Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lambda Origami Themselves Over Trans-Sexy Striptease

I'm just copying and pasting an email from Greg Wharton of Suspect Thoughts. He tells the story of Peggy Munson's censoring by Lambda so eloquently and succinctly that all I have to add is: get to grips with the press's catalogue to show your support of their authors.

Disabled Origami Striptease Author Peggy Munson Censored
for Explicit Erotic Content and for Appearing to be Straight

Last Thursday evening, our author Peggy Munson was to perform an excerpt from her Lambda Literary Award Finalist novel (Best Lesbian Debut Fiction), Origami Striptease via DVD at the annual San Francisco Lambda Literary Award Finalists’ reading. Peggy is disabled with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and cannot travel for readings. It was arranged by Charles Flowers (the Executive Director of Lambda Literary Foundation for her to perform in San Francisco via DVD as she has done on several other occasions since the release of her novel. Peggy created a specific new DVD performance for the occasion. Ian Philips, Mama Bear and I, as well as several other folks, specifically came to see the DVD performance and cheer her book and her on.

Peggy’s DVD reading wasn’t shown, nor was anything mentioned as to why the scheduled Peggy Munson was not performing. She was simply not mentioned (thought the screen and DVD were hooked up and ready to go).

Immediately before the event ended, Ian went over and asked Jim Van Buskirk (the Program Manager of the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library) what happened. He stated that he didn’t know; that Chuck Forrester. The Lambda Literary Foundation Vice-President, had the information to introduce her.

I then spoke with the Lambda Literary Foundation Board President, Katherine Forrest, who emceed the reading. In brief (after obviously being caught off guard about being asked), she told me that Jim Van Buskirk informed her that he had watched the video selection and that it was "straight." She asked me if I had seen it. I said no but that I’ve read the novel of course. I asked her if she had seen it. No, she hadn’t watched the DVD. She had made the decision to not show the video (or even mention Peggy being scheduled to perform) without watching it. She told Jim she trusted his judgment completely. She made the decision on his statement alone. They didn't show it—even though one of the other seven readers was a “straight” spouse from an anthology about straight spouses of people who come out as LGB or T and another was Max Wolf Valerio who is a transman with a girlfriend. They didn’t show it even though Jim’s supposed statement about his perception of Peggy’s performance was incorrect.

Peggy wasn't there to ask about it, she said. But I said, ah...there's a reason for that, she’s disabled which is why..., did no one read the introduction and bio?, and the book was there, the book that has been read enough times to be narrowed down to a Finalist, and Ian and I were there, as we always are, and Jim is (was) a friend and has our personal telephone as well as our office cell.

The content is straight, she said. I said, um, no, the actual gender is not ever mentioned. One of the characters is trans. I told Katherine they might take a little more care in making such black/white statements and judgments when trying to include the community as a whole. Her complexion, which had been ever-more beet red during our conversation, blanched considerably when she heard me say “trans.” This is not the first time the Foundation has upset the trans community. An uncomfortable conversation later, Katherine took full responsibility for censoring the excerpt for gender. She said that it was a wrong decision and that she felt horrible about it. She also gave an apology to Ian about the situation. I believe she was greatly upset by what she did. But she did it, and there’s nothing to take that away.

It should be noted that not thirty minutes after Katherine made the decision to silently censor Peggy’s performance and inclusion in the event, she stood up before the audience and proudly talked to us about the Foundation being “our” Foundation and that the mentoring Lambda Literary Foundation would provide with their new LGBTQ (there’s that pesky T again!) Writer’s Retreat would help authors with the community and support she didn’t have when she was younger. This is our foundation?

The next morning I received a voice message from Charles Flowers (the Executive Director of the Lambda Literary Foundation) who stated sincere apologies for the situation, again stating that Katherine made a wrong decision and he would do everything possible to see if Peggy might be able to perform at one of the other city’s readings. What could he say? He set the whole thing up, but he wasn’t there when Katherine made the poor judgment call. He's on the hot seat for something out of his control.

