT for a grand total of 24 hours and already our first controversy.  I tend to avoid addressing most post-con controversies but in this instance Little Miss Crabby Pants feels like she has something to say.  Because...of course she does.

The brouhaha involves a publisher that attended this year called Clean Reads (and no I'm not linking).  They handed out "Clean Reads" buttons at the Giant Book Fair and attendees wearing one had the opportunity to win cool free stuff - I believe Kindle Fires were involved.  So, naturally, many folks started walking around sporting those buttons.

What makes this problematic?  The fact that the publisher has very definite ideas on what constitutes a "clean read."  I'll direct you to this blog post by author Rick R. Reed, but in a nutshell?  "Clean" does not apply to LGBTQ.

There's a lot going on here, so let's start with the obvious.  The implication that if you're LGBTQ you are somehow "not clean" or "dirty" is....really not cool.  Also fairly obvious and problematic is the implication that all media (this includes books) that feature LGBTQ characters is somehow pedal-to-the-metal erotica (this is a long-standing pet peeve of mine).  Which...hello, it's not.  For me it's the exact same thing as when people think romance novels are all about sex and that all romance novels have sex in them.  Which we all know...isn't true either.

LGBTQ does not = "dirty" or "unclean"
LGBTQ does not automatically = erotica or erotic romance
Sex does not = "unclean" or "bad" or "wrong."

Hey, if we're all created in God's image I'm pretty sure the big guy upstairs is pretty OK with sex.  I mean, she'd have to be...right?

What I fear will get lost in this discussion, and what I fear will happen, is that readers who like reads that are sweet, gentle, non-explicit, whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-call-them, will get lumped into the fray as being "a problem."  Also, and this could just be the Twitter vacuum I live in, that somehow people who like non-explicit reads think erotic romance or erotica is the devil.  Some of them do, but guess what?  Some of them don't.  It's always been too easy and tempting by some parties to lump romance readers into "one thing."  Oh, you like LGBTQ?  You must hate Inspirational romances.  Oh, you like hot erotic romance?  You must want sex in ALL your books. 

It's true, some readers do like to stay in their lane and not veer off on to unfamiliar dirt roads to explore the countryside.  But, in my experience, I find this to not be the norm in Romancelandia.  I can only truly speak for myself, but I love erotic romance and erotica.  Love it!  But I also love plenty of authors who keep the bedroom door firmly shut and whose characters never utter a curse word.  I've even been known to read books on both ends of the spectrum back-to-back (two authors I really dig? Charlotte Stein and Deeanne Gist. They both do great tension, but that's the only similarity between the me).

The problem continues to be discoverability.  Just as I don't want readers shamed for loving erotic romance or erotica, I don't want them shamed for wanting the author to keep that bedroom door shut.  However we live in a society that cannot seem to function without labels and the book world is consumed by themThe trick is how to identify those non-explicit reads for people who want them without resorting to a publishing model that endorses bigotry.  And I think if you asked people who liked non-explicit reads?  You'd find a great many of them aren't intolerant people.  They don't think LGBTQ somehow denotes "explicit" because, guess what?  It doesn't.  I also think you'd find many of them interested in non-explicit books that feature LGBTQ characters.  If nothing else, I'm interested! (hint, hint)

This, for me, is another example of a widening divide.  Non-explicit reads are getting lumped into inspirational by default which is a disservice for non-explicit readers who don't want Christian themes and for Christian readers actively looking for Christian themes.  But in a world where we're obsessed with labels?  Coming up with labels or various genre cues is tricky.  Words like "clean" and "wholesome" are judgmental.  "Sweet" can mean anything from "no sex" to "charming" to "cloyingly saccharine."  I like "gentle" but am really not in love with it.  "Non-Explicit" seems....awkward.  And yes, there is a difference between "chaste" and "closed door."

At this point I'm thinking authors writing non-explicit books need to resort to putting cats on their book covers.  Hey, it worked for cozy mysteries!  Even when the story in question doesn't have a cat in it!

