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Guest Post by M. Jane Colette “You’re welcome here. So long as you don’t remind us, too often, ever,

Almost a month has passed since the national leadership of the Romance Writers of America punished Chinese American author Courtney Milan for calling, on Twitter, a white author’s book “a fucking racist mess.”

The resulting outrage in Romancelandia, the peeling back of layer upon layer of procedural violations and systematic discrimination against authors of colour and LGBTQ+ authors (the marginalization of differently abled authors being so profound they and their work might as well not exist)—oh, and the weird personal vendettas and political machinations behind it all, the true motivations of which will likely never come to light—has the potential to change RWA forever.

Or, to kill it.

Or, to split it into two groups: some kind of “progressive” Romance Writers Association that walks the diversity-equity-inclusivity talk and where bigotry and bigots are not tolerated… and a rump old-school RWA that betrays its founders and consists of and serves the bigots… and, also, the NWLs who just don’t understand why we don’t all shut up about all this icky political racist stuff and just talk about CRAFT. Isn’t that why we’re all here? Because we all love writing?

Yes, we can all get along… when none of us act like bigoted assholes.

NWL, in Romancelandia, stands for Nice White Ladies. As a white author, I’m often in danger of thinking like a NWL on issues of race, despite my passionate commitment to an inclusive, just, equitable world. But it happens: I will not be directly discriminated against by a racist RWA staff member, author or process. My pasty skin colour ensures that the first thought of the bigots and the NWLs is that I’m one of them.

I’m not.

As a queer person and a queer author (although one who writes for straight audiences too, because, fuck, people, love is love), the bigots hate me on principle, and I will not be accepted by the NWLs. Because—they’re so nice. They hate conflict. They want us all to get along. And the easiest way for us all to get along is for me to just shut up while the bigots and the homophobes make it very clear I don’t belong in their cozy circle. They don’t have to do this aggressively. They prefer whisper campaigns. And, not making eye contact—not shaking my hand… leaving the table when I say I that I write erotic romance but what I really want to write is queer lit, and in my current project, my bisexual character…

This isn’t theoretical, imaginary discrimination. These are all things that have happened to me in Romancelandia. Nationally. Locally.

But the outright homophobes, I can handle them. Their hate I can fight—or dismiss as coming from people beyond hope, with whom I don’t want to have anything to do anyway.

The NWLs? What they do is worse.

They say I’m welcome. They’re so happy to see me, have me. But. Oh. Could I be, like… less political?

Which, frankly, means—can you be less queer? less gay? Which means—you’re welcome! You’re really welcome! So long as you pretend to be one of us—and don’t talk about the things important to you. Also, don’t mention it when we make you uncomfortable—don’t tell us when we’re making discriminatory statements. Yeah, that’s it—don’t talk, that’s the best solution. If you don’t say anything—oh, ok, you can talk about craft and story structure, but, like, don’t mention that it was a queer romance, I mean, why did you have to do that? We were having such a nice talk here, and you know Ellie is from a religious, rural community and thinks homosexuality is a sin. She’s trying really hard to be comfortable with having you here. If you don’t talk about those icky queer things, she almost forgets who you are, and she starts to think of you as a regular, normal person and not an abomination in the eyes of her God. See? You’re welcome here. So long as you don’t remind us too often, ever, that you’re not really one of us.

Authors of colour get a very similar message, I think—but I can’t speak to that marginalization; I can’t. I can only tell you this: I’ve both seen it and been appalled by it, and I’ve completely missed seeing it when it happened right in front of me—because of my own blinders and privilege.

What I’ve seen despite my blinders is pretty awful. In 2017, when I attended the Romantic Times Booklovers Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, I complimented an RT volunteer on her beautiful ball gown—Antebellum South style. “I love the Old South,” she said. “I breathe the Old South. I dress the Old South, I live the Old South. Things were better then.”

I stood, aghast. Because. Like… Slavery.

Sometimes, an issue is complicated, nuanced. Neither side has the moral high ground—compromise can be achieved—or we can agree to disagree. But… Slavery?

“Things were better then”?

I didn’t call her on it, by the way. I didn’t know how. And that’s… complicity.

It was during this conference, too, after a panel that attempted to discuss the appropriateness of discussing politics in romance novels—and as romance novelists in our Twitter, Facebook etc. channels—that I first saw discussion split completely along race lines. “I wish the white authors, when they say we should keep politics out of our work, understood that this is not an option for us,” a Black author tweeted during the panel. In the ensuing discussion, there were no dissenting voices… from authors of colour.

The NWLs? They genuinely did not understand what the big fuss was. Hush, hush, hush. Let’s talk about craft—why can’t everyone just get along, hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and just… why are we fighting over this? Romance is about escape from reality!

(Romance reflects, reinforces, shapes—and has the power to change—reality even as if offers readers fantasy and escape. But that’s another argument.)

I’m fighting the revolution for them

At that same conference, some inspirational romance authors refused to sit next to queer authors—as well as straight authors who write gay romance—at the Big Book Bash. The queer authors were upset. Appalled. The NWLs? “Well, you don’t want to sit next to those bigots anyway. Come on. We’ll move you. What’s the big deal? Maybe we should just have a separate LGBTQ+ area anyway. That way, the people who want to find you, will, and everyone else can avoid you. What? Why are you looking at me like that? Seriously. You people are so sensitive.”

This wasn’t an RWA Conference, I’ve got to stress—but. Many of the same people. All of the same problems (although at the RWA, there was an Ethics Committee one could complain to… ha ha). And it was a conference at which I met some absolutely amazing people: queer, straight, white, Black, brown. At which I learned a lot. Which advanced my career tremendously.

At whic