When I spoke with Charles on the phone later that morning, he said Katherine watched the DVD that morning and said Jim must not have watched enough of the video since it was about a woman going down on a man, then a man going down on a woman, then two women having sex. She was rushing the video to Charles for him to add to the New York Lambda Finalist reading, if possible. I’m not sure what excerpt Katherine watched and what she heard Peggy read, but I don’t think she understood it. That's not Origami Striptease. But at least she watched and tried to understand, I guess.

I finally spoke with Jim late that afternoon when he returned my voice message and email pleas to help with some details about what happened. Despite being a friend and working together for years, he was almost hostile during our conversation and sounded quite upset with me over the situation, and the fact that I was questioning him. That makes sense! Why would I want to know the truth about the situation, anyway?

Let’s remember to never question any action by others, kids. It makes those in question annoyed.

Jim was—not surprisingly—telling a very different story from Katherine’s the night before and Charles’ earlier in the day. But I was forewarned. Charles did say that he “doubts I’ll ever get the truth from Jim about it.” Jim stated he did not have enough time to review the DVD before the reading, and only watched part of it at that point, which was 45 minutes before everyone arrived for the reading. When I asked when the DVD arrived, he said he received the DVD that Monday (Peggy rushed delivery to make sure Jim had plenty of time to test the DVD with the player, etc.). I guess four days is not enough time to watch a five-minute DVD for an event that you are in charge of.

Jim disagrees with what Katherine said the night before and stated he did not say anything about “straight” content but told Katherine specific “words” that he thought were inappropriate for the public library. (I guess I should have asked him the specific words but since the whole idea of a few words being so objectionable to him is so bizarre that under the circumstances it wouldn’t make a difference.) He thought the video to be too sexually explicit to be played.

I said, come on, Jim, I’ve been at and performed in dozens of your events…are you for real? (The San Francisco Library system and that branch most specifically host readings and events by many of our friends and colleagues and sexual content has never been an issue—at all. Nor is gender usually an issue. It is San Francisco after all. But censorship has been an issue. In 2004, I was part of a panel sponsored by the library and the New York Times regarding queer marriage and our anthology I Do/I Don’t. My contact at the New York Times wanted me to tell my authors on the panel that they couldn’t discuss the upcoming presidential election. Ha! Not. Jim was as furious as I was and stood beside me when I said that they were crazy to try and censor the content. The panel happened as planned.)

I said nothing in Origami Striptease is any more graphic than the excerpt the Lesbian Erotica Finalist Karin Kallmaker read. He agreed that it wasn’t, yes, that's true, he said, but she was “there” and able to judge the audience for appropriateness. What? Did he really say that? He took full responsibility for censoring Peggy for “explicit erotic content.” He later refused to confirm that he had agreed it wasn’t any more graphic and actually said “yeah, what-ever!” at me. I’m surprised he didn’t give me a fingersnap too. Jim did not, like Katherine, act like he was sorry and actually was quite a prick about the whole thing. I guess he didn't like (the portion of) the video (that he didn’t really watch), huh?

When talking with Katherine after the reading Thursday night about things I thought might have been the reason for the missing performance she said there was no such thing as too sexually graphic an excerpt for the Lambda reading and that that wouldn’t have been an issue or a reason to not include her.

So there you have it. Peggy Munson was censored from the Lambda Literary Award Finalist reading in San Francisco Thursday night first by the San Francisco Public Library for “explicit sexual content” and then again by the Lambda Literary Foundation for explicit gender content, in essence for being, gulp, yeah, I’ll say it… “straight!”

Peggy Munson has blogged about the censoring of her performance. Charlie Anders has also blogged about the censoring.

Information about Suspect Thoughts Press and the dirty straight book called Origami Striptease can be found here. Please give Peggy some support and let her know your feelings by responding to her blog posting. You can see other offensive performances by Peggy. And you can order the apparently too-filthy-for-San Francisco-homosexuals novel.

Greg Wharton, publisher
Suspect Thoughts Press

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