After I read Ely Shipley’s debut volume Boy with Flowers, I wrote him a fan letter, as I often do when I love a book. This year I also did that for Rane Arroyo and Benjamin Grossberg. I told Ely how happy his poems’ quietness made me. In a poetry world, where loudness (or the prominence of your connections) often only allow you to be heard, it was a welcome relief. His incredible attention to line breaks rivals any of those I’ve seen this year. (That particular ability was by far stronger than four of the five competitors for the Lambda.)
With books I enjoy (or even don’t enjoy), I always surf the Web, trying to find out what people have to say about the queer poet. It’s one of my favorite pastime; I’m nosy. What I found interesting was that Ely’s book was a finalist for the Thom Gunn Gay (Male) Award for Poetry. At the same time, it was also a finalist for a Lambda Award curiously titled “Transgender” which includes fiction, poetry, and non-fiction.
How weird and upsetting.
I was tempted to contact Ely Shipley, and see how he labeled himself, if he did. But then I decided not.
But I have some general questions for us all to contemplate:
Because not all transgendered writers would identify as a gay man or lesbian, where does that leave them in terms of the Publishing Triangle Awards (who have no category called Transgender)?
Is it insulting to label our transgendered as gay men or lesbian? And to do so, does that ultimately make the award anything but an empty triumph, an unintentional yet still irresponsible insult?
In terms of the Lambda Award, isn’t it a problem that all genres of transgendered writing (fiction, non-fiction, poetry) get lumped together in one conspicuously broad category?
Especially when prose and poetry value completely different formal moves? For poetry, the line; for prose, the sentence.
At the same time, would putting our transgendered people in a gay male or lesbian category be insulting once again?
One the other hand, would the award mean more to our transgendered to compete in those categories when there are undeniably more competitors in gay male or lesbian poetry?
It is, after all, fun to beat out as many competitors as you can.
Don’t both the Lambda and Publishing Triangle Awards have serious limitations that may invalidate our transgendered's poetry?
How can we alter the names of these awards to show respect for our transgendered while at the same time provide the judges with a healthy pool of competitors to keep the stakes high and meaningful?