This is an instance where I really don't have a good answer and it's a topic which, as a librarian, I struggle with constantly.  Just as there are folks who don't like action movies because they don't like to watch violence?  There are folks who like non-explicit reads - not because they are narrow-minded or bigoted - but because they don't want to read about sex, violence and/or curse words.  And you know what?  There's nothing wrong with that.  But there has to be a way to identify those books without excluding the LGBTQ community and implying that they, and sex in general, are "dirty" or "wrong."


Mrs Giggles said...

I'd give them the benefit of the doubt in this case.

Their mission statement on the website is this: "We don’t believe a story has to have profanity, sex, or graphic violence to catch a reader’s attention."

Nowhere on the website, that I can find, did they say or imply that the gay lifestyle is not clean.

However, as RR Reed pointed out, they lumped LGBT+ characters with the rest of the "do not want". Not that I agree with such move, but it could be just some unwise copywriting, lumping everything in one sentence for convenience, instead of explaining more reasonably with a line like "We do not necessarily believe that stories with LGBT+ characters are 'unclean' or 'unacceptable', but such stories are not what our audience is looking for, and therefore, we are not the appropriate publisher for such stories."

But - and here's the thing - they used the very benign header "We are not looking for" for this section. Not, say, "Unacceptable content". This suggests, to me, that they could be just simply not looking for such stories because they know their audience will not want to buy those stories. Who knows. Some rewording of the lines of their website may help to defuse the tension.

azteclady said...

Miz Wendy, did you see this?

Short version: Inspirational romance with same sex protagonists is entered into RWA chapter contest; no judge in the inspirational romance category will read it, because teh gayz!!! so they remove the book entirely from romance and plop it with the 'romantic elements' stories.

Yes, it is a problem that the 'moderates' will be lumped in either group, but there are plenty of loud people who continue to consider anything involving non-hetero relationships as dirty, regardless of whatever actually happens in the story.

Ros said...

Back in the day when I read a lot of fanfic, it was common for authors to assign their stories a cinema-style rating. I liked it because it wasn't judgmental but you knew what to expect in terms of explicitness, language etc.

Wendy said...

Mrs. G: I've got "librarian baggage" on this issue as there's a long history of lumping all LGBT stories in with "erotic content" regardless of whether the book is erotic or not. This is sad, but if the publisher was titled Christian Reads, I'm not anybody would have batted an eye. Still problematic, but the use of the "Clean" word denotes that somehow all LGBT stories are wall-to-wall sexy times and erotic in nature. And I think that's the problem for me.

AL: I did see that and what I found so unsavory about that whole episode is the author HAD A DIALOGUE with the contest organizers. I mean, they actually talked about the issue, came to a consensus, and then they turned around and did their own thing anyway. I haven't read the book in question (it's in the TBR because OF COURSE it is) but from my "trust network" I've gleaned it really does fit into an inspirational mold.

Oh, and the chapter did respond with an apology which I thought was quite well done.

Ros: We used MPAA ratings back in my The Romance Reader (TRR) days and they worked fairly well. I've struggled with the idea of including them since the dawn of this blog and ultimately decided not to - thinking the body of my review would largely tell the sensuality tale. What it is getting trickier is the blurring of the lines. There's not a lot of difference anymore between "hot contemporary" and "erotic romance" IMHO. It's like we obliterated the R rating going from PG-13 straight to NC-17.

Lynn Spencer said...

Ugh. I'll admit that I tend to pay more attention to RWA than RT, but this just sounds ridiculous. I'd love to find a non-clunky name for the romances where the bedroom door pretty much stays shut.

But back to the controversy - I have to admit I don't have much patience for folks thinking that just because a book has gay characters, it must somehow be "dirty" regardless of sensuality level. I think the M/M inspy that Azteclady mentions is one I read for review and if that's the one, I have to say shame on the judges for refusing to read it. The writing isn't without its flaws, but it was a beautiful story.

I know I'm rambling, but I think my bottom line is this: If you don't agree with LGBT romance, then don't read it. But don't assume this romance you're not reading is all dirty (or to use a less charged word, erotic) either.

PK the Bookeemonster said...

