In a move that seems perfectly timed to keep last week’s culture cancellation debate (part 327) going this week, Lambda Literary has preemptively removed writer Lauren Hough from an award shortlist due recent “Twitter disputes”. According to a Substack post from Hough, after being informed a few weeks ago that his first collection of essays, Leaving is not the hardest thing, was a finalist, she received a follow-up email last week stripping her of the honor (presumably before Lambda announced its finalists). Hough posted a screenshot of the second email:
As Hough points out in his post, the “Twitter disputes” in question refer to his defense of novelist Sandra Newman, who was attacked on Twitter (and not just by YA Twitter, as Hough suggests) after she published an article. on his next book, Men, which takes place in a world without people with a Y chromosome. As a sociopolitical/moral thought experiment, it is a premise that justifies a nuanced and thoughtful approach to how we think about gender and sex. Like virtually everyone who attacks Newman’s book, I have not read Men, so I can’t say if he treats the subject of gender and sex with nuance and intelligence; but based on their past public writings, I am inclined to give Newman the benefit of the doubt.
But it’s not about Newman being denied an award (and the money that goes with it); Lambda Literary withdrew its nomination from Hough for defend Newman on Twitter. As Hough writes:
I would read the book. Sandra Newman sent it to me in a first form and I gave her some notes, as we do for each other. I’m not transgender and neither is Sandra (Sandra is non-binary), but we discussed how to make the book acknowledge the reality of transgender people. Other books that started from this premise – all men disappear – erased the existence of trans people, and it was important for her not to do that, to be as sensitive as possible. So when I saw people assuming that simple idea was the entire plot, I told them to read the book before assuming the worst. For this, I was labeled TERF.
I’m not a fucking TERF. No reasonable person would think I’m a TERF. It’s actually pretty easy to tell whether or not I’m a TERF. All you have to do is ask me or spend two minutes scrolling through my Twitter timeline. Sandra Newman is also not a TERF, which can be easily discovered by the same methods.
Is Sandra Newman providing artistic/intellectual cover for those who would deny the basic rights of trans people, who would seek to make the very existence of trans people a matter of debate? This does not seem to be the case. But to make this argument, one would surely have to read the book in question? Does Lambda Literary allow anti-trans activists to shout “cancel culture” at every public criticism? Yes.
This decision by Lambda Literary is nothing more than the worst form of “guilt by association”. And that’s bad.