3 white unicorns on a rainbow

Inclusion, Survival, and Rainbow Unicorns

Karin Kallmaker LIFE + STYLE, Readers and Libraries, Sisters of the Pen 16 Comments

I’ve made no secret over the years about my love for the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS). I count it among my favorite organizations, and the annual conference is – bar none – my favorite event of the year.

A Bit of Background

As the world around all of us changes, and everyone – young and old – finds new ways to exist and express themselves, ideas and the words that express them change too. I’ve written before about the inevitable phenomenon. It’s exciting and painful all at once.

GCLS has been slow to adapt. Slow to the point that some early supporters have wandered away in search of more welcoming places. I’ve tried to support and amplify the voices of those people who have felt excluded and unwelcome and asked the organization to make it unequivocally clear that the organization’s goals, events, and awards were not just open to them but welcomed them.

Recently, GCLS unveiled updated language throughout their mission statement, goals, awards eligibility, and web site to reflect that GCLS welcomes women and nonbinary people and that there is simply no debate that transwomen are women and it supports the literature that tells those peoples’ stories. These changes to terms used were the result of the work of many volunteers, and was debated by the membership-elected board.

I was outright relieved. As one of their trailblazer awardees, it has been increasingly difficult to tell people they were welcome as the language remained not very inclusive. There has been some vocal pushback since the announcement. I’ve had private conversations with a couple of people that boil down to:   

  1. Whenever women open their spaces to not-women, it’s a slippery slope to the not-women ruining everything.
  2. Someone will write a book with two men in it, call it sapphic, and it will win awards and so many more will follow that the voices of the lesbians who began the organization will be overrun and our literature will be lost.
  3. This change to wording is an unrealistic endeavor based on a good intentions.

I wrote an extensive response to one such public posting on Facebook, and I’ve captured the essence of it here. I want to make it clear where I stand.

What Exactly Are We Talking About?

I accept that people are offering cautionary tales, often from their own life. But I usually don’t understand if they are warning the rest of us about people or the content of the books.

The People Who Are Already Here?

If it’s about the people, well, I simply don’t agree that nonbinary and trans people are the enemies of the people who began the organization. Many of those still asking to be included in the language used by the organization gave of themselves during GCLS’s early years.

They’ve been there. They’re here now. They’re done waiting.

GCLS has always been open to anyone willing to pay dues. Since the beginning! The language change reflects that history like never before.

It’s not acceptable to want to count all kinds of people as part of us and not actually welcome them among us. True in life, true here.

It has been increasingly hard for me to personally say to people “of course you are welcome” without having words in print from the organization that backs that up. I am proud of the words they’ve found as a way forward. Now I want to see actions that back them up, of course.

The Content of Our Community’s Books?

If their concern is about the content of the books, anyone can play What If and give a list of characters and their traits and ask “how is that about our community?” I’ve done that with a couple of lesbian mysteries over the years where the main character, other than saying so once, never showed any affiliation for queer, woman-identified, sapphic, or lesbian people or communities. On the other hand, I’ve read stories where no one identified as anything and knew it was queer and woman-centric from start to finish.

It will always be about what’s in the book, not a What If that may never be submitted to the awards. When the content isn’t readily obvious, it’s going to be in the eyes of the beholder, the readers, and the judges. So it has always been, and so it will always be.

There will be disagreements and many a learning opportunity. Hopefully there will then be respectful discussions and ways forward found again.

deep purple velvet high heels

Rainbow Unicorns?

It is simply not true that my position (and that of the GCLS Board, and all the members of the Diversity and Inclusion committee) is “not being realistic.” In some of these exchanges it’s clear that some people believe their lived experience is universal, or represents an inevitable repeating sequence of travesty and loss. It’s a kind of gaslighting to respond to people, who are sharing their lived experiences as positive results from inclusion, as if their reality is a politically correct pipe-dream fantasy.

My support of these clarifications isn’t the result of dwelling in a rainbow unicorn world, beating a PC campfire drum, and singing kumbaya.

  • It’s born out of watching the rise, life, and death of our bookstores.
  • Of seeing the damage the lesbian sex wars did to ALL of us.
  • From watching our exclusive spaces dwindle, not least because as more people discovered their queerness, and named it for themselves just as I did, exclusionary spaces were the last places they wanted to support.

The bars didn’t go away because not-women took them. They faded because fewer and fewer people were there to give them life.

It’s witnessing the implosion of Romance Writers of America – a hugely relevant cautionary tale for GLCS. Give mere lip service to inclusion, do nothing real to ensure it, and you might as well set fire to your organization.

Growth and accountability are hard; if any of this was easy it would have been done already. I’ve had to examine and question my own knee jerk reactions. I’ve gotten to know people not like me in many ways, and I’m better for it and can only hope they are too. I’m trying to separate my ideals and feminism from my privilege. I still stumble, I figure out why, and try to do better.