Mrs. Giggles has the right of it. I'm wondering if people are looking for tempests in teapots especially in this area that is a hot button right now -- unfortunately books aren't immune. In looking for a "snappy" name without a bunch of words, they chose "Clean." They could have chosen "wholesome" but that's not as tripping on the tongue. I think of the company called "Pure" but I don't assign any meaning beyond something along the same lines of wholesome.

The closest the website gets to any kind of non-white-bread romance is in the submission guidelines: "What we are NOT looking for:
.... Erotica, homosexual characters, BDSM, fan fiction, poetry, screenplays and non-fiction." But again, I don't see an agenda here other than they ARE looking for traditional romance -- that is the market niche they want to fill.

Much love,
PK the Bookeemonster

azteclady said...

A company says--by virtue of their freaking name--"we are clean"


Not traditional, not sweet, not gentle, not wholesome, not Christian, not Amish.


Then they say, "we don't want these things"

Among those things are included not just types of things (erotica, BDSM, poetry, screenplays, non-fiction), but types of PEOPLE.

A number of individuals belonging to the types of people lumped among the *things* the company doesn't want, mention how the whole thing feels like erasure, exclusion, marginalization, disdain, etc.

When people who are constantly affected by something (i.e., marginalized, made to feel unwelcome, excluded, ignored, erased, etc) speak up, I think it behooves me to listen rather than to tell them that they are looking for things to be offended over.

Even if--big if for me, but I'm cynical that way--the company didn't mean to lump actual living and breathing PEOPLE with the things they don't want, choosing to use the word "clean" as if it didn't have any implications when applied to LGTBQIA people, shows breathtaking tone deafness.

cleo reader said...

Late to the party (as usual) but I have thoughts and feelings about this.

I think both the RT kerfuffle and the comments here show two distinct belief systems at play (so no wonder there's been a lot of miscommunication). The two approaches come down to this - is sexual orientation something you DO or is it something you ARE? Is it only who you have sex with or is it an integral part of your identity, effecting who you love and how you fit into the world?

Language is a part of this - homosexuality emphasizes sex and LGB / gay / lesbian / queer etc emphasizes identity and community. Which is why the LGB community doesn't use homosexuality anymore (in general).

Giving this group the benefit of the doubt, I can see that maybe what they meant by "no homosexual characters" was "no same-sex sex". But. It still feels like a slap in the face - and I'm bi, not homosexual (part of me wants to submit a chaste romance between two bi women to them and see what they say, but fortunately I don't write fiction).

I agree with Wendy here, for all the reasons she outlines. Perhaps Clean Books did not mean to offend and exclude all LGB people but they did - largely because they're using outdated language and operating from an increasingly outdated worldview.

CynthiaZ said...

Mrs. Giggles went to the source:

"Their mission statement on the website is this: "We don’t believe a story has to have profanity, sex, or graphic violence to catch a reader’s attention.""

cleo reader actually solved the problem of what to call the books. The word they are looking for is "chaste". That way, the story doesn't have to have sex. And since violence isn't necessarily dirty, e.g. "a clean kill", clean isn't really what they mean.

I prefer to read books that are not overly simple, that express strong emotion, that "grab" me. I don't care who the characters are if they are genuine and feel passionate, powerful love. I want the HEA, although I might settle for a HFN. There is the secret. We are free to not read what we don't like. I would probably avoid these "clean" books, not because of the lack of sex, but because the guidelines seem to exclude intense feelings, which can be messy/dirty while a book is still sex scene free. Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart could write powerful feelings, yet never have characters go further than a kiss. That's what I'm looking for in a book.

Very interesting post. Thank you.

Wendy said...

I was mulling over various comments and discussions before bed a couple nights ago and then I woke up to read Cleo's comment: " sexual orientation something you DO or is it something you ARE" and that was exactly the direction my own thoughts were spinning. So +1 to her comment.

Cynthia: That's it for me exactly. Clean is just a problematic word, because over the years I've read many a book that was free of descriptive sex, coarse language, violence etc. and the story still featured a messy emotional intensity. That's kind of the whole point to romance for me. I want that emotional intensity and I look for it in every book I pick up.