Earlier this month, Lauren Hough learned from an editor at her publishing house that her essay collection “Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing,” which was published last year, had been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in the category of lesbian memoir. This is the first time Hough has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.
The nomination seemed to be the apex of a great debut, which received widespread praise and lasted two weeks on the New York Times best-seller list after its publication. A large part of Hough’s life experiences, which included serving in the Air Force during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era, went into the book, which was described by its publisher as interrogating “our notions of eschatology, queerness, and what it means to live freely.” Hough drew heavily on her personal experiences, which included her time as a lesbian during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era. A reviewer for NPR compared her ability to create portraits to that of “one of those cartoonists who can draw out four lines and suddenly you see your face in them.” “One of those cartoonists,” the critic said.
The nomination was withdrawn, Hough said in an interview Monday, after she was informed by an editor that it had been withdrawn following a social media scuffle in which she defended, at times heatedly, a forthcoming novel by the author Sandra Newman, a friend of hers, from accusations that it was transphobic.
Organizers of the Lammy Awards, Lambda Literary, which has administered the awards for more than 30 years, stated that Hough had been disqualified from consideration.
In a joint statement released Monday, Cleopatra Acquaye and Maxwell Scales, interim co-executive directors of Lambda Literary, said that Lauren Hough had displayed “troubling hostility toward transgender critics and trans-allies” in a series of now-deleted tweets. It is impossible for us to knowingly reward people who show contempt and disrespect for the autonomy of a whole part of the community that we have committed ourselves to assisting as an L.G.B.T.Q. organisation.
Hough said on Monday that she was unable to remember whether or not she had deleted any tweets, and she disputed that any of her tweets were transphobic in nature. Lambda did not share specific instances of the postings that they found to be the most offensive. The New York Times has not conducted a review of any deleted tweets.
“I had hoped for more from Lambda than character assassination by vague allegation based on Twitter rumours, for asking people — not just one group, but people — to read the book,” she said.
During a joint interview, Acquaye and Scales said that both an independent judging panel and Lambda Literary had played a role in the decision to remove the book from consideration, and that the organisation had taken no stance on “The Men.”
Scales said in the interview that as a consequence of Hough’s postings, “many trans persons felt like they couldn’t, that they weren’t permitted to engage in these dialogues.” In her statement, Acquaye said that the tweets “did not empower other LGBT individuals or their voices.”
She said in her Substack email that she had spoken with Newman about the novel “The Men,” and that they had talked about “how to make the book respect the reality of transgender individuals.”
It was vital to her not to do that, and to be as sensitive as possible, since other stories that began with this idea — that all the guys vanish — ended up erasing the presence of trans people, Hough wrote. In response to individuals presuming that one basic notion represented the rest of the storey, I advised them to read the book first before jumping to conclusions.
Because bullying is bad, she said on Substack: “Unless your target is someone you don’t like, for social justice grounds, of course,” she explained why it is called “call-out culture.”
In an email sent out on Monday, Newman refused to comment on her upcoming book, but she did corroborate Hough’s version of their connection. “She’s also a person of high moral character and decency,” Newman said. “On top of that, she’s a fantastic writer whose book deserves to win all of the honours.”