Throwback Thursday: My First Lammies

This is a rescued Red Room repost from June 3rd, 2014, after I got back from New York after going to my first Lambda Literary Awards.

Cleis Press launched #OutWriters, a twitter tag that celebrates the influence and importance of LGBTQ authors. I took part with gusto as of June 1st, and it’s been a really invigorating experience: I’ve met dozens of new-to-me authors, and really enjoyed a few discussions that popped up thereafter. One of the reasons I tweeted for the launch was this:

@NathanBurgoine: Because the majority of the time we’re not born to LGBT families,¬†and often have to go find our own. Stories can be maps. #OutWriters

When I arrived in New York for my first ever Lambda Literary Awards, I was nervous. I was actually a little surprised I was nervous, but there it was. After so many years of going to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival I thought I had my own bumbling social stutters under control. When I go to Saints and Sinners, I am relaxed. I have a great time. I meet wonderful people, discuss books and writing, and walk away ready to challenge myself all over again. I thought that would translate to the award ceremony, but it didn’t.

Part of that was being a finalist, sure. Light was up for a Lammy in LGBT Horror/SF/Fantasy, and by the time I’d picked up my name badge and grimaced my way through my my red carpet photo, I was actually starting to really feel a little sick. Thankfully, I had my “plus one” for the evening, Rob Byrnes with me, and soon enough I’d found familiar faces: I saw Ron Suresha, got to meet Brian Centrone face-to-face for the first time, and found the lovely Carol Rosenfeld. Upstairs, while people milled and got their name-tags, I was lucky enough to bump into Cecilia Tan (who, aside from being so incredibly talented and kind enough to chat with me for a moment, was flipping gorgeous) and Sassafras Lowrey, who I’d met briefly at a Saints and Sinners, but hadn’t really managed to chat with much before. Ze has this incredible mix of adorability and sparkle.

At one point, Tony Valenzuela shook my hand and welcomed me. That helped stave off the “impostor syndrome” and I went downstairs to where the meet-and-greet before the event itself began.

If I’m allowed one criticism of the Lambda Literary Award night, I’d mention this: the downstairs hallway area where we gathered, drank, and chatted was roughly eight billion degrees Kelvin, and the music was loud and filled with a thumpa-thumpa beat, so often I was nearly yelling into the ears of the person beside me when I was trying to chat. Or say hello. Or introduce someone.

That brief criticism aside, I stayed pretty much stuck to a small corner by one of the drink tables (hey, like I said, my “plus one” was Rob Byrnes) and more and more familiar faces passed by. The force of nature that is Michelle Karlsburg, the talented (and so damned grounded) Tom Mendicino, and one of my personal heroes of the Bold Strokes Books team,Ruth Sternglantz. Ruth was making sure that all the BSB team knew there were a couple of rows where we were gathering.

And there it was again – that feeling of family. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – the sense of community that is created among the authors at Bold Strokes is incredible.

That brief interaction redoubled my courage a bit, and I started forcing myself to say hello to people I hadn’t met before, but I knew would be there. I saw Alex Woolfson and I thought,screw it. I leaned out into the passing crowds of people, tapped his shoulder, and said hello.

Unsurprisingly? He’s an awesome guy. Also he was very snappily dressed – and humble enough to admit he had someone else do the tie for him. We had a great chat about the nerves of being “first book nominated” and I gushed a wee bit (hopefully not too embarrassingly) about how much I loved Artifice and how much I was enjoying his new web-series, The Young Protectors.

Speaking of graphic novels – which was a new category for the Lammys this year – I also saw and recognized Justin Hall and cornered him for a moment to gush about the category, how much I loved Qu33r, and tried not to be intimidated that he seemed like he’d be capable of snapping me in half like one of the superheroes he so artfully draws. Turns out he got bit by a radioactive nice guy though, so he put up with my blathering. He did the cover of the program for the evening, by the way, and got to introduce Alison Bechdel, which he did so well he prompted the audience to their feet for the first time of the night, if memory serves.

I briefly managed to see Beniot Denizet-Lewis – another face I recognized from Saints and Sinners but someone I’d not had much of a conversation with in the past. I mentioned I was looking forward to Travels with Casey (what? I own a dog now, and it’s not like there are cat books about travel, are there?) And then I saw Connor Habib and he was walking by quickly and my courage completely fled so I settled for a glass of water before heading into the auditorium.