Ultimately, my support of the clarifications GCLS is making is rooted in my desire to be a good parent and neighbor, and a force for love in an increasingly, depressingly autocratic and fascist world that pits us against each other. This is Buying into the Big Lie, and I’ve written about that before too.

There’s nothing unrealistic about the essential truth of the community I grew up in and the community that exists all around me today: we only have each other.

FYI, this is my favorite rainbow unicorn along with a bunch of books about chocolate.

Deadpool holding rainbow unicorn plushie in front of many books about chocolate
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Comments 16

  1. I needed to read this. Your wisdom and words opened up my mind. Us Queer folk do need to stand together and love one another. We have more in common than differences. Lesfic, WLW fiction helped me cope with life last year, I could take a respite from my troubles. I am now feeling whole again from 2019 and 2020 and your words really added to healing some of what caused fear of losing feminism as I thought I understood it..but now I can understand the fears are unfounded. Peace and love y’all.

    1. I’m glad you found the blog, Connie. I have sometimes fearful responses to new ways of looking at the world, and I ask myself what is it I am afraid I will lose. A lot of times I can’t figure it out, and I’ve come to realize that it’s likely a long and not entirely unreasonable paranoia that the culture I’m part of will be erased. After all, lesbians were erased from the world since the invention of erasers.

      But as long as we are willing to do the work of evaluating people and change with context and nuance – and love! – I believe we’ll get to a place where we can all coexist and hold each other up.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post! I’m someone who’s read, enjoyed, and supported WLW fiction since I discovered it in the late 90’s/early 00’s. Back then I identified as a lesbian, but by the time I was in a financial position to possibly support GCLS I was still sorting out my gender identity but knew I fell somewhere on the transmasculine non-binary person/trans man side of things and so chose not to get involved due to real fear of what kind of reception I would have. This fear extended to the whole WLW fiction community, to the point that while I’d always been really active in reaching out to authors who’s work I’d enjoyed to give feedback and tell them how much their work meant to me I stopped doing so or interacting in any WLW fiction spaces for fear of being told I was unwelcome or worse.

    Luckily during the last few years I got to a place where I decided to reach out to a few of my fave authors and they’ve all been so welcoming that I’ve been able to really start enjoying WLW fiction to it’s fullest without any thoughts of “oh but would I be welcome to read this work if people knew how I identified?” lurking in my head. Heck, I’ve even been welcomed into some WLW fiction readers groups on social media. This along with the change in language on the GCLS site and the vocal support of such changes by those involved with GCLS has led to my becoming a member for the first time in my life.

    Thank you for being so vocal in your support of these changes.

    1. It you’re a hugger and we ever meet in real life, there’s a big one waiting for you. Or a hearty handshake, your choice. All queer people know what is like to be doing life and having to look over our shoulders to make sure we’re safe. It’s a tragedy that anyone has to do so around other queer people. Love and kindness are so much easier, and everyone is richer for it.

  3. Thank you, Karin. As a reader, I don’t care who wrote the book or how they identify. I do care about reading well written stories about women loving women. Yes, that includes trans women and the other alphabet letters. It’s not a matter of just changing the wording on our website or mission statement. All who love women loving women literature should be welcomed and included. I believe it was Cheryl Head’s explanation that made it so clear. Inclusion is not just asking someone to the ball, it’s actually asking them to dance.

  4. Karin– Thanks for writing this amazing post! GCLS is trying. We are open to feedback and questions. We are so lucky to have you and your support.

  5. Thanks so much Karin for speaking up for inclusivity! I, too, am happy to see GCLS become more open and inclusive. Sapphic women who are bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans, or queer and nonbinary people have always been part of GCLS, and many of them have contributed a lot over the years.

    I know some lesbian members of GCLS are afraid of being erased or their history being forgotten, but I think inviting more people in will do just the opposite. After all, why would anyone be willing to learn about our history while we make them feel unwelcome?

  6. Very well said, Karin. I’m glad to see this move and most gratified at hearing supportive defenses like this. GCLS will remain my favorite con because folks like you make it strive for better. Thank you.

    1. You have also contributed so much, Mary. I was thinking about all the hard work so many people have done to give the organization the framework to survive over a long-term. It would be a shame for that work to be undermined by regressive fears.

  7. I recently joined the CCLS as a result of their public move towards greater inclusiveness. Prior to this I hadn’t felt able to financially support an organisation whose language was so clearly behind the times and that frankly felt excluding. The “what if” voices in our community are very loud, but it’s only by working together that we can make the world a more welcoming and safer space for everyone. The feeling of “otherness” has been a tool of oppression for too long both generally and sadly in our community. So embracing and celebrating diversity within our institutions, community and books can surely only lead to enrichment and more rainbow unicorns?

    1. I don’t feel comfortable sharing their names in this forum, even though their comments were made publicly on Facebook as a debate ensued. They were masc of center and bisexual women, and non-binary people. Hearing them admit why they’ve not attended or engaged much at all for several years was very sad. Overhearing comments that say you don’t belong from other attendees is just not acceptable.

      When have any walls ever survived the future?

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