The “they” is Romance Writers of America.
We’ll get to the joy I’m protecting later in the post. I’m writing this in the day or so following the bottom falling out of an organization that I was leery of but had hope for, so if I come across as pissed TF off I just want y’all to know that I mean every damn word of it.
Now when I say the bottom falling out of what I really mean is that the Romance Writers of America, or RWA, has done some truly Olympic level heroic and never before seen ass showing. I might be wrong here given that I’m sure they’ve done some pretty shitty things but this one just feels like the most terrible of them to date.
What did they do? Oh, you know, just did some backdoor dealing to form a committee to toss out and ban one of the most hard-working and brilliant voices of the Romancelandia. They went after Courtney Milan. Can I just say what the actual fresh hell is this? Milan has been nothing but an advocate for inclusion and diversity. This woman has worked tirelessly in her career on the RWA board to make it a better place, to show that it isn’t the racist classist paper organization hell-bent on catering to Nice White Ladies. Now I’m not here to give a play-by-play of what happened or to how the paper/tweet trail of bullshit that has surrounded Milan’s recent treatment by the RWA. We aren’t even going to get into the long history of crap Milan has had to deal with from the organization and its members because that would be a novel, not a blog post.
What this post is about is touching on something personal which is kind of the point of blogs so this feels like the place and way to share something that I’ve felt for a while but haven’t been able to put my finger on. The thing I’m talking about is a feeling that was slippery at best. It felt toxic and gross like the shit you get on the bottom of your shoe but can’t quite manage to scrape off so that shit smell lingers and follows you. Stinking up the space around you at random times when you’ve almost forgotten it was ever there. That unexplainable thing has become clear as day given recent events. Another thing to note about this post is that I’m coming at this from a purely WOC point-of-view.
This is how I feel. I’m not speaking for the rest of us.
So here we go. What am I feeling?
I’m tired. I’m tired and I don’t owe my participation in hostile or unwelcoming environments because my time and energy are valuable.
I joined the RWA in the hopes that by doing so I’d be helping further the work of people that had gone before me. One of them being Milan. I went in skeptical but hoping for the best. I see now that my earlier thoughts that RWA was nothing but a bullshit circle jerk were correct. It’s not changing. I don’t think it ever will and while I feel like a clown for giving my hard-earned money to RWA and the CIMRWA chapter, it is what is and I, just like so many other AOCs, cannot get our money back. They handled that neatly with their non-refundable line in the fine print. Now if I could only stop thinking about all the damn things I could have bought with that cash money. We are talking about new shoes and Anastasia brow pencils, people. That’s serious around here, okay? Anyway, my fresa ass digresses.
I’m out cash, but this goes deeper. I’m also out of patience. I’m out of trust. I’m out of time for shit that’ll steal my joy. Courtney Milan tweeted this gem: “They do not get our joy anymore, people. If you’re part of our misery, you’re gone.”
And this is a big mood. The only thing I’m taking with me into 2020 as a romance writer, as a WOC, as someone trying to make my dreams happen and tell the stories that are on my heart. Because you know what’s the worst truth exposed by RWA’s actions? You know, other than their racist and straight up foolishness that protects nothing but NWLs? It’s the fact that no matter how hard you work, how high you climb, how educated or well-spoken you are, or what how many awards they give you (because don’t think they didn’t award Milan with a GODDAMN SERVICE AWARD THIS YEAR) there’s no protection from them when they turn on you.
Funny thing is that’s a lesson BIPOC learn early. Our parents and older family members take us aside and give us “the talk.” Now this is not a talk revolving around the birds and bees, it’s a talk about how to watch your back when it comes to white people. It’s a firm reminder that the world isn’t a kind place and that when we enter spaces that are inherently white that we are vulnerable. That when we seek to leave our communities that we must tread lightly and keep a careful eye on who we surround ourselves with. I was told they’ll smile in your face and stab you in the back the second you turn around.
More than once I’ve learned this lesson. My teachers in this harsh lesson have been people I thought were my friends and even lovers that I foolishly took, groups that I joined and gave myself to, jobs that I gave so much to. Time and time again I was hurt and reminded of how precarious my position is in so many different places. I’ve gotten smarter as I’ve gotten older and so the hurts are fewer and farther in between but it doesn’t mean they don’t still happen. Joining the RWA and subbing to the RITAs was one of those moments, but not because it happened to me but because they did it one of my heroes.
If Milan can be treated like this then how safe is anyone really? The answer is -.07849 percent safe. And that’s pushed me to accept one thing–Participation in organizations and groups is not required of me. I owe my time and joy to no one.
I am not required to keep trying when there are no ins for women like me. I’m allowed to not be okay with watching others get the red carpet rolled out for them. It’s okay if I readjust my relationship after such behavior. If I give my time, if I give me, somewhere and feel like an outsider no matter what I do then there is absolutely no reason for me to stay and keep trying to connect.
It’s unfair to ask WOC to fix what happened in the RWA and it’s unfair to ask us to keep showing up to places we don’t feel safe in. Asking for an invitation is to be vulnerable but so is participation. If you participate then you’re opening yourself up to be rejected. And while it’s important to try out new things and keep an open mind it’s also important to read the signs and put yourself first by noping TF out of there. No one who values themselves would stay, or be expected to either. It’s pretty wild for me to have even tried but here we are. Milan’s tweet and subsequent Wonder Woman levels of strength and composure have reminded me of that simple truth.
I am worth a lot. WOC are worth a lot. And we owe it to no one to participate in things that diminish our sense of worth. Before this whole ridiculous witch hunt of a debacle, I was already doing the work of withdrawing from groups and people that did not contribute to my sense of well being and happiness but I am more committed now than ever before. I hope other AOC in romance do the same. I aim for carefree and happy this 2020, and organizations like the RWA have no place in that story. My story like so many other AOCs deserves to be about the people and places that make us happy, that lift us up, and make us stronger. I sincerely hope 2020 is a restorative year and a year of joy for other AOCs.
I hope they put themselves first always.
We deserve the world. We deserve HEAs. We deserve to feel safe. Anything less is unacceptable.
*I mentioned I submitted to the RITAs. It goes without saying that I’m not about that lifestyle and am withdrawing my historical novel Heart and Hand from the competition that’s as hollow and meaningless as the RWA now feels.