With my Bold Strokes family, I sat and watched the amazing Kate Clinton get everyone laughing from step one, and soon enough my category was there on the screen. Ruth was kind enough to grab my hand – she probably saw me hyperventilating – and when the winner was announced: Death By Silver from Lethe Press I was applauding and happy for the authors and the publisher and it wasn’t a bad thing at all. It’s easy to be happy for members of your own community.

Also: I hadn’t written down anything to say.

I relaxed after that. Any stress of the evening was now lost completely to the joy of watching others I loved and admired winning awards, being recognized, and just having a great time in a room of likeminded people. When Tony Valenzuela and S. Chris Shirley got up to speak, they brought that sense of family back again – it was a theme that would repeat throughout the evening. I’ll mangle the exact words now, but vibe of it was this: we queer folk have been here since forever, but we’re not like others in that one way I mentioned way back at the start of this post: we’re not born to other queers. There’s no “parent to child” continuance of culture. That’s where organizations like the Lambda Literary Foundation come into play. That’s why our writings, our stories, our mythologies and biographies and every single word we can commit to a record are so important. It creates that culture, permanence, and visibility – and all those things are necessary to create rights and equality and to move forward.

This post is already miles too long. The winners who were present were all wonderful in their speeches, and as I said, so many of them mentioned the power of the LGBTQ family. More specifically, while accepting the Pioneer Award, Kate Bornstein was incredibly on-point about the dangers that don’t only come from without. Calling for us to remember not to attack our own, Kate pointed out that the room was full of every letter, every sexuality, every gender identity, sex-positive people, sex-workers, asexuals, and the most important thing was that we stuck together and treated each other well.

That struck me. It’s true that all families squabble and fight. Ours is no different. Words, labels, inclusivity and offensiveness – we get things wrong – and we try to learn and we try to get it right. It’s all we can do, really. It’s when we stop trying, though, that we’re really in trouble.

And families lose members. There is death. God, have we died; we’ve died of disease, died of hate – and died at the intersection of hate and disease. We’ve died alone. We’ve also died surrounded by those who loved us. Connected. And truly mourned. As the names and images of the In Memoriam flickered by, I could feel that in the room – all of those names and faces were family.

As Radclyffe and Michael Thomas Ford accepted their Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prizes, both took the time to thank their readers and the community in general. I’m lucky enough to know them well enough to chat, and I had to admit the whole idea of these two amazing writers being mid-career seemed sort of surprising at first. Between them they have something like eighty novels. That’s mid? But it’s not a numerical thing. There’s more to say, more to write, and more to do.

When the awards were over, I was so energized. And I put my stupid nerves aside and went over to say hello to Connor Habib. I only made a wee ass of myself, too. But hey, if you can’t embarrass the crap out of yourself in front of family, then what’s the point of having them, eh?

I flew home today and I caught myself smiling on the plane. After I landed, I refreshed the #OutWriters tag and the #Lammys tag a few more times, and saw the pictures and tweets and felt that warmth right through to the bone. I got home, arranged for the lovely lady who’d been kind enough to look after Coach to bring him back over, and while I did that, I checked my Facebook, and saw a post from Michael Erikson (from the amazing Glad Day Bookshop):

A 17-year-old that I work with came out as gay to his family recently but was totally surprised and devastated when he was told he now has 1-2 months to find somewhere else to live. So, Facebook network, I wonder if:
A) Do you know of any job opportunities for someone who is a bit shy, very respectful and hard-working? A job like busboy would be ideal.
B) Do you know of any rooms for rent that might be coming up in the near future or for September?

For a moment, it was twenty-odd years ago, and I was caught between wanting to curse and swear or cry. And then I saw how many people had already responded with help and advice and offers for money and even places to stay. I added my name to the list, boosted the signal for the call for help, and watched the ripples spread from all directions.

Why do we write? We write because our voices only last for so long unless we find a way to keep them echoing. Those echoes make the culture that Tony Valenzuela and S. Chris Shirley were talking about. That culture makes for families – chosen families – like the ones Kate Bornstein was calling for us to remember to hold dear. But most of all, I think we do all of this because there are still 17-year-olds who find their own voices and face these moments.

And we welcome them to the family.

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