The Lambda Literary Awards are like the Oscars for LGBT authors. Finalists in genres ranging from poetry to drama to nonfiction are given the nod, and authors flock to the event with their gold finalist badges to see who will take home the prestigious Lammy.
After being notified that my book UnCatholic Conduct was a finalist in the mystery category, I hesitated for about three seconds before getting on a plane with my wife and daughter, ready for a family adventure.
By chance, I met up with a lovely couple at a pre-party given for members of my publishing house, and they took me along with them to the event. Because this couple was part of the Board, they knew where to sit: dead front and centre. And they invited me to sit with them in the third seat.
I looked around the giant hall with theatre seating, and the podium flanked by two giant screens (upon which UnCatholic Conduct would soon be displayed) and thought Wow—are you sure? But I draped my sweater over the back of the chair. Why not?
And then I looked behind me. Directly behind me. At a sign posted to the seat back saying Reserved for Gloria Steinem.
NO. FREAKING. WAY.
During my years at Branksome Hall, Gloria Steinem featured prominently in my education. She served as a dynamic example for the importance of continuing to pursue equality for women, the dangers of complacency, the ability of the fairer sex to do any engineering job we damn well pleased—in short, she was an icon to me and my peer group.
Of all the people I would have liked to thank in person for their inspiration and tireless work on behalf of my rights—as a lesbian and a woman—she ranks high on my list.
And then I went for cocktails.
But somewhere between a lemon martini and the chicken kebabs, I was hit by the massiveness of this event. This Canadian girl from Dunrobin, Ontario, was in Cooper Union Square in New York City, nominated for a Lambda Literary Award—among people like Alan Cummings, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Sarah Waters, and Rita Mae Brown.
Not to mention that Gloria Steinem was in the building!
What the heck was I doing here?
I escaped the crush of the cocktail party and returned to my front-row seat, meeting up with the lovely couple from earlier.
And then I overheard, “What about this seat? Is this one taken?”
A journalist wanted to sit close to the stage so she could take pictures.
The one I’d stolen.
I immediately gathered up my sweater.
“You don’t have to move if you don’t want to,” said my seatmate. “You can stay here.”
“No, of course she should sit here,” I rushed to say. “It’s her job. I’ll sit at the back.” Behind a column. Near the bathroom.
Why? Because I was a newbie—a young newbie at that. I barely belonged there. If at all. I was the wildcard, nominated in the same category as Ellen Hart (who won that night).
In fact, maybe I’ll just go home.
I sank into my new seat (yes, behind a column, near the bathroom). For a second, I felt relieved to be incognito once again, but then doubt started to creep in. Something uncomfortably like regret.
What was I doing? What was I thinking? Not only had my all-girls’ education taught me to think more of myself, but I was pretty sure Gloria Steinem would have wagged her finger at me too…
The journalist who took my seat ended up sitting three rows over by the stairs leading up to the stage. My seat sat empty for the better part of the ceremony. The seat I had had the dumb luck to have only minutes before.
Or was it dumb luck?
I thought about that after the crazy festivities had ended, after I’d craned my neck around the column to see Gloria presenting onstage (still amazing).
To get that seat I had to:
• Get on a plane to NYC (bringing my two-year-old)
• Make my way across town—alone
• Find the home of a stranger who’d invited me to a party
• Mingle with people I didn’t know, and make friends
• Go with new friends to an epic event
• Go down to the front row, bag a chair
For a writer with chronic anxiety, this was practically a social marathon!
All that to duck out at the last minute, because I didn’t think I belonged there? Talk about missing my ride.
I had the chance to sit in front of Gloria-Freaking-Steinem and I moved seats for a bulldozer in a sequined hat who didn’t even need it.
Why? Because she was older, more experienced, and more assertive.
I stood by and let it happen—worse, I moved over and directed the traffic!
So, girls and women—newbies, fledglings, and start-ups, here is the lesson! When you earn something, don’t be afraid to hold on to it. Don’t give it up to someone older, or more experienced (or sequined).
Yes, by all means, give generously when you feel like it—but not because you have to. Because it makes you feel good.
And when you want to keep something for yourself, do it.
Feel important enough to say “that’s mine, thanks.”
Consider that if you’re there, maybe you’re meant to be there. Maybe this is a lucky moment, or maybe you’re destined for something that comes out of this time in your life. The universe may be directing you to a vehicle that will take you on a journey you’re meant to take.
Don’t give up your seat. Especially at the Lammys!